Friday, August 26, 2011
Gaddafi's Fellow Travelers James S. Henry
(An earlier version of this appeared today as a Forbes column.)
I recall one cold wintry Saturday evening about three years ago in Vermont, and a dinner conversation among a small group of former business colleagues, including HBS Professor Michael E. Porter, the eminent competitive strategist.
He’d just returned from Tripoli, where he’d been working on what he told us was a “strategy project” for the Gaddafi regime with a raft of consultants from Monitor Group, the Cambridge-based consulting firm that he’d helped to found in the early 1980s.
For about thirty minutes or so he shared with us how excited they all were to be working to reform the Libyan economy, and how Colonel Gaddafi and his sons now really seemed to “get it.”
Clearly Prof. Porter felt this was all pretty cool. When asked about the issue of democracy and the rule of law, he rather quickly brushed aside such concerns, suggesting that they were sort of beside the point – after all, as the case of China supposedly demonstrated, all those annoying traditional liberal values sometimes just need to get out of the way of progress.
At the end of all this, there was a brief silence. I suspect that most of those at the table were slightly discomforted by Prof. Porter’s blunt, hard-nosed neoliberal analysis, and certainly by his apparent intoxication with the infamous Libyan dictator. But he was, after all, an eminent Harvard professor. And unlike us, he’d not only been to the country, but had met its most senior leaders personally.
Finally, however, my friend Roger Kline, a wise old McKinsey partner, broke the silence with a simple, direct, slightly impolitic question, which would be answered only by the silence that it provoked from Professor Porter: “Doesn’t it ever bother you at all, Michael, to be working for a terrorist?”
As the spirit of doom hovers over the last remnants of Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year-long dictatorship, and most Libyans are celebrating his departure with sheer delight, there is much less joy in a handful of top-tier academic and professional-class households in Cambridge, Princeton, Georgetown, Baltimore, East Lansing, and London.
For Mighty Muammar has indeed struck out -- contrary to the hopes and expectations of some of our very best and brightest experts on “competitive country strategy," “global democratic governance," "the idea that is America,” and “soft power.”
After all, from their perspective, whatever Gaddafi's flaws, his blood-stained but deep-pocketed regime was certainly not like that of Kim Jong Il.
Meanwhile, Gaddifi's government also ordered up an expensive grab-bag of university grants, endowments, special education for Libyan police and diplomats, ginned-up degrees for his dim-witted family members, lots of slick lobbying and lawyering, plus a large number of custom press portraits by leading Western academics gurus – none of whom ever bothered to disclose the fact that they were all on Brother Leader's payroll.
This sordid tale first began to trickle out about two years ago from the Libyan opposition, but it really picked up steam after the Revolution began in February 2011. The interested reader can look here, here, here, here, and here for the gory details.
First, we’d like to make sure that all of the leading academic collaborateurs who helped to legitimate Gaddafi's abattoir receive their due: the very first installment of the “Milton Friedman/ "Putzi" Hanfstaengl Iron Cross Award.
Second, we'd like to require all these collaborateurs to donate the millions of dollars of blood money and the thousands of frequent flier miles they accumulated as unregistered foreign agents for Gaddafi’s regime to Libya’s teeming hospitals and orphanages.
Together, these two simple steps might help to insure that this kind of totally uncool dictatorship rebranding is brought to a screeching halt.
This tale really began in 2003, when the Gaddafi regime, seeking to end an annoying economic boycott, gave its solemn word to swear off terrorism forever, cease dabbling in nuclear technology, pay compensation for the 1988 Pan Am 103/Lockerbie bombing, and "accept responsibility for the actions of its officials,” whatever that meant.
But Western leaders and policy experts were curiously much more receptive to Libya’s extraordinary effort to upgrade its image from “terror camp” to “the West’s best new pragmatic partner in the Middle East."
Indeed, it turned out to be a very fertile time for this kind of rebranding effort. First, even though Libya’s U-turn had largely been motivated by economic self-interest, George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and Silvio Berlusconi welcomed it as a badly-needed victory in the “war on terror.” Berlusconi and Blair even flew directly to Tripoli to welcome the “reborn” Gaddafi back into the community of nations.
This scurrilous bill, signed into law by President Bush, controversially granted Gaddafi complete legal immunity for the Lockerbie bombing, so long as he paid a (rather paltry) agreed-upon sum to the victims’ families.
Second, Libya’s U-turn opened the door to a whole bevy of Holy-Water merchants and academic medicine men. These instant Libyan "experts" were eager to offer Gaddafi not only absolution, but also their very latest pet theories about everything from “competitive clusters" and "strong democracy" to “the Third Way.”
They were also eager to see test such theories in Gaddafi’s living laboratory -- especially if the dictator was willing to subsidize the clinical trials. Not since Boris Yeltsin, General Suharto, and General Pinochet have neoliberal academics had such a golden opportunity to test their theories on real live human subjects at country scale.
Third, to a large extent mainly for PR purposes, Western experts also made much of their opportunity to "dialogue" in person with real live Libyans. Well, perhaps not so much with the nascent opposition, which was mainly abroad, in hiding, in jail, or dead.
Of course, according to Gaddafi & Sons, confirmed by US intelligence officials like John Negroponte – who got much of his info about Libya from his brother Nicholas, who got it from Gaddafi & Sons (see below) – the Libyan opposition consisted of radical "al Qaeda” sympathizers or the members of “dissident tribes” in Libya’s supposedly “very tribal” society, anyway.
Their received image of Libya, seen through Gaddafi-colored lens, was curiously similar to the self-image that South Africa’s apartheid regime used to project – a deeply “tribal” society that required strong-armed rule to preserve it from the radical horde at the gates.
In any case, Western experts were generally quite happy to take the Gaddafis’ word -- and his moolah -- for all this, and to participate in one-sided “dialogues” with Brother Leader himself whenever he was able to spare the time.
This delighted Brother Leader. No doubt this was partly because of his deep intellectual curiousity about the very latest economic and political theories. But, more practically, it also meant that prominent Western expert after expert had to fly thousands of miles to Tripoli and back just to help his regime flaunt its wares on Libyan State TV and lend him unprecedented respectability.
Ultimately, you see, Gaddafi had all these neoliberal academics pegged to the tee.
He understood from the start that many were frustrated by their powerlessness in (more) democratic Western societies. Their secret wet dream is the absolute dictator who takes them seriously, and able and willing to test their theories on command, without the need for messy democratic processes.
Indeed, Gaddafi's personal power n Libya was so complete that he never even bothered to give himself a formal title other than "Colonel."
From 2004 on, therefore, Tripoli became a kind of alternative Mecca for a veritable “Who’s Who” of leading Western intelligentsia. Among the key interlocutors were Professor Porter; Cambridge University/LSE’s “Baron” Anthony Giddens and George Joffe; LSE’s Director Sir Howard Davies (now resigned), and Professor David Held, its leading expert on “globalization;” and Monitor Group’s Rajeev Singh Molares (now at Alcatel), Mark Fuller (recently resigned as its Chair), and Bruce J. Allyn (formerly the head of Monitor’s Moscow office).
Others who tagged along for the camel ride included Ann-Marie Slaughter, Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School; Princeton Professors Bernard Lewis and Andrew Moravcsik; the insidious neo-con Richard Perle (2 visits); MIT Professor Emeritus Nicholas Negroponte (several visits), brother of US DNI John Negroponte, and the former head of the MIT Media Labs, who was very eager to get Libyan funding for his ill-fated pet “One Laptop Per Child” project; a flurry of other Harvard profs, including the Kennedy School’s Robert Putnam, Joseph Nye, and Marshall Ganz, an organizer-guru who became involved in another tidy little dictatorship, Syria; and Johns Hopkins' "end of history" champion Francis Fukuyama, who made history himself by pulling down a record $80,000 for a single audience with Brother Leader.
Nor were journalists entirely immune from the attractions of the Libyan honeypot. Here, the Monitor ringmasters also went for high-profile celebrities, including Al Jazeera's David Frost, who collected $91,429 for a single visit. They also nearly recruited several others before the project got terminated. One Monitor project memo reports, for example, that:
“Monitor approached (Fareed) Zakaria who said that he is very interested in travelling to Libya in order to meet with the Leader….Monitor also approached ( the New York Times’ Thomas) Friedman who said that he was interested in travelling to Libya at some point in the future.”
Collectively this respectability caravan made dozens of such Gaddafi-tour site visits, logging tens of thousands of First Class miles and receiving millions of dollars in fees to commune about the “New Libya" – all the while helping to launder the regime’s blood-stained image.
This activity seems to have gone far beyond simply helping Libya to restructure its economy and political system along more open, competitive lines. Indeed, it is now clear that the regime probably never seriously intended any meaningful reforms, but was mainly trying to curry influence and favors.
The experts’ punch list included such dubious activities as ghost-writing Saif Gaddafi’s PhD thesis; helping to design a “national security agency” for Libya (!), quite probably with inputs from folks like the Negropontes and Richard Dearlove, the Monitor “senior advisor” who ran the UK’s MI6 from 1999 to 2004; offering to ghost-write a puffed-up version of Brother Leader’s collected works; and, all along, orchestrating a flurry of favorable press coverage in influential papers like the Washingon Post, the New York Times, the International Herald, and the Guardian.
All of this was done without without ever bothering (until this Spring, in the case of Monitor Company) to register as what many of these high-toned folks truly turned out to be: foreign agents of the Government of Libya.
BETTER SAIF THAN SORRY
There are many glaring examples of outright shilling for the Gaddafis by these brown-nosing academic and consulting mercenaries, but a handful captures the essential odor.
One good example was LSE Professor Emeritus/ Blair confidant/ Baron Anthony Gidden’s bold March 2007 speculation in the UK’s Guardian newspaper that Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya might soon turn out to be “the Norway of North Africa.” The piece mentioned Lord Giddens’ impressive academic credentials, but it neglected to mention the fact that he had received $67,000 in fees from Libya, plus First Class round-trip travel expenses for at least two hajjs to visit with Brother Leader and his staff in Tripoli.
Another example is Rutgers Professor Emeritus Ben Barber’s even more wildly enthusiastic August 2007 Washington Post endorsement of the “surprisingly flexible and pragmatic” Gaddafi and his “gifted son Saif.” Of course Saif is much more familiar to the rest of us now for his blood-curdling “rivers of blood” speech on February 20, 2011, which contributed mightily to the subsequent polarization and bloodshed.
Professor Barber’s piece reminded his readers that he was a best-selling author and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the think-tank Demos. But it neglected to mention the fact that he’d also made multiple all-expense-paid trips to Tripoli, for which he’d been paid at least $100,000 in fees by the Libyan Government.
A third example is HBS Professor Michael E. Porter’s February 23 2007 Business Week interview, in which he reported that he had “taken on” a consulting project in Libya, as if this were some kind of beneficent act. Gaddafi, he maintained with a straight face, wasn’t really a dictator after all: “In a sense, decision-making is widely distributed in (Libya). People [consider Libya] a dictatorship, but it really doesn't work that way. That is another reason for optimism.” (Emphasis added).
Prof. Porter neglected to mention the fact that he and Monitor Group, the Cambridge consulting firm that he, plus HBS grads Joe Fuller and Mark Fuller, had founded in the early 1980s, were not only earning several million dollars for their Libyan strategy work, but were also up to their proverbial eyeballs in a second multi-million dollar PR project to bolster Gaddafi’s image.
All this salacious material is interesting. But did it really have any harmful impacts on Libya? Or is all this merely frivolous second-guessing?
The answer is that this kind of orchestrated air-brushing of the Gaddafi regime by leading Western consultants and academics clearly was not only enormously harmful to the interests of most Libyans, but also that these negative impacts were entirely foreseeable – and, indeed, were anticipated by many critics who had the same intuitive reaction as Roger Kline (see above.)
✔ The academic white-washing helped to conceal the fact that the Gaddafi regime was enormously unpopular with its own people – that the opposition was broad based, that high-level corruption was rife, and that the “tribal”/al Qaeda paradigm of the Libyan opposition was simplistic and dangerously misleading, not to mention self-serving for the Gaddafi clan.
✔Academic air-brushing also contributed to the misleading view that “reforming Libya" was mainly just a technocratic exercise for the insider-elite and their Western advisors, to which constitutive matters like elections, rights, the rule of law, and genuine popular representation could take a back seat.
✔The bevy of big-name Western intellectuals and consultants who courted the Gaddafis not only inflated their egos even larger than they already were, but also encouraged them to believe they could easily buy influence, as well as arms, in the West -- and delay fundamental political reforms.
In short, the white-washing and the kid glove treatment of the Gaddafi regime by leading Western academics may well have discouraged that regime from pursuing deeper political reforms much earlier, and from negotiating in good faith once conflict increased.
In other words, it probably cost lives.
If and when the Gaddafi clan is captured and put on trial, either in Libya or before the ICC, we hope that these courts seize the opportunity to examine the conduct and responsibilty of these neoliberal fellow travelers of dictatorship very closely.
So, in the waning hours of the Gaddafi regime, it is important to recall that Brother Leader and his band of thugs did not simply become a menace to Libya’s people and the world on their own.
Nor was his particular brand of madness simply due to the “usual suspects:” anti-Western radicalism, liberation ideology, Gaddafi's own imperialistic ambitions in Africa, his idiosyncratic version of political Islam, or even the fact that he spent far too much time spent frolicking in the desert sun with Ukrainian nurses.
No – while Gaddafi’s buddies in Venezuela still portray him as a stalwart opponent of Western imperialism, the fact is that in recent years he actually continued to increase his influence in the West only with the really quite extraordinary assistance of prominent, high-priced, incredibly smart, but ultimately quite gullible Western “friends.”
(c) JSH 2011
Sunday, May 11, 2008
BRINGING THE WAR BACK HOME (Part I.) Jordan C. Haerter, 19, Killed In Ramadi James S. Henry
Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?"
Monday April 28th was an unusually chilly wet morning in Sag Harbor, New York, even for April, our "cruelest month." But that didn't prevent more than a third of Sag Harbor's 2,200 year-around residents from lining the flag-lined streets and filling the Old Whalers' Church to capacity to mourn the loss of US Marine Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter, age 19.
Even apart from the drizzle, there was hardly a dry eye in the
village. The Rev. Steven Howarth offered a moving recollection of Jordan's short life, describing his
popularity, impatience with book learning, determination to learn to fly at 16 and to join the military at 17, and his courage under fire. The minister asked the crowd to take comfort in the fact that
Jordan would undoubtedly be granted eternal life in the after-world.
After the service,
a long cortege made its way slowly to Oakland Cemetery, where Jordan Haerter
was buried with full military honors, accompanied by his family, dozens
of classmates, scores of police, firemen, Marines
in dress uniform, local American Legion members, and a
squadron of motorcyclists from an organization called the Patriotic Guard. More than a hundred school children from Jordan's former elementary school stood in the rain across from the church, carrying little star-spangled American flags and signs that read, "We will remember." Every local newspaper, radio station, and TV station in the Hamptons carried extensive coverage of the funeral and Jordan's story.
Everyone agreed that Jordan had behaved courageously in Iraq, and that his death was a tragic loss for the whole community.
Standing in the rain that day, and at the wake the afternoon before, I found myself struggling with very mixed emotions about this young man's death. On the one hand, I was proud of his courage and sacrifice. On the other, I couldn't help wondering why on earth he had decided to enlist and serve in a war that for many years has been so discredited. Who was responsible for that? Was this only George Bush's war, or do we all bear some responsibility for the fact that young men and women from all across this country -- not to mention scores of Iraqis -- continue to die every day? Given the fact that bad wars will continue to be a reality, what special responsibility do military recruiters, high school principles, teachers, guidance counselors, religious and political leaders, veterans, and other leaders in the community bear for at least making sure that the Jordan Haerters of this world make truly-informed decisions when they enlist?
YET ANOTHER STATISTIC
Less than one week earlier, Jordan had become another statistic in the seemly-interminable Iraq War. At approximately 7:30 a.m. Baghdad time on April 22nd, Jordan and another Marine had been killed by a suicide bomber at a military checkpoint in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province in Iraq. Two Iraqi policemen and 24 other Iraqis were also injured in the incident.
According to military sources, Haerter, an ace rifleman -- his platoon's "high shooter" -- was credited with shooting the driver of the bomb-laden truck before it detonated, quite possibly saving the lives of more than 30 Marines and Iraqis who were standing nearby.
Haerter became Sag Harbor's first Iraq War casualty, and indeed, its first combat fatality since World War II. He was also the first Suffolk County resident, 31st Long Islander, 203rd New Yorker, 4053rd American soldier (plus 186 contractors), and 253rd American 19-year old to die in Iraq since the US-backed invasion in March 2003.
Jordan had been in Iraq just one month, on his very first trip ever outside the US.
PREPARING FOR WAR
Jordan, a life-long Sag Harbor resident, was the only child of Christian Haerter and JoAnn Lyles, who had been divorced in the 1990s. Christian, 50, ran a water treatment business and JoAnn, with whom Jordan lived, worked at a building supply company. Jordan's grandfather Werner, a tool-and-die maker at the local Bulova Watch plant until it closed in 1981, had emigrated to Sag Harbor from Germany by way of Canada in 1953. He died in 1994, when Jordan was four.
Jordan was reportedly a well-liked, pretty conventional teenager with average-to-good grades and a bit of a willful streak. According to local newspaper accounts, his passions were for driving a small outboard motor boat on Peconic Bay, hanging out with his friends, driving his 1991 Toyota 4Runner on muddy back-trails around Sag Harbor, and eating his grandmother Lilly Haerter's spaetzle and home-grown blueberries.
There was also flying. According to a widely-repeated story about Jordan, at age 16, he'd started taking flying
lessons on his own, even though he had not informed his parents and was not yet old enough to legally drive
himself to airport.
Jordan was just as single-minded about joining the Marines. He and a high school classmate -- Josh DiStefano, one of his closest friends -- entered the US Marine Corps together in September 2006, just three months after graduating from Sag Harbor's Pierson High School, and one month after Jordan turned 18.
According to another close friend, Jordan had met a Marine recruiter at Pierson's annual "Career Day" that spring. Soon after, at a meeting with a high school guidance counselor, he stunned his mother with the news that he had decided to join the Marines.
At the time Jordan was still just 17, so his parents still had to sign off on his four-year commitment to the Marines' delayed-entry program. They did so reluctantly, but without much opposition -- they'd always encouraged Jordan to be action-oriented and to get a "real world" education. Jordan apparently used the enlistment bonus that he collected from the Marines to buy a new Dodge Ram pickup truck -- the same truck that his friend Josh would drive in Jordan's April 28th funeral procession.
WHERE WERE THE WARNING LABELS?
Jordan's reasons for joining the Marines are not entirely clear. Of course most young men his age are now avoiding military service like the plague. That is one reason why there has been a crisis in military recruiting.
This, in turn, is partly because the five-year old Iraq War is by now widely regarded by most Americans as an unmitigated fiasco, none of whose official justifications -- WMDs, Saddam's supposed ties to Al Qaeda, "democratization," or even the value of controlling Iraq's oil supplies -- have held up.
At best we are now down to a faith-based argument about whether things will be more or less disastrous if we exit the country now rather than at some ill-defined time in the future -- not exactly an inspiring ground for enlisting.
What is clear that Iraq is a very dangerous way to spend one's youth. Not only have there been more than 4075 US military fatalities, but there have also been at least 30,000 Americans physically wounded, 3000-5000 of whom have injuries so severe that they probably would have died in earlier wars that lacked today's rapid medical evacuations.
According to a RAND study released in April, 31.7 percent, or 520,000 of the 1.64 million American military personnel who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001 also suffer from "post-traumatic stress syndrome" (PTSD), depression, and/or "traumatic brain injury" (TBI) induced by explosive devices. These "less visible" injuries have not only contributed to a surge in suicides by US military personnel -- an estimated 6000 suicides in 2005 alone, growing at 20 percent in 2006-2007, with more than 12,000 attempts each year. Thus the number of Iraq-related suicide deaths in the American military far exceeds the number of combat deaths.
These mental injuries also impose a high cost on the families and friends of returning veterans, especially given the acute shortage of psychiatric care for returning veterans and their families. The Rand study found that only about half of those with such conditions were getting treatment, and half of those who have been treated got inadequate treatment.
Some cynics have even suggested that the military's understatement of these problems is partly due to the fact that the US military is so dependent on "voluntary" reenlistment that it is afraid to focus on PTSD and TBI -- both of which are amplified by the long tours of duty that troops are facing.
There is also evidence that such battlefield risks are systematically understated by recruiters, who are under severe pressure to fill quotas. Certainly there are is nothing comparable to the hazard warnings, "truth in lending," and SEC anti-fraud disclosure notices attached to, say, cigarette packages, drug prescriptions, car purchases, mortgages, and private equity investments that apply to these life-and-death enlistment decisions by 17-19 year olds. This has lead to widespread demands for new "truth in recruiting" standards, and restrictions on recruiter access to the nation's public high schools.
Finally, from an economic standpoint, military service -- now entirely voluntary, except for the "stop-loss" orders that has affected more than 80,000 reservists -- is simply not very competitive, as discussed below. Unless a student has virtually no civilian job alternatives, and either can't get into college at all or can't afford to go, the military is likely to be a losing economic proposition, unless it somehow plays a role in some longer-term career plan (see below).
WHAT WAS HE THINKING?
As noted, Jordan's family says that his decision to join the Marines came as a complete surprise.
While other family members had served in the military, there was no tradition of volunteering for duty in Jordan's family. His grandfather Werner, whom Jordan had known as a child, had been drafted into the German Army in World War II, and his other grandfather John Lyle had been drafted into the US Army. Jordan's father Christian had never served.
He spoke no foreign languages and, as noted, he'd never traveled
outside the US. In high school, he'd shown no particular interest in
world events or history. Although he appears to have supported the War after enlisting, he'd never
expressed strong feelings about the Iraq War before doing so.
From age five on, Jordan had enjoyed playing shoot-'em-up games on the computer, which he would later actually compare with some of his experiences in the military. He'd also insisted that his
Halloween costumes, meticulously designed by his mother, be accurate copies of those worn by soldiers in America's Revolutionary War. But such interests didn't differ all that much from those of any other Sag Harbor boys.
Nor does it seem that Jordan's decision to enlist in the Marines for the minimum term of four years strictly a matter of short-term job opportunities. True, he had probably received a small ($10,000 or less) signing bounty for enlisting. At the time of his death, however, Lance Cpl Haerter's "E-3" pay grade was earning him just $19,044 a year before taxes, plus food and housing allowances. By his fourth year in the service, depending on his rank, that might have increased to $25,000 per year at most -- less than $12 per hour. But that wage rate should have been easy for Jordan to beat in the Hamptons.
A TIDY PLAN
What appears more likely is that Jordan's decision to enlist was part of a longer-term career plan, which tended to understate the risks of being a Marine in Iraq, and overstate the chances of using military service as a stepping stone. His family says that after his four-year commitment to the Marines, he intended to join the Sag Harbor Village Police Department, get married, and eventually take over his father's water treatment business.
For the first 18 months of Jordan's enlistment, this plan appeared to be on track. He was assigned to "the Walking Dead," Alpha Company, First Battalion, the 9th Marine Regiment out of Camp LeJeune,
North Carolina. which had served with
distinction in Vietnam, Korea, and World War II.
After boot camp at Parris Island in South
Carolina and another year of training at Camp LeJeune and in northern Virginia and California, he was sent to Iraq in March 2008.
Once there, things also seemed to go well at first. On Monday April 21, the very day before his death, Jordan's mother received a letter from him, in which Jordan reported that Iraq was "easier than I expected," and assured her that he would take care to return home safely.
Unfortunately, as we'll discuss below, all this overlooked just a few complexities -- the unpredictable, maniacal nature of the Iraq War, and the tensions that are deeply embedded in the US military's "surge" strategy.....especially in Jordan's first and only Iraqi destination, Ramadi. (Continued in Part II.)
(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008
Thursday, November 30, 2006
ASSASSINATION POLITICS Learning the Lessons from Decades of "Conspiracies" James S. Henry
In the last few months we've had new evidence surfacing about old cases like RFK and JFK that have been unresolved for decades.
We also have many exciting new cases emerging from places like London, Beirut, Moscow, and Gaza -- cases that promise to be unresolved for decades to come.
However, there are some very important implications to be drawn from examining these political assassination cases side-by-side -- especially for
the bloodless abstractions put forth by the tiny, vocal group of unabashed neoimperialists at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Harvard Law School, the National Review, and the American Enterprise Institute who have been trying to rehabilitate assassination as an acceptable tool of US foreign policy.
In recent weeks we've been treated to a flurry of assassination news, including the dramatic polonium -210 poisoning of former KGB agent and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London; the gangland-style slayings of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and Andrei Kozlov, Deputy Governor of the Russian Central Bank, in Moscow; the fatal ambush of the Lebanese Christian Falangist leader Pierre Gemayel in Beirut; and UN approval for an international tribunal to pursue another Lebanese case, the February 2005 slaying of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
While players like the Russian mafia and other "private enemies" cannot be completely ruled out in these cases, it is suspected that most of them were "political assassinations," in the sense that the perpetrators were sponsored by hostile states or key factions within them, which were motivated by the desire to eliminate politically-influentlal enemies -- often across international borders.
In principle such political assassinations are to be distinguished from purely-terrorist attacks, as well as from attempts to eliminate "military" leaders -- for example, the June 2006 US Predator attack on Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the July 2006 explosion that killed the Chechnyan rebel Shamil Basayev, and Israel's innumerable targeted assassinations in the West Bank and Gaza.
In practice these distinctions often break down, given the fact that assassinations also terrorize, and that leaders like Basayev, Sheik Yassin, and Al-Zarqawi have also played important political roles in insurgent organizations.
But part of the price of being an insurgent from a state-less organization, rather than a conventional politician, journalist, agent of the state, or crusading bishop (Romero) is that one's enemies find it much more legally and socially acceptable, as well as more useful, to kill quite openly, and to take credit for the achievement.
This kind of official credit-taking rarely occurs for the type of cases cited earlier. Even if the targets happen to be corrupt politicians or blood-stained former KGB agents, they are deemed to be more "respectable" than the typical insurgent; indeed, conspiring to eliminate them is usually against the law. So responsibility must be hidden -- in many cases, for decades.
This brings us to the other recent events that have brought this subject back to the surface. These include the 43rd anniversary of the (by now faintly-observed) assassination of JFK on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, and the recent release of "Bobby," a feature film about events at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on RFK's last day, June 5, 1968.
They also include a striking news report that aired on BBC 2 on November 20, highlighting the new findings of filmmaker Shane O'Sullivan about the RFK assassination. According to O'Sullivan, a careful reexamination of photos taken of the crowd that fateful night at the Ambassador has disclosed the presence, in proximity, of at least three long-time CIA covert operatives who had already become notorious among JFK "assassination buffs" (we wear that label proudly) for other reasons. The men in question were not random associates -- they had all held senior positions in 1962-64 at JM/WAVE, the huge Miami CIA station that was heavily involved in anti-Castro plots and the recruitment of allies among Cuban exiles, US veterans, and the Mafia.
According to O'Sullivan, these were Gordon Campbell, the former Deputy Director of JM/WAVE; George Joannides, the former Director of Psychology Warfare at JM/WAVE; and most interesting of all, David Sanchez Morales, a senior assassinations and sabotage expert who also worked for the CIA in Venezuela, Uruguay, Laos, and Vietnam, and also reportedly developed a close relationship with Chicago mob boss John Rosseli. Roselli's body ended up in an oil drum off the coast of Miami, a week before he was supposed to testify before the House Select Committee on Assassination that was reinvestigating the JFK case.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
"SO MUCH FOR THE WALL...." Israel's Strategic Blunders, Round Two James S. Henry
Almost everyone except the bovine US President -- who also believes that US-backed forces are winning in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the "GWOT," despite mounting evidence to the contrary -- now acknowledges that Israel has suffered an important strategic setback at the hands of Hezbollah.
