Historical revisionism and hairbrained schemes

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Most important line in any news report this Labor Day Weekend — from a piece by Knight Ridder’s Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott on “sharp course corrections” being considered by the administration for Iraq: “None of the proposals has been adopted yet. Officials in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney and some civilian officials who work for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld are resisting any broader international involvement in Iraq, which, in their view, would disrupt plans for an American-initiated remaking of the Middle East. But senior uniformed military officers, along with Bush political director Karl Rove, are said to be aligning with State Department officials in arguing that the status quo in Iraq must be altered.” ( Bush administration examining ways to change course in Iraq)

Of course, their “sharp course corrections” — a “UN” force with an American commander — sound neither “sharp,” nor like “corrections,” and the “course” itself in the wake of the bombing in Najaf is clearly missing in action. Anthony Shadid, the thoroughly reliable Iraq correspondent for the Washington Post, writes (Ayatollah’s Death Deepens U.S. Woes):

“The death of Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim, a rare cleric with political acumen and religious pedigree, may pose the greatest challenge yet to U.S. efforts to court Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority and bring stability to Iraq. In the crucial battles ahead over a new constitution and a postwar government, their support is essential, and U.S. officials have described the prospect of turmoil and infighting within Shiite ranks as a nightmare scenario.”

But leaving all this aside for the moment, if Karl Rove and the State Department are communing, we’re talking sharp course correction indeed — we’re talking fears of an Iraq-induced electoral disaster.

Most amusing act of course correction for the week (according to the Memory Hole website): “When the White House published the text of and photos from Bush’s speech announcing the supposed end of the Iraq attack, the headline read: ‘President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended.’ But on Tuesday, 19 Aug 2003, the Cursor website noticed that the headline had been changed to read: ‘President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended.’ The word ‘major‘ had been added.”

And Memory Hole has the illustrations to prove it. In fairness to the President, however, his original speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln had that word “major” carefully embedded in it, but the urge to go back now to clean up the messy past — at least where possible — offers a small symbolic I-don’t-know-what.

Deep-sixing history: Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader, here’s a fascinating little piece from a website I don’t know at all, the Palestine Chronicle. It was written by Sarah Whalen, a law professor at Loyola University and, as I found out from a quick trip into cyberspace, “an expert in Islamic Law,” according to the Rocky Mountain News. It begins (Secret Saudi History):

But leaving all this aside for the moment, if Karl Rove and the State Department are communing, we’re talking sharp course correction indeed — we’re talking fears of an Iraq-induced electoral disaster.

Most amusing act of course correction for the week (according to the Memory Hole website): “When the White House published the text of and photos from Bush’s speech announcing the supposed end of the Iraq attack, the headline read: ‘President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended.’ But on Tuesday, 19 Aug 2003, the Cursor website noticed that the headline had been changed to read: ‘President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended.’ The word ‘major‘ had been added.”

And Memory Hole has the illustrations to prove it. In fairness to the President, however, his original speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln had that word “major” carefully embedded in it, but the urge to go back now to clean up the messy past — at least where possible — offers a small symbolic I-don’t-know-what.

Deep-sixing history: Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader, here’s a fascinating little piece from a website I don’t know at all, the Palestine Chronicle. It was written by Sarah Whalen, a law professor at Loyola University and, as I found out from a quick trip into cyberspace, “an expert in Islamic Law,” according to the Rocky Mountain News. It begins (Secret Saudi History):

“‘I’m sorry,’ the clerk at the U.S. National Archives says: “You can’t see the Saudi Arabian documents.” I’m surprised. All the National Archive’s documents are already reviewed and then declassified or removed

“‘It’s part of the Patriot Act,’ the clerk averred

“‘The U.S. State Department records you requested are indeed declassified and theoretically available. But they also may contain information that terrorists can use, like names and addresses and information of U.S. citizens A terrorist could come into the National Archives and try to steal their identities or target them for assassination.’

