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The ‘Clash’ Crowd
A Short List Gets Shorter
Making the Link
No Liberal Savior?
Resisting a Referendum in Georgia
Red, White, Blue and Green

War Watch
The ‘Clash’ Crowd

Osama bin Laden is back, and so are the conservative columnists suggesting that the Bush administration’s war on terror is, in fact, a war for western civilization. But those columnists aren’t about to criticise the administration for its recent tunnel-vision focus on Iraq. Rather, they argue that Saddam Hussein is another of those seeking to topple everything western.

Daneil Henninger, writing in The Wall Street Journal doesn’t even stop at Hussein. Rather, Henninger claims that “Islamic fundamentalism, Saddam Hussein, Palestinian suicide bombers, the Beltway sniper and North Korea’s weapons builders” all seek to “pull us back now to prehistory.”

“This is the world of blood feuds, which civilized men sought to end dating back to the medieval age. Blood feuds, by tradition waged without end, are fought on behalf of individuals or tribal groups that have been dishonored. Saddam and bin Laden would damage America because it is complicit in the dishonor of the Palestinians. Blood feud, which is blood vengeance, recognizes but a single political instrument: killing. What is more, it eliminates one of the most important civilizing achievements of the West: the tempering of individual conscience. Bali is justified. September 11 is justified. The sniper is an al Qaeda hero.”

Adopting the same apocalyptic tone, Brink Lindsey decries the “new barbarian threat” of Islamic fundementalism. But Lindsey reserves his harshest criticism for those in Europe and the US who dare oppose the confrontational agenda:

“The slouching relativism and decadent ennui that rationalize appeasement must be kept at bay; more than that, they must be scorned and ridiculed and stigmatized. This is not to say that there must be unanimity about all matters concerning the war — not at all. But there can be no acceptable dissent regarding the West’s moral superiority to Islamist totalitarianism, or the right of liberal civilization to defend itself effectively against the barbarian threat. Simply put, there can be no tolerance of intolerance.”

Henninger and Lindsey, like most mainstream conservatives, studiosly avoid the issue of religion. Not The Washington Times‘s Diana West, who take the White House to task for its lack of angry zeal:

“I haven’t understood the Bush push to console and placate Muslims over September 11 since Sept. 12. This round of Ramadan outreach looked like more of the same.

Thanks to, among other things, the separation of church and state, it’s not in the president’s job description to be an Islamic scholar; but neither is it incumbent upon him to take up the pompom for old Islam. This seems particularly clear now that Mr. Bush has decided to weigh in on the blunt critiques of Islam offered by several conservative Christian leaders who have voiced their reactions (negative) to the violence at the core of Islam’s unreconstructed traditions of jihad. Islam is violent, said one. Islam is evil, said another; and besides, said another, Mohammed was a pedophile. Historic truths or baseless slanders? If the president has his way, we’ll never know.”

Polly Toynbee, writing in the London Guardian, is one of the few left-leaning pundits to give careful consideration to such “clash of civilizations” claims. And she finds the underlying logic compelling. But her conclusion is sure to horrify West.

“What binds together a globalised force of some extremists from many continents is a united hatred of western values that seems to them to spring from Judeo-Christianity. The danger is that we fall for their own Ummah myth-making and start to define the west as some kind of “Christendom” in response, which it is not. The west is secular and multi-ethnic.

The clash of civilisations here is not with Islam: it is with religion itself, a clash between modernity and the middle ages. Islam is just the emotional battle flag rallying post-colonial, disenfranchised people living under feudal governments.”

A Short List Gets Shorter

The Bush administration’s planning for a post-Saddam Iraq took a significant blow last week, when Danish authorities placed a leading member of the Iraqi opposition under house arrest while investigating war crimes allegations against him.

General Nizar al-Khazraji fled Iraq in 1995, and has been described as the favorite candidate for leadership among State Department and CIA planners. However, as The Scotsman reports, al-Khazraji’s past may finally be catching up with him at a crucial moment.

“General Nizar al-Khazraji, the highest-ranking military officer to defect from Iraq, has been touted as a leader of the remnants of the army in any post- Saddam regime.

But Danish prosecutors have been investigating whether he played any role in the gassing of Iraqi Kurds in 1988 when he was chief of staff of the Iraqi army.

On Tuesday night a Danish judge ordered him to be put under house arrest after he indicated he was planning to leave the country.”

So, who stands to gain if al-Khazraji is out of contention? Jim Lobe argues that the biggest winner will surely be Ahmed Chalabi, a favorite of “neo-conservative hawks around Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney.”

“Chalabi, who hails from an aristocratic Shi’ite family, has depicted himself as an Iraqi nationalist dedicated to human rights, the rule of law and a federal structure for a future Iraq that would guarantee greater autonomy for the country’s disparate regions and ethnic groups.

That image has won him significant support in the US Congress, which in 1998 approved the Iraq Liberation Act (ILA), a bill that provided almost US$100 million in aid for opposition groups, particularly his INC.

But what has really given him political muscle in Washington is the enthusiastic backing he has received from a group of neo-conservatives closely identified with Israel’s Likud Party and associated with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Project for the New American Century (PNAC).”

Making the Link

The Bush administration has totally failed in its attempt to draw a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. In fact, there is a great deal of evidence that Osama bin laden and his followers counted the Iraqi regime among its enemies in the Arab world. But, as Daniel Schorr writes in The Christian Science Monitor, Washington’s single-minded pursuit of war with Iraq might forge a real link in place of the conjectural connection.

