Also sometimes referred to as secular, modern, or humanistic. This is an umbrella term for Protestant denominations, or churches within denominations, that view the Bible as the witness of God rather than the word of God, to be interpreted in its historical context through critical analysis. Examples include some churches within Anglican/Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ. There are more than 2,000 Protestant denominations offering a wide range of beliefs from extremely liberal to mainline to ultra-conservative and those that include characteristics on both ends.
|•||Belief in Deity |
Trinity of the Father (God), the Son (Christ), and the Holy Spirit that comprises one God Almighty. Many believe God is incorporeal.
Beliefs vary from the literal to the symbolic belief in Jesus Christ as God's incarnation. Some believe we are all sons and daughters of God and that Christ was exemplary, but not God.
|•||Origin of Universe and Life |
The Bible's account is symbolic. God created and controls the processes that account for the universe and life (e.g. evolution), as continually revealed by modern science.
|•||After Death |
Goodness will somehow be rewarded and evil punished after death, but what is most important is how you show your faith and conduct your life on earth.
|•||Why Evil? |
Most do not believe that humanity inherited original sin from Adam and Eve or that Satan actually exists. Most believe that God is good and made people inherently good, but also with free will and imperfect nature, which leads some to immoral behavior.
Various beliefs: Some believe all will go to heaven, as God is loving and forgiving. Others believe salvation lies in doing good works and no harm to others, regardless of faith. Some believe baptism is important. Some believe the concept of salvation after death is symbolic or nonexistent.
|•||Undeserved Suffering |
Most Liberal Christians do not believe that Satan causes suffering. Some believe suffering is part of God's plan, will, or design, even if we don't immediately understand it. Some don't believe in any spiritual reasons for suffering, and most take a humanistic approach to helping those in need.
|•||Contemporary Issues |
Most churches teach that abortion is morally wrong, but many ultimately support a woman's right to choose, usually accompanied by policies to provide counseling on alternatives. Many are accepting of homosexuality and gay rights.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
As an increasing number of Republican Members of Congress confront unhappy, sometimes angry, constituents finally fed up with the absence of purpose in the continued U.S. occupation and the death and dismemberment of young American troops for no purpose having to do either with combating the jihad or making the U.S. secure, they will demand White House rescue for their political careers.
Since, with precious few exceptions, political careers trump principle, and since the cabal of neoconservatives and the religious right intend to govern forever, the genius Karl Rove will concoct a patently phony Iraq exit strategy.
But even as President Bush rolls out the bogus plan in the Rose Garden, surrounded by trembling Congressmen, and claims "victory" in Iraq, work will continue around the clock on the American fortress in central Baghdad and on the permanent military garrisons in the countryside.
It was all forecast years ago in the final scene of the movie Three Days of the Condor when the CIA official Higgins explains to the naive CIA research character portrayed by Robert Redford: "Of course it's about the oil. Do you think the American people care how we get it? They just want us to get it."
A LETTER OF APPEAL FROM
BISHOP RIAH, THE ANGLICAN BISHOP OF JERUSALEM
ON THE CURRENT CRISIS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
25 JULY 2006
For the past forty years we have been largely alone on this desert fighting a predator that not only has robbed us of all but a small piece of our historic homeland, but threatens the traditions and holy sites of Christianity. We are tired, weary, sick, and wounded. We need your help. We have seen and we have been the recipients of the generosity of our American and British friends. We cherish the support of everyone throughout the world who stands with us in solidarity.
Daily, I hear from many of them who express outrage at the arrogant and aggressive positions of President Bush, Secretary Rice, Senator Clinton, and Prime Minister Blair. I am saddened to realize just how much the deserved prestige of the United States and Britain has declined as a result of politicians who seem to devalue human life and suffering.
And, I am disturbed that the Zionist Christian community is damaging America’s image as never before. Little more than a week ago, we were focused on the plight of the Palestinian people. In Gaza, four and five generations have been victims of Israeli racism, hate crimes, terror, violence, and murder.
Garbage and sewage have created a likely outbreak of cholera as Israeli strategies create the collapse of infrastructures. There is no milk. Drinking water, food, and medicine are in serious short supply. Innocents are being killed and dying from lack of available emergency care. Children are paying the ultimate price. Even for those whose lives are spared, many of them are traumatized and will not grow to live useful lives.
Commerce between the West Bank and Gaza has been halted and humanitarian aid barely trickles into some of the neediest in the world.
Movement of residents of the West Bank is difficult or impossible as “security measures” are heightened to break the backs of the Palestinian people and cut them off from their place of work, schools, hospitals, and families. It is family and community that has sustained these people during these hopeless times. For some, it is all that they had, but that too has been taken away with the continued building of the wall and check points. The strategy of ethnic cleansing on the part of the State of Israel continues.
This week, war broke out on the Lebanon-Israeli border (near Banyas where Jesus gave St. Peter the keys to heaven and earth). The Israeli government’s disproportionate reaction to provocation was consistent with their opportunistic responses in which they destroy their perceived enemy. I n her recent article, “The Insane Brutality of the State of Israel,” American, Kathleen Christison, a former CIA analyst says, “The state lashes out in a crazed effort, lacking any sense of proportion, to reassure itself of its strength.” She continues, “A society that can brush off as unimportant an army officer’s brutal murder of a thirteen year old girl on the claim that she threatened soldiers at a military post (one of nearly seven hundred Palestinian children murdered by Israelis since the Intifada began) is not a society with a conscience.” The“situation” as it has come to be called, has deteriorated into a war without boundaries or limitations. It is a war with deadly potential beyond the imaginations of most civilized people.
As I write to you, I am preparing to leave with other bishops for Nablus with medical and other emergency supplies for five hundred families, and a pledge for one thousand families more. On Saturday we will attempt to enter Gaza with medical aid for doctors and nurses in our hospital there who struggle to serve the injured, the sick, and the dying.
My plan is that I will be able to go to Lebanon next week - where we are presently without a resident priest - to bury the dead, and comfort the victims of war.
Perhaps as others have, you will ask, “What can I do?”
Certainly we encourage and appreciate your prayers. That is important, but it is not enough. If you find that you can no longer look away, take up your cross. It takes courage as we were promised.
Write every elected official you know. Write to your news media. Speak to your congregation, friends, and colleagues about injustice and the threat of global war.
If Syria, Iran, the United States, Great Britain, China and others enter into this war - the consequence is incalculable. Participate in rallies and forums. Find ways that you and your churches can participate in humanitarian relief efforts for the region. Contact us and let us know if you stand with us. I urge you not to be like a disciple watching from afar.
2 Corinthians 6.11
“We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians, our heart is wide open to you.
There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours.
In return - I speak as to children - open wide your hearts also.”
In, with, and through Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Riah H. Abu El-Assal, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem
Friday, August 04, 2006
In his new book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End, Galbraith, the son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, claims that American leadership knew very little about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems it would face after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
A year after his “Axis of Evil” speech before the U.S. Congress, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans, one of whom became postwar Iraq’s first representative to the United States. The three described what they thought would be the political situation after the fall of Saddam Hussein. During their conversation with the President, Galbraith claims, it became apparent to them that Bush was unfamiliar with the distinction between Sunnis and Shiites.
Galbraith reports that the three of them spent some time explaining to Bush that there are two different sects in Islam--to which the President allegedly responded, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!”
Research by RAW STORY has confirmed a surprising lack of public statements from the president regarding the branches of Islam, but did uncover at least one mention of their existence. A fact sheet released by the White House in December of 2001 does indeed use the term Sunni to describe a Lashkar-E-Tayyib, "the armed wing of the Pakistan-based religious organization, Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad." Other mentions, not originating from the White House, were common in government documents and proceedings, as well as in media coverage of the middle east.
Other reports also place Bush announcing newfound knowledge of the differences between Muslim groups shortly before entering the Iraq war.
In an interview with RAW STORY, Ambassador Galbraith recounted this anecdote from his book to exemplify “a culture of arrogance that pervaded the whole administration.”
“From the president and the vice president down through the neoconservatives at the Pentagon, there was a belief that Iraq was a blank slate on which the United States could impose its vision of a pluralistic democratic society,” said Galbraith. “The arrogance came in the form of a belief that this could be accomplished with minimal effort and planning by the United States and that it was not important to know something about Iraq.”
