Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Past few days

Here's a condensed version of what I've missed recently. The bulk of what's below has to do with the Iraq war.

* Remember Osama? Recent stories from NBC News and Time suggest that the war on Al Qaeda was sacrificed for the war on Iraq. To make things worse, a related report from the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee concludes that the war to purge Hussein boosted Al Qaeda's recruiting efforts, as well.

* The report on 9/11 from the Congressional Joint Inquiry makes one thing clear: "The U.S. government had received repeated warnings of impending attacks—and attacks using planes directed at New York and Washington—for several years. The government never told us about what it knew was coming." And those missing pages? "If the people in the administration trying to link Iraq to Al Qaeda had one-one-thousandth of the stuff that the 28 pages has linking a foreign government to Al Qaeda, they would have been in good shape," says one official who has read the redacted part of the report. "If the 28 pages were to be made public, I have no question that the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia would change overnight."

* John Poindexter has resigned over the Pentagon's failed "betting parlor," the Policy Analysis Market (PAM).

* The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has admitted that it maintains a no-fly list of antiwar activists.

* All of the key senior Iraqi scientists scientists currently in US custody deny the allegation that Saddam Hussein "reconstituted his nuclear weapons program or developed and hidden chemical or biological weapons since United Nations inspectors left in 1998," according to the Washington Post. Additionally, the AP reports that a Hussein aide claims the Iraqi leader "did in fact get rid of his weapons of mass destruction but deliberately kept the world guessing about it in an effort to divide the international community and stave off a U.S. invasion." While conceding that this was a "serious miscalculation," the story goes on to say that it was done "to make the Iraqi dictator look strong in the eyes of the Arab world."

* Dana Milbank and Mike Allen of the Washington Post report on the rhetorical shift in the Bush administration's discussion of the Iraq war. Echoing the neocon line, Iraq will now be posited as "the 'linchpin' to transform the Middle East and thereby reduce the terrorist threat to the United States." There's nothing like a healthy dose of bait 'n' switch.

* In another aspect of their offensive against war critics, the US and British governments are drawing up a "big impact" plan, which calls for both governments to amass and hoard evidence about Iraq's weapons program and release it all at once. The tactic, according to the Independent, "is designed to overwhelm and silence critics who have sought to put pressure on Tony Blair and George Bush. At the same time both men are working to lower the burden of proof -- from finding weapons to finding evidence that there were programmes to develop them, even if they lay dormant since the 1980s." Plus: Is some kind of WMD discovery imminent?

* The Guardian reports that US military casualties in Iraq "have been more than twice the number most Americans have been led to believe because of an extraordinarily high number of accidents, suicides and other non-combat deaths in the ranks that have gone largely unreported in the media." Of particular note: 827 soldiers have been wounded, nearly half of those since Bush's declaration of the cessation of formal hostilities on May 1. Meanwhile, casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan are literally overflowing Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.

* The Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center in Iraq was looted back in early April. Some pure uranium oxide from the site, which could be used to make a “dirty bomb,” is being offered for sale in a Basra market for $250,000, according to the Glasgow Sunday Herald.

* Should Saddam Hussein be taken dead or alive? Despite the alleged debate in the administration over this issue, Eric Margolis says the order will be to kill Hussein, rather than putting him before a tribunal where he could air the US' dirty laundry. After all, writes Margolis, "Dead dictators tell no tales."

* So far, the Bush administration is cool to the idea of approaching the UN for help in Iraq. That's not good news. In an address to the Brookings Institution last week, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, outlined why the Iraq occupation is going to be disastrous for the US unless the aid of other nations is enlisted. There are three options, according to Biden: "We can pull out, and lose Iraq. That’s a bad option; We can continue to do what we’re doing: provide 90 percent of the troops, 90 percent of the money, and nearly 100 percent of the deaths. That’s another, really bad option; Or, we can bring in the international community and empower Iraqis to bolster our efforts and legitimize a new Iraqi government which will allow us to rotate our troops out and finally bring them home."

* For some reason, "mysterious illnesses" and Iraq seem to be a natural fit for US soldiers. Hopefully, the second Gulf War won't have as much of a negative fallout as the first for veterans.

* In perhaps a related piece, Larry Johnson of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports on depleted uranium's sinister legacy in Iraq.