“I protested: ‘The documents I seek are over thirty years old and even older.’ Now the clerk’s smile became nothing but teeth, his eyes narrowed with suspicion.

“I persisted: ‘Any person the record concerns will be either quite elderly or already dead.’

“The clerk’s brittle smile remained fixed. ‘I’m sorry, you can’t look at the Saudi records even if they are a hundred years old.'”

It’s worth reading in full Whalen’s modest odyssey in which she is threatened with arrest and finally leaves the National Archives with nothing. (Remember, they’re not called the National Security Archives — at least, so I thought.) She concludes: “We’re hardly any safer for keeping Saudi history a secret. The 9/11 terrorists committed a horrendous crime, but they did not take away our national security. We have done this to ourselves.”

Most original piece of “historical revisionism” of the week (or chapter 473 in the annals of explanation from those wild and wacky guys and gals of the Bush administration): Both Condi Rice and Don Rumsfeld (who previously offered an ingenious reinterpretation of the American revolutionary era to suggest parallels to postwar Iraq) brought up another historical analogy this week. Perhaps they’re working the same archives. Rice in a speech Monday said: “SS officers – called Werewolves – engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them, much like today’s Baathist and Fedayeen remnants.”

What a relief! All you have to do is recall for a moment the vicious guerrilla war we fought in Germany after W.W.II — just as in Iraq now — and you know we’re on the road to recovery. You can’t recall that? Well, don’t worry, neither can historians — or Germans. Maura Reynolds of the Los Angeles Times dug up some befuddled military historians (Postwar Iraq Is No Germany, Historians Say) whose comments ran along the following lines:

“‘The Werewolves existed more in the idea or the fantasy stage than ever as a real phenomenon,’ said Lt. Col. Kevin Farrell, a historian at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. Tom Schlesinger, a retired Army major and professor at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire who served in Army intelligence in occupied Germany, described the Werewolves as ‘almost a deliberate urban myth. I was in Germany all through the surrender and, although at lower rank, had access to all classified intelligence distribution as part of the occupation security force The Werewolf story turned out to be mostly a hoax, perhaps some wishful thinking of a few SS officers, though it caused us a few inconveniences due to the phony alerts.”

For the first month or so after surrender, there were evidently scattered guerrilla incidents in Germany (though not from the “Werewolves”), after which things calmed down.

As for the Germans, maybe it’s historical amnesia or their opposition to the war in Iraq, but they can’t remember this either. Check out an Agence France-Presse piece, Germans balk at US parallel between Iraq fighters and Nazis, but take it with a grain of salt, the French and Germans being involved.

Other recent administration acts of “revisionism” (forget the history here):
The Reagan administration once classified ketchup a vegetable. Now the Bush administration, seeking to outdo the age of Reagan in every respect, has topped them. It just declared carbon dioxide a non-pollutant and so beyond regulation, according to Seth Borenstein of Knight Ridder (EPA won’t regulate carbon dioxide):

“Carbon dioxide, the chief cause of global warming, cannot be regulated as a pollutant, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled Thursday. The decision, which reverses a 1998 Clinton administration position, means the Bush administration won’t be able to use the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from cars. Had the Bush administration decided that carbon dioxide is a pollutant and harmful, it could have required expensive new pollution controls on new cars and perhaps on power plants, which together are the main sources of so-called greenhouse gases

“Jonathan Cannon, who wrote the now-reversed 1998 [Clinton administration] decision, said: ‘They’re trying to put a stake in the heart for any possible existing avenue for dealing with global climate change either by this administration or any future administration.'”

And if the world happens to broil away, no matter. After all, backyard barbecues are such an American thing. Just buy some hot-dogs or hamburgers, and chill.