The Bush Administration’s aims when it invaded Iraq in March 2003 were to bring it democracy and transform the Middle East. Instead, Iraq has reverted to its three constituent components: a pro-western Kurdistan, an Iran-dominated Shiite theocracy in the south, and a chaotic Sunni Arab region in the center.
Galbraith argues that because the new Iraq was never a voluntary creation of its people--but rather held together by force--America’s ongoing attempt to preserve a unified nation is guaranteed to fail, especially since it’s divided into three different entities.
“You can’t have a national unity government when there is no nation, no unity, and no government,” said Galbraith. “Rather than trying to preserve or hold together a unified Iraq, the U.S. must accept the reality of Iraq’s breakup and work with the Shiites, Kurds, and Sunni Arabs to strengthen the already semi-independent regions.”
Galbraith further argues that the invasion of Iraq destabilized the Middle East while inadvertently strengthening Iran. One of the administration's intentions in invading Iraq was to undermine Iran, but instead, the Iraqi occupation has given Tehran one of its greatest strategic triumphs in the last four centuries.
Once considered to be Iraq’s worst enemy, Iran has now created, financed and armed the Shiite Islamic movements within southern Iraq. Since the Iraqi Parliamentary elections of 2005, the Shiites have made considerable political gains and now have substantial influence over the country’s U.S.-created military, its police, and the central government in Baghdad. In addition, Iraq is developing economic ties with Iran that Galbraith believes could soon link the two countries’ strategic oil supplies.
Galbraith says that, “thanks to George W. Bush, Iran today has no closer ally in the world than the Iraq of the Ayatollahs.” As a result, he argues, sending U.S. forces into Iraq, has in effect, made them hostage to Iran and its Iraqi Shiite allies and left the U.S. without a viable military option to halt Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons.
A seasoned diplomat, Galbraith served as the first U.S. ambassador to Croatia, where he negotiated the 1995 Erdut Agreement that ended the Croatian war.
Galbraith fears the United States may have lost the war on the very day it took Baghdad. “The American servicemen and women who took Baghdad were professionals--disciplined, courteous, and task-oriented,” said Galbraith. “Unfortunately, their political masters were so focused on making the case for war, so keen to vanquish their political foes at home, felt certain that Iraqis would embrace American-style democracy, yet they were so blinded by their own ideology that they failed to plan for the most obvious tasks following military victory.”
Galbraith believes that the Bush Administration’s effort will only leave the U.S. with an open-ended commitment in circumstances of uncontrollable turmoil. In the end, he believes, America’s most important objective is to avoid a worsening civil war.
“There is no easy exit from Iraq,” said Galbraith. “The alternative, however is to continue the present strategy of trying to build national institutions-displaced in the 2003 invasion-but how can you do that where this now is no longer an existing nation?”
By Tom Lasseter
BAGHDAD, Iraq - While American politicians and generals in Washington debate the possibility of civil war in Iraq, many U.S. officers and enlisted men who patrol Baghdad say it has already begun.
Army troops in and around the capital interviewed in the last week cite a long list of evidence that the center of the nation is coming undone: Villages have been abandoned by Sunni and Shiite Muslims; Sunni insurgents have killed thousands of Shiites in car bombings and assassinations; Shiite militia death squads have tortured and killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Sunnis; and when night falls, neighborhoods become open battlegrounds.
"There's one street that's the dividing line. They shoot mortars across the line and abduct people back and forth," said 1st Lt. Brian Johnson, a 4th Infantry Division platoon leader from Houston. Johnson, 24, was describing the nightly violence that pits Sunni gunmen from Baghdad's Ghazaliyah neighborhood against Shiite gunmen from the nearby Shula district.
As he spoke, the sights and sounds of battle grew: first, the rat-a-tat-tat of fire from AK-47 assault rifles, then the heavier bursts of PKC machine guns, and finally the booms of mortar rounds crisscrossing the night sky and crashing down onto houses and roads.
The bodies of captured Sunni and Shiite fighters will turn up in the morning, dropped in canals and left on the side of the road.
"We've seen some that have been executed on site, with bullet holes in the ground; the rest were tortured and executed somewhere else and dumped," Johnson said.
The recent assertion by U.S. soldiers here that Iraq is in a civil war is a stunning indication that American efforts to bring peace and democracy to Iraq are failing, more than three years after the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein's regime.
Some Iraqi troops, too, share that assessment.
"This is a civil war," said a senior adviser to the commander of the Iraqi Army's 6th Division, which oversees much of Baghdad.
"The problem between Sunnis and Shiites is a religious one, and it gets worse every time they attack each other's mosques," said the adviser, who gave only his rank and first name, Col. Ahmed, because of security concerns. "Iraq is now caught in hell."
U.S. hopes for victory in Iraq hinge principally on two factors: Iraqi security forces becoming more competent and Iraqi political leaders persuading armed groups to lay down their weapons.
But neither seems to be happening. The violence has increased as Iraqi troops have been added, and feuding among the political leadership is intense. American soldiers, particularly the rank and file who go out on daily patrols, say they see no end to the bloodshed. Higher ranking officers concede that the developments are threatening to move beyond their grasp.
"There's no plan - we are constantly reacting," said a senior American military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I have absolutely no idea what we're going to do."
The issue of whether Iraq has descended into civil war has been a hot-button topic even before U.S. troops entered Iraq in 2003, when some opponents of the war raised the likelihood that Iraq would fragment along sectarian lines if Saddam's oppressive regime was removed. Bush administration officials consistently rejected such speculation as unlikely to come to fruition.
On Thursday, however, two top American generals told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraq could slip into civil war, though both stopped well short of saying that one had begun.
Political sensitivity has made some officers here hesitant to use the words "civil war," but they aren't shy about describing the situation that they and their men have found on their patrols.
"I hate to use the word `purify,' because it sounds very bad, but they are trying to force Shiites into Shiite areas and Sunnis into Sunni areas," said Lt. Col. Craig Osborne, who commands a 4th Infantry Division battalion on the western edge of Baghdad, a hotspot of sectarian violence.
Osborne, 39, of Decatur, Ill., compared Iraq to Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of people were killed in an orgy of inter-tribal violence in 1994. "That was without doubt a civil war - the same thing is happening here.
"But it's not called a civil war - there's such a negative connotation to that word and it suggests failure," he said.
On the other side of Baghdad, Shiites from the eastern slum of Sadr City and Sunnis from the nearby neighborhood of Adhamiyah regularly launch incursions into each other's areas, setting off car bombs and dragging victims into torture chambers.
"The sectarian violence flip-flops back and forth," said Lt. Col. Paul Finken, who commands a 101st Airborne Division task force that works with Iraqi soldiers in the area. "We find bodies all the time - bound, tortured, shot."
The idea that U.S. forces have been unable to prevent the nation from sliding into sectarian chaos troubles many American military officials in Iraq.
Lt. Col. Chris Pease, 48, the deputy commander for the 101st Airborne's brigade in eastern Baghdad, was asked whether he thought that Iraq's civil war had begun.
"Civil war," he said, and then paused for several moments.
"You've got to understand," said Pease, of Milton-Freewater, Ore., "you know, the United States Army and most of the people in the United States Army, the Marine Corps and the Air Force and the Navy have never really lost at anything."
Pease paused again.
"Whether it is there or not, I don't know," he said.
Pressed for what term he would use to describe the security situation in Iraq, Pease said: "Right now I would say that it's more of a Kosovo, ethnic-cleansing type thing - not ethnic cleansing, it is a sectarian fight - they are bombing; they are threatening to get them off the land."
A human rights report released last month by the United Nations mission in Baghdad said 2,669 civilians were killed across Iraq during May, and 3,149 were killed in June. In total, 14,338 civilians were killed from January to June of this year, and 150,000 civilians were forced out of their homes, the report said.
Pointing to a map, 1st Lt. Robert Murray, last week highlighted a small Shiite village of 25 homes that was abandoned after a flurry of death threats came to town on small pieces of paper.
"The letters tell them if they don't leave in 48 hours, they'll kill their entire families," said Murray, 29, of Franklin, Mass. "It's happening a lot right now. There have been a lot of murders recently; between that and the kidnappings, they're making good on their threats. ... They need to learn to live together. I'd like to see it happen, but I don't know if it's possible."
