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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Special Report from the Front in Ulaan Bataar
Joachim Nahem**

BushmongoliaNot usually known as a world traveler, President George W. Bush has recently been behaving like an itinerant Lonely Planet ghost writer. On November 21,  he and his 300-person entourage  -- including Ms. Bush and US Secretary of State Condi Rice -- stopped off in Mongolia for four hours on the last leg of an 8-day whirlwind tour through Asia.

With the mass protests of early November in Buenos Aires and Seoul still ringing in their ears,  it must have been a relief to be greeted in Ulaan Bataar by just threMongoliamap_1e well-mannered lonely souls with one placard, urging the US to sign the Kyoto Agreement.

The President could also take enormous pride in the fact that he is the very first US President in history to have visited Mongolia --  a land-locked, Alaska-sized grassy flatland with a per capita income below $500 and 2.8 million people, a third of whom herd sheep, live in round huts called "yurts," and dine on endless varieties of mutton stew.

Later, in a speech before a packed assembly of Mongolian troops and lawmakers,  Bush declared that the US is now Mongolia’s “third neighbor.” According to the President,  Bushmongr22110503the two countries are “standing together as brothers in the cause of freedom…..”  He added that Mongolia is  "an example of success for the region and for the world… a free society in the heart of Central Asia.”

Bushmongr22110507No, really. These hyperbolic assertions must have been somewhat perplexing to Mongolia's neighbors, Russia and China. But they no doubt amused and delighted the Mongolians, who gave Bush a thunderous ovation.

What was this mutual admiration all about? Does Mongolia really deserve all this praise because it has indeed established a thriving market democracy?

Or do the tributes perhaps have more to do with the fact that Mongolia has volunteered for two very difficult assignments -- a prolonged series of neoliberal economic policy experiments, and die-hard duty in the rapidly dwindling "Coalition of the Less-and-Less Willing?"



200401132fMany of those in the audience must have understood that President Bush's special visit was not only determined by Mongolia's profound contributions to liberal democracy.Bush reminded them that there are still 160 Mongolian soldiers stationed with the Polish battalion in Iraq  -- relative to population size, the third largest country contribution to the “Coalition of the Willing.” This is the largest Mongolian contingent in Iraq since the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258.

Bush also paid a special tribute to two Mongolian soldiers in the audience who had shot and killed a would-be suicide-bomber outside Baghdad this year, preventing him from driving explosives into an army mess hall.   

200401132b_72With France and Germany AWOL right from the start of the Iraq War,  Spain  long since buggering out,  and  other  US “allies” like Italy, South Korea, Japan,  and the UK now actively debating the withdrawal of their troops next year, this US-spawned effort is threatening to become a “Coalition of One."

So it is not surprising that the Empire has finally decided to pay more attention to its most loyal, if distant and geographically insignificant, allies.

Wrestle1In fact Mongolia has recently been treated to a surfeit of such state visits, including  US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard B. Meyers, and a US Congressional delegation led by House Speaker Dennis Hastert  --  who reportedly spent most of his time in the country discussing wrestling moves with his Mongolian counterparts. 

Mongolians are also aware that providing just a few hundred troops in Iraq and Afghanistan is bringing the country many other rewards. Earlier this year, President Bush announced a new “Solidarity Initiative,” offering financial assistance to Mongolia and other developing countries that ‘are standing with America in the war on terror.’  Under this initiative, Mongolia is already receiving $11 million to improve its military.

040715f5586b067_screenThe United States has recently become Mongolia’s second largest foreign aid donor.  Indeed, it will probably soon eclipse Japan as the largest donor – the country has already qualified for aid under the Bush Administration’s new “Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) funding. Although the MCA was ostensibly set up to assist countries that ‘govern justly, invest in their people, and promote economic freedom,’ Mongolia  certainly did not hurt its chance by contributing its soldiers to Iraq.


Mongoliamap_1On paper, from a distance, Mongolia is a post-communist success story, which has made a rapid recent  transformation to democracy and market economy. Indeed, compared with its Central Asian neighbors like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan,  it is a virtual Switzerland -- minus the alps, Davos, and private banking, of course.

However, Bush’s accolades notwithstanding, the truth is a little more complicated.  Most Mongolians are acutely aware that their erstwhile “democracy” is still very far from perfection.

200401132eMongolia was not only the first Asian country to adopt communism – it was also the first to abandon it. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, Mongolia turned to the West for political and financial advice on how to restructure the country. Agencies like the IMF, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank  insisted that  Mongolia follow virtually the same neo-liberal formula of shock therapy and rapid privatization that  had just been applied --- with very mixed results -- in  Russia and Eastern Europe.

These economic policies were coupled with a radical overhaul of the political system, which led to free elections, a liberal constitution, and human rights for all citizens – at least on paper.


Fifteen years later,  the results  of this neoliberal experiment with “market democracy”  are now in, and they have been mixed at best.