As for radioactivity, well, I think that must be a vegetable. At least, Lolita Baldor of AP reports (Bush Ends Nuclear Monitoring Program):

“The Bush administration is eliminating a small Department of Energy program that monitors radioactive materials at federal sites, triggering questions from a Democratic congressman. Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, in a letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, questioned why the program is being phased out, considering the increased threat of terrorism and warnings that al-Qaida has been trying to obtain nuclear materials.

“The Energy Department said the program has been discontinued because it finished its work. DOE spokesman Joe Davis said radioactive materials at federal sites around the country have been identified, and now the agency is either consolidating or getting rid of them. Cutting the program will save about $1 million.”

That’s a lot of hamburgers.

This wasn’t the weekend that was (or expect the unexpected): The latest Zogby poll has Howard Dean ahead of John Kerry in New Hampshire by a staggering 28 points. Even if Zogby, who is considered by some the least reliable pollster, has a margin of error of plus or minus 26, it’s still striking. Of course, we should also note that Dean, whose position on the Iraq war has been steady and principled, now seems to have accepted the no-matter-what-your-position-may-have-been-we-can’t-leave school of thought. Talk about quagmires, everyone’s getting stuck there. In the meantime, General Wesley Clark has all but tossed his stars into the presidential ring. As NATO Supreme Commander during the Kosovo campaign and Vietnam Vet, he will undoubtedly ride a white jet into the campaign.

Robert Kuttner in the American Prospect magazine went wild at the thought recently. He’s already picking vice-presidential candidates for the man (General Interest):

“Clark is the soldier as citizen. Even better, he’s the soldier as tough liberal. Just imagine Clark, with his real and distinguished military record, up against our draft dodger president who likes to play top-gun dress-up. Imagine the Rhodes Scholar against the leader who can’t ad lib without a speechwriting staff. Oh, and he’s from Arkansas.”

As for myself, I’m in the minority. I think there’s something to be said for a candidate who looks bad riding in the turret of a tank. We’re supposed to be a nation of civilians, aren’t we?

Oh yes, and across the Atlantic, where the hearings season is already well underway, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s master of spin, the Karl Rove of England, has just signed off the air. He was meaning to leave anyway, he said. (I hope more of these characters on both sides of the ocean are packing their kit bags and preparing their excuses. All that can be said at the moment is: one down, so many more to go.)

And, filling out the week, there were those zany six-way talks with North Korea convened in Beijing, the culmination to date of an American refusal to negotiate directly with the North Korean regime and of the Bush administration’s global lessons in the usefulness of a nuclear arsenal. Before the talks even ended with the suggestion of more talks to come, perhaps in a couple of months, the North Koreans had evidently threatened to test their nuclear weapons. After the meeting, according to Agence France-Presse, the North Koreans issued their own encouraging statements ( NKorea says Beijing talks convinced it of need for nuclear arsenal):

“The gathering was ‘not only useless but harmful in every aspect,’ a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement on the official Korean Central News Agency. ‘Betraying our expectation, the talks turned out to be no more than armchair arguments and degenerated into a stage show to force us to disarm,’ the spokesman was quoted as saying.

“‘We are now more convinced then before that we have no other alternatives but to continue strengthening our nuclear deterrence as a self-defensive measure to protect our sovereignty.'”

Well before the recent talks convened, Peter Hayes of the Nautilus Institute wrote the following, part of an essay on ways to move the United States towards a more productive negotiating stance. His comments seem no less on target with the talks now in abeyance (Last Chance to Avert a Korean Krakatoa):

“US credibility is at an all time low in Pyongyang. It will take a miracle of adroit American diplomacy at the meeting to reverse the DPRK becoming a declared nuclear power and to avoid being blamed for the failure of the talks.

“What’s more, it appears that the DPRK — an upstart state with an area less than one-third of California, a population of about twenty million shrinking daily from starvation and exodus, and a national economy the size of Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay Area — relishes the prospect of taking-on the United States, the world’s only mega-power. As a pipsqueak power among five sumo wrestlers, the DPRK will bite them all on the ankle to get the show moving.

