Mother Jones Daily


WAR WATCH
After the Vote…
After Iraq…
Priming Terror
Off the (Missile) Radar
DAILY BRIEFING
Can Pelosi Pull It Off?
Corporate-Sponsored Cops
The War on Gays
Automakers’ Roles in “Dirty War”

War Watch

After the Vote….

Iraqi officials this weekend said they would take a ‘deliberate’ look at the resolution adopted last week by the UN Security Council. Baghdad is widely expected to accept the resolution and at least express a willingness to accept UN weapons inspectors. But, with so many conditions attached to the inspections, and so much ambiguous language in the resolution, is a US-led invasion really inevitable?

Martin Woollacott suggests that war can still be avoided. But, writing in the London Guardian, he suggests the Iraqi leader has very little room for the kind of maneuvering he has employed in the past.

“The answer is that Saddam will have to be either very lucky, in his combination of declaring weapons and continuing to conceal them, or very unlucky, in that he is swept away by a coup before the deadline arrives. War could clearly be avoided if Saddam made a complete and honest declaration of his weapons programmes, but careful students of his character think that hugely unlikely.”

Most observers expect Hussein to test the limits of the resolution, Woollacott writes. What remains unclear, The Christian Science Monitor reports, is what Iraqi tactics could trigger a US assault.

“In the past, Baghdad’s obstruction and deception have come in forms large and small, say former UN inspectors. Washington may look petty if it cites minor incidents – say, a missing document or a short delay in access – as the final straw. From the US perspective, for now it boils down to something like a Supreme Court justice’s famous definition of pornography: ‘You know it when you see it.'”

Such pessimistic predictions are commonplace in the European press, encouraging a growing number of pundits to suggest that the UN was cowed by Washington. Rupert Cornwell, writing in The Independent, argues that the protests and concerns of the French, the Russians, and others at the UN did very little to change the ultimate outcome.

“For a moment, surveying the placid scene at the Security Council, or reading the nuanced legalistic language of Resolution 1441, you could believe the vote was the unqualified opinion of 15 like-minded nations, rather than what it really was: a document, amended a little to be sure, but conceived and driven through by the US to permit Washington to take military action against Saddam Hussein should it unilaterally decide to do so.”

The Bush administration has moved quickly to embrace the Security Council vote — or at least incorporate the vote into its aggressive rhetoric. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a Washington Post opinion piece, introduces what will undoubtedly become a familiar refrain:

“Seven weeks of consultation, debate and negotiation in the Security Council only forged a deeper agreement and a stronger resolve among the world that Iraq must fully and finally disarm. It should now be clear to Saddam Hussein that this is not just a matter between Iraq and the United States, but between Iraq and a united world.”

Such claims sound slightly less absurd in light of the unanimous nature of the Security Council vote. Even Syria, the one Arab nation on the council, voted in support of the resolution. Of course, as the BBC reports, Syria, like most nations in the Middle East, remains steadfastly opposed to any attack on Iraq. But as Richard Beeston of the London Times notes, Syria’s position is not unlike that being taken by many governments in the Arab world:

“The Arab states have broadly welcomed Washington’s decision to work through the UN. They are openly hostile to any talk of war, but privately most leaders in the region are resigned to a new conflict and have already begun making contingencies to ensure that their interests are protected in the event of Saddam being overthrown.”

After Iraq…

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon caused a stir when he declared that any attack on Iraq should be quickly followed by action against Iran. Eric Margolis of the Toronto Sun says that Sharon’s statement was no slip — and that a US attack on Iraq would only further the Israeli aim.

“The real target of the coming war is Iran, which Israel views as its principal and most dangerous enemy. Iraq merely serves as a pretext to whip America into a war frenzy and to justify insertion of large numbers of U.S. troops into Mesopotamia.

With 68 million people and a growing industrial base, Iran is seen by Israel as a serious threat and major Mideast geopolitical rival. Both nations have their eye on Iraq’s vast oil reserves.

Israel’s newly appointed hardline defence minister, former air force chief Shaul Mofaz, who was born in Iran, has previously threatened to attack Iran’s nuclear installations. Thanks to long-range F-15Is supplied by the U.S., plus cruise and ballistic missiles, Israel can strike targets all over Iran. This week, Israel’s grand strategy was clearly revealed for the first time, though barely noticed by North American media, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for an invasion of Iran ‘the day after’ Iraq is crushed.”

Priming Terror

For months, pundits in the US and around the world have warned that a war in Iraq will undermine Washington war on terror, both by dividing America’s focus and by adding fuel to the fire of Islamic militancy. Arabs are not buying Washington’s rhetoric on Iraq, argues Fawaz A. Gerges in a Baltimore Sun opinion piece, and they aren’t about to support a US-led invasion.

“U.S. officials must recognize that although Arabs do not care for Mr. Hussein, they neither buy the Bush administration’s attempt to link him to al-Qaida nor the thesis that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction represent a threat to international peace.

Far from undermining militancy, a war will play into militant Islamists’ hands and supply them with the needed ammunition to continue the fight against their new enemy — the United States. Islamists already are positioning themselves to capitalize on the coming war with Iraq to recover from the devastating aftershocks of Sept. 11.”

Strange as it may seem, Chris Floyd of The Moscow Times suggests that some Bush administration officials might welcome a new round of attacks by Islamic militants. In fact, Floyd argues that the Pentagon is hoping to provoke future attacks in order to flush terrorists — and the governments supporting them — into the open.

“In other words — and let’s say this plainly, clearly and soberly, so that no one can mistake the intention of Rumsfeld’s plan — the United States government is planning to use “cover and deception” and secret military operations to provoke murderous terrorist attacks on innocent people. Let’s say it again: Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and the other members of the unelected regime in Washington plan to deliberately foment the murder of innocent people — your family, your friends, your lovers, you — in order to further their geopolitical ambitions.

Once they have sparked terrorists into action — by killing their family members? luring them with loot? fueling them with drugs? plying them with jihad propaganda? messing with their mamas? or with agents provocateurs, perhaps, who infiltrate groups then plan and direct the attacks themselves? — they can then take measures against the ‘states/sub-state actors accountable’ for ‘harboring’ the Rumsfeld-roused gangs. What kind of measures exactly? Well, the classified Pentagon program puts it this way: ‘Their sovereignty will be at risk.'”

Off the (Missile) Radar

Judging by the last 13 months of Pentagon rhetoric, the US military has only one goal these days: the destruction of terrorists. But, as Fred Kaplan of Slate reports, that single-mindedness isn’t stopping the Bush administration from earmarking billions for the military’s biggest pre-Sept. 11 baby: a missile defense shield.

“With all the concern about dirty bombs, bioterrorism, and suicide bombers smashing airplanes into power plants, the public has pretty much forgotten about the Pentagon’s ballistic-missile-defense program. (Wasn’t that some nutty dream of Ronald Reagan’s?) So, it may come as a shock to learn that President Bush will spend $7.4 billion on R&D for missile defenses next year. That’s twice the sum that Reagan spent on “star wars” in his final year of office-and for a system that remains sketchily defined and technologically dubious, against an unlikely threat that lies years, if not decades, off. Meanwhile, to defend against “weapons of mass destruction” that we all fear might blow up on American streets next week, the administration is spending-well, not quite zip, but far, far less than would be needed for a minimally serious effort, on technology that exists right now.”

Given the current atmosphere in Congress, few lawmakers feel like scrutinizing a program “billed as the ultimate in homeland security-especially since the president has deemed it his No. 1 defense priority,” Kaplan writes. What makes the situation especially glaring, Kaplan says, is how much less the administration plans to spend on programs to “detect, track, and intercept chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons brought into this country, or transported to our cities, by car, truck, train, plane, or boat (all easier and cheaper means than launching them on the tips of ballistic missiles).”

“Such programs do exist, but their funding is miserly. The Department of Energy has a division called the Nuclear Emergency Support Team, which is equipped with sensors-some on vans, a few on helicopters, most handheld-that can detect radiological emissions. But the personnel who staff this team are not permanent; they are on revolving, part-time loan from the DOE’s national weapons labs. Before 9/11, these scientists participated in annual exercises. Now they are stretched beyond their limits.”

Daily Briefing
POLITICS
Can Pelosi Pull It Off?

On Thursday, San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi will be selected to succeed Dick Gephardt as leader of the House Democratic Caucus. That fact was virtually assured last week, when Pelosi’s only significant challenger, Martin Frost of Texas, withdrew his name from consideration and endorsed Pelosi. Still, some conservative Democrats — and even more pundits — are predicting tragedy if California liberal leads her colleagues into confrontation with the Bush administration.

Chief among Pelosi’s critics is Tennessee Democrat Harold Ford, who is waging a sure-to-fail campaign for the leadership post. Like Frost before he pulled out, Ford is painting Pelosi as too liberal. Of course, as Anthony York points out on Salon, Ford is one of the most conservative Democrats in Washington.

“The ambitious Ford is an anomaly in several ways: at 32 the youngest Democrat in Congress, he is also perhaps its most conservative black member, as attested by his membership in the conservative group the Blue Dogs. Ford was among those who appeared on the White House steps with President Bush to voice his support for the resolution authorizing force in Iraq. ”

Ford’s criticism of Pelosi has been pointed. He has called her “a throwback,” and has attacked her agenda as one of “destructive opposition” to the White House. Peter Beinart, writing in The New Republic, agrees with Ford, claiming that Pelosi, along with other members of the party’s liberal wing, will lead the Democrats into political insignificance.

“Ted Kennedy and John Conyers would have yanked the party left in 1994, had not the Clinton White House moved in the other direction. But now there is no counterweight. And that is what makes the Democratic Party’s current predicament so dangerous. The ideological vacuum atop the post-September 11 Democratic Party will inevitably be filled. And if it is filled by Nancy Pelosi and Dennis Kucinich, the United States will no longer be a 50-50 nation; it will be a 40-60 nation for a generation.”

