|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
Iraqi officer deserts with Fallujah battle plans
Reuters (via ABC AU), November 7, 2004
An Iraqi military commander has deserted US forces hours after he received a full briefing on US military plans to storm the rebel-held city of Fallujah, CNN has reported.
The pool report sent to Reuters and other media from a US marine unit quoted US officers as saying the desertion of the unidentified captain, a Kurdish company commander, would not change plans to retake the city before elections scheduled for January 27.
They said they believe the officer, who commanded 160 Iraqi soldiers training with US marines at a base on the outskirts of Fallujah, was not likely to hand over battle plans to rebels in the Sunni Muslim city.
The officer disappeared on Friday morning, one day after US marine officers gave him a full briefing on the battle plans. US officers found his uniform and automatic rifles on his bed. [complete article]
U.S. strikes raze Falluja hospital
BBC News, November 6, 2004
A hospital has been razed to the ground in one of the heaviest US air raids in the Iraqi city of Falluja.
Witnesses said only the facade remained of the small Nazzal Emergency Hospital in the centre of the city. There are no reports on casualties.
A nearby medical supplies storeroom and dozens of houses were damaged as US forces continued preparing the ground for an expected major assault. [complete article]
Battle near, Iraqi Sunnis make offer
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, November 6, 2004
As Marines step up preparations for military offensives on two major Iraqi cities, a number of Sunni Muslim leaders are forwarding a plan to establish the rule of law in those areas through peaceful means, with the promise of reducing the insurgency across a large swath of the country.
Some of the groups leading the bid have encouraged violent resistance in central, western and northern Iraq. The groups say they will withdraw their support for violence if Iraq's interim government can reassure Sunni leaders wary of national elections, which are scheduled for the end of January.
The Sunnis have proposed six measures, including a demand that U.S. forces remain confined to bases in the month before balloting. Such an ambitious demand, which some advocates acknowledge is not likely to be met and may be open to negotiation, represents a dramatic shift by Sunni groups opposed to the U.S. operation in Iraq.
Until now, groups such as the Association of Muslim Scholars, which supports the new proposal, had insisted that no election could be considered legitimate until Western troops left Iraq. The association has repeatedly threatened to call for an election boycott through the loudspeakers of Iraq's Sunni mosques, which the association represents. [complete article]
Rebel attacks in Samarra kill 33
BBC News, November 6, 2004
At least 33 people have been killed in car bombs and other attacks in Samarra, north of Baghdad, police say. Two blasts went off outside the mayor's office. A US convoy thought to be trying to reach the scene was also hit. There are also reports that militants attacked three police stations, killing and wounding a number of policemen.
Samarra has been cited by the Iraqi government as an example of how they have been able to restore order to areas formerly controlled by rebels. US and Iraqi forces seized control of the Sunni Muslim city in early October. [At the time, Patrick Cockburn wrote in the Independent: "American generals in Iraq triumphantly announced at the weekend that they had successfully taken over Samarra and killed 125 insurgents. They failed to mention that this is the third time they have captured this particular city on the Tigris river north of Baghdad in the past 18 months."]
The BBC's Claire Marshall in Baghdad says that on the eve of an attack on Falluja, events in Samarra seem to demonstrate that it takes more than a large scale military assault to bring a town fully under control. [complete article]
Bush adviser on Iraq policy to step down
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, November 6, 2004
Robert D. Blackwill, the tough-minded diplomat brought to the White House last year to take charge of the administration's troubled Iraq policy, unexpectedly announced his resignation yesterday. His departure deprives the administration of a key figure involved in the effort to ensure that Iraq holds elections by the end of January.
Blackwill had been mentioned prominently in speculation about President Bush's second-term foreign policy team, with some observers pegging him as a possible successor to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. But in an e-mail yesterday afternoon to colleagues on the National Security Council staff, Blackwill said he had told Rice several weeks ago he would continue working through the U.S. presidential election but leave soon afterward, thus taking himself out of the post-election jockeying for power. [complete article]
What next after Arafat?
By Tony Karon, Time.com, November 4, 2004
The epic irony of Yasser Arafat's final hours or days is the growing sense that he may facilitate, by his death, what he failed to achieve in the course of his storied life. As recently as a week ago, Palestinian statehood had seemed like nothing more than an abstract wish for the foreseeable future; now, suddenly, with the Palestinian leader reportedly in a terminal coma, Palestinian statehood is once again being discussed in the realm of the possible. It's not simply Arafat's passing from the scene that has enabled the shift. The Bush administration is facing rising pressure from its Iraq and war-on-terror allies to forcefully restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the argument being that without a fair solution to the conflict -- the single most important source of Muslim rage against the U.S. -- the West can make no political headway against al-Qaeda. Until now, the stock response from Washington has been to insist that there can be no meaningful negotiations over a two-state solution as long as Arafat held the levers of power in the Palestinian national movement. [complete article]
Some perspective on the election
By Paul Woodward, November 6, 2004
Before we all get carried away with an "us" and "them" mentality let's not forget that 39% of the blue voters live in red states. I happen to be one of them. While President Bush and the White House now trumpet their "mandate" a more accurate description of what many Americans gave Bush was nothing more than the benefit of the doubt.
The real winner of the presidential election was FEAR. Fear drove many Americans to vote for Bush and it seems apparent that many of the same people were even scared to identify themselves as Bush supporters. In the North Carolina county where I live, in the months leading up to the election, Kerry bumper stickers must have outnumbered Bush stickers by a hundred to one. But when it came to the vote here, Bush beat Kerry by one percent. The skewed exit poll numbers across the country also suggest that in disproportionate numbers Bush supporters were unwilling to reveal their allegiance.
If Bush just won a vote of confidence, his supporters were surprisingly coy about expressing that confidence. What seems more likely is that the votes that gave him victory were cast by people both scared of change and scared of becoming targets of the popular hatred of Bush. Republicans now jubilant about the consolidation of their power are liable to overlook the fact that their slim margin of victory came from support that wasn't freely given but only secretly lent. If, as already seems evident, George Bush misconstrues an expression of widespread fear as an expression of deep support, he is destined to fall. He now thinks he speaks for America but in truth he never heard what America was saying.
Why they won
By Thomas Frank, New York Times, November 5, 2004
The first thing Democrats must try to grasp as they cast their eyes over the smoking ruins of the election is the continuing power of the culture wars. Thirty-six years ago, President Richard Nixon championed a noble "silent majority" while his vice president, Spiro Agnew, accused liberals of twisting the news. In nearly every election since, liberalism has been vilified as a flag-burning, treason-coddling, upper-class affectation. This year voters claimed to rank "values" as a more important issue than the economy and even the war in Iraq.
And yet, Democrats still have no coherent framework for confronting this chronic complaint, much less understanding it. Instead, they "triangulate," they accommodate, they declare themselves converts to the Republican religion of the market, they sign off on Nafta and welfare reform, they try to be more hawkish than the Republican militarists. And they lose. And they lose again. Meanwhile, out in Red America, the right-wing populist revolt continues apace, its fury at the "liberal elite" undiminished by the Democrats' conciliatory gestures or the passage of time. [complete article]
'It's a victory for people like us'
By David Finkel, Washington Post, November 5, 2004
Here on Redwood Drive, in the little house with the white picket fence, these first days after the election are good days, happy days, blessed days.
"Dear Lord," Cary Leslie is saying for the sixth time since waking up at 3:45 a.m. to go to work. He has prayed for strength not to hit the snooze button on the alarm clock. He has prayed for a safe day for his wife and three children. He has prayed for patience with the foul-tempered customers he deals with at the car-rental counter. He has prayed for a job that will pay enough for a struggling family of five to keep up with the bills. He has prayed for a quick resolution to the presidential election. And now, with the election decided, he is thanking God for listening to his prayers.
Tara Leslie, Cary's wife, has been praying for President Bush, too, and now she is saying, "I think it's so important to have a society of moral absolutes."
"It's really good to know our country had a decision to make, and there are so many people who feel this way," Cary says. "It's a victory for people like us." [complete article]
See also, A victory for 'values,' but whose? (WP).
Marines prepare for Fallujah battle
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, November 4, 2004
The number of dead and wounded from the expected battle to retake insurgent-controlled Fallujah probably will reach levels not seen since Vietnam, a senior surgeon at the Marine camp outside Fallujah said Thursday.
Navy Cmdr. Lach Noyes said the hospital here is preparing to handle 25 severely injured soldiers a day, not counting walking wounded and the dead. The hospital has added two operating rooms, doubled its supplies, added a mortuary and stocked up on blood reserves. Doctors have set up a system of ambulance vehicles that will rush to the camp's gate to receive the dead and wounded so units can return to battle quickly.