Indeed, the "soul-searchers" reportedly include a majority of Israelis, many members of the IDF, leading US and Israeli security analysts, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert himself. As one leading Israeli journalist put it today, "This is not merely a military defeat. This is a strategic failure whose far-reaching consequences are still not clear."
☮ Lessons (Re-) Learned?
In hindsight, both Israel and the US should now (re)-learn some very costly lessons about the risks of taking on a highly-motivated, well-trained and adequately-armed guerilla army on its own turf. They also have now an opportunity to remember some important lessons about the limitations of purely-military solutions to such conflicts.
▣ As in the case of the US strategic bombing campaign in Vietnam, Nato's air war in Kosovo (1999), and, indeed, the Allied air war against the Nazis during World War II, Israel's month-long air war against Hezbollah has largely failed to accomplish its strategic objectives. In particular, Hezbollah's ability launch dozens of missiles into northern Israel went utterly unscathed, with the largest single number of missles launched on August 12, the day before the ceasefire.
▣ Given the elaborate ground defenses, arsenal, and trained force that Hezbollah was able to pre-position in South Lebanon, its ground forces also avoided the knock-out blow that Israel and Washington had hoped for.
▣ By far the most effective "weapons" on the ground were not Iranian-supplied long-range missiles, drones, cruise missiles, or even Katushyas, but a combination of disciplined ccombat training and tactics, heavy investments in combat engineering, remote sensing, and other defensive equipment, and sophisticated anti-tank missiles, many of which appear to have been supplied by Russia, by way of Iran and Syria.
▣ On the other hand, proponents of anti-missile defense systems, "smart bombs," 60-ton Merkava tanks, border walls/electronic fences, and "infowar" clearly have some work to do. None of these systems performed very well for Israel during this conflict.
▣ The widespread bombing campaign exacted a horrific price from Lebanon's civilian population, uniting most political factions within Lebanon against Israel rather than against Hezbollah, at least temporarily.
▣ Only part of this campaign's horrific civilian toll in Lebanon can be explained by Hezbollah's propensity to "swim" in the civilian sea -- part was simply due to targeting mistakes on made by the Israeli Air Force and its intelligence sources, and part was due to deliberate choices made to go after "dual use" targets, including oil refineries, bridges, power plants, and transportation vehicles.
▣ The Summer War has also greatly boosted political support for Hezbollah on the "Arab street" throughout the Middle East, converting initial criticisms by the Saudis, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and other conservative regimes into widespread expressions of support. We suspect that much of this official support is insincere, but it probably reflects a genuine fear that these regimes have of their own people.
▣ Syria, which had been under strong political pressure to continue its detachment from Lebanon, has been "reaccredited" by Israel's excesses during the conflict -- able to assume the self-righteous role of Lebanon's protector against foreign aggression. On the other hand, the Baathist regime may also now be in a stronger negotiating position with respect to the West.
Iran's hardcore anti-reformers
have so far only been strengthened by Hezbollah's performance to date
in this conflict, and by Israel's costly tactics. Nor were they
discouraged from pursuing their nuclear development program. Their only real challenge now will be to replenish Hezbollah's sorely-depleted missile arsenal, and to find ways around the "ceasefire's" prohibition on Hezbollah repositioning.
▣ Most important, Hezbollah's ability to define victory as "not losing" against one of the world's most powerful armies has certainly not encouraged other radical groups around the planet to lay down their arms and pursue peaceful alternatives.
▣ For every Hezbollah fighter that was killed by the Israelis in the last month, the heavy bombing campaign probably generated several new recruits -- not only in Lebanon, but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir, and the West Bank.
- In short, as a result of this strategic setback, Condi Rice's Panglossian "birth pangs of democracy" are likely to prove more prolonged and painful than ever.
WAS THERE ANY ALTERNATIVE?
▣ At a tactical level, clearly Israel and the US both need to do much work to do regarding the failures of their intelligence operations
with respect to Hezbollah's arsenal and military preparations. We can
add this to the lengthy list of their other intelligence failures in
the last decade alone.
▣ The preference for high-altitude offensive bombing, naval shelling, and open-field tank/ heavy vehicle warfare over hard-slog ground offensives also needs to be reexamined. To the extent that this reflects a preference for arms-length "hi-tech warfare," and a reluctance to sacrifice infantry for the sake of defeating dedicated militants like Hezbollah, this may indeed rise to the level of the same "morale/ will to die" handicap that has crippled other many colonial armies, in places like Vietnam, Algeria, China, and (long ago) the US itself.
▣ At a strategic level, the notion that the "enemy" simply consists of a finite stock of "fanatical terrorists," motivated primarily by "Islamo-fascist" dogma, or -- as Benjamin Netanyahu put it last week -- "12th century religious doctrines," is simple-minded and unhelpful. Among other things, they were clearly very professional, highly-trained soldiers. Unless military planners come to appreciate the political implications of what they do, and the real nature of their enemies, they may lose the war both on and off the battlefield.
▣ Another key point here is that the "Islamofascist" categorization, and the tendency to lump all "Islamic radicals" and "terrorists" together, has blinded both the US and Israel crucial schisms -- for example, the Alawite-Sunni rivalries that have been so important in Syria, Shiite-Sunni rivalries in Iraq, Bahrain, and Lebanon, and secular - religious rivalries in Palestinine.
▣ True, it is now very late in the day, and the long-term failure of Israel and its enemies in the region to make any progress at the bargaining table may indeed mean that this overall story is headed for a terrible climax.
From this angle, however, perhaps the one good thing about this strategic disaster is that it may remind Israel and the US that, whatever the final outcome of any attempt to solve the problems of the Middle East by military means, it will not be cheap, easy, or devoid of surprises.
- (c) JSH, SubmergingMarkets, 2006
Friday, March 03, 2006
"IRAQ'S MOMENTOUS ELECTION, ONE YEAR LATER" Iraq War Supporters Are Running For Cover James S. Henry
For those who have not been paying attention in class, the so-called "Iraq War" has recently been setting new records for violence, brutality, and terror -- with at least 379 to 1300 iraqi fatalities in the last week alone, in the wake of the bombing of the 1,062-year old Al-Askariya shrine at Samarra.
Nor did the apprentice Iraqi Army -- with its 20,000-man force, trained by the US military at the phenomenal cost of $15 billion to date, or $750,000 per soldier -- prove to be much help in quelling the violence. This is not really surprising -- after all, this Army shares the same divided loyalties as the population at large.
While a few senior US military officers have issued Westmoreland-like statements assuring us that "the crisis has passed," and that this is not -- I repeat -- not a "civil war," it is hard to know what else to call it.
A few journalists have speculated that, ironically enough, all the increased violence and polarization may undermine the Pentagon's "hopes" to reduce the number of US troops in Iraq to 100,000 by year end.
Those "hopes," however, are vague. One suspects that they have always been mainly for public consumption, including the morale of US troops. We only began to hear about them last fall when opposition to the war really soared in the US.
The Pentagon's not-so-secret hope -- among senior planners, at least -- is different. This is to turn Iraq into a neutered or even pro-US -- better yet for cosmetic purposes, "democratic" -- regime right in the heart of the Middle East, complete with permanent basing rights, immunity for US personnel from war crimes prosecution by the International Criminal Court, and, naturally enough, the occasional juicy construction, security, arms, and oil contract for friendly US and UK enterprises -- at least so long as they are not owned by Dubai.
ALL AGAINST ALL?
It is this vision that is most threatened by the recent surge in Iraqi violence. Clearly this is no longer just a "foreign terrorist/ dead-ender-led insurgency" against the US and its apprentice army.
Nor has the US-guided constitutional process, and continuous interventions by our heady Ambassadors in Baghdad -- safe behind the walls of the world's largest US embassy -- succeeded in stabilizing the country.
Rather, Iraq is now engaged in a complex, multi-sided bloodbath, fought along age-old religious, ethnic, and clan lines by well-armed groups. While American battle deaths continue, almost all the casualties are now Iraqis felled by Iraqis.
Furthermore, this inter-Iraqi violence goes well beyond the suicide bombings that still garner most of the media's attention. It escalated sharply in the last year, long before the Samarra bombing, and even as the vaunted constitutional process was unfolding.
For example, as reported by the Guardian this week, the former director of the Baghdad Morgue recently fled the country, fearing for his life after reporting that more than 7000 Iraqis had been tortured and murdered by "death squads."
According to the former head of the UN's human rights office in Iraq, most of these victims had been tortured by the Badr Brigade, the military wing of SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
As we reported over a year ago on this site, SCIRI is not just some fringe element. It is one of Iraq's two key Shiite-led political factions, and one of the principle victors in the December 2005 parliamentary elections. Unfortunately, our expectations have been fulfilled. Upon acquiring power, SCIRI has behaved exactly as anyone familiar with its history -- but apparently not the US military -- would have expected.
Meanwhile, among America's befuddled liberal intelligentsia, hard-nosed realism has been sorely missing. The December election and its January 2005 predecessor were events that most neoliberal observers -- for example, the American Prospect -- could not praise highly enough:
Iraqis have concluded one of the most successful constitutional processes in history. Rarely, if ever, before has an important country moved from tyranny to pluralism so quickly, with so little bloodshed, and with such a quality and degree of popular participation.
This assessment was spectacularly wrong. Iraq's constitutional process has not led to "pluralism," much less staunched the bloodshed.
Rather -- no doubt with ample assistance from Iranian secret agents, "foreign fighters," and other officious intermeddlers -- the process has exacerbated social and religious divisions -- divisions that Iraq was always noted for mitigating.
The continued US presence has also helped to legitimize the extremists, letting them fly the "national liberation" flag. We have reached the point where country's armed private militias are expanding faster than the US-trained police and army.
Indeed, about the only thing that all Iraqi factions -- apart from some
Kurds and the country's dwindling minority of remaining secularists -- agree on now is the desire for the US military to leave. We should respect their wishes.
TOO FEW TROOPS?
By now, even arch-conservative pundits like William F. Buckley have agreed that the Iraq War was a costly mistake, and that a US withdrawal is called for.
Meanwhile, however, some die-hard US neoliberal defenders of the war -- including tough-guys like the New York Times' Tom Friedman and Vanity Fair's Christopher Hitchens -- are still denying the existence of Iraq's deep-seated, historically-specific obstacles to democratization and unified self-rule, as well as the overwhelming opposition in Iraq to the US presence.
It might also interfere with certain pet theories, like the "inevitable triumph of technology and free markets over local markets, nations, peoples, customs and practices," or the "inevitable struggle to the death between Islamic extremism and Western democracy."
On closer inspection, this claim spins itself into the ground faster than a Halliburton drill bit.
- One key reason why more troops were not available was the fact that the war's supporters -- not only the Bush Administration, but also leading Democrats like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Joe Lieberman, and their pundit camp followers -- failed to persuade anyone other than Mad Tony Blair that a variety of cockamamie theories about "democratizing the Middle East," the "connection" between Saddam and al-Qaeda, and WMDs had any validity whatsoever.
- Second, while a handful of Pentagon skeptics did support larger troop commitments before the invasion, they were in the minority -- and not just because of Rumsfeld's desire to fight the war with a high-tech army. Most of the war planners and pro-war enthusiasts alike were swept away by Friedman-like naievete about the enthusiasm of ordinary Iraqis for US-backed "liberation." They systematically underestimated the Iraqis' nationalism and their resentment of occupation -- especially by armies of "Christian" nationals from the US and the UK. In retrospect, it is easy to say that even more troops were needed to maintain order and suppress resistance. But the larger US presence would have provoked even more resistance.
- As most US commanders agreed, the "more troops" answer is flawed from a technical perspective, given the nature of the insurgency. It would have provided more targets for suicide bombers, without delivering a remedy for their simple IED and sniper tactics. While more troops might have provided better border interdiction, Iraq has a larger land mass than Vietnam, and twice as many neighbors. For the "more troops" claim to work with any certainty, the number would have had to rival Vietnam proportions -- at least 500,000, probably for several years. The US military manpower system has already experienced great strains trying to sustain its 133,000 commitment to Iraq with a volunteer army -- to be effective, the "more troops" approach might well have required a military draft.
Apart from New York's Congressman Rangle, who may have just been tweaking the establishment's chin for his black constituents, not even the most aggressive neoliberal warhawk has ever proposed that.
Ever since WMDs failed to turn up and Saddam's connection to al-Qaeda turned out to be a canard, the neoliberal warhawks have been running for cover -- worried, quite rightly, that history will not take kindly to their dissembling, and their collaboration with the Bush Administration's neoimperialists.
For much of the last three years this cover story was provided by the expectation of "nation building," "democratization," and the "training of the Iraqi Army" -- achievements that always seemed to be, conveniently enough, just around the corner.
As the last week's events have dramatized, these are all more mirages in the desert. We've run out of time and excuses.
Friday, June 24, 2005
GREEN-'HOUSING' GAZANS James S. Henry and Andrew Hellman
The US government, the Palestinians, and indeed most Israelis are delighted that the Sharon Government has finally stood up to some settler extremists, and is still on track to pull out of the Gaza Strip by mid-August.
However, we should all pay closer attention to the precise way that the Israelis are leaving. There appear to be several missed opportunities to leave a much healthier economic base for Gaza's 1.4 million Palestinians when the Israelis leave-- a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for eventual peace.
In particular, Israel is now on a path to dismantle or destroy over 1500 homes and 1000 acres of greenhouses, which already provide thousands of jobs for Palestinians, and might provide thousands more....
At current course and speed, Israel may be missing a huge opportunity to help Gaza become something more than – in the words of Muhammad Dahlan, the Palestinian disengagement coordinator – "a giant prison camp," with 35 percent unemployment, 77 percent poverty, a youthful population whose median age is 16, no seaport, a unusable airport, and few visible means of support other than foreign aid, rock-throwing, and amateur rocket-building.
No wonder that Hamas has been able to recruit a huge base of
supporters there. It won seven out of ten local council seats in Gaza's municipal elections last December, and would likely have soundly defeated Mahmoud
Abbas' Fatah Party in the Palestinian parliamentary elections that were
originally scheduled for July 17th, but were postponed by Abbas indefinitely in
One missed opportunity is housing. At a recent press conference, Secretary of State Rice stated that 1,600 Israeli settler’s houses will be destroyed. The official rationale is that such single-family homes are not economically viable for the Palestinians in Gaza.
In reality, however, that rationale was just for public consumption, insisted upon by the Sharon Government for PR purposes. With more than 1 million Gazans to consider, surely there are of course quite a few elderly couples, young couples, and smaller families who might have used the houses. They also have other potential uses -- business and government offices, clinics, even guest houses for visiting tourists, if the area ever stabilized.
The truth is that the houses will be destroyed for much less defensible reasons. First, it is widely viewed as one of the easiest ways to insure that the 8,500 Israeli settlers actually leave once and for all.
Only 284 families had signed up for compensation under the Evacuation Compensation Law, and officials are expecting more violence between Israelis and Palestinians as the August 15th disengagement approaches.
From Israeli's standpoint, the destruction also prevents the politically dangerous image of victorious Palestinians waving Hamas flags on the roofs of former settler's homes, celebrating another Lebanon-like eviction.
Greenhouses could be an even more important missed opportunity. Currently, there are about 1000 acres of Israeli-owned state-of-the-art greenhouses in Gaza. They are worth up to $80 million and employ about 3,500 Palestinians. The fruits and vegetables that they produce account for 15% of Israel’s agricultural exports, mainly to Europe. According to agricultural experts, they might potentially provide as many as 7,000 regular jobs, supporting, in turn, up to 30,000, and perhaps stimulating the growth of related industries.
In short, figuring out a way to keep the greenhouses going could provide stable jobs and incomes for tens of thousands of Gazans, continued good business for Israel, and also offer an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to show a little badly-needed cooperative spirit.
However, while the fate of these greenhouses is still being negotiated, and the idea of preserving them has some advocates, the outlook for them at this late date is grim.
According to two Israeli sources in a position to know, the most likely scenario is for the greenhouses to be dismantled and relocated elsewhere, or just demolished and replaced with new greenhouses at new settlements in Nitzanim, just 12 miles from Gaza.
These sources mentioned several key obstacles to a Gaza greenhouse idea.
First, with no seaport and Israel unwilling to permit Gaza to have air rights, and no highway to the West Bank, the perishable goods produced in these greenhouses could not reach the international market unless other transport arrangements are made.
Second, Israel's settler certainly have no good will toward the Gazans, and Israel's agro-businesses don't want to, in effect, put the Palestinians into business to compete with them. A deal would have to be worked out for joint marketing and profit sharing, as well as compensation for the value of the greenhouses. Presumably the World Bank or USAID might be willing to finance such a solution, as they've indicated. Indeed, James Wolfensohn, former World Bank President and Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement, has evidently been trying to work out such a solution. The Dutch Government has also offered to buy them for the Palestinians.
More generally, there is no question that Israelis and Palestinians have little love lost for each other. Right now the Israeli Government is focused on leaving as quickly and safely as possible, and the Palestinians are focused on just having them go. Left to their own devices, there will be no "win-win" solution.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
"I AM NOT NOW, NOR HAVE I EVER BEEN, AN OIL TRADER!" George Galloway Kicks Senate Butt
This week's developments in the so-called Iraq Oil-for-Food scandal ("OFF") have turned out to be nothing less than a fiasco for the US Senate's Permanent Investigations Subcommittee and its feckless freshman Republican Chairman, Minnesota's Norm Coleman.
In the first place, a newly-released minority staff report by Democrats on the Subcommittee shows that Bayoil USA, a Houston-based oil trading company headed by David B. Chalmers, Jr., now under indictment, was by far the most important single conduit for the illegal surcharges pocketed by Saddam Hussein under the program.
The report showed that more than half of Iraq's oil sales that generated surcharges for Saddam were made to US buyers during the period September 2000 to September 2002, most of them right under the nose of the Bush Administration and the US Treasury's rather lackadaisical Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Other US companies that have reportedly received subpoenas in the on-going surcharges investigation include ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and Houston's El Paso Corp, as well as prominent Texas oilman Oscar S. Wyatt Jr., who was also deeply involved in supporting and profiting from oil-for-food.
Next, British MP George Galloway, appearing voluntarily before the Subcommittee, deliverered a feisty denial of allegations that he had personally profited from the oil allocations, as well as a withering assault on the last twenty years of US policies toward Iraq.
Meeting little resistance from the badly-outgunned Senators, Galloway made the points that
- He met with Saddam no more times than Donald Rumsfeld, who had met with Saddam to sell arms and provide maps, while Galloway met him to seek peace and encourage arms inspections;
- He had actually opposed Saddam's policies way back in 1990, while the first Bush Adminstration was still making loans and selling arms to Saddam;
- He had always opposed the oil-for-food program as a poor substitute for lifting sanctions, which unfairly punished all Iraqis for the sins of its dicator -- especially its children, up to 1 million of whom may have died because of increased infant mortality;
- The Subcommittee's investigation was a "smokescreen" that distracted attention from far more serious issues -- such as the disappearance of more than $8.8 billion of Iraqi national funds during the first year after the US invasion.
The combative Scot's hard-hitting testimony makes compelling viewing.
Meanwhile, we recall that back in June 2003, J. Bryan Williams III -- ExxonMobil's former head of global crude procurements, and the US' hand-picked UN overseer on the Iraq Sanctions Committee, in charge of making sure that Saddam did not obtain any illicit income from the oil-for-food program -- pled guilty to evading taxes on $7 million, including a $2 million kickback to help Mobil win business in Kazakhstan's oil dictatorship.
So there is at least some good news here, Senators -- if you want to find big-time corruption in the international oil trade, you don't have to go looking for it in London, Moscow, or Paris.
These developments also help to put Senator Coleman's continual "head-hunting" of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in perspective. While there's no evidence that Kofi profited personally from OFF, his minions were probably not squeeky-clean. But the enormous profits earned by Saddam's "fellow travelers" in Houston make them seem like pikers.
Indeed, it appears that Annan's key fault is that he had the temerity to oppose the Iraq invasion, and even to label the War "illegal" -- once the invasion had already occurred. With Paul Volcker's final report on the oil-for-food scandal due out soon, and US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton (!) likely to arrive as soon as he clears the Senate and adjusts his meds, the outlook for the summer is definitely for more fireworks.
(c) SubmergingMarkets.Com, 2005.
Saturday, October 30, 2004
IRAQI FUBAR: The Road to God Knows Where
Whatever Americans may choose to believe about whether they are really better off with Saddam Hussein gone, it is by now evident that, nineteen months after the US invasion of Iraq, most ordinary Iraqis feel much less secure, much less well-off, and more anti-American than ever before.
Indeed, the country appears to be spiraling out of control. Nor is it clear that even a sharp post-US election crackdown by Coalition Forces, with all the attendant Iraqi casualties that it is likely to produce, will be able to turn this trend around.
So far, neither leading US Presidential candidate appears to have fully come to grips with this deteriorating situation in Iraq, or the fundamental strategic blunders that underlie it. At least they are not saying so in public.
A rather undistinguished, pig-headed, President continues to defend his faith-based initiative for “democratizing” the Middle East.
A rather undistinguished junior Senator from Massachusetts -– who has spent much of his life trying to be on all sides of recent US wars -- continues to argue that the key problems with the Iraq War have been tactical – too few troops and equipment, too little Allied support, too few trained Iraqis, careless handling of high explosives, and so forth.
Neither of these positions is realistic.
Indeed, as we will argue below, regardless of who is elected US President on November 2, the facts on the ground in Iraq are now pointing relentlessly toward one seemingly counter-intuitive conclusion:
The US will only be able to stabilize Iraq, preserve that country's national unity, win more support for the interim government, undermine the role of “foreign terrorists” in the country, and secure a modicum of domestic and international support for “democratization” if and when it links the calendar for Iraqi democratization and constitutional reform to a firm, near-term timetable for the withdrawal of all US forces (though not necessarily all Coalition forces) from the country.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
Democracy in America and Elsewhere: Part II: Recent Global Trends Toward Democracy
Of course we are also very proud of our free markets, our relative affluence, and our occasional ambitions -- at the moment perhaps a bit muted -- to provide equal opportunities for all our citizens.
However, when we try to market our country’s best features to the rest of the world, or teach our children to be proud of their country, it is not the economy that we brag about.
Even self-styled “conservatives” usually lead, not with glowing descriptions of perfect markets and opportunities for unlimited private gain, but with our supposedly distinctive commitment to defending and expanding political democracy and human rights at home and abroad.
Indeed, one of the most important official justifications for recent US forays into the Middle East, as well as our many other foreign interventions, has been to help bring “democracy” to supposedly backward, undemocratic societies like Iraq and Afghanistan (…and before that, Haiti, Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guyana, Guatemala, Iran, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, etc. etc. etc.)
Even though, time and again, this noble commitment has turned out to be pure rhetoric, it provides such an elastic cover story for all our many transgressions that it keeps on being recycled, over and over and over again.
Whatever the truth about US motives for such interventions, it may come as a surprise to learn that in the last two decades, the United States itself has actually fallen behind the rest of the democratic world in terms of “best democratic practices” and the overall representativeness of our own domestic political institutions.
Meanwhile, many developing countries have recently been making very strong progress toward representative democracy, without much help from us.
Indeed, in some cases, like South Africa, this progress was made in the face of opposition from many of the very same neoimperialists who have lately voiced so much concern about transplanting democracy to the Middle East.
While we have been resting on our democratic laurels, or even slipping backwards, the fact is that emerging democracies like Brazil, India, and South Africa, as well as many of our First World peers, have been adopting procedures for electing governments that are much more democratic at almost every stage of the electoral process than those found in the US.
The institutions they have been developing include such bedrock elements of electoral democracy as the rules for:
Of course effective democracy has many other crucial elements beside electoral processes alone. These include (1) the relative influence of legislative, executive, and judicial branches; (2) the concrete opportunities that ordinary citizens have -- as compared with highly-organized special interests and professional lobbyists -- to influence government decisions between elections; (3) the respective influence of private interests, religious groups, and the state; (4) the degree to which the rule of law prevails over corruption and "insider" interests; and (5) the overall degree of political consciousness and know-how.
However, fair and open electoral processes are clearly a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for effective democracy -- all these other elements simply cannot make up for their absence.
We hope that increasing the recognition of this “electoral democracy gap” between the US and the rest of the democratic world will be helpful in several ways:
This used to be much easier than it is now. As of the early 1970s, there were only about 40 countries that qualified as “representative democracies,” and most were First World countries.
Since then, however, there has been a real flowering of democratic institutions in the developing world. This was partly due to the collapse of the Soviet Empire in the late 1980s. But many more people were in fact “liberated” by the Third World debt crisis, which undermined corrupt, dictatorial regimes all over the globe, from Argentina, Brazil, and Chile to Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa, and Zaire.
Voting in the Philippines, 2004
Assessments of the degree of “freedom” of individual regimes by organizations like Freedom House or the UN Development Program’s Human Development Indicators, are notoriously subjective. However, while there is plenty of room for disagreement about specific countries, there is little disagreement on the overall trend. (See Table 3.)
By 2004, about 60 percent, or 119, of the nearly 200 countries on the planet could be described as “electoral democracies,” compared with less than one-third in the early 1970s. Another 25-30 percent have made significant progress toward political freedom.
Voting in South Africa, 1994
Indeed, notwithstanding our present challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan, from the standpoint of global democracy, this has been a banner year. As of September 2004, 32 countries had already held nationwide elections or referenda, with 886 million people voting. (See Table 4.) By the end of 2004, another 33 countries will join the US in doing so – nearly three times as many national elections as were held each year, on average, in the 1970s.
All told, this year, more than 1.7 billion adults – 42 percent of the world’s voter-age population -- will be eligible to vote in national elections, and more than 1.1 billion will probably vote. That that will make American voters less than 10 percent of the global electorate.
Of course, some of these elections will be held in countries where democratic institutions and civil liberties are still highly imperfect. And some developing countries like Russia and Venezuela have recently been struggling to find a balance between democracy and national leadership, partly to undo the effects of neoliberal policies in the 1990s, or in response to terrorist threats.
But the good news is that democracy is clearly not a “luxury good.” The demand for it is very strong even in low-income countries like Bolivia, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Guatemala, and Botswana. And while self-anointed dictators, military rulers, and one-party elites or theocracies are still clinging to power in 50-60 countries that have more than 2.4 billion residents, such regimes are more and more anachronistic. (See Table 5.)
Interestingly, Asian dictatorships, especially China and Vietnam, now account for more than three-fifths of the portion of the world’s population that still lives under authoritarian rule. While several Islamic countries appear on the list of authoritarian countries, they account for just one fifth of the total. Furthermore, by far the most important ones happen to be close US “allies” like Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
Evidently the simple-minded neoconservative “clash of cultures” model, which pits supposedly democratic, pluralist societies against an imaginary Islamic bloc, doesn’t have much explanatory power.
Furthermore, the US also clearly faces some very tough choices, if it is really serious about promoting non-discriminatory, secular democratic states that honor the separation between church and state among its Islamic allies, as well as in Palestine, and, for that matter, Israel.
Voting in East Timor. 2001
A more encouraging point is that many developing countries are already providing useful lessons in democratization. Indeed, as we will see in Part III of this series, there is much to learn from the experiences of new democracies like Brazil and South Africa.
These countries are undertaking bold experiments with measures like free air time for candidates, “registration-free” voting, direct Presidential elections, electronic voting, proportional representation, and the public finance of campaigns. While not all these experiments have worked out perfectly, the fact these countries have already demonstrated a capacity to innovate in “democratic design” is very encouraging.
Of course there is a long-standing tension between the US dedication to Third World democracy and its tolerance for the independence that democratic nationalism often brings. By renewing and deepening our own commitment to democracy at home, we will also protect it abroad -- even though (as in Venezuela, Russia, Iran, and perhaps eventually also Iraq) it does not always produce governments that we agree with.
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
The UN Security Council Resolution on Iraq: Breakthrough?
Yesterday the UN Security Council voted unanimously to approve a new resolution with regard to Iraq. This action is already being positioned by Bush, Blair, and some journalists as a legitimation of the 160,000 Coalition forces in Iraq, and a sea change in the international community's attitude toward the war.