Of course, most of fire surrounding Pelosi’s presumptive elevation — even that coming from Ford — remains ideological. As the Los Angeles Times reports, dismissing Pelosi as “the poster child for San Francisco liberalism” is myopic.

“She is a committed liberal who opposes President Bush on Iraq and is a consistent, thorny voice in trade debates against human rights violations in China.

But Pelosi is also a tireless campaigner — she stumped in 30 states and 90 congressional districts for this election, and raised about $8 million — and a pragmatist who believes that the key to winning elections is getting out the vote. Some predict she will be more like liberal but genial House Speaker Thomas P. ‘Tip’ O’Neill (D-Mass.) than like firebrand ideologue Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

Pelosi signaled her own view of leadership in an exuberant victory announcement Friday. ‘We will try to find common ground,’ she said. ‘Where we cannot find common ground, we will stand our ground.'”

LAW & JUSTICE
Corporate-Sponsored Cops

With the Pentagon getting a $38 billion budget boost next year, you might think Washington could have earmarked a little more for local law enforcement, too. You’d be wrong.

Instead, cash-strapped police chiefs across the country are inking sponsorship deals with mega-bank Comerica, which gets its name on the sides of patrol cars in return. An appalled Leonard Pitts Jr., writing in The Detroit Free Press, argues that this new form of corporate sponsorship is wrong, no matter how badly the cops need the money.

“Forgive me, but authority and respect are not the first words I would think of to describe the cop who rolled up to the crime scene in a car festooned with golden arches. The implications for the society that officer has sworn to protect and to serve are, in the long run, even worse. I mean, what’s next? Does Bud Light get to chisel its logo into the frieze above the entrance of the courthouse? …

Makes you wonder. How seriously can we — or should we — take a government that will not pay, or even cannot pay, for its own most basic needs?”

The War on Gays

Although military intelligence has been continuously touted as a key ingredient in the War on Terror, apparently it falls one notch below the importance of weeding homosexuals out of the armed forces. While the Pentagon, FBI, and CIA have suffered from a well-publicized and sometimes embarrassing dearth of translators — particularly those fluent in Arabic — the Army-run Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California recently fired seven of its elite Arabic-language students upon discovering that they were gay, reports Nathaniel Frank in The New Republic.

For its part, the Army maintains that the men weren’t singled out for being gay, that the firings were part of the routine enforcement of military regulations, which also bar cadets who fall short of other standards. “But,” counters Frank, “that’s just not true.” He counters that, during other recent military actions, the Pentagon has repeatedly authorized branch secretaries to excuse soldiers who might “otherwise be discharged for committing petty crimes, minor physical shortcomings, or other reasons. What’s more, the military even has a history of suspending personnel policies regarding gays and lesbians during wartime, when it needs maximum retention of soldiers.”

An outraged Andrew Sullivan offers:

“No other civilized country engages in such bigotry. No other country at war would put discrimination against its own people above the need to fight a deadly enemy. This targeting of Arabic speakers is, of course, only the tiniest part of it. Each year, the military throws away hundreds of good servicemembers, wastes millions of dollars, to pursue a policy that is not only unconscionable as a moral issue, but dumb as a practical matter.”

Automakers’ Roles in “Dirty War”

An Argentinean federal judge has opened an investigation into the role of Ford Argentina in the detainment and disappearance of at least two dozen workers and labor leaders following the country’s 1976 military coup, EFE News Service reports. The inquiry was launched after a former union worker, Pedro Troiani, testified during Argentina’s “truth proceedings” in September that, following the coup:

“Ford became an army barracks. The army took over part of the factory and set up a barracks in the dining area and sports field and, starting that very day, workers began disappearing.”

This is the first formal investigation into allegations, first made by the Argentinean labor union CTA in 1998, that Ford was complicit in the oppression of workers by the country’s military leaders, even supplying vehicles with which to transport the disappeared to facilities for detention and torture, the World Socialist Web Site reports.

“According to the evidence presented by the CTA, much of this repression was directed by Ford and the other major industrial firms. They drew up lists of ‘subversive’ workers and handed them over to the military ‘task forces’ which were allowed to operate within the factories. These groups kidnapped workers, tortured them — at times within the plants themselves — and then murdered them….

Although no murders are alleged in the case of Ford, Mercedes-Benz has been implicated by former workers and unions in the “disappearances” of dissident workers. DaimlerChrysler, which now owns Mercedes-Benz, this week succumbed to appeals by human rights organizations, and commissioned an independent investigation into Mercedes’ activities in Argentina between 1975 and 1978, reports Amnesty International.

Gaby Weber, who first reported on Mercedes’ role in the murders, alleged two years ago in Le Monde Diplomatique, that Ford and Mercedes manipulated the military’s attacks on labor to their own advantages, intentionally profiting from the human rights abuses:

“The systematic violation of human rights does not arise from ‘excesses’ committed by some sadistic military officers, but is the result of an economic logic. It was the companies which benefited from these crimes, although they did not actually get their hands dirty. Industry, along with foreign consortia, was thereby able to accumulate astronomical profits. The companies obtained internal peace, as anyone who demanded a wage rise or protested was automatically termed a ‘subversive.'”

WAR WATCH
Warming Up for War?
Defending ‘Armchair’
Generals

Voices of Dissent
The Yemeni Approach
India’s Horrible Hoax
DAILY BRIEFING
Filibuster Fever
Outlawing Hatred
Online

War Watch
Warming Up for War?

Might Saddam Hussein actually invite a US invasion — and give credence to Washington’s claim that Baghdad is defying the world — by rejecting the UN resolution calling for arms inspectors to return to Iraq? Officials in Iraq certainly seem to be eager to suggest the possibility, with several leaders of Iraq’s largely powerless parliament calling for a vote to refuse the UN demands. But, as Arab News reports, any such vote would be meaningless. Officially, the final decision rests with Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council. In reality, it is up to Hussein alone.

In calling for the vote, Iraqi lawmakers decried the resolution as nothing more than “a preamble to war.” And Bush administration officials are doing little to counter such characterizations — as Robert Cornwell reports in The Independent.

“‘If he doesn’t intend to co-operate, we shouldn’t waste the time of the world and of the UN inspectors,’ said Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser.

The Security Council resolution passed unanimously last week ‘said the next violation is a ‘material breach’ and everyone knows what that means’, she added, referring to the code phrase for a return to war.”

Still, the Bush administration may have good reason to ‘waste the time’ of the UN inspectors. While the White House is set on waging war in Iraq, the process of sending insepctors to Baghdad and then recalling them over an Iraqi transgression will give Washington both time to prepare and justification to attack, William M. Arkin argues in a Los Angeles Times commentary:

“Some analysts have suggested that U.N. weapons inspections may reduce the likelihood of war. That is not how senior White House and Pentagon officials see it. None believes Saddam Hussein will permit effective inspections, but they see the U.N. effort as a win-win situation: The inspections process will improve the political climate for eventual action and buy time for the Pentagon to get ready.

The war that Bush and his team think is necessary and inevitable will thus come with the approval of both Congress and the U.N. Meanwhile, one of the main practical obstacles to war with Iraq will have been dealt with: The enormous infrastructure needed to supply and sustain today’s armed forces against Iraq is being constructed on the foundations of the system created for the war in Afghanistan.

London is also preparing for an invasion, Patrick Wintour and Brian Whitaker write in the Guardian, based on the assumption that Hussein will either deliberately attempt to mislead the inspectors or sidestep the stringent conditions of the new inspection regime. In fact, Wintour and Whitaker suggest that officials in London and Washington have a very good sense of when the Iraqi misstep will occur:

“The Iraqi leader is required to disclose his weapons programme by December 8. The weapons inspectors are due to return fully operational by December 23. The British government believes one of these two deadlines – probably the first – will prove the trigger for a fresh discussion in the UN security council.”

Of course, the Bush administration has provided every indication that it’s not about to wait for another round of UN negotiation before sending US troops into action.

Given the obvious threat, Arab nations are urging Iraq to accept the resolution and do everything possible to comply with the inspectors. Faruq al-Shara, Syria’s foreign minister, says his country supported the resolution in hope of forestalling a war. But he says Iraq must tread delicately, as the resolution contains “traps” designed to justify a US invasion.

“‘The resolution rules out the specter of war for several weeks or several months,’ he said on the sidelines of a meeting of Arab foreign ministers, who are working to ensure Iraq accepts the resolution.

However, Shara conceded, there are ‘points which are not very clear, some details contain traps and ambiguities which can be negative. We hope that our Iraqi brothers do not yield to American provocations from now on, because the provocations are a means which the United States is counting on a lot to say Iraq has not respected UN resolutions,’ he added.”

Those “ambiguities” could trip up the Iraqi regime, even if it intends to comply — and the Bush administration is threatening “zero tolerance” when it comes to Iraqi mistakes. But would Washington actually attempt to inflate a minor transgression to serve as justication for war? As the Christian Science Monitor notes, the answer to that question contains grave risks for both Iraq and the US.

“[T]he problem of persuasive evidence remains. How believable is US intelligence in countering an Iraqi claim that it’s innocent? For the rest of the Security Council, the threshold may be high. For a US administration that seems trigger-happy after the tragedy of Sept. 11, just one CIA report of Iraqi deception may be enough to justify firing away.

Now the UN, led by the US, has set a trap for Hussein in coming weeks to make him come clean. But the world will also be watching the Bush administration to make sure its claims of a “material breach” are clean and credible.”

Defending ‘Armchair’ Generals

Christopher Hitchens, whose support for ‘regime change’ in Iraq led him to split with his longtime editors at The Nation, takes on another aspect of the war debate on Slate. This time, Hitchens is taking aim at the recent criticism of “armchair generals” — civilian hawks with no military experience. The Bush administration, of course, is rife with such figures (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz to name three), and most of them are also great ‘regime change’ backers.