The plans underscore the ferocity of the fight the U.S. military expects in Fallujah, a Sunni Muslim city about 35 miles west of Baghdad which has been under insurgent control since April. More than 1,120 U.S. soldiers and Marines have died in Iraq since the war began, more than 860 of those from hostile fire.
The deadliest month was April when fierce fighting killed 126 U.S. troops largely at Fallujah and Ramadi before a cease-fire virtually turned Fallujah over to the insurgents. Even then, the death toll was far below the worst month of Vietnam, April 1969, when the U.S. death toll was 543 at the height of American involvement there. [complete article]
U.S. faces gap in 'intelligence war' in Iraq
By Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, November 5, 2004
Iraq's growing insurgency has no shortage of funds, and it is waging ever more lethal and sophisticated attacks against a US-led coalition still hampered by a paucity of on-the-ground intelligence.
"We just don't believe there's any lack of funding," says a senior US military intelligence officer with extensive experience in Iraq. Indeed, the insurgency has gained both tactically and numerically, with Pentagon estimates of core fighters rising as high as 12,000. Tens of thousands part-time backers may join in on any given day.
The tenacious resistance highlights the persistent difficulties the US military faces in identifying and tracking down insurgent networks in what senior military officials are increasingly calling an "intelligence war." "The fact is, we [took] Baghdad in weeks, but we're going to be fighting an intelligence war there for a very long time," says Lt. Gen. William Boykin, deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. [complete article]
What Bush can do to salvage Iraq
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, November 5, 2004
Iraq has become a Catch-22: The definition of victory is a stable Iraqi government that can maintain security without depending on U.S. troops. But a viable Iraqi government, again almost by definition, will be one that can claim it ended the U.S. occupation and restored Iraq's dignity and independence.
Ayad Allawi, Iraq's interim prime minister, is caught in this double bind. The more he depends on U.S. help, the less legitimate he appears in Iraqi eyes. For that reason, Allawi has been pushing to accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces -- especially two armored divisions he thinks are crucial. I'm told the Iraqi leader was so upset about this issue that when Donald Rumsfeld visited Baghdad last month, Allawi briefly suggested he might not run in January's elections.
After a strong start last summer, Allawi knows he is losing the confidence of Iraqis. In a poll completed a month ago, the percentage of Iraqis who said the interim government was effective had fallen to 43 percent, compared with 63 percent in July. A frustrated Allawi sent a letter to Bush in October complaining that the training of Iraqi forces wouldn't be completed until well after the elections scheduled in late January, "which is simply too late," according to excerpts published in the New Yorker.
The locus of the Iraqi Catch-22 is the city of Fallujah. In addition to being the center of the anti-American insurgency, it's a symbol of Sunni Muslims' resistance to what they fear will be future domination by Iraq's Shiite majority. Fallujah may be the decisive battle of the war, but it's an especially delicate one. An American-led "victory" that razes the city could further alienate the Sunnis and poison the chances for political reconciliation. That's why Allawi wants the armored units so badly -- so that Iraqi tanks can lead the way into Fallujah and make it look less like an American operation.
U.S. Marines, joined by about 4,000 Iraqi troops, are poised to attack the city. U.S. commanders in Baghdad believe the troops are ready to roll, but the attack isn't likely until after Ramadan ends in about 10 days. Allawi and the Americans will probably make a last effort at negotiation; they know military victory in Fallujah might come at the cost of political defeat. [complete article]
Comment -- It's an over-simplification to regard the consequences of an assault on Fallujah as hinging on whether it is perceived as an Iraqi operation or a US operation. However large the Iraqi contingent, it's reasonable to assume that most of the killing will be done by Americans. But even in the unlikely situation that this really is an Iraqi operation with US support, CNN is now reporting that the bulk of the Iraqi forces already in place are made up of peshmerga (Kurdish) and Shia troops. Pitting Kurdish and Shia forces against Sunni insurgents has the makings of creating the epicenter for a civil war. And even while Allawi is claiming that most of the civilians have already left Fallujah -- implying that the city is likely to be a battleground populated exclusively by combatants -- it is now being reported that 50,000 civilians remain.
Soldiers describe looting of explosives
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, November 4, 2004
In the weeks after the fall of Baghdad, Iraqi looters loaded powerful explosives into pickup trucks and drove the material away from the Al Qaqaa ammunition site, according to a group of U.S. Army reservists and National Guardsmen who said they witnessed the looting.
The soldiers said about a dozen U.S. troops guarding the sprawling facility could not prevent the theft because they were outnumbered by looters. Soldiers with one unit -- the 317th Support Center based in Wiesbaden, Germany -- said they sent a message to commanders in Baghdad requesting help to secure the site but received no reply.
The witnesses' accounts of the looting, the first provided by U.S. soldiers, support claims that the American military failed to safeguard the munitions. Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency -- the U.N. nuclear watchdog -- and the interim Iraqi government reported that about 380 tons of high-grade explosives had been taken from the Al Qaqaa facility after the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003. The explosives are powerful enough to detonate a nuclear weapon. [complete article]
Comment -- I didn't bother posting this yesterday since this story is already dead. It always had more symbolic and political significance than anything else. 377 tons of high explosives gone missing is after all a drop in the bucket considering that altogether 250,000 tons of munitions and explosives are unaccounted for across Iraq. Even so, hearing it reported later on NPR and cable news I figured someone might still be interested in the details.
The irony is that the really huge story in the days before the election - the study reporting that 100,000 Iraqis have died in the war - ended up being a news blip that got errased by the appearance of Osama bin Laden.
A tragedy and an opportunity
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, November 5, 2004
In the days when Britain was being forced to give up one colony after another, the phrase "father of the nation" was much in vogue. Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, Archbishop Makarios in Cyprus, and Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia were among the many who won this informal title - not just from journalists in search of a label but, more importantly, from their own people. As teachers, clerics or trade unionists who became political leaders, they were seen as the chief architects of the struggle for independence.
Forty years on from the age of decolonisation, Yasser Arafat is the last man who can claim that status. In many ways his title is even more deserved. He had to win recognition of the fact that there was such a thing as a Palestinian nation at all. For decades, the Arab states and the British, who initially had the mandate to run Palestine, and the Israelis, who moved into the land, refused to accept there were Palestinian people, let alone a nation.
Unlike other independence leaders, Arafat was not working in a situation when the settler community had reached its peak and the metropolitan governments that supported them were starting to lose heart. He had to fight against a constantly expanding settler tide linked to a determined government and a rock-hard military, both of which were backed, or at least not opposed, by a world superpower. Nor was the definition of the territory fixed. It was under constant threat of shrinkage - and is to this day. [complete article]
Palestinians choose two to assume Arafat roles
By John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore, Washington Post, November 5, 2004
With Yasser Arafat gravely ill in a hospital near Paris, Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, were chosen Thursday to temporarily assume the Palestinian leader's duties, according to senior Palestinians familiar with the arrangements.
Arafat, 75, had reportedly slipped into unconsciousness, and a former adviser said he was on a respirator, but the day was marked by confusion, including false reports that he had died. A spokesman at Percy military hospital outside Paris said Arafat had not died but that his condition had become "more complicated." [complete article]
'Not Red Indians'
By Graham Usher, Al-Ahram, November 4, 2004
To see Arafat in Ramallah is to understand why dozens rather than thousands saw off the helicopter from the newly swept tarmac of his compound. That monument, the Muqata ("headquarters"), sprawls like an epitaph to their dream -- an avalanche of fractured concrete where once flew the hope of a state. Arafat, too, exuded an aura of glories past. He was an icon still, wrapped in an army greatcoat and vowing to return ("inshallah"), but now of exhaustion as much as fortitude.
I last spoke with him a month ago. It was, said his aides, a lunch, not an interview, though questions were permitted. He sat down at the head of a long table covered in paper. The room was washed in a dark olive light. There were no windows, only shadows. [complete article]
The day the Enlightenment went out
By Gary Wills, New York Times, November 4, 2004
This election confirms the brilliance of Karl Rove as a political strategist. He calculated that the religious conservatives, if they could be turned out, would be the deciding factor. The success of the plan was registered not only in the presidential results but also in all 11 of the state votes to ban same-sex marriage. Mr. Rove understands what surveys have shown, that many more Americans believe in the Virgin Birth than in Darwin's theory of evolution.
This might be called Bryan's revenge for the Scopes trial of 1925, in which William Jennings Bryan's fundamentalist assault on the concept of evolution was discredited. Disillusionment with that decision led many evangelicals to withdraw from direct engagement in politics. But they came roaring back into the arena out of anger at other court decisions - on prayer in school, abortion, protection of the flag and, now, gay marriage. Mr. Rove felt that the appeal to this large bloc was worth getting President Bush to endorse a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (though he had opposed it earlier).