* According to John Pilger, American war reporting projects a sort of "down-home chauvinism which celebrates the victimhood of the invader," while at the same time "casting the vicious imperialism" of the Iraq assault "as benign."

* Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, authors of the recently released Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq, further explain how PR was used to sell the Iraq war. A corresponding article by Danny Schechter examines those "pervasive Western propaganda techniques built into American media presentation formats," and how they were deployed to garner support for the invasion.

* Anti-American sentiment is extraordinarily high around the globe, so the Bush administration is going to unleash even more PR to promote a friendlier image of the US.

* The US has told Niger to shut up about the forged Iraq-uranium documents, or face a nasty reprisal. This scandal is, indeed, far from over. Check out this detailed timeline from Benedict@Large to get an idea of how convoluted the Niger story is, and how it relates to significant events in the runup to war and the neoconservative ascendancy in the Bush administration.

* On the heels of "yellowcakegate," shall we begin the "next debate" over the Iraq-Al Qaeda conection, as Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon implored two weeks ago? The Boston Globe suggests so: "a review of the White House's statements and interviews with current and former intelligence officials indicate that the assertion [of an Iraq-Al Qaeda link] was extrapolated from nuggets of intelligence, some tantalizing but unproven, some subsequently disproved, and some considered suspect even at the time the administration was making its case for war."

* The press conference given by George Bush before embarking on his summer vacation was absolutely pathetic. It also might have been indicative of a government on the brink of crisis.

* Afghanistan is on the brink of chaos, as attacks from pro-Taliban forces on US-led forces increase daily.

* The Knesset has passed a law preventing Palestinians who marry Israelis from living in Israel, reports Justin Huggler of the Independent. Under the new provision, which B'Tselem has labelled racist, "Palestinians alone will be excluded from obtaining citizenship or residency. Anyone else who marries an Israeli will be entitled to Israeli citizenship."

* Is Israel building a fence, a wall, or something else?

* Why is the US turning a blind eye to Israel's nukes? For background, see the BBC's controversial take on "Israel's Secret Weapon": part I; part II.

* Good news on the American economy, for a change? Depends on how you look at it. The improvements in this month's economic figures were spurred mostly by a significant jump in defense spending. And, while the unemployment rate dipped by 0.2% in July, it was mostly because the labor force contracted. The real unemployment rate isn't hovering around 6.5%; it's actually around 10.5%. Here's some additional reasons why you shouldn't believe the new jobless stats.

* The Bush administration's handling of the budget, and its imposition of tax cuts is a "form of looting," says Berkeley economist and Nobel laureate George Akerlof. If the fiscal damage isn't addressed soon, Akerlof warns: "Future generations and even people in ten years are going to face massive public deficits and huge government debt. Then we have a choice. We can be like a very poor country with problems of threatening bankruptcy. Or we're going to have to cut back seriously on Medicare and Social Security. So the money that is going overwhelmingly to the wealthy is going to be paid by cutting services for the elderly."

* The CSM reports that a growing number of high-tech and service jobs in the US are destined to be outsourced to places like India, the Philippines, Russia, and China over the next decade. Whether this future loss will rival the blow to the US manufacturing sector over the past 20+ years remains to be seen. Read more on the "offshoring" of the tech sector.

* The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Colin Powell is going to step down if Bush is reelected in 2004. Now, the report is being denied.

* The US leads the race for space, writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Jack Kelly.

* Are computerized voting machines a wide-open back door to massive voting fraud? With Diebold in the picture, the answer is an adamant "yes."

* Humanitarian intervention? Ian Williams says yea; John MacArthur says nay.

* It's been 25 years since the publication of his pathbreaking Orientalism, and Edward Said still finds his thesis depressingly relevant. Concerning Iraq, he writes, "Without a well-organised sense that the people over there were not like 'us' and didn't appreciate 'our' values - the very core of traditional orientalist dogma - there would have been no war. The American advisers to the Pentagon and the White House use the same clich├ęs, the same demeaning stereotypes, the same justifications for power and violence (after all, runs the chorus, power is the only language they understand) as the scholars enlisted by the Dutch conquerors of Malaysia and Indonesia, the British armies of India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, West Africa, the French armies of Indochina and North Africa. These people have now been joined in Iraq by a whole army of private contractors and eager entrepreneurs to whom shall be confided everything from the writing of textbooks and the constitution to the refashioning of Iraqi political life and its oil industry."