“It is said, for example, that someone like former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey has more right to pronounce on a war than someone who avoided service in Vietnam. Well, last year Kerrey was compelled to admit that he had led a calamitous expedition into a Vietnamese village and had been responsible for the slaughter of several children and elderly people. (He chose to be somewhat shady about whether this responsibility was direct or indirect.) Do I turn to such a man for advice on how to deal with Saddam Hussein? The connection is not self-evident, more especially since, as far as I am aware, Kerrey knows no more about Iraq than I know about how to construct a chess-playing computer.”

All of which leaves War Watch very puzzled. Because Kerrey told Salon on Monday that he actually supports getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Adopting an argument that is becoming increasingly fashionable among liberal hawks, Kerrey argues that the US should topple Hussein for purely humanitarian reasons:

“I blame the Bush administration for not successfully making that case. The president has emphasized to a fault the threat to America, but the threat to America is far less important a justification than the case that I just made. The moral justification for war is the correct justification. It’s not nuclear, biological and chemical weapons — deterrence works there. We have enough force capability to deter Iraq from using any weapons of mass destruction.”

But, of course, Hitchens warns us against turning “such a man for advice on how to deal with Saddam Hussein.” So, if Kerrey is unreliable, does that mean that the “humanitarian” argument for war is empty?

Voices of Dissent

More than 500,000 anti-war protesters gathered in Florence this weekend, marching through the historic city in an overwhelming show of popular European opposition to a US attack on Iraq. Of course, many Americans might have missed the news — half a million Europeans denouncing Washington’s foreign policy apparently doesn’t warrant much play in mainstream US papers.

Still, as was indicated by the massive antiwar gatherings in Washington and San Francisco last month, such sentiment isn’t limited to Europe. And, as Robert Collier reports in the San Francisco Chronicle, it isn’t limited to civilians, either.

The Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey might seem like an unlikely place to hear an anti-war tirade, Collier writes, but that’s just what the military officers at the school got when they invited former Secretary of the Navy James Webb to address them.

“The respectful, admiring welcome he received gave an unusual, somewhat counterintuitive glimpse into the often- closed world of the U.S. military. Among the Naval Postgraduate School’s students and faculty, at least, it seems that independent, critical thinking is alive and well.

‘The military is not monolithic,’ said John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis who was in the audience Thursday. ‘These are all military officers, they’re very sensible people, and Webb is a very, very thoughtful guy.'”

The Yemeni Approach

Bush administration officials continue to defend the recent CIA operation in Yemen which killed six suspected al Qaeda members. The operation, in which a remote-piloted drone plane launched Hellfire missiles at a car carrying the men, was both “legal and necessary,” and could soon be emulated elsewhere in the world, says one administration official.

“‘We will use whatever is necessary and legal to attack this (terrorist) threat, to interdict it and eliminate it,’ Francis Taylor, the US State Department coordinator for counterterrorism, told a media briefing in Manila on Saturday.”

Still, while the White House and the CIA may be happy, the government in Yemen is not. As Philip Smucker of The Christian Science Monitor reports, Yemeni officials and tribal leaders who reportedly cooperated with the US are angry that Washington took credit for the kill, implicating the Yemeni government in the process.

“They are angry over the way the US ambassador handled both the intelligence-gathering phase of the operation and after the fact, when senior US officials, including Assistant Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, violated a secrecy agreement by taking credit for the Hellfire strike.

‘This is why is it so difficult to make deals with the United States,’ says Brig. Gen. Yahya M. Al Mutawakel, the deputy secretary general for the ruling People’s Congress party in Yemen, who broke his country’s official silence on the issue in an exclusive interview. ‘This is why we are reluctant to work closely with them. They don’t consider the internal circumstances in Yemen. In security matters, you don’t want to alert the enemy.'”

War Watch has to wonder if Washington plans on emulating such post-hit discontent elsewhere, too.

India’s Horrible Hoax

As if there wasn’t enough real terror on the subcontinent already.

It now appears that Indian security officials may have staged last week’s shootout at a Delhi mall, during which two men identified by police as Islamic militants were killed. It was a believable story, given the recent history of terror attacks in northern India. But, as the London Guardian‘s Luke Harding reports, however, the officials version of the event is rapidly unraveling:

“Yesterday a doctor who was in the basement at the time gave dramatic testimony. He claimed that both men were unarmed when police shot them. Dr H Krishna said the men stumbled out of their car and appeared either drugged or suffering from lack of sleep. They were empty-handed and walking with difficulty, he added.”

“Such murky ‘encounters’ take place routinely between security forces and ‘militants’ in Indian Kashmir. But Kashmir is a long way away from India’s capital and they rarely get much scrutiny. Any shootout in the heart of Delhi — a stroll away from Pizza Express, McDonalds and Lacoste — is bound to attract attention, and this one has provoked more questions than answers.”

The Indian police are now scrambling to provide the answers and back up their claim that the men were terrorist, and The Times of India seems to be convinced by the hastily-gathered evidence.

“The police also have the autopsy reports on the two Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists killed in the encounter. The autopsies, conducted on Saturday, have proved that there were no ante-mortem injuries — thus refuting the claim that the two men were beaten up before being killed.”

Daily Briefing
POLITICS
Filibuster Fever

While the Democrats may have lost control of the Senate, they still hold enough votes to block Republican initiatives through the use of a filibuster. Now, activists are calling on the Democrats to use their leverage to block key administration proposals — particularly judicial nominations and plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Erwin Chemerinsky and Catherine Fisk, both visiting professors at Duke Law School, argue that Democrats must do whatever they can to block any arch-conservatives the president nominates to the federal bench:

“There is ample precedent for filibusters of presidential nominations to executive and judicial positions. In fact, Republicans frequently used them during Democratic administrations.

Democratic senators must use the filibuster now to block the most conservative of President Bush’s judicial nominees for the lower federal courts. Also, it is likely that a justice or two may resign from the Supreme Court during the remainder of the Bush presidency.

Democrats must use the filibuster, and the threat of the filibuster, to ensure that a new justice is not a conservative from the same school as Scalia and Thomas.”

Meanwhile, two Democratic lawmakers — John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, have already promised to filibuster any legislation that will open the Arctic to oil exploration, Reuters reports.

That will be welcome news to the folks at Working for Change. The group’s activism arm is calling for Democrats to filibuster on a variety of issues — and offering readers an easy way to send a letter to current Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a letter that reads, “It is time to rally outspoken opposition rather than behind the scenes negotiation.”

“It is past time for Senate liberals to get a backbone. Senate rules prevent passage of essentially any legislation unless at least 60 Senators vote in favor. This means that a determined minority, one willing to use the rules and to filibuster, can block the worst judicial appointments, drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, and the permanent elimination of the estate tax.”

LAW & JUSTICE
Outlawing Online Hatred

In a decision that could pave the way for widespread censorship throughout Europe, the European Union’s executive Council has adopted a measure that could criminalize internet sites espousing, or even linking to hate speech, reports Wired News. The Protocol specifically aims to establish watchdog organizations to demobilize the distribution of ideas considered “xenophobic” or “racist,” including for instance any remarks questioning the existence or evil of the Holocaust. If ratified, European member states (and a few non-member nations) could follow Spain’s lead, where authorities routinely shut down national sites, and block access to American sites that violate the country’s laws. A Spanish parliamentarian, and European Council rapporteur, Ignasi Guardans forcefully condemned the United States for its intentions to steer clear of the resolution, Index on Censorship reports, stating:

“If the USA refuses to sign, it must explain to the world why it refuses to co-operate on racism and why it wants to remain a haven for racist websites.”

The sweeping restrictions of the media central to any enforcement of an international ban on hate speech would likely motivate widespread self-censorship as well, the Index goes on to warn, given the tremendous intertwining of sites with hot-links, and the common renting of web space by umbrella service providers:

“Among the many potential threats posed to free expression, websites judged ‘illegal’ may be arbitrarily shut down by internet service providers fearful that they will be considered complicit in the crime by renting space to suspect groups.”

WAR WATCH
The ‘E’ Word
No Counter-Balance?
Return to Kurdistan
The Saddam Follies
Inflated Security
DAILY BRIEFING
The Switch Scenario
Illogic and the INS
Soiling Yellowstone

War Watch
The ‘E’ Word

The Bush administration is not a fan of ‘global governance.’ At least, not in the form of multilateral agreements and institutions. Instead, as the president made clear during a speech at West Point last summer, this White House favors a world order built on strong nation-states, with the US as the strongest.

Judging from the president’s few statements on the issue, the cornerstone of the Bush doctrine is the 354-year-old Treaty of Westphalia, which, as Jim Lobe writes in Asia Times, “codified the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.” Given recent events, Lobe questions just how committed the Bush administration is to either sovereignty or non-interference.

“However appealing the notions of restoring sovereignty and state responsibility may be from a theoretical point of view, they bear little relation to the way in which the United States is pursuing its war on terrorism.

On the contrary, sovereignty – the right and power of the nation state to regulate its internal affairs and external relations without foreign dictation – is clearly being subordinated to the will of the United States.

‘Complete sovereignty for us; complete intervention for everyone else,’ said French foreign-policy expert Pierre Hassner about the administration’s world view several months ago. ‘This is typical of empire.'”

In fact, the “E” word is making frequent appearances in opinion columns — including Justin Raimondo’s cautionary commentary on MotherJones.com. And Bush is increasingly being compared — favorably and unfavorably — to past leaders with a penchant for imperialism. This, says Paul Kennedy of the Independent is because the president “is honing himself to be a national and historic figure, not a mere, divisive politician.” There are, of course, dangers in such aspirations, Kennedy argues, for Bush and the world:

“[T]he greater reason why we may not see much new domestic legislation, which would be strongly ideological and partisan, is that the President’s gaze is upon the outside world — towards Iraq and terrorism, in that order. It is there he will be found, clothed in the mantle of a national and world leader, a Lincoln, a Clemenceau, a Churchill, a Ben-Gurion.