  • In a recent nation-wide survey, a majority of the population reported that the transition has not improved their lives.
  • By most measures, poverty has increased significantly since communism, with more than a third of the population living on less than two dollars a day.
  • Rapid migration from the country-side has created large pockets of extreme poverty in  Ulaan Baatar, the capital,  where up to 300,000 people live in Ger (traditional Mongolian felt tents) slums without access to electricity or proper sanitation.
  • Endemic corruption, low trust in the political system, increasing crime rates, collapse of the welfare system, and growing disparities are just a few of the other  pressing issues that are threatening to undermine Mongolia’s democratic transition.
  • As in many other developing countries, so-called austerity programs,  and the  privatization of state assets recommended by multilateral financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, have left ordinary Mongolian citizens and the most vulnerable.Images_1
  • Nomads and other pastoralists have experienced tremendous hardship during this period. For example, natural disasters (‘dzuds’) in 2000 and 2001 wiped out much of their livestock, and the livelihoods of several thousand families. In the “New Mongolia,” they have no safety net.


Meanwhile, vast mining riches have recently been discovered in Mongolia. In principle, this might offered this country a much-needed break,  but by most account these new natural resources have actually compounded development issues – as in many other developing countries.

OtaerialRather than using profits from these resources (record high prices for commodities like copper and gold make this a very lucrative business) on much needed social spending and infrastructure, most of the revenues has gone to foreign mining companies and the tiny elite of Mongolians who often control or influence mine licensing.

The Mongolian economy grew by almost 11% last year, yet the lion’s share of this “growth” actually benefited international mining investors and the Mongolian arrivistes who dominate the urban landscape with their brand-new Hummers™ and Land-Cruisers™.

Ger9The privatization of land and environmental degradation caused by mining is also disturbing Mongolia’s traditional  social and demographic patterns, with pastoralists forced to leave what has traditionally been communal areas used for herding livestock. Artisan mining (which takes place illegally in areas that mining companies own but usually do not exploit) has become a way out of poverty for many Mongolians.  But the human costs have been huge, with incredible health hazards and little access to public services  -- entire families move to mining areas during the warmer seasons, where much of the work is done by child labor.Horsejpg

Although no one is longing for a return to the Communist past in Mongolia, there is growing apathy and discontent. Recent protests by pensioners and students show that a political backlash is quite possible, in what is generally seen as a very stable country.

The issue is not so much the country’s commitment to democracy in the abstract, but the way the political process actually functions.   Neo-liberal policies -- including privatization and the general shrinking of the state -- have proved to be disastrous, with a tiny elite managing to capture most of the political and economic benefits of this transition. Evidence from other developing parts of the world, especially Latin America, tends to show that this elite capture becomes entrenched over time, leading to even greater disparities between rich and poor.

Bushmongr22110508Perhaps if Mr. Bush and his entourage had a stayed a few more hours in Mongolia,  they might have begun to appreciate some of these troubling realities.  They might have begun to understand that ‘democracy’ and ‘counter-terrorism’ have little meaning to most Mongolians,  who are struggling  harder than  ever just to make ends meet.  But after four hours of speeches, carefully-scripted receptions, a little mutton and Mongolian beef, and reassurances that Mongolians will continue to fight on in Iraq, they got back on the plane and headed home.

**Joachim Nahem is a development specialist for the UN Development Programme and a SubmergingMarkets Contributing Editor, currently based in Ulaan Bataar. All articles for this website, however, are written in his personal capacity and do not in any way represent the views of UNDP.

(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2005

November 30, 2005 at 09:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, November 21, 2005

Striking Parallels to the US Experience in Iraq
James S. Henry

Vivod11 Thanks to the current national debate over the Iraq War it is now clear to everyone except a few die-hard NCIs (NeoConservative Imperialists) that the real issue about the Iraq War is "constructive withdrawal:" not whether, but precisely when and how.

There are many examples in history of unilateral military withdrawals -- including Israel's withdrawal from South Lebanon in May 2000 and from Gaza August 2005,  the US withdrawal from Beirut in 1984, and the French withdrawal from Algeria in 1962.  

But as we debate the most constructive way for the US to withdraw from Iraq, one of the most interesting experiences for us to consider - ironicially enough -- is the painful Soviet experience in Afghanistan. 

Images The following excerpt is from a pre-9/11 report by the US-based National Security Archives on  the lessons learned by the Soviet Union from its  brutal, unilateral 1979-89 invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

The Soviet Army intervened in Afghanistan in December 1979, about six months after US President Jimmy Carter signed off on a secret proposal by National Security advisor Zbigniew Brezinski to aid the opponents of the pro-Soviet Afghan regime -- hoping to entrap them into a Vietnam-like quagmire.

Images1_1 For better or worse, apparently this effort succeeded -- with a little help from Soviet cupidity. The Soviet military only left the country in December 1989, after an unsuccessful decade-long effort to defeat Afghan's determined insurgents -- many of whom were US-backed Islamic militants.

The resulting intervention ended up costing the Soviet Union 15,000 of its own troops, 50,000 causalties, and billions in hard currency, and contributed heavily to a domestic heroin and HIV/AIDs epidemic that continues to this day. An estimated 1 million Afghanis also perished because of the war, and more than 2 million refugees had to abandon their homes in Afghanistan for refuge in Pakistan and Iran. Images2

The war also provided a training ground for many of the Islamist rebels who eventually played a critical role in "terrorist" activities all over the world, including Chechnya, Kashmir, the Sudan, and al-Qaeda's disparate efforts against the US and Israel.