“[R]ecently there have been indications that the two have been finding common cause in the conflict with America, at least for propaganda purposes.

Since then, a written statement from Al Qaeda, received by Al Jazeera addresses Americans, saying, ‘You are placing Muslims under siege in Iraq, where children die every day … how weird that you do not care for 1.5 million Iraqi children who died under siege but when 3,000 of your compatriots died, the whole world was shaken.’ This is as far as Al Qaeda has ever gone in embracing the cause of Iraq. If there was no such link between the two before, they certainly seem interested in establishing that there is one now and that Islamic terrorists are rallying around this secular – but anti-American – regime.”

Daily Briefing
No Liberal Savior?

Even pundits on the left are now admitting it: The Democrats got hustled in the elections. Unable to build a campaign around the issues they dominated in public opinion polls, the party let the GOP set the tone — and the tone was war and security. Now, a number of pundits are taking aim at the Democrats for letting the Republicans ride that same message through the final days of the Congressional session.

The lopsided legislative finale, marked by the passage of the Homeland Security bill, is causing some to wonder whether the emergence of the liberal Nancy Pelosi as the new Democratic leader in the House will really mean anything. Arianna Huffington even wonders whether Pelosi’s liberalism might have gone missing.

“The woman answering Tim Russert’s questions might have looked like Pelosi but she sounded like a character from ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’. What had happened to the Congresswoman from California? Gone was the bold, combative, impassioned, progressive politician we’ve come to know over her 15 years in the House. In her place was a soulless pod person — an empty shell mouthing the kind of pallid, inoffensive, focus group-tested and cringe-inducing platitudes that have driven two-thirds of the American electorate away from politics — and a little more than half of the remaining one-third away from the Democratic party.”

The last thing the Democrats need at this point, Huffington argues, is “another champion of compromise — another Dick Gephardt.” James Carville agrees. In a new report, Carville’s Democracy Corps suggests that Democrats still have a chance, but only if they tackle issues on which they are strong — particularly health care, energy security, the economy, social security, and tax reform.

“Without trying to judge which bold proposals Democrats should advance, we simply want to underscore that this was an electorate hungry for Democrats who speak out and address the country’s greatest problems. In light of what happened after 9-11 and with the Democrats silent on the economy, they gave the edge to the Republicans, but not a mandate. Once again, this is still the Democrats’ moment.”

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle seems ready to follow Carville’s advice, vowing that next year’s Democratic minority will employ filibustering, and more outspoken dissent, to assure that any bills that they “consider to be bad pieces of legislation never get through the Senate,” Mark Preston and Paul Kane report in Rollcall:

“‘There will be those occasions when we think [Bush] is wrong, and in those cases we will have no recourse but to stand up and argue our positions and attempt to change the course of legislation he is proposing. … We are going to think a lot more [about] how we can more forcefully and more successfully get our message out.'”

Naturally, conservatives are predicting political disaster if the Democrats rediscover their partisan teeth. If Democrats in Congress move to the left, the National Review argues in an editorial, they will not only fail to attract the support of the nation, they will also divide their own party in the process:

“A lot of Democrats, especially in marginal seats, are not going to follow the party’s march of folly to the left. Apart from its other disadvantages for Democrats, the new strategy will also split them.”

Still, the Review seems a tad uncomfortable with the idea of a combative opposition. If the Democrats do rediscover their liberal roots and move to the left, the editors declare, “we will just have to redouble our efforts to keep them from the levers of power.”

Resisting a Referendum in Georgia

Georgia’s Republican Governor-elect Sonny Perdue used a proposed referendum on restoring the state’s Confederate-era flag as a rallying point in his campaign to oust incumbent Democrat Roy Barnes. That tactic earned Perdue scorn and charges of race-baiting. Now, the prudent Perdue is backing away from the issue and doing his best to downplay its role in his campign.

The editors of The Augusta Chronicle applaud Perdue’s caution, understatedly approving of his resolve not to divide Georgians along racial lines and preemptively excusing him for any campaign promises that he might break:

“This newspaper supported the 1956 flag for many years until it became clear the state was paying too high a price – economically and racially – to persist. The old flag belongs to the past, and it should stay there. The new flag should point to the future.”

Michelle Cottle of The New Republic concedes that “Perdue’s frantic, early efforts to duck a racially-tinged campaign promise regarding the state’s flag may prove at least temporarily successful.” But Cottle doesn’t buy for a moment that Perdue never placed the flag issue at the center of his campaign. His plea to the contrary is “a whopper on the magnitude of ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman,’” she claims. Of course, the voters most upset with Perdue now are those in favor of the old flag, including the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Now, Cottle argues, Perdue should have to live with the consequences of his opportunism:

“Just because Candidate Perdue has become Governor Perdue — a bona fide statesman yearning to unite, not divide — doesn’t mean he should be allowed to forget all that quasi-race-baiting he engaged in on the trail. A shrewd politician, Perdue knew what kind of ugly little game he was playing.

Letting Perdue off the hook would send crafty, opportunistic politicians a very bad message: that it’s OK to run on any manner of nasty, divisive, inflammatory issue because you can always just change your tune once elected.”

Red, White, Blue and Green

Making the argument that national security depends on reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil, greens have begun casting energy conservation in a patriotic light, Amanda Paulson writes in The Christian Science Monitor.