It is hard not to worry about the risks that might follow from a decision by Bush to march upon Baghdad. If it goes peacefully, or a campaign is brief and without great reverberations, we should all be grateful. But the odds, I think, are against. Crossing the Rubicon to gain control of Rome, and all that Rome possessed, was one thing and involved great risks. But entry into Baghdad would have wider consequences. Many of them are as yet unforeseen. Who of us knows where our world might be even by next summer?”

Of course, such predictions depend on the assumption that Bush has decided to “march upon Baghdad.” Fergal Keane, also writing in the Independent, says it would be foolish to believe otherwise. The only question now, Keane asserts, is how the world will react to the coming US attack. The UN Security Council may have backed Washington’s resolution on disarming Iraq, but Keane questions whether its members — or the American people — will support a protracted and messy war.

“For all the negotiating at the UN, I suspect the decision as to the necessity of such action was made a long time ago and that the White House is depending on Saddam’s gift for miscalculation to provide the catalyst for an invasion.

So the devil is not in the detail of the resolution. Forget the verbal circumlocution of the last week, the Americans have got what they wanted from the outset. The nations who have signed the resolution know that it paves the way for war if Saddam refuses to disarm. Some of them may believe a war is inevitable, others will hope that Iraq will endure the humiliation of disarmament and get everybody off the hook.

The international consensus on Iraq is fragile and could shatter if civilian casualties were large. Neither can Mr Bush be certain his domestic support would hold up if the war turned into a bloodbath. He might have finally to answer the difficult question: what has this to do with fighting al-Qa’ida?”

Nothing, answers Roger Trilling in The Village Voice. And Trilling also dismisses the other popular explanations for Washington’s slow rush to war — both those offered by the administration (weapons of mass destruction) and the antiwar opposition (access to Iraqi oil). Oil is certainly part of the equation, but Trilling argues that Bush’s intentions for Iraq are actually the continuation of policy of domination set in place a decade ago.

“Ten years ago, a document called the Defense Planning Guidance — drafted for then secretary of defense Dick Cheney by then and current assistant secretary Paul Wolfowitz — was the first documentation of America’s intention to unilaterally dominate the world, and when parts of it were leaked by The New York Times, it created a firestorm. Referring to the Persian Gulf, it read, ‘Our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region, and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region’s oil.’

Yet today, the U.S. has almost no access to Iranian or Iraqi oil, and our very efforts to gain that access are threatening our traditional ties to the Saudi mother lode. By getting rid of Saddam, the U.S. not only puts Iraqi oil in play but gains leverage over Iran. We could stop bombing Saddam from the bases in Saudi Arabia, and thus lighten if not erase our military presence in the kingdom. Further, we get a more open field in Iraq, with the possibility of remaking not only that country but the region in our image.”

No Counter-Balance?

If the Bush administration is truly intent on waging war, can any nation or group of nations stand in its way?

What about the United Nations? Well, the Security Council has delayed an immediate US invasion, blunting the Bush administration’s global ambitions in the process, writes Gary Younge in the London Guardian:

“In the aftermath of September 11, George W Bush’s adviser on foreign affairs, Condoleezza Rice, asked senior staff at the National Security Council to think seriously about ‘how do you capitalise on these opportunities’ in order to change US foreign policy. The answer was a strategy that would formalise America’s role as the world’s most powerful rogue state – like a well-armed vigilante, acting in its own interests and outside of the law, alone where necessary and with others where possible. In this context, with America heading at breakneck speed to the conclusion that it could and should impose its will unilaterally on the rest of the world, forcing it to the UN’s negotiating table applied an important brake.”

But, the Security Council also adopted a resolution which will probably provide Washington with the diplomatic trigger to start a war. And, as Thalif Deen of Inter Press Services reports, the vote on that resolution showed how easily the US can manipulate the global body. With the Security Council’s five veto-holding members — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia — expected to support the proposal or abstain, Washington turned its lobbying muscle on the 10 non-permanent members, Deen writes.

“Of the 10, the two Western nations, Ireland and Norway, were expected to vote with the United States. Syria, a ‘radical’ Arab nation listed as a ‘terrorist state’ by the U.S. State Department, was expected to either vote against or abstain.

So the arm-twisting was confined mostly to the remaining seven countries, who depend on the United States either for economic or military aid – or both. All these countries were seemingly aware of the fact that in 1990 the United States almost overnight cut about 70 million dollars in aid to Yemen immediately following its negative vote against a U.S. sponsored Security Council resolution to militarily oust Iraq from Kuwait.”

Of course, true opposition from any of the council’s five permanent member states could have derailed the Bush administration’s plans. And the Guardian‘s Jonathan Steele sees reason for hope in the diplomatic maneuvering of two — France and Russia.

“Who would have thought two years ago that France and Russia would join forces to oppose the full might of United States diplomacy? For the two countries’ presidents to confer on the phone in resistance to Washington, and have their diplomats draft amendments together, would have been inconceivable in the past.

But, as the Bush administration increasingly looks to war as its weapon of first resort in international relations, this joint venture by two of Europe’s most important states may not be the last. They have ensured Washington has no UN mandate for using force in Iraq, and that it is the weapons inspectors who will report to the security council on whether Iraq has violated its obligations. Washington may call foul from the spectators’ stands as loudly as it likes, but the inspectors are the referees, and they have the best, and only authoritative, view.”

Unfortunately, Steele’s trust may be seriously misplaced. Barnaby Mason of the BBC reports that French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, the man credited with leading the Security Council away from a document authorizing force, is now saying France will use force itself if Iraq fails to comply with any element of the adopted resolution. And Nicholas Berry argues in The Moscow Times that Russia has no real incentive for opposing a US invasion.

“Both President Vladimir Putin and President Jiang Zemin believe that their countries are not yet powerful enough to play assertive, independent world roles. To become powerful, they need a block of time to focus attention on transforming their emerging market economies, building modern infrastructures, solidifying the rule of law, consolidating political reforms, and resolving severe ethnic and territorial problems. Russia and China face problems on collecting taxes, rooting out corruption, and integrating wayward territories, such as Chechnya for Russia and Xingjiang for China, where both must deal with terrorism. China must re-integrate its “renegade province” of Taiwan. The problem of structural unemployment must be handled. In short, domestic affairs trump foreign affairs.

In addition, China and Russia really have no pressing motive to challenge U.S. leadership. Their officials believe that as long as they do not make trouble for Washington, Washington will not make trouble for them.”

Return to Kurdistan

More than five years ago, the CIA withdrew its station from northern Iraq after Saddam Hussein invaded to quash rebellious Kurds. Now, Robin Wright of the Los Angeles Times reports, the boys from Langley are back.

Wright reports that Kurdish officials say US intelligence officials are in Kurdish territory “on multiple missions, which include doing advance work for a possible attack on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, establishing a listening post to monitor what is happening in the rest of Iraq and probing the strength and operations of an Islamic extremist group with ties to Al Qaeda.”

While Kurdish leaders are welcoming Washington’s renewed interest in their affairs, Wright reports that many are understandably skeptical about the constancy of US support.

“‘The commitment is still in the early stage, and there’s a lot of room for wiggling out. I’m petrified that my people will be abandoned Ñ again,’ said Barham Salih of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Sulaymaniyah.

The United States has a long record of not fulfilling promises to Iraq’s Kurds, a non-Arabic people who are one of Iraq’s three major population groups. After Iraq was forced out of Kuwait in 1991, the first Bush administration called on the Kurds to rise up to topple Hussein.

The Kurds in the north and the Shiite Muslims in the south launched the largest domestic challenge to Hussein since he assumed power in 1979. But the U.S. military, which was still stationed in the region, allowed Baghdad to use its helicopter gunships to crush the revolt, killing thousands and forcing nearly 2 million Kurds to flee to the Iranian and Turkish borders.”

The Saddam Follies

That Saddam. Always good for a laugh.

Ever since the end of the Gulf War, the US has been waging a public relations campaign to undercut the Iraqi leader. Much of that effort is handled by the Rendon Group, including a six-year-old radio broadcast that, in the words of Village Voice reporter Ian Urbina, has produced “Baghdad’s best-known oppositional radio personality.”

The show, Urbina reports, was recorded twice a week by an Arabic-speaking Harvard graduate student. His job? “Translate and dub spoofed Saddam Hussein speeches and tongue-in-cheek newscasts for broadcast throughout Iraq.”

“‘The point was to discredit Saddam, but the stuff was complete slapstick,’ the student says. ‘We did skits where Saddam would get mixed up in his own lies, or where [Saddam’s son] Quasay would stumble over his own delusions of grandeur.’ Transmissions were once a week from stations in northern Iraq and Kuwait. ‘The only thing that was even remotely funny,’ says the student, ‘were the mockeries of the royal guard and the government’s clumsy attempts to deceive arms inspectors.'”

The affair may seem absurd, but Urbina notes that Rendon’s involvement in the bid to topple Hussein goes far beyond the comical.

“If Saddam is toppled, a Rendon creation is standing by to try to take his place. The Iraqi National Congress (INC), a disparate coalition of Iraqi dissidents touted by the U.S. government as the best hope for an anti-Saddam coup, has gotten the go-ahead from U.S. officials to arm and train a military force for invasion. The INC is one of the few names you’ll hear if reporters bother to press government officials on what would come after Saddam.

At the helm of the INC is Ahmed Chalabi, a U.S.-trained mathematician who reportedly fled from Jordan in 1989 in the trunk of a car after the collapse of a bank he established. He was subsequently charged and sentenced in absentia to 22 years in prison for embezzlement.

