Empire of Lies

Iraq is slowly being pushed off the front pages, which is just as the White House wants it.

| Mon Jan. 5, 2004 3:00 AM EST

Small World "You would think, especially after the capture of Saddam, that Rumsfeld could pack it in, go out on top and settle down in that ranch in Taos, N.M., that he co-owns with, among others, Dan Rather."
-- From a Time magazine year-end portrait of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by Michael Duffy and Mark Thompson.

Even Smaller World "Firms, which together include former heads of the NSC [National Security Council], CIA [Central Intelligence Agency], DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] and DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], combine expertise to offer clients powerful combination of business building services and capital... Civitas Group llc, a homeland security consultancy, and Paladin Capital Group, a private equity investment firm, today announced a strategic alliance. Civitas (which includes former National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger, leading Republican strategist and Co-Chair Charles R. Black, Jr., and security industry veteran Michael J. Hershman) and Paladin (which includes former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, former NSA Director Kenneth A. Minihan, and private equity veteran Michael R. Steed) will identify and seek to jointly serve emerging companies with new technologies that have a direct application to homeland security... 'Many members of our respective firms have worked together, in and out of government, for more than five Administrations,' noted Civitas Co-Chairman Berger. 'We're also united by our goal of helping America protect against future terrorist attacks.'"
-- From a press release published on PR News Wire.

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One Tiny World: "[As spokeswoman for Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman,] Alisa Harrison has worked tirelessly the last two weeks to spread the message that bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, is not a risk to American consumers... For her, it's a familiar message. Before joining the department, Ms. Harrison was director of public relations for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the beef industry's largest trade group, where she battled government food safety efforts...and sent out press releases with titles like 'Mad Cow Disease Not a Problem in the U.S.'

...

Right now you'd have a hard time finding a federal agency more completely dominated by the industry it was created to regulate. Dale Moore, Ms. Veneman's chief of staff, was previously the chief lobbyist for the cattlemen's association. Other veterans of that group have high-ranking jobs at the department, as do former meat-packing executives and a former president of the National Pork Producers Council."
-- From Eric Schlosser's piece, 'The Cow Jumped Over the U.S.D.A.', in The New York Times.

One Small Bite: "President Bush shot quail on a hunting trip yesterday but ate beef, and encouraged Americans to do the same despite concern over mad cow disease. 'I think I shot five,' Bush told reporters at Brooks County Airport after returning from the hunt with his father on a dusty, desolate stretch of land in southern Texas. The president said Americans should feel comfortable eating beef while Agriculture Department officials try to prevent any mad cow outbreak after an infected Holstein was found in Washington state."
-- From Deb Riechmann's piece, 'Bush Encourages US to Eat Beef Despite Mad Cow Concerns', in The Boston Globe.

One World (or How to Create an Imperial Legion): "As Bush was ramping up the Iraq war last winter, Canadian military officials were startled to discover Pentagon recruiters roaming through their nation's native population reserves trying to persuade Inuit and others to enlist in the U.S. military. The Americans started cropping up on the Atlantic Coast in Quebec, in the Sault Sainte Marie area of Ontario, and in Western Canada. A Canadian Defense Ministries report said the U.S. claimed that under the 1794 Jay Treaty it had the right to recruit Canadian native inhabitants for its military because aboriginal Canadians held dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship."
-- From James Ridgeway's report, 'Uncle Sam Wants You, Eh?', in The Village Voice.

Just Connect -- the Kingdom of Looting

It's a small world -- wasn't that Disney's theme-park dream? And it is kind of dreamy when you think about it, just how small it is. In Washington, it's like a small village where everyone knows everyone knows everyone -- and these days, are any of them not doing business with and/or relaxing with each other?

Meanwhile in the ever-less-frozen north, there was Uncle Sam, representative of a global-warming nation, scouring the snowdrifts for Inuit to send off to Iraq to protect our oil lifeline and do their small bit to melt their part of the planet. Linkages, it's so thrilling! (James Ridgeway of the Village Voice does report that the Canadians finally insisted our recruiters stop patrolling their territories. Then again, Bulgaria, Rumania, and Mongolia do beckon.)

