"Am I really here? Or am I just waiting to wake up?"

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Quote of the day — George W shares “responsibility”; he said those sixteen words about African uranium, but really, the networks did it:

“First of all, let me – quick history, recent history. The stock market started to decline in March of 2000. Then the first quarter of 2001 was a recession. And then we got attacked 9/11. And then corporate scandals started to bubble up to the surface, which created a lack of confidence in the system. And then we had the drumbeat to war. Remember on our TV screens, I’m not suggesting which network did this, but it said ‘march to war’ every day from last summer till the spring. March to war, march to war, that’s not a very conducive environment for people to take risks when they hear march to war all the time. And yet our economy is growing. ….. What I’m telling you is that we had a lot of obstacles to overcome.” (A passage not noted in press accounts of the president’s news conference yesterday.)

Rupert Cornwall of the British Independent offers a view of that news conference of a sort you’re not likely to see in an American paper (The usual mangled speech but Bush is let off the hook in rare press conference) It begins:

“It didn’t reveal much, but the White House press corps were grateful for anything. George Bush’s press conference yesterday was only the ninth he has held in 30 months of office and offered a rare chance for reporters to get to grips with the most disciplined, and arguably the most secretive, White House of modern times. Except that they didn’t.

“This ought to have been a tricky occasion for the President. His poll ratings are sagging, budget deficits are ballooning, jobs are vanishing and American soldiers are dying almost daily in Iraq. And not one of Saddam’s alleged weapons has turned up. But in the end it was a breeze.

“The main lesson to emerge from the 50-minute session, the first since the invasion of Iraq four months ago, was how easily the chief executive evaded any serious damage – and how the reporters made it easy for him to do so.”

There was, for instance, one question on Niger uranium and the State of the Union, but nary a follow-up from the gathered press corps once the president took “responsibility” and then turned to praising his National Security Adviser.

“This ought to have been a tricky occasion for the President. His poll ratings are sagging, budget deficits are ballooning, jobs are vanishing and American soldiers are dying almost daily in Iraq. And not one of Saddam’s alleged weapons has turned up. But in the end it was a breeze.

“The main lesson to emerge from the 50-minute session, the first since the invasion of Iraq four months ago, was how easily the chief executive evaded any serious damage – and how the reporters made it easy for him to do so.”

There was, for instance, one question on Niger uranium and the State of the Union, but nary a follow-up from the gathered press corps once the president took “responsibility” and then turned to praising his National Security Adviser.

Headline of the day — the sort of headline that, given the vastness of our imperial mission and the overstretched nature of our military, is likely to become all too common in the next year: “More than 600 troops from [National] Guard called up, The mobilization is the state unit’s largest since World War II.

Quote of the day (2) — the sort of statement ever less likely to be made as the months roll by, not by officials who care to be reelected anyway): “Gov. Ted Kulongoski, through a spokeswoman, expressed pride that the Defense Department had called up the unit to help the troops already in Iraq.” (Headline and quotes from Brad Cain, Associated Press. The headline has the ring of late Vietnam; the governor’s comment, of early Vietnam.)

Quote of the day (3) — Now that we’re considering “returning to the UN,” Paul Wolfowitz has expressed a touching vision of the deeper meaning of American multilateralism: “Wolfowitz noted that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is pursuing a possible [UN] resolution and said he would welcome a U.N. mandate that would enable countries to contribute more troops, ‘provided it doesn’t put limitations on what Ambassador [L. Paul] Bremer and our people can do in Iraq that are crucial to speeding up the transition to normalcy and stability.'” (Translation: Give us the sepoys and get on board. Vernon Loeb, Senators Grill Administration Over Iraq Costs, Washington Post)

Oh, those cruel limits! Does anyone still remember when Richard Nixon bitterly assured the American public that, if we withdrew from Vietnam, we’d become a “pitiful, helpless giant” in the eyes of the world? Wolfowitz, assuredly with the best interests of all of us in mind, wants to avoid pitiful, helpless gigantism by keeping us fully in control in Iraq.