Many observers believe that the Afghan invasion was one of the greatest strategic blunders in Soviet history, and that it contributed heavily to weakening and destabilizing "the Russian bear." Indeed, former US officials like Brzezinski still like to take credit for this effort, viewing it as the final nudge that toppled the entire Soviet Empire. (They are rather less eager to take credit for the other long-term byproduct of the Afghan War, the rise of political-Islamic extremism.)

In any case, as the following excerpt makes clear, there are many resemblances -- some of them almost eerie --  to the recent US intervention in Iraq.

The old cliche still has force -- those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.


.Mujahidin2250 ....."Believing that there was no single country in the world which was not ripe for socialism, party ideologues like Mikhail Suslov and Boris Ponomarev saw Afghanistan as a "second Mongolia." Such conceptualization of the situation led to the attempts to impose alien social and economic practices on Afghan society, such as the forced land reform.

The Soviet decision makers did not anticipate the influential role of Islam in the Afghan society.  There were very few experts on Islam in the Soviet government and the academic institutions.  The highest leadership was poorly informed about the strength of religious beliefs among the masses of the Afghan population.

Political and military leaders were surprised to find that rather than being perceived as a progressive anti-imperialist force, the Afghanis as foreign invaders, and "infidels." Reports from Afghanistan show the growing awareness of the "Islamic factor" on the part of Soviet military and political personnel.

The Afghan communist PDPA never was a unified party; it was split along ethnic and tribal lines. The infighting between the "Khalq" and the "Parcham" factions made the tasks of controlling the situation much more challenging for Moscow notwithstanding the great number of Soviet advisors at every level of the party and state apparatus.

Erug407a The Soviet underestimation of ethnic tensions within Afghan society was one of the reasons of the unsuccessful policy of national reconciliation.

The war in Afghanistan had a major impact on domestic politics in the Soviet Union.  It was one of the key factors in the delegitimization of Communist Party rule. Civil society reacted to the intervention by marginalizing the Afghan veterans.  The army was demoralized as a result of being perceived as an invader. .

The prominent dissident and human rights activist, Academician Andrei Sakharov, publicly denounced the atrocities committed by the Soviet Army in Afghanistan.

The image of the Soviet Army fighting against Islam in Afghanistan also contributed to a rapid rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Central Asian republics and possibly to the strengthening of the independence movement in Chechnya, both of which continue to pose major security threats to Russia today.

The Soviet Army also quickly realized the inadequacy of its preparation and planning for the mission in Afghanistan. The initial mission—to guard cities and installations—was soon expanded to combat, and kept growing over time.Oni4

The Soviet reservists, who comprised the majority of the troops initially sent in, were pulled into full-scale combat operations against the rebels, while the regular Afghan army was often unreliable because of the desertions and lack of discipline.

The Soviet troops had absolutely no anti-guerrilla training.  While the formal mission of the troops was to protect the civilians from the anti-government forces, in reality, Soviet soldiers often found themselves fighting against the civilians they intended to protect, which sometimes led to indiscriminate killing of local people.

Operations to pursue and capture rebel formations were often unsuccessful and had to be repeated several times in the same area because the rebels retreated to the mountains and returned to their home villages as soon as the Soviet forces returned to their garrisons.

3 Soviet traditional weaponry and military equipment, especially armored cars and tanks were extremely vulnerable on Afghani terrain.

The Soviet troops also suffered from the confusion about their goals—the initial official mission was to protect the PDPA regime; however, when the troops reached Kabul, their orders were to overthrow Amin and his regime.

Then the mission was changed once again, but the leadership was not willing to admit that the Soviet troops were essentially fighting the Afghan civil war for the PDPA. The notion of the "internationalist duty" that the Soviet Limited Contingent was fulfilling in Afghanistan was essentially ideological, based on the idea that Soviet troops were protecting the socialist revolution in Afghanistan whereas the experience on the ground immediately undermined such justifications.

The realization that there could be no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan came to the Soviet military leadership very early on.  The issue of troop withdrawal and the search for a political solution was discussed as early as 1980, but no real steps in that direction were taken, and the Limited Contingent continued to fight in Afghanistan without a clearly defined objective.Vivod12

Early military reports emphasized the difficulty of fighting on the mountainous terrain, for which the Soviet Army had no training whatsoever. Parallels with the American War in Vietnam were obvious and frequently referred to by the Soviet military officers...."

<center><font color="red">(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2005</font></center>

November 21, 2005 at 04:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bob Woodward's "Plan of Defense," From Watergate to Pflamegate
James S. Henry


It's another tough day for the country's best-known "investigative reporter."

Let's see. Up early at your stylish Georgetown residence, a quick 30 minute workout on the bike, drop in on the domestic workers to see that the household is in order, then push off to your confortable suite of offices, away from all those prying jealous eyes at the Post newsroom downtown.

