Thursday, August 31, 2006

Musical Chairs - From Iraq to Iran

I'm not going to vouch for claims made by American commanders in Iraq. There have been so many promises, so many arguments, assurances and assertions from the succession of these types and so few of them have come to pass. However there was one yesterday from the current commander in theatre, General George Casey, that deserves to be considered. Despite evidence of the ongoing insurgency, growing civil war and instability of the Iraqi government, General Casey pronounced yesterday that American forces might be able to be out of Iraq within a year. Really? What are we to read into Casey's claims?

American forces have been in Iraq for three years and victory continues to stay out of their reach. General Casey points to a supposed drop in the number of deaths in Baghdad due to suicide bombers following redeployment of American forces into the capital as clear evidence of success. I'll tell you who doesn't believe that, General Casey.

General Casey knows that fighting an insurgency with a conventional military force is like herding cats. He also knows that conventional military forces have an awful track record in defeating insurgencies. The terrorists that the U.S. forces are grappling with are really mostly insurgents. Suicide bombers are terrorists, sure. They aren't the insurgency, that's home grown. Insurgents are in it for the long run. Against their conventional enemy the insurgents can't hope to match them in numbers, certainly not in firepower, or in mobility, artillery or air support. Insurgents have to take maximum advantage of what they do have going for them and their greatest edge comes from holding the initiative. Because the insurgents are locals, they can vanish into the civilian population. That allows them to decide when and where they will offer combat and when they will refuse combat and disappear. Every now and then the other side gets lucky or gets a useful tip and tracks down some of the insurgents but delivering an outright defeat to them is as challenging as alchemy. So General Casey knows that throwing out body counts as evidence of victory over the insurgents is essentially meaningless.

What then are we to make of Casey's claim that American troops might be out of Iraq within a year? This is when it can be really useful to cast around for other snippets of information that may shed a bit of light.

Start with the "Guns or Butter" dilemma that seems to be catching up with the Bush administration. This refers to the choice all leaders must make between spending their treasury on civil programmes or on the military. Since he became president, Shrub has been trying to play this both ways. He wants his guns and he wants his butter in the form of tax cuts. No other wartime president has ever cut taxes in the midst of conflict. Iraq has become a great hole into which the U.S. treasury is hemorrhaging. Meanwhile, the military is getting squeezed.

Michael Hirsh, in an article in the online version of Newsweek, reports that three years of sand and heat have worn out a lot of the American army's tanks and humvees and other vehicles. Now the military is having to resort to cannibalizing the vehicles remaining stateside to furnish spares to keep the stuff in Iraq operating. It's pretty obvious this sort of thing is a band aid solution at best. Meanwhile, some of the troops now being sent to Iraq are on their third tours there. Their level of mission fatigue is growing. At the same time, Pentagon officials are beginning to worry about the vaunted "Green Zone", the fortification behind which the American command and the wobbly Iraqi government shelter from the insurgency,and whether it can hold. It's said that some are now calling it the "Yellow Zone."

There is one thing, perhaps only one, you can count on from Incurious George: he won't rescind his tax cuts. That means he won't open the money taps for the treasury. That also means he will have to fund this enormously costly adventure on debt. That little obligation will be left to future generations to repay. Patriotism or lunacy?

Times may be getting tougher for the American military in Iraq but they still have a few good fights left in them. The question is how best to use that remaining capability? Do you deplete it in Iraq which may already be a lost cause? Do you use it elsewhere?

Washington's focus on Iran has increased mightily over the past few months. It is widely reported that Bush wants his presidential legacy to be the defanging of Iran through the destruction of that country's nuclear programme and the toppling of its theocratic rulers. The spin mills are going flat out. The intelligence is being fixed and spoonfed to Congress and the American people. The juggernaut is picking up speed.

At first, Don Rumsfeld wanted to eliminate Iran's nuclear capability by strategic bombing. He even mused about using mini-nuclear bombs to take out underground facilities. The trouble is that the pentagon just doesn't have enough intelligence as to what Iran has and where to pull that off. The alternative is to use America's awesome air power to support a land intervention.

One of the strongest arguments about attacking Iran has been the peril that could be faced by U.S. forces in Iraq from a popular uprising against them. One way to safeguard American forces from that threat would be for them not to be in Iraq but, perhaps, in Iran. Using the already deployed troops and equipment against neighbouring Iran makes a lot more sense than raising a fresh force in the U.S. and then shipping the troops and vehicles over. Besides, Bush is nearing his 2-year countdown. He doesn't have enough time remaining in his presidency to start this all over from scratch. There is also the very real risk of Congress falling to the Democrats this November and seeing his plans thwarted from Capital Hill.

If Bush really does want to build his legacy on Iran, he doesn't have time to lose. Wars don't just start overnight, unannounced. That nonsense pretty much ended with Pearl Harbour. There are plenty of signs that war is coming. One of these is the insertion of special forces teams into the intended battlefield to collect intelligence, establish contact with dissidents and identify targets. It's a poorly held secret that U.S. special forces teams, possibly British also, have been roaming around Iran for several months already.

The U.S. President has put himself inside a reality bubble from which he can spin some pretty wild fantasies. One of them is the belief that an attack on Iran will trigger a popular uprising by local, pro-democracy dissidents. Unfortunately that too seems to be a fantasy. Dissidents who have spoken out have made clear that they are Iranians first and any foreign intervention will only drive them back into the arms of the government to resist the invaders. That doesn't mean that Little Georgie will accept this reality.

My guess is that Bush doesn't know which route to go but he wants to keep the military option very much open. He's going to do the Security Council theatre again but he's already shown that he's not willing to be constrained by international law.

Iran presents Bush with a number of bad options and no good options. He has pretty much squandered his political capital as far as the Middle East is concerned and the Israeli debacle in Lebanon has undercut his military influence also. America's best option is to negotiate with Iran and yet Bush's many blunders have undermined his bargaining power and just when he needs it most.

Bush may view attacking Iran as the only route to saving Israel from nuclear attack. He certainly believes that he is the only one with the courage to take on Iran and that whoever succeeds him won't be willing to do it. Iraq has proven to be an utter shambles and Shrub doesn't want that to be his legacy. To avoid that shame, he'll have to pull a rabbit out of his hat and Iran is probably the only bunny on his radar.

We still can't tell where George is going to go with this but we can focus on his options and look for the little signs that give all away. I'm guessing but I think we'll know within the next few months pretty much how this is going to play out. To use the American's own scale, I'd put us at Condition Orange - Elevated right now.

By the way, keep an eye on Britain's force redeployment from last week. Where did they go when they abandoned their base in Amara? Down into the oil fields and Iranian border areas of Maysan province. It could all be coincidence but it's worth watching.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Have we been Punk'd?