The results bring to mind a visit the Dalai Lama made to Chicago not long ago. I was one of the people deputized to ask him questions on the stage at the Field Museum. He met with the interrogators beforehand and asked us to give him challenging questions, since he is too often greeted with deference or flattery.
The only one I could think of was: "If you could return to your country, what would you do to change it?" He said that he would disestablish his religion, since "America is the proper model." I later asked him if a pluralist society were possible without the Enlightenment. "Ah," he said. "That's the problem." He seemed to envy America its Enlightenment heritage.
Which raises the question: Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation? [complete article]
Bush expected to move quickly on Iraq
By Jonathan S. Landay and Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, November 3, 2004
President Bush's re-election gives him greater freedom of action in Iraq, and he's expected to move quickly to try to stabilize the country, beginning with a major assault on Sunni Muslim insurgents.
The new approach is fraught with risks, and it could take Bush a large part - perhaps all - of his second term, billions more taxpayers' dollars and more American lives to put Iraq on a path toward peace and begin a U.S. troop withdrawal.
"This is only the first stage of a very long process that will likely take years," said Michael Eisenstadt, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "We should lower our expectations for any rapid successes."
In Iraq on Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed an American soldier, three headless bodies were dumped under a bridge, and gunmen seized at least five more foreign workers. More than 1,100 Americans and thousands of Iraqis have been killed in the war.
But Bush no longer has to weigh the political risks of the Iraq war.
"We had to stop some operations until the (U.S.) elections were over," said a senior Iraqi Defense Ministry official who requested anonymity because he's not an authorized spokesman. "The Iraqi government requested support from the American side in the past, but the Americans were reluctant to launch military operations because they were worried about American public opinion. Now, their hands are free." [complete article]
Metal monster ready to rumble
By Patrick McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, November 3, 2004
The tank commander wanted the infantrymen to understand a central point.
"Tanks don't clear buildings. We just blow 'em away and destroy 'em," Cpl. Anthony Gantt told the assembled foot soldiers Tuesday. "You have to clear 'em out."
The anticipated assault on the nearby Iraqi insurgent stronghold of Fallouja would involve many modes of attack. But tanks -- specifically, the behemoth M-1A1 Abrams piloted by Gantt and his comrades -- are likely to play a pivotal role in the torrent of urban warfare.
Tanks are expected to be at the forefront of the initial thrust into the city, providing cover for infantrymen, blasting enemy positions and drawing fire that will reveal insurgents' locations. The 67-ton metal giants, with their imposing 120-millimeter cannons and arsenal of other weapons, are expected to rumble through the streets wreaking destruction. [complete article]
Iraq election to take place in last week of January
Election official: "Maybe the country will have settled by then."
By Lin Noueihed, Reuters, November 3, 2004
Iraq's parliamentary elections will take place in the last week of January, the body organising the poll said on Wednesday, despite relentless bombings and kidnappings.
"We, the Commission, have not fixed the date yet," Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission spokesman Farid Ayar told Reuters. "But the election day will be in the last week of January 2005."
Iraqis are due to elect a 275-seat parliament by the end of January that will draft a permanent constitution to govern Iraq after U.S.-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein last year.
The nine-member commission was charged in June with preparing for the poll, which it hopes will allow Iraqis to choose their leaders freely for the first time in decades.
But daily bombings and gunbattles have raised fears that Iraq's U.S.-backed interim government would be unable to hold elections on time or that Iraqis in some rebel-held areas of the central Sunni heartland would be unable to vote. [complete article]
Disillusioned Arab response to U.S. election
By Nicholas Blanford, Daily Star, November 4, 2004
Consistently second only to Ariel Sharon in terms of unpopularity among Arabs, US President George W. Bush's re-election victory was greeted in the Arab world with a sense of disillusionment and foreboding.
"Just like 9/11 became a watershed in American foreign policy, this election seems to me another watershed that might be much more ominous," said Samir Khalaf, professor of sociology at the American University of Beirut.
"I think it's unfortunate that he has been re-elected," said Patrick McGreavy, director for American Studies and Research at the American University of Beirut. "I think he has made some horrible blunders and I think the United States will be less safe because of this. I am amazed that the American people have voted this way."
Although the unfolding debacle in Iraq featured high in the election campaign, American voters refused to punish Bush, apparently more interested in the candidates' stands on domestic social issues such as gay marriage and abortion.
"Bush had fairly skillfully portrayed Iraq as part of the war on terrorism and so when the bad things happen, that's the terrorists doing bad things to America. There's a kind of patriotic response that we can't give in to these people," said William Quandt, professor of politics at the University of Virginia and former Middle East specialist at the National Security Council during the Carter administration.
As for the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it barely surfaced at all during the campaign, yet it remains by far the most pressing issue of concern in the Mideast. [complete article]
The once and future hope?
By Richard Cohen, Washington Post, November 4, 2004
If you set out to create the perfect Democratic presidential candidate, you would probably choose someone from the South or the border states, since John Kerry lost virtually the entire region on Tuesday, and someone who is comfortable talking the language of religion and values, since John Kerry was not, and someone whose wife is identified with conventional values, and, last, someone who took a very early position against the war in Iraq, which John Kerry did not. Such a person already exists and, as luck would have it, has a name: Al Gore.
I know, I know. It is much too early to start thinking of 2008, because we first must unite the country, confront our enemies and utter all the standard cliches. Nonsense. At a certain hour Tuesday night thoughts already turned to next time. In many of the blue states the name Hillary Clinton was uttered with frequency, and in others it was John Edwards (who has the right demographics). Not to my knowledge is anyone talking Gore -- not even, according to his friends, the man himself.
Still, you have to notice that either as a generic type of politician or a real one, Gore is what his party needs. He has relocated from Washington to Nashville, and he threw himself into the 2004 presidential campaign with commendable abandon. He endorsed Howard Dean, you will remember, but wound up campaigning for Kerry. Significantly, he was where Hillary Clinton, among others, was not -- against the war in Iraq. If the war continues, it will deepen as an issue, and Gore, as Gary Hart said about George McGovern, will be deemed "right from the start." [complete article]
With a handful of exceptions, most see results as dispiriting
By Glenn Frankel, Washington Post, November 4, 2004
Much of the world went to bed Tuesday night hoping and believing that John Kerry might win the White House but woke up Wednesday morning to find President Bush -- the most internationally unpopular American leader in decades -- on his way to a second term.
For many people outside the United States it was a dispiriting result that underscored the deep rift in policies and perceptions that has opened between the United States and many of its allies since Bush took office in January 2001.
"America has missed a great chance to reunite with the world," said Graham Allen, a member of the British Parliament from the ruling Labor Party. "I fear the tragedy for all of us is that if America doesn't reach out to its friends, then its enemies will reach out to America." [complete article]
Now that the election's over, can the president admit his mistakes?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, November 3, 2004
Soon we will learn what President Bush really thinks about the way things have gone in Iraq. During the campaign, he had to appear optimistic (all is well, we're turning the corner, freedom is on the march ...). Karl Rove had counseled him (correctly, it seems) that admitting mistakes is a sign of weakness and that, for instance, firing the advisers who'd given him a falsely rosy picture of "postwar" Iraq would be tantamount to admitting mistakes.
But now Bush has won his final election. He doesn't need to put on a happy face anymore. If he's so inclined, he can shake himself out of permanent campaign mode, furrow his brow, take a serious look at the world that faces him, and do what he thinks he should do, strictly on what he sees as the merits.
The question: Is he so inclined? And how does he see the world? To state the matter concretely: Will he give the boot to those who gave him such bad advice so glibly? Will he, at a minimum, fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his neocon entourage, most notably Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and the undersecretary for policy, Douglas Feith? [complete article]
Comment -- Among many of George Bush's opponents, it has been an article of faith that his re-election would amount to a victory for the neoconservatives. Bush, under the control of puppet-master Cheney, would dole out rewards such as making Paul Wolfowitz secretary of state. But if in fact Bush decides to dump the architects of the Iraq war (except of course for Cheney) then not only should this lead Bush critics to reconsider their assumptions about the power of the neocon cabal -- it should also lead to a reassessment of Bush himself. Bush may turn out to be much more his own man than many of us thought possible. His capacity (or lack of it) to become deeply engaged in the details of policy-making is unlikely to change, but the key to anticipating the direction of his next administration comes down to his choices for secretary of state, secretary of defense, and national security advisor. As soon as we know who they are, it will be clear whether (at least in the foreign policy arena) the next administration will be as ideologically driven as the last.