Maybe a brief call to Len Downie, Jr., the Post's Managing Editor, just for appearance's sake.

Then drop over to the White House or the Pentagon or the CIA or the Hay Adams for a nice long lunch and a couple of friendly insider "deep background" interviews for your latest best-seller in waiting.

This one will be really great: the inside, blow-by-blow story of how the country went to war in Iran.

If publishing history is any guide, it should hit the streets about two years after the fact.
I'm as big a fan of the Old Woodward & Bernstein Pre-Courtier style of investigative reporting as anyone.

But we've come a very long way from that when Woodward and other journalists allow themselves to be used in a transparent effort to help Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and other senior officials make the case that "Hey, lots of folks knew Valerie Pflame's identity, so what's the big deal?"

Most of the press commentary about this incident has missed the point. It was not intended to help Scooter Libby, because he's being tried for simple perjury. For the sake of those charges, it doesn't matter one iota when or where Pflame's name was leaked.

Instead, the Woodward smokesscreen appears to be part of a last-ditch effort to defend other senior officials who are still under investigation by the grand jury for leaking Plame's name.

Bob Woodward as a "screen-saver" for White House felonies -- who'd a ever thunk it?

(c) SubmergingMarkets 2005

November 17, 2005 at 02:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Costly Lessons Lost
James S. Henry


News Flash - Leading Conserv. Dem. Wants US Troop Pullout From Iraq Within 6 Mos.
News Flash - New Vietnam-Era Transcripts: Eerie Resemblance to Iraq

Each Veterans Day, my family takes pride in the fact that generations of Henrys and Shelburnes have served proudly in almost every honorable American war, from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, to the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and Korea. While we have always admired the courage of principled pacifists, whenever there were genuine threats posed to the US, our choice was to answer the country’s call.
Some members of my family also chose to serve in Vietnam. But I did not, because I did not consider Vietnam to be an honorable war. When my draft number turned out to be 365, I seized the chance to become active in anti-war protests, and to write a book about the problems of returning veterans and the Veterans Administration.

As we will review below, Vietnam was a war that no one who had any choice in the matter – and millions of US draftees and unemployed working-class youth did not have much choice – had any business helping to wage.
Iraq is in the same category -- right up there with other ignoble US military adventures, like the Indian Wars, the 1846-48 Mexican War, and the brutal Philippines- American War of 1899 to 1916, when an occupation army of 126,000 US troops required 17 years to put down Filipino rebels fighting for independence, at a cost of 4324 American lives, 20,000 Filipino insurgent lives, and at least 250,000 Filipino civilian lives.

One might have hoped that the US would have learned from these costly adventures, and the Vietnam blunder in particular. Instead, we seem to be repeating many of the very same costly mistakes in Iraq, and adding some new ones -- for example, the creation of a world-class training camp for terrorists, one that makes the Taliban’s Afghanistan look like a 4-H Petting Zoo, and largely offsets all the advantages gained by the success of the multilateral effort in that country.

As conservative national security authorities like former National Security advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Marine Corp General Anthony Zinni, and former Lt. Col. William Odom have come to recognize, Iraq is a strategic blunder of Vietnam proportions. Odom's September 2004 remarks on German TV are especially worth repeating:

“When the President says he is staying the course, that makes me really afraid. For a leader has to know when to change course. Hitler did not change his course: rather he kept sending more and more troops to Stalingrad and they suffered more and more casualties.

“When the president says he is staying the course it reminds me of the man who has just jumped from the Empire State Building. Half-way down he says, ‘I am still on course.’ Well, I would not want to be on course with a man who will lie splattered in the street. I would like to be someone who could change the course.

“Our invasion of Iraq has made it a homeland for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Indeed, I believe that it was the very first time that many Iraqis became terrorists. Before we invaded, they had no idea of terrorism.”


Once again, those who are paying the highest price for misguided US strategy are not the war’s organizers, but thousands of ordinary US servicemen and tens of thousands of ordinary Iraqis.

Just as in Vietnam, the number of civilian casualties in Iraq is highly uncertain -- the Pentagon, learning at least one lesson from Vietnam, “does not do body counts.” But no independent observer doubts (1) this number is at least 10-50 times the number of US fatalities, and (2) the great majority of Iraqi fatalities have been caused by US-led coalition forces.

It also turns out that, just as in the case of Vietnam, the US has become engaged in a series of horrific war crimes in Iraq, many of which are only just now coming to the surface. Each day we are reminded of the barbaric deeds of suicide bombers. But can anyone doubt that the insurgents would gladly exchange their explosive belts and “improvised explosive devices” for the 500-pound bombs, white phosphorus, Gatling guns, and air-to-ground missiles, now routinely employed by the US military?

The results of the insurgents’ violent deeds are also not shielded from our eyes by “no-go” zones and the rigid censorship that applies to embedded journalists.
Finally, once again, a tiny elite has manipulated and lied our country into launching a costly, aggressive foreign war. This is not only of interest to historians --
if lying to Congress to launch the most blatant unilateral act of aggression since Hitler invaded Poland is not an impeachable offense, I don't know what is.