“If the six-way talks fail, then the confrontation over the DPRK’s alleged nuclear weapons program may result in a Korean Krakatoa — a paroxysm of violence so great that it would be heard around the world, like the explosion of Krakatoa in 1883. Such a war could not only destroy the two capital cities of Korea, Pyongyang and Seoul, but would risk a calamitous war involving the great powers and the possible use of weapons of mass destruction”

We’re number two but gaining: And speaking of North Korea, here’s a little good news. The BBC just did a poll of 11,000 people in eleven countries including the United States on attitudes towards us, our influence and our power, and it turns out we’re running neck and neck with North Korea, on the question “Who is more dangerous?” At 43% to 43%, we’re not yet behind (though in South Korea, Russia, Brazil and Indonesia we’re already considered the more dangerous of the two) but we’re not ahead either. On the other hand, take away the American vote — 83%-14% for labeling the North Korean regime more dangerous (but also imagine that 14% of us consider us more dangerous than the Dear Leader’s charming outfit!) — and we’d be a shoo-in to take the lead. We’ve already whumped a whole pack of wimps — China, Russia, France, Iran, and Syria — but here’s the problem: al-Qaeda is 22 percentage points ahead of us in the race for the prestigious “most dangerous” title (almost Dean’s lead over Kerry in New Hampshire). But never give up hope. We could be number one someday. (To check this part of the poll out click here)

Dumping our Iraqi problems on the UN: Actually, I’m not quite done with North Korea yet, so bear with me. Some elements in an increasingly disturbed and riven administration have again been raising the issue of UN involvement in Iraq. And, believe it or not that brings us back to the Koreas. Here’s what Strobel and Walcott report in the article cited above:

“Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage hinted at the U.S. willingness to share responsibility for the Iraq problem ‘There are several ideas that are being looked at,’ Armitage said, including ‘a multinational force under U.N. leadership,’ but with the U.N. commander an American general.

“The idea, a senior official said, is for a command structure roughly similar to that in the 1950-53 Korean War, when the United Nations voted to assist South Korea in repelling North Korea’s aggression. U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur led the multinational force.”

Now, there, in the rolling swell of historical analogies, is a zinger from the point of view of the present UN — and deeply revealing of what the “good” Americans in this administration have in mind. This is obviously the sepoy strategy, imperial to the core, preparing to come back to haunt us all. Our allies supply the troops, we supply the brains. And what makes the Korean War analogy so striking is that it’s the only example of the UN simply joining one side in a war. That wasn’t “peacekeeping,” it was UN war-making and, if that’s what’s in the American brain, then those UN “peacekeepers” better wear reinforced helmets and the foreign leaders who send them under some pathetically amended resolution should have their brains examined.

A warning on exactly this was issued last week by Guardian columnist George Monbiot (see below), who says truthfully that this administration couldn’t at present conceive of the UN operating as anything but, at best, a subcontractor under American command. He concludes grimly: “Iraq may swallow George Bush and his imperial project, just as the Afghan morass digested the Soviet empire. It is time his opponents stopped seeking to rescue him from his self-destruction.”

The problem for the Bush administration is that it’s fallback positions — in which it would like to turn over the problems but not the goodies in Iraq to whatever suckers it can find — may be continually outpaced by events in that country. After all, even Oxfam, which never leaves anywhere, is evidently packing up its small Iraqi operation. If you want a vivid sense of what the American position in non-Kurdish Northern Iraq actually looks like, here’s a description from Peter Beaumont of the Guardian ( Chaos reigns as Saddam’s plan unfolds):

“Most striking is ‘The Bubble’ – the headquarters of Paul Bremer and those charged with reconstructing Iraq. Surrounded by a wall of reinforced and blast-proof concrete, and guarded by tanks and helicopters, this is the Green Zone, an area of palaces and hub of Bremer’s vision for the New Iraq.