“Energy security ‘is an issue that has percolated very quickly to the top over the course of the past 15 months,’ says Jon Coifman, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group in Washington. ‘People are saying, ‘We want to meet our needs for mobility and transportation and hauling the soccer team around, but we don’t need to make ourselves dangerously dependent on foreign oil to do that.’ ”

In some ways, Paulson notes, the greens are just stepping in where Washington refuses to go. During past crises, including World War II and the Arab Oil Embargo, the government encouraged energy conservation.

“What is different this time, however, is that the calls for conservation are more bottom-up: Many come from ordinary citizens, hoping that if they speak loudly enough, their leaders will listen. And their disparate voices seem to be tapping into a very real — and unmet — need for some Americans to be asked to do their part in the war on terrorism.”

Judging from recent events in Washington, however, the leaders aren’t listening. Last week, the White House proposed raising SUV fuel efficiency standards a measly 1.5 percent over three years, a target even lower than the auto industry’s own. Underwhelmed, the editors of San Jose’s Mercury News dismiss the administration plan as “anemic.”

“Regarding the Bush administration’s proposal to improve fuel efficiency in SUVs: If half a loaf is better than none, how good is a slice? In this case, it is hardly better than nothing.”

An Emperor and
His Satraps

Total Information

The War on Truth
Another Security

Covering for
Big Tobacco

Venezuela’s Future

Editor’s Note: War Watch and Daily Briefing will go on holiday this week, starting on Thanksgiving Day. We will return on Tuesday, December 3.

War Watch
An Emperor and His Satraps

Historical analogy has never been more popular. President Bush is comparing Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler, and Bush himself is being compared (favorably) to Teddy Roosevelet and (unfavorably) to de Gaul. And America is being compared to every imperial power in modern Western history.

But Eric Margolis of the Toronto Star, a conservative columnist who has consistently argued against a war in Iraq, says we need to delve a little deeper for satisfactory metaphor. Citing the manner in which Bush is chiding European allies to fall in line, Margolis argues that the president seems to be following some very old and very imperial footsteps.

“Flashback to 480 BC. Ultimatum from Persia to Athens: ‘Emperor Xerxes orders you to surrender your weapons and become an ally.’

Message from Xerxes to his satraps – subordinate rulers within the mighty Persian Empire: ‘I intend to … march against Greece, and thereby gain vengeance on the Athenians who have wronged Persia and dared to injure me and my father!’

Ten years earlier, Xerxes’ father, Darius, had attacked Athens but failed to crush the defiant little state. Now Xerxes was summoning his satraps to finish the job, warning that Athens was a threat to the entire civilized world.

Flash forward 2,482 years to Prague. Bush’s cartoon characterization of Saddam Hussein as a second Hitler plays well in unworldly Peoria and the U.S. Bible Belt, but it produced derision or dismay among sophisticated continental Europeans, many of whom regard the sabre-rattling, imperial-minded Bush administration as more alarming than Iraq or Osama bin Laden.

The Bush White House has little interest in strong allies, Margolis argues. Rather, it “is demanding its subordinate ‘allies’ contribute troops whenever it so orders, just like Darius, Xerxes, and every feudal system and empire in history.”

Mainstream American pundits routinely describe the US as the world’s lone superpower. European pundits have adopted a slightly different term — “hyperpower.” Like Margolis, Alexander Cockburn argues that we should all just start using the term that fits best: empire.

“Of course the United States has been an imperial power for many, many decades, but when Teddy Roosevelt used to blare out the summons to imperial duty like a Roman matron admonishing youth, there was a certain embarrassment at his bluff speech.

And whereas the Clinton regime sedulously cultivated liberal internationalism, Bush’s entourage contained proponents, notably Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, of a more brazen posture on who exactly is the world’s boss. The stage was set for preemptive interventions, far more blatant than the old CIA-organized coups of earlier decades.

The basic aims of American international strategy have changed barely at all since the end of the Second World War. The difference is in the degree of frankness with which the brute realities of world domination are discussed.”

Indeed, the Bush administration has made no secret of its determination to dominate world affairs — particularly in military terms. But, as Thomas P. Thornton of The Christian Science Monitor points out, those in Washington with imperial designs have several questions to answer:

“Others have explored some of these – our continuing need for allies, for instance. But there are two other points that deserve attention.

The first asks an uncomfortable question for Americans: Are our values and virtues, as distinct from our affluence and popular culture, really universally admired and desired? And perhaps more to the point, despite President Bush’s ritualistic affirmations of American goodness, would the world be a better place if our writ ran unchallenged?

Before we set about reordering the world, we as citizens need to ask ourselves whether we have any realistic idea of what the costs and burdens will be. Lord Acton’s dictum that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely should give us pause as we soberly consider whether even ‘the greatest nation in the world’ should be entrusted – or even want to be entrusted – with such a task.”

Not surprisingly, John Derbyshire of The National Review is happily untroubled by such questions. Sharing deep insights gained during a brief visit to Canada, Derbyshire argues that Americans must be excused for dismissing the rest of the world.

“When you go amongst foreigners, or read their commentaries, you realize just how far ahead of the world America is. People and governments everywhere are struggling with, and locked in earnest debate about, matters we thrashed out a year, or five years, or ten years ago.

America today, the world tomorrow. This is the place where things start first and end first. This is the great laboratory; this is where stuff happens… GIs in Vietnam used to refer to America as ‘the real world.’ That’s what we are, that’s what I mean: the real world. The rest of them catch up with us eventually, of course; but by that time, we are doing something else.”

War Watch has to wonder … what exactly does Derbyshire think the rest of the world will “catch up” with in the future? Maybe the creation of a national security database cataloging the private and public acts of every citizen? Oh, wait, some of them have already tried that.

Total Information Wariness

Speaking of the Total Information Awareness matter …

The Bush administration and the Pentagon leadership is defending both its plans for a national data tracking project and its choice of convicted Iran-Contra comspirator John Poindexter to lead the effort. If John Nichols is being reassured by the Washington platitudes, it isn’t showing.

“There is nothing legitimate – or necessary – about creating the sort of massive, secret surveillance network that the TIA has the potential to become. If Poindexter’s latest scheme is fully realized, terrorist plotters won’t be the only ones posing threats to the security of average Americans. The most persistent threat may well come from reckless players within their own government – one of whom, John Poindexter, has a track record of lawlessness.

That track record should be enough to disqualify Poindexter for the job, Derrick Z. Jackson argues in The Boston Globe. Moreover, he writes, the Bush administration’s choice of Poindexter should be enough to convince an already skittish America that our rights are under seige.

“The facts of Poindexter’s lying and gutting of the Constitution were never in dispute, not when he defiantly told the world, ‘The buck stops here with me.’

Now the Bush administration, as if to punctuate its assault on civil liberties under the cover of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has appointed Poindexter to figure out how to assemble and use all the data one could possibly gather on Americans. The stated reason is to spot and stop terrorist activity. By appointing Poindexter, the administration justifies fears that it will treat our privacy in the cavalier way that Poindexter once treated the law.”

Faced by such concern, conservative nabob Michael Scardaville offers this recycled reassurance: “only those already identified as terrorists have anything to fear.”

“What the government seeks to do with TIA is piece together the puzzles of terrorist networks before they launch their attacks. And it wants to do this in such a way — in fact, Poindexter and his staff spend much of their time on it — that our privacy and civil liberties are protected to the maximum extent possible.

And they are doing, if not the Lord’s work, the work of the American people, who since Sept. 11, 2001, have called for some systematic way for various intelligence and other fact-gathering agencies to share and analyze information.”

Even if they wanted to, Poindexter and his subordinate snoops “simply won’t have time to monitor who plays football pools, who has asthma, who surfs what websites, or even who deals cocaine or steals cars,” Scardaville asserts.

Maybe they won’t. But who’s to say the information they collect will stay safely locked away, Molly Ivins asks.

“[C]an we trust the government to keep all this information solely for the task of tracking terrorists? Funny you should ask. The Wall Street Journal reports this week that shortly after Sept. 11, the FBI circulated the names of hundreds of people it wanted to question to scores of corporations around the country, sharing the list with car rental companies, banks, travel firms, casinos, truckers, chemical companies and power plants.

‘A year later, the list has taken on a life of its own, with multiplying — and error-filled — versions being passed around like bootleg music. Some companies fed a version of the list into their databases and now use it to screen job applicants and customers.’ The list included people who were not suspects at all, just people the FBI wanted to talk to because they might have had some information. But, the Journal reports, a Venezuelan bank’s security officer sent the list, headed ‘suspected terrorists sent by the FBI,’ to a website.”

Unlike Scardaville, fellow conservative Cal Thomas doesn’t try to hide the fact that the TIA and other administration initiatives are a direct assault on civil liberties. Rather, Thomas makes the equally threadbare argument that Americans are willing to sacrifice those liberties because (wait for it) … we’re at war.

“Most Americans would probably favor a more aggressive and empowered federal government if it lessens the likelihood of further terrorism. The niceties of civil liberties appear to have been lost on the September 11 hijackers and the countries from which they came. Wartime rules must be different from those in peacetime.

If we must pay an uncomfortable price of wiretaps and e-mail interceptions because we refused to heed the early warning signs, so be it. It beats the alternative of nerve gas in subways, poisoned water supplies and explosions, which would cause thousands of additional deaths.”

The War on Truth

The Pentagon may be planning to collect as much information as possible on what everyday Americans are doing, but we shouldn’t expect the same in return. In fact, the Pentagon brass is planning to pass along as little information as possible, writes William Arkin in the Los Angeles Times. And when the Pentagon does answer questions, there is less and less reason to believe them, Arkin declares.

“Increasingly, the administration’s new policy — along with the steps senior commanders are taking to implement it — blurs or even erases the boundaries between factual information and news, on the one hand, and public relations, propaganda and psychological warfare, on the other. And, while the policy ostensibly targets foreign enemies, its most likely victim will be the American electorate.

The problem is that Rumsfeld’s vision of information warfare seems to push beyond the notion that American ideas and information should compete with the enemy’s on a level playing field. And Rumsfeld’s vision, with its melding of public information and deception, is taking root in the armed services.

That is bad news for the American public. In the end, it may be even worse news for the Bush administration — and for a U.S. military that has spent more than 25 years climbing out of the credibility trap called Vietnam.”

Daily Briefing
Another Security Handout

As Congress voted through the Homeland Security Bill last week, much less attention was paid to the long-delayed passage of the Terrorism Insurance Bill. But pay the taxpayers will, in the event of more terrorist attacks, thanks to legislation that guarantees $90 billion per year in federal bail-outs to the insurance industry for any terrorism-related losses exceeding $5 million.

Rebuffing criticism that the bill was simply a corporate handout, President Bush argued that it was a measure to reenergize the floundering economy: “Terrorism insurance will help get America’s hard hats back on the job, create new jobs for America’s workers, and spur billions in new investment in construction projects all across the country.” But neither Bush nor any Congressional supporter of the bill was able to provide a list of projects that they say had stalled due to terrorism insurance concerns, Seth Sandronsky opines on, while Congress simultaneously failed to extend unemployment insurance to a million jobless Americans, who face much more immediate and evident financial perils:

“[T]he U.S. political system is increasingly relying on taxpayer dollars to protect rich people from market harm, unlike workers….