Remember the Great London Bombing Scare, the dastardly al-Qaeda plot, no liquids in carry-on bags, full cavity body searches? Well, according to a Brit named Craig Murray, we might have just been punk'd.

A word about Craig Murray (of Craig had been relatively obscure until he shot his big mouth off about torture. At the time, Murray was Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan which was then a 'partner' in America's War Without End on Terror. Murray was given his cards (in England, that's a way of saying 'you're fired') because he refused to remain mum about Uzbekistan President Karimov's fascination with torture.

Lip off to Karimov and that means you're an Islamic terrorist and then you're really in hot water. No, I mean it - hot water. Karimov has a reputation of waging the War Without End on Terror by immersing his opponents in boiling water. That's right, he pops them in the cauldron just like lobsters. Anyway, at the time of Murray's outspokeness, Uzbekistan was considered America's unsinkable aircraft carrier in the region and Rumsfeld was pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into their army. Murray just had to go.

Craig Murray is still mouthing off which you'll see if you go to his website. He's even really skeptical about the Great London Bomb Plot. He thinks the whole thing was stage-managed to help prop up the increasingly unpopular Blair and Bush administrations. Among his contentions:

- "None ofthe alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports which, given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency, would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

- "In the absnece of bombs and airline tickets and, in many cases, passports, it could be difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that these individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, despite whatever rash stuff they may have bragged about in internet chat rooms.

- "Many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests."

Murray criticizes the dodgy 'intelligence' obtained by Pakistani interrogators known for their ability to make "people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistank you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth."

Time hasn't dimmed Murray's skepticism: "Still, after eight days of detention, nobody has been charged with any crime. For there to be no clear evdience yet on something that was 'imminent' and 'Mass murder on an unbelievable scale' is, to say the least, rather peculiar."

Here's something else that really smells about the London Bombing Plot. Until this dastardly plot was thwarted, you and I and everyone else, could take liquids aboard aircraft in our carry-on luggage. Our airlines weren't concerned, our security services weren't concerned. No problem.

What doesn't make any sense is why all those who are supposed to protect us were so complacent. In 1995, that's right eleven years ago, al-Qaeda hatched a plot in the Philippines to use these same liquid explosives to make bombs to be brought aboard U.S. bound airliners in carry-on luggage. The volatile liquids were to be disguised in contact eye lens solution bottles. Twelve airliners were to be attacked. The whole thing fell apart when fire broke out in the plotters' apartment base. They fled but they left behind a laptop that survived the fire and it contained all the details of the scheme.

That was 1995. Why then, especially after the attacks of September 11, 2001, was nothing, absolutely nothing, done to close off this known threat to the travelling public? Am I the only one who finds it curious that our media aren't asking that obvious question?

By the way, you can confirm the details of the 1995 plot by a quick Google search. Just type in "1995 Manilla al-Qaeda bomb plot" or reasonable facsimile. Or just go to or any of the many other credible sites with all the details on this. This isn't the stuff of conspiracy nuts but and yet nobody is asking the question.

I'm Sorry, I Just Don't Get It

There was an item in today's news out of Venezuela where Chavez claims the U.S. government is channelling millions to fund opposition movements. Turns out he's right. USAID (sure, that's a bit of an oxymoron but let's not go there right now) has a branch called the Office of Transition Initiatives. Now it just happens that the OTI sends its millions to countries the U.S. doesn't much like, countries such as Cuba and Venezuela.

I e-mailed USAID to find out what they were doing to fund pro-democracy movements in places such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Within a very short time I had a reply, sort of. They really dodged the bullet on Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but did enlighten me as to their Agency's 'Four Goals':

- Strengthening the Rule of Law and Respect for Human Rights
- Promoting More Genuine and Competitive Elections & Political Processes
- Increased Development of a Politically Active Civil Society
- More Transparent and Accountable Governance

noting (wryly?) that, "progress in all four areas is necessary to achieve sustainable democracy."

This is all too Orwellian for me. Whatever happened to "Physician, heal thyself"?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Rich Get Theirs and the Po' - Who Cares?

The favourite games of airlines these days are shedding employees and gutting their pension plans. According to The Smoking Gun ( Northwest Airlines has taken the art of showing employees the door to a new level. Northwest's latest layoffs were given a booklet containing 101 tips on how to save money. Included were gems such as, "don't be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash." For more gutbusting laughs, you can read all 101 tips at the Smoking Gun website.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Many Challenges, Many Questions

It seems inevitable that each generation makes many choices that bear directly on the generation that follows. The First World War was spawned by the rival empires that started the whole business in motion decades earlier. Second World War - another generation drawn into mass destruction due to the unsettled business left by their parents. Cold War - several subsequent generations saddled with the result of the unresolved issues of their parents' war. Now we've got the War Without End (WWE), the Global War on Terror, and nobody can tell where that is going to wind up.

Today our world is making massive, breathtaking strides. We have vastly extended lifespans from just a few generations earlier. We have been blessed with great innovations and conveniences. We know that, as surely as dawn follows night, tomorrow there'll be even more but at what price?

It's barely taken two generations for us to forget how to make our own food. If the grocery store shelves fall bare, we starve. Don't delude yourself about that. Imagine what would happen if the gas pumps went dry tomorrow? What if there was a great, electro magnetic pulse (EMP) and all the computers went down for hundreds, possibly thousands of miles? Hospitals wouldn't function, transportation would come to a sudden halt, communications would be completely disrupted, you wouldn't have electricity in your house and your food would spoil.

This may sound apocalyptic, the stuff of science fiction novels, but it's not. It is part of our everyday reality. Mankind has not adapted socially to the advances and changes in our technology and this whole process continues to speed up. All of us need to start paying attention, really paying attention to how our world is being transformed. We may be able to get through this relatively unscathed but the decisions we take or avoid taking may shape the future for our grandchildren and may even determine their fate.

There needs to be a full and informed debate on the role science plays in our society and how we want it to serve us in the future. We need to examine the privatization of science and the merits of open scientific research in the public sector. We need to start paying attention to the genuine dangers of uncontrolled scientific development and how we can regulate and monitor the genies that are already out of their bottles. We need to realize that, if we don't get a handle on these issues, we risk going back to something resembling the dark ages, the rejection of enlightenment and forfeiture of liberal democracy.

I know this is a real bummer but we need to take a look at some of the issues that may, not necessarily will, arise in the coming decades. Some of these dangers are actually quite remote, others are already building. The best catalogue of these things I have read has been written by Sir Martin Rees. Rees is a Cosmologist and, no, that doesn't mean he does makeup and nails. A cosmologist is an astronomer who studies the universe in its entirety and, by extension, man's place in it. No, these people aren't kooks, they're real scientists. Sir Martin Rees is Royal Society Professor at Cambridge, a Fellow of King's College, and England's Astronomer Royal. Put another way, this guy is really bright.