For those of you curious about how Washington connections sort themselves out in the small world of offshore planning that passes for the occupation of Iraq, two pieces were published over the holiday break that shouldn't be missed. In the Nation, Naomi Klein wrote about Rebuilding Iraq 2, "a gathering of 400 businesspeople itching to get a piece of the Iraqi reconstruction action." It was held not in Iraq, of course, but in Arlington, Virginia. (How about, for instance, purchasing a garbage can, available in stylish Hunter Green, Fortuneberry Purple and Windswept Copper, capable of "containing" a C4 plastic explosives blast? It's the perfect thing, by the way, to put right next to your Hummer in that oversized garage of yours.) Klein comments:

"As Iraqis protest layoffs at state agencies and make increasingly vocal demands for general elections, it's becoming clear that the White House's prewar conviction that Iraqis would welcome the transformation of their country into a free-market dream state may have been just as off-target as its prediction that US soldiers would be greeted with flowers and candy. I mention to one delegate [attending Rebuilding Iraq2] that fear seems to be dampening the capitalist spirit. 'The best time to invest is when there is still blood on the ground,' he assures me. 'Will you be going to Iraq?' I ask. 'Me? No, I couldn't do that to my family.'"

It turns out, however, that the fly - think not housefly but monstrous mutation here - in the ointment is insurance. Even L. Paul Bremer's former company, Marsh & McLennan, which sells "political risk, expropriation and terrorism insurance," won't go to bat for the Viceroy of Baghdad. So the Bush administration, in the form of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), has just kicked in.

"Who bails out OPIC?" Klein asks Michael Lempres, VP of insurance at OPIC. "'In theory,' he says, 'the US Treasury stands behind us.' That means the US taxpayer. Yes, them again: The same people who have already paid Halliburton, Bechtel et al. to make a killing on Iraq's reconstruction would have to pay these companies again, this time in compensation for their losses. While the enormous profits being made in Iraq are strictly private, it turns out that the entire risk is being shouldered by the public."

Klein concludes that Iraq's reconstruction is a "vast protection racket, a neocon New Deal" -- and what a phrase that is. The reconstruction of Iraq is, in a sense, a vast body (of cash) topped by a pinhead, and Klein's descriptions of the way the pasha, or rather representative, of Halliburton KBR at the conference lorded it over various scrabbling representatives of foreign and Iraqi companies trying to get tiny scraps of the reconstruction pie tells you all you need to know.

To grasp just how much of a con (as well as neocon) game reconstruction is, however, you should turn to Herbert Docena's on-the-spot report for Asia Times:

"This war to liberate Iraq was never about liberating the Iraqis. Unsurprisingly then, the reconstruction effort is also not about reconstruction. In this occupation, the US and its allies' primary goal is not to rebuild what they have destroyed; it's to make a fast buck. Contractors like Bechtel and KBR are assured of getting paid no matter what; that the power plants will eventually be constructed is just incidental.

...

The US and its contractors are not even trying, for a simple reason: it's not the point. To assume that they are striving, but are merely failing because of factors beyond their control, is to presuppose that there is an earnest effort to succeed. There isn't. If there were, there should have been a coherent plan and process in which the welfare of the Iraqis - and not of the corporations - actually comes first.

...

As the reconstruction process continues to disillusion Iraqis, the myth that the US is here to help is also steadily collapsing. With no light, no gasoline and no paychecks, more and more Iraqis are no longer just cursing the darkness. 'If you want to live in peace, Americans, give us our salary,' warned Hassim, the Iraqi protesting at the gates of the Coalition Provisional Authority. 'If you do not, next time we'll come back with weapons.'"

Just Disconnect - the Kingdom of Lies

Not surprisingly, for those following events in Iraq these last months, American troops continue to die at a steady rate - Saddam or no Saddam -- a constant, if low-level (unless they're your kids), drip, drip, drip of casualties. Friday, a helicopter was downed near Falluja with one death reported; Saturday, an American base near Balad north of Baghdad was mortared with another death and several casualties, and a roadside bomb in Baghdad killed two more soldiers in a Humvee. American deaths have averaged nearly one a day since Saddam's capture.

In fact, if you compare the last four months to the previous four, they've actually doubled; while the wounded have more than doubled in the same period. (Vernon Loeb, 'In Iraq, Pace of U.S. Casualties Has Accelerated', The Washington Post) Since Christmas, American casualties seem to be on the rise again -- and that doesn't even count the South Korean who was shot last week, or the Bulgarians and Thais who died in the Karbala suicide bombings, or the Poles wounded in an ambush, or the many Iraqis who die, uncounted, from myriad causes. (Two dozen Bulgarian soldiers destined to be sent to Iraq have just refused to go.) Throw in endless gas lines, absent electricity, massive unemployment, incipient inter-ethnic and religious strife, various problems of your choosing, and an occupation force getting ever more brutal as it feels the sting of an insurgency that won't end, and you have the makings of another year in hell -- and endless trouble for the Bush administration.

Iraq is the great election challenge for the administratoin. However, the realities of the devastated country, of its reconstruction or lack of it, of the casualties and the insurgency, may matter little if news of it can all somehow be made ordinary and banished from front pages and the nightly news. (This, as you might have noticed, has happened for the last week-plus, thanks to color-coded-heightened-alerts-that-shouldn't-be-taken-seriously, tales-of-airline-terror-that-hasn't-been, flights-that-were-cancelled-for-unknown-reasons, and preparations-for-whatever-kinds-of-arriving-terrorists, plus solemn punditry on all of the above, monopolizing news headlines and perhaps the first ten minutes of every prime-time news show I've caught). While throwing up endless news smoke-screens, can the Bush men manage a "withdrawal" that turns what passes for the reins of power over to some Iraqis, any Iraqis, chosen somehow, but not by means of a national election? Can they then reestablish the Green Zone as a vast "embassy" to a sovereign government, send ever more native troops into battle, and hunker down at our sprawling bases in-country to wait out November 2004?

From the administration's point of view, it may be less a matter of bringing our troops home than bringing the press and TV journalists home. Juan Cole at his Informed Consent website made this point over the holidays while discussing Shiite Ayatollah Sistani's insistence on democratic elections as part of the process of turning over of sovereignty:

"Sistani's refusal to budge poses a severe problem for the US, which wants now to move quickly to an "Afghanistan" model, hold an American-invented Iraqi 'Loya Jirga' or council of hand-picked notables, "elect" a transitional government, and turn over sovereignty to it, as they did to Karzai in Afghanistan. This plan appears to derive from despair that the US will actually be able to administer Iraq for very much longer, given Iraqi sullenness about the occupation, and from a desire of the Bush administration to bring home the reporters, if not the troops, well before the November 2004 elections. Karl Rove probably figures that the US press simply won't cover Iraq as intensively if the US isn't running it, just as they don't cover Afghanistan any more now that Karzai is in charge (even though the US has 10,000 troops in harm's way in Afghanistan). US journalism is dedicated to the principle that the American public doesn't want to read about anything that is in the least bit distant, foreign, or hard to understand. The existence of the Coalition Provisional Authority creates the illusion that Iraq is part of the US beat for journalists; renaming it 'the US embassy in Iraq,' Bush hopes, will dissolve that illusion. Sistani is therefore standing in the way of a smooth political progression that has enormous import for the next US election."

To some extent, Rove et. al. may already be succeeding. The daily casualties seem slowly to be making their way -- at least in my hometown paper -- toward the inside pages where they will be fodder for news junkies. Of course, the divergence between what others in the world know as news and the news we get has long been a phenomenon. In his eighth year writing a "media follies" round-up for Working for Change, Geov Parrish comments in passing that "every year... the gulf between what people in this country and those elsewhere in the world are told about the same events has continued to widen."

Here's a tiny test. Just consider the beginning of part of a humdrum Saturday Iraq piece by John Burns of The New York Times on a U.S. raid on a Sunni mosque:

"In the raid in Baghdad on Thursday that led to the arrests of the Iraqis, many of them Muslim clerics, American troops operating behind an advance party of Iraqi civil defense and police units stormed into the Ibn Taimiya mosque... a stronghold of the Salafist school of Islam, a hard-line, back-to-basics sect that includes Osama bin Laden among its proselytizers.