There is a growing body of evidence – from Richard Clark, Paul O’Neil, Scott Ritter, and Joe Wilson on down to the latest revelations by the British Ambassador to Washington – that the Bush Administration had Iraq in its gunsights from January 2001 onwards.

Belated Democratic complaints about “being lied to” notwithstanding, it was also clear to many independent observers in late 2002 and early 2003 that the Administration’s claims about WMDs and the specific risks posed by Saddam’s regime to the US and its allies were puffed up.


To a journalist, the most disturbing question is how the US “Fourth Estate” – mainstream journalism– was persuaded to go along with all of this. In fact the Fourth Estate has almost always supported US wars, at least initially, including those with blatant neo-imperial ambitions like the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, the Philipines occupation, and the Vietnam War.

In the case of Iraq, there's little doubt that the press got swept up in the country's revanchist mood after 9/11.
But the press was not simply swept along. As the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman – one of the earliest drum-beaters, like his colleague Judith Miller -- admitted in a brief moment of candor in Ha’aretz in April 2003,

"(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."

In the aftermath of Vietnam, virtually all its higher-level organizers and media proponents "failed up" -- they transitioned smoothly to respectable post-war careers. McGeorge Bundy went to the Ford Foundation, Robert McNamara to the World Bank, Henry Kissinger to a lucrative consulting career. Pro-war journalists and publishers like Joe Alsop and Henry Luce also continued to prosper.
The American Left has an unfortunate habit of
turning the other cheek,
partly because it has often suffered from “witchhunts” itself. This time around, for the sake of future generations, we need to be much less forgiving. But we will let the punishment fit the crime.
Those academics, pundits, reporters, professional experts and anchor-people
-- like Bernard Lewis, Thomas Friedman, Charles Krauthammer, Wiliam Kristol, Judith Miller, Robert Novak, Richard Perle, and Bill O'Reilly --
who went out of their way to hype this war must simply
be compelled to answer questions about it for the rest of their professional careers.


The good news now is that we are fast approaching a watershed in US foreign policy, when our country finally acknowledges that the only question worth debating is precisely how high the scaffold should be for the politicians, national security “experts,” and war-mongering pundits who dragged us into the Iraq War mess in the first place.

Just a year after his reelection, a beleaguered US President is wandering the planet from Buenos Aires to Brasilia to Panama to Taiwan, accusing his critics back home – with no apparent sense of the irony -- of being “irresponsible.” Images_5

Meanwhile, leading members of the US Senate just now, at long last, beginning to tilt toward the anti-war movement, declaring what many of us have been saying since well before April 2003 – that this war was premeditated, and based on rather transparent distortions and outright fabrications.

Given next year's mid-term elections, a few of these cautious souls in the Congress may even be thinking the unthinkable -- that the only way to really “win" this War, compel the Iraqis to take charge of their own destiny, get back to the job of fighting global terrorism, diminish the domestic demand in Iraq for "foreign fighters," regain support among the Iraqi people, and truly support our troops is by withdrawing them as quickly as possible, and in any case no later than the end of 2006.


At the risk of digging up some painful memories, it may be useful to recall that Vietnam was an undeclared, illegal, completely one-sided war, fought against popular forces and a Third World army in a tiny, distant, impoverished country.

The war was fought for reasons that kept shifting over time, and eventually proved to be false, based on a combination of negligent misjudgments, willful distortions, and outright lies. As a result, after more than a decade, and hundreds of billions of dollars, more than 58,200 Americans, 1 million Vietnamese combatants, 3-4 million Vietamese civilians, and 50,000 - to 300,000 Cambodian civilians killed by US bombs essentially died for nothing.
As Henry Kissinger himself admitted in a 2003 documentary, if Vietnam had been permitted to “fall” to the Communists immediately after World War II, it would have made virtually no difference to the outcome of the Cold War or US national security interests.

Indeed, today, "Communist" Vietnam today has one of the highest economic growth rates in Asia, and is one of the largest per capita recipients of US foreign investment and World Bank finance -- indeed, apart from the emerging bird flu epidemic and its one-party state, the country is a World Bank poster boy.

All this did not prevent leading US politicians and high-minded national security experts from “selling” the war hard, essentially for their own political and bureaucratic self-interests:

The first bogus justification for the war was the notion that Ho Chi Minh’s national liberation movement was nothing but the creation of a global Communist conspiracy, and that Vietnam was just another "domino" in this grand design.

This myth, largely concocted by US policymakers like Walt Rostow, John Foster Dulles, and McGeorge Bundy, was belied by thousands of years of Vietnamese history, the intense Sino-Soviet rivalry (exploited so adroitly by Henry Kissinger), and the many wars and skirmishes waged among China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Russia. It was also belied by the fact that the US carried almost the entire burden of the war alone, evidently because (except perhaps for Australia and South Korea) its allies in Europe and Japan perceived no such global threat.

Especially under the Imperial Presidencies of Kennedy and Johnson, there was also the myth that the US was bringing "democracy" to the Vietnamese people. This was belied by the long string of corrupt, incompetent, and unpopular "South Vietnam" regimes that the US collaborated with, paid for, and helped to install.

