The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The media's assault on reason

The media's assault on reason

by Eric Boehlert

How hard is it to figure out if a book has footnotes? When it comes to Al Gore's new, national bestseller, The Assault on Reason (Penguin Press, May 2007), it's trickier than you think for some disdainful members of the Beltway press corps.

On June 10, The Washington Post published an opinion column by Andrew Ferguson about Gore's new book. Personally, I give The Assault on Reason high marks as a spot-on, truth-telling critique of the Bush administration, as well as for the insightful concern Gore expresses about the fragile state of American democracy. Or, "what passes for a national conversation," as Gore puts it.

Not surprisingly though, Ferguson, an editor at the Rupert Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard, disliked the book, waving it off as "a sprawling, untidy blast of indignation."

What was embarrassing for both Ferguson and the Post was that in the very first sentence of his column, Ferguson made a whopping error when he condescendingly observed that The Assault on Reason had no footnotes. (The book is such a mess, footnotes would have been of no use, he suggested.) The problem, according to Ferguson, is that without footnotes readers have no way of checking the sources for the many historical quotes Gore uses in the book, including one on Page 88 from Abraham Lincoln that Ferguson would "love to know where [Gore] found."

In fact, if Ferguson had simply bothered to look, every one of the nearly 300 quotes found in The Assault on Reason is accompanied by an endnote with complete sourcing information, including the quote on Page 88 that Ferguson focuses on. The endnotes consume 20 pages of the book.

But such is life for Al Gore when dealing with the Beltway press, where his vociferous critics cannot be bothered with the simplest fact-checking task, while oblivious media outlets such as the Post print up the errors.

Of course the thick irony here is that Gore's book laments the state of our crumbling national dialogue, yet it's the press that often deliberately dumbs down and interrupts our "conversation of democracy." Gore doesn't often explicitly connect the dots in his book, but the press remains a culprit throughout.

For instance, Gore writes extensively about the culture of fear that developed following the terrorist attacks on 9-11:

The single most surprising new element in America's national conversation is the prominence and intensity of constant fear. Moreover, there is an uncharacteristic and persistent confusion about the sources of that fear; we seem to be having unusual difficulty in distinguishing between illusory threats and legitimate ones.

The sad fact is that the media have played a central role. Everyone remember the Great Duct Tape Scare of 2003?

Gore also decries the fact that the Bush administration misled Americans about Saddam Hussein's alleged stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. But the White House had lots of help in spreading that phony prewar tale, including The New York Times' Judith Miller to the whole Fox News team, to name just a few.

Gore does offer a specific critique of television and blames it for polluting the national conversation. Too much Anna Nicole Smith and Britney, says Gore. And of course he's right. The cable news nervous breakdown that was broadcast last Friday afternoon when Paris Hilton was taken back to jail simply proved Gore's point, and specifically that it's journalists who are driving the celebrity-as-news obsession, not news consumers. (MSNBC producers were heard screaming when Hilton first emerged from her home in handcuffs on Friday.) In the 24 hours after Friday's news broke, "Paris" was mentioned nearly 800 times on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, combined. That same day, Gen. Peter Pace, who oversees the war in Iraq, resigned as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His name was mentioned fewer than 100 times by the three cable news channels, according to

But the problems extend far beyond celebrity-obsessed cable news channels. Proof of the broken system? Just look at the Beltway media's reaction to Gore's book release. Thanks to the likes of ABC News, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, the coverage has, at times, been comically shallow, small, and dishonest. That's what's wrong with our "national conversation."

And Gore has the 2000 campaign scars to prove it, having suffered some of the most egregious media cheap shots in modern political history. (Inventing the internet, anybody?) Indeed, it's no exaggeration to say Gore is out on book tours today instead of sitting in the Oval Office because of the wildly dishonest press coverage he received during that presidential campaign, in which he was depicted as a stiff, phony bore who lied.

That lazy narrative still sticks to this day. Time magazine, in an otherwise flattering profile, recently wrote of Gore, "He was never quite the wooden Indian his detractors made him out to be in 2000 (nor did he claim to have invented the Internet), but he did carry himself with a slightly anachronistic Southern formality that was magnified beneath the klieg lights of the campaign."

See, it was the klieg lights that doomed Gore in 2000, not the dishonest journalists, who actually doubled as the unnamed "detractors" referenced by Time.

And in a recent New York Times Magazine profile, James Traub wrote that in 2000 Gore "was, to all appearances, an unhappy guy running against a happy guy; and Americans like their presidential candidates to be happy." Unhappy? Of course, when Gore lip-locked his wife on national television at the Democratic convention in an unexpected display of unbridled joy, the pundits descended to probe and dissect the smooch, before dismissing it as a likely calculated ruse.