The United States military command has said often that its policy is to avoid entering mosques whenever possible, so as not to inflame religious feelings. But the raid set off a firestorm among the Sunni Muslims who have been Saddam Hussein's strongest supporters and the fount of the insurgency. After the 1 p.m. prayers on Friday, clerics led a large crowd of worshipers into the mosque's courtyard for choruses of contempt for America and denunciations of American troops they accused of tearing up Korans, smashing wooden doors in the sanctuary and otherwise 'desecrating' Islam. The American command denied the allegations."

Here, on the other hand, is how Luke Harding of the British Guardian begins his report on the same raid:

"Surrounded by upturned chairs and an abandoned turban, Sabah Al-Kaisey surveyed his ransacked office yesterday. The American troops who burst into his mosque on Thursday morning had smashed down the front gate, broken the air conditioners and ripped up the carpets. They had also thrown several Korans on the floor and allegedly punched the man giving the call to prayer in the face. 'They even took our nuts,' said Mr Kaisey yesterday, opening the door of the mosque's empty fridge."

Read them both and see what you think. It certainly wouldn't surprise me if the mosque was indeed filled the weapons of insurgency, nonetheless the effect of the two stories is certainly quite different as is the impression they give of U.S. tactics in Iraq. If you don't grasp the impact of such American actions -- of angry, undoubtedly nervous American troops bursting into a holy place and ripping it up (think: defilement) -- you're not going to be able to imagine the kinds of resistance such actions are likely to arouse and then how will you make sense of Iraq? I hate to mention Vietnam...

And if, perchance, you wanted to read an investigative report on -- ho-hum, another Vietnam-ish topic -- the way we may be setting up a mini-version of the CIA's infamous and murderous Vietnam-era Phoenix Program in Iraq, you would naturally turn to a publication with investigative clout and resources, something major with a lot of well-funded reporters on hand -- let's say that monster of the media, American Prospect magazine. There, Robert Dreyfuss informs us about the latest plans of frustrated neocons to win the counterinsurgency war in Iraq now by using a $3 billion "black budget" hidden in Congress's Iraq appropriation bill.

"With the 2004 electoral clock ticking amid growing public concern about U.S. casualties and chaos in Iraq, the Bush administration's hawks are upping the ante militarily. To those familiar with the CIA's Phoenix assassination program in Vietnam, Latin America's death squads or Israel's official policy of targeted murders of Palestinian activists, the results are likely to look chillingly familiar.

The Prospect has learned that part of a secret $3 billion in new funds-tucked away in the $87 billion Iraq appropriation that Congress approved in early November-will go toward the creation of a paramilitary unit manned by militiamen associated with former Iraqi exile groups. Experts say it could lead to a wave of extrajudicial killings, not only of armed rebels but of nationalists, other opponents of the U.S. occupation and thousands of civilian Baathists-up to 120,000 of the estimated 2.5 million former Baath Party members in Iraq.

'They're clearly cooking up joint teams to do Phoenix-like things, like they did in Vietnam,' says Vincent Cannistraro, former CIA chief of counterterrorism. Ironically, he says, the U.S. forces in Iraq are working with key members of Saddam Hussein's now-defunct intelligence agency to set the program in motion."

This should be headline news, but will it make it out of that modest magazine or off the web?

The point is, if you read American Prospect or visit Antiwar.com or regularly stop at the Guardian or Asia Times, there's plenty to learn about what's actually happening in our world. There you can find journalists and analysts ready to put things together for you. Here, aside from the odd op-ed page columnist like Paul Krugman or James Carroll, the mainstream is an interpretive desert. The main activity in the mainstream media, in a sense, is the disconnect, the breaking of the large into its component parts and then the staring at each one as if it were a unique event or an anomaly.

Faced with the coherent, repetitive kingdom of lies which is the Bush administration, lies that are utterly familiar and yet endlessly and effectively reiterated, our media has proved hopeless and helpless -- alternately cowed, complicit, confused, and largely incapable of making connections. Though enough stories have appeared to add up to a list of scandals, lies, and corrupt practices that make the Clinton impeachment proceedings look like the most minor of minor league events, they are never actually added up. Remember those investigative series on Whitewater, Travelgate, and other potential Clinton scandals that graced the front pages of our newspapers in the Clinton years? Where, oh where, is such reporting today?