In a piece worth checking out, Vietnam Rorschach, at the website, Chris Appy, author of the new oral history Patriots, The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides, discusses certain Vietnam parallels that sooner or later even the Wolfowitzs may have to face. He writes in part:

“In Iraq, perhaps even more than in Vietnam, the United States wants to determine the outcome of self-determination. But just as in Vietnam, American troops in Iraq are likely to prove incapable of building local support for any government — pro-American, truly self-determining or otherwise. In fact, if we can predict one thing from history, it’s that their armed presence is almost guaranteed to generate opposition to any government associated with U.S. interests.We can’t expect soldiers to win “hearts and minds,” least of all when they’re being fired on. What we can expect is that our increasingly frustrated, homesick and demoralized troops may become ever more cynical about “nation-building” and fall back on the line infamously uttered by an American officer in Vietnam, ‘Grab ’em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow.’

“We should have learned from Vietnam that military dominance is not the same thing as political legitimacy. Of course, we have the power to occupy Iraq indefinitely. But, as in Vietnam, it may be that no foreign power can install a government that will gain the widespread support of its own people. And the American people may eventually decide it is no longer worth trying.”

Quote of the day (4) — message from the front lines: where are they? “In numerous interviews here, soldiers said attacks happen all the time, but the vast majority miss their mark or result in minor injuries, and don’t make it into news accounts. Soldiers with cuts and bruises and shrapnel wounds return to duty every day. Their near-misses are militarily insignificant, but psychologically damaging. Soldiers said the daily, relentless uncertainty and randomness weigh heavily on them. ‘There are so many shots fired here all the time, you don’t even think about it, and that’s what’s horrible,’ said Torkildson, as he guarded the main gate with a machine gun. ‘Those shots you just heard could have killed somebody, and we don’t even think about it.’‘I just keep thinking,’ [another of the soldiers said] said, ‘am I really here? Or am I just waiting to wake up?’

This last reminds me of a famous passage from the Taoist philosopher Chuang-tse, who wondered whether he was a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang-tse or vice-versa. Actually, I think many of us, even those not Iraq, wouldn’t mind waking up from this bad dream. The piece from which the quotes are taken, a front-page Washington Post report from Iraq (Kevin Sullivan, On Battle and Home Fronts, a Roller Coaster of Nerves) is a reminder that resistance is on a larger scale than we imagine, less organized, and, given the poor aim (also reported elsewhere), undoubtedly more than just well-trained military bitter-enders from Saddam’s fallen regime.

I heard ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson (of Niger uranium forgery fame and a tough nut) giving a talk broadcast yesterday on Democracy Now!. He was suggesting that by next year American casualties will have risen to 10-15 day and the president, trapped between Iraq and a hard economic place at home, might well be considering launching another war to win the election of 2004.

Quote of the day (5) — the hidden costs of the occupation of Iraq, a leading sepoy wants oil: “In return for unprecedented military support in Iraq, Poland expects a share of Iraqi oil, a report said Friday. Poland will take command of more than 9,000 troops from 15 nations, including 2,300 of its own, when the force is assembled at the beginning of September. It is the first time Poland has led such a large multinational peacekeeping force. Accordingly, Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told the Polish PAP news agency,‘ We have never hidden our desire for Polish oil companies to finally have access to sources of commodities.’” (Poland wants a stake in Iraqi oil, the Washington Times)

According to Thalif Deen in the Asia Times (US bartering arms for soldiers for Iraq), we’ve already agreed to pay out $240 million to cover “airlift transportation, meals, medical care and other expenses” for the Polish troops. But who wouldn’t like to take a sip at the Iraqi oil taps as well? Deen also gives a vivid sense of how, without that UN mandate, you try to raise troops for imperial occupations:

“Faced with a rising death toll among its soldiers in Iraq, the United States is trying to ‘buy’ foreign troops for a proposed 30,000-strong multinational force in Baghdad. ‘When they were seeking UN support for a war on Iraq, they were twisting arms,’ one Asian diplomat said. ‘Now they are offering carrots in exchange for our troops.’