‘Were it not for Rendon,’ a State Department official tells the Voice, ‘the Chalabi group wouldn’t even be on the map.'”

Inflated Security

Forget the Hindenburg. Never mind the Goodyear Blimp. Soon, floating bags of gas may be playing a vital role in protecting American from terrorist threats (insert gratuitous Washington gasbag joke here).

The Pentagon has asked the country’s largest defense contractors to “develop giant unmanned craft — two to three times as big as Goodyear’s gasbag — that would ring the continent,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

“‘I don’t think that there is anything evidently preposterous about it,’ said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a think tank. ‘While it may feel early 20th century, it would be wrong to suggest that the airship was completely discredited by the Hindenburg, which was a different airship in almost every respect than what you are seeing now.'”

Daily Briefing
POLITICS
The Switch Scenario

Now that the Democrats have lost the Senate, it bears remembering how they gained control in the first place — because some are suggesting the GOP majority could once again be eroded by defections.

In fact, Stanley Kurtz of The National Review suggests that Democrats could “take back the Senate within months.”

“Step one is Mary Landrieu’s successful defense of her Senate seat on December 7. Step two: Lincoln Chafee and John McCain simultaneously become Democrats next January, moving the Senate back to a 51/49 Democrat majority (with Jeffords still supporting the Democrats).

Since the election, there’s been some speculation about a Chafee switch, but little said about McCain. Yet the signs are there. Shortly before the election, McCain hired as his legislative director Christine Dodd, formerly a staffer for a liberal Democratic congressman. And now Marshall Wittmann (known by his online sobriquet, “The Moose”) has signed on as McCain’s director of communications (after having changed his registration from Republican to Independent).”

Why would McCain switch parties? To capture the Democratic presidential nomination, Kurtz claims. Which he claims would be a good thing for Republicans.

“With a complex and troubled occupation of Iraq, more war on the horizon, and a growing worldwide anti-American peace movement, the Democratic Left will not stick around to vote for McCain. It will bolt to the Greens, leaving Bush in the driver’s seat, and the Democrats in tatters.”

Meanwhile, Working for Change is calling on three moderate Republicans (McCain not included) to “pull a Jeffords.” Noting that Rhode Island’s Chafee, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania are “seriously out of step with the Trent Lotts of the Senate,” the group is urging readers to write letters to each, encouraging them to jump ship.

Illogic and the INS

Pundits are again interested in US immigration policy, prompted by last month’s headline-grabbing escapade off the Florida coast, in which 200 asylum-seekers leaped from a sagging ship into Biscayne Bay and waded ashore. Had the refugees been from Cuba, they would have received fast-track consideration for residency. But, these soggy asylum-seekers were from Haiti. And, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports, a recent Bush administration policy shift mandates that “Haitians are repatriated immediately or imprisoned while the Immigration and Naturalization Service considers their asylum requests — one by one.”

“Haitians are granted asylum one fourth as often as others because they’re generally classified as economic rather than political refugees. It’s a curious declaration given Haiti’s history of political persecution and corruption, assassinations and social upheavals that, say the U.S. State Department and Amnesty International, may be worsening.

Still, INS officials defend the policy change as humane. They claim it actually protects Haitians’ lives by deterring a “mass migration” by sea. But the United States does not have a similar policy to discourage potentially precarious journeys by asylum-seekers from Colombia, Iraq, North Korea or any other country.”

Why the disparity? Racism, charges a report by the United Methodist Church.

“Racism is at the heart of this unequal treatment. Racism allows Haitians to remain the neglected stepchildren of U.S. immigration policy, the have-nots in the human dream for peace and well-being.”

Whereas Cuban refugees are assumed to be fleeing political persecution, Haitian asylum seekers must prove they face persecution in Haiti, writes syndicated columnist Allan Wernick.

“[Each asylum-seeker] must establish a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. You cannot base a case for asylum solely on economic hardship — for example, you would starve because poverty or famine is a common condition in your country. Nor is it enough to show that war, civil strife or a repressive government makes it dangerous to everyone in your country.”

ENVIRONMENT
Soiling Yellowstone

Never mind the noise. Never mind the dangers to wildlife. Never mind the pollution, which has grown so bad that park rangers must wear respirators. In the Bush administration’s latest broadside against environmental causes, Washington has not only reversed a Clinton-era ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, it has increased the number allowed by 35 percent.

The outraged editors of The Oregonian declare that the administration’s decision shows its unwillingness to “protect the park, its wildlife and the rangers who work there“:

“Snowmobiling has its place in the American outdoors, especially in national forests designed for multiple use … But Yellowstone is different. It’s plain to see there is too much snowmobile use there and that a ban or tough new limit is necessary.”

Meanwhile, The Manhattan Mercury‘s editorial board tallies up the evidence against snowmobiling in Yellowstone, which includes damning studies by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and overwhelming public opposition. Apparently, the editors conclude, business interests trump all:

“When it comes to snowmobiles and Yellowstone National Park, it seems to matter less what OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency say … than what the snowmobile industry says.”

Finally, Marv Hoffer, a wildlife biologist writing in Montana Forum, sees a disturbing pattern in the administration’s persistent undermining of environmental regulations: “Put simply, the Bush administration, and some in Congress, are telling you and me our opinions and concerns don’t matter.”

WAR WATCH
Invade for Democracy?
Perle’s World
Frontier Justice
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan
Swaggart Says…
DAILY BRIEFING
Turkey Watching
Empowering India’s Women
Money Trumps Mahogany

War Watch
Invade for Democracy?

The Bush administration has argued that Saddam Hussein must be disposed of because: 1. he might be building weapons of mass destruction; 2. he might have had something to do with the Sept. 11 terror attacks; 3. he has flouted the will of the world community; 4. he suggested he might want to kill Poppy.

Now, we can add another argument to that less-than-compelling list. Administration hawks, pro-war liberals and attack-minded conservatives now tell us that deposing Saddam will be good for the Iraqi people and good for the Middle East, because it will allow democracy to flourish in Iraq.

Farid Senzai isn’t buying it. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Senzai argues that pundits who suggest that a regime change in Iraq would “unleash a democratic wave across the region” are either wildly optimistic, simply ignorant, or plainly dishonest.

“The reality is very different. At best, these commentators are misinformed of history. Or at worst, they are willfully trying to deceive the public by dressing war in the guise of democracy promotion.

If democracy is what we really want for the people of the Middle East, there are surely cheaper and more effective ways to accomplish this outcome. Secretary of State Powell is due to announce a $25 million democratic initiative for the Middle East. This new democracy promotion effort is to be welcomed especially if it goes toward helping disenfranchised Arab citizens and increasing the level of political participation in the region.”

In fact, a US-led attack on Baghdad will only encourage more attacks on all things Western, including democratic principles, Senzai argues. Washington administration ought to be intimately familiar with that dynamic, Ian Urbina argues in the Houston Chronicle, given the anti-American fallout generated by our historic support of some of the region’s decidedly undemocratic regimes.

“Toppling leaders has never engendered respect for the rule of law or liberalization of the political process. Moreover, tolerating repression by our allied leaders simply radicalizes and popularizes oppositional groups — be they secular, Islamists, anti-American or otherwise.

Open elections are more than a pre-requisite to true democracy; they also demystify opposition groups by eliminating their outsider status. If they win, these parties face the test: Produce substantive improvements in the quality of life, or take a walk.

But the reverse is equally true. Mainstream government parties will only succeed in reversing the growing support for Islamists when they begin proposing solutions to the core concerns and frustrations now fueling Islamist popularity. Our own leaders would also do well to consider this as we address root causes of global terrorism and anti-American sentiments.”

Of course, most of the people calling for Saddam’s head are also suggesting that democracy will need a strong helping hand in Iraq — probably in the form of a heavy US military presence. Vijay Prashad, writing in Outlook India, considers the five likeliest scenarios for a post-Saddam Iraq. And none of them seem very democratic.

“Three of the main scenario do not allow for the development of democracy in Iraq. Each of them is built on a racist assumption: that the Iraqis either need a military dictator or else a monarch — any form of democracy is impossible to imagine.

Whoever rules will have to work under the US dispensation, being the protectors of the second largest proven oil reserves in the world (115 billion barrels) as well as the main political-military force to counteract Iran and Saudi fundamentalism. The war aim is not to create a democratic Iraq, but to ensure US military dominance over the area, and therefore to enable the free enterprise of global corporations. Freedom for the Iraqis is not in the offing, only free transit for the fat cats.”

All of which doesn’t bother Tim Hames a bit. Writing in the London Times, Hames suggests that the US and Britain will have plenty of time after the shooting stops to figure out what to do with Iraq.

“The ‘and then what?’ position might seem to be more sophisticated than the ‘can’t be done’ philosophy but, if so, appearances are deceptive. It is, in truth, an absolutely extraordinary doctrine. If upheld, it would require any proposed military venture to provide, in advance, a detailed blueprint of how every post-conflict practicality might be handled. Yet the Allies, for example, did not have even an outline plan for postwar Germany until January 1945, but they realised that the defeat of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis was rather more important than achieving a consensus on the optimal model of proportional representation that might be put in place afterwards.”

War Watch can’t help but notice that Hames is happily ignoring one fact: in the years before 1945, the Allies weren’t trying to justify an unprovoked, pre-emptive strike against Germany was warranted. The Nazis had already settled that question.

Perle’s World

Richard Perle doesn’t have much faith in UN arms inspections as a means for averting war.

Or in Europeans.

In a pair of articles, Edward Pilkington and Ewen MacAskill of the London Guardian lay bare Perle’s views on the chances for a peaceful resolution in Iraq and the political leadership in Europe. The first is hopeless. The second just weak, clueless and morally bankrupt.