“It is almost self-sufficient. Those working their 16-hour shifts there can be treated in the compound’s own hospital, run safely in its grounds, even take in a film. When they go outside, it is by armoured car with military escort.

“Those who once sneered at Bremer’s isolation are now being forced into their own fortresses ‘The situation is getting worse,’ said a senior official to a major aid organisation who asked not to be identified. ‘We have been warned that we may be a target. I fear this is a society in the process of distintegration.”

Remember, we arrived in Iraq isolated — no serious allies except Great Britain, no actual UN support, no financial backing, no significant Iraqis with us (not even translators) — and our neocons thought that was perfect. Now, Iraqi anger seems to be on the rise. Here’s a quote from an Iraqi elementary school teacher in today’s LA Times (Carol J. Williams, Iraqi’s Rage at Boiling Point):

“[A]s she rattled off the mounting horrors of thieves prowling in daylight, sabotage knocking out lights in schools and water in the kitchen, and now terrorist strikes killing scores of Iraqis, her anger escalated into a venomous tirade at the country’s U.S.-led administration. ‘America considers itself the superpower of the world, but here it is powerless to keep any semblance of order,’ she said. ‘The Americans fired our police and our army. Now there is no security and foreign terrorists are coming across our borders.'”

And, with a massive bill coming due and our occupation administration running out of seized Iraqi funds, we not only can’t get major infusions of military reinforcements from elsewhere but we can’t get any money from other countries, despite a major push, jokingly referred to as “Operation Tin Cup.” (If you recall, Gulf War I was largely a freebie, with much of the tab covered by the Saudis, the Japanese and other nations.)

Have we truly come full circle so fast?

It’s a Halliburton, Halliburton, Halliburton world: If so, part of the reason is simply that, whether at home or abroad, this administration has proved extraordinarily good at creative acts of destruction — it’s their specialty really — but hasn’t the faintest idea how to construct or reconstruct anything. Their idea of how to reconstruct Iraq is no different from their idea of how to reconstruct our country. Pull everything out of the public sector and then simply dump money into the coffers of large corporations allied with them — in the case of Iraq, of course, we’re talking about Halliburton, Bechtel, and a few others in a “free market” so closed you have to bring an oxygen tank with you.

Michael Dobbs of the Washington Post made this clear recently (Halliburton’s Deals Greater Than Thought):

“The size and scope of the government contracts awarded to Halliburton [over $2 billion] in connection with the war in Iraq are significantly greater than was previously disclosed and demonstrate the U.S. military’s increasing reliance on for-profit corporations to run its logistical operations. Independent experts estimate that as much as one-third of the monthly $3.9 billion cost of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq is going to independent contractors.

“Services performed by Halliburton, through its Brown and Root subsidiary, include building and managing military bases, logistical support for the 1,200 intelligence officers hunting Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, delivering mail and producing millions of hot meals. Often dressed in Army fatigues with civilian patches on their shoulders, Halliburton employees and contract personnel have become an integral part of Army life in Iraq P.W. Singer, a Brookings Institution scholar estimates the number of contract workers in Iraq at 20,000, or about one for every 10 soldiers. During the Gulf War, the proportion was about one in 100.”

But just check out this “little anecdote,” which I have no way of confirming, from a remarkable female blogger in Baghdad (Girlblog in Baghdad — Baghdad Burning… I’ll meet you ’round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend…) — and a beautiful writer as well. Even if the figures for the American bridge bid prove to be just rumor, the tale itself gives a sense of what’s going on:

“Listen to this little anecdote. One of my cousins works in a prominent engineering company in Baghdad — we’ll call the company H. This company is well-known for designing and building bridges all over Iraq. My cousin, a structural engineer, is a bridge freak. As May was drawing to a close, his manager told him that someone from the CPA wanted the company to estimate the building costs of replacing the New Diyala Bridge on the South East end of Baghdad. He got his team together, they went out and assessed the damage, decided it wasn’t too extensive, but it would be costly and came up with a number they tentatively put forward- $300,000. This included new plans and designs, raw materials (quite cheap in Iraq), labor, contractors, travel expenses, etc.