Riding in a Humvee later that day, Capt. Jared Rudacille, Murray's commander in the 4th Infantry Division, noted the market of a town he was passing through. The stalls were all vacant. The nearby homes were empty. There wasn't a single civilian car on the road.
"Between 1,500 and 2,000 people have moved out," said Rudacille, 29, of York, Pa. "I now see only 15 or 20 people out during the day."
The following evening, 1st Lt. Corbett Baxter was showing a reporter the area, to the west of where Rudacille was, that he patrols.
"Half of my entire northern sector cleared out in a week, about 2,000 people," said Baxter, 25, of Fort Hood, Texas.
Staff Sgt. Wesley Ramon had a similar assessment while on patrol between the Sunni town of Abu Ghraib and Shula, a Shiite stronghold. The main bridge leading out of Shula was badly damaged recently by four bombs placed underneath it. Military officials think the bombers were Sunnis trying to stanch the flow of Shiite militia gunmen coming out of Shula to kill Sunnis.
"It's to the point of being irreconcilable; you know, we've found a lot of bodies, entire villages have been cleared out, we get reports of entire markets being gunned down - and if that's not a marker of a civil war, I don't know what is," said Ramon, 33, of San Antonio, Texas.
Driving back to his base, Johnson watched a long line of trucks and cars go by, packed with families fleeing their homes with everything they could carry: mattresses, clothes, furniture, and, in the back of some trucks, bricks to build another home.
"Every morning that we head back to the patrol base, this is all we see," Johnson said. "These are probably people who got threatened last night."
In Taji, an area north of Baghdad, where the roads between Sunni and Shiite villages have become killing fields, many soldiers said they saw little chance that things would get better.
"I don't think there's any winning here. Victory for us is withdrawing," said Sgt. James Ellis, 25, of Chicago. "In this part of the world they have been fighting for 3,000 years, and we're not going to fix it in three."
By MURTADA FARAJ, Associated Press Writer1 hour, 51 minutes ago
Hundreds of thousands of Shiites chanting "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" marched through the streets of Baghdad's biggest Shiite district Friday in a show of support for Hezbollah militants battling Israeli troops in Lebanon.
No violence was reported during the rally in the Sadr City neighborhood. But at least 35 people were killed elsewhere in Iraq, many of them in a car bombing and gunbattle in the northern city of Mosul.
The demonstration was the biggest in the Middle East in support of Hezbollah since the Israeli army launched an offensive July 12 after a guerrilla raid on northern Israel. The protest was organized by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose political movement built around the Mahdi Army militia has been modeled after Hezbollah.
Al-Sadr summoned followers from throughout the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq to converge on Baghdad for the rally but he did not attend.
Demonstrators, wearing white burial shrouds symbolizing their willingness to die for Hezbollah, waved the group's yellow banner and chanted slogans in support of its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who has attained a cult status in the Arab world for his defiance of Israel.
"Allah, Allah, give victory to Hassan Nasrallah," the crowd chanted.
"Mahdi Army and Hezbollah are one. Let them confront us if they dare," the predominantly male crowd shouted, waving the flags of Hezbollah, Lebanon and Iraq.
Many walked with umbrellas in the searing afternoon sun. Volunteers sprayed them with water.
"I am wearing the shroud and I am ready to meet martyrdom," said Mohammed Khalaf, 35, owner of a clothes shop in the southern city of Amarah.
Al-Sadr followers painted U.S. and Israeli flags on the main road leading to the rally site, and demonstrators stepped on them — a gesture of contempt in Iraq. Alongside the painted flags was written: "These are the terrorists."
Protesters set fire to American and Israeli flags, as well as effigies of President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, showing the men with Dracula teeth. "Saddam and Bush, Two Faces of One Coin" was scrawled on Bush's effigy.
Iraqi government television said the Defense Ministry had approved the demonstration, a sign of public anger over Israel's offensive and of al-Sadr's stature as a major player in Iraqi politics.
"I consider my participation in this rally a religious duty. I am proud to join this crowd and I am ready to die for the sake of Lebanon," said Khazim al-Ibadi, 40, a government employee from Hillah.
Although the rally was about Hezbollah, it was also a show of strength by al-Sadr. Many people worried the presence of so many Shiite demonstrators — most of them from the Mahdi Army — would add to sectarian tensions in the city, which has seen almost daily clashes between Shiite and Sunni extremists.
The sectarian violence escalated after the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra unleashed a wave of reprisal attacks on Sunnis nationwide.
On Thursday, Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, told a Senate committee in Washington that sectarian violence in Iraq "is probably as bad as I have seen it" and that if the spiral continued the country "could move toward civil war."
In the latest violence, at least 12 people were killed Friday when Iraqi security forces fought gunbattles with suspected insurgents in Mosul after a suicide car bomber attacked a police patrol, said the provincial police commander, Maj. Gen. Withiq al-Hamdani. He said that the bombing killed four policemen and that eight insurgents died in the subsequent gunbattle.
On Thursday evening, a suicide bomber drove into a soccer field in the town of Hatra near Mosul, setting off a blast that killed seven spectators and three policemen police Col. Abdul Karim Ahmed Khalaf said. Six civilians and nine policemen were injured, he said.
On Friday, three mortar shells hit a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, killing two people, wounding four and damaging some stores, police Lt. Bilal Ali Majid, said.
An engineer was shot dead and an unidentified body, showing signs of torture, was found in western Baghdad.
Separately, gunmen shot and killed four people and wounded eight from a Shiite family late Thursday in Dujail, 50 miles north of Baghdad, police Lt. Hussam al-Dujeili said.
The U.S. military said in a statement that coalition forces killed at least three "terrorists" during an air strike and multiple raids southeast of Baghdad on Thursday.
Associated Press correspondents Vijay Joshi, Sameer N. Yacoub and Qais al-Bashir contributed to this report.
How do they keep Vice President Cheney alive? Isn't he like 500 years old, or something?
- Denzel Boone, Cooter, Missouri
Your curiosity is not unusual – I've received more letters on this topic in the past year than any other, asking about rumors linking the Vice President to ancient "blood cults," and to prehistoric extinctions blamed in native legend on the "Cha-uh-Nay," a malevolent wind spirit that "set upon the mammoth beasts and devoured them where they stood, so their bones shivered whitely for a moment amidst the meat bees, then rattled to the dirt."
The truth is, Vice President Cheney's exact age is unknown because his father never married his mother. Technically, this makes him a "bastard" – though of course we all know him to be above reproach, the sober Wally Cleaver to President Bush's mischievous Eddie Haskell – and in the unforgiving frontier days when he was born, bastard births were not recorded. (Estimates of the Vice President's age, by an informal panel of experts assembled last night at Gurke's G Spot, a nearby lounge, ranged from 130 to 165.)
We do know that Mr. Cheney was born in what became the Wyoming Territory, to a woman called Deadeye Daisy Cheney, who rose from "varmint plinker" (exterminating prairie dogs with a slingshot) to run a chain of mixed-meat jerky stands along the route of the transcontinental railroad. It was only his mother's hard work and sacrifice that saved Mr. Cheney from the typical fate of a bastard, cleaning spittoons or geeking for medicine shows.
How is the Vice President kept alive through all his heart attacks and other ailments?
With fresh organs from the War on Terror.
The organs are harvested from dying insurgents and terrorists, then flown fresh daily from the Middle East to a secret medical facility in Virginia. There, in a former intensive-care nursery, rows of cribs hold hearts, spleens, livers, etc., ready for implantation.
(Organs not used within 72 hours are picked up by licensed meat scavengers for sale to rendering plants up and down Interstate 95. Coincidentally, the CIA, also based in Virginia, has a "rendition" program that sends terrorists back to the nations that spawned them, so they can get the flaying they deserve.)
Though the transplant program runs with typical Bush administration efficiency, there have been a few screw-ups, like the time the janitor accidentally turned off power to the nursery, and surgeons had to implant the heart of a pig from a nearby farm in the Vice President – alongside the leaking terrorist heart already there – to get him through a televised campaign debate.
That is why the Vice President – renowned for his charming but razor-sharp debating style – was "bedah, bedah, bedahing" like Porky Pig during the debate: his Islamo-fascist heart was rejecting his pork heart.