We need to examine this closely, to see whether it really is a turning point. Does it represent an important concession by the hard-pressed Bush Administration to important UN demands -- not so much because of the June 30 deadline, but because of the real deadline, November 2? Or was it just another example of the UN's inability to accomplish very much on this core international issue other than to "follow the US or get out of the way?"
Doesn't the UN resolution really amount to a kind of "appeasement" of Bush and Blair, a bizarre reward for having launched this illegal war without explicit UN authorization? What do the Kurds think of the UN resolution, which completely ignores their demand for autonomy? And where does it leave the hapless John Kerry, who now finds that one of his few policy suggestions for Iraq, the notion of getting the UN more involved, has been encapsulated by the President?
To begin with, the resolution endorses President Bush's June 30th deadline for the transfer of "full responsibility and authority"to the "sovereign" Interim Government of Iraq.
The UN resolution also notes that on June 30, control over accumulated profits from oil sales and the UN's "oil for food" program will be transferred to the interim Iraqi government. Of course, given the high costs of security and recent constraints on production and exports, oil profits have been relatively modest. As for the UN oil for food program, it is almost extinct, with key former administrators under investigation for corruption. For the foreseeable future, therefore, the interim Iraqi Government is likely to remain heavily dependent on aid from the US Government, which is still sitting on more than $18 billion that was supposed to have been spent on infrastructure, and on relief from Iraq's $130 billion foreign debt.
Furthermore, the new "sovereign" government is also instructed to "refrain from taking any actions affecting Iraq's destiny beyond its interim period of governance."
Presumably this rules out privatizing oil assets. One hopes that it doesn't also prevent the interim government from challenging US plans to build 14 new military bases all over the country, or from revising the extraordinary neoliberal provisions in the country's new laws on investment, trade, privatization, and taxes.
These were drafted by Paul Bremer's staff (including McKinsey veteran and Greenwich-based venture capitalist Tom Foley) and adopted by the Iraqi Governing Council and the CPA without any significant debate. They include some of the most extreme "free market" provisions in the developing world -- 2 percent import duties, wide open capital markets, and a maximum 15 percent income tax rate. Russia, which already tried an experiment with such measures in the early 1990s, should volunteer to give the new interim Iraqi government some free advice about the effects of such measures.
AN END TO OCCUPATION?
The UN resolution also declares the "end of the occupation" and the authority of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority as of June 30th. On the other hand, it also recognizes the mandate of the "multinational force" (MNF) currently in Iraq at the request of the interim Government (sic)" to "take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability."
In exercising this broad mandate, the MNF is requested to "work in partnership" with the new "sovereign" Iraqi Government. The request from France and Spain that the MNF report to the Iraqis was turned down.
Nor is there any attempt to create a UN peacekeeping force, other than a "small" (4,000 person!) force to protect UN workers themselves. (How many UN workers will there be, exactly?) Apart from the US and the UK, none of the other Security Council members are yet prepared to commit their own troops to joining the MNF in this adventure -- despite their newfound enthusiasm for Bush's plans.
The UN promises to review this MNF mandate in one year. It also assures us that if the Iraqi Government wants the UN to terminate the MNF's mandate to be in Iraq, it only has to ask. Of course the US will then promptly withdraw all its troops from Iraq, because, after all, we only invaded the country with...uh..UN authorization?
That kind of request might conceivably occur under some hypothetical future Iraqi government. But the UN knows full well that at the moment, this "right to demand withdrawal" business is pure cosmetics -- the Tigris- Euphrates will freeze in summertime and all looters will leave Baghdad before such a request is made by the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
This rising star and secular Shiite was not a London brain surgeon for nothing. He is also a leading Chalabi rival, Iraqi National Accord leader, and early Baath Party member who was hand-picked by the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council, with Paul Bremer's backing.
Allawi, who is reported to have spied for the Baathist Party in London before he turned against Saddam in the 1980s, has a long history of cooperation with US and UK intelligence agencies, as well as with disgruntled senior Iraqi Army officers. Allawi has become the agencies' preferred alternative to Chalabi -- a talented administrator who represents "the acceptable face" of Baathism, and has none of Chalabi's weird connections with the Iranians, busted Jordanian banks, or the insufferable Richard N. Perle.
It is far too early to say whether or not Allawi will be able to leverage his "transitional" role into a more permanent one, or even live to see the fall, but he and his numerous relatives -- some of whom are married to Chalabi's relatives -- are more likely to ask for increased MNF troops than to ask them to withdraw.
The UN resolution does recognize that Iraqi security forces will, at least technically, report to the Iraqi Government rather than to the MNF. This provision may help Allawi restore more control to his friends in the Iraqi Army. But since they will continue to derive most of their payroll, training, arms and ammunition from the Coalition for the foreseeable future, it is unclear how much practical difference this really makes.
Unless the MNF is booted out by a successor Iraqi Government, according to the UN resolution, its mandate is scheduled to expire "on completion of the political process outlined above." Optimists may read this to mean "by December 31, 2005." But that assumes that this "process" will stay on track. We have all seen in the last 14 months just how accurate such forecasts have been with respect to Iraqi politics -- for example, the abortive effort to "write a constitution by March 2004." Bearing this in mind, the UN resolution was careful not to specify an explicit date for MNF withdrawal.
THE ROAD TO DEMOCRACY?
The UN resolution also endorses a rather convoluted timetable for the creation of representative government in Iraq -- the broad contours of which can only be described as "Floridian," in terms of the efforts being made to control the exercise of democratic choice as much as possible, even while making loud noises in favor of it.
- The process begins with a "national conference reflecting the diversity of Iraqi society." How a conference can do that without being democratically elected is a puzzle that evidently the UN has solved, since it will help to organize and convene this conference in July 2004.
That conference, in turn, will select a "Consultative Council" of 100 members, which will "advise" the Interim Government and have "veto power over its orders." Precisely how this Council, which has just been added to the stew, will exercise this potentially very important power over Allawi and his team, is unclear -- remember, folks, we are making this up as we go along.
- With the UN's help and the Consultative Council's "advice," the Interim Government will then hold "direct democratic" elections for a "Transitional National Assembly" by the end of 2004, or January 31, 2005 at the latest. This is the UN, remember; one-month variations in schedules fall like raindrops from the sky.
- This Transitional National Assembly, in turn, will establish a "Transitional National Government," which would take charge of drafting a "permanent constitution."
Presumably the Consultative Council will by then have faded away, along with the interim Iraqi government and the Iraqi Governing Council before it. Iraq may be setting something of a record here for prophylactic appointed governmental bodies, designed to sharply slow the rate of descent to that point where ordinary people actually get to vote. (The so-called "non-Florida point.")
- Finally, on the basis of the yet-to-be drafted constitution, a "constitutionally-elected government" will finally be elected by the Iraqi people themselves by December 31, 2005. Or perhaps by January 31, 2006; who knows?
What are ordinary Iraqis likely to make of this "timetable?"
First, they've already had more than 14 months of "interim" rule by people who were basically appointed by foreigners, and many of them evidently have some very strong opinions about the results.
Now they are being told that they will basically continue to be governed by recycled ex-Baathist exiles and military men, also chosen by foreigners, for at least another seven months.
Furthermore, these appointees will also now be in charge of the Iraqi military. In a country where government is commonly viewed, with strong historical justification, as a private fiefdom that is populated by a gang of thieves, this is unlikely to encourage people to believe in the UN's roadmap.
Finally, they are also being told that even when they do finally get to vote for the first time, by say January 2005, they will only be electing yet another "transitional" government, on the way to a constitutional convention and yet another new government the following year.
In this regard, the Iraqi Kurds, in particular, have enormous reasons for concern. Their demands for a loose federation and a great deal of autonomy, which were recognized in the draft March 2004 constitution, were not mentioned at all by the UN. Apparently they face the prospect of having to start over from scratch, without nearly as much leverage and high level support as they had before. Already key Kurdish members of the interim Iraqi Government have threatened to resign over this issue.
In short, even if everything goes according to plan, this political timetable requires ordinary Iraqis -- many of whom are still unemployed, and most of whom are already incredibly angry at how the US has mismanaged Saddam's overthrow -- to have extraordinary patience and to suspend an extraordinary amount of disbelief.
But we've already seen how difficult it was to achieve agreement on an overall national constitution this year. My humble conjecture is that that difficulty was not due to a shortage of UN advice, consultative councils, or Security Council resolutions.
Rather, it reflects very real, deep-seated divisions of views, interests, ideology, and affiliations within Iraqi society.
These divisions may never be overcome, or they might be overcome by a bold experiment in de-occupation, liberation, local autonomy, and democratization. But they are unlikely to be overcome by the slow-motion, controlled kind of pseudo-democratization that the UN, in its wisdom, has just endorsed.
We should not really be surprised, therefore, if the roadmap just outlined produces even greater resistance and discord, rather than peace and quiet.
Beyond the impacts of the UN resolution within Iraq, the other key risk is that it constitutes appeasement. In effect, rather than being sanctioned by the UN for starting this preemptive war on false grounds in clear violation of international law, the US and the UK are now to some extent being let off the hook. And Bush and Blair, in particular, who are both fighting for their political lives, will undoubtedly be helped by the perception that their policy has at last been embraced by the UN.
Of course UN members can argue that they had little choice from the standpoint of helping the Iraqi people, and that the new resolution says nothing about the "original sin" that may have been committed.
This will be cold comfort to Bush opponents like John Kerry, who had made UN and Nato involvement in Iraq a key pillar of his approach to the war. At this point, armed with the UN's blessing, it is no longer clear how Kerry's position differs at all from the President's.
More important, by swallowing whole so much of the Bush/Blair program for Iraq, caving in on UN representative Brahimi's preferences for key appointments in the interim Iraqi government, and effectively sanctioning the continuation of the occupation until the country achieves political nirvana (or forever - whichever comes first), the UN may have reduced its own influence even further, and cleared the way for more such adventures.
After more than a year of grossly mismanaging Iraq's transition to democracy, and more than eight decades of pushing the country toward autocracy, the reluctance of today's "Great Powers" to put an end to this custodial occupation and proceed more expeditiously with a bold experiment in "ASAP" local democracy is discouraging.
Between the lines, this measure has really sanctioned the continuation of an open-ended military occupation, alienated key constituents like the Kurds, undermined the opponents of the war, and rewarded serial violators of international law.
Yet to our senior leaders, and, indeed, many journalists, victory, suitably redefined, is once more just around the corner.
Of course we never found those WMDs or the links to al-Qaeda, we were not welcomed as liberators, and a majority of Iraqis now want us to leave the way we came in --quickly. But the theory is that now, with the UN solidly in our corner, and more and more troops on the ground (perhaps including some from NATO), we really will be able to (1) stabilize the country; (2) hold more or less free elections; (3) make sure that the winners are friendly moderates; (4) hang on to our precious military bases; and of course (5) minimize US casualties.
Over the next few months, I fear that a great many more lives will be wasted as we wait once again to find out whether or not this latest untested neo-imperialist prophesy is true.
(c) James S. Henry, SubmergingMarkets.com, 2003. Not for reproduction or other use without express consent from the author. All rights reserved.
Thursday, May 27, 2004
052704.Iraq - High Time to "Cut and Walk" Defining Alternatives to"Stay and Die" and "Cut and Run"
“A nation has prestige according to its merits. America's contribution to world civilization must be more than a continuous performance demonstration that we can police the planet."
“A nation should not send half a million military personnel to a distant continent or stake its international standing and domestic cohesion unless its leaders are in a position to describe victory. This implies a definition of attainable political goals and a realistic strategy to achieve them.”
Back in the days when fixed exchange rates were the order of the day, Citibank's former CEO, Walter Wriston, had a very simple rule for deciding when to short a country's currency -- whenever a Finance Minister reassured investors that under no circumstances whatsoever would the country’s currency ever be devalued.
One might have thought that a similar rule would apply to US military misadventures. Perhaps it does, but with a much longer time lag.
In the investment world, of course, the cardinal rule is to “cut one’s losses early."
Recently, however, a growing number of US politicians, senior officials and pundits on all sides of the political spectrum have counseled us to do precisely the opposite in Iraq.
Despite the many recent setbacks, and the evident lack of any clear strategy, they’ve repeatedly warned about the perils of “cutting and running."
This is as if a precipitate withdrawal were the only conceivable alternative to the open-ended military occupation that the Bush and Blair Administrations and the would-be Kerry Administration are all promising to maintain even after June 30.
Ironically, public opinion is far ahead of these timid political lemmings, and much more consistent with the “cut your losses” strategy. Right now, just 45 percent of US adults still believe that it was “worth going to war in Iraq,” down from 76 percent a year ago. A majority in the US and 66 percent in the UK now oppose sending any additional troops to Iraq, and fully 40 percent of US adults and 55 percent of UK adults now support a withdrawal of US and/or UK troops after the handover of power to the interim Iraqi Government on June 30.
This is comparable to the level of popular US opposition to the Vietnam War that prevailed immediately after the January 1968 Tet offensive. Of course the vast majority of the Iraqi people have favored the withdrawal of Coalition forces for some time.
In fact there is a clear alternative to the current “prolonged occupation” strategy. As explained below, this “cut and walk” strategy has many advantages -- not the least of which are the many lives that it would save on all sides.
WHERE’S OUR BOBBY?
Despite these strong public sentiments, one searches in vain for any mainstream American political leaders, other than Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader, who are prepared to insist on a definite timetable for a withdrawal of US troops.
In other words, with respect to the Iraq War, we’re still missing our Robert Kennedy, our Eugene McCarthy, and our Martin Luther King. I'd hate to think that this leadership deficit reflects something fundamental about our ethical and cultural regression since the 1960s, but I fear that it may. (Where are, after all, the student protests in this period? Where are the Berrigan Brothers, the Sloane Coffins, the teach-ins, the Chicago 7s, and so forth?...Was all that just about the fear of being drafted?)
In the UK and Australia, a few daring military and political leaders are beginning to catch up to public opinion and advocate a more rapid exit. Even there, however, the alternative to the status quo is often described rather pejoratively and unimaginatively as “cut and run.”
This “muy macho” lingo was used in early May by Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard, who vowed that Australia’s troops in Iraq would not “cut and run,” despite the unpopularity of this position. It was also used by the UK’s Tony Blair on May 17. Ignoring the mounting political crisis that he faces over the war, Blair repeated at least three times that under no circumstances would the UK “cut and run.”
President Bush, whose political fortunes are also flagging, has also recently issued a crescendo of assurances that he will not “cut and run” from Iraq. The first assurance was given last November, when Iraqi resistance started to take off, and it was repeated in March, April, and again on May 10. Every time the President repeated it, more and more people had doubts about whether he really meant it.
Some pro-war pundits have also become fond of the “cut and run” formulation. The Wall Street Journal’s arch-conservative Deputy Editor George Melloan warned in May that “those who counsel a “cut and run” solution to the problems of Iraq are kidding themselves.” This echoed a November WSJ Op-Ed Page piece entitled “Don’t Cut and Run,” and another one last July by Paul Gigot that proclaimed that “The Iraqis' greatest fear is that America will cut and run.”
Of course the truth, as indicated by Iraqi polls, is that most Iraqis would probably be delighted if they woke up one morning to find us gone.
Many Democrats who support the war have also been using the "cut and run" formula as a convenient way to avoid serious discussion of alternatives. Among the leading practitioners on this side of the isle is John Kerry. As early as September 2003, with respect to Iraq, Kerry promised that “We're not going to cut and run and not do the job." In November he said, “I know we have to win. I don't want to cut and run.” In December, in an “attack from the right” speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, he warned that the Bush Administration itself might be on the verge of a “cut and run.” In April, annoyed by anti-war critics, Kerry insisted that “…The vast majority of the American people understand that it's important to not just cut and run. I don't believe in a cut-and-run philosophy (sic)." ("Muy macho, muy macho!")
Similarly, Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently warned that “To succumb to political pressure and cut and run would be a catastrophe for U.S. interests.” Similarly, Joe Lieberman: “We simply cannot lose. We can't cut and run,” and again: “…America cannot cut and run from Iraq. Both parties and both Presidential candidates agree that we should send more troops….” Similarly, Indiana’s Evan Bayh, who’d love to be Kerry’s VP: “We can't cut and run…” New York's Chuck Schumer commented on the killing of a US citizen in Iraq: “If they think this is going to make us cut and run, they are dead wrong.”
On the Republican side, John McCain is also fond of the phrase. On November 5 he told the Council on Foreign Relations, “Iraq is not Vietnam. There is no popular, anti- colonial insurgency…..I was heartened to here the President say there will be no cut and run.” On April 7 he cautioned, “Is it time to panic? To cut and run? Absolutely not.” On May 18, he warned, "If we fail, if we cut and run, the results can be disastrous.”
Variations on the same construction have been used by many other Republicans, including Virginia’s John Warner, Minnesota’s Norm Coleman ("It’s not to cut and run"), Missouri’s Chris Bond, and Alabama’s Richard Shelby. (May 12: “We've got a lot at stake. We cannot cut and run.”)
Other senior US officials also love this dismissive. Former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who actually presided over the tail end of the Nixon-Ford Adminstration’s “cut and run” strategy in Vietnam, told the US Senate with respect to Iraq on April 20 that “We going to be there for an extended period, unless we decide to cut and run, which I trust will not be the case.”
Last November, Secretary of State Colin Powell commended Italy for its decision to “… not cut and run.” On May 18 he echoed Blair: "We don't want to stay a day longer than we have to but we are not going to walk away. We are not going to cut and run."
Powell, a Vietnam vet like Kerry and McCain, uses this construction a lot -- evidently that aspect of the war is still a sore point. But at least with respect to Powell’s warnings against “run cuts,” the “Walter Wriston contrarian” rule may apply. In 2001, for example, with respect to US troops in the Balkans, Powell remarked that “The U.S. would not "cut and run" from the region.” At the time this was viewed as an implied criticism of neoconservatives who were seeking to limit America’s ”imperial overstretch” and “open ended military commitments,” as Presidential candidate Bush actually pledged to do in 2000. Since then, the number of US troops in the Balkans has been reduced from 6900 to 4100, and the Administration is now reportedly looking for ways to eliminate this commitment completely.
Earlier, in September 1993, when Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he responded to the deaths of 18 US soldiers in Somalia with the comment, “Because things get difficult, you don’t cut and run…You work the problem.” Within two weeks of this statement, President Clinton announced that the remaining 5000 US troops in Somalia would be withdrawn within six months.
In any case, the last time the “cut and run” phrase was used so heavily was over a decade ago, around the time of this Somalia decision. In October 1993, William Safire, the New York Times columnist, former Nixon speechwriter, and self-styled lexicologist, devoted an entire “On Words” column to the origins of “cut and run,” pointing out that it derives from an 18th century nautical term for putting out to sea quickly by cutting an anchor cable.
Given the phrase’s recent revival, in early May 2004 Safire was able to dust off his earlier column and recycle it.
He did not, however, bother to remind his readers that by far the most important occasion for its use was the unhappy experience of the Vietnam War, much of which was presided over by his former boss, who had made quite a point of refusing to "cut and run."
In 1967-68, as opposition to the Vietnam War mounted, President Johnson repeatedly deplored the “nervous Nellies” who wanted to “cut and run.” After the Democrats relinquished the White House and responsibility for the war, many leading Republicans, including future President Gerald Ford and Pennsylvania’s Senator Scott, disparaged those who wanted to “cut and run.” So did President Nixon, in his 1968 campaign against Hubert Humphrey as well as in his 1972 campaign against George McGovern. He repeatedly assured conservatives that the US would somehow achieve “peace with honor” – that we would never “cut and run.” At the same time, Nixon winked and nodded to the increasingly anti-war public that he had a “secret plan” to end the war. But this was turned out to be just one of his many lies, told to garner a few votes from gullible peaceniks.
In fact recent historical research has showed that Nixon and Kissinger decided on a cynical “decent interval” approach to the US withdrawal from Vietnam as early as 1970, after having tried in vain to win the war with expanded bombing in 1969. The result was that the US spent another three years flailing around in Vietnam without a winning strategy, at the cost of 21,000 extra US lives and up to 1.5 million Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian lives. After that, it really did cut and run. This cynical, slow-motion approach to making “peace” probably helped Nixon win reelection. But it did nothing for the Vietnamese people, US troops, or, in the end, American honor. Far better for us to have “cut and run” way back in 1968.
Indeed, it turns out that by 1968, the Pentagon had indeed developed a plan for a rapid US withdrawal from Vietnam. But Hubert Humphrey refused to consider it, despite the fact that it might actually have won him the election. Evidently he was loyal to President Johnson. And Hubert also didn’t want to be perceived as having “cut and run.”
IRAQ - THE CASE FOR “CUT AND WALK”
It may not be surprising that President Bush has forgotten these painful lessons. But the fact that Vietnam veterans like Kerry and McCain have forgotten them, and, indeed, are repeating the same misleading phrase that Nixon once used to describe all alternatives to “staying the course,” is disappointing.
Of course it is nonsense to suggest that the only alternative to an open-ended military occupation of Iraq is to “cut and run.”
One such alternative might be described as “cut and walk.”
In broad strokes, this would include a reasonable (say, six-nine month) deadline for the withdrawal of (almost) all US and UK forces from Iraq, combined with a greatly-accelerated timetable (say, 90 days) for “interim”/ “first-round” elections at the local and regional levels.
The case for such a “cut and walk” policy is very strong, especially when viewed side by side with the high costs and highly uncertain benefits of the current strategy.
First, it is now clear that the Coalition’s purely-defensive security interests in the continued occupation of Iraq are very limited at best.
While the Iraqi Army has been destroyed, we have not found any WMDs, WMD programs, or terrorist training facilities in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the entire region has become an al-Qaeda recruiter’s wet-dream.
Finally, if Iraq ever did become a clear and present danger to us, there’d be nothing to prevent our reoccupying the country – evidently, having done it twice, that is something that we are good at.
Second, far from helping to insure peace and stability in Iraq, the absence of a clear deadline for the presence of Coalition Forces helps to (1) attract foreign terrorists; (2) legitimize terrorism and spread the resistance; (3) increase the power base of those who happen to have private armies at their disposal; (4) undermine Iraqi support for moderate leaders; and (5) militarize ethnic, religious and tribal conflicts.
In contrast, the existence of a firm near-term (say, six months) deadline, along with an accelerated (90 day) timetable for local and regional elections, would almost instantly cause the Iraqi resistance to quiet down.
That, in turn, would create several “virtuous cycles:” (1) It would permit the Iraqi people to turn their attention away from violence and toward the upcoming political elections. (2) It would discredit and undermine popular support for any leaders or foreign fighters who tried to perpetuate the resistance; (3) It would permit economic reconstruction, now largely on hold because of the security situation, to resume, permitting more and more ordinary Iraqis to feel that they are indeed better off than before Saddam’s demise.
Third, far from helping to promote positive relations with the US, other Western powers, and the UN, the Coalition’s continued military presence, including its construction of 14 military bases and its dominance over economic policy, (1) feeds suspicions about neo-imperialism; (2) helps to promote anti-Western ideology; and (3) provides an opportunity for a variety of outside forces – Iran, Syria, and perhaps al-Qaeda – to gain influence.
In contrast, the announcement of a firm withdrawal date would make it much clearer than it is now that the US/UK invasion of Iraq is “well-motivated,” in the sense that there are no grand designs on Iraqi oil, economic policy, or military bases.
Fourth, far from encouraging democracy in the country, the continued occupation, combined a US- or even a UN-anointed, non-elected transitional regime, actually helps to undermine it, by (1) tainting the appointees with “guilt by association” with the occupying army, and (2) deferring popular elections, against the wishes of the vast majority of Iraqis.
For all their imperfections, moving directly to “snap elections” for local governments, regional assemblies, and, soon thereafter, an interim (say, two-year) national congress, would (1) help to satisfy the Iraqi peoples’ strong desire for representative government; (2) give “unstable” parts of the country an incentive to settle down so that they would be entitled to participate in the elections; and (3) perhaps most important, make the Iraqis feel responsible for their own destiny.
With a more representative body in place, it would of course be entitled to request foreign assistance for its police and military. In that event, forces under the auspices of the UN might even be asked back in. They would have much more legitimacy among ordinary Iraqis than the Coalition forces have now.
From the standpoint of the US and the UK, that would also have the added attraction of sharing the astronomical costs of this expensive, misbegotten venture.
Throughout its entire history, the US has almost never “cut and run” from any foreign military intervention that it has undertaken – even in the case of Vietnam, where the last US combat troops did not leave until March 1973, after nearly 14 years in the country.
In fact, an examination of more than fifty US military interventions since the 1880s reveals that the far greater risk has been for US troops to intervene repeatedly and stay too long, overstaying their welcome, especially in the case of relatively-weak developing countries – for example, China (1894-95, 1898-1900, 1911-40, 1948-49), Cuba (1898-1902, 1906-09, 1912, 1917-1933, 1961), the Dominican Republic (1903-4, 1914, 1916-24, 1965-66), Guatemala (1920, 1966-67) Haiti (1891, 1914-1934, 1994-96, 2004-), Honduras (1903, 1907, 1911-12, 1919, 1924-25), Mexico (1913, 1914-18), Nicaragua (1894,1896,1898-99,1907,1910,1912-1933), Panama (1895, 1901-1914, 1918-20, 1925, 1958, 1964, 1989-90, plus bases), the Philippines (1898-1910, plus continuing bases), Russia (1918-22), Vietnam (1959-73), and Korea (1894-96, 1904-5,1950-53, plus continuing bases.)
Despite this, American policymakers continue to fixate on the spurious risk that the US might be viewed as “cutting and running” from such engagements. Just like earlier fixations with Saddam’s WMDs and his purported links to al-Qaeda, this could prove to be very costly.
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
4510. Iraq: From a Strategic Standpoint, We've Already Lost Strategic Anomalies, Denial, Redoubling, and the Case for Withdrawing Now
In the wake of the recent upsurge in popular resistance in Iraq, and the evidence of soaring hostility among ordinary Iraqis and Iraqi elites of all persuasions toward the US-led occupation, a growing number of seasoned US military professionals are concluding that, from a strategic viewpoint, the US is either just now losing the "Iraq Peace," or may have already lost it, and should now focus its attention on accelerating the withdrawal of Coalition Forces.
This viewpoint, combined with harsh criticism of the "Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/ Wolfowitz/neocon clique," is becoming more and more widespread among senior Pentagon officers and planners, though most are still reluctant to go on the record.Of course the "usual suspects" on the American Left, like Nader, Chomsky, Jonathan Schell, and Howard Zinn, are ahead of the pack on this issue. But the interest in "withdrawal now" is also gaining ground among some conservative intellectuals, like the New York Times' David Brooks, who argued forcefully in an editorial just this week that the US needs "to lose in order to win" in Iraq. Support for withdrawal is also gaining ground with the American public at large, as noted below. But as in the case of the Vietnam War, the masses are way ahead of their "leaders."
Already, we've heard this revisionist view expressed in public by such Pentagon strategy heavyweights as former Reagan National Security Agency boss General William C. Odom, Army Major General Charles H. Swannack Jr., Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, and Army Colonel Paul Hughes, who headed strategic planning for the Coalition Authority in Baghdad.
Even before the War, some senior officers, like former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, had grave concerns about the feasibility of Rumsfeld's war plan. But those had to do mainly with resources and tactics -- whether the plan provided for enough troops and heavy armor, and so forth.
In the last few months, however, the deepening concerns have shifted from tactics to strategy -- as in, do we really have one?
By this we mean:
- Does the US have a clear "definition of victory" and a long-term strategy for accomplishing it? Are these the same goals that it has announced publicly, or are there others? Is it now just floundering reactively from crisis to crisis, wishfully hoping that things will somehow work out, while getting locked in to a vicious cycle of anti-Americanism and violence? Even worse, as in the case of Vietnam, are US leaders just staying the course and sacrificing lives mainly for domestic political reasons, or because the US fears appearing to have been "defeated?"
