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Mother Jones Daily

Mon Nov. 4, 2002 4:00 AM EST
Rushdie on Regime Change
Unchecked Plans for War
Dividing the (Expected) Spoils
War and Capitalism
Ailing Afghanistan
Franco's Tests
Blowing the Whistle on Salmon Kill

War Watch

Rushdie on Regime Change

Saddam Hussein needs to go -- not to please the Bush administration or because he represents a global threat, but because he is a brutal dictator whose reign of terror must end. So argues Salman Rushdie in a Washington Post commentary.

"Saddam Hussein and his ruthless gang of cronies from his home village of Tikrit are homicidal criminals, and their Iraq is a living hell. This obvious truth is no less true because we have been turning a blind eye to it -- and "we" includes, until recently, the government of the United States, an early and committed supporter of the "secular" Hussein against the "fanatical" Islamic religionists of the region. Nor is it less true because it suits the politics of the Muslim world to inveigh against the global bully it believes the United States to be, while it tolerates the all-too-real monsters in its own ranks. Nor is it less true because it's getting buried beneath the loudly made but poorly argued U.S. position, which is that Hussein is a big threat, not so much to his own people but to us."

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Rushdie frets that this 'liberal' argument for regime change is being drowned out by the Bush administration's war talk and the growing opposition to it. While Bush's plans for a preemptive strike remain dangerous and misguided, Hussein should not be allowed to find support among those fighting Washington's folly, Rushdie argues.

"This is the hard part for antiwar liberals to ignore. All the Iraqi democratic voices that still exist, all the leaders and potential leaders who still survive, are asking, even pleading for the proposed regime change. Will the American and European left make the mistake of being so eager to oppose Bush that they end up seeming to back Saddam Hussein, just as many of them seemed to prefer the continuation of the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan to the American intervention there?"

Unchecked Plans for War

Washington is expected to submit yet another resolution on Iraq to the UN Security Council this week, one which may or may not address Russian and French diplomats concerned that the US would use the document to justify unilateral military action. But, as Peter Beaumont and Gaby Hinsliff of the London Observer report, military officials in the US and Britain haven't allowed the diplomatic maneuvering to delay their frenetic planning for such action:

"As more details of the military preparations have emerged on both sides of the Atlantic, what has also become apparent is that President Bush and his closest ally Tony Blair have been working to a tight timetable for military action that not even the long-winded deliberations of the UN Security Council have derailed."

Beaumont and Hinsliff suggest that military brass in both countries expect to be fighting a war in Iraq within months -- reporting that all the evidence on hand, "points to US forces being readied for war by mid-December at the latest."

" 'There are a lot of very active preparations for war under way,' said one defence official. 'Everything is being moved rapidly into place so that the US and its allies can strike almost immediately should Bush decide that time has run out for the UN and its inspectors.'"

Michael Gordon of The New York Times reports on one such example of 'active preparations.':

"Navy pilots are conducting mock strikes against airfields, towers and other military sites in Iraq, acquainting themselves with targets they may be called on to strike as the Bush administration prepares for a possible military campaign to topple Saddam Hussein."

In fact, Gordon writes, the patrols over southern Iraq "have grown into a low-grade war."

In another indication of the unabated war planning, Esther Schrader of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Pentagon is now equipping select units in the US and Europe with "state-of-the-art river-crossing equipment capable of moving large numbers of troops and heavy materiel across the Euphrates."

"Military planners at the Pentagon are analyzing a broad range of options for an invasion of Iraq, but all call for advancing significant ground forces deep into the country and for crossing the wide, slow-moving expanse of the Euphrates to take control of nearby Baghdad, defense officials said."

Dividing the (Expected) Spoils

A chorus of critics has questioned whether Washington has a coherent plan for Iraq post-Saddam. Well, as Peter Beaumont and Faisal Islam of the London Observer report, the same cannot be said of the country's oil executives:

"The leader of the London-based Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi, has met executives of three US oil multinationals to negotiate the carve-up of Iraq's massive oil reserves post-Saddam."

The talks could prove diplomatically dicey for Washington diplomats trying to convince France, Russia, and China to support a new UN resolution on Iraq. As Beaumont and Islam report, the three countries not only hold veto power on the UN Security Council, they also have existing oil deals with Iraq -- deals which could be scuttled by Chalabi's new negotiations.

Of course, Chalabi is in no position to deliver on such deals -- yet. But, as Robert Dreyfuss makes clear in a compelling profile in The American Prospect, there is little mystery behind the INC leader's emergence as a favorite of the Bush administration's regime-change-minded hawks.

"Chalabi would hand over Iraq's oil to U.S. multinationals, and his allies in conservative think tanks are already drawing up the blueprints. 'What they have in mind is denationalization, and then parceling Iraqi oil out to American oil companies,' says James E. Akins, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Even more broadly, once an occupying U.S. army seizes Baghdad, Chalabi's INC and its American backers are spinning scenarios about dismantling Saudi Arabia, seizing its oil and collapsing the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). It's a breathtaking agenda, one that goes far beyond 'regime change' and on to the start of a New New World Order.