Luckily, soon after the debate was over, sturdier organs became available when what may have been the last Euphrates crocodile on earth was run over by a speeding Humvee in the marshlands of southern Iraq. The Euphrates crocodile is an ancient creature, with 6 hearts, 7 stomachs and 3 livers, and the Vice President came out of surgery like his old self – full of piss, vinegar and crocodile parts.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
By Sidney Blumenthal
Aug. 03, 2006 | The National Security Agency is providing signal intelligence to Israel to monitor whether Syria and Iran are supplying new armaments to Hezbollah as it fires hundreds of missiles into northern Israel, according to a national security official with direct knowledge of the operation. President Bush has approved the secret program.
Inside the administration, neoconservatives on Vice President Dick Cheney's national security staff and Elliott Abrams, the neoconservative senior director for the Near East on the National Security Council, are prime movers behind sharing NSA intelligence with Israel, and they have discussed Syrian and Iranian supply activities as a potential pretext for Israeli bombing of both countries, the source privy to conversations about the program says. (Intelligence, including that gathered by the NSA, has been provided to Israel in the past for various purposes.) The neoconservatives are described as enthusiastic about the possibility of using NSA intelligence as a lever to widen the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is said to have been "briefed" and to be "on board," but she is not a central actor in pushing the covert neoconservative scenario. Her "briefing" appears to be an aspect of an internal struggle to intimidate and marginalize her. Recently she has come under fire from prominent neoconservatives who oppose her support for diplomatic negotiations with Iran to prevent its development of nuclear weaponry.
Rice's diplomacy in the Middle East has erratically veered from initially calling on Israel for "restraint," to categorically opposing a cease-fire, to proposing terms for a cease-fire guaranteed to conflict with the European proposal, and thus to thwarting diplomacy, prolonging the time available for the Israeli offensive to achieve its stated aim of driving Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon. But the neocon scenario extends far beyond that objective to pushing Israel into a "cleansing war" with Syria and Iran, says the national security official, which somehow will redeem Bush's beleaguered policy in the entire region.
In order to try to understand the neoconservative road map, senior national security professionals have begun circulating among themselves a 1996 neocon manifesto against the Middle East peace process. Titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," its half-dozen authors included neoconservatives highly influential with the Bush administration -- Richard Perle, first-term chairman of the Defense Policy Board; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense; and David Wurmser, Cheney's chief Middle East aide.
"A Clean Break" was written at the request of incoming Likud Party Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and intended to provide "a new set of ideas" for jettisoning the policies of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Instead of trading "land for peace," the neocons advocated tossing aside the Oslo agreements that established negotiations and demanding unconditional Palestinian acceptance of Likud's terms, "peace for peace." Rather than negotiations with Syria, they proposed "weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria." They also advanced a wild scenario to "redefine Iraq." Then King Hussein of Jordan would somehow become its ruler; and somehow this Sunni monarch would gain "control" of the Iraqi Shiites, and through them "wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria."
Netanyahu, at first, attempted to follow the "clean break" strategy, but under persistent pressure from the Clinton administration he felt compelled to enter into U.S.-led negotiations with the Palestinians. In the 1998 Wye River accords, concluded through the personal involvement of President Clinton and a dying King Hussein, the Palestinians agreed to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel and Netanyahu agreed to withdraw from a portion of the occupied West Bank. Further negotiations, conducted by his successor Ehud Barak, that nearly settled the conflict ended in dramatic failure, but potentially set the stage for new ones.
At his first National Security Council meeting, President George W. Bush stunned his first secretary of state, Colin Powell, by rejecting any effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. When Powell warned that "the consequences of that could be dire, especially for the Palestinians," Bush snapped, "Sometimes a show for force by one side can really clarify things." He was making a "clean break" not only with his immediate predecessor but also with the policies of his father.
In the current Middle East crisis, once again, the elder Bush's wise men have stepped forward to offer unsolicited and unheeded advice. (In private they are scathing.) Edward Djerejian, a former ambassador to Israel and Syria and now the director of the James Baker Institute at Rice University, urged on July 23, on CNN, negotiations with Syria and Iran. "I come from the school of diplomacy that you negotiate conflict resolution and peace with your enemies and adversaries, not with your friends," he said. "We've done it in the past, we can do it again."
Charles Freeman, the elder Bush's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, remarked, "The irony now is that the most likely candidate to back Hezbollah in the long term is no longer Iran but the Arab Shiite tyranny of the majority we have installed in Baghdad." Indeed, when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came to Washington in the last week of July he preceded his visit with harsh statements against Israel. And in a closed meeting with U.S. senators, when asked to offer criticism of Hezbollah, he steadfastly refused.
Richard Haass, the Middle East advisor on the elder Bush's National Security Council and President Bush's first-term State Department policy planning director, and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, openly scoffed at Bush's Middle East policy in an interview on July 30 in the Washington Post: "The arrows are all pointing in the wrong direction. The biggest danger in the short run is it just increases frustration and alienation from the United States in the Arab world. Not just the Arab world, but in Europe and around the world. People will get a daily drumbeat of suffering in Lebanon and this will just drive up anti-Americanism to new heights." When asked about the president's optimism, he replied, "An opportunity? Lord, spare me. I don't laugh a lot. That's the funniest thing I've heard in a long time. If this is an opportunity, what's Iraq? A once-in-a-lifetime chance?"
The same day that Haass' comments appeared Brent Scowcroft, the elder Bush's national security advisor and still his close friend, published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post written more or less as an open letter to his erstwhile and errant protégé Condoleezza Rice. Undoubtedly, Scowcroft reflects the views of the former President Bush. Adopting the tone of an instructor to a stubborn pupil, Scowcroft detailed a plan for an immediate end to the Israel-Hezbollah conflict and for restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, "the source of the problem." His program is a last attempt to turn the president back to the ways of his father. If the elder Bush and his team were in power and following the Scowcroft plan, a cease-fire would have been declared. But Scowcroft's plan resembles that of the Europeans, already rejected by the Bush administration, and Rice is the one offering a counterproposal that has put diplomacy into a stall.
Despite Rice's shunning of the advice of the Bush I sages, the neoconservatives have made her a convenient target in their effort to undermine all diplomatic initiatives. "Dump Condi," read the headline in the right-wing Insight Magazine on July 25. "Conservative national security allies of President Bush are in revolt against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying that she is incompetent and has reversed the administration's national security and foreign policy agenda," the article reported. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a member of the Defense Policy Board, was quoted: "We are sending signals today that no matter how much you provoke us, no matter how viciously you describe things in public, no matter how many things you're doing with missiles and nuclear weapons, the most you'll get out of us is talk."
A month earlier, Perle, in a June 25 Op-Ed in the Washington Post, revived an old trope from the height of the Cold War, accusing those who propose diplomacy of being like Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who tried to appease Hitler. "Condoleezza Rice," wrote Perle, "has moved from the White House to Foggy Bottom, a mere mile or so away. What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval Office; Rice's influence on the president is undiminished. It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of and increasingly represents a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries."
Rice, agent of the nefarious State Department, is supposedly the enemy within. "We are in the early stages of World War III," Gingrich told Insight. "Our bureaucracies are not responding fast enough. We don't have the right attitude."
Confused, ineffectual and incapable of filling her office with power, Rice has become the voodoo doll that Powell was in the first term. Even her feeble and counterproductive gestures toward diplomacy leave her open to the harshest attacks from neoconservatives. Scowcroft and the Bush I team are simply ignored. The sustained assault on Rice is a means to an end -- restoring the ascendancy of neoconservatism.
Bush's rejection of and reluctance to embrace the peace process concluded with the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections. This failure was followed by a refusal to engage Hamas, potentially splitting its new governmental ministers from its more radical leadership in Damascus. Predictably, the most radical elements of Hamas found a way to lash out. And Hezbollah seized the moment by staging its own provocation.
Having failed in the Middle East, the administration is attempting to salvage its credibility by equating Israel's predicament with the U.S. quagmire in Iraq. Neoconservatives, for their part, see the latest risk to Israel's national security as a chance to scuttle U.S. negotiations with Iran, perhaps the last opportunity to realize the fantasies of "A Clean Break."