In his book, Our Final Hour, Perseus Book Group, 2003, Rees explores a variety of potential dangers that man ignores at his peril. Terrorism is an obvious starting point. We're already living with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. How long before they're used and what do we need to do to actually minimize that risk? The more likely danger of bioterrorism and controlling the spread of this knowledge and the possession and trade in pathogens.

A very interesting part of Rees discussion focuses on the privatization of science and the decline of government-funded, "pure" research. Government has all too gladly offloaded scientific research to the private sector. The dimensions of this run pretty deep. For example, corporate research is usually product oriented, profit driven and extremely secretive. What happens to a scientific breakthrough that could be of immense benefit to society in many areas beyond the corporation's focus? Is it good enough to let corporations keep this knowledge buried? Should they be placed under some obligation of disclosure?

Another aspect of this is that scientific research can sometimes lead to some horrible mistakes such as "bio-error" (as distinguished from bioterror). There's an awful lot of genetic work going on today. What if some private lab's research reaches the point of recklessness and somehow escapes? It has happened. We need to ensure that we devise controls to keep it from happening again.

Are we doing enough to maintain ourselves as masters of our own technology? Consumer-driven technology has already long passed the stage of convenience into the reality of dependence. The very food that sustains us travels hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to reach our grocery stores. If that transportation link becomes severed, how much food is available locally to sustain your community? The answer is obvious: not nearly enough.

Has personal privacy become a quaint notion from the past? It wasn't all that long ago that people treasured their privacy and became quite upset if it was violated. Then we began adopting technologies such as credit cards and computers and, gradually, our daily life from what we eat to what we buy to our medical records was fed into a giant data stream. Surveillance has spread rapidly through our cities and towns. Closed circuit cameras keep a constant vigil on our streets and in buildings. With modern face recognition software it will soon be possible to put your name to your picture as you transit through the camera's eye. Then that too will go into the data stream. Just how much of you do you want someone knowing and who do you want to have that knowledge? How can it be used to help you and how can it be used against you? Should our government or the courts control access to this powerful pool of personal information?

Can democracy adapt and survive the technological, scientific and social changes the future will bring? If so, how will it and how will we have to adapt to ensure that democracy still serves our interests as individuals as well as members of societies and a community of nations?

We need to have these discussions and debates now and we need to have the broadest possible participation in them. We need to start getting you and everyone like us involved, at least to the point where they can make an informed decision of whether they want to participate. So many questions but one thing is sure. If we don't discuss these things soon, if we choose not to make these decisions, sooner or later something will happen that will lead to them being made for us. If you doubt that, take a look at America's Patriot Act.

Memo to Little Stevie: You Don't Want to Hear This

Dear Stevie:

Maybe you should stop singing the praises of your buddy Bush for a little while, at least until this blows over. There's some news just out that suggests the U.S. isn't really the super nation as you would have Canadians believe. Seems it's actually pretty second rate.

The latest Luxemburg Income Study shows that, when it comes to poverty levels, America is the worst of the 16-wealthiest nations. The U.S. scores that honour for child poverty levels also. Hmmm.

Remember when you told those American right-wing wackos that, "Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it"? Guess what country had the lowest overall poverty rate? You're not going to like this - it was Finland.

The United States is still very much Number One - on defense spending. Maybe you can make something out of that.

The United States also spends more, per capita, for health care than any other nation. Trouble is, fully 16 per cent of Americans have no health insurance whatever. Plenty more have only partial insurance. America remains Number One for bankrutpcies triggered by medical expenses. Americans are well down the list (behind all those Northern European welfare states) on longevity and dead last on infant mortality. Where does all that funding go? Oh yeah, to the H.M.O.s that administer the 'for profit' industry. Oh dear, better drop that one.

As for productivity, the Holy Grail of Wild West conservatism, America was only fifth out of sixteen even though it holds Number One spot for most weeks of work. Guess who came first? Why it was those horrible, Surrender Monkeys, the French.

So maybe this would be a good time to turn to other issues, why not crime? Lets scare the hell out of the people and maybe this will all go away.

Ah Steve, it's me again.

You should know that the word is getting out. The old scam isn't working any more. All those NASCAR dads are beginning to realize they've been getting the shaft. Some think our own people are starting to see through all this.

These last five years have been great in the U.S., at least if you were already rich. These years have been dandy, what the investment bank UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland) has called "the golden era of profitability." Gross domestic product and productivity have shot up. The rich just keep getting richer.

The not-so-rich? Well, they haven't done so well. Actually, despite the pace at which the economy has grown, the median hourly wage for Americans has fallen by 2 per cent since 2003. But look at the bright side, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of America's gross domestic product since they started keeping records in 1947.

Keeping the plebs quiet has been an endless struggle since the dawn of civilization. Roman emperors had to stage gigantic gladitorial bloodbaths in the forum to distract their people. Bush got by for years by kicking Muslim ass. Oh for those good old days. Now, of course, those Muslims are really kicking back, the American people are getting tired of it and the neo-cons don't have anything else to keep their minds off how much poorer they're getting in the Land of Prosperity.

The little people in America are getting tired of being left out and they're feeling the squeeze. According to the Economic Policy Institute (

- indebtedness of the average American household has increased 42 per cent over the past five years.
-level of debt as a percentage of after-tax income has never been higher, more than twice what it was 30-years ago.
-personal savings rate is at a negative, the first time since the Great Depression.
-family health costs have risen between 43-45 per cent from 2000 to 2003.
-employers are cutting back on health insurance coverage. The percent of people with employer-funded health insurance fell last year for the fourth consecutive year.

Sounds like all the fixins' for a revolution, eh Stevie? Maybe it's time not to praise Caesar but to bury him.

Pessimism, Optimism and Realism, huh?

The New York Times ran an editorial this morning lamenting the rise of pessimism in the U.S. as essentially un-American. The article noted that Americans were really optimistic when their forces invaded Iraq, believing that this heralded a new and better day for the Middle East and the world. That optimism was transformed into abject pessimism by the fiasco of Iraq and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

To me, pessimism is a surrender to helplessness. We're doomed, why bother? I think there's a fine but very important line that separates pessimism from realism. Realism is an acknowledgment that there are problems, plenty of them, but problems to be confronted and remedied.

The writings on this blog can seem awfully pessimistic. They may be gloomy, angry, worried but from the reality of me writing them and you reading them, there is just that little bit of impetus for change - and the belief that we can change these things lies in the beating heart of true optimism.

Perilous Privatization Pitfalls

It's been a long time coming. For years the far right has been fanning the flames of privatization from education to health care and beyond. They point to bureaucratic bungling and inefficiency to make their case for smaller, less-capable government.