“The inducements – including weapons and increased military aid – have apparently been offered to at least three countries The administration of President George W Bush has intensified efforts to seek troops from India, Pakistan and Turkey in order to bolster a multinational force that now includes troops mostly from former Soviet republics and Latin American nations. The Indian government, which withdrew its offer of 17,000 troops under heavy domestic political pressure, is being lobbied once again with an offer of sophisticated military equipment.”

The Big Dig in Iraq:

Once upon a time, a subhead like this might have referred to Iraq’s precious archaeological sites, many of which continue to be looted. But on a day when reports that the Halliburton corporation “returned to second-quarter profit from a year-earlier loss despite several hefty charges, as projects in the Middle East and the weaker dollar boosted revenue,” it’s clear that the new big dig is Iraq — and no one has the early artifacts of civilization in mind. The Poles aren’t the only ones eager to feed at the Iraqi trough. Halliburton and Bechtel (responsible for the original “Big Dig,” a cost overrun extravaganza of a tunnel in Boston) are about to try to make hay on those “projects in the Middle East.”

David Streitfeld of the Los Angeles Times reports (U.S. OKs Bechtel’s Blueprint for Iraq, Which Puts Electricity First):

“Federal officials have approved Bechtel Group’s blueprint for Iraq’s reconstruction, making restoration of electric power the top priority in a $680-million budget that authorities concede will just scratch the surface of what needs to be done. In a survey conducted in April and May, Bechtel engineers found there was practically no end to Iraq’s needs. The country’s power, sanitation and water plants had been patched together for years, and postwar looting in many cases provided the final nudge toward collapse. San Francisco-based Bechtel, the largest construction and engineering company in the U.S., will get $80 million from the budget to cover its administrative costs.”

So imagine, in a country in which deciding where to put scarce funds is described as “akin to emergency room triage,” $80 million is going to Bechtel’s San Francisco office to cover “administrative costs.” Could that be to the Shia areas of San Francisco?

Believe me, there is a big dig here for some enterprising team of reporters. This could be the story of stories re: Iraq. A reader recently wrote me, claiming on the basis of inside knowledge that Brown and Root (a division of Halliburton, whose ex-CEO is now our vice president) was sending $216,000 a year pipefitters (the first $75,000 tax free) over to Iraq. Lacking that team of reporters, I have no way to confirm this or much of anything else, but the looting of desperate, despairing Iraq under the guise of “reconstruction” contracts given to American companies closely linked to the Bush administration is a story just begging to be told.

Polls and possibilities:

As for straws in the public opinion wind, here are a couple of small ones. Jim Lobe of Interpress news service reports (Swing voters, politicians: ‘Dubya duped us’):

“In a poll released by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), swing voters – people who consider themselves independent of both major political parties and very likely to vote in next year’s elections – were considerably more critical of Bush’s handling of Iraq and wider foreign policy than the general public and more likely to say the president deliberately misled the public about the reasons for the war.

“The poll, overseen by PIPA and carried out by California-based Knowledge Networks, found that an absolute majority of independents believed that both Bush and his administration were misleading when they “presented evidence to justify going to war with Iraq. By contrast, 42 percent among the general public said the administration was misleading, while only 36 percent of them said Bush himself misled on the justifications for war.”

In the meantime, a new poll at the Gallup website reports that the President’s job approval ratings have stabilized at their prewar levels in the high 50s, but in a far less noticed poll on Congressional races (Congressional Democrats surge in public ratings on the economy), Gallup reports,

“A new Gallup Poll shows that since January, there has been a significant shift in public sentiment about which of the two political parties in Congress can best deal with selected issues. The largest shift has been in the area of the economy, with Democrats now favored by 17 percentage points, while Republicans were favored by one point last January. Democrats’ ratings have also improved in the areas of foreign affairs, the federal budget deficit, and the situation in Iraq.”