By using NSA intelligence to set an invisible tripwire, the Bush administration is laying the condition for regional conflagration with untold consequences -- from Pakistan to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Israel. Secretly devising a scheme that might thrust Israel into a ring of fire cannot be construed as a blunder. It is a deliberate, calculated and methodical plot.
-- By Sidney Blumenthal
Monday, July 31, 2006
There are few in the Arab world today who are in the mood for forgiveness and reconciliation after they have gazed in disbelief at tens of tiny corpses being unceremoniously thrown into mass graves, including a one-day-old baby whose parents didn’t even have time to give her a name; KAZINFORM quotes Linda Heard, email@example.com
During an emergency summit held in Rome, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was driven to ask delegates “Are we children of a lesser God? Is an Israeli teardrop worth more than a drop of Lebanese blood?”
Israel’s Defense Minister Amir Peretz wants America’s blessing to continue hostilities for a further ten to fourteen days. He might have got it except for the Israeli bombing of Qana that took the lives of 60 civilians, including 37 children. He may still.
Qana had already entered the Lebanese lexicon as a euphemism for “massacre” following a devastating Israeli strike on that southern Lebanese village in 1996. The resulting carnage was thought to have triggered a close to Israel’s Operation Grapes of Wrath.
It is understandable, therefore, that incensed Lebanese demonstrators sought to trash the United Nations headquarters in Beirut, although such behavior cannot, of course, be condoned.
After all, their government had been begging that body for a cease-fire for weeks to no avail. This is because the US has staunchly refused any condemnation of Israel, leaving the world body open to criticism of being ineffectual, America of extreme pro-Israel bias and Britain of being led by the nose.
As messages of condolences and outrage flooded in from nations around the world on Sunday, Lebanese officials told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to cancel a scheduled visit to Beirut unless she came armed with an immediate unconditional cease-fire. The time for toothy smiles, kisses and crocodile tears is over.
The strongly (or perhaps formerly) pro-American Lebanese prime minister told CBS, “The Israelis are committing state-sponsored terrorism”.
In a total departure from the Bush party line, Siniora heaped praise on Hezbollah’s fighters and its leader Hassan Nasrallah “who are sacrificing their lives for the sake of Lebanon.”
It is in the Bush administration’s interests to see Hezbollah pummeled and rendered impotent. Rather than perceive the conflict in the context of feuding neighbors, the US has deliberately subsumed it into its “war on terror”.
To this end, Bush and his British sidekick have branded Hezbollah a terrorist organization that must be stamped out in order to birth “a new Middle East” — one in which feuding states live contentedly under the American/Israeli boot.
Now that Siniora has given Hezbollah legitimacy by publicly patting on the back, Bush will increasingly find this argument a hard sell. Although I should add Fox News viewers and their ilk have already bought into it hook, line and sinker.
A new “terrorist” foe was thought to be just what the doctor ordered for George W. Bush’s dwindling popularity rating. Bin Laden has disappeared into the ether. Saddam Hussein awaits the outcome of his kangaroo trial in an American jail. Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi was duly assassinated and his so-called successor spotted in an Egyptian prison where he’s been languishing for the past six years.
The new foe had to be destroyed and humiliated so that the policies of the self-acclaimed leader of the free world could be seen to be working.
Unfortunately for Bush, Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t exactly fit the bill. He’s too softly spoken for one, doesn’t engage in outlandish rhetoric or speak longingly of Islamic caliphates from Spain to goodness knows where. Instead, he represents over 40 percent of all Lebanese, so if he’s a terrorist they must be too. Moreover his people haven’t been producing snuff videos when corpses are divorced from their heads.
Those pesky Europeans haven’t been much help either. They’ve refused to add Hezbollah to their list of terrorist groups, and so has Russia.
Israel’s inability to crush what its spokesmen inevitably refer to as “Khizbollah” has further ruined Bush’s plan. The Israelis were meant to pull a quick, decisive victory out of their hat. After all, they have had years of experience fighting militant groups in occupied Palestine.
And, most importantly, they are the ones with the big American bombs, the deadly American F16s and Apache helicopters and the impervious American tanks.
Yet almost three weeks into the conflict, Hezbollah is still firing an average of 100 rockets into northern Israel each day and has driven a succession of elite Israeli units out of its southern strongholds. The resistance has further downed an Israeli drone and several helicopters, not to mention achieving a direct hit on an Israeli warship.
The result has opened a can of worms. Israelis commentators are turning on their military, accusing it of being ill prepared and ill trained. Defense officials fret over Israel’s diminished deterrent capability.
The Bush brigade is said to be disappointed at Israel’s military ineptitude and embarrassed by its attacks on civilians. The international community is up in arms over Israel’s brutality and America’s intransigent stance in the face of calls for an immediate cease-fire.
Syria, once considered an irrelevance or even “a low-hanging fruit” has re-established its importance in the region with all roads once again leading to Damascus.
The Palestinians have been reinvigorated by Hezbollah’s military successes and progress toward their state has adopted a renewed sense of urgency.
As for Hezbollah fighters, they have achieved an almost mythical quality throughout the Muslim world due to their stealth, stoicism, self-discipline and courage under fire.
Most importantly, Israel has unwittingly opened up a discussion that was verging on taboo in mainstream Western media. In yesterday’s Guardian, David Clark writes: “How can ‘terrorism’ be condemned while war crimes go without rebuke?” How indeed!However, the outcome of this conflict isn’t ready to be written in stone. With its back against the wall there is a danger that Israel will embark on a scorched earth policy in southern Lebanon. Alternatively, Syria and Iran could get dragged in when Bush’s evangelical support base will merrily prepare themselves for “end times” rapture.
The most favorable outcome for Lebanon would be an unconditional cease-fire followed by a prisoner exchange, a return of Sheba Farms to Lebanon and a non-NATO international force with a UN mandate swiftly brought in to police a cordon sanitaire.
For Israel, there isn’t one. It arrogantly overplayed its hand and lost the game. Unless, of course, it equates winning with how many children’s coffins it can notch up in the shortest time.
BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 31 — Several prominent Iraqi clerics and officials today delivered their stiffest rebuke yet of Israeli airstrikes, condemning civilian casualties in Lebanon even as shootings, bombings, and mass kidnappings continued to plague Iraq.
Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite, described the Israeli bombing that killed dozens of civilians in Qana, Lebanon, this weekend as a “massacre.” Echoing earlier statements made by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, he said Iraqis of all sects were unified against the carnage and eager for a cease-fire.
“These horrible massacres carried out by the Israeli aggression, like what happened at Qana, incite in us a spirit of solidarity,” Mr. Abdul Mahdi said in a speech at a memorial for Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, a revered cleric who was killed three years ago. “It’s time for this nation to stand up and stop this aggression.”
Others who spoke at the event in central Baghdad — including Mr. Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, and Mr. Hakim’s brother Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of a dominant Shiite political bloc — offered similar condemnations of Israel to a gathered crowd of more than 1,000.
In the poor Shiite slum of Sadr City, hundreds of women and children marched today to protest Israeli attacks. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most prominent Shiite religious leader, also issued a statement late Sunday that criticized the “outrageous crime” of killing women and children at Qana.
And the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr said at a separate press conference today that he was “ready to go to Lebanon to defend it if this would stop the war.”
“We, the unified Iraqi people, will stand with the Lebanese people to end the ominous trio of the United States, Israel and Britain, which is terrorizing Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and other occupied nations,” he said. “We do not want U.S. enterprises in the Middle East.”
The increasingly caustic response to events abroad came on a day in Iraq that was rife with continuing violence.
In central Baghdad, gunmen wearing Interior Ministry camouflage uniforms kidnapped at least 11 people from the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry today, an Interior Ministry official said. Among the abducted were guards and the director of the organization, founded three years ago to boost trade with the United States.
At least five unidentified bodies were found throughout Baghdad, the authorities said, many of them showing signs of torture.
Two roadside bombs near Hilla south of Baghdad also hit American troops and Iraqi police patrols. One explosion, near al-Skandariya, killed an Iraqi officer and wounded one. The other, further south, destroyed at least one Humvee. Witnesses said four American soldiers were injured in the blast.
Under a new security plan for Baghdad that President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki announced last week in Washington, 4,000 American soldiers who had been due to return home had their tours extended last week.
Today, United States Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican visiting Baghdad with four other members of Congress, warned that domestic support for assigning American troops to police the capital may not last.
“Americans are not going to be very patient about having American forces essentially being police officers and maintaining order between indigenous Iraqi groups,” he said.
Reporting for this article was contributed by Ali Adeeb in Baghdad and Iraqi employees of the New York Times in Karbala.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Since Hizbullah doesn't broadcast news of their casualties, I think the damage Israel is doing to its fighting strength on the ground is likely being understated. But I don't see how we can argue, at this point at least, that Hizbullah as a movement doesn't seem strengthened by all this. Hopefully there's some way out of this in which the underlying problem here can be solved -- Lebanon's lack of control over the belligerent militia controlling its southern border. But it's hard to find the signs promising at this moment. And for Israel, one number tells the irreducible story. 140 rockets fell on northern Israel today. That's the highest count since July 12th when the whole thing started. And in terms of how Israel understands its own security, that's the most damning thing: even using main force, they can't stop the rocket attacks on their civilian areas.
As I said a couple days ago, the thing about this region is that things can always get worse, much worse.
And along those lines, I wanted to finish this post by flagging something ominous that keeps coming up in the Israeli press. There's a mix of public and private communications going on between Jerusalem and Damascus. Israel is trying to assure Damascus that they don't plan or want to expand the war to include Syria. Syria is clearly worried that they will and has their troops on full alert. Israel is also warning in no uncertain terms that Syria getting involved will spark massive retaliation.
But there are persistent signs that the US is egging Israel on to bring the war to Damascus.
Here's a clip from the end of an article today in the Jerusalem Post ...
[Israeli]Defense officials told the Post last week that they were receiving indications from the United States that the US would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria.
And there are other ominous indications of the US pressing for expansion the Israelis don't seem to want.
There's more here than the US not wanting a ceasefire before meaningful changes on the ground have happened in south Lebanon. Or at least I fear there is. This started because Israel doesn't want and won't tolerate a menacing militia building up on their northern border and lashing out with occasional raids or missile attacks, especially in the context of withdrawals from other areas.
The world has sat by for six years and let Hizbullah's anamolous position in south Lebanon be Israel's problem. Whether their response was wise or just, I'll set aside for the moment. It's not about totalitarianism or Afghanistan or Iraq, at least not in an operational sense, or dingbat fantasies about Freedom and Terror. But there do appear to be forces in Washington -- seemingly the stronger ones, with Rice just a facade -- who see this whole thing as an opportunity for a grand call of double or nothing to get out of the disaster they've created in the region. Go into Syria, maybe Iran. Try to roll the table once and for all. No failed war that a new war can't solve. Condi's mindless 'birth pangs' remark wasn't just a gaffe -- or perhaps it was a gaffe in the Kinsleyan sense of inopportunely saying what you really think. That seems to be the thinking -- transformation through destabilization.
-- Josh Marshall
By Joshua Micah Marshall
Imagine it's six months from now. The Iraq war is over. After an initial burst of joy and gratitude at being liberated from Saddam's rule, the people of Iraq are watching, and waiting, and beginning to chafe under American occupation. Across the border, in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, our conquering presence has brought street protests and escalating violence. The United Nations and NATO are in disarray, so America is pretty much on its own. Hemmed in by budget deficits at home and limited financial assistance from allies, the Bush administration is talking again about tapping Iraq's oil reserves to offset some of the costs of the American presence--talk that is further inflaming the region. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence has discovered fresh evidence that, prior to the war, Saddam moved quantities of biological and chemical weapons to Syria. When Syria denies having such weapons, the administration starts massing troops on the Syrian border. But as they begin to move, there is an explosion: Hezbollah terrorists from southern Lebanon blow themselves up in a Baghdad restaurant, killing dozens of Western aid workers and journalists. Knowing that Hezbollah has cells in America, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge puts the nation back on Orange Alert. FBI agents start sweeping through mosques, with a new round of arrests of Saudis, Pakistanis, Palestinians, and Yemenis.
To most Americans, this would sound like a frightening state of affairs, the kind that would lead them to wonder how and why we had got ourselves into this mess in the first place. But to the Bush administration hawks who are guiding American foreign policy, this isn't the nightmare scenario. It's everything going as anticipated.
In their view, invasion of Iraq was not merely, or even primarily, about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Nor was it really about weapons of mass destruction, though their elimination was an important benefit. Rather, the administration sees the invasion as only the first move in a wider effort to reorder the power structure of the entire Middle East. Prior to the war, the president himself never quite said this openly. But hawkish neoconservatives within his administration gave strong hints. In February, Undersecretary of State John Bolton told Israeli officials that after defeating Iraq, the United States would "deal with" Iran, Syria, and North Korea. Meanwhile, neoconservative journalists have been channeling the administration's thinking. Late last month, The Weekly Standard's Jeffrey Bell reported that the administration has in mind a "world war between the United States and a political wing of Islamic fundamentalism ... a war of such reach and magnitude [that] the invasion of Iraq, or the capture of top al Qaeda commanders, should be seen as tactical events in a series of moves and countermoves stretching well into the future."
In short, the administration is trying to roll the table--to use U.S. military force, or the threat of it, to reform or topple virtually every regime in the region, from foes like Syria to friends like Egypt, on the theory that it is the undemocratic nature of these regimes that ultimately breeds terrorism. So events that may seem negative--Hezbollah for the first time targeting American civilians; U.S. soldiers preparing for war with Syria--while unfortunate in themselves, are actually part of the hawks' broader agenda. Each crisis will draw U.S. forces further into the region and each countermove in turn will create problems that can only be fixed by still further American involvement, until democratic governments--or, failing that, U.S. troops--rule the entire Middle East.
There is a startling amount of deception in all this--of hawks deceiving the American people, and perhaps in some cases even themselves. While it's conceivable that bold American action could democratize the Middle East, so broad and radical an initiative could also bring chaos and bloodshed on a massive scale. That all too real possibility leads most establishment foreign policy hands, including many in the State Department, to view the Bush plan with alarm. Indeed, the hawks' record so far does not inspire confidence. Prior to the invasion, for instance, they predicted that if the United States simply announced its intention to act against Saddam regardless of how the United Nations voted, most of our allies, eager to be on our good side, would support us. Almost none did. Yet despite such grave miscalculations, the hawks push on with their sweeping new agenda.
Like any group of permanent Washington revolutionaries fueled by visions of a righteous cause, the neocons long ago decided that criticism from the establishment isn't a reason for self-doubt but the surest sign that they're on the right track. But their confidence also comes from the curious fact that much of what could go awry with their plan will also serve to advance it. A full-scale confrontation between the United States and political Islam, they believe, is inevitable, so why not have it now, on our terms, rather than later, on theirs? Actually, there are plenty of good reasons not to purposely provoke a series of crises in the Middle East. But that's what the hawks are setting in motion, partly on the theory that the worse things get, the more their approach becomes the only plausible solution.
Ever since the neocons burst upon the public policy scene 30 years ago, their movement has been a marriage of moral idealism, military assertiveness, and deception. Back in the early 1970s, this group of then-young and still mostly Democratic political intellectuals grew alarmed by the post-Vietnam Democrats' seeming indifference to the Soviet threat. They were equally appalled, however, by the amoral worldview espoused by establishment Republicans like Henry Kissinger, who sought co-existence with the Soviet Union. As is often the case with ex-socialists, the neocons were too familiar with communist tactics to ignore or romanticize communism's evils. The fact that many neocons were Jewish, and outraged by Moscow's increasingly visible persecution of Jews, also caused them to reject both the McGovernite and Kissingerian tendencies to ignore such abuses.
In Ronald Reagan, the neocons found a politician they could embrace. Like them, Reagan spoke openly about the evils of communism and, at least on the peripheries of the Cold War, preferred rollback to coexistence. Neocons filled the Reagan administration, and men like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, and others provided the intellectual ballast and moral fervor for the sharp turn toward confrontation that the United States adopted in 1981.
But achieving moral clarity often requires hiding certain realities. From the beginning, the neocons took a much more alarmist view of Soviet capacities and intentions than most experts. As late as 1980, the ur-neocon Norman Podhoretz warned of the imminent "Finlandization of America, the political and economic subordination of the United States to superior Soviet power," even raising the possibility that America's only options might be "surrender or war." We now know, of course, that U.S. intelligence estimates, which many neocons thought underestimated the magnitude and durability of Soviet power, in fact wildly overestimated them.
This willingness to deceive--both themselves and others--expanded as neocons grew more comfortable with power. Many spent the Reagan years orchestrating bloody wars against Soviet proxies in the Third World, portraying thugs like the Nicaraguan Contras and plain murderers like Jonas Savimbi of Angola as "freedom fighters." The nadir of this deceit was the Iran-Contra scandal, for which Podhoretz's son-in-law, Elliot Abrams, pled guilty to perjury. Abrams was later pardoned by Bush's father, and today, he runs Middle East policy in the Bush White House.
But in the end, the Soviet Union did fall. And the hawks' policy of confrontation did contribute to its collapse. So too, of course, did the economic and military rot most of the hawks didn't believe in, and the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, whom neocons such as Richard Perle counseled Reagan not to trust. But the neocons did not dwell on what they got wrong. Rather, the experience of having played a hand in the downfall of so great an evil led them to the opposite belief: that it's okay to be spectacularly wrong, even brazenly deceptive about the details, so long as you have moral vision and a willingness to use force.
What happened in the 1990s further reinforced that mindset. Hawks like Perle and William Kristol pulled their hair out when Kissingerians like Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell left Saddam's regime in place after the first Gulf War. They watched with mounting fury as terrorist attacks by Muslim fundamentalists claimed more and more American and Israeli lives. They considered the Oslo accords an obvious mistake (how can you negotiate with a man like Yasir Arafat?), and as the decade progressed they became increasingly convinced that there was a nexus linking burgeoning terrorism and mounting anti-Semitism with repressive but nominally "pro-American" regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In 1996, several of the hawks--including Perle--even tried to sell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the idea that Israel should attack Saddam on its own--advice Netanyahu wisely declined. When the Oslo process crumbled and Saudi Arabian terrorists killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11, the hawks felt, not without some justification, that they had seen this danger coming all along, while others had ignored it. The timing was propitious, because in September 2001 many already held jobs with a new conservative president willing to hear their pitch.
Prime Minister bin Laden
The pitch was this: The Middle East today is like the Soviet Union 30 years ago. Politically warped fundamentalism is the contemporary equivalent of communism or fascism. Terrorists with potential access to weapons of mass destruction are like an arsenal pointed at the United States. The primary cause of all this danger is the Arab world's endemic despotism, corruption, poverty, and economic stagnation. Repressive regimes channel dissent into the mosques, where the hopeless and disenfranchised are taught a brand of Islam that combines anti-modernism, anti-Americanism, and a worship of violence that borders on nihilism. Unable to overthrow their own authoritarian rulers, the citizenry turns its fury against the foreign power that funds and supports these corrupt regimes to maintain stability and access to oil: the United States. As Johns Hopkins University professor Fouad Ajami recently wrote in Foreign Affairs, "The great indulgence granted to the ways and phobias of Arabs has reaped a terrible harvest"--terrorism. Trying to "manage" this dysfunctional Islamic world, as Clinton attempted and Colin Powell counsels us to do, is as foolish, unproductive, and dangerous as détente was with the Soviets, the hawks believe. Nor is it necessary, given the unparalleled power of the American military. Using that power to confront Soviet communism led to the demise of that totalitarianism and the establishment of democratic (or at least non-threatening) regimes from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea to the Bering Strait. Why not use that same power to upend the entire corrupt Middle East edifice and bring liberty, democracy, and the rule of law to the Arab world?
The hawks' grand plan differs depending on whom you speak to, but the basic outline runs like this: The United States establishes a reasonably democratic, pro-Western government in Iraq--assume it falls somewhere between Turkey and Jordan on the spectrum of democracy and the rule of law. Not perfect, representative democracy, certainly, but a system infinitely preferable to Saddam's. The example of a democratic Iraq will radically change the political dynamics of the Middle East. When Palestinians see average Iraqis beginning to enjoy real freedom and economic opportunity, they'll want the same themselves. With that happy prospect on one hand and implacable United States will on the other, they'll demand that the Palestinian Authority reform politically and negotiate with Israel. That in turn will lead to a real peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. A democratic Iraq will also hasten the fall of the fundamentalist Shi'a mullahs in Iran, whose citizens are gradually adopting anti-fanatic, pro-Western sympathies. A democratized Iran would create a string of democratic, pro-Western governments (Turkey, Iraq, and Iran) stretching across the historical heartland of Islam. Without a hostile Iraq towering over it, Jordan's pro-Western Hashemite monarchy would likely come into full bloom. Syria would be no more than a pale reminder of the bad old days. (If they made trouble, a U.S. invasion would take care of them, too.) And to the tiny Gulf emirates making hesitant steps toward democratization, the corrupt regimes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt would no longer look like examples of stability and strength in a benighted region, but holdouts against the democratic tide. Once the dust settles, we could decide whether to ignore them as harmless throwbacks to the bad old days or deal with them, too. We'd be in a much stronger position to do so since we'd no longer require their friendship to help us manage ugly regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria.
The audacious nature of the neocons' plan makes it easy to criticize but strangely difficult to dismiss outright. Like a character in a bad made-for-TV thriller from the 1970s, you can hear yourself saying, "That plan's just crazy enough to work."
But like a TV plot, the hawks' vision rests on a willing suspension of disbelief, in particular, on the premise that every close call will break in our favor: The guard will fall asleep next to the cell so our heroes can pluck the keys from his belt. The hail of enemy bullets will plink-plink-plink over our heroes' heads. And the getaway car in the driveway will have the keys waiting in the ignition. Sure, the hawks' vision could come to pass. But there are at least half a dozen equally plausible alternative scenarios that would be disastrous for us.
To begin with, this whole endeavor is supposed to be about reducing the long-term threat of terrorism, particularly terrorism that employs weapons of mass destruction. But, to date, every time a Western or non-Muslim country has put troops into Arab lands to stamp out violence and terror, it has awakened entire new terrorist organizations and a generation of recruits. Placing U.S. troops in Riyadh after the Gulf War (to protect Saudi Arabia and its oilfields from Saddam) gave Osama bin Laden a cause around which he built al Qaeda. Israel took the West Bank in a war of self-defense, but once there its occupation helped give rise to Hamas. Israel's incursion into southern Lebanon (justified at the time, but transformed into a permanent occupation) led to the rise of Hezbollah. Why do we imagine that our invasion and occupation of Iraq, or whatever countries come next, will turn out any differently?
The Bush administration also insists that our right to act preemptively and unilaterally, with or without the international community's formal approval, rests on the need to protect American lives. But with the exception of al Qaeda, most terrorist organizations in the world, and certainly in the Middle East, do not target Americans. Hamas certainly doesn't. Hezbollah, the most fearsome of terrorist organizations beside al Qaeda, has killed American troops in the Middle East, but not for some years, and it has never targeted American civilians on American soil. Yet like Hamas, Hezbollah has an extensive fundraising cell operation in the States (as do many terrorist organizations, including the Irish Republican Army). If we target them in the Middle East, can't we reasonably assume they will respond by activating these cells and taking the war worldwide?
Next, consider the hawks' plans for those Middle East states that are authoritarian yet "friendly" to the United States--specifically Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No question these are problem countries. Their governments buy our weapons and accept our foreign aid yet allow vicious anti-Semitism to spew from the state run airwaves and tolerate clerics who preach jihad against the West. But is it really in our interests to work for their overthrow? Many hawks clearly think so. I asked Richard Perle last year about the dangers that might flow from the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "Mubarak is no great shakes," he quipped. "Surely we can do better than Mubarak." When I asked Perle's friend and fellow Reagan-era neocon Ken Adelman to calculate the costs of having the toppling of Saddam lead to the overthrow of the House of Saud, he shot back: "All the better if you ask me."