Charter schools are institutions that have broken free of the usual, public school board system. They operate autonomously, typically with per-capita government funding. The idea is that, freed of the bureaucratic shackles of the public school system, charter schools will produce a higher standard of education.

It all sounds good in theory, especially if you have that ideological bent, but it has sure fallen short in practice. A U.S. federal study has found that charter school students generally score significantly worse in both reading and math than their public school counterparts. The concept of charter schools is that they are to be measured by performance and they must outperform the public schools. Hmm, what now? This is a red meat issue for the far right so don't expect much reaction.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Definitely Not Oprah's Book Club - Part Deux

The Gun and the Olive Branch, David Hirst, Nation Books, 3rd edition, 2003.

Imagine peace in the Middle East, an end to the Arab-Israeli conflicts. Now that you've imagined it, you can forget the whole idea. To reach any peaceful resolution we would first have to sweep aside the blinding fog of myth and deception that has so powerfully been used to warp our views and understanding of this dilemma that threatens all of us.

How many of us know that the roots of this violence began in the 1880's with a Rabbi in France? Would you be surprised to learn that, from the outset, the Zionist movement fully intended to use violence to drive the Palestinians from the new Jewish homeland? That's right, ethnic cleansing. Can you believe that all of us, especially in North America, have been given a highly deceptive account of these conflicts that villifies the Arabs and almost completely buries anything that reveals Israeli aggression and persecution of the Palestinians?

I am not a holocaust denier. I am not an anti-semite. I deeply resent those who use these slurs to intimidate others who are justifiably critical of the state of Israel and its deplorable treatment of the Palestinian people.

Like so many of us in the West, I was solidly pro-Israel in the years following the 1967 war. I began to have doubts when I met a Canadian army officer who had just returned from peacekeeping duties on the Gaza Strip. He told me we were being brainwashed by our media about the reality of this conflict and that the great majority of the ceasefire violations they dealt with were the doing of Israel, not the Arabs.

The Palestinian subjugation lies at the very heart of Islamic terrorism and continues to unite Muslims, Shia and Sunni, as perhaps no other issue can. If America genuinely wants to wage war on terrorism, this is the only place that war can be fought and won. Washington alone has the necessary influence to compel Israel to end this persecution and thereby undermine the terrorist cause. That, of course, is not going to happen.

America props up the myth of Israel as victim. The role and power of Christian fundamentalism, of itself, is sufficient to keep Washington on this delusional course. These powerful religious nutbars (yes, I called them dangerous lunatics) firmly believe that biblical prophesy requires Israel to conquer all of Palestine as a precondition to the Second Coming and the utter fantasy that they refer to as The Rapture. So long as these key players remain devotedly delusional this dark farce can't and won't be stopped.

I'm not going to take you through the roughly 600-pages of The Gun and the Olive Branch. I will, however, present a sampling of the reviews:

"An epic tale told relentlessly well ...a serious account
of Zionism and a sobering review of Israel's new role
as conqueror and occupier." Christopher Hitchens
"Massively documented, this book will make uncomfortable
reading for many who will no doubt do what they can to
discredit him. But they will find it difficult to challenge the
integrity of this quizzical and caustic reporter who has an
unrivalled record of offending Arab governments and being
banned by them." - Financial Times
"Amongst the many topics that are subjected to Hirst's
piercing analysis are: The Oslo peace process, the Israeli
occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the destabilizing
effect of Jewish settlement in the territories, the second
Intifada and the terrifying rise of suicide bombers, the
growing power of the Israel lobby - Jewish and Christian
fundamentalist - in the United States, ...and the spectre
of nuclear catastrophe that threatens to destroy the
region." - The New Statesman
A word or two about the author, David Hirst. Mr. Hirst was sent to the Middle East when he was conscripted into the British army and he stayed. He was involved in the American University in Beiruit and became the Middle East correspondent for The Guardian for about 20-years. He's been kidnapped twice and banned from six Arab countries. It's probably good to know that neither side cares very much for his critical, often scathing insights.
The Gun and the Olive Branch is a must-read. If nothing else you will come away from it realizing how our leaders - in Ottawa as well as Washington and London - are misleading us and perpetuating this extremely dangerous conflict.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Afghanistan's Democratic Deficit

Hamid Karzai is a curious fellow. Resplendent in his elegant robes and armed with an engaging and sophisticated manner, he is Washington's handpicked guy who became President of troubled Afghanistan albeit not without a lot of American influence. Mr. Karzai's job has never been easy. He may have taken on one of the most challenging presidencies in the history of democracy. Unfortunately, the job may be too much for him.

Shortly after the 11 September, 2001 atrocities, the United States helped in toppling the existing Taliban government. Washington chose, perhaps understandably, to depict this as a great American feat of arms but the victory was really very little to boast about. The Taliban and the rebel, Northern Alliance had been at each others' throats for years. They had fought to the point of exhaustion with each side content to dig trenches and fire a few volleys of artillery at each other in a very static war. Rolling up the Taliban was, in these circumstances, pushing on an open door. So rapidly did the Taliban collapse that Washington tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to slow the rebel advance on Kabul and Kandahar. In the wake of all the confusion and disarray the Taliban crept away to the traditional heartland of Afghan insurgency, the border region adjoining Pakistan.

The U.S., however, lost sight of the goal of destroying al-Qaeda. It had the terrorist mob in disarray and their leaders, including bin Laden, run to ground in the mountains of Tora Bora. But the White House lost sight of the real target and turned its attention instead on Baghdad and the rest is history. The Taliban retreated, regrouped, rearmed and returned to the fight, currently being waged against various NATO forces including Canada. al-Qaeda, by contrast, was even more flexible. It responded with disturbing efficiency to the situation and morphed itself into a much more decentralized organization spread out even more widely throughout the world. It no longer depends on central command. Some even believe bin Laden is in a form of semi-retirement, no longer at the helm.

By turning its attention and resources toward Iraq, America undercut their man Karzai. For some time he was derisively called the Mayor of Kabul, mocking his lack of authority beyond the capital city limits. In the provinces, control was held by the warlords in conjunction with the drug lords and, increasingly, by a resurgent Taliban. All of these forces combined to render Karzai's administration largely impotent. President Karzai had no choice but to cede powers to some pretty nasty types from the warlords and criminal ranks.

The dream of a secure, secular and democratic Afghanistan was shattered with the loss of American resolve. Karzai's government came to be beholden to the warlords and drug lords as his situation became more untenable. The justice system, indeed much of the national government, came to be seen as corrupt. The opium trade, suppressed rather ruthlessly by the previous Taliban government, flourished again. Afghanistan remains a failed state, only with different management.

One more or less dodgy election does not a democracy make and that holds true certainly for Afghanistan. Even if we could wipe out the Taliban, disarm the warlords and send the drug barons scurrying for cover, Karzai needs to hold up his end or there's really nothing left worth saving.