Seven retired military leaders discuss what has gone wrong in Iraq
Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak, Adm. Stansfield Turner, Lt. Gen. William Odom, Gen. Anthony Zinni, Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, Gen. Wesley Clark, Adm. William Crowe, interviewed by RollingStone.com, November 3, 2004
The nineteen months since the war in Iraq began, some of the most outspoken critics of President Bush's plan of attack have come from a group that should have been the most supportive: retired senior military leaders. We spoke with a group of generals and admirals that included a former supreme Allied commander and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and they all agreed on one thing: Bush screwed up. [complete article]
AMERICANS STUCK IN THE NO-SPIN ZONE...
NO SOLUTION TO THE FALLUJAH CONUNDRUM
The rise and fall of Fallujah
By Mahan Abedin, Asia Times, November 3, 2004
As the United States and the interim Iraqi government marshal their forces to retake the insurgent-held city of Fallujah, hopes will surely rise that the elections planned for January might be held under less threatening circumstances. But it is not only the multitude of insurgent groups in Iraq who are anxious to prove them wrong, in fact a tightly knit group of people among the post-Saddam Hussein political and security elites in Baghdad share the same aspiration as the insurgents. The key difference between them is that while the insurgents are set on sabotaging the elections to undermine not only the multinational forces but also the new Iraqi political elites, the neo-Ba'athists in Iyad Allawi's administration want the elections to fail in order to postpone the formalization of Shi'ite power in Iraq. [complete article]
Comment -- John Kerry could have taken George Bush's Iraq problem off his hands. Now Bush has no easy way out. Even as early as Inauguration Day it may already be clear to more than a few of Bush's few thoughtful supporters that they have little to celebrate. The Bush campaign succeeded in persuading the majority of voters that President Bush is a competent commander in chief. Paradoxically, increasing violence in Iraq and terrorism around the world and perhaps even inside America may only serve to invigorate blind trust in "strong" leadership. In short, faith has won over reason.
The challenge for the Democratic party over the coming years is to broaden its appeal to ordinary Americans but the much greater challenge is whether a faith-based society can recognize that faith on its own provides an inadequate compass for navigating through the modern world.
The election fixation of America will not dissipate overnight but once the media concludes this story is dead, Iraq will thrust itself back into the spotlight. Over the coming weeks what happens in Fallujah will determine the future of Iraq.
The White House and the Pentagon have clearly been persuaded by the argument that the Iraqi insurgency will continue to grow for as long as Fallujah remains a no-go area. Demonstrating that the insurgency has not already grown beyond the ability of American forces to stamp it out is an essential precondition for January's elections. Holding these elections and installing a new government is America's only hope for an exit strategy that would not look like defeat. But if Mahan Abedin's analysis above is sound, the man who will issue the command to strike Fallujah, Iyad Allawi, sees in the attack a chance to consolidate his own power, postpone the elections and in the process close the door to an early withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. America's closest ally in Iraq may turn out to be its worst enemy.
As America has turned its back on the world, the world may now turn its back on America
Hungary to pull troops out of Iraq
Associated Press (via USA Today), November 3, 2004
Hungary will withdraw its 300 non-combat troops from Iraq by March 31, the country's new prime minister said Wednesday, because staying longer would be an "impossibility."
"We are obliged to stay there until the (Iraqi) elections. To stay longer is an impossibility," Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said at a ceremony to mark the end of mandatory military service in Hungary.
The former communist country, which joined the European Union in May, sent the troops as part of the U.S.-led coalition, but the government has been under mounting pressure from citizens and opposition parties who oppose the soldiers' presence. [complete article]
Why Osama wants Bush to win
By Daniel Benjamin, Slate, October 31, 2004
Does Bin Laden care about the outcome of the election? It has become a commonplace -- certainly among Republican politicians and conservative commentators -- to say that Bin Laden wants Bush to lose. Charles Krauthammer, characteristically, suggested that only a moron could fail to understand that the terrorists' "obvious objective is to drive from power those governments most deeply involved in the war against them -- in Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere else." Citing the example of Spain and the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta shortly before that country's election, he wrote, "The real prize is America. An electoral repudiation of President Bush would be seen by the world as a repudiation of Bush's foreign policy, specifically his aggressive, preemptive and often unilateral prosecution of the war on terrorism, most especially Iraq."
Well, sure. But it's worth asking whether Krauthammer doesn't underestimate the intelligence and cunning of Bin Laden and al-Qaida, an organization dominated by engineers and doctors, and overestimate the effectiveness of the U.S.-led war on terror. I recently co-wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that noted, based on Internet material, the jihadists see themselves as being on a roll, especially in Iraq.
Experts on al-Qaida have also made the opposite point to Krauthammer's: The jihadists know that the United States is not going to capitulate in the war on terror, so the terrorists are better served by having a polarizing figure such as Bush in office. His actions, such as the invasion of Iraq, the argument runs, have aided the jihadist movement because they confirm its view that America is the ineluctable enemy of the Muslim world. The idea that by taunting Bush days before the election, Bin Laden would actually pump up his support appears widely accepted among foreign commentators, as a Google search of foreign stories on the videotape will show. Why is it inconceivable that the al-Qaida leadership couldn't also see it this way? They do, after all, study us closely. (As someone who has found his articles from scholarly journals analyzed on jihadist Web sites, I'm all too aware of this.)
The argument has the virtue of being consistent with other aspects of al-Qaida thinking. Fittingly for a group that seeks global revolution, al-Qaida has a Leninist streak: That is, they seek to maximize the tensions between the revolutionary force and the existing power structure. (Odd, isn't it, how Cold Warrior types like Krauthammer resist this notion, insisting instead on seeing the terrorists as "medieval primitives"? Both Abu al-Ala Maududi, founder of modern Islamism in South Asia, and Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian theorist who is a central inspiration for Bin Laden, were deeply influenced by Leninism.)
We know, for example, from a late December 2001 video message that Bin Laden anticipated and welcomed the U.S. retaliation against Afghanistan for the 9/11 attack, and he seems to have been delighted to hold this up as another example of American bloodthirst. It was a central part of his public-relations campaign to win support among Muslims. Similarly, his message shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq practically crooned with pleasure about the prospect of a U.S. military deployment that would proving again his argument about America. This may seem bizarre, but Lenin was thrilled by the carnage Russia suffered in World War I and rightly saw it as weakening the Czarist regime. We commit a dangerous mistake if we refuse to recognize that the jihadists are capable of such strategizing. [complete article]
Bin Laden lauds costs of war to U.S.
By John Mintz, Washington Post, November 2, 2004
Osama bin Laden boasted that the invasion of Iraq has bogged down the United States in a hopeless war that advances al Qaeda's recruitment goals and bin Laden's aim of bankrupting the U.S. economy, according to a translation of the full text of the terrorist leader's remarks on a videotape that surfaced last week.
"The thinkers and perceptive ones from among the Americans warned Bush before the war" about the dangers of invading Iraq, bin Laden said on the tape, according to a U.S. government transcript released yesterday. "But the darkness of the black gold [oil] blurred his vision. . . . The war went ahead, the death toll rose, the American economy bled, and Bush became embroiled in the swamps of Iraq that threatened his future." [complete article]
Complete transcript of bin Laden's message.
Zarqawi's role in Iraq overstated, analysts say
By Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe, November 1, 2004
American officials have grossly inflated the role of Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the violence in Iraq in their eagerness to blame foreign terrorists for the insurgency, according to Jordanian analysts and Western diplomats.
Convicts who spent time in a Jordanian prison remember Zarqawi as a ''prison prince" -- a hands-on block leader who commanded a few dozen followers with a nod or a glance, but who left arguments about religious ideology to more educated jihadists. They recall him as brutal and inarticulate, dependent on others for direction.
Analysts in Jordan, Zarqawi's native country and home until at least 1999, said Zarqawi joined the armed Islamist struggle in Afghanistan more than a decade ago. His group, among the most violent in Iraq, has claimed responsibility for a trail of brutal acts, culminating in videotaped beheadings by Zarqawi's own hand of two American contractors in September. He has also claimed responsibility for two separate massacres of Iraqi national guardsmen in late October, including the execution of 49 soldiers east of Baghdad and 11 more south of the capital.
But these analysts, as well as some Western diplomats, say Zarqawi's group is just one of many jihadist factions that attract fighters from Iraq and across the Arab world -- and that Zarqawi's capability and ties to Osama bin Laden have been exaggerated. [complete article]
An Arab 'martyr' thwarted
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, November 2, 2004
He shaved his beard to appear less conspicuously religious and then slipped into Iraq through Syria, willing to die to defeat the Americans. Soon, the young Lebanese teacher says, he found himself in a safe house in Baghdad, with a long list of Saudis and Kuwaitis ahead of him waiting to become suicide bombers.
