It’s the Oil Jim Holt Iraq is ‘unwinnable’, a ‘quagmire’, a ‘fiasco’: so goes the received opinion. But there is good reason to think that, from the Bush-Cheney perspective, it is none of these things. Indeed, the US may be ‘stuck’ precisely where Bush et al want it to be, which is why there is no ‘exit strategy’.
Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves. That is more than five times the total in the United States. And, because of its long isolation, it is the least explored of the world’s oil-rich nations. A mere two thousand wells have been drilled across the entire country; in Texas alone there are a million. It has been estimated, by the Council on Foreign Relations, that Iraq may have a further 220 billion barrels of undiscovered oil; another study puts the figure at 300 billion. If these estimates are anywhere close to the mark, US forces are now sitting on one quarter of the world’s oil resources. The value of Iraqi oil, largely light crude with low production costs, would be of the order of $30 trillion at today’s prices. For purposes of comparison, the projected total cost of the US invasion/occupation is around $1 trillion.
Who will get Iraq’s oil? One of the Bush administration’s ‘benchmarks’ for the Iraqi government is the passage of a law to distribute oil revenues. The draft law that the US has written for the Iraqi congress would cede nearly all the oil to Western companies. The Iraq National Oil Company would retain control of 17 of Iraq’s 80 existing oilfields, leaving the rest – including all yet to be discovered oil – under foreign corporate control for 30 years. ‘The foreign companies would not have to invest their earnings in the Iraqi econom! y,’ the analyst Antonia Juhasz wrote in the New York Times in March, after the draft law was leaked. ‘They could even ride out Iraq’s current “instability” by signing contracts now, while the Iraqi government is at its weakest, and then wait at least two years before even setting foot in the country.’ As negotiations over the oil law stalled in September, the provincial government in Kurdistan simply signed a separate deal with the Dallas-based Hunt Oil Company, headed by a close political ally of President Bush.
How will the US maintain hegemony over Iraqi oil? By establishing permanent military bases in Iraq. Five self-sufficient ‘super-bases’ are in various stages of completion. All are well away from the urban areas where most casualties have occurred. There has been precious little reporting on these bases in the American press, whose dwindling corps of correspondents in Iraq cannot move around freely because of the dangerous conditions. (It takes a brave reporter to leave the Green Zone without a military escort.) In February last year, the Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks described one such facility, the Balad Air Base, forty miles north of Baghdad. A piece of (well-fortified) American suburbia in the middle of the Iraqi desert, Balad has fast-food joints, a miniature golf course, a football field, a cinema and distinct neighbourhoods – among them, ‘KBR-land’, named after the Halliburton subsidiary that has done most of the construction work at the base. Although few of the 20,000 American troops stationed there have ever had any contact with an Iraqi, the runway at the base is one of the world’s busiest. ‘We are behind only Heathrow right now,’ an air force commander told Ricks.
The Defense Department was initially coy about these bases. In 2003, Donald Rumsfeld said: ‘I have never, that I can recall, heard the subject of a permanent base in Iraq discussed in any meeting.’ But this summer the Bush administration began to talk openly about stationing American troops in Iraq for years, even decades, to come. Several visitors to the White House have told the New York Times that the president himself has become fond of referring to the ‘Korea model’. When the House of Representatives voted to bar funding for ‘permanent bases’ in Iraq, the new term of choice became ‘enduring bases’, as if three or four decades wasn’t effectively an eternity.
But will the US be able to maintain an indefinite military presence in Iraq? It will plausibly claim a rationale to stay there for as long as civil conflict simmers, or until every groupuscule that conveniently brands itself as ‘al-Qaida’ is exterminated. The civil war may gradually lose intensity as Shias, Sunnis and Kurds withdraw into separate enclaves, reducing the surface area for sectarian friction, and as warlords consolidate local authority. De facto partition will be the result. But this partition can never become de jure. (An independent Kurdistan in the north might upset Turkey, an indep! endent Shia region in the east might become a satellite of Iran, and an independent Sunni region in the west might harbour al-Qaida.) Presiding over this Balkanised Iraq will be a weak federal government in Baghdad, propped up and overseen by the Pentagon-scale US embassy that has just been constructed – a green zone within the Green Zone. As for the number of US troops permanently stationed in Iraq, the defence secretary, Robert Gates, told Congress at the end of September that ‘in his head’ he saw the long-term force as consisting of five combat brigades, a quarter of the current number, which, with support personnel, would mean 35,000 troops at the very minimum, probably accompanied by an equal number of mercenary contractors. (He may have been erring on the side of modesty, since ! the five super-bases can accommodate between ten and twent y thousand troops each.) These forces will occasionally leave their bases to tamp down civil skirmishes, at a declining cost in casualties. As a senior Bush administration official told the New York Times in June, the long-term bases ‘are all places we could fly in and out of without putting Americans on every street corner’. But their main day-to-day function will be to protect the oil infrastructure.
This is the ‘mess’ that Bush-Cheney is going to hand on to the next administration. What if that administration is a Democratic one? Will it dismantle the bases and withdraw US forces entirely? That seems unlikely, considering the many beneficiaries of the continued occupation of Iraq and the exploitation of its oil resources. The three principal Democratic candidates – Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards – have already hedged their bets, refusing to promise that, if elected, they would remove American forces from Iraq before 2013, the end of their first term.
Among the winners: oil-services companies like Halliburton; the oil companies themselves (the profits will be unimaginable, and even Democrats can be bought); US voters, who will be guaranteed price stability at the gas pump (which sometimes seems to be all they care about); Europe and Japan, which will both benefit from Western control of such a large part of the world’s oil reserves, and whose leaders will therefore wink at the permanent occupation; and, oddly enough, Osama bin Laden, who will never again have to worry about US troops profaning the holy places of Mecca and Medina, since the stability of the House of Saud will no longer be paramount among American concerns. Among the losers is Russia, which will no longer be able! to lord its own energy resources over Europe. Another big loser is Opec, and especially Saudi Arabia, whose power to keep oil prices high by enforcing production quotas will be seriously compromised.
Then there is the case of Iran, which is more complicated. In the short term, Iran has done quite well out of the Iraq war. Iraq’s ruling Shia coalition is now dominated by a faction friendly to Tehran, and the US has willy-nilly armed and trained the most pro-Iranian elements in the Iraqi military. As for Iran’s nuclear! programme, neither air strikes nor negotiations seem likely to derail it at the moment. But the Iranian regime is precarious. Unpopular mullahs hold onto power by financing internal security services and buying off elites with oil money, which accounts for 70 per cent of government revenues. If the price of oil were suddenly to drop to, say, $40 a barrel (from a current price just north of $80), the repressive regime in Tehran would lose its steady income. And that is an outcome the US could easily achieve by opening the Iraqi oil spigot for as long as necessary (perhaps taking down Venezuela’s oil-cocky Hugo Chávez into the bargain).
And think of the United States vis-à-vis China. As a consequence of our trade deficit, around a trillion dollars’ worth of US denominated debt (including $400 billion in US Treasury bonds) is held by China. This gives Beijing enormous leverage over Washington: by offloading big chunks of US debt, China could bring the American economy to its knees. China’s own economy is, according to official figures, expanding at something like 10 per cent a year. Even if the actual figure is closer to 4 or 5 per cent, as some believe, China’s increasing heft poses a threat to US interests. (One fact: China is acquiring new submarines five times faster than the US.) And the main constraint on China’s growth is its access to energy – which, with the US in control of the biggest share of world oil, would largely be at Washington’s sufferance. Thus is the Chinese threat neutralised.
Many people are still perplexed by exactly what moved Bush-Cheney to invade and occupy Iraq. In the 27 September issue of the New York Review of Books, Thomas Powers, one of the most astute watchers of the intelligence world, admitted to a degree of bafflement. ‘What’s particularly odd,’ he wrote, ‘is that there seems to be no sophisticated, professional, insiders’ version of the thinking that drove events.’ Alan Greenspan, in his just published memoir, is clearer on the matter. ‘I am saddened,’ he writes, ‘that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.’
Was the strategy of invading Iraq to take control of its oil resources actually hammered out by Cheney’s 2001 energy task force? One can’t know for sure, since the deliberations of that task force, made up largely of oil and energy company executives, have been kept secret by the administration on the grounds of ‘executive privilege’. One can’t say for certain that oil supplied the prime motive. But the hypothesis is quite powerful when it comes to explaining what has actually happened in Iraq. The occupation may seem horribly botched on the face of it, but the Bush administration’s cavalier attitude towards ‘nation! -building’ has all but ensured that Iraq will end up as an American protectorate for the next few decades – a necessary condition for the extraction of its oil wealth. If the US had managed to create a strong, democratic government in an Iraq effectively secured by its own army and police force, and had then departed, what would have stopped that government from taking control of its own oil, like every other regime in the Middle East? On the assumption that the Bush-Cheney strategy is oil-centred, the tactics – dissolving the army, de-Baathification, a final ‘surge’ that has hastened internal migration – could scarcely have been more effective. The costs – a few billion dollars a month plus a few dozen American fatalities (a figure which will probably diminish, and which is in any case comparable to the number of US motorcyclists killed because o! f repealed helmet laws) – are negligible compared to $30 t rillion in oil wealth, assured American geopolitical supremacy and cheap gas for voters. In terms of realpolitik, the invasion of Iraq is not a fiasco; it is a resounding success.
Still, there is reason to be sceptical of the picture I have drawn: it implies that a secret and highly ambitious plan turned out just the way its devisers foresaw, and that almost never happens.
Jim Holt writes for the New York Times Magazine and the New Yorker.