No Bravery

As I write these posts, I go through a process that begins with my morning Globe & Mail and then on to online versions of newspapers and magazines around the world. That gives a pretty broad and, I hope, relatively informed and balanced perspective on the issues I raise on this bolg. I've only been at this a few days but that's been enough to teach me how easy it is to get submerged in the dark side. I'm going to pay that some heed and try to leaven this out with a bit of humour in future posts. There can be no doubt from these writings that I am furious at the way our democratic values and freedoms are being trampled by right-wing extremists and all the innocents around the world, but particularly in the Middle East, who are paying the price for that. I'm now going to post a link to a video that pretty well captures the fury so many of us have come to feel over this brutality. By the way, this video contains graphic images that you will find deeply disturbing.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Sad Bit of Trivia

You're probably aware that Saddam Hussein and some of his henchmen are now standing trial for attacking Iraq's Kurds with chemical weapons. If you saw any of the photographs from those Kurdish villages you won't need to be told just how awful that massacre was.

Trivia Question: Who was the first person to direct the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds?

Most people are stunned to learn that it was Winston Churchill who in 1920, as Britain's Colonial Secretary, authorized the use of chemical weapons against villages to curb Kurdish rebellion. Here's a little quote from WSC at the time: "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes."

And that's a sad bit of trivia.

When there are no "Good Guys"

Today's Globe and Mail made much about disunity in the Liberal camp over the latest war in Lebanon. Unlike the Tories who are utterly wedded to the Israeli side, a number of Liberals find plenty of fault on the part of Israel. But then again, so does Amnesty International.

In a report just released(, Amnesty contends that the aerial bombardment of civilian buildings and structures went far beyond any claim of 'collateral damage' and amounted to indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Kate Gilmore, Amnesty spokesperson, is quoted in The Guardian: "Many of the violations identified in our report are war crimes. The pattern, scope and scale of the attacks makes Israel's claim that this was collateral damage simply not credible."

In its reduction of the Lebanese civilian infrastructure, Israeli air strikes took out power and water plants, sewage treatment plants and hospitals. Two hospitals are reported to have been completely destroyed, three others severely damaged.

I'm sure Israel would claim that these were all legitimate, military targets. What other choice do they have? Bombing hospitals? I'm sorry, our side doesn't do that. Israel had better come up with some unequivocal and convincing evidence to prove it had some right to take out hospitals.

Hezbollah started this scrap and Israel had a right to retaliate and to defend its citizens against Heabollah rocket attacks. There's no question of that. There is, however, a line and when Israel turned away from the Hezbollah fighters to level its weapons on the Lebanese civilian population, Sunni and Christian, in a campaign of aerial terror, it completely crossed that line.

We need to find ways to defang Hezbollah and that is going to take more than military intervention. We also need to recognize that Israel through its own atrocities has made that job much more difficult, perhaps even impossible.

I'm quite understanding of the Liberal disunity because, this time, there are no Good Guys.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Reality Check

Most of us don't hear a lot of detail about Canada's NATO force in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. We see the odd clip on TV and occasional newspaper stories about Canadian forces engaging the Taliban insurgents. All in all, we just get glimpses. As Canadians continue to debate our mission in Kandahar we need much more information to weigh just what is being accomplished for the sacrifice of Canadian lives. Here's a recent account and the news isn't good:

This article was written by Nelofer Paziri who, as a young Afghani woman, fled the country with her family and wound up in Canada. She studied journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa and starred in the movie "Kandahar" that was loosely based on her life.

How is Paziri's account so at odds with what we hear from our television and newspaper reporters over there? Part of it is that these are her own people. She speaks their language and can travel freely among them. Another part is that Canadian reporters are typically 'embedded.' They live in the security of the garrison amidst our soldiers where what they get to report on is pretty much what they're allowed to see.

The Case for Discrimination

A lot of people have learned to associate discriminaton with one of several forms of bigotry. That type of discrimination is bad, no argument here. But there are other forms of discrimination that are skills we need to exercise and hone. The discriminating mind, for example, can be a wonderful blessing.

Today, up is down and night is day. The extremists have become really adept at sowing confusion and doubt through the use of spin. Most of us either don't recognize it and fall prey to it or we simply shrug it off. We shouldn't take it so lightly for spin and the spinmeisters are working very hard to get us to do their bidding.

An article appeared in this morning's Globe by John O'Sullivan who is described as a "senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington." Wow, not just any ordinary fellow but a senior fellow and from the Hudson Institute at that. Surely the Hudson Institute must be a really prestigious center of knowledge, right? Maybe, but probably it's actually a spin mill. Fortunately for O'Sullivan and Hudson, the Globe wasn't about to tell you that.

In his opinion piece, O'Sullivan contended that Israel is in a fundamentaly weak stragetic situation after the Lebanon fiasco and so "must win the next (war) convincingly and pretty soon." What's that? This guy is arguing that Israel ought to get into a war against some unspecified Arab nation(s) or movement(s), win that war convincingly and get the job done soon. When I read that I wanted to know a little more about this impressive-sounding Hudson Institute. Who were the people behind it and did they have a dog in this fight?

Well, the Hudson Institute, like most of these 'think tanks', has its own web site and lists its principals and their biographies. As I ran down the list I found myself looking at a pretty focused bunch of luminaries from the pro-Israel camp. A lot of them claimed to have expertise in Arab affairs. Perhaps but, if so, it was from a purely Israeli perspective.

Here's my point. If you read something from some institute or foundation and you're curious whether you're not being fed some pretty pointed propaganda, there are places you can go that will clear the haze. One of my favourites is which is run by the Center for Media and Democracy. It's really worth a visit. When you're there, be sure to click on their subsite PR Watch.

A huge amount of cash is pumped into these spin mills and it's all for one purpose, to manipulate you. They can't take the ballot out of your hand but with enough confusion, deception and distraction they have a decent chance of getting you to put your "x" right where they want it. Look at it this way: they wouldn't be pumping vast millions of dollars into this effort if they weren't getting a good return on their investment.

Politics has always been about choices. Invariably both sides can come up with good ideas, especially when they have to in order to win your vote. Politics is about debate, arguing and defending one's position as superior to the other guy's. Through this process we hope there emerges an informed electorate that can make the best decision for our country.

Spin seeks to corrupt that process and thereby undermine democracy itself. Spin works to create an uninformed, confused, sometimes angry, sometimes fearful electorate that will vote in the way the people who wield this weapon against them want them to vote.

Driving these moneychangers out of the temple is one of the greatest challenges facing our very democracy. If these creeps tried to buy your vote with cash, we'd put them behind bars. If they use more sophisticated techniques to achieve the same end they get away with it.