The president had claimed that the insurance bill would help create new jobs in the construction industry. The evidence for his assertion was not forthcoming. The market is truly a miracle for property insurers. When the public’s wallet is spread wide for the pickings by Capitol Hill and the White House, of course.

On the outside of this market solution looking in are about one million jobless workers. Their unemployment insurance wasn’t extended by the 107th Congress. It finished on Nov. 22 for the year without acting to prevent the cutting off of these workers’ payments during the year-end holiday season.”

But while the bill defers terrorism-related losses to the tax-payer, it protects even companies based abroad that pay no taxes, and guarantees losses that may be better classified as “terrible” than “terrorism,” Lucy Komisar writes for Pacific News Service:

“Could arson that destroys a $5-million building be called ‘terrorism’ by insurance companies that would rather see taxpayers pick up the losses? Since terrorists don’t leave calling cards, how would one know? This business-friendly administration, making political capital out of fear of terrorism, may not hesitate to grant that label on behalf of its corporate supporters.

Beneficiaries of the new legislation even include ‘alien insurers,’ companies that set up phony Bermuda or Barbados addresses to escape U.S. taxes. They don’t pay in, but U.S. taxpayers will pay out.

There’s nothing in the new law that requires insurance companies to rebate premiums, even though, with the government handout, insurers are not paying all the costs of claims. In fact, policyholders will pay a surcharge of up to 3 percent of their premiums to refund the federal handouts.”

Some contend, however, that the government ought to front the brunt of terrorist-related losses. The editors of the Palm Beach Post go so far as to endorse terrorism insurance as a way to level the playing field for an industry that relies on predictable patterns of death to turn a buck:

“It’s doubtful that insurers even should try to cover terrorism. Insurance is based on predictability: Statisticians can predict how many in a group will die by a certain age and how many will be involved in crashes. Premiums are based on such predictions, but losses due to terrorism are rare and random and therefore unpredictable. Investors demand insurance for buildings, though, so insurance there must be….

It won’t be enough by itself to put Americans to work or secure the economy, but protection against the unpredictable is an appropriate government role in current circumstances.”

And insurers will continue for some time to take Washington up on its plum offer of compensation. But perhaps the gravest indication of corporate pampering is that, while the industry’s threats of widespread market collapse have long since dissipated, the triggers of the hand-out have grown all the more lax, according to a scathing editorial in USA Today:

“Without the coverage, [insurance companies] predicted, banks wouldn’t lend, developers wouldn’t build, real estate agents wouldn’t sell, and the economy would grind to a halt.

Congress responded by drafting modest legislation to provide a temporary financial backstop for insurers in the event of more terrorism. Unexpectedly, however, the legislation was delayed – and the industry’s warnings proved false. Instead of collapsing, the economy adjusted. Development and lending continued, terrorism insurance emerged, and sky-high prices for coverage started to fall, according to a recent report from the Consumer Federation of America.

Yet lawmakers are ignoring the facts. On a busy Tuesday that saw the Senate approve a new Department of Homeland Security, senators took another step sold as needed preparation for future terror attacks. This measure is supposed to shield insurers from the financial devastation of covering billions in terrorism claims. In reality, by joining the House in passing overly generous protections – up to $262.5 billion over three years – the Senate puts taxpayers at risk while exposing special interests’ willingness to exploit 9/11 for their own gain.”

Covering for Big Tobacco

It’s a record worthy of the most nefarious criminal cartel: Trading with Iraq. Colluding with Russian gangsters. Winking at the crimes of Colombian narco-traffickers. Such are the charges against R.J. Reynolds, the US tobacco giant, which is being sued by 10 European countries for running an international smuggling conspiracy.

None of these revelations, however, has dented the Bush administration’s unswerving support for Big Tobacco, the editors of The Washington Post note. Indeed, the White House has obstructed passage of a World Health Organization treaty on tobacco regulation at every turn.

“Tobacco-control measures should not be subject to challenge on trade grounds, because trade rules should promote the free exchange of goods, not bads, such as tobacco. Smuggling should be suppressed wherever possible. Cigarette packs should carry prominent health warnings, and misleading terms such as ‘light’ and ‘mild’ should be forbidden. All these policies are common-sensical. And yet the Bush administration has mostly dragged its feet. It needs to start lifting them.”

Why is Washington stalling the treaty? To The San Francisco Chronicle‘s David Lazarus, the answer is obvious: money. Observing that Philip Morris alone contributed $2.7 million to Republican candidates in the latest election cycle, Lazarus writes that, in this case, corporate interests trump all.

“‘The U.S. delegation wants to protect one of its largest campaign contributors, which is the tobacco industry,’ Hammond said. ‘There’s no other logical reason to oppose the treaty as it looks now.'”

Handicapping Venezuela’s Future

As all eyes are firmly planted on the Middle-East, it seems that the US has sorely neglected the upheaval in its own backyard. While a new wave of Democracy and economic opportunity appear to be ascending in places like Brazil and Mexico, Latin America is still rife with repressive regimes, corruption, and overwhelming poverty. Venezuela is perhaps the new posterchild for potential gone sour.