In the meantime, Paul Loeb in one of his periodic pieces which I reproduce in full below offers both hope and a strategic worth debating for a renewed antiwar movement amidst these shifting tides. In addition, rounding up the week in the world via the British Guardian — Why should I do any work when there’s a newspaper that does everything for me? — I include two more pieces. The splendid Isabel Hinton offers a full-scale report on the (woeful) state of Afghanistan (a follow up to yesterday’s dispatch), suggesting that not only was it little more than a staging area for the Iraq war, but that it’s fate may offer a window into Iraq’s future. At the same time, Simon Tisdale offers a summary of where we are at this moment on the Israeli-Palestinian “road” to peace (the answer: nowhere anyone should want to be). Tom

Now we pay the warlords to tyrannise the Afghan people
The Taliban fell but – thanks to coalition policy – things did not get better

By Isabel Hilton

The Guardian
July 31, 2003

Diehard defenders of military intervention in Iraq argue that it’s too soon to carp, that time is required to restore order and prosperity to a country ravaged by every type of misfortune. Time, certainly, is needed, but is time enough? If the example of Afghanistan is anything to go by, time makes things worse rather than better. More than 18 months after the collapse of the Taliban regime, there is a remarkable consensus among aid workers, NGOs and UN officials that the situation is deteriorating.

There is a further point of consensus: that the deterioration is a direct consequence of “coalition” policy. Some 60 aid agencies have issued a joint statement pleading with the international community to deploy forces across Afghanistan to bring some order

To read more Hinton click here

All talk and no action
George Bush may claim the Israeli-Palestinian road map is making progress, but peace is as far away as ever

By Simon Tisdall
The Guardian
July 31, 2003

Not a little hope attached to this week’s talks in Washington between the US president, George Bush, and the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has fallen sharply in recent weeks. Both sides have spoken in positive terms about the prospect of peace; both have made gestures, albeit mostly verbal, towards attaining that goal.

Not a little fear attended the talks, too. The fear, for Israelis and Palestinians but also for the many others who yearn for a just end to this interminable conflict, is that without urgent, substantive steps forward – along the lines laid out by the international “road map” – a golden opportunity may be lost.

Mr Bush put a characteristically optimistic spin on his discussions with Mr Sharon and, last week, with the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas. “I think we’re making pretty good progress in a short period of time,” he said.

To read more Tisdall click here

Hope Out of Quagmire
New Peace Movement Opportunities
By Paul Rogat Loeb

In the glow of the Iraq war’s initial military success, most American peace
activists felt profoundly demoralized. Between the war’s portrayal as a
glamorous spectacle and Bush’s seemingly overwhelming support, many who’d
recently marched by the millions felt isolated, defensive, and powerless,
fearing their voices no longer mattered.

Now, as Bush’s occupation faces a deepening quagmire, shifting public
sentiment opens up major new opportunities for activism. Just two months
ago, the national mood felt so resistant that it was hard to raise the most
cautious dissenting questions. But polls now suggest the beginning of a very
different national mood, where large numbers of Americans are having
significant doubts. This gives us a chance to challenge the core fallacies
of Bush’s foreign policy, revitalize peace movement activism, and perhaps
change our national direction. We can do this by launching a grassroots
campaign to replace the US control over Iraq with an international
transitional authority under United Nations command–an authority that would
control not only military operations, but also Iraq’s political and economic
affairs, including its oil-fields. We can work to transform a beachhead for
American empire into an interim government that would actually have a shot
at bringing democracy.