Tired of waiting, he cadged an assignment in Falluja and learned Iraqi slang so he could travel there from Baghdad without attracting attention. But the Iraqis in Falluja eventually suggested that he and all of the mujahedeen with him in a safe house there return home.
Arab governments and Western intelligence officials express growing concern that Iraq is becoming the training ground that Afghanistan was in the 1980's, breeding another generation of fanatical warriors ready to carry their jihad back home.
Interviews with mujahedeen are rare. The violence inside Iraq makes them inaccessible; many die in the fighting and those who return face imprisonment if their own governments discover what they have done.
But on Friday afternoon, here in this notorious outlaw valley in eastern Lebanon, the teacher, a handsome 32-year-old Sunni Muslim with a neatly trimmed brown beard and a stocky build, agreed to describe his odyssey into jihad. [complete article]
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, October 29, 2004
President Bush and his minions like to suggest that the Iraq war was launched, not least, for Israel's benefit. "I personally think one of the reasons we don't have as many suicide attacks today in Israel as we had in the past is because Saddam is no longer in business," says Vice President Dick Cheney. "A free Iraq will secure Israel," says the president.
This line of argument is not only less than true, it's more than dangerous. If suicide attacks are down, it's not because Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is no longer around to offer a $25,000 recompense to bombers' families, whose homes are usually bulldozed by the Israelis. It's because the infamous wall built by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on mostly confiscated Palestinian lands has proved an effective short-term barrier against most terrorist attacks. The theoretical strategic threat Saddam would have presented if he ever got back on his feet was a legitimate concern, but not a likely one. As we all know now, and some of us knew then, before the invasion ever began, he was thoroughly contained, disarmed and defanged. According to the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, "Iraq has now become a convenient arena for Jihad, which has helped Al Qaeda to recover from the setback it suffered as a result of the war in Afghanistan. With the growing phenomenon of suicide bombing, the U.S. presence in Iraq now demands more and more assets that might have been otherwise deployed against various dimensions of the global terrorist threat." So none of us is safer.
By suggesting, as the Bush campaign often does, that the Iraq war is good for the Jews, it gratuitously implicates Israelis and the U.S. voters it wants in an unpopular war costing hundreds of billions of dollars as well as rivers of American and Iraqi blood. Stranger still, some Bush campaign advisers think American Jews should be grateful. One recently confided to the Israeli daily Haaretz that to date he's been "disappointed" when he looks at the polls. Ronald Reagan got almost 40 per cent of the Jewish vote. Bush is not expected to get more than 30 (although that's up 10 points on the 2000 result).
It seems a long time ago now, but there were some people in the Bush administration who actually argued before the insurgency began that the road to peace in the Middle East -- which is the only way to bring real, long-lasting security to Israelis and Palestinians -- led not through Jerusalem or Ramallah, but through Baghdad. [complete article]
THE CIVILIAN DEATH TOLL
More than 100,000 Iraqis have died - and where is our shame and rage?
By Scott Ritter, The Guardian, November 1, 2004
The full scale of the human cost already paid for the war on Iraq is only now becoming clear. Last week's estimate by investigators, using credible methodology, that more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians - most of them women and children - have died since the US-led invasion is a profound moral indictment of our countries. The US and British governments quickly moved to cast doubt on the Lancet medical journal findings, citing other studies. These mainly media-based reports put the number of Iraqi civilian deaths at about 15,000 - although the basis for such an endorsement is unclear, since neither the US nor the UK admits to collecting data on Iraqi civilian casualties.
Civilian deaths have always been a tragic reality of modern war. But the conflict in Iraq was supposed to be different - US and British forces were dispatched to liberate the Iraqi people, not impose their own tyranny of violence. [complete article]
Pentagon suppresses details of civilian casualties, says expert
By Raymond Whitaker, The Independent, October 31, 2004
The Pentagon is collecting figures on local casualties in Iraq, contrary to its public claims, but the results are classified, according to one of the authors of an independent study which reported last week that the war has killed at least 100,000 Iraqis.
"Despite the claim of the head of US Central Command at the time, General Tommy Franks, that 'We don't do body counts', the US military does collect casualty figures in Iraq," said Professor Richard Garfield, an expert on the effects of conflict on civilians. "But since 1991, when Colin Powell was head of the joint chiefs of staff, the figures have been kept secret."
Professor Garfield, who lectures at Columbia University in New York and the London School of Hygiene and Public Health, believes the Pentagon's stance has confused its response to the latest study. "The military is saying: 'We don't believe it, but because we don't collect figures, we can't comment," he said.
"Mr Powell decided to keep the figures secret because of the controversy over body counts in Vietnam, but I think democracies need this information." [complete article]
Hell to pay
By Rod Nordland, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, November 8, 2004
For months the American people have heard, from one side, promises to "stay the course" in Iraq (George W. Bush); and from the other side, equally vague plans for gradual withdrawal (John Kerry). Both plans depend heavily on building significant Iraqi forces to take over security. But the truth is, neither party is fully reckoning with the reality of Iraq -- which is that the insurgents, by most accounts, are winning. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former general who stays in touch with the Joint Chiefs, has acknowledged this privately to friends in recent weeks, Newsweek has learned. The insurgents have effectively created a reign of terror throughout the country, killing thousands, driving Iraqi elites and technocrats into exile and scaring foreigners out. "Things are getting really bad," a senior Iraqi official in interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government told Newsweek last week. "The initiative is in [the insurgents'] hands right now. This approach of being lenient and accommodating has really backfired. They see this as weakness." [complete article]
Along with prayers, families send armor
By Neela Banerjee and John Kifner, New York Times, October 30, 2004
When the 1544th Transportation Company of the Illinois National Guard was preparing to leave for Iraq in February, relatives of the soldiers offered to pay to weld steel plates on the unit's trucks to protect against roadside bombs. The Army told them not to, because it would provide better protection in Iraq, relatives said.
Seven months later, many of the company's trucks still have no armor, soldiers and relatives said, despite running some of the most dangerous missions in Iraq and incurring the highest rate of injuries and deaths among the Illinois units deployed there.
"This problem is very extensive," said Paul Rieckhoff, a former infantry platoon leader with the Florida National Guard in Iraq who now runs an organization called Operation Truth, an advocacy group for soldiers and veterans.
Though soldiers of all types have complained about equipment in Iraq, part-timers in the National Guard and Reserve say that they have a particular disadvantage because they start off with outdated or insufficient gear. They have been deployed with faulty radios, unreliable trucks and, most alarmingly for many, a shortage of soundly armored vehicles in a land regularly convulsed by roadside attacks, according to soldiers, relatives and outside military experts. [complete article]
BIN LADEN - ELUSIVE AND PRESENT
Osama bin Laden casts himself as Muslim elder statesman
By Faye Bowers and Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, November 1, 2004
While bin Laden has been forced into hiding, effectively prevented from using cellphones, satellite phones, or the Internet, and many of his top echelon have been captured or killed, Al Qaeda's network continues to evolve and grow - as does bin Laden's legacy and mystique in the Muslim world.
Government officials and terror experts say he's been extremely clever in the way he's honed his messages and staged attacks that emphasize his importance as the Muslim world's lone "hero" able to stand up to superpower US, the country he claims is out to humiliate and dominate the Muslim world. The latest tape - an effort to cast himself as an elder statesman, not just a global jihadist - may be the most politically sophisticated, and dangerous, say experts.
"Part of bin Laden's genius is staying on message," says a senior intelligence official. "It's the Americans, Americans, Americans." Bin Laden's messages, says the official, all focus on US foreign policy in six areas: "unqualified US support for Israel; US presence on the Arabian Peninsula; US support for China, Russia, India, and others for oppressing Muslims; 'military occupation' of Muslim countries - Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan; US ability to manipulate the price of Arabian oil; and, US support for Muslim tyrannies - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, and Algeria. He's said the same ... thing since 1986 and hasn't changed a bit." [complete article]
The new bin Laden tape
By Peter Bergen, October 30, 2004
Did the U.S. military throw away a golden opportunity to capture or kill bin Laden, during the one moment in the past three years that his location was known? All the contemporaneous media accounts of the battle demonstrate that US "outsourced" the Tora Bora operation to local Afghan warlords. Commander Muhammad Musa, who commanded six hundred Afghan soldiers on the Tora Bora frontline, explained to me that while the American bombing campaign was very effective, US forces on the ground were small in number and ineffective: "There were six American soldiers with us. My personal view is if they had blocked the way out to Pakistan, al Qaeda would not have had a way to escape." And that's the key problem. There were only a relatively few American "boots on the ground" at Tora Bora, enabling bin Laden and hundreds of other members of al Qaeda to melt away and fight another day.