For a time there was also the claim – in retrospect, almost preposterous – that North Vietnam’s pipsqueak Navy had launched an unprovoked attack on the US Navy in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964.

We now know that this attack never occurred – that the intelligence pertaining to it was either manipulated from on high to begin with, or, at a minimum, badly mishandled at lower levels. Whatever the truth, the incident was exploited by the Johnson Administration to ram a war resolution through a complacent US Congress.

Finally, there was the Nixon Administration's bloody-minded rationale that despite the dubious nature of all the other justifications, and the complete absence of any winning strategy, our national "honor" and “credibility” – and of course, Nixon’s reelection in 1972 -- required us to extend this murderous endeavor another five-seven years, at a cost of 1 million more Vietnamese and 25,000 more US lives, plus untold collateral damage in Cambodia and Laos.

Since it is now known that the Nixon Administration understood from its very first days in office in 1969, that a victory over the insurgency was impossible, and that a US withdrawal was inevitable, all this extra suffering was simply due to cynical face-saving – and a desire to avoid the (silly, but politically loaded) question, “Who Lost Vietnam?”


Now the US is embarked on yet another dishonorable Imperial adventure. The Iraq War is also based on a remarkably similar series of shifting rationales, distortions, and outright lies.

At first the Bush Administration and some Democrats, claimed that Saddam was part of al Qaeda’s global terrorist conspiracy. That claim appears to have been slayed by the facts.

However, more recently, there has also been an effort to portray Iraq’s insurgents as nothing more than “terrorists,” “foreign fighters,” and “Saddam loyalists.” Undoubtedly all these groups have seized on the opportunity presented by the US invasion. But the majority of the insurgents appear to be ordinary Iraqis – including some Shiites as well as Sunnis – who are opposed to the US occupation, and to the prospect that the “new Iraq” will be turn out to be nothing more than a Shiite-dominated theocracy or a Balkanized

We’ve also seen the Bush Administration’s shrill attempts to claim that Saddam’s regime was somehow linked to 9/11, or that his beleaguered regime – crippled by two long wars and more than a decade of international boycotts -- was somehow on the verge of deploying nuclear weapons and other WMDs for use against the US and its allies.

Unfortunately, despite more than two years of searching, no evidence whatsoever has turned up to support either of these pre-war claims. This is important, because these are the only justifications for the US-led invasion that come anywhere close to justifying it, from the standpoint of international law, or the enforcement of UN resolutions – no matter how reprehensible Saddam’s government was to his own people.

Absent WMDs and any al-Qaeda links, the justification for the war has shifted to the notion that we are fighting for Iraqi “democracy.” As noted, this noble aim alone could not justify a US invasion, from the standpoint of international law -- Venezuela, for example, may not like the way elections are conducted in Florida, but that doesn't permit it to invade Miami.

In any case, the "democratization" war aim is also belied by Iraq’s new constitution, which has succeeded mainly in crippling the central government, stimulating deep religious and ethnic tensions, and driving the country to the brink of anarchy and civil war.

Indeed, we’ve seen this war become the realization of Iran’s foreign policy dream – the elimination of Saddam, one of Iran's most bitter enemies, the installation of a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, and the diversion of US military resources to a country without any WMDs whatsoever. All this buys valuable time for whatever Iran may be up to with nuclear weapons -- which seems to be no good.

Most recently – as in Bush’s reproach to his critics this week – we’ve also seen the war’s defenders fall back to the last line of defense for a failed foreign policy – that abandoning it will lead both our friends and our enemies to doubt our “credibility.”

As if we could possibly do any more damage to our “credibility” than we’ve already done, by hyping the case for the war and then thoroughly mismanaging its conduct.

Just like Nixon and Kissinger in 1969, Bush & Co., and, for that matter, leading Pro-War Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Senator Joe Lieberman, haven’t given us any reasons to expect that, five years down the line, after another 5000 dead US troops, another 40,000 US wounded, and another 200,000 dead or wounded Iraqis, the US Occupation and the Shiite-dominated theocracy that it has brought to Iraq, wouldl be any more stable.

Just as in Vietnam, operationally, we never lost the war -- we could have continued that bloody stalemate forever. In a strategic sense, however, we lost the very first time we confused a political problem with a military one.

(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2005

November 12, 2005 at 01:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Receives Rousing Welcome In Argentina...
Fox News Analysis

160_ap_bush_051104President Bush received an incredibly warm welcome at the 34-nation Summit of the Americas in Mar de la Plata, as thousands of ordinary people from all over the Continent turned out to hail his presence.
The effervescent US President was clearly buoyed by polls that showed that he still commands the support of an incredible 80 percent of Republicans -- otherwise known as his "base."

True, "non-base" support is reportedly a little less certain. Overall, in this week's latest polls, 59 percent expressed "disapproval," while 42 percent expressed "strong" disapproval." A quarter of the US population surveyed reported "violent morning sickness...."

However, knowledgeable insiders have called this a "temporary setback" that will be easily corrected if and when Presidential advisor Karl Rove, recently distracted by the Pflame investigation, starts covering the bases again.