- Are the initial or revised goals realistic, not only in terms of military might, but also political, economic, diplomatic, and moral capital? Has the US reached the point where -- as in Vietnam in 1967-68 -- these goals of the war are no longer feasible, either because, as in the case of WMDs, they based on misinformation, or, as in the case of "democratization," they may be inconsistent with continued US occupation, or have an unacceptable price tag?
- What are the real long-term costs of the current strategy likely to be, in terms of both "direct" and "opportunity" costs, and costs to credibility, image, and international relationships, as well as human and cash costs? How badly were these costs underestimated by the war's planners? Do we have any reason to believe that cost prediction has improved?
- What impact is this war having on other fronts in the war on terrorism? Has it become a costly distraction? Is it actually helping the terrorist cause, by providing a rallying point, an enticing opportunity to strike at US troops and foster internal divisions in Iraq, and a new source of armaments? If the US withdraws now, would that strengthen or weaken global terrorism? Would it clear the way for other countries or the UN to become more involved?
- Is a continued substantial US military presence in Iraq an obstacle to peace and security, and a source of increased religious and ethnic polarization in Iraq and the Middle East in general?
- Rather than announce increased, prolonged US troop commitments, isn't this the time for the US to announce a specific schedule for a US troop withdrawal, perhaps contingent on a ceasefire.?
As we'll see below, the overall answer is that a fundamental Iraq strategy rethink is overdue. We need to take into account the many "anomalies" that we've discovered in the last year, which have fundamentally undermined the original strategy behind the War.
When policymakers find their pet strategies challenged by such anomalies, however, their first response is usually to dig in.
In the case of the Vietnam War, for example, most top Democrats and many Republican leaders had already agreed by the end of 1968 -- in private, at least -- that no "strategic victory" was feasible at an acceptable price, and that a US withdrawal was indicated.
Shamefully, largely for reasons of cosmetics, the war was continued and even expanded during the next four years. At the time, both President Johnson and President Nixon were terribly concerned about "peace with honor" -- the country's appearing "weak" before the supposedly=unified global Communist menace.
That unity soon proved to be chimerical, with Vietham actually fighting China and Cambodia in the mid-1970s. But it took the US from 1968 until March 1973 to remove its last combat troops. And two more years of fighting were needed before the inevitable reunification of the artificial, largely US-inspired creations, "North" and "South" Vietnam. Today, of course, Vietnam remains united and "Communist," but it is known to us mainly as a worthy supplier of shrimp and coffee, and a hefty World Bank client.
As Senator John Kerry of all people must remember, those four extra years cost an additional 21,000 American lives, plus over 1.5 million extra Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian lives. For what? Indeed, as Henry Kissinger himself admitted in a 2001 interview with documentary filmmaker Stephen Talbot, when asked about what difference it would have made if Vietnam had gone Communist right after World War II,
"Wouldn't have mattered very much. If the Vietnam domino had fallen then, no great loss."
So, according to Kissinger, the architect of that war's misguided strategy for withdrawal (and numerous other policy blunders), 58,000 Americans and 3 million Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians basically died for nothing. This precedent is worth thinking about, as we each decide individually whether to continue to sit and watch while yet another cockamamie "national security" strategy chews up thousands of innocent lives.
DENY AND REDOUBLE
Unfortunately, the first response to strategic anomalies is usually a denial (or reinterpretation) of the new evidence, followed by a redoubling of efforts to make the tired old strategies work.
Where, as here, senior politicians who are also running for office are in charge, these tendencies are reinforced, since they fear being branded by their opponents as "inconsistent." As in Vietnam, the result could easily be over-commitment to a pipedream, ending in an eventual forced withdrawal that is much more costly than it needed to be -- and yet another young generation of Americans that never quite views their country in the same way.
Both major parties' senior politicos and bosses are stuck like deer in the headlights, committed to the same pro-war strategies they all supported last year, as if nothing has been learned since then. Locked in a tight contest, both candidates are running toward the center of the field at full speed, and not paying much attention to the new hard facts on the ground.
Indeed, Senator Kerry, Bush, Senator Clinton, Senator Lieberman, Senator Biden, Senator Lugar, and almost all leading Democrats and Republicans appear to be in violent agreement about the Iraq War, except about picayune tactical details. Consistent with the "denial/redouble" pattern, all of these "leaders" are also now calling for a significant expansion of US troop commitments in Iraq. In Bush's estimates, this would require at least 135,000 to 160,000 US troops in Iraq at least through 2006. But there is no reason to expect that only two more years would be enough, if the current strategy is continued. Indeed, as discussed below, the Pentagon is already proceeding with a little-noticed plan to build 14 permanent US military bases in Iraq.
All these leaders, including Bush, also now give lip service to some kind of increased role for the UN in Iraq, without defining precisely what that would be. They all a bit too glib about how they expect the UN to reenter. Presumably this would be by way of a new UN resolution, but it is not at all clear how much "control" the US is willing to yield to its owl nemeses on the Security Council, France, Germany and Russia. Most important, if there is no fundamental improvement in the security situation, the UN is unlikely to want such a thankless job. But improving the security situation requires, as we'll argue, a new view of where the insecurity is coming from, and a US/ UK withdrawal timetable.
All this implies a substantial increase over the $175 billion that the US has already spent in Iraq -- Bush's latest $25 billion supplemental budget request is consistent with an annual "run rate" of at least $50-$60 billion a year. If recent casualty rates are any indication, this also implies at least another 1500-2000 US war dead through 2006, and probably 5-6 times that many US wounded, not to mention thousands more Iraqi dead and wounded, including many civilians.
In Senator Kerry's case, this lack of leadership is especially disappointing. As he said recently,
"Americans differ about whether and how we should have gone to war, but it would be unthinkable now for us to retreat in disarray and leave behind a society deep in strife and dominated by radicals."
One might have hoped that Senator Kerry would have learned something about the high costs and radicalizing effects of dead-end wars from his years in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, if not from his four months on a gunboat in Vietnam.
PLUMMETING SUPPORT FOR THE WAR
According to the latest USA Today national poll, taken May 10, 2004, in the wake of the disgusting Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, for the first time since the initiation of the war in March 2003, over half of Americans -- 54 percent -- now believe that it was a "mistake" to send US troops to Iraq. This is a dramatic turnaround in less than six months -- and, interestingly, a much faster erosion of support for this war than occurred during the Vietnam period.
Fully 29 percent now believe that all US troops should be withdrawn now, up from just 16 percent in January, and another 18 percent believe that some troops should be withdrawn. At least 75 percent oppose expanding the number of US troops in Iraq.
Despite this, as noted earlier, this is still the official position of both President Bush and John Kerry, and almost all other leading Republicans and Democrats politicos. As in the case of the Vietnam War, the unwashed masses are far ahead of the "leaders."
At the moment, indeed, the only candidate who supports an immediate (six month) withdrawal from Iraq is the stubborn 70-year old Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader. Many Democrats still vehemently (and incorrectly) still believe that he was the "spoiler" for a Democratic victory in the 2000 Presidential election. Whatever we may think about his candidacy, the fact is that at the moment, he is our only Robert Kennedy. To his great credit, Ralph has opposed this "preemptive war on a defenseless country" since the start, and is now advocating a withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq within six months.
As the most recent polls show, Nader's opposition to the Iraq War has given him a burst to 5 percent in the May 10th polls. Perhaps Kerry could take a few lessons from Ralph with respect to his position on the war. For the same poll that showed American support for the war plummeting, and Bush's approval dropping from 52 percent in mid-April and 49 percent in early May to just 46 percent this week, also found Kerry dropping two full points, and losing to President Bush, 47-45, among likely voters. Meanwhile, Ralph gained two points, to 5 percent among likely voters.
Of course this is just one national poll, but if Kerry really wants to win in November, he'd better think about the implications of his me-too position on the war -- the main source of public dissatisfaction with Bush. As one analyst has suggested, he might even consider cutting a deal with Nader, getting Ralph to appoint the same list of Presidential electors as Kerry, in exchange for permitting him to get on the ballot in 50 states. He might also consider adopting Ralph's more popular position on the war, as well that of the National Council of Churches proposal, which has also just recommended withdrawing and turning over control in Iraq to the UN.
Oddly enough, this situation also gives President Bush an incredible opportunity. If he really wanted to insure his victory over Kerry, the smooth move might be for President Bush to reverse course and announce plans for a definite US withdrawal. If the polls are any indication, this "win by losing" approach to fixing Iraq would very popular with the American people -- especially those who are wavering in the center. It would also be popular with many Bush supporters on the right, who fear that aggressive nation-building in Iraq may jeopardize other vital concerns on their agenda -- like gay marriage, abortion rights, more tax cuts, new Supreme Court judges.
However, Bush, like Kerry, also seems determined to dig himself in even deeper on Iraq. This is what he did just this week by unnecessarily backing Secretary Rumsfeld in the Abu Ghraib scandal, despite the many calls from right and left alike for the Secretary's resignation.
STRATEGIC ANOMALIES - "REALITY CHECK, PLEASE!"
Meanwhile, as we've just learned in the towns of Falluja and Najaf, an aggressive US military presence may just lead to increased hostility. This is only one of many "strategy anomalies" that the war's architects -- Democrats, Republicans, and Blair's Laborites in the UK as well -- have encountered. There are many others. Most are already familiar to those who have followed recent events. But it is worth restating them, just to put the case in order.
1. Iraq's WMD Threat. Of course the first basic assumption, declared innumerable times in the fall of 2002 and early 2003 by US and UK officials during the run-up to the war, was that Saddam's Iraq posed a grave threat to the US and its allies. Either it already possessed WMDs and the means to deliver them, or was actively attempting to acquire them.
A key related assumption was that this threat could only be removed by an immediate US invasion, and the complete removal of Saddam from power. The UN weapons inspection program, according to the war's supporters, had been a failure.
In this regard, it is also important to note that the removal of Saddam's regime from power was never a goal of the invasion per se -- apart from the reduction of the WMD threat, reduced terrorism, and democratization. After all, the world is filled with lousy governments, and just replacing Saddam's nasty regime with another nasty regime could never have justified the invasion. So while the supporters of the war have often trumpeted Saddam's removal from power as a sign that we have already triumphed, in fact this depends on whether or not these other goals are achieved. And this is very much in doubt for all of them.
Reality Check, Please: Of course no WMD stockpiles or serious WMD programs have been found, after months of searching by thousands of highly-trained US and UK personnel.
It also now appears that the UN weapons inspection programs was in fact very successful at identifying whatever WMD programs Saddam had, and getting him to curtailing them. For all its imperfections, the UN approach worked.
Indeed, if, as France, Germany, and Russia proposed, weapons inspection had been permitted to continue, the war might have been avoided completely, or, at worst, eventually proceeded with better preparations and much broader multilateral support, as in the 1991 Gulf War.
That, in turn, would have meant less US influence over post-war Iraq (as in military bases and oil). But the costs to the US and Iraq would have been much lower, and the transition to peace and a new representative government much smoother and less violent.
2. Iraq's Role in Supporting Terrorism (Pre-War). The second key strategic premise for the war was that Saddam's Iraq was aiding al-Qaeda and other global "terrorist" groups.
Reality Check, Please: In fact one of the few bona fide pre-war "terrorists" who was living in Saddam's Iraq turned out to be the aging Abu Nidal,, who had been inactive since the mid-1980s. Abu Nidal was reportedly suffering from leukemia, but he died of multiple gunshot wounds in Baghdad in August 2002, long before the invasion -- perhaps the victim of an attempt by Saddam to head it off.
The only other "terrorist group" operating in Iraq before the war was Anwar al-Islam, which was located in northern Iraq in the "no-fly" zone, outside Saddam's control. Its headquarters could easily have been bombed at any time. But the US chose to wait until after the war started, so that it could say that it actually destroyed some terrorists.
Beyond this, no definitive pre-war links between Saddam and al-Qaeda have ever been established. As former Bush Administration counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke and many other experts have long argued, Saddam and al-Qaeda were, if anything, antagonists, and even if he had had WMDs, Saddam was not about to share control over WMDs with a radical like Bin Laden.
The US also made much of the alleged medical refuge that Saddam allowed a Jordanian sympathizer, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The US claimed that Zarqawi had links to al-Qaeda. But in fact it seems that his organization, al-Tawhid, was actually a rival to al-Qaeda before the war, focused on overthrowing Jordan's King Abdullah. Of course Zarqawi's influence in Iraq does appear to have been strengthened by the US invasion.
3. Iraq's Role in Supporting "Terrorism" (Post-War). Whatever the details of Saddam's links to global terrorism were before the War, it was assumed by the war's supporters that the invasion would reduce Iraq's role in global terrorism.
Reality Check, Please: In fact just the opposite has occurred. Since the invasion, Iraq has actually become a terrorist Mecca, with anti-US fighters from all over the Muslim world pouring into the country across its now-wide-open borders, eager to kill Americans. They have no need to bring automatic weapons, grenade launchers, mines, or explosives. Saddam's huge stockpiles of these ordinary weapons have been very poorly secured by the under-manned Coalition Army. And arms have also reportedly been for sale from the new Iraqi police force.
So, as Bin Laden's most recent recorded messages have made clear, far from being a "defeat for terrorism," the Iraq War has actually been something of a boon -- rather like the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan ultimately proved to be. The Soviets, we recall, lasted nearly 10 years in Afghanistan, at a cost of more than 15,000 Soviet lives and hundreds of thousands of Afghanis. The US is of course vastly more powerful than the Soviet Union. And, unlike that situation, there is no foreign aid available to the Iraqi resistance. Still, as noted earlier, such aid may not be necessary here. And the US is already well on its way to keeping pace with the Soviet casualty count.
Not only has the Iraq War provided opportunities for young radicals to secure weapons and attack Americans close at hand. It may have also distracted some resources from the hunt for other terrorist organizations. Most important, it has antagonized the whole Muslim world, providing the radical factions a wonderful opportunity to recruit new supporters.
4. Iraq's Warm Welcome for US "Liberators" The US also assumed that we would get a warm reception from Iraqis, as "liberators" of Saddam's Iraq.
The US war planners also assumed that Iraqi nationalism was weak, and that and resistance would disappear after Saddam and his "dead-ender" henchman were gone. They defined "victory" as the removal of Saddam and his Ba'athist regime. They also assumed that the Iraqi Shiite and Sunni communities were fundamentally at odds, and that there would be little opposition to the Coalition Forces outside the so-called "Sunni Triangle."
Reality Check, Please: The US invasion created a wave of genuine nationalism that spans Sunni and Shiite community lines and helped to unite radical factions in each against the "occupiers," as they united in their 1920 revolt against the British. The sharpest fighting in Iraq has taken place in just the last month, long after Saddam and all but ten of the other 55 "most wanted" Ba'athist leaders were killed or captured.
Furthermore, just 17% of all Sunnis live in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" north of Baghdad -- Iraq's Sunni and Shiite communities have historically been much closer than in other Muslim countries. Indeed, one key challenge faced by "foreign fighters' like Zarqawi has been to try and divide them. In the wake of the continued US occupation, the US has experienced growing armed resistance from Shiites and Sunnis alike, as exemplified by the May 10 US strikes against the Shiite leader al-Sadr's headquarters in Baghdad. While the vast majority of Iraqis are still watching the battle from the sidelines, a majority also now supports an end to the US occupation, believe that Coalition Forces have conducted themselves badly, and believe that the Coalition will not withdraw until forced to do so.
In this situation, destroying the Ba'athist Party turns to have been insufficient for a return to peace and security. Nor, given the importance of "ordinary" former Ba'ath Party members in the educational system, the civil service, and the police, was it a necessary condition. It was, in fact, just a dumb move taken by Paul Bremer in the early days of the occupation, under pressure from Chalabi's INC, and recently reversed.
5. "Liberators" Vs. "Occupiers" The pro-war strategists also assumed that thousands of US and UK troops could be counted on to conduct themselves in Iraq as proper "liberators."
Reality Check, Please: The grim reality is that the US and UK forces have hardly distinguished themselves as "liberators." Rather, they were rushed into duty without adequate training or acculturization, with few skills in Arabic. They had also been encouraged from the top of the Bush Administration on down to believe that Iraqis had something to do with 9/11. As a result, many of our troops have behaved very badly toward ordinary Iraqis -- like crude, rude barbarians. As the events at Abu Ghraib prison have dramatized, there have been widespread human rights violations, ethnic slurs, religious slights, and indignities to Iraqi women. The result has been yet another public relations debacle for the Coalition Forces.
6. Iraq's Support for "Acceptable" Democracy. Yet another key strategic assumption was that in a relatively short time, the Coalition and its Iraqi allies would be able to lay the foundations for an "acceptable" democratic system.
In the US vision, this would be one that would be (a) reasonably representative, (b)able to avoid the kind of popular theocracy that has characterized Iran, (c) pro-US and at least neutral towards Israel, (d) able to maintain a unified federal system, including the Kurds, and, of course, (e) be willing to go along with other key 'imperial" requirements, like permission to build 14 long-term US military bases in the country, the use of oil revenue to defray the invasion's costs, and the opening of Iraq's oil resources to foreign investors like ExxonMobil and BP.
Saddam's Removal Alone Not a Victory.In this regard, it is important to note the simply removing Saddam and his associates was never a goal of th invasion for its own sake -- apart from the goal of removing the WMD threat, cutting his alleged support for terrorism, and ultimately installing democracy. In other words, the world is filled with nasty dictators -- there had to be some special reason for singling him out. And no one argued that simply replacing him with yet another nasty dictator would justify the war -- apart from achieving these other goals. So the fact that he and his regime have been removed only "justifies" the war if, in fact, we are able to achieve these other objectives. So far, as we've seen, the WMDs, reduced terrorism, and democratization have all proved elusive.
Reality Check, Please: In fact it has been impossible to square all these various requirements with each other. As of April 2004, after a year of occupation, while 82 percent of Iraqis still support "democracy" in the abstract, , outside Kurdistan, most Sunnis as well as Shiites are also opposed to a rigid separation between church and state. There is, at this late date, still no complete draft constitution that the various key interest groups in the Coalition-appointed Iraqi Governing Council Constitution have been able to agree on.
Ordinary Iraqis, it turns out, are also highly critical of the US, the UK and Israel. They are also highly critical of the Iraqi Governing Council created by the Coalition Forces, which is widely viewed as a puppet government. As the Shiite leader Sistani has said, "We want elections as soon as possible."
Finally, Kurdistan, the one part of the country that is now stable and enjoying economic recovery, also strongly favors complete independence, not federation. Since Kurdistan is one of Iraq's richest provinces -- the original source of much of its oil -- the rest of Iraq is determined to prevent this. As if we needed one, this issue provides another potential source of conflict. The whole country is a bubbling cauldron of such regional, ethnic, tribal, religious, and anti-foreigner feelings, and we have turned up the fire.
7. Reestablishing Security/ Avoiding a Military Draft. Yet another key strategic assumption was that it would be relatively easy to reestablish security with a "politically acceptable" commitment of less than 150,000 Coalition troops. This force level was supposed to diminish over the year, complemented by a large number of private security contractors.
This was supposed to be feasible, despite Bremer's disbanding of the entire pre-existing Ba'athist police and military structure, the fact that Saddam had emptied his prisons of all criminals prior to the invasion, and the fact that Coalition troops had little training in policing, crowd control, or non-lethal weaponry.
One implication was that the US and UK troops expected to rotate home on regular schedules, without undue burdens on their families and morale.
Another was that a new Iraqi national police force would be able to provide an adequate substitute for the Coalition's policing activities.
A third was that military forces from other countries, or the UN, might also become available to back-stop US and UK troop commitments, as the security situation stabilized.
Reality Check, Please: All these assumptions about security have proved false. Almost incredibly, the US military repeated the same exact mistake that was made in Haiti during the 1990s. The complete disbanding of Iraq's military, with no adequate substitute, played a key role in the initial looting that occurred in Baghdad in April, 2003, and the general crime wave and insecurity, especially in Baghdad, that has continued ever since.
It also turned out to be much harder than expected to "train up" an Iraqi police force willing to stand and fight (for what? the unelected IGC?) As the Iraqi resistance became more violent, this problem escalated, to the point where, during the recent turmoil in Falluja, more than 50% of the new police force graduates defected or disappeared into the crowds.
The continuing security problem, in turn, scared many private contractors out of the country, and jeopardized the whole schedule for Iraqi reconstruction, which has basically ground to a halt. The exposed yet another dubious assumption by the war planners -- the decision to rely so heavily on private contractors for security services and reconstruction.
The security crisis has also prolonged service terms for US troops, and led many of them to be given assignments to "policing functions" for which they were never trained. That, in turn, led to even great frustration among US troops -- more than 40,000 of whom are members of the US Army Reserves or National Guard. This encouraged increased hostility among Americans and Iraqis, many of whom are now viewed as "criminals who hate us."
The resulting morale problems have caused US Army Reserve and National Guard enlistment and reenlistment rates, as well as regular military enlistment rates, to plummet to 30 year lows. Another byproduct of the continuing security nightmare is that it has been very difficult to get other countries, or the UN, to maintain, much less expand, their troop commitments.
If Iraq's security situation continues to demand increased Coalition troop commitments, and reenlistment/ enlistment rates don't improve, some observers have even speculated that the US might be forced to reintroduce a military draft. For the moment this appears unlikely, unless some new "front" opens up in Syria, Iran, or North Korea. But those of us with college-age children take no comfort from the fact that several members of Congress have already introduced the necessary legislation.
8. Modest, or At Least "Acceptable," Costs. The last key assumption was that this whole effort could be mounted at a relatively modest, or at least politically-acceptable cost, not only in terms of direct financial costs, but also human lives, and "opportunity costs" as well.
Evidently it was assumed by some planners -- Assistant Defense Secretary Wolfowitz, for example -- -- that Iraq's oil production would resume quickly enough to let it make a substantial contribution to funding the costs of the War. It was also assumed that, as indicated earlier, security would improve rapidly after Saddam's demise, and that the new Iraqi police force would be able to substitute for US troops, at a fraction of their cost. Finally, the super-optimists in the pro-war camp may have even assumed that part of the War's freight would be paid by other UN members, even though the Security Council was never permitted to rule on the final decision to go to war.
Reality Check, Please: The reality is that, just one year in, the Iraq War is a budget-buster, both in terms of cash and lives.
The Pentagon's cost accounting for this effort is inscrutable -- perhaps intentionally so, although it is never easy to know precisely what fraction of, say, a hospital in Frankfurt or "wear and tear" on a particular aircraft is properly assignable to a specific front. However, most estimates put the "sunk cost" to date of the Iraq venture at about $175-$180 billion, including the current interest on this spending, since all of it has to be deficit financed.
Going forward, there is now a continuing "run rate" of about $5 billion per month. In terms of real dollars, this is close to the peak $5.1 billion per month run rate for the Vietnam War. These numbers omit the costs incurred by the UK and other Coalition members, which have supplied about twenty percent of the troops.
Nor is Iraqi oil production anywhere close to covering these financial costs. Indeed, production has still not recovered to its pre-War levels, and the cost of securing Iraqi oil exports against increasing sabotage attempts is eating up almost all the profits.
Coalition casualties have also been much greater than expected. As of May 10, after 13 months of combat, the Coalition has sustained a total of 881 combat fatalities and approximately 4716 wounded, assuming that US "dead to wounded" ratios also apply to non-US Coalition Forces.
While these totals are well below those sustained during the peak years of the Vietnam War -- 1967-69 -- they are far greater than those sustained during the first three years of that War, 1961-64, and comparable to the losses sustained by the US in 1965, the first big year of the Vietnam War, allowing for improved survival rates because of improved body armor and "just-in-time" medicine.
As for the Iraqis, officially, our "new Pentagon" no longer keeps track of "enemy body counts" much less civilians -- one major way in which Vietnam was indeed different, at least for PR purposes.
However, efforts have been made by some observers to keep track of Iraqi civilian fatalities reported in the press. While these statistics are probably an understatement, they indicate at least 9,016 to 10,918 Iraqi civilian deaths through April 24, 2004.
In addition, of course, there have also been at least 4-5 times this number of civilians wounded. In a country with a population of 25 million, this is quite a blow. For the 80 percent that is Arab, and has suffered almost all the casualties, this would be comparable, in US terms, to a loss of 100,000 dead and 600,000 wounded. Assuming that the average Arab family in Iraq has four members, that each family member knows 10 people, and each of these 10 people also knows 10 people, the entire Arab population of Iraq is within "two degrees of separation" of experiencing these losses personally.
Is it any wonder that we have already lost the peace?
But the real long-term costs of this war are even higher.
Far from striking a decisive blow for "democracy and liberation" in the Middle East, and setting an example for other Arab countries to follow, this war has become a lightning rod for anti-Americanism, and a text-book example of hegemony run amok.
Far from teaching the world to respect and admire America's newfound power, our global reputation has plummeted to an all-time low.
The citizens of other countries that have practiced imperialism against their neighbors or their own peoples know what it feels like to be despised and hated whenever they travel. Americans are not used to this treatment. As a direct result of this war, as well as our other policies in the Middle East and elsewhere, we are going to have to get used to it.
Far from providing the world an inspiring example of our truthfulness and honor, the way in which the case was made for this war, and the way it has been conducted, have severely damaged our nation's credibility.
THE CASE FOR WITHDRAWING NOW
Few Americans doubt that we will someday withdraw all US troops from Iraq, as we did from Vietnam.
Probably most of them are not aware that, unlike in Vietnam, the Pentagon's military engineers are already hard at work designing and constructing 14 enduring" military bases all over the country, in Baghdad, Mosul, Taji, Balad, Kirkuk, and near Nasiriyah, Tikrit, Fallujah, Irbil, and elsewhere.
Apparently the objective is to provide a substitute for our bases in Saudi Arabia, both in terms of oil and military presence. Presumably this is being done in part to keep the Saudis happy, because they are afraid that the presence of US troops on their soil excites domestic resistance. The influential Saudi royal family no doubt prefers to have US troops and Iraqi leaders facing down resistance in Baghdad than in Riyadh.
But of course we are still telling the Iraqis that they will "eventually vote and govern" their own country, and that we have no intention to "occupy" it.
In any case, for those who oppose this war, as well as for the vast majority of Americans who have swallowed the brave new lies that our only long-term interest in Iraq was to "remove Saddam's tyranny," "rebuild Iraq's economy and democracy" and "withdraw," the key issue is -- when should withdrawal start?
In light of the recent crisis, the war's architects have not been able to get on with their agenda quite so easily as they once hoped. Faced with the acute security crisis noted above, they now tell us that if we only increase the number of troops in Iraq for two more years, and provide the extra $120 billion that this will require, we can all return to the original smooth transition plan.
On the other hand, they also claim that, unless the Coalition stays the course, Iraq will disintegrate into civil war, instability, and chaos -- even worse conditions, somehow, than already exist.
To this hokum we say, first, as noted above, the credibility of war's architects is not exactly unsullied.
And now they seem to be proposing yet another episode of "Who Do You Believe -- Me, Or Your Lying Eyes?" As Peter Gutmann once remarked,
We're standing there pounding a dead parrot on the counter, and the management response is to frantically swap in new counters to see if that fixes the problem.
The good news is that the war's architects and pamphleteers are actually very few in number. As the New York Times' Thomas Friedman said in an interview with Ha'aretz, the leading Israeli newspaper, in 2002,
This is a war the neoconservatives wanted.....(and) marketed. Those people had an idea to sell when September 11th came, and they sold it. Oh boy, how they sold it. This is not a war that the masses demanded. This is the war of an elite. I could give you the names of 25 people (all of whom sit within a 5-block radius of my Washington D.C. office, who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago, the Iraq War would not have happened.
So if this tiny band was able to wield so much influence in our erstwhile democracy, and a much larger number now realize that their assumptions were wrong, shouldn't it be possible to reverse course?
Or is it the case that we are now locked into sitting through this whole dreary play?
We say that it is actually the continued occupation that is the greatest threat to stabilization, democratization, the restoration of the Iraqi economy and oil exports, and the preservation of a unified Iraq.