Why did the United States military -- the most powerful armed force in history -- not seal off the Tora Bora region, instead relying only on a handful of US Special Forces on the ground? Historians will no doubt be debating that question for many years, but part of the answer is that the US military was a victim of its own success. Scores of US Special Forces soldiers calling in air-strikes, in combination with thousands of Afghans on the ground, destroyed the Taliban army in a few weeks of fighting; a textbook case of unconventional warfare. However, this approach was a failure at Tora Bora where large numbers of Americans on the ground were needed to throw up an effective cordon around al Qaeda's leaders. An implicit recognition of this fact can be seen in how the Pentagon approached Operation Anaconda three months after Tora Bora. In the Anaconda operation, the very name of which suggests an effective cordon, as many as a thousand US soldiers were deployed into an area near Gardez in eastern Afghanistan.
Apologists for the US military failure at Tora Bora will no doubt provide several compelling reasons why this was the case, including a lack of airlift capabilities from the US base in neighboring Uzbekistan. However, such explanations are hard to square with the fact that scores of journalists managed to find their way to Tora Bora, a battle covered on live television by the world's leading news organizations. If Fox News and CNN could arrange for their crews to cover Tora Bora it is puzzling that the US military could not put more boots on the ground to find the man who was the intellectual author of the 9/11 attacks. Sadly, there were probably more American journalists at the battle of Tora Bora than there were US troops. And in that sense, Senator Kerry's charge that Tora Bora was a missed opportunity to bring bin Laden to justice is an accurate reflection of the historical record. [complete article]
The coming war
By Jonathan Dimbleby, The Observer, October 31, 2004
For a moment forget about the charge sheet against Messrs Bush and Blair - the alleged lies about WMD or the illegality of the invasion of Iraq - and glance at the bigger picture. Global terrorism, global poverty and global warming form a toxic trio that promise a catastrophe that will make the horrors of 9/11 look like the Boston Tea Party.
Do I exaggerate? In the Middle East untold thousands of Arabs are being slaughtered by US warplanes and artillery, supported by the British, to impose Western democracy on Iraq at the point of a gun. In Beirut, once dismembered by civil war but now at ease with itself, the young parade through the squares with grace and elegance. But listen to what they say and you discover a coruscating sense of humiliation and a deepening rage against America, startling in this most genuinely Westernised Arab state.
Aliya Saidi, a young lecturer at the American University, was discomfited to be asked about Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld: 'I don't want to say I hate them but they are terrible people.' After an embarrassed pause, she added: 'I don't know if I should say that; my husband is American.'
The resentment against the US administration (not the American people who are pre sumed to have been duped) crosses all classes and backgrounds. 'If the US continues to despise the Arab nation in this way,' the owner of a sportswear shop, Hadi Baalbaki, warns, 'I fear the whole Arab nation will form itself into one big al-Qaeda.'
Richard Clark, Bush's former anti-terrorism coordinator who took charge in the White House on 9/11 and who retains close contact with intelligence agencies around the world, tells me that 'by almost any measure... the war on terrorism is being lost'. He cites the rate of terrorist atrocities, more than doubled since 9/11, and insists that the number of terrorists has risen to around 100,000 active 'jihadists' around the world. Chillingly, he believes these zealots are likely to be supported 'philosophically, politically, and perhaps with money' by upwards of 700 million Muslims - roughly half the global population of the Islamic faithful. [complete article]
America, wake up to the European dream
By Jeremy Rifkin, Washington Post, October 1, 2004
On Friday, the heads of the 25 member nations of the European Union signed the European Constitution (to be ratified over the next two years by each state), effectively creating the first transnational political entity in history. These "United States of Europe" represent the rise of a new ideal that could eclipse the United States as the focus of the world's yearnings for well-being and prosperity. Yet our country is largely unaware of and unprepared for the vast changes that are quickly transforming the Old World and giving birth to what I call the new European Dream.
The old dream, the American Dream that made the individual the master of his fate and emphasized the personal accumulation of wealth, is faltering. A national survey taken in 2001 showed that one-third of all Americans no longer believe in the American Dream, either because it has failed them, or because they believe that in an increasingly interdependent world, it no longer works. Even the most self-reliant among us are vulnerable to phenomena beyond our control: a SARS epidemic, a terrorist attack, global warming. In this sort of world, the European Dream, with its emphasis on inclusivity, diversity, sustainable development and interconnectedness, is the world's first attempt at creating a global consciousness. And it deserves our close attention. [complete article]
The winner is... American conservatism
By Will Hutton, The Observer, October 31, 2004
[For most observers outside America] the real puzzle in next Tuesday's presidential election is why George W Bush is not going to get hammered. Tens of millions of ordinary Americans live in more economic insecurity and enjoy less opportunity as a result of the America he is building. Abroad he is leading his country into a dangerous and unwinnable confrontation with Islamic fundamentalism that obstructs the rooting out of terrorism, whose crassness is exposed daily in the flow of news from Iraq. A grass roots revolt should throw him out of office as an incompetent.
And yet most polls give him the lead over challenger John Kerry by a narrow margin. The incumbency effect is part of the explanation, as is the skill with which Bush has played the security card. But the deeper truth is that conservative America has become a formidable cultural and electoral force - and it offers its allegiance to George Bush instinctively and unhesitatingly.
Even if Kerry manages to win, American conservatism will remain the most dynamic component in American political life. Although a Kerry victory (for which I hope) is conceivable, it is already clear that the race is so tight that the Republicans will retain their grip on the House of Representatives - with little prospect of an early reversal. Talk to Republicans and they regard their control of the House together with more state legislatures as the heart of their power base; in the checked and balanced US political system the presidency is the necessary but insufficient condition for political leadership.
In short, a Kerry victory would only be the end of the beginning; for the Democrats to move the US even marginally from its current hardening right-wing trajectory, the long-term task is the rebuilding and sustaining of the liberal coalition that they held from Roosevelt's New Deal to the end of the 1960s - and which will allow them to challenge what is now a Republican legislative dominance. That requires not just political energy and a mobilisation on the ground that the Democrats have only just begun to demonstrate - it also means winning the battle of ideas, where they are still at first base. [complete article]
'Time is running out' for Falluja
BBC News, October 31, 2004
Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has said time is running out for talks aimed at averting major conflict in the insurgent-held city of Falluja.
He said after meeting tribal leaders from the area he was determined to re-establish control over the city, by military means if necessary.
A few cells of former regime loyalists and 167 Islamists have been detained in recent weeks, Mr Allawi added.
Meanwhile US forces continued their bombardment of Falluja.
The BBC's Claire Marshall in Baghdad says a full-scale assault on the city now appears imminent and inevitable. [complete article]
In Iraq, U.S. officials cite obstacles to victory
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, October 31, 2004
Senior American military commanders and civilian officials in Iraq are speaking more candidly about the hurdles that could jeopardize their plans to defeat an adaptive and tenacious insurgency and hold elections in January.
Outwardly, they give an upbeat assessment that the counterinsurgency is winnable. But in interviews with 15 of the top American generals, admirals and embassy officials conducted in Iraq in late October, many described risks that could worsen the security situation and derail the political process that they are counting on to help quell the insurgency.
Commanders voiced fears that many of Iraq's expanding security forces, soon to be led by largely untested generals, have been penetrated by spies for the insurgents. Reconstruction aid is finally flowing into formerly rebel-held cities like Samarra and other areas, but some officers fear that bureaucratic delays could undermine the aid's calming effects. They also spoke of new American intelligence assessments that show that the insurgents have significantly more fighters - 8,000 to 12,000 hard-core militants - and far greater financial resources than previously estimated.
Perhaps most disturbing, they said, is the militants' campaign of intimidation to silence thousands of Iraqis and undermine the government through assassinations, kidnappings, beheadings and car bombings. New gangs specializing in hostage-taking are entering Iraq, intelligence reports indicate. [complete article]
U.S. hopes to divide insurgency
By Bradley Graham and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, October 31, 2004
The new Pentagon plan, devised over the summer, centers on enticing more Sunnis into the political process while targeting the Islamic extremist groups for elimination. It depends heavily on building up Iraqi security forces more successfully than in the past year and breaking the bureaucratic logjams that have stymied flows of reconstruction aid into formerly rebel-held cities such as Samarra to win over civilian populations.
"The aim is to drive a wedge between the Sunni Arab rejectionists and the incorrigibles," said one senior official involved in policymaking on Iraq. "Many in the rejectionist group feel disenfranchised and are being intimidated. They need to be relieved of that yoke and engaged, while the extremists need to be isolated, captured or killed."