On the issue of the UN inspections, Perle questions the abilities of the man leading the team, Hans Blix, saying he is “an unsuitable candidate for such a crucial task,” and noting that Blix was “appointed under the Clinton administration which he accused of lacking seriousness on the Iraq issue.”

“Asked whether the inspections were doomed to failure, he replied: “I am deeply sceptical that inspections by themselves can produce a result. They are a system for cooperating regimes to show their compliance, not for ferreting out arms in a regime determined to hide them.”

On the question of European leadership, Perle was even less diplomatic:

“‘I think Europe has lost its moral compass. Many Europeans have become so obsessed by the prospect of violence they have failed to notice who we are dealing with,’ he said in an interview with the Guardian.

‘Germany has subsided into a moral numbing pacifism. For the German chancellor to say he will have nothing to do with action against Saddam Hussein, even if approved by the United Nations, is unilateralism,’ Mr Perle said.”

Frontier Justice

The Bush administration, led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, has been pushing the envelope on how justice is administered in America. As Joathan Turley writes in the Los Angeles Times: “In holding citizens and noncitizens, Ashcroft has claimed unilateral authority to dictate how and where they will be tried and, most important, executed.”

Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, is most perturbed by Ashcroft’s readiness to shift those caught in the administration’s anti-terror dragnet out of the justice system of which he is supposed to be the greatest champion.

“It now seems that who is and who is not subject to summary tribunal justice is up to the shifting inclinations of Ashcroft, which sometimes appear as arbitrary as his choice of breakfast meat.

Most attorneys general would resist removing cases from the Justice Department and declaring the military to have a superior judiciary. But Ashcroft has become a walking contradiction, more general than attorney. Whereas his predecessors viewed the justice system as the very thing that defines us as a nation of laws, Ashcroft views justice as merely one means to an end.”

The administration has justified its shifting of suspects picked up by civilian authorities to military courts by arguing that those suspects are “enemy combatants,” even if they were arrested thousands of miles from any battle and cannot be directly linked to any acknowledged force threatening the US. Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, wonders: “Is this an appropriate response to a serious security threat or a ploy to circumvent the U.S. Constitution?”

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Roth proposes a test for the administration’s judicial legerdermain — one that raises possibilities that should trouble most Americans.

“If a person is a criminal suspect, the Constitution requires the police to avoid using lethal force unless necessary to stop an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury. But in the case of enemy combatants, the law of war permits them to be killed summarily, so long as they are not in custody or incapacitated. There is no duty to try to arrest or subdue enemy combatants.

Which law should apply? If we are reluctant to start summarily shooting terrorist suspects on American soil — I suspect most Americans would be — we also should be reluctant to designate them as enemy combatants in order to deny them their due process rights.”

Tom Englehardt is troubled. The prolific email web-logger warns that Ashcroft’s game of ‘hide the Constitution’ may not always be aimed at the rights of ‘evildoers’ and ‘enemy combatants.’

“It’s worth remembering that this sort of stuff, once it begins, never remains out on the ‘frontiers,’ even the domestic frontiers, forever. This is what happens to empires. Versions of the kinds of ‘justice’ meted out by colonial administrators in the peripheries migrates to the heartland sooner or later (along with the administrators) and settles in for the duration.”

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan

Those predicting that a US invasion of Iraq will produce a democratic ‘wave’ might want to take a long, hard look at Afghanistan.

John Hughes, writing in The Christian Science Monitor, comes away feeling optimistic about Afghanistan’s future and America’s role in securing it.

“Clearly, Afghanistan has a long way to go before that democratic future is assured. But life is far more agreeable than it was under the Taliban. Simple pleasures such as kite-flying and listening to popular music on the radio have been reinstated. Men need no longer wear beards. Women can go to school. Artists feel liberated. There’s growing diversity in the press. An interim government is functioning in Kabul.

Despite Afghanistan’s lingering challenges, American intervention has transformed it from a country in the grip of an oppressive tyranny to one limping along in a positive direction. That is something to appreciate as Kabul celebrates the first anniversary of its liberation.”

Still, Hughes is writing from Salt Lake City (where he is the editor of the venerable Deseret News). The London Guardian‘s Polly Toynbee, writing from Kabul, isn’t so sure.

“Everything here is rumour, assertion, malicious factoid or wishful romance. On the one hand, British and American officials will tell fables of such staggeringly unreal optimism that you wonder their eyes don’t pop out and roll away. On the other, there are doom merchants of every variety and faction who will tell you that the place is cursed to perpetual anarchy and mayhem – nothing can save it now or ever. Some have a deep, dark interest in undermining all efforts at reconstruction, spreading the Nothing Works anti-western message for their own nefarious political ends. Others are trying hard to make it work, but are exhausted and close to despair, with shamefully little money.

The truth is that every day that civil war does not resume is a minor miracle. Every day of peace builds more trust in the future. There are plenty of green shoots of hope, just as there are plenty of intimations of doom. With each passing week, new stalls and bazaars spring up along the roadsides up and down the country. In the rubble that is 70% of Kabul, people are starting to rebuild, making mud bricks with their bare hands, having given up on early hopes that reconstruction would be done for them. Even in the most desolate, bombed-out places, life is returning to normal as refugees flood back.”

In many ways, Toynbee argues, the hesitant nature of the Afghan reconstruction ha been caused by the West’s lopsided and fickle commitment to it. While the resiliant Afghans appear to begin rebuilding, the US and other nations seem hesitant to follow through on their pledges to help.

“Wherever you go, they say the same. Thanks for coming, the war was worth it, but now it is payback time. Lifting the iron heel of the Taliban was not enough. In Tokyo, the rich world agreed to stump up only a paltry $4.5bn for Afghanistan over five years. It is a mere $75 a head per year, while world aid to Rwanda, East Timor and Bosnia was $250 a head. Why so little? And why has even this been paid out painfully slowly when the need is urgent?”

If the west turns its back now and lets the country slide back into tribal warfare and despair, there will be no moral justification for any future great interventions in the name of human rights. History will write this episode down as no more than a brief, self-interested expedition to eliminate al-Qaida training camps, another bunch of outsiders fighting their own battles on Afghan soil.”

Swaggart Says …

Last month, evangelical bomb-thrower Jerry Falwell referred to the Prophet Muhammad as “terrorist.”

Clearly, televangelists are competitive.

Last week, Jimmy Swaggart, the same evangelist whose motel tryst with a prostitute led to a tearful televised appeal for God’s (and his wife’s) forgiveness, declared that Muhammad was a “sex deviant” and a “pervert.” (You can listen to Swaggart’s comments here.) Not content with attacking Islam’s holiest figure, Swaggart also attacked those who dare to follow Muhammad, calling for the expulsion of foreign-born Muslim students from the US and the strict profiling of airline passengers “with a diaper on their head and a fan-belt around their waist.” Finally, Swaggart suggested that America also needs to send a message to its Muslim citizens: “We ought to tell every other Moslem (sic) living in this nation that if you say one word, you’re gone.”

Daily Briefing
FOREIGN NEWS
Turkey Watching

Western leaders are warily waiting to see what kind of governments emerges in Turkey following last week’s landslide electoral victory by the recently-formed Justice and Development Party — a political movement born from the ashes of previously-banned Islamic parties.

Arguing that the election — and the JDP’s victory — are clear signs that democracy is alive and well in Turkey, Peter Preston of the Melbourne Age says Europe and the West must not be distracted by knee-jerk, prejudiced concerns about the ‘Islamic’ label. Most importantly, Preston argues that Europe must overcome its xenophobia and accept Turkey into the European Union.

“Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who is paid to think about the constitutional future of Europe and its enlargement, has done enough pondering already. No, he tells Le Monde, Turkey must ‘never’ be allowed to join the European Union. It has ‘a different culture, a different approach, a different way of life. It is a country close to Europe, an important country: but it is not a European country.’

There now… somebody of weight, somebody of influence, has said out loud what EU politicians and diplomats have been muttering behind their hands for years. Turkey may be sweet-talked and strung along, led to believe that what 70 per cent of its population wants most dearly – a seat in Brussels – is possible, and attainable to a fixed timetable. But when push comes to shove, it can just shove off. Our fine words are the dross of hypocrisy.”

While Giscard d’Estaing’s reactionary response has drawn public boos from many EU officials, Stephen Castle of The Independent reports that the former French president’s statements “reflect the private views of many European politicians and illustrate that opposition to Turkish membership runs deep.”

Awkwardly bridging the gap is Efraim Inbar of the Jerusalem Post, who suggests that “while alarmist reactions are not warranted, a sober and cautious wait-and-see position is recommended.” Inbar notes approvingly that JDP leaders have “disclaimed any Muslim agenda,” but warns that many party loyalists were “members of previous, more radical movements.” He suggests that Western observers are unreasonably concerned with Turkey’s religious identity, but finds solace in the observation that “Turkey’s Islamists are nationalists – trying to further the nation’s interests – rather than pan-Islamists.” In the end, however, Inbar acknowledges the self-interest at play in any evaluation of the emerging Turkey:

“While Israel should keep an eye on developments in Turkey, there is good reason to wish the new Turkish government success. A strong and democratic Turkey is a vital Israeli interest.”

Of course, not everybody is convinced that Turkey’s election was a sign of healthy democracy. In fact, Ian Urbina, writing in In These Times, suggests that the JDP’s victory came despite a government effort to rig the elections by banning JDP leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan from the ballot.

“His real crime: being a practicing Muslim. Turkey is an institutionally secular country, and the military nervously — some might say overzealously — polices against any encroachment of Islam into society and government. This military watchdogging has occasionally come at the direct expense of democracy. Three times in the past four decades, the Turkish military has seized power, often on the pretext of anti-Islamist pre-emption. In 1997, the military instigated a bloodless coup along these lines to remove the republic’s democratically elected and first Islamist-led government.”