It seems Gore has been cursed with the life sentence of suffering newsroom fools gladly. Indeed, much of the Beltway media's response to The Assault on Reason was depressingly predictable and dim-witted. As Bob Somerby noted at his weblog, The Daily Howler, "It's obvious how it's going to go as the press corps pretends to discuss Al Gore's book. Gore has said our discourse is broken -- and our pundits are going to rush out to prove it."

Appearing on ABC's Good Morning America, Gore was forced to suffer through an extended sit-down with host Diane Sawyer, who, like so many of Gore's recent interviewers, appeared only interested in talking about whatever presidential aspiration he may or may not have. First question: "OK. You're not gonna tell me again that you have no plans to run, are you? Tell me this morning." (FYI, it's telling that during an hour-long conference call with prominent liberal bloggers during his book tour, not once was Gore asked about his White House hopes. Instead, the bloggers actually engaged Gore on the substance of his book, as well as the day's current events. How quaint.)

Later, Sawyer, reciting GOP talking points regarding anyone who questions the failed war in Iraq, tried to set a word-game trap for Gore:

SAWYER: And another point you say, "If Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11, the president took us into a war he didn't have to. Three thousand Americans and countless Iraqis died unnecessarily." Are you saying, in this book and this morning, that Americans -- 3,000 of them -- died unnecessarily?

GORE: See, that's the kind of buzzword approach: "Is it an unnecessary death?" No. Those who serve our country are honored in memory and those who are still serving are always honored. That's not the question. There is hardly anybody in America left, Diane, who doesn't believe that it was a terrible mistake to invade a country that didn't attack us.

And then there was this dopey back-and-forth between Gore and Nightline's Terry Moran, who really has no idea how modern politics works in America; an awkward fact Gore was forced to (politely) highlight:

MORAN: So, if this fall, a sufficient number of Democrats came to you and said, "This is your moment. We needyou. The country needs you."

GORE: Well, I'm not -- I -- it doesn't happen that way anymore.

MORAN: It has.

GORE: You know, 100 years ago, there were times when something like that happened. It hasn't happened in, in the last century or so, and that's just not the way our political system works now.

At another point, Moran, who like so many journalists was determined to portray The Assault on Reason as a bitter, anti-Bush screed, asked Gore if it was "the book you wanted to write after the 2000 election?" (i.e. payback). But how on Earth could Gore have wanted to write this book right after 2000 if most of the events discussed in the book (the war with Iraq, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, corporate tax cuts, etc.) hadn't even occurred yet?

Meanwhile, over at, Jake Tapper analyzed The Assault on Reason. Busy portraying Gore as a Michael Moore-type radical (as if Moore's ideas are radical), Tapper theorized that, although there is no mention of it in the book, Gore would probably support impeaching Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Gore, in fact, does not support impeachment, which, of course, is why Gore did not write about impeaching Bush or Cheney in his book.

Bottom line: Gore was trying to have a debate about democracy while Sawyer, Moran, and Tapper were inserting words into his mouth, asking silly questions, and analyzing what he did not write in his book. And that was just ABC News.

At The New York Times, conservative columnist David Brooks ridiculed Gore for writing a book that Gore did not actually write. Brooks described Gore's utopia as a machine-driven world that is without emotion, family or friends: "He envisions a sort of Vulcan Utopia, in which dispassionate individuals exchange facts and arrive at logical conclusions." Suffice it to say that Brook's mocking description bears no resemblance to The Assault on Reason. Then again, Brooks has been making stuff up about Gore for years, so why stop now?

The same goes for his colleague Maureen Dowd. Like clockwork, she typed up a derisive, trivia-based column to greet Gore's new book. Believe it or not, she thought the most telling facts about The Assault on Reason were that A) Gore's image does not appear on the cover; and B) Gore's author photo on the jacket dates from the 1990s. And neither reflected well on Gore. According to Dowd, the lack of photo on the cover revealed Gore's pretensions about the book, while his dated author photo revealed his vanity. (Ridiculing The Assault on Reason in the Sunday Times of London, Andrew Sullivan also stressed very high up in his review that Gore's face does not appear on the book cover. Sullivan and Dowd literally critiqued packaging.)

Meanwhile, The Washington Post, embracing rampant anti-intellectualism, fretted that Gore was too smart. (Or he was acting too smart.) And the paper despised him for it. Reviewing The Assault on Reason for the Post on May 30, Alan Ehrenhalt, whom the Post described as an "intellectual," leveled a personal attack on Gore in the review's second sentence, complaining that he "annoy[s] the maximum possible number of people." (Ehrenhalt offered no proof for that attack.)

He belittled Gore for including too many quotes from the likes of Louis Brandeis, Edmund Burke, Aristotle, Thomas Jefferson, John Donne, and the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas. (All the quotes showed that Gore was "desperate to display his erudition.") Ehrenhalt then concluded by noting, "The Assault on Reason is a serious work by an intelligent man with an incurable habit of calling more attention to himself than to the ideas he wishes to communicate."

So Gore was guilty of "calling attention to himself" by not putting his image on the cover of the book and by filling The Assault on Reason with quotes from other people? You figure it out, because it makes no sense to me.

Three days later, while covering a local speech and book signing, the Post's Dana Milbank literally made fun of Gore for even discussing topics of historical importance, such as the Enlightenment and the Information Age. Milbank wrote that "Professor Gore" kept pompously reminding attendees that he was "the smartest guy in the room." Yet Milbank's mocking article provided no proof to back up that assertion. Instead, the article included quotes from people in the audience who said Gore was the smartest person in the room.

In The Assault on Reason, Gore correctly laments that we cannot have intelligent, informed national debates. Yet the sad fact remains there are Beltway press players who devote much of their time and energy to ensuring that those debates cannot take place. Hopefully Gore will write a book about them some day.

Joe Lieberman Is At It Again

Joe Lieberman Is At It Again

Gen. Wesley Clark

Posted June 12, 2007 | 02:42 PM (EST)

After wrongly supporting George W. Bush's strategic blunder of attacking Iraq, and continuing to support Bush's failed policies after the invasion, Senator Joe Lieberman made irresponsible comments this weekend regarding military action against Iran.

On CBS's Face the Nation, Lieberman said, "If [the Iranians] don't play by the rules, we've got to use our force, and to me, that would include taking military action to stop them from doing what they're doing."

This type of "tough-talk" by the Bush Administration and folks like Senator Joe Lieberman is why and I collaborated to create, calling for heavy diplomatic, economic, and political action to discourage the acquisition of nuclear capabilities by the Iranian government.

Senator Lieberman's saber rattling does nothing to help dissuade Iran from aiding Shia militias in Iraq, or trying to obtain nuclear capabilities. In fact, it's highly irresponsible and counter-productive, and I urge him to stop.

This kind of rhetoric is irresponsible and only plays into the hands of President Ahmadinejad, and those who seek an excuse for military action. What we need now is full-fledged engagement with Iran. We should be striving to bridge the gulf of almost 30 years of hostility and only when all else fails should there be any consideration of other options. The Iranians are very much aware of US military capabilities. They don't need Joe Lieberman to remind them that we are the militarily dominant power in the world today.

Only someone who never wore the uniform or thought seriously about national security would make threats at this point. What our soldiers need is responsible strategy, not a further escalation of tensions in the region. Senator Lieberman must act more responsibly and tone down his threat machine.

Visit, and sign the petition to President Bush today!

We cannot let people like Joe Lieberman dictate the terms of this debate.

Close and deadly contact

Close and deadly contact

The killing of an Iraqi teen offers a rare look at how U.S. military action in an urban setting can be fatal to civilians.
By Tina Susman
Times Staff Writer

June 12, 2007

BAGHDAD — On a sunny April afternoon, a bomb ripped a jagged hole in the road near Abu Mohammed's small grocery store. Gunfire crackled along the street as U.S. soldiers responded to the attack. Someone pounded frantically on the grocer's locked door, pleading for help.

Mohammed recognized the frightened voice as that of a local teenager and let him inside. The 17-year-old had been struck by a bullet in the chaos that followed the explosion and was bleeding heavily. Within two hours, the boy was dead. Witnesses charge he was killed by U.S. troops firing randomly.

U.S. military officials say troops are trained to avoid civilian casualties and do not fire wildly. Iraqis, however, say the shootings happen frequently and that even if troops are firing at suspected attackers, they often do so on city streets where bystanders are likely to be hit. Rarely is it possible to confirm such incidents. In this case, the boy was the son of a Los Angeles Times employee, which provided reporters knowledge of the incident in time to examine it. Witness and military accounts of the shooting offered a rare look into how such killings can occur.

With more troops on the ground as a result of President Bush's "surge," U.S. military officials acknowledge that there are greater chances for civilian casualties.

"Being that we are doing more operations in places where we were not before, and doing operations in large numbers, there is just more contact with the enemy and therefore more chance of people on the periphery being involved in that," said Army Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a military spokesman in Baghdad.

The situation is amplified by the challenge of enforcing the counterinsurgency tactics introduced by the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who took charge of the war just as the troop buildup began in mid-February. Under Petraeus, more troops are embedded in Iraq's residential neighborhoods, putting them in closer contact with civilians and forcing them to exercise a level of restraint that can be difficult in Iraq, where attacks on troops are on the rise.

Kalev Sepp, a counterinsurgency expert with the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who has traveled frequently to Iraq to advise the Pentagon, said he doubts there are enough mid-level Army officers who fully understand the complex tactics needed to win over local populations when U.S. units move into neighborhoods en masse.

Without such officers, Sepp said, "you just end up with another group of foreign occupation troops shooting civilians who they feel threaten them when their car drives too close to them."

Counting civilian casualties has been a challenge since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003. In the heat of the battle, troops often move on without knowing whether civilians were killed. Among Iraq's population, competing political agendas can lead to wildly varying accounts of individual incidents.

Estimates of civilians killed by terrorist attacks, sectarian warfare and in combat-related violence range from tens of thousands to as many as 600,000. Last year, retired Lt. Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, a Vietnam veteran who is a professor of international relations at Boston University, estimated that U.S. troops alone had killed "tens of thousands" of innocent Iraqis, either by accident or through carelessness.

The challenge of reaching an accurate tally has become more acute since the military surge began.

The Iraqi government, eager to show that the security plan is working, has stopped releasing monthly civilian casualty figures to the United Nations, arguing that Cabinet ministries collecting the numbers were inflating them for political purposes.

The U.S. military rarely issues public reports on civilians it has killed or wounded. It did not respond to requests for information on civilians killed this year by U.S. troops.

Since mid-February, Los Angeles Times stringers across Iraq have reported at least 18 incidents in which witnesses said troops had opened fire wildly or in areas crowded with civilians, usually after being attacked. The reports indicated that at least 22 noncombatants died in the incidents. Because they are based on various witness accounts and reports from hospital and police officials, many of whom refuse to give their names, it is not possible to independently verify most reports.

If the anecdotal evidence is an indication, such deaths often occur after troops are shaken by roadside bombs, as occurred when The Times employee's son was killed April 17.

The shop where the teenager sought shelter is a few minutes' walk from his home in a middle-class neighborhood of split-level houses with balconies, driveways and cerise bougainvillea draping garden walls. The stroll took him down his quiet street to a commercial strip with small stores, butcher shops and cafes. Parallel to the strip is a median and then a highway, which passes beneath a concrete tangle of overpasses before heading to the airport. Blackened blotches are evidence of the frequency of attacks on troops patrolling it.

Mohammed said the bomb went off about 1 p.m., when his shop, which is attached to his home, was closed. "I was hesitant to open the door because I was afraid that the American soldiers would shoot me dead," he said, recalling his initial thoughts after the boy began beating on his door.

The shopkeeper laid the boy on the shop's concrete floor, amid racks of potato chips, candies and soap, and placed a pillow under his head as the boy used his waning energy to recite his mother's phone number. Mohammed called repeatedly, but the line was busy, and he never got through.

In the meantime, he said, troops kept firing.

"They were confused and angry and suspecting anyone around," Mohammed said. "If a bird had passed by, they would have shot it."

The U.S. military said troops shot in self-defense after being targeted first by the bomb and then by gunfire, but Mohammed and other witnesses denied that anybody shot at the soldiers.

"It's a psychological thing. When one U.S. soldier gets killed or injured, they shoot in vengeance," said Alaa Safi, who said his brother, Ahmed, was killed April 4 when U.S. troops riddled the streets of their southwestern Baghdad neighborhood with bullets after a sniper attack.

Safi, who was the minister of civil society in the government of former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, said his brother had just stepped out of a minibus taxi and was walking home about 4 p.m. when the shooting began.

"We don't blame the entire U.S. military, but these things are happening," Safi said.

In some places, such as Diyala province and Sadr City, where anti-U.S. sentiment is especially high, there often are vast disparities between what locals say happened and what official accounts describe.

Even the troops directly involved in incidents often cannot say if civilian casualties have occurred.

Garver cited a Sadr City raid on May 10 in which locals said helicopter gunships killed several people inside a house. The military said three civilians were wounded but made no mention of civilian deaths. But Garver said troops did not reenter the targeted house to check for civilian casualties.

"I can't tell you that nobody got killed in that specific incident," Garver said. "In some instances, we're not able to know what really happened."

Because the teenager slipped into the grocery store after being shot and was taken to a hospital by relatives, it is likely soldiers never knew he had been hit. Witnesses said that at least one civilian woman died in the same incident.

The military has guidelines designed to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. Printed on a card that every service member is supposed to carry, they permit use of force in self-defense against people committing hostile acts or exhibiting hostile intent. "You must be reasonably certain that your target is the source of the threat," the rules state.

Military officials have acknowledged, however, that the rules are sometimes broken in the heat of combat.

At a news briefing last June, after the killings of Iraqi civilians by Marines in the town of Haditha came to light, Army Brig. Gen. Donald Campbell, then chief of staff of Multinational Forces in Iraq, said troops "become stressed, they become fearful" on a battlefield where it is difficult to tell civilians from insurgents.

"It doesn't excuse the acts that have occurred, and we're going to look into them," he said, referring to Haditha and other reported killings of civilians. "But I would say it's stress, fear, isolation, and in some cases they're just upset. They see their buddies getting blown up on occasion and they could snap."

Iraqis can seek compensation when relatives are killed by U.S. troops. But as the security situation worsens, they are less likely to do so, said Jon Tracy, a former Army captain who spent 14 months in Iraq as a military lawyer adjudicating such claims.

Filing a claim involves visiting a U.S. military post, he pointed out. "The reality is if you go to a U.S. base or a CMO [civilian military operations center], that is viewed as a target, so nobody really wants to go there to file their claims," said Tracy, a consultant for the Washington-based Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, which has lobbied to make it easier for Iraqis to get compensatory payments.

From the start of the war through 2006, at least 479 Iraqis filed claims asking for compensation for civilian relatives allegedly killed by U.S. troops, according to records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU says the list is not complete.

Most claimants were denied damages because the incidents were judged combat-related, excluding them from compensation payments under federal law. The military can also make condolence payments, but those do not include a military admission of responsibility and are capped at $2,500. Many are less, and not enough to make it worth many Iraqis' efforts.

"No amount of money is worth a drop of my brother's blood," said Safi, who said his family had not applied for compensation or condolence payments. "We don't want money. We just want to hold the military responsible."

Times staff writers Saad Khalaf in Baghdad and Peter Spiegel in Washington and special correspondents in Baghdad and Baqubah contributed to this report.,0,4483354,print.story?coll=la-home-center

Fleeting Glory in Albania

Fleeting Glory in Albania

By Eugene Robinson

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

George W. Bush, Hero of Albania! At least there's one place in the world where they show the Decider some love.

That was a wonderful reverse-Borat moment Sunday, with the joyous townspeople of Fushe Kruje yelling "Bushie! Bushie!" and Albania's prime minister gushing over the "greatest and most distinguished guest we have ever had in all times." The crowd pressed in for autographs, photographs, a presidential peck on the cheek. Years from now, in his dotage, Bushie will feel warm all over when he recalls those magical hours in Albania. How they adored him!

Outside of greater Tirana, however, the president's stock as an apostle of freedom continues to fall -- and rightly so. Even as Albania swooned, the rest of Europe was digesting a blue-ribbon report issued Friday about the abduction, secret detention and abusive interrogation of suspects in Bush's "war on terror."

The report was done for the Council of Europe by Swiss legislator Dick Marty, and its opening paragraph is worth quoting at length:

"What was previously just a set of allegations is now proven: large numbers of people have been abducted from various locations across the world and transferred to countries where they have been persecuted and where it is known that torture is common practice. Others have been held in arbitrary detention, without any precise charges leveled against them and without any judicial oversight. . . . Still others have simply disappeared for indefinite periods and have been held in secret prisons, including in member states of the Council of Europe."

Citing "clear and detailed confirmation" from knowledgeable sources, Marty concluded that Poland and Romania, as long suspected, were two countries that hosted secret CIA prisons where "high value" detainees were held and interrogated.

Polish and Romanian officials have said they are shocked -- shocked! -- that anyone would accuse them of having anything to do with CIA dungeons and/or the "enhanced" questioning techniques that the report describes as torture. But Marty is a former prosecutor, and he puts together a compelling case.

This, I am convinced, is how future generations will remember George W. Bush: as the president who abandoned our traditional concepts of justice and human rights, choosing instead a program of state-sponsored kidnapping, arbitrary detention and abusive interrogation techniques such as "waterboarding."

We will remember him for the Iraq war, of course. But I hope and believe we will give at least as much weight to his erosion of our nation's fundamental values and basic character.

We will remember him as the president who established a prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complete with kangaroo-court military tribunals in which detainees were not allowed to see the alleged evidence against them. We will remember that long after it was clear that Guantanamo was doing serious harm to our nation's reputation in the world -- on Sunday, Bush's former secretary of state, Colin Powell, called for the place to be shut down "this afternoon" -- Bush stubbornly kept it open.

We will remember Dick Cheney not for accidentally shooting a fellow hunter but for apparently being the loudest and most strident voice inside the administration against honoring the concepts of due process and habeas corpus that define justice in civilized societies. We will remember the negligible regard he holds for the Geneva Conventions.

We will remember Alberto Gonzales not for his hapless stewardship of the Justice Department or the firings of those U.S. attorneys-- well, actually, we will remember him for those things -- but we'll also remember that when he was White House counsel he dutifully provided legalistic justification for subjecting prisoners to treatment that international agreements clearly define as torture.

We will remember this whole misguided administration for deciding to wage the fight against terrorism in a manner that not only mocks our nation's values but also draws new recruits to the anti-American cause. We will remember this White House for unwittingly helping the terrorist cause perpetuate itself.

Marty makes this point in his report. "We are fully aware of the seriousness of the terrorist threat and the danger it poses to our societies," he writes. "However, we believe that the end does not justify the means in this area." Resorting to "abuse and illegal acts," he says, "actually amounts to a resounding failure of our system and plays right into the hands of the criminals who seek to destroy our societies through terror."

Nineteen months from now, a new president will begin trying to repair some of the damage this administration leaves behind. Bushie, meanwhile, will be back on the ranch, spending his days clearing brush and perhaps daydreaming of his Albanian glory.

Mueller Often Uses FBI Jet Bought for Counterterrorism

Mueller Often Uses FBI Jet Bought for Counterterrorism

By John Solomon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 12, 2007; A03

When the FBI asked Congress this spring to provide $3.6 million in the war spending bill for its Gulfstream V jet, it said the money was needed to ensure that the aircraft, packed with state-of-the-art security and communications gear, could continue to fly counterterrorism agents on "crucial missions" into Iraq.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the bureau has made similar annual requests to maintain and fuel the $40 million jet on grounds that it had a "tremendous impact" on combating terrorism by rapidly deploying FBI agents to "fast-moving investigations and crisis situations" in places such as Afghanistan.

But the jet that the FBI originally sold to lawmakers in the late 1990s as an essential tool for battling terrorism is now routinely used to ferry FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to speeches, public appearances and field office visits.

In fact, Mueller's travel now accounts for nearly a quarter of the flight time for the lone FBI jet able to make international flights.

FBI officials acknowledged to The Washington Post that Mueller's use of the Gulfstream is a marked departure from the travel practices of his predecessors, such as Louis J. Freeh, who flew commercially or used a smaller Cessna Citation jet. They said that Mueller's aides first check with the counterterrorism division to make sure the Gulfstream is not needed for terrorism operations, and that the Justice Department approves each flight.

They also said that Mueller's logistical and security advisers have urged him to use the plane routinely. "It's not like he is the one checking the box for which plane he uses," Assistant Director John Miller said. "He is the CEO of the FBI's part in the war on terror. That means every trip he makes -- whether to rally the troops in field offices, to negotiate agreements with partners overseas or to explain to the public the changing threats and solutions -- furthers the operational mission of the bureau."

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has expressed concern that the jet has often been used for Mueller's routine trips rather than for counterterrorism operations, as lawmakers intended. Grassley said that when he questioned the bureau in December about how the plane was used, he received no answer.

"Using this FBI jet to get to speaking engagements when the plane is intended to help fight terrorism is a good way to lose congressional approval of a necessary resource," he said. "If the FBI wanted a jet to fly the director around, then it shouldn't try to justify the plane as a weapon in the war on terror."

Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, disagrees. "He's got to be in touch at all times," said Wolf, who said he knew about Mueller's use of the Gulfstream and is not concerned. "I think he is a good director, very honest and very ethical, and I think it is totally appropriate."

FBI officials said Mueller relies on the jet's special communications gear to ensure that he can be in instant contact with Washington in the event of another terrorist attack that grounds commercial flights, and also to conduct sensitive conversations during routine travel.

But they also said that, on occasion, Mueller has used the jet to reach a government function and then stayed behind for vacation, returning home aboard a commercial airliner that lacks secure communications. Mueller designates his deputy, John Pistole, as acting director when he flies commercially.

Mueller and his security detail typically fly on the Gulfstream from Washington's Reagan National Airport, requiring the jet to fly from a suburban airfield, where it is stored. Each time that happens, it costs an additional $1,000.

FBI officials asked The Post not to name the suburban airport because it houses other sensitive national security assets. But they said that the runways there are too short to allow the Gulfstream's takeoff while loaded with Mueller's security detail and equipment.

Mueller's predecessor, Freeh, persuaded Congress in the late 1990s to give the bureau the Gulfstream V jet -- often fancied by celebrities and chief executives -- for the narrow mission of transporting global terrorism suspects on a moment's notice back to the United States for interrogation. The bureau had operated only a small number of single-engine planes for investigative surveillance and one Citation corporate jet capable of reaching anywhere in the United States.

"We were commonly given a narrow window to remove the suspects, sometimes as little as 12 hours," Freeh wrote in his memoir, "My FBI." "In those circumstances, we would have to scramble for a military aircraft to do the transport. If one wasn't available we'd start calling friendly CEOs of American corporations to see if we could hitch a ride. . . . To me, the situation was ridiculous so I began lobbying for a Gulfstream."

The FBI succeeded after a string of terrorist attacks, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia in 1996 and the two embassy bombings in Africa in 1998.

"Due to the number of international terrorist attacks against United States personnel and facilities overseas, the FBI identified a need for an aircraft with long-range flight capabilities," stated the bureau's 1999 appropriations request to Congress.

In February 2001, the FBI struck a deal to acquire the jet from the Air Force. It was delivered around the time of the September terrorist attacks that year, documents show.

Mueller took over the bureau in late summer 2001 and has flown the plane several times to meet with his law enforcement and intelligence counterparts or to consult with FBI legal attaches in Europe and the Middle East. In one such trip last year, Mueller jetted to Bucharest, Romania; Baghdad; Islamabad, Pakistan; Kabul; Bagram, Afghanistan; and Tel Aviv in just five days, FBI officials said.

But Mueller also regularly uses the jet to visit field offices in the United States, in what his aides describe as an effort to boost morale and to keep agents focused on the counterterrorism mission. Mueller also tries to squeeze in speeches and public events.

One such trip occurred in May 2005 when he took the Gulfstream to Kansas City, Mo., to deliver a speech to a symposium on agroterrorism. Bureau officials said the plane, which seats about a dozen people and has a galley, is now flown 800 to 900 hours annually, with Mueller accounting for an average of 180 hours, or 23 percent of its flight time.

When the jet is flown on terrorism-related missions, the costs are absorbed by special money Congress gave for that purpose. When Mueller uses the jet, the FBI's base operating budget covers the costs. Appropriations for the jet have grown from $1.7 million in 2003 to $3.6 million this year.

In March 2004, after Mueller had started routinely using the Gulfstream, President Bush designated him as one of a handful of senior government officials entitled to "required use" of government aircraft for personal and government travel. FBI officials said they did not seek the designation from the White House, and Mueller has declined to use the plane for personal travel.

The FBI boasted in a message to Congress in 2003 that "the use of the G-V in recent months has had a tremendous impact on the successful rapid response of FBIHQ and field personnel and equipment to the fast-moving investigations and crisis situations in New York, Washington and Afghanistan."

In the fact sheet accompanying its 2007 budget request, the FBI stressed that the Gulfstream has flown "personnel to and from Iraq, and it is important to maintain the G-V to successfully carry out these crucial missions." The agency also said the jet had been used to bring surveillance equipment to agents working overseas, transport forensic evidence from Iraq and Afghanistan, and transport terrorism suspects.

Bush's Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq's Oil

Bush's Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq's Oil

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on October 16, 2006, Printed on June 12, 2007

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series. Go here to read the second installment.

Iraq is sitting on a mother lode of some of the lightest, sweetest, most profitable crude oil on earth, and the rules that will determine who will control it and on what terms are about to be set.

The Iraqi government faces a December deadline, imposed by the world's wealthiest countries, to complete its final oil law. Industry analysts expect that the result will be a radical departure from the laws governing the country's oil-rich neighbors, giving foreign multinationals a much higher rate of return than with other major oil producers and locking in their control over what George Bush called Iraq's "patrimony" for decades, regardless of what kind of policies future elected governments might want to pursue.

Iraq's energy reserves are an incredibly rich prize. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, "Iraq contains 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the second largest in the world (behind Saudi Arabia), along with roughly 220 billion barrels of probable and possible resources. Iraq's true potential may be far greater than this, however, as the country is relatively unexplored due to years of war and sanctions." For perspective, the Saudis have 260 billion barrels of proven reserves.

Iraqi oil is close to the surface and easy to extract, making it all the more profitable. James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, points out that oil companies "can produce a barrel of Iraqi oil for less than $1.50 and possibly as little as $1, including all exploration, oil field development and production costs." Contrast that with other areas where oil is considered cheap to produce at $5 per barrel or the North Sea, where production costs are $12 to $16 per barrel.

And Iraq's oil sector is largely undeveloped. Former Iraqi Oil Minister Issam Chalabi (no relation to the neocons' favorite exile, Ahmed Chalabi) told the Associated Press that "Iraq has more oil fields that have been discovered, but not developed, than any other country in the world." British-based analyst Mohammad Al-Gallani told the Canadian Press that of 526 prospective drilling sites, just 125 have been opened.

But the real gem -- what one oil consultant called the "Holy Grail" of the industry -- lies in Iraq's vast western desert. It's one of the last "virgin" fields on the planet, and it has the potential to catapult Iraq to No. 1 in the world in oil reserves. Sparsely populated, the western fields are less prone to sabotage than the country's current centers of production in the north, near Kirkuk, and in the south near Basra. The Nation's Aram Roston predicts Iraq's western desert will yield "untold riches."