This cavalier call for regime change, however, runs into a rather obvious problem. When the communist regimes of Eastern and Central Europe fell after 1989, the people of those nations felt grateful to the United States because we helped liberate them from their Russian colonial masters. They went on to create pro-Western democracies. The same is unlikely to happen, however, if we help "liberate" Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The tyrannies in these countries are home grown, and the U.S. government has supported them, rightly or wrongly, for decades, even as we've ignored (in the eyes of Arabs) the plight of the Palestinians. Consequently, the citizens of these countries generally hate the United States, and show strong sympathy for Islamic radicals. If free elections were held in Saudi Arabia today, Osama bin Laden would probably win more votes than Crown Prince Abdullah. Topple the pro-Western autocracies in these countries, in other words, and you won't get pro-Western democracies but anti-Western tyrannies.
To this dilemma, the hawks offer two responses. One is that eventually the citizens of Egypt and Saudi Arabia will grow disenchanted with their anti-Western Islamic governments, just as the people of Iran have, and become our friends. To which the correct response is, well, sure, that's a nice theory, but do we really want to make the situation for ourselves hugely worse now on the strength of a theoretical future benefit?
The hawks' other response is that if the effort to push these countries toward democracy goes south, we can always use our military might to secure our interests. "We need to be more assertive," argues Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, "and stop letting all these two-bit dictators and rogue regimes push us around and stop being a patsy for our so-called allies, especially in Saudi Arabia." Hopefully, in Boot's view, laying down the law will be enough. But he envisions a worst-case scenario that would involve the United States "occupying the Saudi's oil fields and administering them as a trust for the people of the region."
What Boot is calling for, in other words, is the creation of a de facto American empire in the Middle East. In fact, there's a subset of neocons who believe that given our unparalleled power, empire is our destiny and we might as well embrace it. The problem with this line of thinking is, of course, that it ignores the lengthy and troubling history of imperial ambitions, particularly in the Middle East. The French and the English didn't leave voluntarily; they were driven out. And they left behind a legacy of ignorance, exploitation, and corruption that's largely responsible for the region's current dysfunctional politics.
Another potential snafu for the hawks is Iran, arguably the most dangerous state in the Middle East. The good news is that the fundamentalist Shi'a mullahs who have been running the government, exporting terrorism, and trying to enrich their uranium, are increasingly unpopular. Most experts believe that the mullahs' days are numbered, and that true democracy will come to Iran. That day will arrive sooner, the hawks argue, with a democratic Iraq on Iran's border. But the opposite could happen. If the mullahs are smart, they'll cooperate just enough with the Americans not to provoke an attack, but put themselves forth to their own people as defenders of Iranian independence and Iran's brother Shi'a in southern Iraq who are living under the American jackboot. Such a strategy might keep the fundamentalists in power for years longer than they otherwise might have been.
Then there is the mother of all problems, Iraq. The hawks' whole plan rests on the assumption that we can turn it into a self-governing democracy--that the very presence of that example will transform politics in the Middle East. But what if we can't really create a democratic, self-governing Iraq, at least not very quickly? What if the experience we had after World War II in Germany and Japan, two ethnically homogeneous nations, doesn't quite work in an ethnically divided Iraq where one group, the Sunni Arabs, has spent decades repressing and slaughtering the others? As one former Army officer with long experience with the Iraq file explains it, the "physical analogy to Saddam Hussein's regime is a steel beam in compression." Give it one good hit, and you'll get a violent explosion. One hundred thousand U.S. troops may be able to keep a lid on all the pent-up hatred. But we may soon find that it's unwise to hand off power to the fractious Iraqis. To invoke the ugly but apt metaphor which Jefferson used to describe the American dilemma of slavery, we will have the wolf by the ears. You want to let go. But you dare not.
And what if we do muster the courage to allow elections, but the Iraqis choose a government we can't live with--as the Japanese did in their first post-war election, when the United States purged the man slated to become prime minister? But if we do that in Iraq, how will it look on Al Jazeera? Ultimately, the longer we stay as occupiers, the more Iraq becomes not an example for other Arabs to emulate, but one that helps Islamic fundamentalists make their case that America is just an old-fashioned imperium bent on conquering Arab lands. And that will make worse all the problems set forth above.
None of these problems are inevitable, of course. Luck, fortitude, deft management, and help from allies could bring about very different results. But we can probably only rely on the first three because we are starting this enterprise over the expressed objections of almost every other country in the world. And that's yet another reason why overthrowing the Middle East won't be the same as overthrowing communism. We did the latter, after all, within a tight formal alliance, NATO. Reagan's most effective military move against Moscow, for instance, placing Pershing II missiles in Western Europe, could never have happened, given widespread public protests, except that NATO itself voted to let the weapons in. In the Middle East, however, we're largely alone. If things go badly, what allies we might have left are liable to say to us: You broke it, you fix it.
Whacking the Hornet's Nest
If the Bush administration has thought through these various negative scenarios--and we must presume, or at least pray, that it has--it certainly has not shared them with the American people. More to the point, the president has not even leveled with the public that such a clean-sweep approach to the Middle East is, in fact, their plan. This breaks new ground in the history of pre-war presidential deception. Franklin Roosevelt said he was trying to keep the United States out of World War II even as he--in some key ways--courted a confrontation with the Axis powers that he saw as both inevitable and necessary. History has judged him well for this. Far more brazenly, Lyndon Johnson's administration greatly exaggerated the Gulf of Tonkin incident to gin up support for full-throttle engagement in Vietnam. The war proved to be Johnson's undoing. When President Clinton used American troops to quell the fighting in Bosnia he said publicly that our troops would be there no longer than a year, even though it was widely understood that they would be there far longer. But in the case of these deceptions, the public was at least told what the goals of the wars were and whom and where we would be fighting.
Today, however, the great majority of the American people have no concept of what kind of conflict the president is leading them into. The White House has presented this as a war to depose Saddam Hussein in order to keep him from acquiring weapons of mass destruction--a goal that the majority of Americans support. But the White House really has in mind an enterprise of a scale, cost, and scope that would be almost impossible to sell to the American public. The White House knows that. So it hasn't even tried. Instead, it's focused on getting us into Iraq with the hope of setting off a sequence of events that will draw us inexorably towards the agenda they have in mind.
The brazenness of this approach would be hard to believe if it weren't entirely in line with how the administration has pursued so many of its other policy goals. Its preferred method has been to use deceit to create faits accomplis, facts on the ground that then make the administration's broader agenda almost impossible not to pursue. During and after the 2000 campaign, the president called for major education and prescription drug programs plus a huge tax cut, saying America could easily afford them all because of large budget surpluses. Critics said it wasn't true, and the growing budget deficits have proven them right. But the administration now uses the existence of big budget deficits as a way to put the squeeze on social programs--part of its plan all along. Strip away the presidential seal and the fancy titles, and it's just a straight-up con.
The same strategy seemed to guide the administration's passive-aggressive attitude towards our allies. It spent the months after September 11 signaling its distaste for international agreements and entangling alliances. The president then demanded last September that the same countries he had snubbed support his agenda in Iraq. And last month, when most of those countries refused, hawks spun that refusal as evidence that they were right all along. Recently, a key neoconservative commentator with close ties to the administration told me that the question since the end of the Cold War has been which global force would create the conditions for global peace and security: the United States, NATO, or the United Nations. With NATO now wrecked, he told me, the choice is between the United States and the United Nations. Whether NATO is actually wrecked remains to be seen. But the strategy is clear: push the alliance to the breaking point, and when it snaps, cite it as proof that the alliance was good for nothing anyway. It's the definition of chutzpah, like the kid who kills his parents and begs the judge for sympathy because he's an orphan.
Another president may be able to rebuild NATO or get the budget back in balance. But once America begins the process of remaking the Middle East in the way the hawks have in mind, it will be extremely difficult for any president to pull back. Vietnam analogies have long been overused, and used inappropriately, but this may be one case where the comparison is apt.
Ending Saddam Hussein's regime and replacing it with something stable and democratic was always going to be a difficult task, even with the most able leadership and the broadest coalition. But doing it as the Bush administration now intends is something like going outside and giving a few good whacks to a hornets' nest because you want to get them out in the open and have it out with them once and for all. Ridding the world of Islamic terrorism by rooting out its ultimate sources--Muslim fundamentalism and the Arab world's endemic despotism, corruption, and poverty--might work. But the costs will be immense. Whether the danger is sufficient and the costs worth incurring would make for an interesting public debate. The problem is that once it's just us and the hornets, we really won't have any choice.
Joshua Micah Marshall, a Washington Monthly contributing writer, is author of the Talking Points Memo.