Michael Shifter argues in the Houston Chronicle that Venezuela’s political crisis is “already the most volatile in the hemisphere,” with the country at the edge of “paralysis, chaos and, conceivably, civil war.” Suggesting that Chavez retains only 25 percent of his countrymen’s support, Shifter notes that the increasingly vocal opposition — comprised of the nation’s middle class and civic organizations — is demanding a referendum on Chavez’s legitimacy. For his part, Chavez is attempting to postpone such a move until August of 2003, an attempt to further “consolidate his dictatorial powers,” his opponents claim. Shifter contends that the US must take an active role if disaster is to be averted:

“The United States must catalyze and mobilize the support of other governments and exercise its weight to create conditions for a democratic solution. After the April embarrassment [in which the US tactlessly exposed its biases during a botched coup attempt], it has been loath to get more involved and has hoped that somehow things would work themselves out.”

The editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor observes that Venezuela, “which should be rich because it’s the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, is in political chaos as rioters, police, and the Army clash in the nation’s capital.” Chavez’s promises to open Venezuela’s markets and for “natural abundance” have only “created a culture of high expectations that’s led to a high level of political corruption,” adds the Monitor:

“Venezuela is in such a violent mess that its main hope rests on the mediation of the Organization of American States, which has become a force for maintaining Latin America’s recent gains in democracy.”

The Washington Times‘ Mike Ceaser also reports that the Chavez regime has given direct support to anti-government guerrillas groups in Columbia in the form of money and regular arms shipments. That aid has focused on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which, like all of Columbia’s guerilla and paramilitary factions, has been accused of gross human rights violations.

Nevertheless, pundits such as Peter Hakim of the Los Angeles Times are less pessimistic about the overall prognosis for Latin American. Eschewing any alarm over the rise of Lula in Brazil, Gutierrez in Ecuador, or other seemingly anti-western forces nearby, Hakim suggests that the order of the day has become moderation, “and not extremism.” He dismisses the fears of American lawmakers such as Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, who “already see the emergence of a Latin axis of evil, with Lula making common cause with Fidel Castro and Chavez.” The dictators, adds Hakim, are simply old-guard exceptions and “Latin America’s most vocal populist, Chavez, may soon be forced from office.”

Pining for

The Saudi Tangle
Anger Up North


Nigerian Freefall
Pumping Toxins

Editor’s Note: War Watch and Daily Briefing will go on holiday this week, starting on Thanksgiving Day. We will return on Tuesday, December 3.

War Watch
Pining for Failure

Do conservatives want UN arms inspectors to fail in Iraq? They certainly seem eager to dismiss the inspections as a waste of time and move on to war.

Hans Blix, the much-maligned leader of the UN effort, has warned Baghdad that it must convincingly prove it has no weapons of mass destruction, and do so quickly. But that isn’t enough for US hawks, who are urging the Bush administration to turn up the heat on the inspectors and iraq alike.

Predicting that the Iraqi regime will outfox the UN team — and suggesting that UN officials will welcome being outfoxed — Fareed Zakaria declares that Washington “must force a crisis” to end the diplomatic maneuvering and clear the way for military action.

“Time is short. If events do not come to a head soon after Dec. 8, the pressure for action will dissipate and the weather will make conflict impossible until next fall. And you cannot replay this movie. America’s Arab allies like Qatar and Kuwait will not find credible Washington’s renewed bellicosity and will not stick their necks out yet again, the inspections process will have become more political and France and Russia will have gained support in the Security Council. At home, the continuing uncertainty, high oil prices and low business investment will cripple the economy. The administration has set its course. It’s now or never.”

Now would be just fine with Jack Wheeler, who suggests that the UN teams could force Iraq into showing its intentions (and, he predicts, violating the rules) by aggressively searching for buried weapons stores and hidden laboratories.

“It is vitally necessary that such precipitation happen soon. We cannot wait until next summer when it is far too hot in Iraq for U.S. soldiers to wear chemical protection suits. For the evil of the Barefoot Beggar to be terminated, it must be done quickly.”

Like most conservative hawks, Gary Milhollin dismisses any suggestion that the UN inspectors will adopt an aggressive approach, happily jumping on the belittle-Blix bandwagon.

“If he is aggressive, and proves Saddam is lying, it will show noncooperation, just what the Pentagon is waiting for. Mr. Blix will then be the chump in the play — the first U.N. bureaucrat to hand the world a war.

If the inspectors continue as they have begun, Saddam will never be forced to give up his mass destruction arsenal — which every Western intelligence service believes he has — because Mr. Blix will never uncover what is hidden. The world should demand that Mr. Blix confront Saddam now with the best evidence the West can muster, and insist on explanations.”

Of course, the conservative leaders of the anti-Blix crowd are in the Bush administration. And, as Howard LaFranchi of The Christian Science Monitor reports, those administration hawks are hoping to bypass the inspections (and the inspectors’ findings) by claiming that Baghdad has already violated the rules.

“The process has already begun, with US assertions that Iraqi attacks on allied aircraft patrolling two no-fly zones over the country breach the resolution’s demands.

The administration’s intent in publicly forcing up the heat at this stage couldn’t be more apparent, experts say. ‘The administration has a clear strategy under which it is racking up the allegations of failure to comply [with the UN], starting with the no-fly zones, and thereby raising the threshold for cooperation,’ says Ivo Daalder, a foreign-policy analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington who served in President Clinton’s National Security Council.

‘What has [the administration] worried is that they won’t get out of the inspections early on anything that’s a clear violation to press the need to go to war,’ Mr. Daalder adds. ‘So what they’re trying to do is build a record.'”