After a short hiatus (couple of months), due to general discouragement on witnessing the Democrats' flabby performance, I rejoin today the ranks of bloggers with the intention of writing somethings myself, not relying only on my favorite Krugman (and others) to provide material.
It so happens that in my beautiful little town of Saratoga Springs we are also fighting for the soul of the Democratic Party. Only that the content of the fight has very little to do with Democratic politics and a lot about personalities. Take the water question, for instance. Saratoga Springs needs a new water source to be developed over the next few years. Opposition to the County Board of Supervisors' (dominated by Republicans) regional (or at least territorial) water supply project has spawned a smaller, individualistic water supply project from a shared lake a few miles away. Ownership of this project has been claimed by the Department of Public Works and its evergreen Commissioner and Democratic thinking on the subject has been taken hostage by his preference for a biiiig project regardless of the fact that the City may not be able to afford it. Other infrastructure projects, like a new Public Safety Building (the present one dates from 1883, yes, more than one hundred years ago), find no place on the City's investment agenda, because Public Works will not let anything go forward that it cannot put on its own dance-card. So Democrats have now split into two fortified redoubts, one side refusing to talk to anybody who does not contribute to the aggrandizement of the Commissioner of Public Works, the other, assembled around the incumbent Democratic Mayor, refusing to contemplate even pronouncing the Commissioner's name, except as an expletive. One would think that when the election is done in two weeks time, the incumbent Madam Mayor, unendorsed by the Democratic machine, having won two primaries and possibly two elections, should be able to command some respect from everybody. We shall see on the morning after, but the signs are not good. Meanwhile, who is minding the store?
October 19, 2007 Op-Ed Columnist Death of the Machine
By PAUL KRUGMAN “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.” So declared Mark Hanna, the great Gilded Age political boss.
Karl Rove has often described Hanna as his role model. And predictions that Mr. Rove and his disciples would succeed in creating a permanent Republican majority — I have a whole bookshelf of volumes with titles like “One Party Nation” and “Building Red America” — depended crucially on the assumption that the G.O.P. would have vastly more money than its opponents. It might even, some thought, match the 10-to-1 advantage Hanna gave William McKinley when he ran against William Jennings Bryan.
Oops. According to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, in the current election cycle every one of the top 10 industries making political donations is giving more money to Democrats. Even industries that have in the past been overwhelmingly Republican, like insurance and pharmaceuticals, are now splitting their donations more or less evenly. Oil and gas is the only major industry that the G.O.P. can still call its own.
The sudden burst of corporate affection for Democrats is good news for the party’s campaign committees, but not necessarily good news for progressives. Before I get to the down side, however, let’s talk about why business seems to be giving up on the G.O.P.
To some extent it’s a matter of cold political calculation. Polls, plus a wave of G.O.P. retirements, suggest that next year the Democrats will expand their majority in the House, which is already bigger than anything the Republicans ever had during their 12-year reign. Of the 34 Senate seats up for election, 22 are held by Republicans, and major Democratic gains seem all but inevitable.
Add to this the weakness of the Republican presidential field, and it’s not surprising that lobbyists are casting in their lot with the likely winners. But that’s not the whole story.
There’s also disgust, even in the corporate world, with the corruption and incompetence of the Bush years. People on the left often describe the Bush administration as an agent of corporate America; that’s giving it too much credit.
The truth is that while the administration has lavished favors on some powerful, established corporations, the biggest scandals have involved companies that were small or didn’t exist at all until they started getting huge contracts thanks to their political connections. Thus, Blackwater USA was a tiny business until it somehow became the leading supplier of mercenaries for the War on Terror™.
And the lethal amateurishness of these loyal Bushies on the make horrifies the corporate elite almost as much as it horrifies ordinary Americans.
Last but not least, even corporations are relieved to see the end of what amounted to a protection racket.
In a classic 2003 article in The Washington Monthly, Nicholas Confessore (now at The New York Times) described the efforts of people like former Senator Rick Santorum to turn K Street into an appendage of the Republican Party — not the other way around. “The corporate lobbyists who once ran the show, loyal only to the parochial interests of their employer,” wrote Mr. Confessore, “are being replaced by party activists who are loyal first and foremost to the G.O.P.”
But corporations weren’t happy. According to The Politico, “many C.E.O.’s” used the term “extortion” to describe “the annual shakedowns by committee chairmen with jurisdiction over their industries.” And now that Mr. Santorum is out of office, heading the America’s Enemies program at a right-wing think tank, the faint sound you hear from K Street is that of lobbyists singing: “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.”
All of this greatly increases the odds that the Republicans, far from establishing a permanent majority, will be out of power for quite a while. But it also raises the question of what Democratic rule will really mean.
Right now all the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination are running on strongly progressive platforms — especially on health care. But there remain real concerns about what they would actually do in office.
Here’s an example of the sort of thing that makes you wonder: yesterday ABC News reported on its Web site that the Clinton campaign is holding a “Rural Americans for Hillary” lunch and campaign briefing — at the offices of the Troutman Sanders Public Affairs Group, which lobbies for the agribusiness and biotech giant Monsanto. You don’t have to be a Naderite to feel uncomfortable about the implied closeness.
I’d put it this way: many progressives, myself included, hope that the next president will be another F.D.R. But we worry that he or she will turn out to be another Grover Cleveland instead — better-intentioned and much more competent than the current occupant of the White House, but too dependent on lobbyists’ money to seriously confront the excesses of our new Gilded Age.
Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) http://www.fair.org
Extra! May/June 2007
Asleep at the Wheel Press ignores congressional OK for martial law
By Robert Kubey
On October 17, 2006, when George W. Bush signed the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2007—a $538 billion military spending bill—he enacted into law a section called “Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies.” In the view of many, this Act substantially changed fundamental laws of the United States, giving Bush—and all future U.S. presidents—new and sweeping powers to use the U.S. military anywhere in the United States, virtually as he sees fit—for disaster relief, crowd control, suppression of public disorder, or any “other condition” that might arise.
News coverage of these significant changes in the law has been virtually nonexistent. At nearly every stage when it might have received coverage, the news media have completely ignored the story: When the NDAA was debated, when it was passed in the House on September 29 and in the Senate on Sept. 30, 2006, when it was signed into law on October 17, and even when Senate Judiciary chair Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.) introduced his own bill on February 7, 2007 to overturn the Oct. 17 measures, mainstream media have provided no news coverage. Only on April 24, 2007, when the first hearings were held on Leahy’s bill, did a handful of mainstream media reports appear.
What could happen under the new law? As just one example, let’s say hundreds of demonstrators in Boston engaged in civil disobedience, sitting-in on the Boston Common to protest the country’s policies in Iraq, and traffic ground to a halt. Under the new law, the president could order in the Massachusetts National Guard to clear out the protesters even if the Massachusetts governor opposed this.
Indeed, the president could order the Guard of any state into any other state—even if the governors of both states objected. Or the president could choose to use any element of the U.S. military—the Army, Air Force, Navy or Marines—to suppress a protest or carry out practically any kind of domestic action the president desired. And all of this with essentially no oversight—or checks and balances—on how the commander-in-chief uses these powers. Basically, after sending the National Guard somewhere, he or she merely needs to report to Congress every couple of weeks to let them know what the Guard is doing.
The law is so vague and far-reaching that numerous, normally conservative military and law enforcement groups, including the National Guard Association, the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Adjutants General Association, have publicly come out against it, pledging their support for a new, bipartisan Senate bill, S. 513, from senators Leahy and Christopher Bond (R.-Mo.) that would overturn all the changes in law that occurred this past October. (There’s an identical, bipartisan companion bill in the House as well.)
It’s striking that even with the National Guard Association itself opposing Bush in this matter, there’s been next to no news coverage. Indeed, the Association (2/7/07) called the Act a “dangerous precedent,” with “the exploitation of the language of the Insurrection Act as a surreptitious method to gain special presidential authority where clearly the Congress has never intended the federal executive to hold sway.” (Rather than spelling out the sweeping changes it effected, the act made minor changes in the 1807 Insurrection Act that had major consequences.)
The National Governors Association is displeased as well. In rare unanimity, the association called, on February 2, 2007, for the new law to be overturned, saying that it “unnecessarily expanded the president’s authority to federalize the National Guard,” a change “drafted without consultation with the governors and without full discussion or debate.” All 50 U.S. governors have signed on to the association’s letter of opposition—including all 22 Republican governors.
The Adjutants General Association, which represents officers responsible for National Guard training and readiness, also stands in opposition to the Act, saying (2/7/07) that the language of the NDAA “significantly broadens the president’s ability to declare martial law and mobilize the National Guard under national command without consulting with the governors.” It adds that this broadening was “completely unnecessary” and done without any “committee or floor debate in either legislative chamber and with explicit opposition from the governors.”
The National Sheriffs’ Association declared itself (2/20/07) gravely concerned that such empowering language, as well as ambiguity of the new language, particularly its reference to the “other conditions” under which the president can invoke the Act, creates the likelihood that the Act will be invoked more frequently and hastily during such emergencies.
One might think that major military and law enforcement organizations and the united governors registering their displeasure would spark some news coverage, investigation and public debate. Yet the first news coverage did not appear until the first hearings on the Leahy/Bond bill, over six months after the bill was first signed. Even then, there was just a handful of stories—among them wire stories by Cox (4/24/07), McClatchy (4/25/07) and AP (4/25/07), and editorials in the Winston-Salem Journal (4/27/07) and Newsday (4/27/07).
Until the hearings, none of the many twists and turns of this story since the summer of 2006 has resulted in a single news story in any mainstream outlet we could identify—including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report.
Searches of transcripts for ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNBC, CNN, PBS and NPR likewise revealed no coverage. Even journals of opinion like the Nation, New Republic, National Review and Weekly Standard have managed to avoid the topic.
While there was no news coverage, four months and two days after the bill was signed into law, the New York Times (2/19/07) did take notice with an editorial headlined “Making Martial Law Easier.” Though the nation’s paper of record has yet to treat the changes in the law as a news story, the Times did make several noteworthy points:
A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night. So it was with a provision quietly tucked into the enormous defense budget bill at the Bush administration’s behest that makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law. . . . The president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or to any “other condition.”
The most substantive online coverage of the legal change was in the progressive online journal Toward Freedom (10/26/06), posted by Frank Morales shortly after Bush signed the bill. Morales wrote that
the de-facto repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA) is an ominous assault on American democratic tradition and jurisprudence. The 1878 Act . . . is the only U.S. criminal statute that outlaws military operations directed against the American people under the cover of “law enforcement.” As such, it has been the best protection we’ve had against the power-hungry intentions of an unscrupulous and reckless executive, an executive intent on using force to enforce its will.
Toward Freedom’s article was reposted on a number of blogs, and letters to the editor based on its reporting appeared in a handful of papers that otherwise failed to mention the issue. A letter by Eve Nielsen in the Centralia, Wash., Chronicle (11/15/06) was typical, warning that the bill
enables Bush to declare a “national emergency,” to usurp control over the National Guard and to use the military against American citizens in this country—in other words, martial law. Serious investigation into Bush’s crimes or impeachment could constitute such an emergency.
What does it say about the fourth estate that such significant changes occur in our laws without news media coverage and without the intelligent and vigorous public debate one would hope for in the world’s oldest democracy? The Jeffersonian ideal is of a well-informed citizenry capable of intelligent self-determination. All too often, thanks to a media asleep at the wheel, precious few even know that something has happened.
Robert Kubey is director of the Center for Media Studies and professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University. Research for this article was conducted by Rutgers undergraduates Sean Karpowicz, Kyle Pucciarello and Annie Sgrignoli. Doctoral student Mary Nucci provided consultation in the use of Lexis-Nexis.
If you think people do not go hungry in America, you’re wrong. At last count in 2005, 35 million low-income Americans — about a third of them children — lived in households that cannot consistently afford enough to eat. Since 2005, the situation has most likely become worse. Last year, real wages for low-income workers were still below 2001 levels. This year, job growth is slowing and prices are rising.
And each year, the federal food stamp program — the bulwark against hunger for 26 million Americans — does less to help. In large part, that is because a key component of the formula for computing most families’ food stamps has not been adjusted for inflation since 1996. Over all, food stamps now average a meager $1.05 per person per meal.
Bolstering food stamps must be Congress’s top priority in this year’s farm bill, the mammoth legislation that covers the food stamp program.
Most important, lawmakers must stop the erosion in the purchasing power of food stamps, either by pegging the benefit formula to inflation or by making a big increase in the formula’s standard deduction. In 2002, when the last farm bill was passed, Congress improved the benefit formula for households with four or more people. But nearly 80 percent of all food stamp households have three or fewer members. It is unacceptable that their food stamps buy less food each year.
Congress should also repeal the provision that imposes a five-year residency requirement on otherwise eligible adult legal immigrants. (Illegal immigrants are not eligible for food stamps.) The children of such immigrants — 80 percent of whom are United States citizens — can receive food stamps without waiting. But confusion over the rules keeps many of them out of the program. The Department of Agriculture reports that of the children of immigrant parents who are citizens and eligible for food stamps, only 52 percent got them in 2004, compared with 82 percent of eligible children over all.
Taken together, those two reforms would cost roughly $3 billion over the next five years. In the competitive frenzy of a farm bill, that is money lawmakers would be inclined to fight over. But Democrats and Republicans alike must realize that improving food stamps is a moral and economic necessity. Food stamp allotments were cut in 1996 to free up money to ease the transition from welfare to work. But since then, food stamps themselves have become a crucial support for working families. Among food stamp households with children, twice as many work as rely solely on welfare.
Inadequate aid affects not only the amount of food a family can buy, but also the types of purchases. With too few dollars to spend, junk food becomes the best value because it is calorie dense, cheap and imperishable.
Adjustments around the edges of the food stamp program will not be enough. President Bush has proposed exempting families’ meager retirement savings when calculating whether they are poor enough for food stamps. He also wants to allow families to deduct their full child care costs from the benefit calculation. Both changes would be helpful and Congress should embrace them. But Congress also needs to make much bigger changes, now.
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Open Forum Why there was no exit plan Lewis Seiler, Dan Hamburg Monday, April 30, 2007 Printable Version Email This Article
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There are people in Washington ... who never intend to withdraw military forces from Iraq and they're looking for 10, 20, 50 years in the future ... the reason that we went into Iraq was to establish a permanent military base in the Gulf region, and I have never heard any of our leaders say that they would commit themselves to the Iraqi people that 10 years from now there will be no military bases of the United States in Iraq. -- former President Jimmy Carter, Feb. 3, 2006 For all the talk about timetables and benchmarks, one might think that the United States will end the military occupation of Iraq within the lifetimes of the readers of this opinion editorial. Think again. There is to be no withdrawal from Iraq, just as there has been no withdrawal from hundreds of places around the world that are outposts of the American empire. As UC San Diego professor emeritus Chalmers Johnson put it, "One of the reasons we had no exit plan from Iraq is that we didn't intend to leave." The United States maintains 737 military bases in 130 countries across the globe. They exist for the purpose of defending the economic interests of the United States, what is euphemistically called "national security." In order to secure favorable access to Iraq's vast reserves of light crude, the United States is spending billions on the construction of at least five large permanent military bases throughout that country. A new Iraq oil law, largely written by the Coalition Provisional Authority, is planned for ratification by June. This law cedes control of Iraq's oil to western powers for 30 years . There is major opposition to the proposed law within Iraq, especially among the country's five trade union federations that represent hundreds of thousands of oil workers. The United States is working hard to surmount this opposition by appealing directly to the al-Maliki government in Iraq. The attack upon, and subsequent occupation of, Iraq can be seen as a direct result of the 2001 National Energy Policy Development Group (better known as vice president Cheney's energy task force) that was comprised largely of oil and energy company executives. This task force -- the proceedings of which have been kept secret by the administration on the grounds of "executive privilege" -- recommended that the U.S. government support initiatives in Middle Eastern countries "to open up areas of their energy sector to foreign investment." As Antonio Juhasz, an analyst with Oil Change International wrote last month in the New York Times, "One invasion and a great deal of political engineering by the Bush administration later, this is exactly what the proposed Iraq oil law would achieve." The people of the United States have indicated, in the national election last November and in countless polls, that they no longer support the Bush administration's war. The Scooter Libby trial revealed that top administration officials, including the vice president, "cherry-picked" and distorted intelligence in order to sell a "pre-emptive" war to a spooked public. The squandering of hundreds of billions of dollars, some billions of which, according to Seymour Hersh writing in the New Yorker, is being siphoned into "black-ops" programs being run out of Cheney's office (a stunning redux of Iran-Contra carried out by many of the same actors), has also strained the patience and credulity of the American people. Another betrayal is the "contracting out" of "war-related activities" to corporations such as Halliburton, Bechtel, Chemonics and Blackwater. Halliburton, Vice President Cheney's previous employer, calls itself an "energy services company" but has tentacles reaching into nearly every aspect of the war (originally dubbed Operation Iraqi Liberation until some bright bulb among the Bushies realized that "OIL" might not be the best handle for this venture). Halliburton has also profited handsomely from no-bid government contracts awarded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the construction at the national embarrassment known as "Gitmo," and most recently, from the fiasco at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, all this corruption, mayhem and death are good for some (or it wouldn't go on). The U.S. military budget, larger than the military budgets of the rest of the world's nations combined, continues skyward, even without all the "supplementals" passed regularly by Congress to fight the "war on terror." The question we must ask as citizens is this: Is the United States a democratic republic or an empire? History demonstrates that it's not possible to be both. Lewis Seiler is president of Voice of the Environment. Dan Hamburg, a former U.S. representative, is executive director. This article appeared on page B - 7 of the San Francisco Chronicle
February 1, 2007 Empire v. Democracy: Why Nemesis Is at Our Door by Chalmers Johnson and Tom Engelhardt TomDispatch The dream of the Bush administration – eternal global domination abroad with no other superpower or bloc of powers on the military horizon and a Republican Party dominant at home for at least a generation – long ago evaporated in Iraq. A midterm election and subsequent devastating polling figures tell the tale. The days when neocons, their supporters, and attending pundits talked about the US as the "new Rome" of planet Earth now seem to exist on the other side of some Startrekkian wormhole.
And yet the imperial damage remains everywhere around us. Give the Bush administration credit. They moved the goalposts. They created the sort of dystopian imperial reality (as well as a mess of future-busting proportions) that a generation of relative sanity might not be able to fully reverse. The facts on the ground – the vastness of the Pentagon, the power of the military-industrial complex, the inept but already bloated Homeland Security Department (and the vast security interests coalescing around it), the staggering alphabet (or acronym) soup of the "Intelligence Community" – all of this militates against real change, which is why we need Chalmers Johnson.
Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, the final volume of his Blowback trilogy, is about to storm your local bookstore (and can be pre-ordered at Amazon now). It is a reminder of just how far we've moved from the sort of democratic America that the president is always holding up as a model to the rest of the world. As with Blowback and The Sorrows of Empire before it, Nemesis, Johnson's grand, if grim, conclusion to our American tragedy, is simply a must-read. While you're waiting for the book to arrive in your hands, you can get a little preview of its themes below. ~ Tom
Empire v. Democracy: Why Nemesis Is at Our Door by Chalmers Johnson
History tells us that one of the most unstable political combinations is a country – like the United States today – that tries to be a domestic democracy and a foreign imperialist. Why this is so can be a very abstract subject. Perhaps the best way to offer my thoughts on this is to say a few words about my new book, Nemesis, and explain why I gave it the subtitle, "The Last Days of the American Republic." Nemesis is the third book to have grown out of my research over the past eight years. I never set out to write a trilogy on our increasingly endangered democracy, but as I kept stumbling on ever more evidence of the legacy of the imperialist pressures we put on many other countries as well as the nature and size of our military empire, one book led to another.
Professionally, I am a specialist in the history and politics of East Asia. In 2000, I published Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, because my research on China, Japan, and the two Koreas persuaded me that our policies there would have serious future consequences. The book was noticed at the time, but only after 9/11 did the CIA term I adapted for the title – "blowback" – become a household word and my volume a bestseller.
I had set out to explain how exactly our government came to be so hated around the world. As a CIA term of tradecraft, "blowback" does not just mean retaliation for things our government has done to, and in, foreign countries. It refers specifically to retaliation for illegal operations carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public. These operations have included the clandestine overthrow of governments various administrations did not like, the training of foreign militaries in the techniques of state terrorism, the rigging of elections in foreign countries, interference with the economic viability of countries that seemed to threaten the interests of influential American corporations, as well as the torture or assassination of selected foreigners. The fact that these actions were, at least originally, secret meant that when retaliation does come – as it did so spectacularly on September 11, 2001 – the American public is incapable of putting the events in context. Not surprisingly, then, Americans tend to support speedy acts of revenge intended to punish the actual, or alleged, perpetrators. These moments of lashing out, of course, only prepare the ground for yet another cycle of blowback.
A World of Bases
As a continuation of my own analytical odyssey, I then began doing research on the network of 737 American military bases we maintained around the world (according to the Pentagon's own 2005 official inventory). Not including the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, we now station over half a million US troops, spies, contractors, dependents, and others on military bases located in more than 130 countries, many of them presided over by dictatorial regimes that have given their citizens no say in the decision to let us in.
As but one striking example of imperial basing policy: For the past sixty-one years, the US military has garrisoned the small Japanese island of Okinawa with 37 bases. Smaller than Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, Okinawa is home to 1.3 million people who live cheek-by-jowl with 17,000 Marines of the 3rd Marine Division and the largest US installation in East Asia – Kadena Air Force Base. There have been many Okinawan protests against the rapes, crimes, accidents, and pollution caused by this sort of concentration of American troops and weaponry, but so far the US military – in collusion with the Japanese government – has ignored them. My research into our base world resulted in The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, written during the run-up to the Iraq invasion.
As our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq turned into major fiascoes, discrediting our military leadership, ruining our public finances, and bringing death and destruction to hundreds of thousands of civilians in those countries, I continued to ponder the issue of empire. In these years, it became ever clearer that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their supporters were claiming, and actively assuming, powers specifically denied to a president by our Constitution. It became no less clear that Congress had almost completely abdicated its responsibilities to balance the power of the executive branch. Despite the Democratic sweep in the 2006 election, it remains to be seen whether these tendencies can, in the long run, be controlled, let alone reversed.
Until the 2004 presidential election, ordinary citizens of the United States could at least claim that our foreign policy, including our illegal invasion of Iraq, was the work of George Bush's administration and that we had not put him in office. After all, in 2000, Bush lost the popular vote and was appointed president thanks to the intervention of the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision. But in November 2004, regardless of claims about voter fraud, Bush actually won the popular vote by over 3.5 million ballots, making his regime and his wars ours.
Whether Americans intended it or not, we are now seen around the world as approving the torture of captives at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, at Bagram Air Base in Kabul, at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and at a global network of secret CIA prisons, as well as having endorsed Bush's claim that, as commander-in-chief in "wartime," he is beyond all constraints of the Constitution or international law. We are now saddled with a rigged economy based on record-setting trade and fiscal deficits, the most secretive and intrusive government in our country's memory, and the pursuit of "preventive" war as a basis for foreign policy. Don't forget as well the potential epidemic of nuclear proliferation as other nations attempt to adjust to and defend themselves against Bush's preventive wars, while our own already staggering nuclear arsenal expands toward first-strike primacy and we expend unimaginable billions on futuristic ideas for warfare in outer space.
The Choice Ahead
By the time I came to write Nemesis, I no longer doubted that maintaining our empire abroad required resources and commitments that would inevitably undercut, or simply skirt, what was left of our domestic democracy and that might, in the end, produce a military dictatorship or – far more likely – its civilian equivalent. The combination of huge standing armies, almost continuous wars, an ever growing economic dependence on the military-industrial complex and the making of weaponry, and ruinous military expenses as well as a vast, bloated "defense" budget, not to speak of the creation of a whole second Defense Department (known as the Department of Homeland Security) has been destroying our republican structure of governing in favor of an imperial presidency. By republican structure, of course, I mean the separation of powers and the elaborate checks and balances that the founders of our country wrote into the Constitution as the main bulwarks against dictatorship and tyranny, which they greatly feared.
We are on the brink of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation starts down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play – isolation, overstretch, the uniting of local and global forces opposed to imperialism, and in the end bankruptcy.
History is instructive on this dilemma. If we choose to keep our empire, as the Roman republic did, we will certainly lose our democracy and grimly await the eventual blowback that imperialism generates. There is an alternative, however. We could, like the British Empire after World War II, keep our democracy by giving up our empire. The British did not do a particularly brilliant job of liquidating their empire and there were several clear cases where British imperialists defied their nation's commitment to democracy in order to hang on to foreign privileges. The war against the Kikuyu in Kenya in the 1950s and the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956 are particularly savage examples of that. But the overall thrust of postwar British history is clear: the people of the British Isles chose democracy over imperialism.
In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, the political philosopher Hannah Arendt offered the following summary of British imperialism and its fate:
"On the whole it was a failure because of the dichotomy between the nation-state's legal principles and the methods needed to oppress other people permanently. This failure was neither necessary nor due to ignorance or incompetence. British imperialists knew very well that 'administrative massacres' could keep India in bondage, but they also knew that public opinion at home would not stand for such measures. Imperialism could have been a success if the nation-state had been willing to pay the price, to commit suicide and transform itself into a tyranny. It is one of the glories of Europe, and especially of Great Britain, that she preferred to liquidate the empire."
I agree with this judgment. When one looks at Prime Minister Tony Blair's unnecessary and futile support of Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq, one can only conclude that it was an atavistic response, that it represented a British longing to relive the glories – and cruelties – of a past that should have been ancient history.
As a form of government, imperialism does not seek or require the consent of the governed. It is a pure form of tyranny. The American attempt to combine domestic democracy with such tyrannical control over foreigners is hopelessly contradictory and hypocritical. A country can be democratic or it can be imperialistic, but it cannot be both.
The Road to Imperial Bankruptcy
The American political system failed to prevent this combination from developing – and may now be incapable of correcting it. The evidence strongly suggests that the legislative and judicial branches of our government have become so servile in the presence of the imperial Presidency that they have largely lost the ability to respond in a principled and independent manner. Even in the present moment of congressional stirring, there seems to be a deep sense of helplessness. Various members of Congress have already attempted to explain how the one clear power they retain – to cut off funds for a disastrous program – is not one they are currently prepared to use.
So the question becomes, if not Congress, could the people themselves restore Constitutional government? A grassroots movement to abolish secret government, to bring the CIA and other illegal spying operations and private armies out of the closet of imperial power and into the light, to break the hold of the military-industrial complex, and to establish genuine public financing of elections may be at least theoretically conceivable. But given the conglomerate control of our mass media and the difficulties of mobilizing our large and diverse population, such an opting for popular democracy, as we remember it from our past, seems unlikely.
It is possible that, at some future moment, the US military could actually take over the government and declare a dictatorship (though its commanders would undoubtedly find a gentler, more user-friendly name for it). That is, after all, how the Roman republic ended – by being turned over to a populist general, Julius Caesar, who had just been declared dictator for life. After his assassination and a short interregnum, it was his grandnephew Octavian who succeeded him and became the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar. The American military is unlikely to go that route. But one cannot ignore the fact that professional military officers seem to have played a considerable role in getting rid of their civilian overlord, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The new directors of the CIA, its main internal branches, the National Security Agency, and many other key organs of the "defense establishment" are now military (or ex-military) officers, strongly suggesting that the military does not need to take over the government in order to control it. Meanwhile, the all-volunteer army has emerged as an ever more separate institution in our society, its profile less and less like that of the general populace.
Nonetheless, military coups, however decorous, are not part of the American tradition, nor that of the officer corps, which might well worry about how the citizenry would react to a move toward open military dictatorship. Moreover, prosecutions of low-level military torturers from Abu Ghraib prison and killers of civilians in Iraq have demonstrated to enlisted troops that obedience to illegal orders can result in dire punishment in a situation where those of higher rank go free. No one knows whether ordinary soldiers, even from what is no longer in any normal sense a citizen army, would obey clearly illegal orders to oust an elected government or whether the officer corps would ever have sufficient confidence to issue such orders. In addition, the present system already offers the military high command so much – in funds, prestige, and future employment via the famed "revolving door" of the military-industrial complex – that a perilous transition to anything like direct military rule would make little sense under reasonably normal conditions.