From globalization to global security and global warming, the spin machine is up and running furiously. Some of the problems that we're going to have to decide how to deal with in the coming years are enormous and we're going to need clear heads and informed minds to make the right choices. It's time we learned to pay more attention to the messenger and a little less to the message.

Monday, August 21, 2006

To Hate America or Not To Hate America

Scanning these posts you'll notice that a lot of them focus on the United States and that they tend to be unfavourable toward America. I want to make it clear, I do not hate the United States of America but, like a great many Americans, I have come to loathe what it has turned into and where it apparently is heading.

Time was it was considered extremely rude to pronounce judgments on someone else's country. That will explain why you see so few references on this blog to the Norwegians and their beastly ways. I won't even go into the Tongans. But you see, the United States is different and, because of those differences, it directly and dramatically affects each and every one of us and that makes it fair game. Washington knows it affects us, in fact it wants to reach everyone on the planet. Think I'm paranoid or delusional or making this up? If you have any doubt I'd invite you to take a stroll through the pages of The Project for the New American Century which you'll find at

PNAC is the viper's nest from which the American neoconservative movement slithered. It has, in turn, spawned spin mills like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. PNAC was formed in the wake of Bush I's decision not to invade Iraq lest America get dragged into a quagmire. What was that old nancy boy thinking? The PNAC'ers believe America must dominate the planet, thwarting, by military force if necessary, any nation that evolves to become its military, political or economic rival. Now I know that sounds insane but it's there for all to read on their web site. Remember, PNAC is a group founded by such obscure types as Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and others, the same group that succeeded in seizing control of the White House. We know where that has taken the world, don't we?

The bright lights of PNAC are, collectively, the Darth Vader of American democracy and, thanks to the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks, they have brought out the very worst in the United States and transformed it into a genuine, rogue nation that has destabilized the Middle East and endangered the security of the rest of the planet, and that includes you. It's their America I can't stomach.

Fact is I love Americans... all the thinking, questioning, decent and honourable Americans and they are a large and growing segment of their population. Among their ranks you'll find Bill Moyers and Paul Krugman, Jon Stewart, Al Franken and Chris Hedges and many, many more. I hope to introduce you to these people who carry the banner of moderation and, with it, their nation's promise of progressive reform.

There was a time when the world was in a healthy state of balance, swinging a little bit left for a while and then a little bit right, and somehow becoming a better place through what it learned from both sides. Now we have this perverse force that is dragging our societies, our nations toward the far right and we're paying an awful price for that. They want to take us to an extreme where thousands of years of history and countless tyrants have shown we cannot live as free men and women. This problem may sound daunting, a hopeless challenge but the truth is that you already have the power to change all this if you'll only take the time to learn about it and come to understand it.

There is a reason these people are fearmongers and wanton dissemblers. If they can't keep you confused, frightened and off-balance they can't prevail. You don't have to put up with that and, if you don't, your world will be a much better place for it.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Whither Democracy?

I am no political scientist and don't pretend to be one. What I know I've gleaned from my reporting days and, since then, from what I've read and observed. That said, I knew plenty to realize from the outset that Washington's grandiose plan to bring democracy to Iraq and, from there, to the Middle East was doomed to failure.

Americans have a vision of themselves as exceptional, unique and, frankly, superior. They believe their form of democracy to be the ideal and, if you fervently believed that, how could you not want to share that with other, less fortunate nations?

The approach is both simplistic and naive. Look around the world today and you'll quickly see that democracy comes in an array of shapes and styles. Think of democracy as a pair of shoes. One person may like size 10 loafers. But what if that person decides that someone with a size 8 or a size 12 foot should also wear size 10 loafers? What if the chosen someone happens to live and work in the arctic?

Abraham Lincoln understood the true meaning of democracy. In his Gettysburg Address he stated it quite succinctly as, "government of the people, by the people, for the people." It must be a government defined by an electorate, controlled by an electorate and which serves the electorate. Nothing else will do.

Where we stumble is in the flawed belief that global democracy will yield a sort of democratic uniformity and that is simply nonsense. Any given people will shape their democratic system and institutions to accommodate their own cultural, religious, social, ethnic and traditional values. American democracy has had more than two centuries to adapt to American values but even there it had to endure major challenges such as civil war, slavery, universal suffrage. How could that model possibly suit some other nation with so many values different than our own?

When a people exercise their democratic franchise, we're not always happy with the result. The Palestinian people chose Hamas as their leaders and some Shia Lebanese gave Hezbollah a number of seats in the Lebanese government. Washington is furious about those events and has learned to be wary of what democracy might bring to strategic Middle Eastern allies such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

Since the Second World War, America hasn't always supported democracy. In Iran it toppled the democratically-elected government and installed the Shah and a brutal, police state in its stead. In Chile, America collaborated with the generals to stage a coup and murder the elected President, Salvador Allende. The U.S. has also freely used its power and wealth to manipulate elections in other nations such as Afghanistan and the Ukraine. Imagine if the European Union decided to covertly send massive amounts of money to America to help topple the Republican government.

Democracy is like a living thing. The idea needs to be planted when the conditions are right for it to take hold. It needs to be nurtured and tended. If all the necessary conditions are in place it might grow but it is going to begin as a mere, fragile seedling. With time, and a lot of luck, it may become a tree but, even then, that tree will be a creature of its immediate environment.

In 1988, Patrick Watson, one of the finest journalists ever to come out of the CBC, crafted an excellent, 10-part series called, "The Struggle for Democracy." Part of the programme entailed a survey of widely different styles of democracy that had emerged in different corners of the world. I was lucky enough to have watched Watson's 'Democracy.' 28-years later, this would probably be a good time for CBC to air an updated version of the original.

We need to be both realistic and infinitely patient in our expectations and demands for the spread of democracy. Remember, it took Western civilization the better part of two millenia to evolve the democratic institutions we take for granted today and there were many conflicts and setbacks along the way. Introducing and establishing democracy in a place where it has never been is so much more than just changing a form of government or rule. Democracy by its very nature impacts other aspects of society whether that be cultural, ethnic, religious, social or economic. Each must adapt to the others and to a new order. That takes time and a lot of trial and error if it is to succeed. Just as we have learned to accept and respect other religions and cultures, so we need to learn to respect democracy in all its forms and at all its stages even if other democratic states aren't to our political or economic liking.

21 August, 2006 - This Just In

Word is beginning to circulate in Washington that the Bush administration is having second thoughts about democracy for Iraq. An article in today's "The Australian" following up an article published last week in "The New York Times" quotes an anonymous military affairs expert who attended a White House briefing and reported, "Senior administration officials have acknowledged to me that they are considering alternatives other than democracy (for Iraq)."