Indeed, Iraqi hostility to the US/UK occupation has now reached the point where securing these goals is much more likely if the Coalition forces withdraw as soon as possible.
This is true for several reasons:
- The announcement of a definite schedule for a US withdrawal will almost instantly cool the resistance, reduce the leverage of the radicals and the "foreign fighters," permit Iraq's beleaguered police force to focus on fighting crime, and allow the reconstruction of the economy to proceed.
- Mainstream Iraqis know full well how to restore order in their own neighborhoods, once the US provocation is gone. Absent the occupation, the vast majority of Iraqis have will have little patience for foreign subversives like Zarqawi, and will throw the bastards out.
Indeed, an astute US withdrawal from Iraq would surely be as sad a day for "terrorists" as the US invasion of Iraq was a happy one.
- A clear withdrawal timetable would make it clear to the Iraqis that the US has no imperial intentions with respect to their oil wealth. It would permit them, indeed, to recover some of the pride that they must have lost, by having to rely on a foreign power to get rid of their dictator -- even if they did not oust Saddam, they could feel, at least they were able to oust the most powerful hegemon on the planet. That along could provide the ideological foundations for a vast rebirth of national pride.
- Such a withdrawal would also permit us to remove the provocative presence of largely-Christian US troops in this overwhelmingly Muslim country. It would also clear the way for UN assistance and multilateral development aid, as well as debt relief, to flow more freely into the country.
- Few Iraqis want a return to dictatorship -- the demand for democracy is overwhelming. It is indeed odd and un-American for the United States of America, in particular, to insist that Iraqi democracy can only be established at the point of a gun, under the guiding hand of a foreigner. I don't recall the Founding Fathers at Constitution Hall in Philadelphia requiring much help from Tony Blair's predecessors or the British monarchy.
- As General Odom has argued, a clear timetable for a US withdrawal would actually help the UN, or perhaps other Muslim states, to send in peace-keeping forces of their own.
- So long as the war in central and southern Iraq continues, the Kurds have every incentive to continue to move toward complete independence. Only the restoration of Iraq's central government, and the prospect of "win win" gains from interregional trade and development, can break down these regional ethnic barriers, and keep Kurdistan within Iraq.
- A US/UK withdrawal, according to a pre-announced timetable that is brisk, yet responsible, and conditioned on the preservation of security, will give Iraqis an incentive to observe and enforce their own general ceasefire, so long as they clearly see progress being made. Unlike the situation in Israel, where the occupiers have been stalling for more than 30 years on "security" grounds, the US has no settler minority that is trying to hold on to Iraqi resources, unless it is Chalabi's band of thieves, thirsting after an oil privatization. But we don't have to be hostage to his demands; if he becomes a problem, we can simply approve Iraq's new extradition treaty with Jordan, cut off his $300,000 per month allowance, and dump him over the border in Jordan, so that he can finally stand trial for bank fraud.
- If it did turn out that this little experiment with a pre-scheduled withdrawal failed, and the Iraqis themselves, perhaps with UN assistance, were unable to develop a peaceful government, there'd be nothing to prevent the UN or even the US from returning with a more rested, better trained peace-keeping force. After all, we're now pretty sure that the Iraqi Army is not about to fight us with WMDs!
- In the event that a civil war erupted in Iraq, and the situation somehow managed to deteriorate from the abysmal state where it is right now -- which 58 percent of Iraqis believe is "the same or worse" than before Saddam's removal -- peacekeepers would probably be welcomed by the majority of Iraqis. This is unlike the current situation, where only a third of Iraqis believe the Coalition forces are doing more good than harm.
All told, the case for a US unilateral withdrawal from Iraq seems very compelling. If the case for it is made to the American people by a leading political figure, it could also be politically very successful. But, other than a marginal, if courageous and thoughtful, candidate like Ralph Nader, is willing to pick up this torch?
Where, indeed, is our Robert Kennedy? Where is the major US political figure who will stand up to this war?
Of course there are some self-styled "conservatives" in the audience -- people who have otherwise somehow found it possible to give a hearty "Sieg Heil" to one of the most radical, un-Constitutional, internationally illegal, risky, costly and irresponsible exertions of military power in US history -- who will no doubt argue, as they did in the case of Vietnam, that this abrupt policy reversal " might be risky."
These are the same folks whose tidy little war plan has just sullied America's image and credibility almost beyond repair. It has poured hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of liters of human blood into the sands of the Iraqi desert. It has helped make Iraq more of a sanctuary for the world's worst terrorists than ever before. It has alienated the entire world, and succeeded in making many Iraqis actually long for the old regime.
As Bertrand Russell once remarked, "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts."
Or, as Peter Gutmann might have said, the war's supporters are still trying to swap in new counters and pound them with the same old dead parrots.
Thursday, May 06, 2004
0505.US Brutilitarianism Comes to Iraq - Part I: Rogue Behavior, Sheer Stupidity, or Something More?
Since all the claims about Saddam’s WMDs and other threats to global security are now in tatters, the goal of replacing his regime with a more humane one is one of the few justifications for the Iraq War that still has any credibility.
It is therefore deeply disturbing to learn that serious human rights violations, including several cases of torture and outright murder, may have been committed against scores of Iraqi prisoners by leading elements of the Coalition Forces, including the US Army Reserve Military Police, US Military Intelligence (INSCOM), the CIA, and private contractors like CACI International that have been providing so-called “intelligence collection” services to the Pentagon. Similar allegations have also surfaced about the British Army, although those charges may have been exaggerated by the Daily Mirror. This is of course in addition to the thousands of civilian deaths that our precision-guided military has produced all over the country with its "fire and forget" tactics.
A preliminary investigation of these charges by US Major General Antonio M. Taguba, disclosed last week by CBS News and the New Yorker, concluded in February that the alleged abuses included:
Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.
While this behavior pales by comparison with the sadism that was routinely practiced by Saddam’s minions on a massive scale, it has no place in a post-Saddam Iraq, and the US and UK certainly have no business encouraging it. Nor, despite the usual defences often heard in right-wing quarters for "selective torture" to deal with terrorism, is there any evidence that the interrogation methods employed here produced anything more than a public relations debacle for the US and its allies.
These charges may be new to American audiences, but this is far from the first time that they have been made. According Iraq’s former Human Rights Minister, Abdel Basset al-Turki, who resigned on May 4th in protest over these allegations, US Pro-Consul Paul Bremer was put on notice about this widespread mistreatment as early as November 2003, but did nothing. The International Red Cross also reports that if has been complaining for months to the Coalition of methods "far worse" than those depicted in the photos released by CBS, but to no avail.
This is consistent with the brush-off that Paul Bremer and Condi Rice reportedly both gave to the concerns that Amnesty International first raised about conditions in Iraqi prisons way back in July 2003.
The Pentagon also now says that it ordered a “high-level review” of the issue last fall, but this must have had little impact on the ground, since the abuses noted above took place in December 2003.
Now that President Bush himself has finally pronounced these abuses “abhorrent” on two Arab television stations, the military may find more time to focus on the results of the "30 investigations” of these and related charges that it claims to have conducted over the past 16 months. In the wake of Donald Rumsfeld's passive "know-nothing" response to the escalating scandal, calls for his resignation are mounting, and the heads of more than just a few mid-tier officers may also have to roll before justice is done here. Certainly Rumsfeld has a lot of questions to answer, including why he said nothing to Congress about the investigation; why so many cases of brutality have been recorded; why nothing was done to change conditions at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, despite numerous complaints over many months from Amnesty International and the International Red Cross; why private contractors were permitted to play such a large role in military intelligence; and, most important, why the rules of the Geneva Convention are not being enforced by US military and intelligence personnel.
All told, this scandal is shaping up to be a touchstone for the whole Iraq enterprise. It is worth trying to understand how this happened – and why, in particular, American soldiers who were supposedly raised in a democratic, more or less civilized country and trained by our sophisticated, extraordinarily-expensive modern military, should have participated rather gleefully in such bizarre behavior -- and even photographed it, too!
THE RHETORIC - “TORTURE IS ILLEGAL”
To begin with, lest all the civil and military servants in the audience need to be reminded, this kind of behavior, if substantiated, constitutes a clear violation of one of the most fundamental, widely-shared principles of international and US law – the absolute prohibition against torture.
This prohibition, which is as universal as the ones against slavery or piracy, extends to all prisoners of war, civilians, and all other war-time detainees. Indeed, while Iraqi insurgents may not be deemed to be part of the Iraqi armed forces, and therefore are not technically “prisoners of war” for purposes of the “combatant’s privilege – to fire on enemy troops without fear of prosecution - they are still entitled to the same basic rights so far as interrogation is concerned.
It is interesting to see just how many times this prohibition has recently been repeated in international law -- especially since so many countries still routinely engage in the practice.
- The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
- The 1949 Geneva Convention (4th Convention, Article 31): “No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in particular to obtain information from them or from third parties.”
- The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 7: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
- The 1975 Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly: “No state may permit or tolerate torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
- The 1987 UN Convention Against Torture, which focuses on official conduct, repeats the prohibitions noted above, and also provides that (Article 2): "An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture."
All of these conventions have been signed and ratified by both the US and the UK -- although the Bush Administration has actually cooperated with countries like Syria, Libya, and Cuba to oppose efforts to give international inspection “teeth” to these anti-torture conventions.
Of course such prohibitions against torture, cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners prior to conviction, arbitrary detention, “cruel and unusual punishment,” and self-incrimination are also cornerstones of the American and British legal systems.
In the case of the US, they have at least a 200-year history, and are deeply embedded in the US Constitution especially the Fifth, Eighth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments. They have also been recognized by numerous state and federal statutes, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the War Crimes Act (18 USC 2441), and the 1991 Torture Victims Prevention Act (28 USC 1350 App.)
More recently, the US also played a leading role in prosecuting war crimes at Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II, and helped finance and organize the prosecution of the war crimes committed in the Balkans and Rwanda in the 1990s. Of course the Bush Administration has also recently taken pride in distinguishing itself from “Axis of Evil” regimes like Saddam’s, North Korea and Iran in this respect.
So what relief will all this weighty legal doctrine actually provide for the individual Iraqis who were victimized in this case? The short answer is – not much, at least in case of the US.
There appears to be probable cause to prosecute the officers and enlisted personnel involved, as well as any senior officials who knew or should have known about these activities, for war crimes in US or UK military courts, or, in the case of the UK, by the newly-created International Criminal Court (see below.) But while that might satisfy the victims’ needs for retribution, it won’t provide them with any compensation.
The Iraq Special Tribunal that we established in December 2003 to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity – mainly those committed by the Ba’athist regime – was carefully limited just to jurisdiction over Iraqi citizens and residents.
In the case of the private US contractors involved in this case, the Iraqi torture victims might at least be able to sue in a US federal district court for the damages inflicted against them under “color of law,” as provided by the Torture Prevention and Alien Tort Claims statutes. But this could be a hard case to prove, especially if the contractors involved were careful to let the military police do all their dirty work.
If the allegations of British misbehavior hold up, the Iraqis might also be able to bring war crimes charges against UK soldiers and their bosses at the new International Criminal Court -- since, unlike the US, Britain ratified the treaty establishing this court last year. This might make for an interesting complement to Saddam’s war crimes tribunal, scheduled to begin later this year. However, even apart from the practical obstacles to such prosecutions, Iraq’s “new government,” hand-picked by the Coalition, would probably readily grant the UK a waiver against such complaints. But British troops might still be subject to the UK's Human Rights Act, which might provide compensation to Iraqi victims for violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. Indeed, 14 Iraqi families have already commenced an action in the UK's High Court for what they consider unlawful killings of their civilian relatives in the last year by British troops.
When all these revelations first appeared – reportedly after CBS News held the story for two weeks at the request of the US military, which feared the impact on Arab opinion ("duh") -- senior military officers in the US and the UK, as well as political leaders like Prime Minister Blair, President Bush, and even the rather cautious Senator Kerry, were all quick to condemn the obviously indefensible misbehavior. But they were also quick to claim, prior to any investigation, that this behavior must have been exceptional, engaged by at most a handful of “rogue elements” in the military and the CIA, who will now all be sternly dealt with.
However, as Amnesty International has noted, these were not just isolated incidents. Indeed, as we’ll argue below, they appear to be part of a disturbing trend toward the increasing use of “hard-core” interrogation techniques on Arab detainees by the US and its new allies in the “war on terror,” both abroad and at home.
Moreover, the US and UK civilian and military intelligence services and their contractors and surrogates have a long history of intimate involvement with such interrogation methods.
In fact what’s really most unusual about these recent scandals is not the revelation that all these services routinely use such methods, but that in this case they got their hands dirty.
Usually they are smarter than that, outsourcing the "wet work" to Third Worlders in countries with fewer reporters, human rights observers, or young Army reservists.
Ironically, in the case of occupied Iraq, these intelligence services had no other country to "outsource" the work to. With thousands of Iraqi prisoners to deal with, and a growing insurgency, they also had little choice but to rely on at-hand Army Reservists, at least one of whom decided to turn in his comrades. If the military and the intelligence services had not gotten caught, one wonders how many of those "30 investigations" and 25+ deaths in detention we'd have ever heard about.
There is also evidence that, especially in the wake of 9/11, similar tactics may be spreading to domestic law enforcement back in the USA – reflecting a growing militarization of police work. Interestingly, such tough tactics may not actually produce any more solved crimes. But they do provide nice opportunities for frustrated investigators to blow off steam.
Tying all this together, the patterns revealed here really belie the conventional notion that the hard-core interrogation tactics recently seen in Iraq were simply rogue actions by a group of unprincipled individuals.
Nor were they, in Donald Rumsfeld’s words (after four days of silence on the subject), simply “unacceptable and un-American.”
It is more accurate to say that, under the license of our new post-9/11 crypto-culture, many military and civilian intelligence and law enforcement officials apparently feel entitled to violate fundamental civl rights – especially those of Arabs and other suspect minorities – in the interests of pursuing “bad guys.” This is a little taste of what it was like to have been a white cop in Macon, Georgia, or Jackson, Mississippi, in 1956.
So this kind of behavior has become, if anything, all too acceptable, all too American. To make sure that it diminishes, rather than continues to grow, we need to get to the bottom of the institutional failures , not just the individual errors in judgment, that foster it. Just as we (almost) once got to the bottom of the systemic problems in Macon and Jackson.
The latest disclosures from the Pentagon, when added to other reports in the last two years, add up to some disturbing patterns:
Iraq. As the Pentagon only disclosed on May 4, since December 2002 it has launched investigations of at least 25 suspicious deaths of prisoners in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 10 cases of assaults. In addition, in Iraq, three Army reservists –Army Reserve military police, like those accused in the most notorious incidents -- were discharged in January 2004 for abusing prisoners at Camp Bucca, south of Baghdad near Umm Qasr. In December 2003, two British soldiers were arrested but released after an Iraqi prisoner died in their custody. In November 2003, Major-General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, of Saddam’s Republican Guard, fell ill and died during “an interview with US forces." In August 2003, a US Army lieutenant colonel received a fine, but no court marshall, for firing a shot near a detainee’s head during an interrogation. There have been reports of similar abuses at “Camp Cropper” and “Camp Bucco,” near the Baghad International Airport. Furthermore, the US has been very slow to provide information on the whereabouts and conditions of up to 10,000 civilians who have been detained in Iraq, leaving many family members completely in the dark about them. And, according to Amnesty International, these detainees have been “routinely subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrest and detention.”
Afghanistan. According to Amnesty International, detainees interrogated by the CIA at Bagram Air Base have allegedly been subjected to "stress and duress" techniques that include ”prolonged standing or kneeling, hooding, blindfolding with spray-painted goggles, being kept in painful or awkward positions, sleep deprivation, and 24-hour lighting.” In December 2002, two Bagram detainees died under suspicious circumstances. A 13-year old Afghan boy who was detained in Bagram for two months described it as
“...a very bad place. Whenever I started to fall asleep, they would kick on my door and yell at me to wake up. When they were trying to get me to confess, they made me stand partway, with my knees bent, for one or two hours. Sometimes I couldn't bear it anymore and I fell down, but they made me stand that way some more."
A December 2002 press report on standard practices at Bagram sounds like it is not all that different from what recently was discovered to be going on at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq:
Captives are often "softened up" by MPs and U.S. Army Special Forces troops who beat them up and confine them in tiny rooms. The alleged terrorists are commonly blindfolded and thrown into walls, bound in painful positions, subjected to loud noises and deprived of sleep. The tone of intimidation and fear is the beginning, they said, of a process of piercing a prisoner's resistance. The take-down teams often "package" prisoners for transport, fitting them with hoods and gags, and binding them to stretchers with duct tape…..
The US military has also been accused of standing by and watching while its allies in the Northern Alliance slaughtered up to 4000 captured Taliban prisoners of war.
Other Secret Detention Centers. There have also been reports of serious psychological and physical abuse at Guantanamo’s Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta, and other off-limits detention centers, such as Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Up to 3000 detainees are being held in such facilities, but US military officials have refused to disclose their precise names and numbers, and have only allowed intermittent visits from the International Red Cross. In Guantanamo alone, after two years, more than 660 inmates are currently in detention, including some children. All these detainees have been designated as “unlawful combatants” by the US military; we do not know their names or the charges against them, and none of them have received any judicial review, access to lawyers, or even contact with relatives. Indeed, even US citizens are being held in this indefinite “right-less” limbo status, the legality of which is now being challenged in the US Supreme Court. It seems likely that the prisoners’ right-less status has helped to encourage abuses against them.
“Refoulement.” The US has also apparently subjected hundreds of suspects – including, according to the CIA’s George Tenet, at least 70 before September 11th -- to “extraordinary renditions” to countries like Jordan, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Syria where edgy interrogation methods are routine. According to one report, in the mid-1990s the CIA significantly expanded its efforts to snatch suspected Arab terrorists for purposes of such renditions, from which it shared in any resulting information, by way of a new secret Presidential “finding” that purportedly "authorizes" it -- in violation of all the international treaties noted earlier. According the US State Department’s own country reports, the interrogation methods employed by these US allies include:
- Egypt: Suspension from a ceiling or doorframe; beatings with fists, whips, metal rods, and other objects; administration of electric shocks; being doused with cold water; sexual assault or threat with sexual assault
- Israel: Violent shaking; smelly head-bag; painful positions; "truth serums;" torture of teenagers.
- Jordan: Beatings on the soles of the feet; prolonged suspension in contorted positions; beatings
- Morocco:Severe beatings
- Pakistan: Beatings; burning with cigarettes; sexual assault; administration of electric shocks; being hung upside down; forced spreading of the legs with bar fetters
- Saudi Arabia: Beatings; whippings; suspension from bards by handcuffs; drugging
- Syria: Administration of electric shocks; pulling out fingernails; forcing objects into the rectum; beatings; bending detainees into the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts.
Deeper Roots. While the “war on terrorism” has given hard-core interrogation techniques a new lease on life, in fact the Afghan and Iraqi situations are only the most recent examples of their development by both the US military and the CIA. They sponsored a great deal of primary research on the subject, drafted “how-to” manuals for use in torture/interrogation training, and provided a great deal of instruction and assistance to the global hard-core interrogation industry. Among the many recipients of this development assistance were the Shah’s Iran, Brazil and Uruguay in the 1960s (by way of Dan Mitrione and others), Vietnam (by way of the Phoenix Program’s “Provincial Interrogation Centers), Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s, and Honduras’ infamous Battalion 316 in the early 1980s -- where our new US Ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, also served in 1981-85.
Dubious Methods Back Home. There is also evidence that the same rough-trade interrogations tactics that US soldiers have recently employed offshore are also showing up more frequently in the US. For example, last December, a Department of Justice investigation disclosed the widespread use of mistreatment and abuse during the interrogation of dozens of Muslim detainees at the Metropolitan District Detention Center in Brooklyn, in the aftermath of September 2001.
More generally, there have also been a growing number of instances of gross brutality inflicted on prisoners in the US' own increasingly over-crowded prison system -- which currently houses more than 2.1 million inmates, the world's largest prison population. Some state systems -- like California's, with more than 160,000 inmates -- are on the verge of breakdown, with crowded conditions, "guard gangs" as well as prisoner gangs, budget shortages, and rampant violations of prisoner rights. Just this year, for example, an inmate on a dialysis machine at California's Corcoran State Prison bled to death while guards ignored his screaming, as they watched the Super Bowl. This is just one of many horror stories that occur on a daily basis in the US prison system. So it is perhaps no accident that at least two of the six US soldiers facing criminal charges in connection with the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq were prison guards back home, and one of them was employed at a Pennsylviania prison that is notorious for prisoner abuse.
In an episode that is in some ways even spookier, in February 2004, agents of the US Army’s Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) -- which also oversees the same military intelligence units that have been misbehaving in Iraq -- actually showed up undercover and uninvited at a University of Texas Law School Conference in Austin on “The Law of Islam” in civilian garb, and later demanded a list of all the attendees and questioned several students in an aggressive manner. The Army later apologized, and promised to institute new refresher courses on the proper limits of its domestic authority.
Indeed, the US Army might start by reviewing the fundamental federal law that has been on the books since 1879 – the "Posse Comitatus Act" (PCA) (18 USC 1385), which provides for fines and imprisonment for anyone who uses the US military for domestic law enforcement or surveillance, except in times of national emergency or under certain other limited exceptions, none of which applied here.
This growing militarization of US law enforcement -- complete with Predator drones, SWAT teams, US Marines shooting 18-year old goat-herders in the back on the Mexican border, and now the very latest fine refinements on interrogation techniques from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib -- may be an inevitable byproduct of our brand new global wars on terrorism, drugs, anti-imperialism, and Islamic radicals whose faces we don't happen to like. But those of us who are back home, supposedly the beneficiaries of all this "national security," had better wake up and pay attention to the impact that this emerging "state of siege" mentality is having on our rights -- and those of the Iraqis people that we are supposed to be "liberating."
NEXT: PART II: THE ROOTS OF BRUTALITY.
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
One Year Later A Balance Sheet for the Iraq War
However, this by no means relieves the instigators of this precipitous venture of responsibility for what, in retrospect, appears to have been an illegal, costly, poorly-managed, distracting, divisive, and entirely unnecessary engagement with the wrong enemy at the wrong time.
While it may be decades before the consequences of the Iraq Invasion are completely clear, enough time has already passed for us to begin to take stock.
The following is the first year's balance sheet.
1. We have now almost satisfied everyone's curiosity about Saddam’s WMDs. They have not existed for quite some time. The US-led coalition’s weapon inspectors have searched high and low. Ellos no encontraron nada. Of course the hawks still assure us that they will turn up eventually, and that we should now search for them in Syria....
2. For purposes of the next time around, what we do now know for sure is that the CIA, MI-6, and the Mossad, as well as many of the hawkish senior Bush and Blair Administration officials and media pundits who "sold" us the war, are unreliable, careless with the truth, and trigger-happy.
On the other hand, the UN weapons inspectors, as well as “dovish” France, Russia, China, and Germany, were basically right all along.
This is an invaluable lesson. We should now proceed to apply it in the upcoming elections in the US and the UK, as Spain has already done.
3. We now know much more about where other countries got their WMDs. In the last year, while the Iraq War was proceeding, we identified the true sources of the last three decade’s WMD proliferations, thanks in part to Libya’s decision to turn in its WMDs.
One key source turns out to have been our ally Pakistan, in the case of North Korea, Iran, and Libya. In addition, as we've known for some time, the other key sources were our ally Israel, plus the US and West Germany, in the case of nuclear weapons for South Africa and India; and the US itself (plus Security Council members France, the UK, Germany, Russia, and China), in the case of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons capabilities. Iran and Libya have reportedly agreed to cooperate with UN nuclear weapons inspectors. Israel and Pakistan, our close “non-Nato” allies, have refused to do so.
Libya’s concessions probably had little to do with the Iraq invasion per se, so we might well have learned all this without it. But at least we now know for sure that Saddam had nothing to do with WMD proliferation. The real culprit was our own behavior and that of our self-seeking “allies.”
Of course the other great irony here is that while we've been chasing phantom WMDs in Iraq, it appears to be Iran that is, next to Pakistan, the Islamic country with the most advanced nuclear weapons program. It is not obvious to many observers that the Iraq War has strengthened the US hand with respect to Iran -- indeed, with our hands so obviously full, and with Iraq's Shiites in such a strategic position, it may well have reduced our leverage on Iran.
4. We now know all about Saddam’s links with al-Qaeda and 9/11. They were non-existent. A majority of Americans apparently still believe that there were ties between Saddam and Al-Qaeda, and that Saddam was involved in 9/11, perhaps in part because the US President and Vice President persist in encouraging this poppycock. However, the best evidence – including the testimony just this week of President Bush’s own former top counterterrorism expert, Richard Clarke - suggests that these beliefs are completely without foundation. Apparently the warmongers in the Bush Administration decided to punish Iraq, on top of Afghanistan, because, as Secretary Rumsfeld reportedly put it, Iraq "had more targets to bomb."
Of course the warmongers have also argued that al-Qaeda might have links to many other countries, notably Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. As we evaluate these claims, we should remember the expensive lesson that we’ve just learned about al-Qaeda’s purported links to Saddam.
5. Saddam’s ruthless Ba’athists have finally been removed from power.
In this respect, at least, the war helps to make up for the fact that the US played a major role in bringing the Ba’athists to power back in the 1960s, the assistance that the US, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait (as well as Russia, the UK, Germany, etc.) provided to Saddam throughout the 1980s, and the Allied coalition’s failure to remove him from power in 1991, at a cost of several hundred thousand Shi’ite lives.
In addition to Saddam's removal, some of the war's supporters have concluded that the Iraqi people have already been “liberated.” This is a huge overstatement -- as if, simply by Saddam’s demise, Iraq had already become a peace-loving constitutional democracy with Swiss-like cantons. One can almost smell the Alpine air.
Those Iraqis who have survived the war do now enjoy many new freedoms. Almost as many Iraqis are now employed, with access to electricity, running water, and health care, as before the invasion. They are free to look for work, to start companies, to open bank accounts, to read about their troubles in the media and the mail, and to shop. Except for the fact that more than a quarter of them are still unemployed, are finding it very hard to make ends meet from one day to the next, and fear for their lives because of the security situation, all this is wonderful.
By June 30, they will also presumably be allowed to vote for the “local councils” that the US is setting up all over the country, although these appear to have carefully-vetted candidates. Actual elections for national leaders is a long way off, and the fundamental question of the balance of power among this somewhat artificial “nation’s” Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish communities remains unresolved.
Nor is it helpful that the US has permitted the return and empowerment of émigré parasites like “Iraqi National Congress” émigré leader Ahmed Chalabi, a well-spoken con artist who was convicted of bank fraud in Jordan in 1992, and sentenced to 22 years at hard labor, is reportedly wanted on similar charges in Lebanon, and whose well-armed minions now hold forth at the Baghdad Hunt Club.
Looking forward to the day when the 100,000-man US-led coalition army leaves, it is also a concern that, just as in Haiti, the US saw fit to completely abolish the Army. Let’s all hope that Iraq’s new US-trained Police Force does a better job defending democracy than the US-trained Police Force did in Haiti. Former Haitian President Aristide, now in Jamaica, may be available for consultations on this point, having just been overthrown by a tiny force of only two hundred armed irregulars while his "Police" took to the hills.
All this only leaves about a dozen or so other brutal regimes in the Middle East left to go. Unfortunately, their ranks include such leading US allies like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait, Dubai, Djibouti, and Pakistan, as well as Syria. They have all been watching the progress of our experiment with “democracy” closely, and they are reportedly not that impressed.
6. Whether or not Iraq was a haven for terrorists before the war, it has clearly become one now. The destruction of Iraq’s Army, its wide-open new borders, and the opportunity that it presents to hunt US and UK troops has attracted new “terrorists” by the hundreds.