What's also startling about these plans is that Chalabi is scorned by most of America's national-security establishment, including much of the Department of State, the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is shunned by all Western powers save the United Kingdom, ostracized in the Arab world and disdained even by many of his erstwhile comrades in the Iraqi opposition. Among his few friends, however, are the men running the Bush administration's willy-nilly war on Iraq. And with their backing, it's not inconceivable that this hapless, exiled Iraqi aristocrat and London-Washington playboy might end up atop the smoking heap of what's left of Iraq next year."

War and Capitalism

Never mind the talk of war, never mind the talk of regime change. The lure of profit, it seems, can overcome just about anything.

The Associated Press reports that representatives from more than 1,000 companies touched down in Baghdad this weekend for the city's annual trade fair, all hoping to secure lucrative contracts once UN sanctions on the country are lifted. In fact, more companies are in attendance this year that at any point since the 1991 Gulf War, the AP reports.

Daily Briefing
Ailing Afghanistan

If only the US media's lack of coverage of Afghanistan reflected an actual lack of happenings. In fact, one year after US forces entered the country, Afghanistan remains as divided and desperate as ever.

Steve Komarow reports in the USA Today that a "Taliban mentality" still persists for many and that "the surge of tolerance that followed the war has been replaced by caution and growing signs that fundamentalists are making a comeback." Komarow observes that the Kabul government, caving to conservatives' demands, has even resurrected the notorious Ministry of Vice and Virtue, which enforced the Taliban's unbending interpretation of Islamic law.

Women have become a favorite target for the country's resurgent fundamentalists. In central Afghanistan this week, pro-Taliban groups carried out a series of "well-coordinated" attacks against girls' schools, reports Luke Harding in The Guardian. The attacks, in which several buildings were damaged by rockets, arson, and grenades, represent only the latest in a rash of violence directed against female education. Each attack, Harding writes, is normally preceded by the distribution of pamphlets warning parents against letting their daughters go to school and warning them not to appear in public without the burka.

Nor has there been an appreciable lessening of the ethnic tensions which have long divided Afghanistan. In just one example of the continued conflict between Afghan tribes, Agence France-Presse reports that harassment of minority groups -- especially the nomadic Gujurs -- in the northeast of the country has developed to such an extent as to prompt the UN to set up a commission to protect the victims.

The country's economy remains in ruins. Though reissued only last month at 1,000 times the value of the previous currency, the new afghani has already become nearly worthless, reports Liz Sly in the Chicago Tribune. In Kabul's currency markets, familiar scenes are played out featuring "hordes of Afghans hauling their life's savings in sacks and wheelbarrows, desperate to unburden themselves of notes they fear will soon be worthless."

The only industry that's really thriving, reports The Economist, is the drug trade. In 2001, the last year of Taliban rule, Afghanistan produced 185 tons of poppy resin, according to a British study. Production for 2002 is expected to reach between 1,900 and 2,700 tons (incidentally, Europe receives 80 percent of its heroin supply from Afghanistan).

Franco's Mad Marxist Tests

At last, definitive proof that leftists are degenerate. Or not.

In the sort of mad experiment that ideologues might embrace even today, psychiatrists employed seven decades ago by the Spanish dictator Franco set out to scientifically "prove" that the Generalissimo's republican opponents were either stupid or crazy, Giles Tremlett reports in The Guardian.

Combining highly dubious science with a messianic sense of moral superiority, Fascist researchers in the 1930s performed batteries of mostly psychological tests on captured Republican volunteers, recently unearthed documents show. The goal? To prove that leftists were intellectually inferior and morally lacking. As far as Franco's chief psychiatrist was concerned, the results were never in doubt:

"'A priori, it seems probable that psychopaths of all types would join the Marxist ranks,' he reasoned before starting the project. 'Since Marxism goes together with social immorality ... we presume those fanatics who fought with arms will show schizoid temperaments.'

Little surprise, then, that he classified almost a third of the English prisoners as 'mental retards.' Another third were deemed to be suffering degenerative mental illnesses that were turning them into schizoids, paranoids or psychopaths. Their fall into Marxism was, in turn, exacerbated by the fact that 29% were also considered 'social imbeciles.'"

As Tremlett notes, "the results, predictably concluding that Marxists really were mad, tell us more about the mindset of those who, with Franco at the helm, would run Spain for the next 40 years" than about the prisoners.

Blowing the Whistle on Salmon Kill

Filing a complaint under the Whistleblower Protection Act against both the Bush administration and his own National Marine Fisheries Service, federal biologist Michael Kelly claims that officials knowingly disregarded threats posed by farmland irrigation to endangered fish in the Klamath River Basin, resulting in the deaths of over 30,000 salmon, writes Laura DeFrancesco in The Scientist. In what would constitute a violation of the Endangered Species Act, Kelly claims in his complaint that the Bureau of Reclamation manipulated research data to support an inadequate and politically-motivated 10-year plan to divert water from Klamath River.

After Interior Secretary Gale Norton declined to meet with him to discuss the issue, Democratic Congressman Mike Thompson called the government's response to the salmon kill "pathetic," and told the Eureka Times-Standard: "if what the whistle blower told is accurate, they absolutely violated the law."

Riding on the coattails of Kelly's report, ten conservation groups have filed a lawsuit demanding that the Department of Interior stop the irrigation of commercial farms in drought-stricken wildlife refuges, The Wilderness Society reports.

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