The President, speaking through an interpreter, voiced optimism that "Free trade and liberal investment policies, plus a few billion dollars on defense, corn subsidiies, and our brand new military base in Paraguay" would completely change the lifestyles of the estimated 100 million Latin Americans who remain below the $1 per day world poverty line.

Said Bush, "These policies have only been tried for a decade or two. They need to be given a chance. Right here in Argentina, you've seen how well they've worked, right?"
Bush's sentiments were echoed by Vincente Fox, Mexico's amazingly popular lame-duck President, and Paul Martin, the astonishing Canadian PM, whose own popularity ratings have recently been taken to record levels by the Gomery Report, which documented the disappearance of $250 million of government funds, mainly by way of Mr. Martin's own party.
Said Martin: "We are quite pleased to have become a wholly-owned subsidiary of US multinationals. We didn't think we'd like the sensation, but it has become an experience that we really look forward to every night. You will also learn to enjoy it. Now if only the US would pay us that $3.5 billion...."

Said Fox: "Yes, it is true, millions of Mexican small farmers have been wiped out by free trade. But this criticism is baseless. Just look at all the remittances they are sending back home from the US !"

Meanwhile, the US President had an especially warm greeting from Diego Maradona, the famous Argentine soccer star, now in recovery. Maradona used a colloquial Argentine expression to describe just how delighted he is to finally have this particular American President visit his country.
Elsewhere, Cuba's Fidel Castro, who was not permitted to attend the summit, was reported to have decided to remove all restrictions on US trade and investment with Cuba, after having listened to President Bush's persuasive arguments.

Said the aging inveterate leftist leader, "I knew we were doing something wrong. Now I finally know what it was. We were way off base!"

After a prolonged negotiating session on Saturday, in which Summit delegates basically agreed to continue to debate the merits of free trade for a long time to come, Bush departed for a Sunday meeting in Brasiia with yet another embattled President, Luis Ignacio da Silva ("Lula.")

Brasilia is a pretty lonely, desolate, and distinctly un-Brazilian place on a Saturday night, because all the whores and politicians have flown back to Rio or Sao Paulo for the weekend, and one is just left with all these 1950s-vintage monuments to Brazil's cement industry. But perhaps President Bush will find a little solace taking a moonlit walk on the empty esplanades, wandering through the otherwise flat, lifeless landscape that Robert Campos once called "the revenge of a Communist architect against capitalist society."

(c)SubmergingMarkets, 2005

November 5, 2005 at 11:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Friday, November 04, 2005

Why Scooter Will Skate...
James S. Henry

043004_2Irving Lewis Libby, Jr. was finally arraigned this week, after the Special Prosecutor Patrick "Bulldog" Fitzgerald's two-year investigation. It's always nice to see warmongers twisting in the wind,  but what have we really learned from all of this? 

Unfortunately, the five-count federal indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's 55-year old Chief of Staff did not actually reveal who outed CIA spookette Valerie Pflame.

But at least we do now know "Scooter's" real first name and the origins of his cute little boys' school handle.     050719_rovefitzgerald_vlwidec

Before Big Media's attention was deflected back to bird flu and another contentious Supreme Court nomination, the indictment also produced much speculation about whether Libby would cop a plea; whether "Official A" -- Karl Rove -- or even the Veep himself might eventually be charged; and how long the judicial torments suffered by Libby, Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, and other inner-circle Republicans will persist.

For a few moments, it also appeared that  Patrick "Bulldog" Fitzgerald might finally get down to a few of the really important issues:

  • (1) To what extent did the White House, the Pentagon, its operatives, and its allies in the media and foreign governments conspire to orchestrate the fraudulent case for the Iraq War -- as opposed to just being victims of "faulty intelligence?" (E.g., "Tenet made me do it.")
  • (2) How often were "house journalists" like Judith Miller, Tim Russert, and Bob Novak  -- whose principle skill is trading various kinds of favors with officials in high places -- used as distribution channels for the Administration's agitprop?
  • (3) If they didn't learn Valerie Plame's identity from Libby or Rove, from whom did they learn it?
  • (4) What special interests - energy companies, defense contractors, and several Middle East countries, would-be countries, and religious/ ethnic factions -- helped weave the cobweb of distortions and lies that got us into this War, and have kept us in it long after even Brent Scowcoft and William Odom agree that it is a monumental US strategic blunder?
  • (5) What was the role of these same interests in insuring that so many leading Democrats have been completely supine on the War? And what other wars do they have in store for our sons and daughters?

Alas, the case against Libby & Co. is unlikely to ever reach these issues.  This is not because of Fitzgerald's investigation, which was ably led by FBI agent Jack Eckenrode, known and admired as a straight shooter by this author since 1987. Rather, it is because, as argued below,  Scooter Libby will almost certainly escape scot-free... just like his oldest client, Mark Rich, who's recently been implicated in paying bribes to Saddam Hussein -- post-pardon.  For the incredible story, read on......


At first glance, Fitzgerald's 22-page indictment seems like a good start. While perjury and obstruction of justice charges can be tough to prove, Fitzgeral's case looks straightforward. It also has the extra-added attraction of compelling this particular crop of journalists to bite a hand that has fed them handsomely.