Some argue, painting lipstick on the pig, that this is actually a good thing, since we now have all these enemies in one place. This view is rooted in the assumption that there are only a finite number of terrorists in the world, and that if they were not in Iraq, they would just be operating somewhere else. In fact, it is more likely that many of those who have come to Iraq are new recruits, appalled by the US occupation of an Arab country, and persuaded that we are there to fight Islam and seize Iraqi’s oil.
Of course some of the war’s proponents don’t really care which of these views of the "terrorists" is correct. They were primarily interested in seeing the US sucked in….errr, persuaded…to establish its own long-term military base in the center of the Middle East, take sides in the interminable battle against the evil Muslim/ Arab hoard…..err, “terrorists,” sorry, and contribute most of the fighting, dying, and finance.
7. The Iraq War has not done much to halt terrorism outside Iraq, either. While the US has been fortunate enough to avoid another 9/11, the last year has seen a significant increase in global terrorism elsewhere, with countries like Spain, Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, France, the UK, Germany, Pakistan, and Russia getting used to a whole new level of permanent insecurity – somewhere between “code amber” and “code red.”
Overall, the Iraq War appears to have indeed distracted attention and resources from the war on terrorism, inflamed world sentiment, and created armies of new recruits for terrorist organizations. This is having serious economic as well as political consequences, with the “terrorism risk premium” built into world stock markets now at its highest point since September 2001.
8. Afghanistan and Pakistan are increasingly bogged down with the terrorist struggle, and the Iraq War has certainly not helped. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Karzai Government, and Pakistan’s President Musharraf appear to be locked in a stalemate. Of course, Bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s other top leaders are now “surrounded,” but this just means that they are somewhere within a tiny, narrow 20,000-square-mile region in Northwest Pakistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s General Musharraf and Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai really are confined to about 100 square miles around Islamabad and Kabul, where they have each both narrowly survived two assassination attempts in the last six months.
Just this week, Karzai lost his second Minister of Aviation in a year to assassination, not by “terrorists,” but by a local warlord. His government will try to hold elections this summer, but it is only likely to include about 10-15 percent of the country’s potential registered voters. Elsewhere the warlords are too busy growing opium and producing heroin base to pay much attention to Karzai’s central government, which -- compared with Iraq -- has received relatively limited funding from its foreign allies and the UN. Afghanistan has reverted to its pre-Taliban levels of opium production, accounting for more than 90 percent of the world’s supply, with Karzai warning that the country is becoming a “narco-state.”
Meanwhile, after two years in hiding, the Taliban is also staging a comeback in several parts of the country. This is partly because the Bush Administration decided to use so few US troops in the first attacks on Afghanistan that many of the Taliban and al-Qaeda were able to escape over the border to Pakistan. It is also because the locals are tiring of the warlords.
9. The “Middle East peace process” has, quite literally, run into a “Wall.” The Bush Administration, preoccupied with the War and an election, has paid scant attention to implementing its “road map,” and the Israeli-Palestinian relationship has basically defaulted to a perpetual state of war. Whether or not the World Court declares Sharon’s “Apartheid Wall” illegal, without US involvement, this situation is not likely to improve. Indeed, the tendency will be for the extremists on both sides to escalate the violence– as evidenced by today’s Israeli assassination of Hamas’ top leader. Without the Iraq War to distract US leaders from this root cause of global terrorism, this escalation might have been avoided.
10. Our friends and allies around the world have developed a much more hostile attitude toward the US. This bears a striking resemblance to the world’s attitude toward Israel, South Africa in the 1980s, and the UK and France during the 1956 Suez Crisis. Of course we are used to some disdain from the French. But only just last week, the new Prime Minister of Spain, a close Nato ally, was strikingly critical of the US, as were the South Koreans, another long-time US ally, and the Poles. We may be down to Britain’s Tony Blair, at least until summer’s UK elections. The next time around, in say Iran or Syria, the “coalition of the willing” would probably not have any NATO members in it. Of course we can always count on the Moroccans to lend us the 2000 mine-detecting monkeys that they provided for the Iraq invasion.
11. The Iraq War may at least have enhanced the UN’s credibility. Even though the UN proved powerless to prevent the US from launching this grossly illegal “preventive war,” in hindsight, the Security Council’s methodical approach to the elimination of Iraq’s WMDs has been vindicated. Indeed, the UN is now being begged by the US to come back to Iraq, pick up the pieces, and lend the US the credibility that it needs to get others to share the bill.
Beyond that, people are beginning to suggest that if only the US allies Pakistan and Israel would open their doors to UN weapons inspectors, the whole region might be made WMD-free some day soon.
12. Iraqi oil production has been restored to more than 2 million barrels per day. Of course “it was not about the oil.” But Iraq’s oil exports are now slightly higher than they were before the invasion, with another 1 million bpd not far off. This is important, given all the turbulence in Venezuela and recent terrorist events in Europe. Global oil prices are now much higher than they were before the war, and without Iraq’s additional expected production, they might go much higher.
Whether Saddam’s Iraq might have achieved these export levels without the war is doubtful, given the likelihood that sanctions against him would have remained in place. So at least we have one more definite entry in the war's "plus" column. Of course the war was also very lucrative for US oil service companies like Halliburton. But once again (“repeat after me”): it was not about the oil.
13. The price tag for all this has been high. In human terms, at least 5-6000 Iraqi soldiers and 9-10,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed so far, with hundreds more joining them every month, plus thousands more who have been severely wounded. Many of the country’s antiquities have also been liberated. As of March 20, 2004, there have also been 679 (687 by 3/23) combat fatalities and 3300 (3343 by 3/23) combat wounded for the US-led coalition, plus 7-8000 “non-combat injuries or sickness that required evacuation from Iraq.”Before we are able to withdraw, there will probably also be at least another thousand Allied war dead, 2-3000 more Allied casualties, and many thousands more Iraqi casualties, as “Iraqi-mization” shifts the body count to our local allies. (Of course we “no longer do body counts.”) While this is relatively small, compared with, say, the Vietnam War, it is almost certainly many more than the US military expected.
In financial terms, the Iraq War has cost about $165 billion so far. The expectation is that the price tag will probably be another $40-50 billon per year as 100,000 US troops are required – e.g., at least another 2 years. At this rate, the War’s total cost -- not counting the cost of addressing any terrorism outside Iraq that it might ignite -- will easily be at least ten times the entire First World foreign aid budget for all low-income developing countries. For those who might prefer to spend the money at home, it is also many times the sum that the US Government is now devoting to "homeland security."
Of course these are only rough estimates. By 2007 or so, when the US finally transfers responsibility to the New Iraqi Police Force/ Army, and brings its troops home from Saigon….err, Baghdad, all these costs will be much clearer, especially to the thousands of families all sides that have had to pay the ultimate price for the privilege of being on the front lines of this brave new experiment with preemption.
Monday, March 01, 2004
Pentagon Strategy Crisis? "New "Secret" (Actually, NOT! Report:" "Global Warming a Greater Threat Than Terrorism!!"
As if the world did not already have enough problems, the last few months have raised the ugly specter of global warming once again, perhaps more forcefully than ever. As we'll see below, there are indeed many recent indications that this problem is -- beg your pardon -- now "heating up." Moreover, one of the more interesting developments comes from the belly of the beast itself, the Pentagon's Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), by way of a so-called "secret report" ( according to The Guardian/Observer) that the Pentagon reportedly solicited from two prominent California "futurists" and part-time Hollywood war/disaster-film consultants.
In fact, it turns out that the The Guardian/Observer reporters didn't do their homework. While their February 22 story claimed that this Pentagon report on global warming by California futurists Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall was "secret," Fortune Magazine had obtained and released a copy from the Pentagon on January 26, and SubmergingMarkets has obtained a copy of the so-called "secret" report's Executive Summary, which may be downloaded above or below.
The report, entitled "Imagining the Unthinkable: An Abrupt Change Scenario and Its Implications for US National Security," does make for interesting reading. The authors, private consultants who work for Monitor Group/GBN in California and specialize in "long-run scenario planning," have generated a provocative scenario for the effects of an abrupt, discontinuous change in the world's climate. It involves a hefty diet of chaos, famine, drought, and war, as well as a whole new ice age. The melodrama is perhaps not surprising -- after all, one of the two consultants, Peter Schwartz, has also advised on plot development for films like Minority Report , War Games, and Deep Impact. And, of course, scenario designers, like script writers, don't get paid very well for imagining minor variations on the status quo.
As the Pentagon report itself acknowledges, it is not a "forecast," but a "what if?" exercise in "thinking about the unthinkable,"in the great tradition of Dr. Edward Teller and DOD's "wintry doom" scenarios of the late 1950s and the 1980s. The aim was to construct a "plausible," if not necessarily probable, scenario, in order (in the authors' words) to "dramatize" the possible consequences of "an abrupt slowing" of the ocean's "thermohaline circulation" (TC), the deep ocean currents that have a profound influence on subsidiary ones like the Gulf Stream and the Humboldt Current.
The possible link between global warming and TC is not a new idea. Most of us probably imagine, and certainly hope, that the effects of global warming will be gradual, leaving us -- and our trusted technologists -- plenty of time to react. But in fact there is a growing body of evidence that global climate change can occur quite fast and be very destabilizing. The notion of "abrupt change" has been gaining ground in the world's scientific community since at least the 1980s. And many scientistshave expressed concern about the potential impacts of global warming on TC.
As the authors of the Pentagon report acknowledge, at this point most leading scientists probably believe that the impacts of a TC shift would be "considerably smaller" and more localized than their report assumes. However, what is perhaps most frightening is just how limited our understanding of the potential for "abrupt change" apparently is. Just this month, the US's National Science Foundation and the UK's National Environmental Research Council launched a new four-year project aimed precisely at understanding the TC-global warming relationship.
By dramatizing the importance of this relationship, this "pseudo-secret" report has served a useful purpose. Of course its release is unlikely to please the Bush Adminstration, which has so far adopted a head-in-the-sand attitude toward global warming, including its refusal (together with Russia and Australia)to sign the Kyoto Treaty.
The hapless Guardian/Observer also erred in its claim that the report was "suppressed by US defense chiefs." It also claimed that the report's release "will prove humiliating to the Bush Administration..." So far the report has only clearly proved 'humiliating" to The Guardian/Observer.
However, SubmergingMarket's review of the global warming issue suggests that -- well, my goodness, as Donald Rumsfeld might say, someone in the Bush Administration really should take these matters more seriously! Evidently we have someone in the Pentagon OSD, or at least Monitor/GBN, to thank for underscoring this fundamental point.
We just hope that the task is not just left up to folks like Andrew Marshall, the 82-year old waspish Dr. Strangelove who has been in charge of the Pentagon's "long-range strategic planning" since 1973. He may have contracted for this doomsday report, but he also recently raved about giving our troops "bio-engineering" drugs to make them fight harder. Clearly he has too much time and money on his hands. (See below). Nor should it be left in the hands of his two hip California futurists, neither of whom has any scientific credentials, and one of whom (see below) predicted in 1999 that the US was on the verge of 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth(..just a year before the 2000-2003 global recession)! As the Secretary might say, My golly! Can't we do better than this? Is this why we're spending $401 billion this year alone on non-Iraqi "defense?"
BACKDROP - SINKING ISLANDS, TARDY ICE, MISSING BEARS
Before we turn to the Pentagon report, let's examine the context -- a growing body of evidence that we may indeed have to pay a very high price for our inactions on global warming. Among the recent indicators:
- In December 2003, Russia followed in the footsteps of the US and Australia, and refused to ratify the Kyoto Treaty. This was probably more of a short-run bargaining tactic than a Bush-like idee fixe. Absent US support for the Treaty, Russia's vote is needed to make it an international law, which requires its signature by countries responsible for at least 55 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Without US participation, Russia lost a huge market for the "pollution credits" that it hoped to sell to over-polluting American companies. It also has its own oil and gas industry to protect, and is bargaining with the EU for more favorable terms, as it enters the WTO.
- In late December, the prestigious American GeoPhysical Union reported that carbon dioxide emissions are now growing faster than ever, and concluded that "It is virtually certain that increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will cause the global surface climate to become warmer."
- Meanwhile, in December, representatives of Alaska's 155,000 Inuit tribespeople filed a human rights complaint against the Bush Administration with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C., on the grounds that they face virtual extinction because of global warming. According to them, the oceans that surround them are now warmer than ever, the permafrost that supports their homes and roads is melting, the ice arrives later and leaves earlier every year, and polar bears and seals are disappearing.
- In early January 2004, Nature, the influential peer-reviewed science journal, published a study that predicted that by 2050, 15% to 37% -- up to 1 million in all-- of all animal and plant species on the planet may be made extinct by climate changes.
- Also in January, in a vivid demonstration of just how concerned many scientists are about this issue, a conference of leading experts from the UK and the US met at Cambridge University, and considered a variety of rather extreme technical solutions to global warming, including the deployment of "tens of billions of wafer-thin metal plates... into the Earth's low orbit," the growth of huge algae beds in the oceans, and the construction of massive cloud-generating machines that would shield the earth from the sun.
- Just this month, in a warning that captured the attention of everyone who enjoys scuba diving, a study by scientists at Queensland's University concluded that Australia's Great Barrier Reef will completely disappear by year 2050, if ocean temperatures continue to rise at current rates. This is significant because, as noted, Australia, like the US and Russia, had refused to sign the Kyoto Treaty.
- In January, Scottish fishing experts also reported a decline in wild salmon stocks, just as the fishing season was opening. They attributed the decline to global warming.
In any case, further consideration of the issue will now be deferred until another conference in 2004. The EU and Russia had wanted to hold off until after the US elections, but a coalition of 40 small island countries blocked the delay -- several of them, including the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, and Tuvalu in the South Pacific, are already sinking into the sea, literally becoming "submerging markets."
BACKGROUND - THE PENTAGON'S GLOBAL WARMING STUDY
On top of all this, we now have this week's dramatic leak of a new Pentagon analysis of the national security implications of global warming. According to this report, which The Guardian described as "secret," the implications would be nothing short of catastrophic. Indeed, according to The Guardian, "The few experts privy to its contents.....(say) (T)he threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism.."
Since this report collides head on with the White House's antipathy toward the whole concept of global warming, and also undermines its case for the primacy of fighting terrorism, the Pentagon has a few strategic challenges to sort out. It will be helpful for us to understand the origins of the report.
According to The Guardian, the Pentagon global warming study was undertaken at the instance of its 82-year old in-house futurist, Andrew W.Marshall . Marshall is a life-long military strategist, one of the few who worked with such legendary war-hawks as Dr. Edward Teller and Albert J. Wohlstetter. Throughout the 1950s, Marshall worked at The Rand Corporation in Santa Monica as a cold war gamer. In 1969, he succeeded Dr. James Schlesinger as Rand's Director of Strategic Studies, when Schlesinger joined the first Nixon Administration.
During the next four years, Marshall authored what turned out to be one of the seminal works on US-Soviet strategy -- "Long-Term Competition with the Soviets: A Framework for Strategic Analysis," published in 1972. This report basically ported the whole concept of competitive strategy to the world of military planning. At the Pentagon, which had heretofore evaluated programs and budgets in terms of narrow, technical criteria rather than their contributions to strategic value, this approach was considered revolutionary. In May 1973, Schlesinger, who had just become Nixon's Secretary of Defense, appointed Marshall to be the Director of the Office of Net Assessment a new post in the Office of the Secretary of Defense that assumed responsibility for long-run military strategy. Marshall has held this post more or less continuously ever since.
In this capacity, Marshall has reportedly exerted enormous influence, as a kind of eminence gris -- the equivalent of George F. Kennan, the State Department's resident intellectual and policy planner during the 1950s -- only with twice the tenure. Marshall based his longetivity not only on strategic insights, but also on political skills -- he was content to stay in the shadows, bringing others along and helping them to succeed. Over time, he cultivated a loyal group of increasingly influential Pentagon officials, many of whom later converged on the second Bush Adminstration.
This group is often referred to collectively as "neoconservatives." This is really a misnomer -- there is nothing at all about their policies that is "conservative." A more accurate term is "ultra-imperialists," or simply, ultras. Among the best known are Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Eliot Cohen, and James Roche, the Secretary of the Air Force.
Partly through Marshall's influence, this group came to share several strong beliefs about national security.
- They have all regarded 'long-term competitive military strategy" as a serious, high-minded intellectual enterprise -- a rational endeavor that one could count on for useful results.
- They have all generally believed that the demise of the Soviet Union, their old long-term "enemy," owed a great deal precisely to this kind of rational military and economic competitive strategy -- as implemented by Ronald Reagan during the 1980s. It was no longer just a theory; its value had been proven in combat.
- Most of the ultras have also shared Marshall's boundless technological optimism -- his confidence in the capacity of the US economy and technology to provide a continuing, even growing competitive advantage over potential rivals.
- They saw the US as a largely innocent "democracy," with clean hands and high principles. In their view, the US has never had a desire to possess or occupy other countries -- well, not at least since 1946, that is, when the US occupation of the Philippines formally ended. It only wished for other countries to develop "free market" economies, which it saw as a guarantor of peace, development, and prosperous trade for all concerned. As such, they believed that the US had every moral right to leverage its superior powers to its advantage, regardless of what the rest of the world might think. It had, first of all, the absolute right to act in its own (perceived) defensive interests. It had, moreover, the right to act on behalf of other important interests that it might deem necessary, even unilaterally.
As the novelist Graham Greene once said, "No country has had better motives for all the damage that it does."
- The ultras also were traditionally quite proud of the fact that, unlike many of its enemies (especially the Soviets, the Chinese Communists, the Cubans, and so forth), the US has always maintained a relatively open society, with relatively free and open borders, a long history of welcoming immigrants regardless of financial means, or (with notable exceptions) even national and ethnic origins, and relatively modest police controls on ordinary citizens that were in case subject to a very strong bill of rights.
These shared values are important for us to understand, because every single one of them is now being called into question, not through abstract disputations, but by the new harsh realities that the US faces on the ground. This is evident, not only in the Pentagon's recent experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the "global war on terrorism." It is also evident in the recent immigration crisis, occasioned by the growing tide of immigrants, mainly from Mexico and Central America, that has recently crossed our borders. And it is also evident in the challenges noted in the Pentagon's recent global warming study, which has profound implications for all these other problems.
Along the way, there were also many other Marshall sympathizers whose motives were perhaps a little less high-minded than those who had been his intellectual comrades and proteges. These included many leading US defense contractors and their Congressional allies. Over time, Marshall's ONA developed strong, mutually beneficial ties to such key constituencies, and provided on-the-job training to a steady flow of future top industry executives and Congressional staffers.
In his procurement recommendations, Marshall also tended to err on the side of (a) perceiving huge threats that -- quite coincidentally, of course -- almost always required extremely costly, technology-intensive weapons systems, from anti-ballistic missiles systems, precision-guided missiles, remote sensing, and meteorological manipulation to unmanned combat vehicles, holographic projectors, sea-bed robotics, and particle beam weapons. As the Batman's Joker once said, "Where do they get all those FABULOUS TOYS?"
Of course, most of Marshall's activities took place behind closed doors. (See the recent Submerging Markets white paper on Intelligence Failures).So we only have a few snippets in the public record to help us assess his performance, like his reported exaggeration of the continued Soviet threat in the early 1990s, and his agonizing search for a worthy successor to the Soviet Empire, for which he ranged from China to North Korea, and finally, with the help of fellow ultras like Bernard Lewis and Samuel P. Huntington, ended up with (the somewhat confusing blend of ) the "Islamic fundamentalist horde" and the "Axis of Evil."
But there is at least one good publicly accessible example of Marshall's appetite for expensive, hair-brained technologies -- one of his most recent fetishes, "bio-engineered soldiers." This involves the use of behavior-modifying drugs to achieve specific battlefield conduct. (I am not making this up.) As he observed in a rare public appearance at the University of Kentucky in August 2002,
“The drugs would affect specific receptors and would act just like the internal chemistry (of the brain). We could create fearless soldiers, soldiers that would stay awake longer or be quicker and more alert... These new types of drugs or biochemical agents could create a new model of man."
For Mr. Marshall, apparently "the war on drugs" meant "(DOING) the war on drugs"! One would of course suppose that he must have discussed this loony idea -- which would open the door to all sorts of misbehavior -- with Rumsfeld,,his immediate boss, who, after all, had in the late 1970s served as the CEO of GD Searle, one of the nation's largest drug companies. Evidently the boss did not discourage him from these meditations. The mind boggles at the prospect of thousands of young men and women, no longer consciously serving their country as proud citizens, with honor and dignity, but "doped up," marching fearlessly slavishly into battle, doing whatever they're told......
Of course, if Marshall was willing to ponder this kind of policy in public, just imagine the other flights of fantasy that might be available to those with the security clearances to see them! (Admiral Poindexter, where is thy sting!) Given what we do know, it is not really surprising that Marshall was almost ousted in the late 1990s by President Clinton's Defense Secretary, William Cohen -- a sober Maine Republican. The dismissal was reportedly avoidedat the last minute by way of Marshall's many friends in Congress and the defense industry, plus the neocon press, which portrayed him as lying awake nights, worrying about defending our freedoms, not about how to induce killing sprees by the infantry with pharmaceuticals.
After President George W. Bush took office in 2001, Rumsfeld became Marshall's boss again, and soon placed him in charge of a strategic panel that was one key part of a fundamental rethink that Rumsfeld described, with typical modesty, as a "Revolution in Military Affairs." (RMA)
One might have thought that, even apart from his age and eccentricities, Andrew Marshall might not have been the best choice to lead such a strategy validation, especially after 9/11. After all. he'd spent thirty years designing strategies for a very different kind of adversary. The contrasts between the Soviets and the new global threat environment were many:
- "Competitive strategy" was much easier to define when the conflict was among more or less symmetrical "hegemons" like the US, China, and the Soviet Union. When opponents are not battling for nations, but for the vindication of ideas, movements or deeply-felt antipathies, and are disbursed across the globe rather than concentrated in a few countries, notions like "competition," "wartime," "combatant," "preemption," "deterrence," "victory," and "power" are no longer well-defined.
- Arsenals of conventional "anti-state" weapons, like jets, aircraft carriers, missiles, and tanks, are designed to destroy fixed positions, attack large groups of mobile forces, or wipe out concentrations of troops and seize territory. These may no longer be decisive against the latest post 9/11 generation of adversaries. At the same time, they can easily become resource sinkholes, because of their "semi-custom" production economics and very high maintenance and logistics costs.
- "High technology," can easily become a narcotic, while "low technology" can be surprisingly effective -- partly just because relying on it "enforces" creativity. The limiting case here is of course the box cutter and the hijacked plane. But once an enemy has defined "victory"as simply being able to disrupt civilian society, the list of potential "weapons of massive-enough destruction" becomes endless. Yhe cost of defending against all the endless possibilities also becomes prohibitive, so that even "successful" defense is bittersweet.
- In this context, Marshall's conventional "competitive strategy/scenario planning" apparatus of the Cold War period had became a clear disability, probably as early as the mid-1990s, and certainly by the end of the 1990s. Similarly, "strategic planning" in the private sector also went the way of all flesh in the 1990s, for most large companies. In the private sector, when such practices ceased to be productive, there were at least some natural forces that encouraged them to disappear -- though even there, many companies failed to move quickly enough. (Viz. AT&T, Polaroid, Xerox, etc.) In the context of the massive Pentagon bureaucracy, with its hundreds of thousands of staff, government regulations, security procedures, restrictions on hiring, limited performance bonuses, restrictions on firings and transfers, and endless red tape, casting such entrenched practices aside in favor of greater focus on creativity, rapid adaptation, and innovation is almost impossible.
In effect, these bureaucratic "diseconomies of scale" go a long way toward evening the odds between the "1-bullet guerilla" and the entire US military. One imagines poor Marshall, sitting in his Pentagon bastion, ruing the day that the enemy stopped being the mighty Red Army. He had met the enemy, Pogo, and he recognized the face.
Despite all these disabilities, Rumsfeld decided to rely on Marshall for the strategic panel of his RMA assessment. Marshall, in turn, must have realized that when it came to analyzing non-conventional threats like state-less terrorism or global warming, he needed to pull in some outside resources who were perhaps not so captive of traditional approaches. That set tthe stage for the production of the confrontational global warming analysis that has just now reached the light of day.
BACK TO THE FUTURISTS
To get a handle on such non-traditional issues, Marshall reached out to Peter Schwartz, a well-known "futurist," and the co-founder and Chairman of California's Global Business Network,, now part of Cambridge-based Monitor Group. GBN's other co-founder and fellow futurist, Stewart Brand, was the author of the "Whole Earth Catalogue," and founder of the "Long Now Foundation," an organization devoted to extremely long-term thinking, including the construction of a 10,000 year clock. Schwartz, the elder of the Pentagon report's two authors, is not trained in environmental science, but he does have a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from Troy's Rensselaer Polytechnic. He also served as director of the Stanford Research Institute's "Strategic Environment Center," and a "Scenario Planner" for Royal Dutch Shell from 1982 to 1986, during the heyday of corporate planning, before GBN's creation in 1987. In addition to the Pentagon, Schwartz has also consulted to the CIA, Darpa, and many Fortune 500 companies. He's also advised Hollywood film-makers on the plots of several successful war/action films, including Deep Impact, War Games, Sneakers, and Tom Cruise's Minority Report.
Schwartz has also authored several books, including a 1991 best seller on "scenario planning," "The Art of the Long View." In 1999 he published a less fortunate book The Long Boom (1999),co-authored with Peter Leyden and Joel Hyatt, in which they predicted "25 years of uninterrupted economic growth and prosperity." Of course, as we now know, this prediction was undermined by the global recession that started just one year later.
However, this did not deter Schwartz from continuing to pursue long-range planning and analysis. In an interview associated with the publication of his latest book, Inevitable Surprises (June 2003), he still maintains that his "long term boom scenario" will hold up, at least over the next half century. And while there will always be shocks and surprises, he still sees great value in scenario planning -- according to him, "September 11 was the most predicted event in history."
For purposes of the Pentagon report on global warming, Schwartz teamed up with Doug Randall, a Wharton graduate and a GBN "senior practitioner," who also had no environmental science training. This was not their first collaboration. In an April 2003 article in Wired Magazine, they argued that the US Government should undertake a massive 10-year, $100 billion program to develop hydrogen power as a substitute for imported oil.
That timetable is much more aggressive than the "several decades" that many other experts regard as necessary to develop the economical fuel-cell technology and hydrogen distribution systems required for basing mass transportation on hydrogen. But this difference of opinion may really just derive from the fact that, unlike Peter Schwartz, most of the other experts have not invested "in two companies that are now developing hydrogen power." Apparently in this instance, President Bush agrees with Schwartz, because he has also recently advocated the development of fuel-cell-based "Freedom Cars" as an alternative to requiring any better fuel efficiency from car manufacturers now.
The "secret" Pentagon report produced by the two GBN futurists is nothing if not dramatic. According to them, the world may now be headed for a period of profound, sudden, discontinuous changes in climate, with a possible reversal of the gradual recent trends toward warming, followed by rapid cooling and perhaps even a new ice age in much of the world. Among the many side-effects that all this might have:
- Flooding of the Dutch seacoast and the Hague as early as 2007;
- By 2010, the US experiences a third more days per year with peak temperatures above 90F.
- The imminent prospect of historically low mean temperatures in Western Europe, including "Siberia-like" conditions in the UK by 2020;
- Large-scale famines in southern Africa, India, and China;
- Acute water shortages in the Middle East, the Amazon Basin, and the Nile Delta;
- The likelihood that the US and Europe may become "virtual fortresses," to prevent inundation by millions of destitute immigrants from the increasingly-uninhabitable Third World, where the lives of more than 400 million people become at risk.
- Low-lying countries like Bangladesh become virtually uninhabitable.
- As international tensions over food and water increase, there are much greater incentives for countries like Japan, Germany, and South Korea to acquire nuclear weapons, and to use them.