The shifts in the polls are staggering, even if most peace activists haven’t
yet noticed them. Driven by the steady US casualties in Iraq and continuing
chaos, a July Gallup poll found 43 per cent of Americans believing things
are going badly in Iraq, up from just 13 per cent in early May. In a
mid-July Washington Post-ABC News poll, six in ten of those surveyed said
the war damaged the image of the United States abroad, half said the
conflict permanently damaged U.S. relations with key allies, and 52 percent
considered the level of US casualties “unacceptable.” A Zogby poll around
the same time found a one percent majority actually saying it was time for
someone new in the White House. These shifts all emerged before Congress’s
recent questioning of the occupation’s political, economic and human costs.

Before the war, we had a clear goal in trying to stop it. Once it started,
this drastically limited the peace movement’s options. We could bear witness
for the future, but it was hard to influence the war’s immediate outcome.
Now the landscape has shifted again, to one far more hospitable toward
dissenting views. Americans are developing significant reservations despite
what until recently has been scant critical media coverage, minimal
questioning by Democratic leaders, and little presence from the peace
movement since late February. If we can begin coalescing public concern
around an alternative to US troops remaining indefinitely in Iraq, we have a
real chance to influence national debate.

Although the war has created precisely the kind of mess we predicted, we
need to do more than just repeat, “I told you so.” Or gloat about how Bush’s
imperial dream is unraveling. It’s important to keep pushing on the ways
Bush lied to Congress and the American public. We also need to offer our own
vision of what needs to be done. We can do this by supporting European
initiatives to end US control over Iraq’s political and economic future, and
instead place the country under UN charge, policing it with a multinational
force with significant Islamic representation.

To most Iraqis, US troops have become symbols of colonialism and chaos. The
longer they stay, the more they become targets, and the more Iraqis will
resent the US for imposing our will and grabbing for oil while failing to
secure basic needs like electricity, clean water, and physical safety.
Because the UN represents the entire international community, including
eighteen Arab states, a UN administration, in contrast, would be far less
likely to be seen as a foreign military occupation. Although the new forces
would probably still face some opposition, both armed and unarmed, they
won’t be tarred with the same neocolonial agenda. Iraqis wouldn’t view them
as simply in it to dominate their country or project American power. Without
the disruption of a growing armed insurgency, efforts at restoring basic
services, maintaining stability, and setting up a democratic and
representative Iraqi government would be far easier. A UN Mandate might even
allow a similar transition to when UN forces finally ended Indonesia’s
bloody occupation of East Timor and supervised that country’s return to

A shift away from unilateral US control already has broad potential support.
In a late-June Knowledge Network poll, 64% of Americans wanted the UN to
take a leadership role in Iraq, up from 50% in April. Pushing for such a
shift will also let us reach out to American soldiers who are increasingly
frustrated at being given a mission with neither a defined end nor any clear
boundaries between friend and foe. And to military families angry that they
see no clear timetable for the return of their loved ones. We could
contrast Bush’s chickenhawk bluster of “Bring them on,” with our own call to
“Bring them Home,” and include a vision that demands more than just
abandoning Iraq to chaos.

Ideally, this campaign would be as broad-based as possible, encouraging
citizens to reach out both in our communities and to elected officials. We’d
circulate petitions, table, canvass, and vigil in local neighborhoods, write
letters to local papers, pass civic resolutions, and resume all the other
kinds of outreach we began so successfully on the eve of the war. We’d
build to more visible rallies and marches. We’d work to ensure the Iraqi
quagmire remains a front-and-center issue, so the Bush administration can’t
just move on and ignore it.

With enough grassroots momentum, we could begin pressuring key elected
officials to take a stand in favor of a shift to full UN control.
Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich has recently spoken out in favor of
major US troop withdrawals. It will take work to get the more conservative
Democratic candidates and elected representatives to follow suit (and maybe
even some independent minded Republicans). But given the shifting polls, if
we muster enough citizen pressure, at least a few will decide that the
political risk is worth it. We’d want to offer even those who supported the
war the opportunity to say: “I backed Bush in good faith and I’m glad Saddam
Hussein is out. But now the WMD evidence still hasn’t surfaced. We’ve
alienating the rest of the world by going in alone. And I don’t like having
been lied to. Since the Iraqis want us out, it’s time to stop putting our
brave young soldiers at risk.”

Could this campaign actually force Bush to turn Iraq over to UN
administration? Assuming that the situation continues to be a morass, Bush
will face increasing pressure to cut his losses, declare victory, and leave.
Although some in his administration are ideologically opposed to any major
UN role whatsoever, with enough pressure and media debate the pragmatist
wing might actually view withdrawal as politically preferable to facing an
election year with American soldiers continuing to come home from Iraq in
body bags.

This raises a difficult question. Is it the job of the peace movement-or the
global community–to help Bush clean up the mess that he’s created?
Shouldn’t we simply let him stew in it?

If Bush quickly shifted Iraq to UN administration, it might raise his
re-election prospects. But it’s extremely unlikely that his administration
will readily accede to this demand. Powerful economic, strategic and
ideological motivations led to them to attack this oil-rich nation to begin
with. These motivations make it extremely unlikely that they’ll give up the
opportunity to try to control Iraq’s political and economic future without a
fight. And the more they dig in their heels and resist, the more time the
peace movement will have to expose the ways in which this war was not about
bringing freedom and democracy to a long-oppressed people, but about
controlling the future of Iraq’s natural resources and projecting American
power in the world. Forcing the US genuinely to release control over Iraq
would be a major setback for the politics of empire.

Working to bring the troops home will also give us a chance to address
related questions, like the missing WMDs, America’s long tradition of arming
dictators, the key role of oil politics, and the lies and manipulations that
fueled our rush to war-including the notion that we’d be universally hailed
as liberators and the attacks on generals who accurately warned of massive
post-war troop deployments. Raising these issues will lead to larger
questions about the dangers of Bush’s belligerent unilateralism, and the
contrast between the four billion dollars a month he’s spending in Iraq and
his total neglect of a sinking domestic economy. The more we succeed in this
task, the more we have a chance to breach Bush’s image as national

If Bush does withdraw after sustained citizen pressure, his administration
will have been significantly tarnished. And we’ll have a major peace
movement victory, which will itself empower further action. A key value of
this campaign would be its ability to help recover activist momentum and
morale-giving people a concrete focus for their actions. There’s a huge
reservoir of citizens who became active in the opposition to the war, but
who’ve since melted back to private life. If we can get them re-engaged at
this point, they have a chance to become long-term activists. They may not
yet have taken up the particular issue of troop withdrawal, but that’s
because most were so demoralized by the war’s quick initial progress and
seemingly overwhelming support that they felt that what happened was totally
out of their hands. Now it isn’t. Citizens once again can begin to have a
voice, in a far more potentially receptive environment.

During the countdown to the war, the clock was running against us. Our
movement grew at an amazing pace, but ran out of time before we could become
powerful enough to reverse the administration’s course. Now time should
work in our favor. Unless Iraq suddenly becomes miraculously pacified, the
longer our troops are there, the more casualties they’ll take, and the
stronger the case for withdrawal. As we continue to raid houses, round up
civilians, and generally stoke resentment, Iraqi resistance is unlikely to
die down. Bush is already calling for increased military deployments.
Although we’d want to launch a campaign for withdrawal well before the
November 2004 election (to avoid diverting resources and energy), if we do
our work well, it could play a major role helping unseat George Bush.

If we build sufficiently broad coalitions for this effort, we have a chance
to make a major impact on national debate. Whether or not we can actually
convince the administration to pursue a wiser course, taking up this issue
gives us the chance to get people moving again, challenge the core politics
of empire, and support policies that would actually make for a safer world.
It gives us the chance once again to do more than watch from the sidelines
as passive spectators.

Paul Loeb, is the author of Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a
Cynical Time, and board chair of Peace Action of Washington. See for more information. For a more detailed version of
how a shift to UN control could proceed, see

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Copyright C2003 Paul Loeb