Fitzgerald displayed a palpable sense of relief that he'd been spared having to prosecute violations of the complex 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the original basis for his investigation.

That statute would have required him to show not only that officials like Libby and Rove who had security clearances had willfully exposed the identity of a true"covert" agent, but also that these same officials had learned the agent's identity from official sources.

By turning the case into a perjury charge, Fitzgerald avoided having to convince a jury that Pflame was still a covert agent when her identity was disclosed. That wasn't going to be a slam dunk, given that she'd  been driving herself to Langley every day, and that she was at least partly responsible for the decision to send her own husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson IV, on the uranium fact-finding mission to Niger in February 2002.    Bio917aa

There also appears to have been an organized campaign to punish Pflame and her husband, with several officials  leaking her identity to multiple journalists at once, and folks like the curious friend of both Lt. Colonel Larry Franklin and Judith Miller,  Israeli Embassy "political counselor" Naor Gilon, also in the loop. It will  be far easier to for Fitzgerald to prove how Libby learned Plame's identity than to prove that any particular journalist learned it only from him.


Considering the strength of the case, Fitzgerald's unbroken track record of convictions,  and the 30-year sentence that Libby might theoretically face if he doesn't cooperate,  many pundits now expect him to "roll over" and testify against the Veep or Rove.


However,  the poker-faced Libby has showed no signs of knuckling under.  indeed, he has expressed confidence  that “(A)t the end of this process I will be completely and totally exonerated.” His attorney has indicated that Libby wants a jury trial "to clear his name."

Is  this just typical defendant braggadocio? Or does this  savvy member of the Bush Administration's inner circle, who also held key posts under Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton, spent 16 years as a litigator and partner at leading DC and Philadelphia law firms,  and personally represented big-time felons, know something that the pundits do not?

896257hsmallThe fact is that those who are hoping for a plea bargain here, much less a trial of the Veep, are likely to be disappointed. 

While Fitzgerald has a solid case, Libby -- like his client Marc David (Reich) Rich, the fugitive from 48 felony counts who was pardoned by President Clinton in January 2001, and the six senior officials and convicted felons who were pardoned by President George H.W. Bush in December 1992 --  has a trump card.

He already knows that he will never do a single minute of jail time.

The simple, if inelegant, reason is this: Scooter Libby knows far too much, and not just about "Pflameburn."

Given his background and experience, Libby might well be in a position to bring down the entire Bush Administration on any number of matters, from secret detention centers and CIA "wet jobs" to missing funds in Iraq to Halliburton's no-bid contracts to the hyping of the case for the war. He might also have a few interesting things to say about the shenanigans of the Clinton, Bush I, and Reagan Administrations.

Absent divine intervention, therefore, the fix is in. Libby's gameplan is already clear: he will insist on a jury trial, and will try to delay that as long as possible -- perhaps up to a year, as his counsel recently indicated. That trial will commence during the fall of 2006 -- not before the November 2006 Congressional elections, if Libby has his way. The trial itself will last at least 3-6 months, and there is always a chance that Libby not be convicted. Even if he is, the appeals would take us well into 2008, Bush's last year in office. So even if Libby is convicted, he'll receive a Presidential pardon with minimal jail time.


From this angle, it was indeed ironic to learn late last week,  just as Scooter was about to be indicted, that his 20-year client Marc Rich had been named by Paul Volcker as a leading provider of bribes to Saddam Hussein in the UN Oil-For-Food (OFF) scandal -- for the most part AFTER his January 2001 pardon by President Clinton.

Furthermore,  it also turned out that several other key OFF benefiPardon_rich_1ciaries and Saddam bribers also had close  ties to both Rich and to Halliburton, the Veep's old firm --  including Mikhail Fridman's Alfa Group, Switzerland's Glencore, and US-based oil companies like Bayoil and Coastal Petroleum.


The striking thing is how bi-partisan most of these corporate kleptocrats have been.

For example, while Halliburton is closely identified with the Republican Party, Coastal's Oscar Wyatt, Jr., now also under federal indictment, has been a heavy life-long contributor to the Democratic Party. 

Rich's ex-wife Denise, operating out of her New York City condo and her high-hedged mansion in Southampton,  greased the skids for her husband's pardon by contributing over $1 million, becoming one of the largest fundraisers for Bill Clinton's new Presidential library.Wya_wyatt_136x155_2

Alfa Group's Ukrainian-born Mikhail Fridman maintains close ties not only with President Putin and certain leading Moscow mobsters,  but also with the Council on Foreign Relations, where Alfa has recently become a leading contributor.

And when Marc Rich pursued his Presidential pardon, his main legal gun wasn't Scooter,  but Jack Quinn, the Arnold & Porter senior partner who had served as Al Gore's Chief of Staff in the early 1990s.

StorydeniserichclintonsSo, from this angle, Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff has just been trying to keep up.

When we finally sweep clean these Augean stables, we will have to employ a very large, non-partisan broom indeed.

(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2005

November 4, 2005 at 11:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack