Friday, May 18, 2007

Rejecting Reality in Iraq

By Robert Parry
May 18, 2007

The well-regarded British research organization, Chatham House, has published a new report with the seemingly unobjectionable title “Accepting Realities in Iraq.” But it is that difficulty – facing up to what is real – that has been at the heart of this political and military catastrophe.

From the beginning, George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisers have put ideology and wishful thinking ahead of rationality and realism. This tendency explains why so many pieces of evidence cited to support the Iraq invasion have proven false and why so many claims of progress have proven overly optimistic.

Read on.

Michael Moore's New Film Takes on the Health Industry, Gets Him in Trouble with Treasury Dept.

For those who have been wondering, as I have, when Michael Moore's film taking on the health insurance industry would finally be complete, there's no need to wait any longer. Yesterday, Moore announced that the film was finished and that it would be debuting at the Cannes Film Festival, which opened on Wednesday.

Moore explained the lack of publicity surrounding the film, titled "Sicko," in a letter to supporters yesterday:

My intention was to keep "Sicko" under wraps and show it to virtually no one before its premiere in Cannes. ... [My] silence was also because I knew that the health care industry -- an industry which makes up more than 15 percent of our GDP -- was not going to like much of what they were going to see in this movie and I thought it best not to upset them any sooner than need be.
But there is some concern that he will have trouble even getting the film out of the country and to the Cannes festival.

"For some strange reason," he explains, "on May 2nd the Bush administration initiated an action against me over how I obtained some of the content they believe is in my film."

Bush's Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, launched an investigation of a trip I took to Cuba to film scenes for the movie. These scenes involve a group of 9/11 rescue workers who are suffering from illnesses obtained from working down at Ground Zero. They have received little or no help with their health care from the government. I do not want to give away what actually happens in the movie because I don't want to spoil it for you (although I'm sure you'll hear much about it after it unspools Saturday). Plus, our lawyers have advised me to say little at this point, as the film goes somewhere far scarier than "Cuba." Rest assured of one thing: no laws were broken. All I've done is violate the modern-day rule of journalism that says, "ask no questions of those in power or your luncheon privileges will be revoked."

This preemptive action taken by the Bush administration on the eve of the "Sicko" premiere in Cannes led our attorneys to fear for the safety of our film, noting that Secretary Paulson may try to claim that the content of the movie was obtained through a violation of the trade embargo that our country has against Cuba and the travel laws that prohibit average citizens of our free country from traveling to Cuba. (The law does not prohibit anyone from exercising their first amendment right of a free press and documentaries are protected works of journalism.)

I was floored when our lawyers told me this. "Are you saying they might actually confiscate our movie?" "Yes," was the answer. "These days, anything is possible. Even if there is just a 20 percent chance the government would seize our movie before Cannes, does anyone want to take that risk?"
In order to avoid the master copy of the documentary being confiscated by the Bush administration, Moore made a duplicate master copy last week and smuggled it out of the country.

While this action taken by the Bush administration may seem extraordinary, it actually fits in quite well with a pattern it has established over the past several years. Since taking office, Bush has been cracking down hard on Americans who defy the Cuba travel ban, on both individuals and agencies that specialize in travel to the forbidden island. In 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department suspended the licenses of four travel agencies and six religious organizations for illegally providing travel to Cuba.

Also, Bush's use of the Treasury Dept. to go after Michael Moore, a long-time thorn in the side of the administration and its corporate allies, is reminiscent of other actions taken by the government against administration critics, including environmental groups, civil liberties organizations, and peace groups.

In 2003, for example, Attorney General John Ashcroft’s Justice Department dusted off an 1872 law against “sailor-mongering” to prosecute Greenpeace. The case against the environmental organization followed an attempt by a couple of its members to board a ship transporting illegally harvested Brazilian mahogany. The protesters intended to unfurl a banner that read, “President Bush: Stop Illegal Logging.”

The law that was used against them however was clearly never intended for environmental activists. Its purpose was described by an Oregon court in 1890: to prevent “the evil” of “sailor-mongers [who] get on board vessels and by the help of intoxicants, and the use of other means, often savoring of violence, get the crews ashore and leave the vessel without help to manage or care for her.”

The environmental group came under attack again in 2005 when the IRS launched a months-long audit of the organization for alleged money laundering and other crimes. The audit was prompted, according to an IRS auditor, by complaints from a group called Public Interest Watch, which has been funded almost entirely by Exxon-Mobil.

Greenpeace and other administration critics also have been investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. “The FBI has in its files 1,173 pages of internal documents on the American Civil Liberties Union, the leading critic of the Bush administration's antiterrorism policies, and 2,383 pages on Greenpeace,” the New York Times reported. [NYT, July 18, 2005]

Another group singled out by the FBI was United for Peace and Justice, which has facilitated many of the mass marches against the war in Iraq. Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator for the coalition, said she was particularly concerned that the FBI’s counterterrorism division was examining the coalition’s operations.

“We always assumed the FBI was monitoring us, but to see the counterterrorism people looking at us like this is pretty jarring,” Cagan said.

So, despite how extraordinary the administration's actions against Michael Moore may seem, unfortunately, they should not come as a surprise. Nevertheless, "Sicko" is being called Cannes' "hottest ticket," and with the positive publicity the film is sure to receive, it could prove quite difficult for the administration to succeed in squashing the movie, as it seems intent on doing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Iraq War: Going, Going, ...

By Robert Parry
May 17, 2007

How should the American people interpret the extraordinary fact that George W. Bush couldn’t convince a single retired four-star general to sign up as the new “war czar” for coordinating the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan – and finally had to settle for an active-duty three-star general who had opposed Bush’s “surge” in Iraq?

After an embarrassing failure to convince at least five former generals, including one of the original “surge” architects, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, to take the new high-powered job, Bush finally gave the “war czar” role to Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, a known critic of Bush’s troop escalation in Iraq.

Read on.

Jerry Falwell's Deal with the Devil

By Robert Parry
May 16, 2007

The Rev. Jerry Falwell’s death will elicit scores of eulogies on the good the televangelist did, even while acknowledging some hurtful actions, such as blaming gays and civil libertarians for 9/11. But there is another little-known chapter of Falwell’s career: his collaboration with a Korean cult leader bent on transforming the United States into a theocracy.

Like other prominent Republican figures, Falwell entered into a behind-the-scenes alliance with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon even as the self-proclaimed Messiah was denouncing America as “Satan’s harvest” and vowing to incorporate the United States into a worldwide theocratic empire that would eradicate all individuality.

Read on.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Iran's Mission Accomplished

By Ivan Eland
May 16, 2007

With its usual tin ear for public relations, the Bush administration provided another “Kodak moment” of incompetent belligerence by yet again sending a high-level administration official to use an aircraft carrier as a prop for a hawkish rant.

Vice President Dick Cheney did manage to refrain from displaying another “Mission Accomplished” banner during his address to the crew of the John C. Stennis, stationed 150 miles off Iran’s coast. But as Cheney warned Iran against disrupting oil transportation routes or getting nuclear weapons, the speech’s imagery also reminded the American public of President Bush’s previous fiasco on another aircraft carrier.

Read on.

Monday, May 14, 2007

How George Tenet Lied

By Ray McGovern
May 14, 2007

Mercifully, the flurry of media coverage of former CIA director George Tenet hawking his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, has abated. Buffeted by those on the right and left who see through his lame attempt at self-justification, Tenet probably now wishes he had opted to just fade away, as old soldiers used to do.

He listened instead to his old PR buddy and “co-author” Bill Harlow who failed miserably in trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. By this point, they may be having second thoughts.But, hey, $4 million is a sizable sum, even if split two ways. But, aside from the money, what else could they have been thinking?

Read on.

No More Purple Fingers: GOP Disappointed with Iraq's Government

Republicans in Congress who once seized on the election of an Iraqi government as a total vindication of George W. Bush's decision to invade the country and overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein, are now expressing overwhelming disappointment in that very government.

As Reuters reported yesterday,

The top-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate on Sunday expressed frustration with the Iraqi government, saying Republicans were "overwhelmingly disappointed" with the lack of political progress.

"The Iraqi government is a huge disappointment," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN'S Late Edition on Sunday.

"So far, they've not been able do anything they promised on the political side," the Kentucky Republican said, citing the Iraqis' failure to pass a new oil revenue bill, hold local elections and dismantle the former Baath Party of Saddam Hussein. "It's a growing frustration."

"Republicans overwhelmingly feel disappointed about the Iraqi government," he added.

It's a far cry from the sentiment expressed at Bush's 2005 State of the Union address, given just weeks after Iraq's much-heralded national elections. At that that State of the Union, Republican lawmakers dyed their fingers purple in a gesture meant to convey their solidarity with the people of Iraq and its newly elected government.

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The purple fingers were a reference to a technique used in the Iraqi elections to protect against voter fraud. After casting their ballots, Iraqis had their fingers dipped in purple dye, in order to prevent multiple voting. The practice produced many media-friendly images which were broadcast widely on U.S. television in a self-congratulatory atmosphere, with pundits endlessly marvelling at how proud Americans should be for bringing democracy to the long-oppressed Iraqi people. One of the most iconic of these images was of a young Iraqi woman giving the "victory" sign with her purple-stained finger:

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This image became a symbol of the hope that the U.S. had brought the people of Iraq, particularly the women.

But even at the time, most commentators seemed to miss the significance of the elections, which astute observers noted actually pointed to the desire of the Iraqi people for U.S. and coalition forces to leave their country. As Matthew Rothschild wrote in The Progressive,

Despite President Bush's trumpeting of the elections as a symbol of support for the U.S. efforts, many Iraqi voters, like [Khalid] Kareem, cast their ballots to boot out the Americans. Even in Fallujah, a city that is one of the most potent symbols of resistance to the occupation and the new government, local leaders and resistance groups risked assassination by jihadis by encouraging their followers to vote and avoid attacking polling stations. In some cases, these leaders even called upon their people to protect polling stations from Al Qaeda operatives, who threatened death for anyone participating in the political process.

Rothschild quoted Moayed Jassim Abed, a truck driver from Ramadi, who seemed to reflect the sentiments of many Iraqi voters, that their primary concern in electing their government was the ongoing problem of security. "We want security and stability," Abed said. "The Americans have been there three years and they have done worse than Saddam has done."

By participating in the electoral process and electing a national government, Abed, like so many other Iraqis, hoped that he would be hastening the day that the Americans would leave.

Beyond anecdotal evidence, Rothschild also cited a nationwide poll conducted just before the election:

A recent Oxford Research Associates poll conducted for a number of Western media organizations found two-thirds of Iraqis oppose the presence of U.S. troops in their country. In the same poll, "occupation forces" came last behind religious leaders, police, the United Nations, the new Iraqi army, and political parties when Iraqis were asked, "How much confidence do you have in ...?" A survey conducted by Iraqi pollster Saadoun Al-Dulaimi (now the minister of defense) ahead of the January 2005 elections found that 85 percent of Iraqis wanted withdrawal "as soon as possible."

A secret poll taken by the British Ministry of Defense less than a year later found an even greater majority of Iraqis opposing the presence of foreign troops in their country. The poll, reported the conservative British Telegraph, found that 82% of Iraqis opposed the occupation and that up to 65% of Iraqis supported attacks on occupation forces. Fewer than one percent thought that U.S. and British military involvement was helping to improve security in their country.

Now, two years later, with the security situation in Iraq worse than ever, it appears that the Iraqi parliament is finally coming to express the popular will of the Iraqi people. As the Washington Post reported last week,

A majority of members of Iraq's parliament have signed a draft bill that would require a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Iraq and freeze current troop levels. The development was a sign of a growing division between Iraq's legislators and prime minister that mirrors the widening gulf between the Bush administration and its critics in Congress.

The draft bill proposes a timeline for a gradual departure, much like what some U.S. Democratic lawmakers have demanded, and would require the Iraqi government to secure parliament's approval before any further extensions of the U.N. mandate for foreign troops in Iraq, which expires at the end of 2007.

For his part, Mitch McConnell said that if the Iraqi legislation passes, the U.S. would be happy to leave the country. "I want to assure you, if they vote to ask us to leave, we'll be glad to comply with their request," he said.

If so, it may mark the first time that Republicans actually respect the popular wishes of the people being occupied by U.S. forces, or for that matter, the American people, who also support ending the occupation as soon as possible. These wishes have been expressed both in public opinion polls, and at the voting booth. As Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) noted last week,

The congressional vote reflected public opinion about the war. Before the [November 2006 congressional] election, the Iraq war was a top priority for 61% of Democrats and 52% of Independents, compared to 38% of Republicans. Democratic Party leaders in both the House and the Senate have explained their effort to pass legislation to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq as keeping faith with the voters in the November 2006 congressional elections, which brought Democrats to power. As Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) put it, “Last fall, the American people voted for a new direction in Iraq.”

Public opinion has become even more opposed to the war since the November elections. A recent New York Times-CBS News poll found 64% of Americans supported a timeline for withdrawal in 2008. A CNN poll shows that 54% of American opposed the Bush veto of the deadline for withdrawal bill. In February 2007, the Vermont state legislature became the first in the union to support resolutions calling for immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Other states may follow as they see the congressional initiative stall.

If other states begin to follow suit as FPIF predicts, and if the anti-occupation legislation passes in the Iraqi parliament, it could be interesting to watch just how stubborn George Bush and his allies in Congress remain in continuing this unpopular war. With the vast majority of the world, as well as the Iraqi and American people, opposed to the war, the Republican rationales for continuing it are increasingly difficult to justify.

Indeed, if by dipping their fingers in purple ink they meant to indicate their support for democracy -- either in Iraq or at home -- they would be working to end this war as soon as humanly possible.