But Urbina is less incensed by the Turkish subversion of democracy than by the Bush administration’s failure to decry it.

“Why the closely guarded silence on the part of Washington? In a word: Incirlik. America doggedly covets its access to this prime air base located in southwestern Turkey. The value of the base is particularly high these days as the United States aims to hit Saddam.”

Empowering India’s Women

The Indian government has embarked on a series of reforms — both legal and social — that could drastically improve the rights and status of women.

Next week, two pieces of legislation aimed at empowering women will be introduced in parliament, reports The Hindu: one that would outlaw legal attacks on the morality and character of rape victims, and another that would ban political candidates who have been convicted of involvement in illegal ‘sati’ rituals, in which widows — sometimes in their teens — are immolated on their husbands’ funeral pyres.

India’s minister of information, Sushma Swaraj, told the Chandigarh Tribune that the decision to ban character attacks on rape victims was based on findings suggesting there is “no reasonable connection between the offence of sexual assault and general moral character of the victim.” Still, the legislative action may not reflect popular opinion, warns Sultan Shahin of the Asia Times. In a recent survey, 52 percent of Indians “squarely blamed the victims for inviting rape [and] molestation by their ‘improper’ dressing, conduct and mobility,” Shahin reports.

ENVIRONMENT
Money Trumps Mahogany

Another day, another global agreement undermined.

At a recent meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Chile, US officials abruptly reversed more than a decade of support for mahogany protection in the Amazon, claiming the regulations would be a barrier to free trade. But, as Curtis Bohlen and David O. Sandalow point out in The International Herald Tribune no one is buying Washington’s new argument:

“It is also not the view of most of the other 159 signatories to CITES, for 30 years arguably the most successful conservation treaty. Nor, until recently, was it the view of the United States. Indeed, under the first President Bush, the United States took the lead in trying to upgrade international protections for mahogany … This was a more far-sighted view — one that saw a difference between free trade and a trading free-for-all.”

Bohlen and Sandalow suggest that the Bush administration’s policy reversal can be attributed to simple economics: Worldwide demand for the immensely valuable timber has fueled illegal logging, pushing the tree to the brink of extinction. But one mahogany tree can yield $100,000 worth of high-end furniture, and 60 percent of Latin America’s mahogany exports end up in the US. “With demand so high, small wonder that the furniture industry has been lobbying the Bush administration against any actions that might limit supply,” the pair declares.

WAR WATCH
Guess Who?
‘Evil’ … or Ally?
Arabs Urge Cooperation
An Angry Man
DAILY BRIEFING
Never a Latte Liberal!
Preempting Hate Crimes?
Motoring Towards Paradise

War Watch
Guess Who?

Is the voice on the audio tape Osama bin Laden? Government linguistic experts say it is, which can’t be good news for the White House. The man who was the obsessive focus of the administration’s war on terror last year has resurfaced as Washington tries to convince the world to embark on a different war.

As Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post puts it, “White House officials don’t want to hear from Osama.”

“In fact, it’s remarkable how bin Laden, who was denounced daily by the president in the months after 9/11, had become an official non-person. The United States had to get him — ‘dead or alive,’ Bush said — but the administration eventually stopped talking about him. And bin Laden all but disappeared from the American radar screen, but for the occasional did-he-bite-the-dust piece.”

From all indications, the White House would prefer that bin Laden were still a ‘non-person.’ As Joe Conason notes on Salon, administration officials seem intent on downplaying both the tape and its alleged author in order to keep the focus on Iraq.

“I know the White House is frustrated and embarrassed by its failure to fulfill the blustering threats Bush made last year. (Their frustration may be relieved slightly by imagining how the punditry would have treated Bill Clinton if he had failed to take down bin Laden by this point. That ‘dead or alive’ clip would be playing every night on cable, with appropriate commentary.) And I can see why he, Cheney and Rumsfeld prefer to pursue a sitting duck like Saddam rather than the elusive Osama.

What I don’t understand is the implied contradiction between the urge to “obsess on bin Laden” and the need to “deter future attacks.” Iraq hasn’t attacked the United States, and to date nobody has provided any proof that the Baghdad regime possesses the capability or the madness to do so. Al-Qaida has attacked the United States more than once, killed thousands of our people and grievously injured our country, and this tape provides more proof, as if there were not enough already, that its leaders intend to do so again and again. What I cannot understand is why anyone with an audience in America would shroud that reality for the comfort of the Bush White House.

Sorry, but Osama bin Laden is not merely “any one man.” He is the self-proclaimed mass murderer of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, at large, presumably armed, and extremely dangerous. To pretend that Saddam Hussein poses the greater threat — when he has been contained for a decade — is to foster a truly monumental delusion.”

The editorial board of the San Jose Mercury-News argues sensibly that the tape should serve as a warning against the administration’s “tunnel vision.” If bin Laden is alive, then Washington must recognize the likelihood that “hundreds of his fighters and top lieutenants slipped out of Afghanistan and may have dispersed like pathogens throughout the globe.”

Some analysts think the message is much simpler, as the London Times reports.

“Daniel Benjamin, senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said: ‘The message is, the war on terrorism has not been as effective as we would like to think, if bin Laden can suddenly appear from underneath a rock and threaten us.’

Abdel Bari Atwan, writing in the London Guardian, suggests that the bin Laden tape should give Washington reason to reconsider its immediate course of action on Iraq and its overall approach to the fight against terror.

“The US war against terrorism has not achieved its objectives and does not seem capable of doing so in the near future. In fact, it has started to backfire. The world has become less safe. At the same time, the threat posed by al-Qaida is growing. Until recently al-Qaida used to carry out one attack a year; now it has carried out four attacks in less than the past month. So yes, Bin Laden is still very much alive. I would not be surprised to see the emergence of more men in his mould once the war on terrorism is extended to include Iraq, under the pretext of disarming it.”

Arguing that the Muslim world is “boiling with rage,” Atwan writes that bin Laden is clearly hoping to “stir up the emotions of Arabs and Muslims everywhere against the US” and against the moderate Arab regimes supporting Washington’s approach.

Sadly, there is every reason to believe that the US will play directly into bin Laden’s hands, writes the Independent‘s Adrian Hamilton.

“What we do know is that Bin Laden would very much like to create an air of general fear in the West and that he would like to wrap up every local Muslim dissatisfaction in a general conflict between Islam and the West.

He doesn’t have to try too hard, the way we’re behaving. It is astonishing that, having cornered Saddam Hussein and forced him to give in to a ferocious UN resolution, both Washington and London are saying that they don’t believe him and that the war plans are still on, for all the world giving the impression that the object is forced regime change whatever he does. How do we think this goes down in a Muslim world that is already convinced that President Bush is pursuing a plan that has nothing to do with peace and everything to do with oil?”

‘Evil’ … or Ally?

A little less than a year ago, President Bush condemned Iran as one of the ‘Axis of Evil.’ Now, it seems that Bush’s administration is considering asking Iran for help in attacking another ‘Axis’ member, Iraq. The conduit for the unlikely cooperation, the Christian Science Monitor reports, is an Iraqi Shiite rebel group supported by Tehran.

“Observers say the potential Iranian-US horse-trading could result in possible use by US Special Forces of Iranian military bases, the destruction by the US of anti-Iranian militia bases in Iraq, and Iran’s help in rooting out Islamic militants in Iraq linked to Al Qaeda.

‘The basic assumption is the Iranians are anxious to cooperate, because they hate Saddam Hussein, but also because they don’t want to be left out,’ says a European diplomat in Tehran. ‘Surely they have something to offer: They have influence on the Shia [in Iraq] – so let it be a positive [influence], and not a negative one, which is what everyone fears.'”

Iran’s hard-liners might be expected to balk at such an arrangement, but, as The Straits Times reports, Tehran’s Islamic elite are increasingly under siege at home. Facing a political deadlock between conservatives and reformers led by President Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is now warning that he may resort to ‘popular force.’

“Ayatollah Khamenei’s comments, carried by state television, came amid intensifying wrangling which has seen leading reformers arrested or handed draconian sentences by the conservative-held judiciary, and the courts in turn coming under unprecedented attack.

As well as the courts, legislative watchdog bodies and much of the economy, hardliners also control the security forces, including the Basij militia, which is said to number some seven million.

The Basij and other hardline militia are frequently referred to as ‘popular forces’, and when called upon can easily rival and clamp down on protests supporting the embattled reform movement.”

Arabs Urge Cooperation

American conservatives, led by the hawkish cadre in Washington, have made up their minds: the UN arms inspections will fail and the US will invade. This winter. Neocon web-logger Andrew Sullivan argues that the alternative to war is actually too dangerous to consider:

“At this point, I find myself oscillating between hoping for a peaceful outcome while knowing that any peaceful but phony outcome now will only make a future war bloodier and more terrifying. So I’m hoping – yes, hoping – for war soon.”

While Sullivan may put it more forcefully, a parade of administration officials have expressed similar views in recent days — most recently Pentagon advisor Richard Perle. The editors of the Daily Star of Lebanon argue that, while Bush and others are “entitled to their skepticism,” Washington should at least give the inspections a chance to succeed.

“The purported goal of the US-British campaign is, after all, to prevent Iraq from posing a threat to other countries. In the short term, an armed conflict would certainly increase the possibility of Baghdad’s lashing out at one or more of its neighbors. There are therefore highly compelling reasons to give the inspection process a chance to accomplish peacefully what military action could only achieve at tremendous cost and risk to all concerned.

There is nothing to be gained by criticizing Baghdad for having done what was asked of it by the Security Council but many lives to be lost by imprudently fanning the flames of tension.”

Hasan Abu Nimah, Jordan’s former ambassador to the UN, argues in the Jordan Times that the resolution paving the way for new inspections is “harsh and unfair.” Still, he says, Iraq must accept the UN’s demands and meet every requirement.