Whatever future developments may prove to be, my best guess is that the US will continue to maintain a façade of Constitutional government and drift along until financial bankruptcy overtakes it. Of course, bankruptcy will not mean the literal end of the US any more than it did for Germany in 1923, China in 1948, or Argentina in 2001-2002. It might, in fact, open the way for an unexpected restoration of the American system – or for military rule, revolution, or simply some new development we cannot yet imagine.
Certainly, such a bankruptcy would mean a drastic lowering of our standard of living, a further loss of control over international affairs, a sudden need to adjust to the rise of other powers, including China and India, and a further discrediting of the notion that the United States is somehow exceptional compared to other nations. We will have to learn what it means to be a far poorer country – and the attitudes and manners that go with it. As Anatol Lieven, author of America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, observes:
"US global power, as presently conceived by the overwhelming majority of the US establishment, is unsustainable. . . The empire can no longer raise enough taxes or soldiers, it is increasingly indebted, and key vassal states are no longer reliable. . . The result is that the empire can no longer pay for enough of the professional troops it needs to fulfill its self-assumed imperial tasks." In February 2006, the Bush administration submitted to Congress a $439 billion defense appropriation budget for fiscal year 2007. As the country enters 2007, the administration is about to present a nearly $100 billion supplementary request to Congress just for the Iraq and Afghan wars. At the same time, the deficit in the country's current account – the imbalance in the trading of goods and services as well as the shortfall in all other cross-border payments from interest income and rents to dividends and profits on direct investments – underwent its fastest ever quarterly deterioration. For 2005, the current account deficit was $805 billion, 6.4% of national income. In 2005, the US trade deficit, the largest component of the current account deficit, soared to an all-time high of $725.8 billion, the fourth consecutive year that America's trade debts set records. The trade deficit with China alone rose to $201.6 billion, the highest imbalance ever recorded with any country. Meanwhile, since mid-2000, the country has lost nearly three million manufacturing jobs.
To try to cope with these imbalances, on March 16, 2006, Congress raised the national debt limit from $8.2 trillion to $8.96 trillion. This was the fourth time since George W. Bush took office that it had to be raised. The national debt is the total amount owed by the government and should not be confused with the federal budget deficit, the annual amount by which federal spending exceeds revenue. Had Congress not raised the debt limit, the US government would not have been able to borrow more money and would have had to default on its massive debts.
Among the creditors that finance these unprecedented sums, the two largest are the central banks of China (with $853.7 billion in reserves) and Japan (with $831.58 billion in reserves), both of which are the managers of the huge trade surpluses these countries enjoy with the United States. This helps explain why our debt burden has not yet triggered what standard economic theory would dictate: a steep decline in the value of the US dollar followed by a severe contraction of the American economy when we found we could no longer afford the foreign goods we like so much. So far, both the Chinese and Japanese governments continue to be willing to be paid in dollars in order to sustain American purchases of their exports.
For the sake of their own domestic employment, both countries lend huge amounts to the American treasury, but there is no guarantee of how long they will want to, or be able to do so. Marshall Auerback, an international financial strategist, says we have become a "Blanche Dubois economy" (so named after the leading character in the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire) heavily dependent on "the kindness of strangers." Unfortunately, in our case, as in Blanche's, there are ever fewer strangers willing to support our illusions.
So my own hope is that – if the American people do not find a way to choose democracy over empire – at least our imperial venture will end not with a nuclear bang but a financial whimper. From the present vantage point, it certainly seems a daunting challenge for any president (or Congress) from either party even to begin the task of dismantling the military-industrial complex, ending the pall of "national security" secrecy and the "black budgets" that make public oversight of what our government does impossible, and bringing the president's secret army, the CIA, under democratic control. It's evident that Nemesis – in Greek mythology the goddess of vengeance, the punisher of hubris and arrogance – is already a visitor in our country, simply biding her time before she makes her presence known.
a project of the Nation Institute compiled and edited by Tom Engelhardt
Tomgram: The Theater of the Imperially Absurd
This post can be found at http://www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=183573
[Tomdispatch recommendations: International human rights lawyer Scott Horton has long had a remarkably informative private newsletter, "No Comment," which is now lodged at the Harper's Magazine website where anyone can read it. It's an invaluable resource. On the subject of invaluable resources, don't miss my daily web-stop, Juan Cole's indispensible Informed Comment. Jonathan Schwarz, who has written for Tomdispatch, recently created a five-minute "Bush intervention" video which amused me greatly. Tom]
Six Crises in Search of an Author
How the Bush Administration Destabilized the "Arc of Instability" By Tom Engelhardt One night when I was in my teens, I found myself at a production of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. I had never heard of the playwright or the play, nor had I seen a play performed in the round. The actors were dramatically entering and exiting in the aisles when, suddenly, a man stood up in the audience, proclaimed himself a seventh character in search of an author, and demanded the same attention as the other six. At the time, I assumed the unruly "seventh character" was just part of the play, even after he was summarily ejected from the theater.
Now, bear with me a moment here. Back in 2002-2003, officials in the Bush administration and their neocon supporters, retro-think-tank admirers, and allied media pundits, basking in all their Global War on Terror glory, were eager to talk about the region extending from North Africa through the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the former SSRs of Central Asia right up to the Chinese border as an "arc of instability." That arc coincided with the energy heartlands of the planet and what was needed to "stabilize" it, to keep those energy supplies flowing freely (and in the right directions), was clear enough to them. The "last superpower," the greatest military force in history, would simply have to put its foot down and so bring to heel the "rogue" powers of the region. The geopolitical nerve would have to be mustered to stamp a massive "footprint" -- to use a Pentagon term of the time -- in the middle of that vast, valuable region. (Such a print was to be measured by military bases established.) Also needed was the nerve not just to lob a few cruise missiles in the direction of Baghdad, but to offer such an imposing demonstration of American shock-and-awe power that those "rogues" -- Iraq, Syria, Iran (Hezbollah, Hamas) -- would be cowed into submission, along with uppity U.S. allies like oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
It would, in fact, be necessary -- in another of those bluntly descriptive words of the era -- to "decapitate" resistant regimes. This would be the first order of business for the planet's lone "hyperpower," now that it had been psychologically mobilized by the attacks of September 11, 2001. After all, what other power on Earth was capable of keeping the uncivilized parts of the planet from descending into failed-state, all-against-all warfare and dragging us (and our energy supplies) down with them?
Mind you, on September 11, 2001, as those towers went down, that arc of instability wasn't exactly a paragon of… well, instability. Yes, on one end was Somalia, a failed state, and on the other, impoverished, rubble-strewn Afghanistan, largely Taliban-ruled (and al-Qaeda encamped); while in-between Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a severely weakened nation with a suffering populace, but the "arc" was wracked by no great wars, no huge surges of refugees, no striking levels of destruction. Not particularly pleasant autocracies, some of a fundamentalist religious nature, were the rule of the day. Oil flowed (at about $23 a barrel); the Israeli-Palestinian conflict simmered uncomfortably; and, all in all, it wasn't a pretty picture, nor a particularly democratic one, nor one in which, if you were an inhabitant of most of these lands, you could expect a fair share of justice or a stunningly good life.
Still, the arc of instability, as a name, was then more prediction than reality. And it was a prediction -- soon enough to become a self-fulfilling prophesy -- on which George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and all those neocons in the Pentagon readily staked careers and reputations. As a crew, already dazzled by American military power and its potential uses, such a bet undoubtedly looked like a sure winner, like betting with the house in a three-card monte scheme. They would just give the arc what it needed -- a few intense doses of cruise-missile and B-1 bomber medicine, add in some high-tech military boots-on-the-ground, some night-vision goggled eyes in the desert, some Hellfire-missile-armed Predator drones overhead, and some "regime-change"-style injections of further instability. It was to be, as Andrew Bacevich has written, "an experiment in creative destruction."
First Afghanistan, then Iraq. Both pushovers. How could the mightiest force on the planet lose to such puny powers? As a start, you would wage a swift air-war/proxy-war/Special-Forces war/dollar-war -- CIA agents would arrive in friendly areas of Northern Afghanistan in late 2001 carrying suitcases stuffed with money -- in one of the most backward places on the planet. Your campaign would be against an ill-organized, ill-armed, ragtag enemy. You would follow that by thrusting into the soft, military underbelly of the Middle East and taking out the hollow armed forces of Saddam Hussein in a "cakewalk."
Next, with your bases set up in Afghanistan and Iraq on either side of Iran -- and Pakistan, also bordering Iran, in hand -- what would it take to run the increasingly unpopular mullahs who governed that land out of Tehran? Meanwhile, Syria, another weakened, wobbly state divided against itself, now hemmed in not only by militarily powerful Israel but American-occupied Iraq on the other would be a pushover. In each of these lands, you would soon enough end up with an American-friendly government, run by some figure like the Pentagon's favorite Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi; and, voilà! (okay, they wouldn't have used French), you would have a Middle East made safe for Israel and for American domination. You would, in short, have your allies in Europe and Japan as well as your possible future enemies, Russia and China, by the throat in an increasingly energy-starved world.
Certainly, many of the top officials of the Bush administration and their neocons allies, dreaming of just such an orderly, American-dominated "Greater Middle East," were ready to settle for a little chaos in the process. If a weakened Iraq broke into several parts; or, say, the oil-rich Shiite areas of Saudi Arabia happened to fall off that country, well, too bad. They'd deal.
Little did they know.
The Tin Touch
Here's the remarkable thing, when you think about it: All the Bush administration had to do was meddle in any country in that arc of instability (and which one didn't it meddle in?), for actual instability, often chaos, sometimes outright disaster to set in. It's been quite a record, the very opposite of an imperial golden touch.