Finally, at least one prominent conservative pundit remains hopeful that the inspection mission can work — and that war can be avoided. Robert Novak, who has remain steadfast in his opposition to a US-led attack, argues that the president is likely to ignore the Blix-bashing attack-now hawks if inspectors issue a clean bill of health. What reason does Novak cite for making such a logical leap?

“Bush has gone well beyond what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and their non-government advisers always have opposed. They did not want UN involvement, weapons inspectors, coalition building or even an active role by Colin Powell. Until Bush accepted Powell’s advice on returning UN weapons inspectors, Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld publicly dismissed renewed inspections as a waste of time.

According to the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz strategic thinking, the change of regime in oil-rich Iraq would enable an end to traditional U.S. energy dependence on and military alliance with Saudi Arabia. In contrast, Powell is still seeking a resolution of Iraq’s fate under which the Saudi royal regime would remain allied with Washington.

If Saddam opposes or stalls the inspectors, he surely faces multinational military action to seal his fate. But what if he cooperates and no cache of weapons is found? The calm and collected George W. Bush who talked with Powell on the way to Prague seems ready to accept that outcome.”

The Saudi Tangle

Of course, Powell’s hope for a lasting alliance with the Saudis is being strained by more than just the administration’s stance on the inspections. The disclosure that a Saudi diplomats wife gave money to a man who may have helped two of the Sept. 11 hijackers is causing conservative pundits to again demand that Washington pressure the Riyadh regime to crack down on Saudi support for Islamic radicals.

As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, administration advisors are recommending an “action plan” to President Bush under which the US would present the Saudis with intelligence and evidence against Saudi citizens “coupled with a demand they be put out of business.”

“In return, one official said, the Administration will say: ‘We don’t care how you deal with the problem; just do it or we will’ after 90 days.”

Such gunboat diplomacy would undoubtedly please the devoted Saudi-haters on the New York Post editorial board, who argue that the White House cannot hope to combat terrorism without getting tough with Saudi Arabia.

“If President Bush is to make good on his vow to “starve the terrorists of funding,” he and his administration cannot go on turning a blind eye to the deceitful game being played by the House of Saud.

The princes may want to play both sides of the terrorism game, but America can’t let them get away with it.”

But will the administration listen? As numerous left-leaning pundits have reminded us in recent months, the White House is far more interested in Iraq than al Qaeda these days. And, as The Christian Science Monitor reports, that priority will probably lead the administration to take a far more conciliatory approach:

” Now is not the time for the Bush administration, with its focus on Saddam Hussein, to publicly press Saudi Arabia on the touchy issue of Islamic charities and their financing.

‘The last thing this administration wants right now is a big controversy over terrorist financing,’ says Doug Bandow, a foreign policy expert at the conservative Cato Institute in Washington. ‘For Bush, it would raise the question or what do you care more about – the terrorists that attacked us, or Saddam Hussein?’ he says. ‘That’s a debate this administration can’t win.'”

Anger Up North

When it comes to bilateral ties, Washington’s relationship with Canada is certainly more stable than its relationship with Saudi Arabia. But that doesn’t mean that our neighbors to the north are exactly gushing with fraternal spirit.

Francoise Ducros, an aide to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, has resigned after she was overheard calling President Bush “a moron” during last week’s NATO conference in the Czech Republic. But, as Steve Burgess writes, her outspoken dismissal of the US leader appealed to many Canadians — and not just to members of the Canadian left, who Burgess takes to task for their “relentless demonizing of the American ogre.”

“[I]n many other ways, northern anti-Americanism is not only understandable but inevitable. And for that, President George W. Bush must carry the can.

As the U.S. prepared to attack the Taliban, Bush called for allied support. Canada responded by sending troops to Afghanistan.

And how did the president say thank you? By imposing a massive tariff on Canadian softwood lumber, a tariff that threatened doom for the West Coast lumber industry and made a mockery of our vaunted North American Free Trade Agreement (not to mention the supposedly fundamental Republican commitment to free trade). The World Trade Organization criticized the U.S. tariff as pure politics. The Canadian government howled. No matter.

Meanwhile, four Canadian troops were killed in Afghanistan when an overzealous American pilot bombed them during a training exercise. The military investigation was secretive and grudging, while Michigan politicians began raising money to protect the U.S. pilots from a ‘witch hunt.’

And Canadians asked: Is this how America rewards its friends?”

Blaming Multiculturalism

Still, when it comes to jingoism and discriminatory fervor, American conservatives are often in a class of their own.

Plenty of conservatives (and more than a few liberals) have argued that America’s borders are too porous. And the Bush administration has taken the arguments to heart — at least when it comes to immigrants and visitors from Islamic countries. But Paul Craig Roberts isn’t about to be satisfied by even the most draconian of immigration guidelines. The real threat, Roberts claims in a Washington Times column, comes from the fact that the US has become a multicultural society.

“Western governments are undermining themselves by creating populations of disparate peoples with disparate rights. The resulting antagonisms are inconsistent with liberal democracy. The clash of civilizations is upon us from within our own borders. If China and Islam only bide their time, the world is theirs. It is not the end of history; it is the end of the West.”

Daily Briefing
Card-Carrying Conservatives

Conservative Republicans have made a habit of attacking the American Civil Liberties Union — and any Democratic politician associated with it — as bastions of liberalism. Now, two stalwarts of the GOP’s conservative wing — former Congressmen Dick Armey and Bob Barr — are joining the ACLU and its fight against the Bush administration’s assault on civil liberties.