U.S. forces face substantial obstacles in bringing their plan to fruition. Commanders have identified 22 cities and towns in Iraq that must be brought under the control of the Iraqi government before nationwide elections, scheduled for January, can be held. The status of those cities is being assessed periodically by U.S. military commanders, based on a matrix that rates the insurgent threat in the area, the readiness of local Iraqi security forces and the functioning of local government services.
Since the start of the holy month of Ramadan two weeks ago, insurgent attacks against Iraqis and U.S. and coalition forces have risen more than 25 percent, to about 80 a day. Pentagon figures show that about 80 percent of the attacks have been concentrated in four of Iraq's 18 provinces: Baghdad, Anbar, Salah ad Din and Ninawa, all areas heavily populated by Sunnis.
Moreover, the notion that the use of military force against some insurgent groups can be balanced with political and economic enticements aimed at others is a risky one, say experts on Iraq inside and outside the government. They warned in interviews that U.S. firefights and aircraft attacks have themselves fed the insurgency, turning the relatives of slain militants and civilians into new insurgents. [complete article]
Video shows U.N. Afghan hostages
BBC News, October 31, 2004
Three UN workers held hostage by militants in Afghanistan have appeared in a video shown by Arabic TV.
The three appeared unharmed in the video, in which their kidnappers called for the release of prisoners from Afghan jails and Guantanamo Bay.
Filipino Angelito Nayan, Annetta Flanigan from Northern Ireland and Shqipe Habibi from Kosovo were seized on Thursday at gunpoint.
They were in Afghanistan to help organise recent presidential elections. [complete article]
Special forces enter CIA territory with a new weapon
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2004
Moving into an area of clandestine activity that has traditionally been the domain of the CIA, the Pentagon has secured new authority that allows American special operations forces to dole out millions of dollars in cash, equipment and weapons to international warlords and foreign fighters.
Under the new policy, the U.S. Special Operations Command will have as much as $25 million a year to spend providing "support to foreign forces, irregular forces, groups or individuals" aiding U.S. efforts against terrorists and other targets. Previously, military units were prohibited from providing money or arms to foreign groups.
Pentagon officials said the new capability was crucial in the war on terrorism, enabling America's elite soldiers to buy off tribal leaders or arm local militias while pursuing Al Qaeda operatives and confronting other threats.
But the idea of entrusting soldiers with a job traditionally reserved for spies has raised concerns that the program might lead to abuse. Even those who support it say they worry that it could be used to fund and arm unsavory foreign elements that might later use their U.S.-provided weapons and equipment against American interests. [complete article]
Part of 9/11 report remains unreleased; an inquiry is begun
By Jim Dwyer, New York Times, October 30, 2004
One last chapter of the investigation by the Sept. 11 commission, a supplement completed more than two months ago, has not yet been made public by the Justice Department, and officials say it is unlikely to be released before the presidential election, even though that had been a major goal of deadlines set for the panel.
Drawing from this unpublished part of the inquiry, the commission quietly asked the inspectors general at the Departments of Defense and Transportation to review what it had determined were broadly inaccurate accounts provided by several civil and military officials about efforts to track and chase the hijacked aircraft on Sept. 11.
David Barnes, a spokesman with the Department of Transportation, said yesterday that if the reviews found wrongdoing, the inspector general could recommend administrative penalties or ask federal prosecutors to begin a criminal investigation.
"The investigation is ongoing,'' Mr. Barnes said, "and we don't know when it will be done."
In testimony before the commission, officials had described a quick response to the hijackings that narrowly missed intercepting some of the planes, but the commission's investigators later determined from documentary evidence that none of the military planes were anywhere near the four airliners. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
Civilian death toll in Iraq exceeds 100,000
New Scientist, October 28, 2004
The invasion of Iraq in March 2003 by coalition forces has lead to the death of at least 100,000 civilians, reveals the first scientific study to examine the issue.
The majority of these deaths, which are in addition those normally expected from natural causes, illness and accidents, have been among women and children, finds the study, released early by The Lancet on Thursday.
The most common cause of death is as a direct result of violence, mostly caused by coalition air strikes, reveals the study of almost 1000 households scattered across Iraq. And the risk of violent death just after the invasion was 58 times greater than before the war. The overall risk of death was 1.5 times more after the invasion than before.
The figure of 100,000 is based on "conservative assumptions", notes Les Roberts at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, US, who led the study.
From the report, Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey:
US General Tommy Franks is widely quoted as saying "we don't do body counts". The Geneva Conventions have clear guidance about the responsibilities of occupying armies to the civilian population they control. The fact that more than half the deaths reportedly caused by the occupying forces were women and children is cause for concern. In particular, Convention IV, Article 27 states that protected persons "... shall be at all times humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against acts of violence...". It seems diffcult to understand how a military force could monitor the extent to which civilians are protected against violence without systematically doing body counts or at least looking at the kinds of casualties they induce. This survey shows that with modest funds, 4 weeks, and seven Iraqi team members willing to risk their lives, a useful measure of civilian deaths could be obtained. There seems to be little excuse for occupying forces to not be able to provide more precise tallies. In view of the political importance of this conflict, these results should be confirmed by an independent body such as the ICRC, Epicentre, or WHO. In the interim, civility and enlightened self-interest demand a re-evaluation of the consequences of weaponry now used by coalition forces in populated areas.
The full report can be read here (free registration required).
The road to Abu Ghraib
By Phillip Carter, Washington Monthly, November, 2004
A generation from now, historians may look back to April 28, 2004, as the day the United States lost the war in Iraq. On that date, "CBS News" broadcast the first ugly photographs of abuses by American soldiers at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. There were images of a man standing hooded on a box with wires attached to his hands; of guards leering as they forced naked men to simulate sexual acts; of a man led around on a leash by a female soldier; of a dead Iraqi detainee, packed in ice; and more. The pictures had been taken the previous fall by U.S. Army military police soldiers assigned to the prison, but had made it into the hands of Army criminal investigators only months later, when a soldier named Joseph Darby anonymously passed them a CD-ROM full of prison photos. The images aroused worldwide indignation, and illustrated in graphic detail both the lengths to which the United States would go to get intelligence, and the extent to which those efforts had been corrupted by the exigencies of the difficult war in Iraq.
Mideast braces for life after Arafat
By Tony Karon, Time.com, October 28, 2004
For Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, signs of the mortality of the man most Israelis have come to regard as the fount of all evil ought, in abstract, be greeted with satisfaction. If Arafat passes from the scene, Sharon will have outlasted and outwitted his nemesis, prevailing in his generational struggle against Palestinian nationalism even to the extent of undoing Arafat's diplomatic triumphs of the Oslo years. The 75-year-old Palestinian leader had been the most frequent foreign visitor to President Clinton's White House; he's been persona non-grata in Washington since Sharon took the reins. Whereas once Arafat had been treated as the very key to a two-state solution to the conflict, Sharon has managed to define the Palestinian leader as the decisive obstacle to such an outcome. So much so, in fact, that the U.S. had been willing to countenance Sharon's unilateral initiatives, such as his security wall and his proposed withdrawal from Gaza -- unilateral actions having been the ultimate taboo of the Oslo process.
Ironically, Arafat's deterioration came at the end of a momentous week for Sharon, in which he'd faced down the naysayers in his own party and prevailed in a parliamentary vote on his Gaza pullout. But across the political spectrum in Israel, there was acknowledgment Thursday that Arafat's passing would profoundly alter the landscape, removing the basic rationale for a unilateral pullout -- that there is no Palestinian "partner" for a bilateral process. Even Sharon's foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, came out suggesting that the unilateral withdrawal plan be put on hold, suggesting it would be preferable to coordinate an Israeli retreat with a partner on the Palestinian side once the dust has settled on Arafat's succession.
How Bush blew it in Tora Bora
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, October 27, 2004
On November 17, 2001, as the Taliban regime was self-disintegrating, Osama bin Laden, his family and a convoy of 25 Toyota Land Cruisers left Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan headed toward the mountains of Tora Bora. In late November, surrounded by his fiercest and most loyal Yemeni mujahideen in a cold Tora Bora cave, bin Laden delivered a stirring speech. One of his fighters, Abu Bakar, later captured by Afghan mujahideen, said bin Laden exhorted them to "hold your positions firm and be ready for martyrdom. I'll be visiting you again very soon."
A few days later, around what would probably have been November 30, bin Laden, along with four Yemeni mujahideen, left Tora Bora toward the village of Parachinar, in the Pakistani tribal areas. They walked undisturbed all the way - and then disappeared forever.