Sunday Times reporter, Andrew Sullivan notes, "There comes a point at which even Bush's platinum-strength levels of denial have to bow to reality. That point may be now. ...Recently Bush has been wondering why the Shi'ites in southern Iraq have displayed such ingratitude to the man who liberated them from Saddam. It does not seem to have occurred to him that a populace terrorised by invasion, sectarian murder, non-existent government and near anarchy might feel angry at the man who rid them of dictatorship but then refused to provide a minimal level of security for the aftermath. And so, the frustrated born-again neocon in Bush may be ceding to the caucus of those dubbed the "to-hell-with-them" hawks.

So much for the hollow promise of occupying Iraq to plant the seed of democracy in the Muslim world. The flimsy weapons of mass destruction thing slipped through Bush's fingers a long time ago as did Baghdad as a supporter of international terrorism. They're down to Saddam, that's all they have left to justify this fiasco and, if America does move to instal another dictator in Iraq, then this whole business was a hideous, horrid mistake, an utter FUBAR.

This morning's Globe & Mail has a headline that exults in Canada's awesome victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan yesterday. I guess it's supposed to be a bit of good news to wipe away the grief Canadians have felt over the succession of deaths of our own over the past month. It's even got a body count and it looks as though we killed a few dozen insurgents for no losses of our own. I guess that's it then. We should probably tell the Taliban where we would like them to line up to surrender.

We're now using body counts to measure victory. It has come to that. What a powerful instrument of self-delusion. It's not a matter of how many we kill, it's a matter of how many will come in to replace them. It isn't a matter of wiping out a bunch of insurgents at one village, it's which side will control this village in a few days when we've gone back to the safety of our garrison. When it really comes down to it, it's a matter of which side has the will to outlast the other. In their decade-long war in Vietnam, US forces never lost a battle, not one. They killed their enemies by the hundreds of thousands. The only thing the Americans lost in Vietnam was the war itself.

I guess in politics, timing is everything. Poor Stephen Harper. Canada's pretend prime minister took over just in time to see those he most wants to emulate, George Bush and Tony Blair, crash and burn in their own countries. We know from an article Harper wrote to an American paper back in 2003 that, back then, he would've been delighted to be prime minister and send Canadian soldiers into Iraq. Harper believes Canada should stand "shoulder to shoulder" with this gang of ideological incompetents. Oh, Canada!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

I was never enamoured of the Star Spangled Banner. Like most national anthems, it is stilted and awkward and just a bit creepy, like joining strangers in a group hug. I guess I've just got too much "true patriot love."

Ever since the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, I keep coming back to the last line of the American anthem and I've come to really appreciate what it says. To me at least, it's the best, single line of any anthem I've ever heard.

Land of the free, home of the brave. Even if that was always a blend of myth and reality, the past five years have shown how directly linked are a people's bravery and their freedom.

In the greater scheme of global conflict, the casualties inflicted in the al-Qaeda attacks were actually pretty modest. Roughly 3,000 killed. You would have to look pretty far down the list of human suffering before you got to that one. But look what it did to the American people, the folks from the Home of the Brave.

The September 11th attacks inflicted real terror on the American people. Who watched the WTC towers collapse, one after the other, and wasn't profoundly troubled? Outside of bin Laden's inner circle, those images sent shockwaves around the entire world.

No one can fault Americans for being fearful on that day and in the days immediately after when they had to wonder if there were more attacks looming. What surprised me, however, was how persistent and deep that fear turned out to be. Remember the day when Tom Ridge asked his fellow citizens to lay in supplies of duct tape and plastic sheeting, just in case? Store shelves were torn bare of the stuff and across the U.S. people raced to hermetically seal up their homes in fear of a non-existent danger. It was then that I realized how far America had fallen from being the Home of the Brave.

As I watched Americans being fed a diet of fear by al-Qaeda and then by their own leaders, I saw how ready they were to give up their freedoms in exchange for empty assurances of their safety. The Patriot Act, warrantless wire taps, secret and indefinite detention without charge or benefit of counsel, data mining, illegal warmaking, each marking a surrender of basic freedoms and human rights.

Bravery is only tangible when the brave resist what threatens them. If they capitulate to those who infect them with fear, they just as quickly lose their hold on their freedoms.

Those of us lucky enough to have been spared this defining moment of truth need to profit from this lesson. We need to reflect on our rights and what they really mean to us and our society. We need to recall how each of those rights has been paid for - in blood - and often more than once. We need to understand that, if we fail to defend those rights, there are and have always been those who would strip us of them.

Definitely Not Oprah's Book Club

These are fascinating times in which we live. From global warming to global warfare, our world is in the midst of fundamental change. Simply trying to make sense of what is happening can be a challenge. To do my bit to aid understanding I'd like to introduce some of the best books I've read recently. I'll give a brief precis of each and I hope you'll find it sufficiently interesting to check them out.

1. Future Tense, Gwynne Dyer, McClelland & Stewart.

For anyone unfamiliar with this man, Dyer is a Canadian with a compelling understanding of world conflict. He holds a doctorate in Military and Middle Eastern affairs from the University of London and has lectured at Oxford and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (Britain's West Point). Dyer is a syndicated columnist although you won't find his stuff in many Canadian papers. If you're interested in his columns, a lot of them are available on his web site:

In "Future Tense" Dyer presents an analysis of the Iraq fiasco and American foreign policy on the Middle East. He explains how the Bush administration works to undercut the United Nations and the risk that the U.S. will return the world to strategic blocs of nations suspicious of and threatening to each other, the same situation that brought us to two world wars.

Gwynne Dyer comes to the defence of the United Nations with a skilful analysis of how it has enabled us to change the world that existed prior to 1945. He depicts the UN as a 'work in progress' and shows that the evolution of the United Nations and international law is a project that will likely take a century to reach fulfillment. The far right today doesn't waste any opportunity to criticize and mock the UN as weak, hapless and ineffectual. Dyer takes those arguments apart, one by one, to reveal the dangers facing all nations from the neoconservative agenda.