Not surprisingly, this scenario lines up almost exactly with the pro-hydrogen logic that Schwartz has recently been propounding around the country and in his recent book. But it does appear to be a bit too choppy to reconcile with his other favorite scenario, the vintage 1999/03 "long-growth boom. "
In any case, the disturbing portrait provided by Schwartz and Randall of the possible downsides of global warming is not likely to curry much favor with the Bush White House, or with other persistent critics of global warming theory. After all, the "secret" Pentagon report on global warming has appeared just five months after the Environmental Protection Agency, at the instruction of the White House, deleted the entire chapter on global climate change from its annual report on air pollution, and for the first time in six years made no reference at all to the problem in that report. Perhaps the Adminstration's insouciance explains why the Pentagon report was leaked in the first place -- certainly it would have done little good, locked up forever in some classified vault. The leak probably would also not have harmed the stock prices of certain hydrogen-related investments - assuming there are any.
All told, the report does offer a pretty nightmarish set of scenarios. Less polite commentators might also apply words like "pseudo-scientific." Evidently there's no real effort here to build a complex forecasting model, and no way to the scenarios that were constructed, other than to double-check their internal consistency. Even if there had been an effort to construct a full simultaneous-equation system, our actual knowledge of underlying natural and economic relationships is often so weak that the game is often not worth the candle. One is reminded of the disparity in forecasting performance between the huge, complicated, multi-equation econometric models that try to specify detailed relationships about what is really going on, and simple one-line autoregressive models -- the latter routinely outperform the former. So "theory" is neither necessary nor sufficient for prediction. And the Pentagon report, as Schwartz is wont to say, is happy just to provide "scenarios," not forecasts.
Despite this limitation, a good hard-hitting, logical scenario can be very useful as a way of galvanizing pubic attention. At this point, pending the declassification and release of the full study, it is impossible to judge its real quality. Still, perhaps Andrew Marshall really just wanted enough "meat on the bone" to make his underlings think, call attention to the wide range of potential outcomes, or -- who knows -- perhaps even to toss a bone to the President's opponents, for reasons of their own. I suspect that what the Pentagon planners really got for their money was not much more than a wild-eyed Hollywood script and a few days of media attention for their long-run thinking. Beyond that, they almost certainly did obtain a release from the straightjacket of "competitive strategy" and their really quite restrictive ultra assumptions.
So what do we conclude from all this? Stepping back from the Pentagon report's apocalyptics, it does concur, in broad strokes, with the growing sense of urgency among many professional scientists about global warming, and our own sense that the case for taking action is now stronger than ever.
For example, the UK's chief science advisor, Professor Sir David King also stated just last monththat he now sees global warming as a much larger threat than terrorism, and he condemned the Bush Administration for "failing to take up the challenge of global warming."
Whether we really needed the "graphic arts" of Schwartz and Randall's detailed scenarios to drive this home is not clear. The point is that the time for preventive action is here.
Unfortunately, this being a US election year, with many people still preoccupied with jobs, health insurance, Social Security, and the costs of education, let along Iraq and terrorism, we are unlikely to find many politicians who are willing to give this issue top billing. After all, they'd have start with the basic fact that, with just 4 percent of the world's population, the US still generates at least 20-25 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. And then they'd have to move on to discuss the purgative diet of tax increases, emissions controls, other regulations and new investments that would be required to cut this fraction significantly. Having failed to tackle this issue for so long, through Democratic and Republican Administrations alike, by the time we get around to it, the solution will be no doubt very costly. The only consolation is that if there is anything to the Pentagon scenarios, the alternatives could be even worse.
Friday, January 09, 2004
Iraq - Casus Belli Revisited
This has not been a good week for the original justification for the Iraq Invasion – the urgent need to “disarm Iraq.”
Remember? That was the official justification that was repeated ad nauseam in the nine months leading up the March 2003 invasion by a veritable Tabernacle Choir of senior US and UK officials, including President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Vice President Richard Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as any number of neoconservative pundits, self-styled national security experts,Iraqi National Congress exiles, former CIA Directors-turned-INC legal advisors, “objective” members of the mass media, and all but a few leaders of the hapless Democratic Party.
In the nine months since the Invasion, of course, this cover story has largely faded from view. By May 2003, Iraq’s WMDs had already proved elusive, and US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had downgraded their importance to “merely the one reason everyone could agree on.”
By now there’s a whole new series of surrogate excuses -- several of which would also allow us to invade at least a half dozen other dictatorships that the US finds objectionable. The country's Spartan spirit soars at the prospect of a perpetual war to reconstruct mankind in our own image, not only democratizing the lives of 1 billion+ Muslims, but also eliminating such long-lived irritants as Castro's Cuba, Kim Il Sung's North Korea, Mugabe's Zimbabwe, Burma's nasty SPDC, Saudi Arabia's extended family dictatorship, and of course the penultimate target, those prolific and disturbingly successful Red Chinese.
Lest we forget, however, the original necessary and sufficient justification for the Iraq invasion had nothing to do with (1) removing Saddam’s repressive regime, (2) punishing him for his crimes against humanity, (3) reconstructing Iraq’s economy, (4) reducing Iraq’s huge debt burden, (5) solving its deep-seated ethnic rivalries, (6) providing it with a brand new federal constitutional system, (7) finally giving the Kurds (some kind of) self-government, or (8) bringing (some kind of) “democracy” to the Middle East.
Even less was it supposed to be about (9) securing our oil supplies and SUV-intensive life style, (10) generating fat contracts for contractors like Bechtel and Halliburton, (11) laying the foundations for future invasions of Syria and Iran, (12) providing an alternative to Saudi Arabia as a military base, or (13) helping Israel construct bantustans on the West Bank and defer a peace settlement with the Palestinians and Syria for another 36 years.
The war’s proponents understood very early that even the most worthy of these goals, “nation-building,” was simply not that important to most Americans, only a small fraction of whom could even find Iraq on a map.
Indeed, the Bush Administration itself had never showed much interest in nation-building, economic assistance, or debt restructuring before the Iraq Invasion. We were supposed to be fighting a war on terrorism, not policing Baghdad, fixing its power stations, and repairing its sewer system. While Saddam was a bloody tyrant, as Citigroup's former CEO John Reed used to say, the real world is a "nasty place," filled to the brim with such tyrants, many of whom – like Saddam – have been tolerated and even assisted by the US for decades as friends and trading partners. (Just ask the Tibetans, Uzbekis, Iranians, Kurds, and Pakistanis.)
Finally, as any true (e.g., non-neo) conservative is wont to point out, we have a track record. Most previous attempts at Third World nation-building by the US, from the Philippines to Vietnam to Iran to Haiti, have not gone all that well. (The exceptions, in relatively advanced, homogeneous post-war Japan and Western Europe, actually prove the rule.) Indeed, as Iranians and Iraqis know well, both the US and the UK have had much more experience in subverting Middle East democracy than in constructing it.
No – the war’s proponents understood very early that nation-building alone could never provide the American people with a sufficient ex ante justification for the invasion – even though, ex post, it may turn out to be the “least bad” justification. (On the other hand, the war’s $166 billion cost could have financed a great deal of nation-building elsewhere...)
As New York Times’ Thomas Friedman -- an increasingly uncomfortable "liberal" supporter of the war -- told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz last April,
This is the war the neoconservatives wanted…(and) marketed. Those people had an idea to sell when September 11th came, and they sold it. Oh boy, how they sold it. This is not a war that the masses demanded. This is a war of an elite. I could give you the names of 25 people (all of whom sit within a 5-block radius of (my Washington DC) office, who , if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago, the Iraq war would not have happened.
Indeed, as former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill disclosed just this week, President Bush may have also made up his mind even before he took office in January 2001 to dispose of Saddam, for reasons that had nothing to do with 9/11 (which hadn’t happened yet) or WMDs, but might have had a bit to do with a combination of (a) oil (b) family revenue (c) the fact that several of his top advisors, especially Cheney and Rumsfeld, had been decided on this course since at least the mid-1990s.
O’Neill also shed light on some Iraqi oil field maps and other documents. that had been obtained by Judicial Watch in its Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against Vice President Cheney. According to O’Neill, Cheney was already plotting how to divvy up Iraq’s oil reserves – the world’s second largest – as early as March 2001.
Just recall -- during the run-up to the Invasion, these presumptuous partisans talked our ears off, insisting that an unprovoked “preventive” invasion was the only way to defend ourselves, by:
- (1) Eliminating Iraq’s supposedly huge stocks of WMDs. We were repeatedly told that these consisted of biological, chemical, and quite possibly even nuclear weapons. As Vice President Cheney claimed on August 29, 2002: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." As Tony Blair claimed on September 24, 2002, ”The assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and that he has been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile program.”
- ((2) Eliminating the threat that Saddam might use those weapons directly against the US or its allies. As President Bush warned on October 7, 2002, "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof - the smoking gun - that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” As Tony Blair asserted on September 24, “(Saddam’s) military planning allows for some of the WMDs to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them.”
- ((3) Eliminating the threat that Saddam might share those weapons or technologies with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.
Inthe last nine months we’ve had time to evaluate these claims more carefully. The proverbial chickens are now coming home to roost.
This week the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published the results of a detailed evaluation of all these claims. This report, which was directed by Joseph Cirincione, a national security expert and former aid to Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge, should be required reading for those members of Congress who voted to authorize the Iraq War in November 2002, and, indeed, for the American people in general. Among its key findings:
These distortions reached a point which compromised the traditional independence of the intelligence agencies. As a result, Carnegie now believes that it is time for the Director’s position at CIA, in particular, to become a professional appointment, rather like the Federal Reserve chairmanship.
Compare this disgraceful situation with Secretary of State Colin Powell’s hyperbolic statement before the UN, on February 5, 2003, that "These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” Also recall President Bush’s bogus claims, since proved completely false, about Iraq’s alleged purchases of uranium from the country of Niger – a matter that subsequently led to the Valerie Pflame affair.
Consistent with these findings, we also learned this week that the Bush Administration has virtually given up on finding any actual WMDs in Iraq, and is quietly disbanding the search team. David Kay, the hawkish former UN weapons inspector who has been managing the whole effort, is also leaving. Evidently the search for WMDs is no longer politically important, and indeed, is something of an eyesore.
All this is very disturbing. Essentially it means that we've just had another “Gulf of Tonkin,” an exaggerated pretext used to manipulate our country into going to war. That doesn’t put us in very good company – Saddam himself used a similar “defensive preemption” pretext to justify his own 1980 invasion of Iran.
As a matter of international law, even if Saddam’s WMDs eventually turn up, in the view of most eminent international jurists as well as the UN Secretary General, the invasion of Iraq was clearly illegal, since it lacked clear UN Security Council approval and there was never really an “actual attack or imminent threat.” Amazingly, even arch-hawk Richard Perle has recently admitted the war's illegality -- though he argues that its illegality is irrelevant.
As it becomes clearer that even the “WMD preemption” excuse for the war was a fiction, some folks have worried that the US and the UK might even be accused of war crimes for launching this unilateral crusade. Practically speaking, that’s unlikely -- victors are never subjected to war crimes tribunals. But it does at least make us feel a bit more sympathy for Bill Clinton, who was subjected to a year-long impeachment proceeding for rather more mundane offenses than "propagandizing" a whole nation to war.
In the next few weeks, the publication of the UK’s Hutton report on the death of UK Defense analyst Dr. David Kelly will no doubt help to keep this story alive, perhaps by provoking the UK to a more detailed inquiry into the whole affair. This appears to matter a great deal to the UK public, and Tony Blair’s future. But whether or not any of this matters to the gullible US majority that swallowed the case for the Iraq Invasion in the first place is doubtful. After all, as of October 2003, nearly 70 percent of Americans still believed that Saddam was involved in 9/11. As of December 2003, 64 percent of them also believed that Iran’s “nuclear weapons” should be our “number one foreign policy priority.” (Note to readers: Iran, like Iraq and Libya, has no nuclear weapons. Like Libya, it has recently agreed to open its doors to UN inspectors -- a step that the Bush Administration attributes to its aggressive actions in Iraq, yet another new justification for this aggressive war. But meanwhile, North Korea, which actually has nuclear weapons, has refused inspections, and may have accelerated nuclear weapons construction as it watched the Iraq conflict build. So whether or not the Iraq War has had a positive net deterrent effect on these three possible proliferators as a group is not clear. )
Meanwhile, as of January 2004, 61 percent of US adults approved of President Bush’s handling of Iraq, up from 45 percent in early November, before Saddam’s capture.
About 64 percent of adult Americans also believe they will go to heaven when they die. Credulity has its consolations, and we hope that all this faith provides a measure of relief, as the security alerts continue in the months and years ahead -- despite Saddam's demise and perhaps even because of it. As the novelist Graham Greene once wrote, “No country has better motives for all the trouble it causes..…”
© James S. Henry, Submerging Markets.com.
Monday, December 15, 2003
Saddam's Demise - Do You Really Feel Safer?
There is also the dismal possibility that, despite his capture, the Iraqi resistance will continue to escalate its attacks, especially on other Iraqis. (Indeed, at least in the first few days after Saddam's arrest, this is precisely what has happened. The arrest has, however, resulted in some short-term gains against the resistance. We can only hope that these prove to be longer-lasting than the impacts of the deaths of Saddam's sons last summer.)
Furthermore, the tactics that were applied to "get him" may be largely inapplicable to "real terrorists" like Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who have already targeted thousands of US civilians, yet remain free. From their standpoint, on the one hand, they never got very much (or perhaps any -- the evidence is very sketchy) support from Saddam, and as President Bush has admitted, there is no evidence that he was involved in 9/11. On the other hand, they are probably delighted to see the US tied down in this costly military venture in Iraq, rather than focusing on them. (The recent upgrade of the US terror alert status to "high" (orange) is not inconsistent with this interpretation. We hope that we are proved wrong.)
Finally, of course, the direct costs of this "arrest" have indeed been astronomical. As of this week, this most recent US-backed effort to invade Iraq and eliminate Saddam has, according to most recent estimates, cost the lives of more than 543 Coalition troops, 8-10,000 Iraqi civilians, another 8-10,000 Iraqi combatants during the first month of battle, and at least that number of combatant lives since then. The number of Coalition wounded is now at least 3100, while the number of Iraqi wounded may be conservatively estimated at 50,000 (about 2 times the minimum number of fatalities).
In addition, it now looks as if former Bush economic advisor Larry Lindsey was absolutely right: the cost of the Second Iraq War and the reconstruction to follow will easily reach $166-$200 billion by the end of 2004. By comparison, the USG's entire foreign aid budget in 2004 for all other countries is less than $20 billion.
Compared with all these costs, it is now clear that the best way to have avoided Saddam's menace would have been to have not assisted his rise to power in the first place in the 1960s and 1970s, or at least to have not armed him to the teeth in the 1980s, or at least to have not prevented UN coalition forces from removing him in 1991, after the Gulf War.
In short, while it would be perverse not to celebrate Saddam's capture, this development is surely no panacea, and the "opportunity costs" of abetting Saddam's rise and fall appear to have been very high. Let's hope that the US at least learns something from this very expensive tutorial about the long-run costs of coddling dictatorships.
In hindsight, it really does appear incredible that Saddam has lasted as long as he has. After all, it is not as if he is without enemies in Iraq, even apart from the US. And the effort that the US has devoted to "getting him" has been truly stupendous:
At the war’s outset, in March 2003, Saddam was targeted by several "decapitation" air strikes that employed the latest “smart bombs,” eavesdropping equipment, remote-controlled flying drones, and satellite intelligence. On March 19, for example, one of his compounds near Baghdad University was hit by four 2000-lb. bunker-busters and 40 cruise missiles. President Bush rejoiced that “Saddam at the very minimum was severely wounded,” but that remark proved to be premature. On April 7, a B1 bomber dropped four more 2000-lb. bombs on a Baghdad restaurant where Saddam was supposed to be hiding with his two eldest sons. US investigators spent weeks going through the rubble, searching in vain for Saddam’s DNA. They did find the DNA of 14 deceased Iraqi civilians.
After the war’s official end on April 9, Saddam was pursued for nine months by up to 1500 US “elite” troops who were members of black ops” units like "Task Force 20," “Gray Fox,” and “Task Force 121.” They moved pretty freely throughout the country, carrying out more than 400 raids and detaining several thousand Iraqis for questioning, including several dozen members of Saddam’s extended family. Last July they succeeded in killing two of his three sons, Uday and Qusay. (No one says much about Ali, the third son born out of wed lock.) These elite forces also managed to kill at least a half dozen more Iraqi civilians and 25-30 gasoline smugglers who were chased 25 miles into Syria on a false tip.
It is worth noting that, contrary to the expectations of senior US military officers, killing Uday and Qusay had no noticeable effect on the Iraqi resistance – indeed, it grew rapidly after their demise.
From July 3 on, Saddam had a $25 million bounty on his head – about 20,000 times the average Iraqi’s annual income. Apparently such bounties may have helped produce information that helped to locate Saddam’s sons. But it is doubtful that the bounties had anything to do with Saddam’s capture. Just last week in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld admitted that the reward had not produced any useful information, and conceded that he was “dumbfounded.” And US General Ricardo Sanchez’’s report on Saddam’s capture also suggests that US troops did not rely on big bounties – though they probably made use of smaller payments.
So after months of the big bounty/ special ops approach, as of mid-November the hunt for Saddam had stalled. When Bush visited the UK on November 18, he got lots of caustic comments about precisely this issue – Glenda Jackson, the former minister and actress, asked, 'Why is George Bush being given a triumphal ride down Whitehall when Saddam is still roaming free?' And Air Marshal Sir Timothy Garden, of the Institute of Strategic Studies, hardly a screaming loony, declared that it was 'totally unacceptable” and “down to incompetence” that Saddam was still at large.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi resistance took off. November saw 109 fatalities and nearly 400 wounded among coalition forces, the worst month since March. Even more important for the country's stability and the resistance's future, the number of Iraqi civilian casualties was soaring.
Moreover, with less than a year to go until the 2004 US Presidential election, the proportion of Americans who felt the war was going well had fallen from 86 percent in May to 42 percent. Fully 55 percent disapproved of Bush’s “post-combat” management of Iraq situation. Despite the fact that the economy was showing signs of recovery, several polls taken during the first two weeks of December, showed that Bush’s approval rating had fallen to just 50 percent, its lowest level since before 9/11, with record disapproval levels.
Responding to all these developments, the US military, under strong pressure from Washington, decided to unleash much more aggressive tactics on the ground, especially in the Central Provinces around Tikrit. Ultimately it was these harsher tactics that turned the trick.
To begin with, according to Seymour Hersch’s report just this week, US special forces like “Task Force 121” were recently authorized to engage in proactive tactics that resemble the CIA’s Phoenix Program in Vietnam and Israel’s tactics against the Palestinians, including the use of assassination, kidnapping, and torture against civilian insurgents.
Even more important, in mid-November, the 4000-person First Brigade of the US Army’s 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit, under the command of Colonel James Hickey, started to resort to the use of West Bank/Gaza -like tactics, complete with giant Israeli D-9 bulletproof bulldozers and Israeli advice on counter-insurgency tactics. These new tactics included late-night house-to-house searches, military checkpoints, razor wire cordons, curfews, the detention of suspected insurgents’ relatives, and house demolitions.
It appears that these strong-arm tactics, especially the mass roundups and family interrogations, helped to produce the information that finally resulted in Saddam’s capture. In particular, it now appears that the critical information that led to Saddam's capture was produced not by voluntary cooperation, but by the interrogation of a detainee.
Whether the benefits of flushing Saddam out of his spider hole are ultimately worth the undoubted damage that such tactics may have rendered to US relationships in Iraq and the Middle East in general is debatable. But one point is clear -- unless the US invades Pakistan, these strong-arm tactics will not be available to use in the lawless regions of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, where Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and former Taliban chief Mullah Omar are reportedly holed up.
In other words, even if the bounties on these proven terrorists in Pakistan are increased (the bounties on Osama and Al-Zawahiri are already $25 million each) , and even more “special ops” units are diverted to search for them, Osama and his associates are unlikely to ever be captured. Of course these folks are the only ones who have ever been shown to have launched catastrophic attacks against US civilian targets -- unlike Saddam Hussein. And they are all holed up in Pakistan, an unstable country that really does have weapons of mass destruction - plus instability, and tens of thousands of religious fundamentalists. Indeed, just yesterday, while Saddam was being processed after his arrest, Pakistanalmost lost President Musharraf to a terrorist attack.
But the day after Saddam's capture, President Bush was in no mood to focus on such complexities. He lost no time in trumpeting Saddam’s capture, pledging that it meant that "a dark and painful era in the history of Iraq is finally over.” Characteristically, Donald Rumsfeld was even more hyperbolic, asserting that “The Iraqi people have now been liberated in spirit, as well as in fact.”
They might eventually prove right, but their ability to predict Iraq’s future has so far not exactly proved to be spot -on. In particular, there’s no evidence that Saddam exerted anything like the influence that Bush and Rumsfeld imply he did with respect to the Iraqi resistance. He was widely detested, even by his fellow Ba’athists. He had no communications equipment with him when he was captured, so it is doubtful whether he could have played much of a role in coordinating the resistance. Most important, the resistance is likely to continue until there is a genuine representative government in Iraq – sometime that will not happen until next summer, at the earliest. With Saddam gone, however, and just 13 people left on the Coalition’s “top 55” most-wanted list, at least this theory of the resistance can now be decisively tested.
One of the more surprising aspect of Saddam's capture, by the way, was its pacific character. Actually, we should all feel grateful for the fact that this putative “monster” was captured alive. Apparently Saddam’s faith in the afterlife did not rival that of other members of the Iraqi resistance. This will permit him to receive a fair trial -- a salutary exercise for Iraq's first post-Saddam government. And he may also be able to use his brief remaining time on this earth to help us solve a few riddles about the past, such as what really became of all his WMDs, his alleged connections with al-Queda, and the history of his relationships with foreign powers during the 1980s. Naturally we trust the Bush Administration to share all his candid responses with us. (According to Time, Saddam has reportedly already told American interrogators that Iraq never had weapons of mass destruction.)
So good riddance to Saddam! One cannot but hope that this will indeed prove to be a turning point in Iraq’s struggle for democracy, peace, and independence.
To the triumphalists in the Bush II Administration, however, we also need to insist that Saddam’s capture really becomes a turning point for the First World-- it should henceforce be unwilling to help such dictators rise to power in the first place. In particular:
- Saddam's removal might have been undertaken 13 years ago, at much lower cost, by the UN-backed international coalition that was assembled by Bush I.
- Even before that, during the first Reagan Administration, in which Rumsfeld served, and in the last year of the Carter Adminstration, Saddam might have been discouraged from invading Iran, and he might have been provided with far fewer weapons and key ingredients for WMDs.
- Long before that, the Nixon Administration and Henry Kissinger might have refused to betray the Kurds when they tried to resist Saddam.
- Before that, in the 1960s, the Kennedy /Johnson Administrations and the CIA might have declined to help install Saddam’s Ba’athists in Iraq in the first place.
Of course all these were complex judgments, made under the acute pressures of the time. But it is important for us to be reminded of our own deep responsibility for the Saddam "monster" -- if only to avoid making such mistakes again.
For the moment, however, conventional news coverage will probably just continue to celebrate Saddam’s capture like some medieval morality play. This doesn't do justice to history, but at least it helps television news compete with its increasingly close substitutes -- the all-movie and all-wrestling channels.
© James S. Henry, Submerging Markets, 2003
Friday, December 05, 2003
Restructuring Iraq's Foreign Debt - Let's Hope This "Baker Plan" Is More Successful!
On December 5, 2003, President George W. Bush announced that he is appointing James A. Baker III to
to be his “debt envoy,” in charge of renegotiating Iraq’s huge foreign debt. To many, this is a welcome move -- Baker appears to be a savvy, affable fellow with strong diplomatic skills and multilateralist inclinations, which this administration sorely needs. And Iraq’s debt now stands at $128-$200 billion or more, depending on whose claims are recognized. (See below.) Since this is at least several times Iraq's entire national income, a debt restructuring is certainly long over due.
Indeed, as I’ve argued elsewhere, if Iraq’s foreign debt had been restructured in the late 1980s, when Baker was Secretary of State, many of our difficulties with Iraq -- including Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the prolonged embargo, and our most recent invasion of Iraq -- might well have been avoided entirely.
Those who are old enough to remember James Baker's terms as Secretary of the Treasury from January 1985 to August 1988 and Secretary of State from January 1989 to August 1992 may be struck by several other ironies.
As we’ll remind ourselves below, not only did his "Baker Plan" utterly fail to reduce the Third World debt when he was Treasury Secretary, but when he was Secretary of State, he actually encouraged the US Department of Agriculture and leading US and foreign banks to lend billions of dollars to Iraq -- despite its credit unworthiness. His motive back then was evidently to help Saddam continue to be able to import weapons from abroad and manufacture even nastier weapons back home. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
So, in a sense, this recent appointment shows that our policies have come full circle. It must be profoundly satisfying for 73-year old Jim Baker. His last hurrah in government may be to finally successfully restructure a Third World country's debts -- indeed, in this case, the same very country whose debts he helped to increase substantially fifteen years ago. We may not be able to find Bin Laden, but we certainly have located another enemy, Pogo……
THE BAKER PLAN’S TRACK RECORD
To begin with, Jim Baker’s credibility in debt restructuring is not exactly unsullied. In 1985, as President Reagan’s second Treasury Secretary, he launched his so-called "Baker Plan," the first of several attempts by the US Government to tackle the exploding Third World debt problem. It was managed day-to-day by Baker’s close associate, former Undersecretary of the Treasury Dr. David C. Mulford, who later became Chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston's International Group, and just last month was designated by President Bush II as the new Ambassador to India.
The “Baker Plan,” which relied heavily on a combination of tougher IMF/World Bank conditions in exchange for a modest amount of new loans, basically assumed that with the right policies, developing countries could grow themselves out of their excessive debts. Unfortunately this assumption proved to be wrong – with disastrous consequences for the countries. The Baker Plan, together with its successor, Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady’s so-called "market-oriented," voluntaristic approach to debt reduction, were utter flops. The conditions that were imposed on debtor countries threw them into even deep recessions, provoking bloody riots (Venezuela, 1989) and debt moratoria (Brazil, 1987; Argentina, 1988). By the year 2000, the real level of Third World debt was 150 percent higher than it had been in 1985. (See Chart 1.1)
However, the Baker Plan, the Brady Plan, and other such “market-based” approaches to debt reduction that succeeded them did at least have one beneficial effect. They provided lots of opportunities for leading First World investment banks -- like Mulford’s former employer Credit Suisse First Boston, and Nick Brady’s investment bank Darby Overseas Investments Ltd., but unlike Baker’s own Carlyle Group, which has generally avoided developing countries -- to make a ton of money by structuring and syndicating privatizations and debt swaps, and by advising developing countries on the intricacies of how these plans really worked. (See my book for more juicy details -- including Dr. Mulford's involvement in Argentina's 2001-02 debt debacle.)
THE ORIGINS OF IRAQ’S DEBT AND THE KUWAIT INVASION
In announcing Jim Baker's new appointment, President Bush explained that "the future of the Iraqi people should not be mortgaged to the enormous burden of debt incurred to enrich Saddam Hussein's regime.(emphasis added.)" It is hard to quarrel with that statement – up until the last five words. If Mr. Bush had actually bothered to examine the origins of Iraq's foreign debt, he would have quickly realized that "enriching Saddam" was a very minor part of the story.
Indeed, the vast bulk of Iraq's foreign debt today is supposedly “owed” to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf States. Most of this was incurred to help fight the Iran-Iraq War and defend the autocratic dynasties that rule these oil emirates against the Ayatollah Khomeini's brand of populist fundamentalism in the 1980s.
One of the main reasons why Saddam invaded Kuwait in August 1990, in fact, was that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia refused to restructure these "Iraqi debts" – at the same time they were accelerating oil production, driving oil prices down and decimating Iraq's oil revenues (and their own -- but they had much less need for the revenue back then.) By 1989, as it emerged from an eight-year war, Iraq's economy was a complete mess, with hundreds of thousands of war casualties, more than a million soldiers under arms, declining oil revenues, and this huge war debt.