“Let’s pretend my cousin is a dolt. Let’s pretend he hasn’t been working with bridges for over 17 years. Let’s pretend he didn’t work on replacing at least 20 of the 133 bridges damaged during the first Gulf War. Let’s pretend he’s wrong and the cost of rebuilding this bridge is four times the number they estimated — let’s pretend it will actually cost $1,200,000. Let’s just use our imagination.

“A week later, the New Diyala Bridge contract was given to an American company. This particular company estimated the cost of rebuilding the bridge would be around — brace yourselves — $50,000,000 !!

“Something you should know about Iraq: we have over 130,000 engineers. More than half of these engineers are structural engineers and architects. Thousands of them were trained outside of Iraq in Germany, Japan, America, Britain and other countriesThe majority of them are more than proficient — some of them are brilliant.”

Then just consider the latest scheme our geniuses in Iraq have for training the Iraqi police. Over the next 18 months we are to fly 28,000 prospective policeman to an unused military bases in no, not Basra, but Hungary. (It turns out the old Soviet empire has its uses after all.) “The out-of-country training site is necessary because the existing police academies in Iraq are not large enough, [according to Bernard Kerik, a former New York City Police commissioner in charge of the Iraqi Interior Ministry]. He said the training plan is part of an effort by U.S. officials to encourage and enable Iraqis to take a greater role in running the country.”

The question is: which country? I assume he’s referring to Hungary. As a start, I’d like to see the bill for this one. It would surely be cheaper to fly much of bewildered Hungary plus the base to Iraq, but, as everyone knows, training Iraqis to be Iraqi policemen in Iraq is a ridiculous idea. I mean, no space. But I ask you, who’s going to build a nation, based on this sort of thinking? I suspect these guys couldn’t build a Lincoln Log cabin without meeting resistance. Actually, you’ve got to hand it to our erstwhile empire builders for yet another lame-brained scheme. There seems to be no end to them. I think if they had occupied Japan in 1945 instead of the New Dealers we actually sent there, we’d still be fighting a Japanese resistance movement.

I repeat: what they’re extraordinarily good at is tearing down, destroying. As Naomi Klein makes clear in a piece below from the Toronto Globe & Mail, what they’ve launched with their “war on terror” is less an empire than the right of every miserable oppressive government on earth to end the barely born Age of Human Rights on its territory — on which more in the future. Tom

Beware the bluewash
By George Monbiot
The Guardian
August 26, 2003

The US government’s problem is that it has built its foreign policy on two great myths. The first is that it is irresistible; the second is that as time advances, life improves. In Iraq it is trapped between the two. To believe that it can be thwarted, and that its occupation will become harder rather than easier to sustain as time goes by, requires that it disbelieves all that it holds to be most true.

But those who oppose its foreign policy appear to have responded with a myth of equal standing: that what unilateralism cannot solve, multilateralism can.

George Monbiot’s book The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order is published by Flamingo.

To read more Monbiot click here

Bush’s war goes global
By Naomi Klein
The Globe & Mail
August 27, 2003

The Marriot Hotel in Jakarta was still burning when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s Co-ordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs, explained the implications of the day’s attack.

“Those who criticize about human rights being breached must understand that all the bombing victims are more important than any human-rights issue.”

In a sentence, we got the best summary yet of the philosophy underlying President George W. Bush’s so-called war on terrorism. Terrorism doesn’t just blow up buildings; it blasts every other issue off the political map. The spectre of terrorism, real and exaggerated, has become a shield of impunity, protecting governments around the world from scrutiny for their human-rights abuses.

Many have argued that the WoTtm is the U.S. government’s thinly veiled excuse for constructing a classic empire, in the model of Rome or Britain. Two years into the crusade, it’s clear that this is a mistake

Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo and Fences and Windows.

To read more Klein click here