Here are two passages from the back cover of "Future Tense":

Dyer contends, "that the fate of Iraq is a sideshow, the
terrorist threat a red herring, and the radical Islamists'
dream of worldwide jihad against the West a fantasy.
The ideas may be shocking, but he backs them up with
a solid analysis of the motives and strategies of the fringe
group of extremists - in both the Middle East and the
United States - who have delivered the world to the
brink of disaster."
"What is most worrying, Dyer maintains, is not that
the United States will be defeated in Iraq but that it
migt not be defeated soon enough."
2. WAR is a force that gives us meaning, Chris Hedges 2002, Perseus Books Group
This little gem I picked up from the bargain bin at Munroe's book shop in Victoria. I wish I'd been able to get a dozen copies to send to friends. I expect this is going to be hard to find but you might try Abe Books (online) if you're interested.
Chris Hedges writes for The New York Times and has covered just about every war over the past 15-years. He's quite unique for a reporter. He has a master of divinity degree from Harvard and is an adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia. He received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism and was a member of The Times' team that won the 2002 Pulitzer for their coverage of global terrorism.
The author describes how societies are drawn to war and how it can be as addictive and destructive as heroin. This book is packed with startling insights that may take you aback. Here are a few excerpts:
"While we venerate and mourn our own dead we
are curiously indifferent about those we kill. Thus
killing is done in our name, killing that concerns us
little, while those who kill our own are seen as having
crawled out of the deepest recesses of the earth, lacking
our own humanity and goodness. Our dead. Their dead.
They are not the same. Our dead matter. Theirs do not."
"'The principle of movement is whoever is not included is
excluded, whoever is not with me is against me, so the
world loses all nuances and pluralistic aspects that have
become too confusing for the masses,' wrote Hanna Arendt in The
Origins of Totalitarianism.'"
"We were humbled in Vietnam, purged, for a while, of a
dangerous hubris, offered in our understanding and reflection
about the war, a moment of grace. We became a better country."
"We often become as deaf and dumb as those we condemn.
We too have our terrorists. The Contras in Nicaragua carried out,
with funding from Washington, some of the most egregious human
rights violations in Central America, yet were hailed as 'freedom fighters.'
Jonas Savimbi, the rebel leader the United States backed in
Angola's civil war, murdered and tortured with a barbarity
that outstriped the Taliban. ...President Ronald Reagan called
Savimbi the Abraham Lincoln of Angola although he littered
the country with land mines, once bombed a Red Cross-run
factory making artficial limbs for the victims of those mines,
and pummeled a rival's wife and children to death."
"The moral certitude of the state in wartime is a kind of
fundamentalism. And this dangerous messianic brand of religion,
one where self-doubt is minimal, has come increasingly to
color the modern world of Christianity, Judaism ad Islam.
Dr. James Luther Adams, my ethics professor at Harvard
Divinity School, used to tell us that we would end our careers
fighting an ascendant fundamentalist movement, or, as he
liked to say, 'the Christian fascists.'"
Hedges' WAR is a terrific read. You won't put it down and, when you're finished, you'll realize how your perspective has been changed.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A World Full of Terror

If you're like me (and I hope you are) you must be getting really tired of all the terror being bandied about from every direction. Terrorism is a tool of two types: terrorists and unscrupulous politicians. Both of them have the same target in their sights - you.

What is terrorism but the instilling of fear into a people or a society or a nation for the purpose of obtaining a desired result? When it comes to the applied science of fear, who is more masterful: Osama bin Laden or Dick Cheney? I'd pick Cheney, hands down, and I bet so would he.

Terrorism is the time-honoured, stock in trade tactic of insurgents. It is normally wielded by them with great brutality. Shock value is everything. Guerrilla Warfare 101 holds that the goal of insurgents is to drive a wedge between the populace and their government by showing the government forces incapable of protecting the citizenry. By undermining public confidence in government, the guerrilla seeks to whittle away at popular support for the existing establishment either to secure the overthrow of the government or to drive the public to compel their leaders to relent to the terrorists' demands. This is especially potent if sizeable elements of the citizenry harbour latent grievances against the government. Insecurity greatly magnifies smoldering discontent. For the guerrilla or insurgent or 'freedom fighter', terrorism is a way to wage war in a situation where they lack other means of combat. Bereft of artillery or strike fighters or tanks, booby traps or suicide bombers may become the poor man's only weapons of significance. That's not to excuse or condone, merely to acknowledge reality.

The infliction of terror by one side against the populace of the other isn't, however, the despicable, exlusive prerogative of the insurgent. As the latest war in Lebanon so clearly shows, terrorism can also and is used by the big guys, the powerful side, against the citizenry of the weaker side. This too is nothing new. Since the dawn of civilization, victorious armies have been putting the innocent civilians of the other side to the sword, "pour encouragez les autres." The ancient Mesopotamians did it, so did the Romans. It was almost de rigeuer in the Dark and Middle Ages. Hitler used his Luftwaffe and Waffen SS to the same end. Who hasn't heard of Guernica? The Blitzkrieg entailed driving civilian masses onto the highways to cripple the mobility of the defenders and then relentlessly strafing and bombing the innocents from the air to keep the good times rolling.Some may find it offensive to incorporate references to Nazis and Israelis in the same paragraph. To them I apologize for any hurt feelings but fall back on "res ipsa loquitor." No nation with the advantage of total air supremacy attacks a residential neighbourhood with aerial bombs and can thereafter claim not to hagve intended massive civilian casualties.

A fundamental principle of the law of all civilized nations is that we are deemed to intend the logical consequences of our acts. The logical, indeed inevitable, consequence of the use of high-explosive, aerial bombs on civilian neighbourhoods is inarguably the deaths of innocent civilians in massive numbers. Israel knows this and yet has rarely refrained from such attacks. The fact that Israel is our ally, our friend, doesn't alter the monstrosity of their actions. But then again, let's not judge Israel too harshly given the willingness of our side, at least the United States, to wage similar aerial warfare on Iraqi and Afghan neighbourhoods. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

The other form of terrorism, the use of fear against us by our own leaders, is, in some respects, even more insidious. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001 (I hate "9/11"), the Bush administration chose to ruthlessly exploit the misery and fear of that situation to their own, utterly partisan advantage. For five full years they have leveraged this atrocity to their direct benefit. They have made fear an integral part of their electoral politics. Like clockwork, before every critical election they have conjured up terrorist crises to subdue their electorate. Whenever they are faced with exposure or scandal they do a remarkably blatant, "terrorism bait and switch." They have also unashamedly used the terrorism card to defame their opponents as unpatriotic and weak, even stooges for the insurgents, incapable of protecting the American people.

Contrast this with the advent of World War Two. Churchill delivered a number of stirring speeches in which he prepared the English people for the desperate struggle that lay ahead of them. He didn't exploit their fear. Instead he summoned up their courage and resolve. His was a nation and people on the ropes, standing alone against a tyrannical juggernaut, in imminent danger of invasion, conquest and enslavement. "We will fight them on the beaches, on the landing places, on the farms and in the cities. We will never surrender." Likewise, in the aftermath of December 7th, Roosevelt emboldened his people by proclaiming, "We have nothing to fear, except fear itself." Both of these brilliant leaders recognized that fear was the enemy of their people, their society, their civilization. Would that wisdom, that decency obtained today.

Conjuring up demons and inflicting fear to manipulate one's own people is craven and cowardly and despicable. Yet it is a favoured tool of Bush and Blair, Howard and Harper. If we cannot find it within ouselves to renounce these people and their grotesque assault, what possible hope have we to defeat those who would terrorize us from the outside?