“It may be hard and painful to meet demands which are only meant to be prohibitive pretexts, but in such abnormal times, flexibility and patience remain wise and pragmatic.

We are living very dangerous times, when nothing should be taken for granted. The situation, in our region in particular, is so precarious, so fragile and so critically explosive that only maximum wisdom, realism and meaningful collective efforts can arrest the fast drift to disaster. One sadly wonders why the Arab nation, with all its kinetic potential, does not rise to the challenge, indeed the sweeping danger on all of us, and do something.”

The editors of Dubai’s Gulf News go even further:

“It is important for Iraq to prove to the world beyond any doubt that it is has no weapons of mass destruction. Therefore Iraq has to go well beyond what might be acceptable normally, to make it clear that it does not have any such weapons. Any future attempt to limit the inspectors will further fuel the assumptions that the weapons do in fact exist, and will lead inexorably to a war that may still just be avoidable if Iraq simply meets its UN obligations.”

In a feat of understatment, the editors of the Times of Oman point out that “Saddam is pretty low in the predictability graph.” But they warn that any unstable or precipitous action on the part of the Baghdad regime now poses a threat for the entire region:

“Speculation apart, a war, if it breaks out, would indeed change the course of history of the region. As regards possible casualties, global health organisation Medact says circa four million people would die. The consequent environmental and health hazards would be, quite simply, incalculable and inexpressible.

This is the reason Arab nations’ counsel caution to all concerned. The situation is all the more scary as the resolution leaves a lot of grey area. Much as it involves a two-stage approach there is no provision for a second resolution in case of any problem, and such a situation would give a much longed-for excuse for the US to launch an attack. Besides, any small actual or imaginary or cooked-up infraction could trigger a war. But such possibilities are in the realm of the future, but now it is incumbent on Saddam to obey the resolution in toto. For, at stake is nothing but total devastation of Iraq and untold suffering for its neighbours.”

It’s that possibility of a “cooked-up infraction” that has David Corn worried. While the Arab press may be urging Iraq to cooperate, Corn wonders if the White House intends to make sure that Baghdad fails to play by the UN’s rules — or at least appears to fail.

“It’s no secret the Iraq-hawks in the Bush administration are ready to blow the whistle as soon as the Iraqis delay an inspection team for half-a-minute or produce records that somebody somewhere claims are incomplete. Such instances could well be signs Saddam is not serious about permitting rigorous inspections, or they might be glitches of questionable significance. No doubt, there will be much public argument over all this. And the fellow with the loudest voice in the discussion will be Bush.

And Bush’s biases are clear. He has placed them on full display in recent weeks, making it tough to have confidence in his ability to weigh the evidence reasonably.”

An Angry Man

Russian President Vladimir Putin is getting tired of answering uncomfortable questions about Moscow’s war in Chechnya. That much was clear after Putin lashed out at a French reporter during a news conference following the European Union Summit earlier this week.

“‘If you want to become an Islamic radical and have yourself circumcised, I invite you to come to Moscow,’ Putin said. ‘I would recommend that he who does the surgery does it so you’ll have nothing growing back afterward.'”

Kremlin aides explained that Putin was tired and under a great deal of stress.

Daily Briefing
POLITICS
Never a Latte Liberal!

California Democrat Nancy Pelosi will become the first woman to lead her party in the House of Representatives. But the pundit factory seems to have little interest in Pelosi’s historic achievement. Instead, the nation’s opinion-makers are chewing over the San Francisco congresswoman’s ideological identity.

The pundits do seem to agree on one thing: Pelosi has been a member of her party’s liberal wing. At the liberal core of Congress, Pelosi opposed the White House and her own Majority Leader Richard Gephardt last month, voting against the administration’s war resolution, and has consistently fought for issues like AIDS funding and abortion rights. The pundits are far less unanimous on whether that record is a good thing.

Mary Lynn F. Jones thinks it definitely is. Writing in The American Prospect, Jones argues that Democrats now have an opportunity to recover after making the recent tactical mistake of supporting the President against their own ideals. This “could be the first signal as to which strategy Democrats will pursue as they try to unseat President Bush in 2004 and regain control of Congress,” writes Jones.

Another school, one which is more vocal if not larger, is made up of moderate Democrats who worry that Pelosi’s leanings will alienate the party’s center and lead Democrats even further from the current mainstream of American realpolitik. Donald Lambro reports in the dependably conservative Washington Times that the Democratic Leadership Council, which had been promoting Tennessee Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. — Pelosi’s chief rival for the nomination — is fearful of Pelosi’s “unyielding liberalism,” concerned that she will allow the House Caucus to “impose left-of-center views on [centrist Democrats] that will further polarize the country and narrow the party’s appeal.” While liberals blame the recent defeat at the polls on the blurry positions represented by the Democratic leadership, centrists blame the loss on “liberal big-spending policies and [a] failure to enact a homeland defense bill [which] turned off millions of independent and middle-of-the-road voters.”

The Economist echoes those conservative concerns, stating bluntly that Pelosi’s nomination would be “a disaster for the Democrats.” Allowing that Pelosi is intelligent, popular, and driven, with “much to recommend her,” the magazine warns that isn’t enough. “She has only one defect — but it is a big one. She is a San Francisco liberal.”

“Ms Pelosi’s problem has as much to do with culture as with politics. Mr Gephardt was hardly a New Democrat. But at least he represented blue-collar St Louis. San Francisco is wacky even by Californian standards, a city that voted for Al Gore by a margin of 61 points and that recently decided to allow city employees to have sex-change operations at public expense. San Francisco is home to the Ninth Court of Appeals, which voted to ban the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against using force after September 11th, represents Oakland, just across the bay. The city spent less on its Veterans Day parade this Monday than it did on the Brazilian Holiday Carnival or the Samoan Flag Day. This is hardly the sort of place to fashion a moderate Democratic doctrine that can appeal to what San Franciscans refer to as America’s ‘flyover territory’.”

Taking these impressions even further, John J. Miller asserts in The National Review that Pelosi, unlike Gephardt, is an elitist, an “anti-New Democrat leftist who is about as deeply out of touch with ordinary Americans as any member of her party.” Again, Miller points out, she’s a “San Francisco Democrat.”

True, Pelosi is from San Francisco. And, true, she has consistently voted with the liberal wing of her party. But, as The Nation‘s John Nichols points out, simplistic labels and reflexive conservative criticism won’t blunter Pelosi’s appeal.

“Word of Gephardt’s departure and Pelosi’s arrival may have been greeted with delight by grassroots activists who are ready to take on the GOP, but it was immediately met with a campaign to prevent the California Democrat from changing the ideological and strategic approaches that have rendered Democrats all but incapable of challenging a popular President and his party. That campaign was the work of a Republican White House that fears an aggressive Democratic Party; of forces within the Democratic Party that are too corrupted or too afraid to change course; and of media that have reduced political coverage to the parroting of official spin.”

Finally, Marc Sandalow of the San Francisco Chronicle offers news to suggest that the right-wing hyperbole is just that. Sandalow writes that Pelosi has “no intention of tugging her party to the left or imposing her liberal outlook on the rest of the country.”

“Instead, as House Democrats prepare to enter their ninth year in the minority, Pelosi said she will push the party to develop an economic growth plan to distinguish itself from the Republicans and will draw up a political road map to win back the majority as early as 2004.”

Sandalow also notes that Pelosi has named Rep. John Spratt (N. Carolina) as her top assistant in a move to appease the party’s moderates.

LAW & JUSTICE
Preempting Hate Crimes?

American intelligence and law enforcement departments have responded aggressively to the 1,700 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes since September 11, but could have prevented many of the attacks had they prepared in advance for predictable “backlash” crimes, according to Human Rights Watch. In a 42-page report, human rights researcher Amardeep Singh found that, of six surveyed cities, the law enforcement of only Dearborn, Michigan, made proactive preparations for anti-Muslim hate crimes before they happened — preparations that prevented all but two violent crimes targeting Muslims after terrorist attacks:

“In particular, Dearborn police had already identified high-risk communities and were ready to deploy officers where needed within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon; pre-existing relationships between community leaders and officials facilitated communications.”

While the report lauds prosecutions by the Justice Department of a dozen such hate crimes across the country, Singh criticizes actions taken by the FBI and police departments, such as secret immigration detentions, the fingerprinting of Middle Eastern tourists, and dragnet interviews of Arab-Americans, which sent “mixed messages” to the public, and “cast a cloud of suspicion over all Arabs and Muslims in the United States.” Moreover, given the surge in hate crimes recorded following the Persian Gulf war in 1991, the report suggests that additional preparations for race-based violence could curtail a similar rise from being triggered if the US invades Iraq again in the future.

ENVIRONMENT
Motoring Towards Paradise

Jesus may have driven a (horse-drawn) wagon, but he’d never drive an SUV.

That’s the message a coalition of religious leaders hopes to convey with a new ad campaign aimed at convincing Christians to ask not just “What Would Jesus Do?” but “What Would Jesus Drive?” If successful, writes Michelle Cottle in The New Republic, the ads could signal the birth of a whole new green constituency opposed to Detroit’s gas guzzling road hogs for religious as well as environmental reasons.

“Will this campaign strike many non-Christians as the very definition of batty? Most likely. But it may also prompt people (especially young people) who do ask themselves these sorts of Jesus-related questions to start thinking about environmentalism as something other than a nutty left-wing cause. Religious guilt is a powerful motivating force for all sorts of behavioral modifications–with a particular emphasis on curbing excess–and it’s high time someone started pointing out the basic immorality of trashing the planet … Which is especially good news since, with Republicans now in charge of both the White House and Congress, our only hope for protecting the environment may be if thinking-green becomes a cause for the Christian right. Ralph Reed: Environmental Holy Warrior. Has a nice ring to it, no?”