We've probably never had an administration which is so much a matter of linkages and connections -- government, corporate, military, think-tank, lobbyist. And this is the moment our media has chosen to demobilize itself. They are in full disconnect mode.

Yes, there are scandals that have individually been well covered in recent months, particularly in the Washington Post. Yes, the New York Times front-paged its coverage of the Halliburton fuel-overcharging scandal and recently the Boston Globe's Stephen J. Glain had a good business piece on "allegations of corruption and cronyism" associated with Iraq's reconstruction that have caused the Pentagon to postpone the handing out of much of that $18.6 billion appropriated by Congress. But these are almost invariably dealt with as isolated matters.

If you want to find a listing of the scattered lies and scandals, of the mis- and disinformation campaigns of this administration in one place, you have to turn to dissident websites like the always interesting Democrats.com where Bob Fertik and Ted Kahl in 'Top Bush Scandals of 2003, Part I: Iraq' list twenty of them ranging from lying to Congress and war profiteering to "the hiring of murderers and training of assassins" -- including (#7) the administration's massive disinformation campaign itself that accompanied the drive to war, the war, and the postwar months without cessation.

"...[T]he White House and the Pentagon used a massive disinformation campaign to 'sell' the war to the American people before the invasion, and that disinformation campaign is still ongoing. This disinformation campaign has been conducted through 'leaks' to both the mainstream media (including front page NY Times propaganda by Judith Miller about Iraq's aluminum tubes) and to the right-wing media. This disinformation campaign successfully convinced a majority of Americans that Saddam was involved with September 11, a lie that Bush himself actually refuted. Still, this campaign continues, most recently with the alleged memo from the head of Iraqi intelligence claiming Mohamed Atta spent 3 days being trained in Iraq before the September 11 attack; this memo was revealed as yet another hoax, since FBI records show Atta was in the U.S. at the time. There has been no Congressional investigation of this disinformation campaign, and it will most likely continue through election day and beyond."

A rare list of administration lies in the mainstream can be found in a recent piece by Ruth Rosen, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. She picks seven of the most "egregious" lies, of which I offer, more or less at random, four:

"Our economy (actually, corporate profits) is rapidly recovering -- despite the fact that homelessness, hunger, outsourcing of jobs overseas and lagging job growth have widened the gap between people who can buy luxury goods and those who can't make ends meet.

We are safer now, even though commercial airplanes and ships anchored in our ports still carry cargo that is not inspected for lethal weapons. Our invasion of Iraq, moreover, has inflamed much of the Islamic and Arab world and alienated our traditional allies.

The military action in Afghanistan was an immense success. Nevertheless, the Taliban have regrouped, Osama bin Laden remains at large, warlords run the provinces surrounding Kabul and the new constitution appears to do little to improve the legal rights of women.

We are so committed to democratic principles that we must export them to Iraq. At the same time, the Patriot Act has challenged some of our most cherished civil rights and liberties at home."

Otherwise, the scattered lies and scandals still await their collective moment, while (like the Nixon administration) the Busheviks do their canny best to push them off to a distant, post-election future as, for instance, they have done with the outing of Valerie Plame, CIA agent and former ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife. This was an egregious act of retribution for Wilson's outing of the administration on the President's State of the Union Niger uranium claim. The administration's Plame Dance has been particularly skillful, given that the leaker(s) can hardly be a secret to those running things in Washington (who may, in fact, have done the leaking). First, the Justice Department pursued the case with a slowness that ensured the shredding machines plenty of work time; then Ashcroft oversaw the case, only recently recusing himself, to give the charming impression of doing "the right thing."

Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern has written a fine assessment of what the belated appointment of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as "special counsel" in the Plame case actually means (Don't Be Fooled):

"Even the Times, in its 'Right Thing' editorial, notes that 'there are still serious questions about the investigation,' namely, will Fitzgerald have 'true operational independence.' The odds are strongly against it.