Of course, neither is in a position to pay a political price for the decision.

Maria Recio of the Fort Worth Star Telegram reports that Armey, to his credit, actually became an outspoken advocate for civil liberties before announcing his retirement from Congress. Now that he has retired, Armey will join the ACLU as a part-time consultant on privacy issues, an increasingly central battle for the group. Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, explains:

“Majority Leader Armey has been a tireless and fearless advocate for the right to privacy against unwarranted intrusion by the government, and we have been proud to count him as an important ally on this crucial issue.”

Recio says Armey has recently distinguished himself — to the amazement of his critics in Texas and Washington — as a staunch libertarian and independent thinker, aggressively challenging the administration’s legislative excesses, notably proposals for national identification cards and the Operation TIPs community surveillance program.

Barr, meanwhile, built a legislative record even more conservative than Armey’s. But the Georgia lawmaker, who lost in the Republican primary earlier this year, also built a record of consistently supporting the ACLU on Fourth Amendment issues. According to Jill Lawrence of the USA Today, Barr has been working closely with the group since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing on efforts to protect privacy rights. While one ACLU director praises Barr for being “instrumental in preventing a lot of overboard wiretapping laws,” Lawrence also notes that the group’s new high-profile advisors are also part of a strategy.

“The prominent additions could soften the ACLU’s ultraliberal image. They are also a bow to the fact that Republicans will soon control both the White House and Congress.”

Nigerian Freefall

Could a newspaper article about a beauty contest drive Nigeria toward civil war?

In the country’s mostly Muslim north, sectarian rioting over the article, in which a female journalist suggested that the Prophet Mohammed might have chosen one of the contestants in the Miss World contest for a bride, claimed the lives of more than 200 people. Now, the leaders in one northern state are calling on Muslims to kill the journalist, and the nation’s embattled government has responded by meekly promising to crack down on “irresponsible” newspapers.

Sadly, observers suggest, the conflict is just business as usual in the religiously- and ethnically-divided country, which some predict is primed to fall apart.

Since Nigeria’s emergence from decades of military rule, many of its Muslim states have adopted Islamic law, as Stephan Faris reported in a Mother exclusive earlier this year. The move has exacerbated tensions in a country already plagued by skyrocketing poverty, crime and corruption and, as a result, sectarian violence has become increasingly common, touched off by the slightest provocations. Given the situation, writes Libby Purves in The London Times, President Olesegun Obasanjo should have known what he was getting into:

“Into this powder-keg the Nigerian Government saw fit to toss the match of Miss World. The dazzle of winning blinded them to the dangerous fact that being world-class at putting young women in revealing clothes does not endear you to the strict Muslim tendency. Lunatically, they scheduled the show during the holy month of Ramadan (it was moved only recently).”

The editors of Zurich’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung, meanwhile, accuse Muslim leaders of inciting a religious war, and blast Obasanjo for refusing to take them on.

“The Muslim elite in the country’s north is reluctant to accept the fact that, instead of one of its own, a Yoruba from the South — and practicing Christian — is in charge of the oil riches. They have not stopped at fomenting religious strife in pursuit of their interests, with the recent disturbances over a Miss World pageant planned for the capital Abuja an aftershock of previous conflict. Fanatics used discontent in the Muslim community to drive the government into a corner… As the secular constitution has been undermined in the North, the government stood by. Now it seems ready to sacrifice fundamental rights to its instinct for appeasement.”

Finally, Karen McVeigh suggests in The Scotsman that the latest spate of rioting raises serious questions about Nigeria’s continued viability as a state.

“Just three years into its current experiment with civilian government, Nigeria is again facing the fundamental question of its 42-year existence: Can the centre hold? … A country that desperately needs to pull itself together is showing signs of pulling itself apart. With civilians in power again, the question is whether Nigeria can survive democracy.”

Pumping Toxins

Community wells in Bangladesh, paid for by foreign aid, may be responsible for what the World Health Organization is calling “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history.”

According to a new report, 36 million people have been exposed to arsenic as a result of drinking water pumped from millions of wells built in the last 30 years. And the wells themselves may be responsible, Australia’s ABC News reports.

Scientists have determined that the contamination was probably triggered by “massive pumping for irrigation.” As water was pumped out, the water table was drawn down, leeching arsenic from the soil, ABC reports.

A second study indicates that the use of contaminated water for irrigation has spread the poison to the country’s rice crops, Tom Clarke reports in Nature. Already, approximately 3,000 deaths and 125,000 cases of cancer a year are blamed on arsenic poisoning, and Clarke writes that contaminated rice will only add to the toll:

“Rice comprises 73 percent of a Bangladeshi’s caloric intake and arsenic is in much of the country’s groundwater. In polluted regions arsenic intake could be much higher than estimated. ‘In some regions rice could be the dominant source of arsenic,’ says [biochemist Andrew] Meharg.”

Scientists have solutions: filtration systems and deeper wells. But, as Clarke reports, it is unlikely any will be built.

“Bangladesh may never see deeper wells. They are far more expensive and would need to replace between six and 10 million existing wells. What’s more one development agency, the British Geological Survey, is currently being sued by Bangladeshi villagers for sinking wells that led to the poisoning in the first place. ‘One wonders if anyone will risk making any recommendations,’ says [geochemist Robert] Poreda.”

Bangladeshis aren’t limiting their anger to the courtroom, either. Recently field workers sent to test the wells in a village were assaulted by residents after returning contradictory results for samples taken from a single well, Environmental News Service reports.


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