And, on any given day, you can see the evidence of this on a case by case basis in your local paper or on the TV news. You can check out the Iraqi, or Somali, or Lebanese, or Iranian, or Pakistani disasters, or impending disasters. But what you never see is all those crises and potential crises discussed in one place -- without which the magnitude of the present disaster and the dangers in our future are hard to grasp.
Few in the mainstream world have even tried to put them all together since the Bush administration rolled back the media, essentially demobilizing it in 2001-2002, at which point its journalists and pundits simply stopped connecting the dots. Give the Bush administration credit: Its top officials took in the world as a whole and at an imperial glance. They regularly connected the dots as they saw them. The post-9/11 strike at Afghanistan was never simply a strike at al-Qaeda (or the Taliban who hosted them). It was always a prelude to war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And the invasion of Iraq was never meant to end in Baghdad (as indicated in the neocon pre-war quip, "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran"). Nor was Tehran to be the end of the line.
Under the rubric of the "Global War on Terror," they were considering literally dozens of countries as potential future targets. Dick Cheney put the matter bluntly back in August 2002 as the public drumbeat for an invasion of Iraq was just revving up:
"The war in Afghanistan is only the beginning of a lengthy campaign, Cheney noted. 'Were we to stop now, any sense of security we might have would be false and temporary,' he said. 'There is a terrorist underworld out there spread among more than 60 countries.'" Almost immediately after the 9/11 attacks, they began stitching together the arc of instability in their minds with an eye not so much to Arabs, or South Asians, or even Israelis, but to playing their version of what the British imperialists used to call "the Great Game." They had the full-scale rollback of energy-giant Russia in mind as well as the containment or rollback of potential future imperial power, China, already visibly desperate for Iraqi, Iranian, and other energy supplies. In the year before the invasion of Iraq, they were remarkably blunt about this. They proudly published that seminal document of the Bush era, the National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 2002, which called for the U.S. to "build and maintain" its military power on the planet "beyond challenge."
Think about that for a moment. A single power on Earth "beyond challenge." This was a dream of planetary dominion that once would have been left to madmen. But in what looked like a world with only one Great Power, it was easy enough to imagine a Great Game with only one great player, an arms race with only one swift runner.
The Bush administration was essentially calling for a world in which no superpower, or bloc of powers, would ever be allowed to challenge this country's supremacy. As the President put it in an address at West Point in 2002, "America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace." The National Security Strategy put the same thought this way: "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States." That's anywhere on the planet. Ever. And the President and his followers promptly began to hike the Pentagon budget to suit their oversized, military fantasies of what an American "footprint" should be.
With this in mind, the arc of instability, which, in energy-flow terms, was quite literally the planet's heartland, seemed the place to control. And yet -- look hard as you will -– you're unlikely to find a single piece in your daily paper that takes in that arc; that, say, includes Somalia and Pakistan in the same piece, even though Bush administration policy has effectively tied them together in disaster. To take another example, the rise of Iran (and a possible "Shiite crescent"), Iran's influence or interference in Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, and Iran's off-the-wall president have been near obsessions in the U.S. media; and yet, you would be hard-pressed to find a piece even pointing out that the Bush administration's two invasions and occupations -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- which left both those countries bristling with vast American bases and sprawling American-controlled prison systems, took place on either side of Iran. Add in the fact that the Bush administration, probably through the CIA, is essentially running terror raids into Iran through Pakistan and you have a remarkably different vision of Iran's geostrategic situation than even an informed American media consumer would normally see.
After September 11, 2001, but based on the sort of pre-2001 thinking you could find well represented at the neocon website Project for the New American Century, the Bush administration's top officials wrote their own drama for the arc of instability. They were, of course, the main characters in it, along with the U.S. military, some Afghan and Iraqi exiles who would play their necessary roles in the "liberation" of their countries, and a few evil ogres like Saddam Hussein.
Today, not six years after they raised the curtain on what was to be their grand imperial drama, they find themselves in a dark theater with at least six crises in search of an author, all clamoring for attention – and every possibility that a seventh (not to say a seventeenth) "character" in that rowdy, still gathering, audience may soon rise to insist on a part in the horrific farce that has actually taken place.
Six Crises in Search of an Author
Sweeping across the region from East to West, let's briefly note the six festering or clamoring crisis spots, any one of which could end up with the play's major role before George W. Bush slips out of office.
Pakistan: The Pakistani government was America's main partner, along with the Saudis, in funding, arming, and running the anti-Soviet struggle of the mujahedeen, including Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan back in the 1980s; and Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, was the godfather of the Taliban (and remains, it seems, a supporter to this day). In September 2001, the Bush administration gave the country's coup-installed military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, the basic you're-either-with-us-or-against-us choice. He chose the "with" and in the course of these last years, under constant American pressure, has lost almost complete control over Pakistan's tribal regions along the Afghan border to various tribal groups, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other foreign jihadis, who have established bases there. Now, significant parts of the country are experiencing unrest in what looks increasingly like a countdown to chaos in a nuclear-armed nation.
Afghanistan: In the meantime, from those Pakistani base areas, the revived and rearmed Taliban (and their al-Qaeda partners) are preparing to launch a major spring offensive in Afghanistan, using tactics from the Iraq War (suicide bombers or "Mullah Omar's Missiles," as they call them, and the roadside bomb or IED). They are already capable of taking over southern Afghan districts for periods of time. The Bush administration used the Northern Alliance -- that is, proxy Afghan forces -- to take Kabul in November 2001. It then set up its bases and prisons and established President Hamid Karzai as the "mayor of Kabul," only to abandon the task of providing real security and beginning the genuine reconstruction of the country in order to invade Iraq. The rest of this particular horror story is, by now, reasonably well known. The country beyond booming Kabul remains impoverished and significantly in ruins; the population evidently ever more dissatisfied; the American and NATO air war ever more indiscriminate; and it is again the planet's largest producer of opium poppies and, as such, supplier of heroin. Over five years after its "liberation" from the Taliban, Afghanistan is a failed state, home to a successful guerrilla war by one of the most primitively fundamentalist movements on the planet, and a thriving narco-kingdom. It is only likely to get worse. For the first time, the possibility that, like the Russians before them, the Americans (and their NATO allies) could actually suffer defeat in that rugged land seems imaginable.
Iran: The country is a rising regional power, with enormous energy resources, and Shiite allies and allied movements of various sorts throughout the region, including in southern Iraq. But it also has an embattled, divided, fundamentalist government capable of rallying its disgruntled populace only with nationalism (call it, playing the American card). Energy-rich as it is, Iran also has a fractured, weakened economy, threatened with sanctions; and its major enemy, the Bush administration, is running a series of terror operations against it, while trying to cause dissension in its oil-rich minority regions. It is also deploying an unprecedented show of naval and air strength in the Persian Gulf. (An aircraft-carrier, the USS Nimitz, with its strike group, is now on its way to join the two carrier task forces already in place there.) In addition, the administration has threatened to launch a massive air assault on Iran's nuclear and other facilities. Though Iraq runs it a close race, Iran may be the single potentially most explosive hot spot in the arc of instability. In a nanosecond, it would be capable, under U.S. attack, or even some set of miscalculations on all sides, both of suffering grievous harm and of imposing enormous damage not just on American troops in Iraq, or on the oil economy of the region, but on the global economy as well.
Iraq: Do I need to say a word? Iraq is the poster-boy for the Bush administration's ability to turn whatever it touches into hell on Earth. In Iraq, the vaunted American military has been stopped in its tracks by a minority Sunni insurgency. (In recent weeks, however, the war there is threatening to turn into something larger, as the American military launches attacks on radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.) Iraq now is the site of a religio-ethnic civil war of striking brutality, loosing waves of refugees within the country and on neighboring states; neighborhoods are being ethnically cleansed and deaths have reached into the hundreds of thousands. Amid all this, the occupying U.S. military fully controls only Baghdad's fortified citadel within a city, the Green Zone (and even there dangers are mounting) as well as a series of enormous, multibillion-dollar bases it has built around the country. Iraq is now essentially a failed state and the situation continues to devolve under the pressure of the President's latest "surge" plan. If that plan were to succeed, the citadel-state of the Green Zone would, at best, be turned into the city-state of Baghdad in a sea of chaos. Like Iran, Iraq has the potential to draw other states in the region into a widening civil-cum-religious-cum-terrorist war.
Israel/Palestine/Lebanon: From an early green light for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to join the Global War on Terror (against the Palestinians) to a green light for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to launch and continue a war against Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer, the Bush administration has largely green-lighted Israel these last years. It has also ignored or, in the case of the Lebanon War, purposely held back any possibility of serious peace talks. The provisional results are in. In Lebanon, the heavily populated areas of the Shiite south were strewn with Israeli cluster bombs, making some areas nearly uninhabitable; up to a quarter of the population was, for a time, turned into refugees; parts of Lebanese cities including Beirut were flattened by the Israeli air force; and yet Hezbollah was strengthened, the U.S.-backed Siniora government radically weakened, and the country drawn closer to a possible civil war. In the Palestinian areas, Bush administration democracy-promotion efforts ended with a Hamas electoral victory. Starved of foreign aid and having suffered further Israeli military assaults, the Palestinian population is ever more immiserated; Hamas and Fatah are at each other's throats; and the U.S.-backed President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is in a weakened position. In the wake of a disastrous war, Israel, with a government whose head has a 3% approval rate, is hardly the triumphant, dominant power in the Middle East that various Bush administration figures imagined once upon a time. This looks like another deteriorating situation with no end in sight.