"Let not yesterday's maneuver obscure the fact that in naming Fitzgerald, who remains under the authority of Ashcroft's deputy, the Bush administration has rejected the only appropriate course-naming a complete outsider to be special counsel, as Justice Department regulations allow. Why has that path been rejected? One need not be paranoid to see these latest moves as evidence the White House has something very sensitive to hide. Has one of their senior officials committed a felony, endangered lives, and vitiated the ability of a senior intelligence official to use her net of agents to acquire critical information on weapons of mass destruction (Valerie Plame's portfolio)?...

"The Bottom line? As Shakespeare put it, the truth will out-eventually. But at this point it seems a safe bet that (as with the phantom "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq) the full truth about White House v. Wilson/Plame will remain hidden until after the November election. It will be interesting to see if our embedded mainstream press aids and abets that kind of delay."

The "intelligence community" is still seething on this subject -- and many others; the military is roiled; and Washington is at the edge of war with itself (even without the Democrats going into serious opposition). Anything could burst out, despite the Bush administration, at any time.

Just connect - the global dots

To finish off this dispatch, I thought I might offer some global-level, end-of-the-year connections made by others -- the sorts of connections you simply can't find in our press (no less - don't even think about it - on television, a few Frontline documentaries aside). For any attempted large snapshots of how our imperial globe fits together today, you have no choice but to look to the margins, or abroad.

Here, then, are three large snapshots/interpretations with a few interpolations from elsewhere -- not one from a mainstream source in this country. The fact is (in case nobody's noticed), even at year's end, when summing-up is usually the order of the day, there remains something of a taboo in the American press against linking three or four countries in the same article or op-ed or column, even, it seems, a taboo against wide-ranging reports or analysis of any kind. So the three pieces included below come from the Moscow Times, New Labor Forum, and the blog of a well-known scholar of imperial decline, Immanuel Wallerstein.

Let's start with "'Bleeding strategy' comes home," contributed to the Moscow Times by Nicholas Berry, director of ForeignPolicyForum.com. He makes a fascinating suggestion for which a little background is in order. During the Age of Reagan, as the Pentagon budget was being hiked into the heavens -- quite literally with all the r&d for "Star Wars" weaponry -- it was often suggested by conservatives that we were pursuing a policy meant to "bleed" our superpower opponent to death economically via an escalating arms race in which the Soviets couldn't afford to compete without bankrupting themselves. The idea was that the Soviet economy simply wouldn't be able to take it. And when the Soviet Union collapsed during the first Bush administration, it was often argued by Cold War triumphalists that this was exactly what had happened. (This is in dispute. The best argument I've seen against the Soviet-collapse-from-bleeding argument can be found in Frances Fitzgerald's book on the Reagan administration as a cross between a Byzantine Court and the Keystone Cops, Way Out There in the Blue.)

Now, Berry argues, there's reverse "bleeding" thinking out there in the world. Various other power centers are reconciled to the Bush administration's narrow focus on the war on terrorism and Iraq, and are happy not to offer much help on the economics of that war. They are content to sit back and "let the United States bleed itself," knowing that with ballooning deficits Bush's unipolar world won't last long. Berry writes:

"Bush then is free to pursue his narrow agenda. And that leaves the rest of the world free to pursue their agendas without much U.S. interference. Russia moves to reestablish its sphere of influence and rejoin Europe. China advances its economy and regional influence in its pursuit of great power status. The EU concentrates on expansion, unity and even military cooperation."

This is certainly an interesting suggestion and I urge you to consider the whole article. Behind this lie two developments -- both involving old Cold War opponents. China has long been seen by a core of hawkish thinkers in and out of this administration as the great future opponent of the United States. A number of them were ready to pursue an aggressive policy of "containment" against China, but their policies have largely been thwarted by the developing catastrophe in the Middle East. Iraq is threatening to swallow up -- à la Vietnam -- all other global policies.

In the meantime, China, while offering various kinds of mollifying support to the Bush administration, has indeed begun to emerge as a rival -- economic, not military -- in Asia. As Martin Jacques wrote recently in the Guardian (A Year of Thwarted Ambition):

"Opposition [to the Bush administration], moreover, was not confined to the European powers. Russia was of similar mind, notwithstanding the fact that ever since the days of Boris Yeltsin, a man of ignominious and tainted memory, it had chosen to side with the US on issues of major import. China trod the same course, wearing Hush Puppies, desperate not to be noticed, because while there could be no doubt where China's true sentiments lay, the world's next superpower is playing a very long game, one of the longest history has ever known, subordinating temptation and instinct to its strategic desire not to alienate the US in the course of its breathless economic transformation."