By the time the merciless American B-52 bombing raids were about to begin, bin Laden had already left Tora Bora - as a number of Afghan mujahideen confirmed to Asia Times Online at the time. They said they had seen him on the other side of the frontline in late November. Hazrat Ali, the warlord and then so-called minister of "law and order" in the Eastern Shura (traditional decision-making council) in Afghanistan, was outsourced by the Pentagon to go after bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Tora Bora. He bagged a handful of suitcases full of cash. He put on a show for the cameras. And significantly, he was barely in touch with the few Special Forces on the ground.
The crucial point is that while bin Laden was already in Pakistan, General Tommy Franks at US Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, was being directed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to concentrate on toppling Saddam Hussein.
Tip of the iceberg
By David J. Morris, Salon, October 26, 2004
Monday's New York Times contained a front-page story describing the disappearance of nearly 380 tons of high-powered explosives from a sensitive weapons cache outside Baghdad known as Al Qaqaa. "60 Minutes" plans to air a story on the subject Sunday evening, one day and a wake-up call before the election gets underway. Given that the types of explosive materials that have gone missing are essential in the manufacture of nuclear weapons and car bombs and that they were used in several high-profile terrorist bombings -- including the 1988 downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland -- this untimely revelation could be the much-prophesied, but so far missing in action October surprise. Hoping to capitalize on the story and sully President Bush's self-styled image as the ultimate enemy of terror, John Kerry described Al Qaqaa as "one of the great blunders of Iraq, one of the great blunders of this administration."
However disturbing this story, what the New York Times and CBS News have overlooked so far is that the missing munitions at Al Qaqaa are only the tip of the iceberg and in all likelihood represent a mere fraction of the illicit explosive material currently circulating in Iraq. Having personally toured weapons caches comparable in scale to Al Qaqaa and seen similar ordnance in the process of being converted into roadside bombs at an insurgent hideout, I believe that the theft and redistribution of conventional explosives and weapons represent the largest long-term threat to American troops in Iraq. Strangely enough, it is likely that dealing with this conventional weapons threat, rather than eradicating the mythical unconventional WMD threat, will be the U.S. legacy in Iraq.
What the terrorists have in mind
By Daniel Benjamin and Gabriel Weimann, New York Times, October 27, 2004
To get a sense of the jihadist movement's state of mind, we must listen to its communications, and not just the operational "chatter" collected by the intelligence community. Today, the central forum for the terrorists' discourse is not covert phone communications but the Internet, where Islamist Web sites and chat rooms are filled with evaluations of current events, discussions of strategy and elaborations of jihadist ideology. [...]
Clearly, the president's oft-repeated claim that American efforts are paying off because "more than three-quarters of Al Qaeda's key members and associates have been killed, captured or detained" - a questionable claim in itself - means little to jihadists. What matters to them that the invasion of Iraq paved the way for the emergence of a movement of radical Sunni Iraqis who share much of the Qaeda ideology.
Among the recurrent motifs on the Web are that America has blundered in Iraq the same way the Soviet Union did in the 1980's in Afghanistan, and that it will soon be leaving in defeat. "We believe these infidels have lost their minds," was the analysis on a site called Jamaat ud-Daawa, which is run out of Pakistan. "They do not know what they are doing. They keep on repeating the same mistake."
For the radicals, the fighting has become a large part of a broader religious revival and political revolution. Their discussions celebrate America's occupation of Iraq as an opportunity to expose the superpower's "real nature" as an enemy of Islam that seeks to steal the Arab oil patrimony.
How to make new enemies
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, New York Times, October 25, 2004
...in the Islamic world at large as well as in Europe, Mr. Bush's policy is becoming conflated in the public mind with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policy in Gaza and the West Bank. Fueled by anti-American resentments, that policy is widely caricatured as a crude reliance on power, semicolonial in its attitude, and driven by prejudice toward the Islamic world. The likely effect is that staying on course under Mr. Bush will remain a largely solitary American adventure.
This global solitude might make a re-elected Bush administration more vulnerable to the temptation to embrace a new anti-Islamic alliance, one reminiscent of the Holy Alliance that emerged after 1815 to prevent revolutionary upheavals in Europe. The notion of a new Holy Alliance is already being promoted by those with a special interest in entangling the United States in a prolonged conflict with Islam. Vladimir Putin's endorsement of Mr. Bush immediately comes to mind; it also attracts some anti-Islamic Indian leaders hoping to prevent Pakistan from dominating Afghanistan; the Likud in Israel is also understandably tempted; even China might play along.
For the United States, however, a new Holy Alliance would mean growing isolation in an increasingly polarized world. That prospect may not faze the extremists in the Bush administration who are committed to an existential struggle against Islam and who would like America to attack Iran, but who otherwise lack any wider strategic conception of what America's role in the world ought to be. It is, however, of concern to moderate Republicans.
Unfortunately, the predicament faced by America in Iraq is also more complex than the solutions offered so far by the Democratic side in the presidential contest. Senator John Kerry would have the advantage of enjoying greater confidence among America's traditional allies, since he might be willing to re-examine a war that he himself had not initiated. But that alone will not produce German or French funds and soldiers. The self-serving culture of comfortable abstention from painful security responsibilities has made the major European leaders generous in offering criticism but reluctant to assume burdens.
To get the Europeans to act, any new administration will have to confront them with strategic options. The Europeans need to be convinced that the United States recognizes that the best way to influence the eventual outcome of the civil war within Islam is to shape an expanding Grand Alliance (as opposed to a polarizing Holy Alliance) that embraces the Middle East by taking on the region's three most inflammatory and explosive issues: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the mess in Iraq, and the challenge of a restless and potentially dangerous Iran.
U.S. favors "scaled-back" democracy for Iraq
By Ashraf Khalil and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2004
While publicly stressing the need for Iraqis to control their own destiny, the Bush administration is working behind the scenes to coax its closest Iraqi allies into a coalition that could dominate elections scheduled for January.
U.S. authorities in Washington and Iraqi politicians confirmed that top White House officials have told leaders of the six major parties that were on the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council that it would be in the groups' common interest to present a unified electoral slate.
The U.S. effort to influence the parliamentary elections is highly sensitive, coming at a time when President Bush daily expresses his desire to bring liberty and democracy to a nation that for decades has known only authoritarian rule. But the White House move stems from concerns that neighboring Iran is using its money and influence to try to sway the elections in its favor.
One U.S. official in Washington said the administration now believes Iraq needs a "negotiated resolution ... a scaled-back democratic process."
Between the two conflicting key goals, "I see the arguments for stability now outweighing the calls for democracy," said the official, who declined to be identified. The formation of a unified slate would further entrench the U.S.-allied parties, which are mostly led by longtime exiles with dubious popular support and are still viewed with suspicion by many Iraqi citizens.
Prolonged U.S. occupation turning Iraqis into fighters
By Borzou Daragahi, Seattle Times, October 24, 2004
U.S. forces all but destroyed the northern city of Tal Afar last month, saying it was necessary to cleanse the city of foreign fighters that had taken over the city government.
However, no foreign fighters were found. Instead, say Iraqi politicians and tribal leaders, the insurgents in the city of 150,000 were local citizens angered by months of what they perceived as unnecessary U.S. raids on houses, arrests of innocent people and collective punishment.
During the 17-month insurgency since the United States invaded Iraq, U.S. officials have painted a consistent picture of the enemy, pointing to religious extremists, so-called "dead-enders" with ties to the Saddam Hussein regime and foreigners who slip across the country's porous borders.
However, interviews with Iraqis of various political stripes suggest something starkly different: a growing but unknown number of ordinary Iraqi citizens have tired of the occupation and armed themselves to fight American troops.
Why America has waged a losing battle on Fallouja
By Alissa J. Rubin and Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2004
As soon as the women of Fallouja learned that four Americans had been killed, their bodies mutilated, burned and strung up from a bridge, they knew a terrible battle was coming.
They filled their bathtubs and buckets with water. They bought sacks of rice and lentils. They considered that they might soon die.
"When we heard the news," said Turkiya Abid, 62, a mother of 15, "we began to say the Shahada," the Muslim profession of faith.
There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.
In Washington, the reaction to the March 31 killings was exactly what the women of Fallouja had expected: anger. Those inside George W. Bush's White House believed that the atrocity demanded a forceful response, that the United States could not sit still when its citizens were murdered.
President Bush summoned his secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and the commander of his forces in the Middle East, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, to ask what they recommended.
Rumsfeld and Abizaid were ready with an answer, one official said: "a specific and overwhelming attack" to seize Fallouja. That was what Bush was hoping to hear, an aide said later.
What the president was not told was that the Marines on the ground sharply disagreed with a full-blown assault on the city.
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