Somalia (or Blackhawk Down, Round 2): In 2006, Director Porter Goss's CIA bet on a group of discredited Somali warlords, threw money and support behind them, and -- typically -- lost out to an Islamist militia that took most of the country and imposed relative peace on it for the first time in years. The ever proactive Bush administration then turned to the autocratic Ethiopian regime and its military (advised and armed by the U.S. with a helping hand from the North Koreans) to open "a new front" in the Global War on Terror. The Ethiopians promptly launched their own "preventive" invasion of Somalia (with modest U.S. air support), installed a government in the capital, Mogadishu, proclaimed victory over the Islamists, and -- giant surprise --promptly found themselves mired in an inter-clan civil war with Iraqi overtones. Today, Somalia, long a failed state and then, for a few months, almost a peaceful land (even if ruled by Islamists fundamentalists), is experiencing the worst fighting and death levels in 15 years. The new government in Mogadishu is shaky; their Ethiopian military supporters bloodied; over 1,000 civilians in the capital are dead or wounded, and tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing Mogadishu and crossing borders in a state of need. Rate it: a developing disaster -- with worse to come.
In short, from Somalia to Pakistan, the region is today a genuine arc of instability. It is filled with ever more failed states (Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, which never even made it to statehood before collapse), possible future failed states (Lebanon, Pakistan), ever shakier autocracies (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan); and huge floods of refugees, internal and external (Somalia, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan) as well as massively damaged areas (Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon). It is also witnessing the growth of extremist and terrorist organizations and sentiments.
A Rube Goldberg Machine
At any moment, somewhere in the now-destabilized "arc of instability," that seventh character could indeed rise, demand attention, and refuse to be ejected from the premises. There are many possible candidates. Here are just a few:
Al-Qaeda, an organization dispersed but never fully dismantled by the Bush administration, has now, according to Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, rebuilt itself in the Pakistani borderlands with new training camps, new base areas, and a new generation of leaders in their thirties, all still evidently serving under Osama bin Laden. (In the future, Mazzetti suggests even younger leaders are likely to come from the hardened veterans of campaigns in Bush's Iraq). Al-Qaeda is a wild card throughout the region.
Iraqi Kurdistan is now a relatively peaceful area, but from the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk to its Turkish and Iranian borders it is also a potential future powder keg and the focus for interventions of all sorts.
Oil pipelines, which, from the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf, crisscross the region, are almost impossible to defend effectively. At any moment, some group or groups, copying the tactics of the Sunni insurgents in Iraq, could decide to begin a sabotage campaign against them (or the other oil facilities in the region).
Saudi Arabia, an increasingly ossified religious autocracy, faces opponents ready to practice terrorism against its oil infrastructure and rising unrest in its oil-rich Shiite areas as well as an ascendant Iran.
Syria, a rickety minority regime, under internal pressure, now faces the launching of a renewed Bush administration campaign to further undermine its power. Though we have no way of knowing the scope of this campaign, it seems the President and his top officials have learned absolutely nothing about what their meddling is likely to accomplish.
Outside the "arc of instability," but deeply affected by what goes on there, let's not forget:
The U.S. Army: 13,000 National Guardsmen have just been notified of a coming call-up, long before they were due for another tour of duty in Iraq. The Army, like the Marine Corps, finds itself under near-unbearable pressure from the Iraq and Afghan Wars and, as a result, is sending less than fully trained troops, recruited under ever lower standards, with worn equipment, into battle. The Army, for instance, is having trouble holding on to its best soldiers. Beyond their minimum five years of service, to take an example, "just 62% of West Pointers re-upped, about 25 percentage points lower than at the other service academies." And the public grumbling of the top brass is on the increase. Who knows what this means for the future?
The American People -- Oh yes, them. They haven't really hit the streets yet, but they've hit the opinion polls hard and last November some of them hit the polling booths -- decisively. Who knows when they will "stand up" and insist on being counted. Perhaps in 2008.
In other words, in addition to the normal cast of characters dreamt up by the Bush administration in its fantasy production in the global round, a whole set of unexpected characters are already moving up and down the aisles, demanding attention, and at any moment, that seventh character -- whether state, ethnic group, terrorist cadre, or some unknown crew in search of an author is likely to make its presence felt.
And let's not forget that there is one more obvious "character" out there in search of an author; that there is one more Bush-destabilized place on the planet not yet mentioned, even though it may be the most important of all. I'm talking, of course, about Washington D.C.; I'm talking about the Bush administration itself.
Consider the process by which it turned Washington into a mini-arc of instability: First, it fantasized about the "arc of instability," then stitched it together into a genuine Rube Goldberg instability machine, one where any group, across thousands of miles, might pull some switch that would set chaos rolling, the flames licking across the oil heartlands of the planet. Then, remarkably enough, the administration itself and all its dreams -- both of a Pax Americana globe and a Pax Republicana United States -- began to disintegrate. The whole edifice, from Rumsfeld's high-tech military to Karl Rove's political machine, became destabilized under its own tin touch. The putative playwright became just another desperate character.
It's no longer far-fetched to say that, with the President's polling figures in the low 30s, resistance to his war still growing, a Democratic Congress beginning to feel its strength, the Republican Party shaking and its presidential candidates preparing to head for the hills, corruption and political scandals popping up everywhere, and high military figures implicitly reading the riot act to their political leaders, the already listing Bush imperial ship of state seems to be making directly for the next floating iceberg.
Imagine then, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney still clinging tenaciously to what's left of their dreams and delusions amid the ruins of their plans -- as the USS Nimitz sails toward the Persian Gulf; as American agents of various sorts "advise" and, however indirectly, shuffle aid to extremist groups eager to fell the Iranian regime; as a new campaign against the Syrian regime is launched; as stolen Iraqi oil money is shuttled to the Siniora government in Lebanon (and then, according to Seymour Hersh, to Sunni jihadi groups in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria); and as American agents continue to "interrogate" suspected jihadis in their latest borrowed secret prisons in Ethiopia, while American-backed Ethiopian troops only find themselves more embroiled in Somalia. Imagine all that, and then ask yourself, what levers on that Rube Goldberg machine they've done so much to create are they still capable of pulling?
Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews.
Pick almost any date on the calendar and it'll turn out that the US either started a war, ended a war, perpetrated a massacre or sent its UN Ambassador into the Security Council to declare to issue an ultimatum. It's like driving across the American West. "Historic marker, 1 mile", the sign says. A minute later you pull over and find yourself standing on dead Indians. "On this spot, in 1879 Major T and a troop of US cavalry .... " It's three o'clock in the afternoon, Sunday March 18, one day short of the anniversary of US planes embarking on an aerial hunt of Pancho Villa in 1916;of the day the U.S. Senate rejected (for the second time) the Treaty of Versailles in 1920; of the end of the active phase of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2002; of the 10 pm broadcast March 19, 2003, by President G.W. Bush announcing that aerial operations against Iraq had commenced.
This was the attack on Dora Farms outside Baghdad where some Iraqi whispered into his phone that Saddam Hussein was visiting his children. Down hurtled four 2000-pound bunker-busters and 40 cruise missiles. There were high fives in the White House situation room at news of a mangled Saddam being hauled from the rubble. It all turned out to be nonsense, like most military bulletins out of Iraq. The bunker busters all missed the compound. Saddam Hussein wasn't there. Uday and Qusay weren't there. Fifteen civilians died, including nine women and a child.
Here I was, a couple of days shy of four years later, in a used paperback store in a mall in Olympia, Washington, flicking through Tina Turner's side of the story on life with Ike. My cell phone rang. It was my brother Patrick, calling from Sulaimaniyah, three hours drive east through the mountains from the Kurdish capital of Arbil, in northern Iraq. He gave me a brisk précis of the piece he'd file the next day. Every road was lethally dangerous; every Iraqi he met had a ghastly tale to tell of murder, kidnappings, terror-stricken flights, searches for missing relatives. Life was measurably far, far worse for the vast majority of Iraqis than it had been before the 2003 onslaught. He'd talked that day to Kassim Naji Salaman, a truck driver replacing his murdered brother at the wheel of an oil tanker. Salaman was now the sole bread earner for 18 women and children because so many of his male relatives had been killed "I can't even visit the village wher! e they live," he told Patrick. "Soldiers or militia or just men in masks might kill me. I don't even know how to send them money".
I've had many such phone calls from Patrick since March 2003, as he returned time after time to Iraq, either to Baghdad or to the north. Unlike the embedded reporters he's never felt moved to announce a "turning point", as when they blew away Uday and Qusay on July 22, 2003. CNN's studio generals said on the news that night it was a big blow to the Iraqi resistance. Then Saddam was hauled out of a hole on December 15, 2003, just in time for Christmas. Maybe the death knell of the resistance, the studio generals exulted. Then came one "new dawn" for Iraq after another: the handback of Iraqi sovereignty in June 2004, the two elections and the new constitution in 2005. Now we have the "surge" into Baghdad, designed to whip the Shi'a back into line.
Contemptuous of all such bulletins, right from the start Patrick has relentlessly described the disintegration of Iraq, by measurements large and small. Remember that 13 years of sanctions - a horrible international onslaught of the health and well-being of a civilian population, enthusiatically supported by liberals in the US and Europe - Iraq's plight was already dire. When the war began, Baghdad had 20 hours of power a day. Now it's down to 2. Not thousands, not tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died. Not hundreds of thousands but two million have fled the country, mostly to Syria and Jordan. It's the largest upheaval of a population in the Middle East since the Palestinian Naqba of 1948. Dawn after dawn rises over Iraq to reveal tortured corpses in the river beds, on the rubbish dumps, by the side of the road: bodies riddled with bullets, punctured by drills, whipped with wire cable, blown apart.