Martin Walker, senior correspondent for UPI and a most knowledgeable observer, wrote similarly in a year-end piece (U.S. distracted -- and the world changed):

"China has been on a charm offensive, wooing India -- its only serious strategic challenger on the Asian mainland -- and the ASEAN group of Southeast Asian nations with trade pacts and treaties of friendship. China has played the role of a responsible great power in helping the United States manage North Korea's nuclear threat. And China is fast becoming Japan's major trading partner, while also helping the U.S. finance its trade deficit by buying almost $100 billion of U.S. Treasury bonds in the last year...Only a decade ago... China was close to being a rogue nation. Today, with an economy almost three times larger than it was back in 1989, China looks less menacing, but potentially far stronger... The EU now invests more in Latin America than the United States, and China is now Argentina's largest market -- signs of erosion in Washington's role.

"America's focus on the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq has shrouded the degree to which other countries are making their own arrangements... Historians may yet look back to define the Bush presidency as the era when America's moment of undisputed power began to give way to a new balance among a series of regional powers, each able to challenge American dominance in its own sphere of influence."

Meanwhile in the borderlands of Russia and Central Asia, a new "cold war" is slowly heating up as Russia threatens to reassert itself as a modest regional imperial power in areas where, since the Clinton administration, the U.S. has made military and economic inroads as a global imperial power. The Guardian's Jonathan Steele lays out the bruising American side of that new cold war as it's being played out in Georgia, the small state on Russia's border, where a "velvet revolution" recently took place (The new cold war):

"Bush's people supported Clinton's strategy of diminishing Russia. In power, they sharpened it. They exploited the terrorism scare of 9/11, plus Putin's desire for US acquiescence to his failed war in Chechnya, as a way to get Moscow's consent to the establishment of US bases in central Asia. Geared as a temporary measure against the Taliban, they are determined to keep them for possible use against Russia, China and the Middle East. They accelerated the 'pipeline wars' in the Caucasus by pressing western companies to cut Russia out of the search for oil in the Caspian and make sure that none was transported through Russia."

Conservative columnist Eric Margolis of the Toronto Sun in his end-of-the-year roundup offers these brief comments on Russia's leader (The good, the bad and the lucky):

"Barely noticed by the outside world, this hard man has gathered all the reins of power in Mother Russia and put his former KGB colleagues in charge of just about everything important. The unsmiling, incorruptible Putin is laying the foundation for the re-emergence of Russia as a great world power and the reincarnation of the old Soviet Union. Czar Vlad I bears much watching."

Walden Bello, the Philippine economist who always has a strong eye for the ways in which things don't mix-and-match at a global level, suggests in a year-ending piece for New Labor Forum that "developing countries, some once hopeful that the WTO [World Trade Organization] would in fact bring more equity to global trade, unanimously agree that most of what they have reaped from WTO membership are costs, not benefits. What happened? In a word, Empire. It turns out that globalization and U.S. unilteralism don't mix."

Finally, Immanuel Wallerstein of Binghamton University considers the underlying problems of the U.S. dollar -- it's that "bleeding" problem again -- saying in part:

"The U.S. deficit is no longer being covered by dollar inflow, which poses dilemmas for the U.S. Treasury. And the situation is kept from total immediate disaster only by the decision of East Asian governments (and particularly China) to continue to buy U.S. Treasury notes. China (and Japan and South Korea) do this out of self-interest of course. But their investment in dollars puts them at risk as well, and they may soon decide that the advantages are outweighed by the dangers to their own resources. In any case, the United States is now dependent on them for its continuing economic health, not vice versa, which is hardly a position of economic strength. And meanwhile, the U.S. is up for sale to outside investors, the inverse of what the U.S. would like the situation to be."

Additional dispatches from Tom Engelhardt can be read throughout the week at TomDispatch, a web-log of The Nation Institute.

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