Yet for reasons that are still very unclear to this day, the Kuwaitis and the Saudis insisted on being repaid in full, and actually accelerated their oil production.
If James A. Baker III, who was Secretary of State at that point, had really wanted to avoid Iraq’s subsequent invasion of Kuwait, he (and Mulford/ Brady) might easily have exerted pressure on these two US allies, who were completely dependent on the US military for their protection. Given that pressure, they might well have restructured Iraq's excessive debts back then, at a fraction of the cost that will be required in 2003 -- even ignoring all the other side effects of this delay.
Instead, Baker choose to adopt what might be termed a “Weimar” response with respect to Saddam’s debts. It was nothing less than a throwback to the hard-hearted policy that the US, France, and the UK adopted with respect to Germany’s war reparation debts after World War I – with somewhat similar long-term consequences.
Please don’t take my word for this, however. Instead, examine the detailed history of the “lessons learned” from the Iran-Iraq war that was published in December 1990 by the US Army War College’s own Strategic Studies Institute, just a few months after Saddam invaded Kuwait. On the subject of why Saddam had chosen to do so, the study had this to say:
Conventional wisdom maintains that Iraq always was covetous of Kuwait, and that, indeed, the nature of the Ba’athists is to be expansionists; in invading, the Iraqis were merely following their instincts. This explanation does not hold water. Why, for example, if they desired territory, didn’t they seize Khuzestan at the end of the war when Iran was prostrate? Why did they not at least insure themselves control of the Shatt Al Arab? By withdrawing completely from Iran, and turning the issue over to the UN for settlement, the Iraqis behaved as a responsible member of the world community.
Nor does it seem reasonable to argue that Iraq invaded Kuwait because it thought it could get away with it. Throughout the war, the Iraqis had ample evidence of the importance of Kuwait to the superpowers….M/font>
Taking all this into account, it seems obvious that Iraq invaded its neighbors because it was desperate. (Emphasis added.) It had a million man army that it could not demobilize, because it had not jobs to send the men home to. It had no jobs because its economy had been ruined by the war. It could not get its economy going again until it demobilized. Thus the Iraqi leadership saw itself in a vicious dilemma. At the same time, Kuwait was fabulously wealthy, and Iraq – by seizing it – could hope to exploit its wealth to resolve its economic problems….The lesson would appear to be, never make war until you have assessed the potential of your opponent. Iraq’s initial mistake in attacking Iran was in failing to appreciate the vast human potential that Tehran could exploit…And in the end, although it emerged “victorious,” it practically bankrupted itself.
In this view, then, Saddam was not so much a crazed madman, an expansionist bent on regional domination, or even an undeterrable, diehard anti-Zionist, as much as he was a desperate bungler, driven into the corner by his country’s own economic situation.
THE COSTS OF NOT RESTRUCTURING IN 1990
Was this view correct? We may never know. What is clear is that the cost of not bothering to find out has been enormous – especially compared with the cost of the mere $27 billion settlement that Iraq proposed and Kuwait rejected in July 1990, on the eve of the war.
>The direct costs of the 1991 Gulf War. These include at least $100 billion of damage to non-oil infrastructure in Kuwait and $50 billion in Iraq, plus $61 billion of direct military expenses for the US-led coalition forces, an estimated $600 billion in longer-term reductions of the region’s gross domestic product; 2500 to 3500 civilians, 50,000 to 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, and 350 coalition forces killed; about 111,000 indirect civilian deaths during the wartime period, including 70,000 children, due to a breakdown in sanitation, the spread of infectious diseases, the disruption of hospital care caused by power outages, and the side-effects of more than 300 tons of depleted uranium ordinance used by the coalition in southern Iraq; up to 25,000 coalition troops who complained after the war of “Gulf War” syndrome, a mysterious “illness” that many believed might have been caused by exposure to chemical weapons; nearly 700 oil wells that were set afire, burned for a year, and caused an environmental disaster and another $20 billion of damage; and 11,000,000 barrels of oil that were released into the Persian Gulf, about twenty times the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. (See the PDF Version for footnotes to sources.)
>Compensation Claims for Gulf War Damage. As a result of the 1991 war, Iraq was also saddled with about $320 billion in claims for damage compensation, which it was supposed to pay out of oil revenues, channeled through the UN under the terms imposed by the Coalition. These claims included $117 billion claimed by Kuwait’s Public Authority for Assessment of Compensation.
By 2003, $148 billion of these Gulf War claims had been settled for about $.30 on the dollar, or $43 billion. Assuming conservatively that the remaining claims will be settled for an average present value of $.20 cents on the dollar, the remaining claims would be worth $36 billion. At that rate, Iraq will ultimately have paid out about $79 billion, in present value, for Gulf War damage -- on top of its foreign debt. This means that these compensation claims will have cost it almost as much as its entire Iran-Iraq war debt.
In the wake of the 2003 US invasion, Kuwait has indicated that it may be willing to exchange a portion of these claims for a stake in Iraq’s new oil concessions. Throughout the last decade, Iraq protested to no avail that many of Kuwait’s compensation claims were spurious, amounting to yet another forced transfer of its oil revenues to the wealthy Kuwaitis, even while Iraq's own citizens were starving. (Just to cite one example -- the case of a wealthy Kuwaiti who complained to the UN in 2003 about losing his thoroughbreds, jewelry, and art collection, and received $4 million in compensation, all of it paid for from Iraq's oil revenues.)
>Sanctions. There was also the enormous cost of the UN sanctions that banned all imports of Iraqi goods. The UN imposed these on Iraq four days after the invasion, and maintained them for 13 years, until May 2003. This was one of the most comprehensive economic blockades in history – way beyond the effort maintained, for example, against South Africa in the 1980s. But even these sanctions failed to get Saddam out of Kuwait, topple him from power, or force him to cough up his purported “weapons of mass destruction.”
What they did do was to create what can only be described as an economic catastrophe for Iraq’s people – despite the fact that they had much less responsibility for their dictator’s behavior than, say, the international community that had helped bring him to power in the 1960s, armed him to the teeth, and encouraged his aggressions throughout the 1980s, so long as it was directed against Khomeini.
These sanctions created havoc in Iraq’s public health, sanitation, and hospital systems, by interrupting the supply of imported medicines, hospital equipment, chlorine and pipes for water treatment plants, pollution control gear for the country’s oil refineries, and many other imported necessities. UNICEF has estimated that these 1990s sanctions alone were responsible for boosting Iraq’s infant mortality from 25 per 1000 births in 1990 to 92 per 1000 in 1995, and causing a one-third reduction in average per capita caloric intake by 1996. In 1996 the UN Oil-for-Food program was introduced to moderate these effects. Still, aid experts estimated that for the decade as a whole, the sanctions on Iraq probably claimed at least 60,000 to 100,000 victims per year – half of them children. In addition, the sanctions also imposed heavy costs on neighboring states like Turkey, which estimated that it lost $80 to $100 billion in trade revenues with Iraq because of their border’s closure.
Meanwhile, the one group of Iraqis that was least affected by the sanctions was of course Saddam’s own Ba’athist Party. A 2002 study by the GAO found that, while the UN Oil for Food program accounted for $51 billion of Iraq oil revenues from 1997 to 2001, another $6 billion of illicit income was probably generated through illegal oil exports and surcharges levied by key officials in exchange for contracts. It speculated that much of this income ended up in the usual places – bank accounts in offshore havens like Switzerland, Lebanon, and Cyprus.
These sanctions also provided the occasion for the well-known remark by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 1996. When asked by reporter Leslie Stahl whether the policy was worth the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children, she replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.” Many others did not agree. Two successive senior UN humanitarian program coordinators and the head of the World Food Program resigned from the program in 1998 and 2000, describing what was being done to the Iraqi people as “intolerable.” As one commented, “How long should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?”
The Clinton Administration’s answer -- like that of President George H.W. Bush I and James A. Baker III way back in 1991-92 -- was that, from the standpoint of the First World's own selfish interests, this brutilitarian policy was preferable to the full-scale invasion that would have been needed to take out Saddam and his crew. But for the events of September 11th 2001, and the opportunity that it presented to conflate Saddam’s regime with other “Islamic terrorists,” President Bush II would probably have reached the same conclusion.
All these costs are even before accounting for the enormous costs of the 2003 US-led invasion – at least $100 billion for military costs for the period March 2003 through yearend 2004, and an estimated $20-$30 billion a year for reconstruction. All told, the failure to head off Saddam’s adventurous attempt to solve his “debt problem” by invading Kuwait has easily had an economic price tag – even apart from all the suffering it caused – of at least $800 billion to $1 trillion.
This makes Iraq’s foreign debt – whatever it is – pale by comparison. And it should also make us all a wee bit curious to know whether negotiating a debt-and-oil-price settlement with Saddam was ever seriously considered by James Baker way back in the late 1980s, before all these bloody chickens came home to roost?
IRAQ’S FOREIGN DEBT – WHO’S OWED WHAT NOW?
A s for Iraq’s foreign debt now, who is owed what, and with whom will ‘debt envoy” Baker have to negotiate? Estimates of the debt’s size vary widely, because different measuring rods and time periods are used by different analysts. But by all measures, the accumulated debt burden was already very heavy by the end of the 1980s. And most of it was clearly due to the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from October 1980 until July 1988, when Iran finally accepted a ceasefire. Since the US and its allies, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, actively encouraged that war, and provided assistance to both sides in the interests of perpetuating it, there is a strong moral argument that the portion of the Iraqi debt that pertains to it should indeed be these allies' responsibility.
Iraq’s own official estimate of its foreign debt as of December 31, 1990 was just $42.1 billion. But this left out a huge amount of “quasi-loans” that it had obtained from neighbors like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States -- all of which informed Saddam after the war that they had never considered these funds as "grants," but loans, which they expected to be repaid. As noted, this became a crucial bone of contention in the events leading up to the Kuwait invasion.
Since Iraq was embargoed throughout the 1990s, except for UN-approved “Oil-for-Food” transactions, it did not contract any new loans after August 1990. The World Bank/ Bank of International Settlements estimated in 2001 that as of 1998, Iraq’s foreign debt totaled $127.7 billion.
However, this included about $47 billion of interest that accrued during the 1990s. Since this was a period when Iraq was subject to sanctions that prevented it from doing any debt restructuring, however, it is questionable whether it is really fair to charge Iraq for all this imputed interest (calculated by the World Bank at a 7 percent a year.)
Netting out this interest, the World Bank's estimate implies that Iraq’s foreign debt was $80.7 billion in August 1990, just before the Gulf War – including all the disputed finance from the Gulf States. That already made Iraq’s debt-to-national income ratio about 1.1, or $4600 of foreign debt per capita – not quite as high as the debt burdens of some other Third World countries (like Nicaragua), but as high as for the typical “heavily-indebted country.”
Of this $81 billion total, fully $47 billion was "owed" to Arab kingdoms, including $17 billion to Kuwait, $20 billion to Saudi Arabia, and $300 million from Jordan and Morocco. (If interest is included, this adds another $30 billion the $47 billion. ) Most of the $47 billion was provided during the first three years of the Iran-Iraq war, when these countries were most afraid that Iraq might lose the war to Iran. A US intelligence estimate says that Kuwait and the Gulf emirates provided Iraq at least $1 billion a month from October 1980 through the end of 1984, in order to sponsor this war effort.
Another $13.5 billion was provided by the Soviet Bloc, including $12 billion from the USSR (including about $7 billion for arms), $1 billion from Bulgaria, and $500 million from Poland, in the form of export credits. Another $800 million was loaned by Iraq’s good neighbor to the north, Turkey. (Iraq also received the whopping sum of $50 million in foreign aid from the Soviets and Western Europe during this period.)
Finally, about $19 billion of Iraq’s foreign debt came from First World Western sources, including $13.5 billion of bilateral and government-guaranteed export credits from the 16 members of the “Paris Club.” These were also mainly used to finance Iraq’s arms imports. The leading providers were France’s COFACE, which loaned $ 3.75 billion of export credits outstanding for arms and $4.3 billion for other goods; Japan’s JEXIM and leading trading houses, which loaned Iraq 700 billion yen ($5.8 billion); the UK’s ECGD, which provided more than $1 billion in credits, and became Iraq’s “paramount favored creditor;” and Germany’s HERMES, Austria’s OeKB, Canada’s EDC, and Australia’s EFIC.
While these government agencies provided the loan guarantees, a whole army of private banks actually got involved in delivering the guaranteed credits, and some also provided their own credits to Iraq. Among the most important private banks involved in Iraq lending during the 1980s were Germany’s Commerzbank, JP Morgan, Chase, Gironzentrale (Austria), First City Bank of Houston, and Gulf International Bank (Bahrain.) In the early 1980s, JPMorgan also made several rather unusual, life-saving loans to a Brazilian arms company, Engesa, which became one of Iraqi’s principal arms suppliers.
All told, therefore, when James Baker looks around to see who will have to “eat the losses” on Iraq’s foreign debt, he will quickly learn that it not just our Old European rivals, the French and the Germans, or even the fair-weather Russians, but the original “hard ball” players from 1991, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Let’s just hope that James Baker has more success negotiating a debt reduction for Iraq with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia than Saddam did.
IRAQ’S FOREIGN DEBT – BAKER’S OWN INVOLVEMENT
The other interesting fact to know about James Baker’s experience with Iraq’s foreign debt is that he was deeply involved in making it larger. While he was Secretary of State from 1988-92, our very own US Department of Agriculture's Commodity Credit (CCC) Program loaned Saddam nearly $5 billion, with James A. Baker III's knowledge and active encouragement.
Under the US Department of Agriculture's "GSM-102" export credit program, the CCC underwrote private loans that were extended by US banks to foreign banks or US exporters, supposedly for purchasing US commodities like wheat and rice. The DOA had approved Iraq’s participation in the “GSM-102” program early in the Reagan Administration, in December 1982. In 1983 the CCC guarantee $385 million in Iraqi credits to import American grain, the first in a long series of such guarantees. By 1990, these CCC credit guarantees were being issued to Iraq at the rate of $1 billion per year, and accounted for more than 20 percent of the entire GSM-102 program.
These loans were made, not just to feed Iraq’s people and support US farmers, or certainly not because Iraq had good credit, but as part of an effort to cultivate a close relationship with Saddam’s regime -- and especially in the late 1980s, at a point when his oil revenues were collapsing and no one else would lend him any more money, in order to help him continue buying arms.
In June 1989, for example, US Secretary of State James A. Baker III wrote to the US Secretary of Agriculture, Clayton Yeuter, asking him to boost the CCC’s loan guarantee program to Iraq to $1 billion a year. Yeuter promptly did so. Even September 1989, when a major scandal surfaced that involved lending to Saddam by Italy's largest state-owned bank (privatized in 1998) Banco Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL), the record shows that Baker lobbied hard to continue this lending, with the State Department commenting in February 1990 that “the CCC program is a key component of the (Iraq) relationship….we need to move quickly to repair the damage to the US-Iraqi relationship by getting this critical program on track.”
Many prominent US and foreign banks helped to arrange these Iraqi credits under the CCC program, including BNL, JPMorgan, Midland Bank, Chase, First City Bank of Houston, Bank of New York, DG Bank (Germany), Bank of America, Arab Banking Corp. (Bahrain), Gulf International Bank (Bahrain), Girozentrale (Austria), and UBAF. All told, from 1983 to 1990, the USDA’s CCC program extended more than $5.5 billion of credits to Iraq – of which $2 billion was still outstanding when it invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
For a country with just 18 million people at that time, this was an enormous trade credit. But we now know from sources in Iraq and Jordan that much of the grain that these loans were supposed to have purchased never even reached Iraq. Much of it was traded by Saddam’s intermediaries in Jordan, Turkey, and the then-Soviet Union for munitions, spare parts, chemical and other military supplies.
Most of this story has never been fully investigated. The morally-obtuse Clinton Administration decided that it had better things to do than chase down “Iraq-Gate” after it won the 1992 election, and the current installment of the Bush Dynasty certainly has no interest in doing so. Fortunately for Mr. James A. Baker III, the appointment to his new "debt envoy" position doesn't require Senate confirmation.…..
The historian can always dream, however, of being able to ask him a few questions about what really happened way back then, and what he thinks might have been possible with a little more aggressive, more timely, if perhaps less "voluntaristic" approach to debt restructuring.
(c) James S. Henry, SubmergingMarkets.com, 2003. Not for reproduction or other use without express consent from the author. All rights reserved.
Thursday, November 06, 2003
Democratic Nation Building - Our Newfound Justification for the Second Iraq War
Maybe President George W. Bush will indeed turn out to be a radical Wilsonian democrat. But it is easy to be cynical about his latest justification for the Second Iraq War -- to bring "democracy" to the Middle East.
After all, there have just been so many examples of dodgy US behavior in the Middle East, let alone the rest of the developing world. And the truth is that this behavior has long been almost precisely the opposite of what Bush claims to be hoping for -- the US has been at best indifferent to democracy as well as popular leaders, and often downright hostile.
For a longer discussion, I refer the reader to the last chapter of my new book. But just to cite a few examples:
- Each year the US provides billions in economic and military aid to the scarcely-democratic regimes of Egypt and Morocco, as well as Pakistan;
- President Bush's father made similar loud noises about Kuwait's democratizing efforts in 1990-91, as part of the rationale for his First Iraq War. Today, 12 years later, the Emir and the al-Sabah family remain firmly in control.
- The US has a long history of overthrowing duly-elected governments in the Middle East and installing pro-US autocrats in their place -- most famously in Iran in th 1950s.
- The US also has a long history of opposing "popular-if-not particularly-democratic leaders" that it did not like, such Iraq's Abdul-Karim Qassem, Egypt's Nasser, and the Palestinians' Arafat.
- The US has long turned a blind eye to popular opposition to despotic regimes like the Saudis and the Shah, so long as they served its perceived interests.
- When it served perceived US interests to side with "national liberation" movements like the Kurds or the Afghan rebels, the US did so. When it did not, it ruthlessly sold them down the river.
- While Israel, the US' key client state in region, likes to proclaim itself a "liberal democracy" with civil liberties and a free press, many are concerned that its behavior toward the human rights and democratic voice of those who don't happen to qualify for Israeli citizenship is, to put it mildly, not beyond reproach.
- Some might caution us to beware of getting what we ask for. After all this history, and having alienated and radicalized popular opinion in most Middle Eastern countries through our support of autocratic regimes, it is not as if a sudden change toward the support of democratic rule would produce many friendly governments. To deal with this dilemma will require decades.
- The other basic history lesson that President Bush needs to learn is that democratic development is most likely to succeed where -- as in "the new" South Africa, Brazil, and Mexico -- it comes from within. Indeed, the irony is that by taking sides so publicly with pro-democracy forces in the Middle East, given our own image and track record, we risk actually undermining these forces. (One hopes that that is not somebody's maniacal hidden agenda.)
Overall, therefore, the best one can say about this latest in a series of shifting justfications for this costly war is that at least it is no weaker than all the others.
However, if, by some miracle, this does mark a historic moment in the history of the United States' commitment to Third World democracy and nation-building, how can we not welcome it? We will also look forward, therefore, with great anticipation to a renewal of US support for human rights and democratic nation-building in countries like China, which both Bush and Clinton have given a pass on these issues, and in Haiti and Liberia, where GW criticized "nation-building" so harshly the last time he ran for President. These last two countries may not have any oil, or WMDs, but heh -- that doesn't seem to matter, does it?
(c) James S. Henry, 2003. Not for reproduction or other use without express consent of the author.
Thursday, October 30, 2003
Body Counts in the Bush II War - The Price of Freedom, of Anarchy, or of Bush I/ Clinton Inaction?
Of course we in the press must resist the lurid temptation to count bodies. After all, as Thomas L. Friedman (NYT, 10/30/03 editorial) and many other defenders of this miserable venture now feel compelled to insist (see our related "Short Story"in the right column), after all, gentlemen, "This is not (I repeat, Not!) Vietnam!"
But the numbers do tell an interesting story.
As of November 6, 2003, the best estimate for the total number of Iraqi civilians killed since the commencement of the Second Iraq War on March 20, 2003, is 7832 to 9657, only about 4300 of whom died during the war's first month. The number of Iraqi civilians wounded exceeds 20,000, so the total number of civilian casualties is now approaching 30,000.
This still compares quite favorably with the estimated 35,000 to 100,000 Kurds and Shiite civilians who were slaughtered by Saddam's troops in the wake of the hasty Allied withdrawal after the First Iraq War in February 1991. But from another perspective all these civilian casualty numbers should really be added together, making the total cost of President George H.W. Bush's (e.g., Bush the Elder's) failure
to complete the job and remove Saddam back in 1991 at least 65,000 Iraqi direct civilian casualties. In addition, there are also the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi infants who appear to have succumbed to the health effects of the otherwise-fruitless international embargo that the UN and the Clinton Adminstration imposed on Saddam's Iraq during the rest of the 1990s. At the time, this shameful story went almost completely untold by the mainstream US press -- in the finest Walter Duranty tradition. a>
Meanwhile, Iraqi combatant fatalities in the Second Bush War numbered at least 7700 to 10700 during the war's first month.. At least that many have been killed since then, and several times as many have been wounded, so the total number of Iraqi combatant casualties is fast approaching 40,000. While estimates vary widely, this is probably about the same number of combatant casualties as Iraqi suffered during the First Gulf War.
Lest we celebrate too quickly, most of these "combatant" casualties were not Saddam loyalists, but ordinary Iraqis who were either dragooned into military service or driven there by the country's failing economy -- a product, in turn, of international sanctions and, before those, of Iraq's $120 billion war debt and its costly war with Iran during the 1980s. Most of this debt is still owed to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that Saddam successfully defended them against Khomeini's Iran during the 1980-88 War. As thanks for his efforts, these two oil sheikdoms conspired to cut oil prices from 1986 on, driving him into bankruptcy even while he was battling Khomeini to a bloody draw. So much for Arab solidarity.
In any case, given this horrific week, including Sunday's disastrous helicopter assault the total number of Allied killed to date is now at least441, and the total number of US wounded is at least 2195. The grand total of Allied killed or wounded is now at least 2900, -- an average of more than 13 per day, and already more than the direct casualties suffered by Allied forces during the First Gulf War.
This comparison ignores the more than 200,000 (out of 700,000) veterans of Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield who have filed disability claims, including many thousands who claim to have the mysterious "Gulf War Syndrome." But who knows what ailments the 1,000,000+ veterans-to-be of the Second Bush War will bring home with them?
(c) James S. Henry, October 2003. Not for reproduction or other use without express consent of the author.
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
Iraq: GW's First Vietnam, the Second Battle of Algiers, Chechnya, or Afghanistan?
George W. Bush may have dodged military service in Vietnam the first time around, but the bloody, badly mismanaged, not to say grossly illegal US invasion of Iraq is rapidly turning out to be a real baptism under fire -- by far his most important "faith-based initiative" to date.
Already President Bush has admitted that it was a bit premature to hoist the "Mission Accomplished" banner. According to the latest opinion polls, the American people are far ahead of him. Not only have almost half of adults (and a majority of women) now concluded that the Iraq War was "not worth it," but nearly forty percent now favor an immediate US troop withdrawal, with another significant share "undecided." Gradually American opinion is coming into alignment with world opinion, including that in the UK, Australia, Spain, and Italy, our leading official allies in this conflict.
Of course, as the neocon intellectuals who designed this sinking ship like to bluster, the US is not trying to win some global popularity contest here. But since we are supposed to be championing democracy, in Iraq in particular, presumably public opinion still counts for something. Moreover, the almost unanimous international rejection of this policy, even by our long-standing friends and allies, should give the rest of us pause. Certainly it is not making it any easier to find others to help fund and staff this costly endeavor.
For the time being, however, the Bush Administration seems determined to stay the course, assuring us that victory is just around the corner. This is beginning to sound like the Johnson Administration in the mid-1960s. Indeed, those of us who are old enough to recall the Vietnam War are already detecting many of the same disturbing signs -- (#1) the stage-managed pretext for US intervention in the first place, which later turned out to be concocted; (#2) the serious underestimation of necessary US troop commitments; (#3) the thin multilateral support, with intervention undertaken without a UN mandate; (#4) a Secretary of Defense who oscillates between being in denial and growing doubts; (#5) increasingly desperate ground-shifting attempts by senior Administration officials to defend the policy "as is," and to assert that progress really is being made, even as the headlines deny this day after day; (#6) misplaced reliance on local allies (Thieu, Chalabi, etc.) who turn out to be, by turns, inconstant, incompetent, and corrupt; (#7) a steady drip-drip-drip of US and UK troop casualties, with more than 1200 now dead or wounded, and no positive trends in sight; (#8) a growing number of civilian casualties, with at least 7000-11,000 combants and 3500-4000 civilians killed during the first month of the war, another 4-5000 civilians killed since then, 20,000 Iraqi civilians wounded, and the local population trapped in the middle of escalating violence, with US troops forced to make agonizing choices about the use of their awesome firepower; (#9) war-weary veterans with low morale, already pleading to come home after less than six months of active duty; (#10) a national security establishment that has been stripped of its independence, in thrall to a set of "pre-baked" policy choices dictated from on high; (#11) the war's huge unexpected costs, to be born almost entirely by the US, forcing domestic spending priorities to be put on hold just as Lyndon Johnson's plans for a "Great Society" had to be tabled in the mid-1960s; (#12) the simple-minded characterization of all our enemies as "terrorists," "Baathists, and "dead-enders," (or in Vietnam's case, as "Communists"), denying the role of nationalism in the opposition to US intervention -- as if Americans have not themselves waged long hard fights against foreign occupants in the interests of nationalism; and (#13) the complete absence of a clear "exit" strategy other than to simply hunker down.
Of course no one should have any regrets over Saddam Hussein's demise -- though it would be easier to celebrate if we could actually find him. But we have so mishandled his removal that we have actually managed to encourage many ordinary Iraqis to oppose our intervention. It is very hard to make all this look like an achievement. And there is also the strong possibility that (#14) decades from now, we will hear the same kind of begrudging admission from the architects of this war that Henry Kissinger
finally made just last year about the Vietnam War -- that it would have made"little difference" after all to world events if we had never intervened in the first place. Of course aging war planners like Vice President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld may not last the three decades that were required for that stunning concession.
We can always hope that the many glaring differences between Iraq and Vietnam will save us. But it is not necessarily clear which way these cut. Militarily, there are no neighboring sanctuaries like North Vietnam Cambodia, or Laos, no protected supply lines from superpowers like Russia and China, and no dense jungles. We also supposedly have a vastly superior professional army -- though it appears that without the reservists, we would be in very deep trouble.
On the other hand, Iraq's borders are porous, there are so many abandoned arms dumps and hidden stockpiles of weapons and explosives that our opponents' lack of external supply lines may not be a key disadvantage, and the enemy so far appears to have ample hiding places, despite the missing jungles. Furthermore, the region is not exactly devoid of hostile volunteers -- "terrorists," in the Administration's vernacular. In fact they are probably delighted to have thousands of green US troops, civilian aid workers and (in their view) Iraqi "Quislings" within reach, available to shoot at like fish in a barrel. Furthermore, there are still all those missing WMDs. If the Adminstration is ever proved right and they do exist, one hopes that they are not discovered first by the wrong people.
In this sense the right analogy may not be Vietnam, but the Russian Army's painful experiences with guerilla war in Chechnya, the bloody French colonial war in Algeria during the 1950s and early 1960s, and the Soviet Army's costly adventure in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Of course "we are not colonialists. We are there for the good of the people," unlike the French or the Russians. Perhaps so. But a similar story line did little for us in Vietnam...
The only good news in all this is that, compared with the Vietnam Quagmire, US public opinion is moving much more quickly. Just six months into the conflict, we already have several popular anti-war candidates. This is true, despite the fact that the median American voter is now 35 years old, and was only just being born in 1968. Perhaps there is a collective memory. Or, as President Bush himself said yesterday, "As a matter of fact, the American people — the electorate — is (sic) a heck of a lot smarter than most politicians..."
(c) James S. Henry, October 29, 2003. Not for reproduction or other use without express consent from the author.