The U.N. says that in the two months before this last Christmas 5,000 Iraqi civilians were killed. The months since have probably been as bad. Saddam dragged his country into ruin. Then the US took it from ruin to the graveyard, plundering the corpse as it did so.
There's plenty of blame to go round. You'd think these days that the cheerleaders for war were limited to a platoon of neocons, as potent in historical influence as were supposedly the Knights Templar. But it was not so. The coalition of the enablers spread far beyond Cheney's team and the extended family of Norman Podhoretz. Atop mainstream corporate journalism perch the New York Times and the New Yorker, two prime disseminators of pro-invasion propaganda, written at the NYT by Judith Miller, Michael Gordon and, on the op ed page, by Thomas Friedman. The New Yorker put forth the voluminous lies of Jeffrey Goldberg and has remained impenitent till this day.
The war party virtually monopolized television. AM radio poured out a filthy torrent of war bluster. The laptop bombardiers such as Salman Rushdie were in full war paint. Among the progressives the liberal interventionists thumped their tin drums, often by writing pompous pieces attacking the antiwar "hard left". Mini-pundits Todd Gitlin and Michael Berube played this game eagerly. Berube lavished abuse on Noam Chomsky and other clear opponents of the war, mumbling about the therapeutic potential of great power interventionism, piously invoking the tradition of "left internationalism". Others, like Ian Williams, played supportive roles in instilling the idea that the upcoming war was negotiable, instead of an irreversible intent of the Bush administration, no matter what Saddam Hussein did. "The ball will be very much in Saddam Hussein's court," Williams wrote in November, 2002. "The question is whether he will cooperate and disarm, or dissimulate and! bring about his own downfall at the hands of the U.S. military." (In fact Saddam had already "disarmed", as disclosed in Hussein Kamel's debriefings by the UNSCOM inspectors, the CIA and MI6 in the summer of 1995 when Kamel told them all, with corroboration from aides who had also defected, that on Saddam Hussein's orders his son-in-law had destroyed all of Iraq's WMDs years earlier, right after the Gulf War. This was not a secret. In February 2003 John Barry reported it in Newsweek.Anyone privy to the UNSCOM, CIA and MI6 debriefs knew it from 1995 on.)
As Iraq began to plunge ever more rapidly into the abyss not long after the March, 2003 attack, this crowd stubbornly mostly stayed the course with Bush. "Thumpingly blind to the war's virtues" was the head on a Paul Berman op ed piece in February, 2004.Christopher Hitchens lurched regularly onto Hardball to hurl abuse at critics of the war.
But today, amid Iraq's dreadful death throes, where are the parlor warriors? Have those Iraqi exiles reconsidered their illusions, that all it would take was a brisk invasion and a new constitution, to put Iraq to rights? Have any of them, from Makiya through Hitchens to Berman and Berube had dark nights, asking themselves just how much responsibility they have for the heaps of dead in Iraq, for a plundered nation, for the American soldiers who died or were crippled in Iraq at their urging ? Sometimes I dream of them, -- Friedman, Hitchens, Berman -- like characters in a Beckett play, buried up to their necks in a rubbish dump on the edge of Baghdad, reciting their columns to each other as the local women turn over the corpses to see if one of them is her husband or her son.
Post coldwar Liberal interventionism came of age with the onslaught on Serbia. Liberal support for the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq were the afterglows. Now that night has descended and illusions about the great crusade shattered for ever, let us tip our hats to those who opposed this war from the start the real left, the libertarians and those without illusions about the "civilizing mission" of the great powers.
The Once and Future Republic of Vermont By Ian Baldwin and Frank Bryan Sunday, April 1, 2007; B01
The winds of secession are blowing in the Green Mountain State.
Vermont was once an independent republic, and it can be one again. We think the time to make that happen is now. Over the past 50 years, the U.S. government has grown too big, too corrupt and too aggressive toward the world, toward its own citizens and toward local democratic institutions. It has abandoned the democratic vision of its founders and eroded Americans' fundamental freedoms.
Vermont did not join the Union to become part of an empire.
Some of us therefore seek permission to leave.
A decade before the War of Independence, Vermont became New England's first frontier, settled by pioneers escaping colonial bondage who hewed settlements across a lush region whose spine is the Green Mountains. These independent folk brought with them what Henry David Thoreau called the "true American Congress" -- the New England town meeting, which is still the legislature for nearly all of Vermont's 237 towns. Here every citizen is a legislator who helps fashion the rules that govern the locality.
Today, however, Vermont no longer controls even its own National Guard, a domestic emergency force that is now employed in an imperial war 6,000 miles away. The 9/11 commission report says that "the American homeland is the planet." To defend this "homeland," the United States spends six times as much on its military as China, the next highest-spending nation, funding more than 730 military bases in more than 130 countries, abetted by more than 100 military space satellites and more than 100,000 seaborne battle-ready forces. This is the greatest military colossus ever forged.
Few heed George Washington's Farewell Address, which warned against the danger of a permanent large standing army that "can be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty." Or that of a later general-become-president: "We must never let the weight of [the military-industrial complex] endanger our liberties or democratic processes." Dwight D. Eisenhower pointedly included the word "congressional" after "military-industrial" but allowed his advisers to excise it. That word completes a true description of the hidden threat to democracy in the United States.
The two of us are typical of the diversity of Vermont's secessionist movement: one descended from old Vermonter stock, the other a more recent arrival -- a "flatlander" from down country. Our Vermont homeland remains economically conservative and socially liberal. And the love of freedom runs deep in its psyche.
Vermont seceded from the British Empire in 1777 and stood free for 14 years, until 1791. Its constitution -- which preceded the U.S. Constitution by more than a decade -- was the first to prohibit slavery in the New World and to guarantee universal manhood suffrage. Vermont issued its own currency, ran its own postal service, developed its own foreign relations, grew its own food, made its own roads and paid for its own militia. No other state, not even Texas, governed itself more thoroughly or longer before giving up its nationhood and joining the Union.
But the seeds of disunion have been growing since the beginning. Vermont more or less sat out the War of 1812, and its governor ordered troops fighting the British to disengage and come home. Vermont fought the Civil War primarily to end slavery; Abraham Lincoln did so primarily to save the Union. Vermont's record on the slavery issue was so strong that Georgia's legislature resolved that a ditch be dug around the "pestiferous" state and it be floated out to sea.
After the Great Flood of 1927, the worst natural disaster in the state's history, President Calvin Coolidge (a Vermonter) offered help. Vermont's governor replied, "Vermont will take care of its own." In 1936, town meetings rejected a huge federal highway referendum that would have blacktopped the Green Mountain crest line from Massachusetts to Canada.
Nor did Vermont sign on when imperial Washington demanded that the state raise its drinking age from 18 to 21 in 1985. The federal government thereupon resorted to its favored tactic, blackmail. Raise your drinking age, said Ronald Reagan, or we'll take away the money you need to keep the interstates paved. Vermont took its case for state control to the Supreme Court -- and lost.
It's quite simple. The United States has destroyed the 10th Amendment, which says that "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
The present movement for secession has been gathering steam for a decade and a half. In preparation for Vermont's bicentennial in 1991, public debates -- moderated by then-Lt. Gov. Howard Dean -- were held in seven towns before crowds that averaged 230 citizens. At the end of each, Dean asked all those in favor of Vermont's seceding from the Union to stand and be counted. In town after town, solid majorities stood. The final count: 999 (62 percent) for secession and 608 opposed.
In early 2003, transplanted Southerner and retired Duke University economics professor Thomas Naylor gave a speech at Johnson State College opposing the Iraq war. When he pitched the idea of secession to the crowd, he saw many eyes "light up," he said. Later that year, he and several others started a loosely organized movement (now a think tank) called the Second Vermont Republic, which has an independent quarterly journal, Vermont Commons, and a Web site.
In October 2005, about 300 Vermonters attended a statewide convention on the question of secession. Six months later, the annual Vermont Poll of the University of Vermont's Center for Rural Studies found that about 8 percent of respondents replied "yes" to peaceful secession, arguably making Vermont foremost among the many states with secessionist movements (including Alaska, California, Hawaii, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Texas).
We secessionists believe that the 350-year swing of history's pendulum toward large, centralized imperial states is once again reversing itself.
Why? First, the cost of oil and gas. According to urban planner James Howard Kunstler, "Anything organized on a gigantic scale . . . will probably falter in the energy-scarce future." Second, third-wave technology is as inherently democratic and decentralist as second-wave technology was authoritarian and centralist. Gov. Jim Douglas wants Vermont to be the first "e-state," making broadband Internet access available to every household and business in the state by 2010. Vermont will soon be fully wired into the global social commons.
Against this backdrop, secessionists from all over the state will gather in June to plan a grass-roots campaign to get at least 200 towns to vote by 2012 on independence. We believe that one outcome of this meeting will be dialogues among different communities of Vermonters committed to achieving local economic vitality, be they farmers, entrepreneurs, bankers, merchants, lawyers, independent media providers, construction workers, manufacturers, artists, entertainers or anyone else with a stake in Vermont's future -- anyone for whom freedom is not just a slogan.
If Vermonters succeed in once again inventing vibrant local economies, these in turn may reinvigorate the small-scale democratic town meeting tradition, the true American Congress, and re-create the rudiments of a republic once again able to make its own way in the world. The once and future republic of Vermont.>
Let us say that I have been around the block a few times. So I have learned that I don't know much, and that I think that I am smarter than I really am. But I would like you to hear about my take on the world, on my original country, this country, this campaign, myself, my life, your life and how I believe that you should live it.