Iraq also may have large natural gas deposits that so far remain virtually unexplored.

But even "untold riches" don't tell the whole story. Depending on how Iraq's petroleum law shakes out, the country's enormous reserves could break the back of OPEC, a wet dream in Western capitals for three decades. James Paul predicted that "even before Iraq had reached its full production potential of 8 million barrels or more per day, the companies would gain huge leverage over the international oil system. OPEC would be weakened by the withdrawal of one of its key producers from the OPEC quota system." Depending on how things shape up in the next few months, Western oil companies could end up controlling the country's output levels, or the government, heavily influenced by the United States, could even pull out of the cartel entirely.

Both independent analysts and officials within Iraq's Oil Ministry anticipate that when all is said and done, the big winners in Iraq will be the Big Four -- the American firms Exxon Mobile and Chevron, the British BP Amoco and Royal Dutch Shell -- that dominate the world oil market. Ibrahim Mohammed, an industry consultant with close contacts in the Iraqi Oil Ministry, told the Associated Press that there's a universal belief among ministry staff that the major U.S. companies will win the lion's share of contracts. "The feeling is that the new government is going to be influenced by the United States," he said.

During the 12-year sanction period, the Big Four were forced to sit on the sidelines while the government of Saddam Hussein cut deals with the Chinese, French, Russians and others (despite the sanctions, the United States ultimately received 37 percent of Iraq's oil during that period, according to the independent committee that investigated the oil-for-food program, but almost all of it arrived through foreign firms). In a 1999 speech, Dick Cheney, then CEO of the oil services company Halliburton, told a London audience that the Middle East was where the West would find the additional 50 million barrels of oil per day that he predicted it would need by 2010, but, he lamented, "while even though companies are anxious for greater access there, progress continues to be slow."

Chafing at the idea that the Chinese and Russians might end up with what is arguably the world's greatest energy prize, industry leaders lobbied hard for regime change throughout the 1990s. With the election of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in 2000 -- the first time in U.S. history that two veterans of the oil industry had ever occupied the nation's top two jobs -- they would finally get the "greater access" to the region's oil wealth, which they had long lusted after.

If the U.S. invasion of Iraq had occurred during the colonial era a hundred years earlier, the oil giants, backed by U.S. forces, would have simply seized Iraq's oil fields. Much has changed since then in terms of international custom and law (when then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz did in fact suggest seizing Iraq's Southern oil fields in 2002, Colin Powell dismissed the idea as "lunacy").

Understanding how Big Oil came to this point, poised to take effective control of the bulk of the country's reserves while they remain, technically, in the hands of the Iraqi government -- a government with all the trappings of sovereignty -- is to grasp the sometimes intricate dance that is modern neocolonialism. The Iraq oil grab is a classic case study.

It's clear that the U.S.-led invasion had little to do with national security or the events of Sept. 11. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill revealed that just 11 days after Bush's inauguration in early 2001, regime change in Iraq was "Topic A" among the administration's national security staff, and former Terrorism Tsar Richard Clarke told 60 Minutes that the day after the attacks in New York and Washington occurred, "[Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq." He added: "We all said … no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan."

On March 7, 2003, two weeks before the United States attacked Iraq, the United Nations' chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, told the U.N. Security Council that Saddam Hussein's cooperation with the inspections protocol had improved to the point where it was "active or even proactive," and that the inspectors would be able to certify that Iraq was free of prohibited weapons within a few months' time. That same day, IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei reported that there was no evidence of a current nuclear program in Iraq and flatly refuted the administration's claim that the infamous aluminum tubes cited by Colin Powell in making his case for war before the Security Council were part of a reconstituted nuclear program.

But serious planning for the war had begun in February of 2002, as Bob Woodward revealed in his book, "Plan of Attack." Planning for the future of Iraq's oil wealth had been under way for longer still.

In February of 2001, just weeks after Bush was sworn in, the same energy executives that had been lobbying for Saddam's ouster gathered at the White House to participate in Dick Cheney's now infamous Energy Task Force. Although Cheney would go all the way to the Supreme Court to keep what happened at those meetings a secret, we do know a few things, thanks to documents obtained by the conservative legal group JudicialWatch. As Mark Levine wrote in The Nation ($$):

… a map of Iraq and an accompanying list of "Iraq oil foreign suitors" were the center of discussion. The map erased all features of the country save the location of its main oil deposits, divided into nine exploration blocks. The accompanying list of suitors revealed that dozens of companies from 30 countries -- but not the United States -- were either in discussions over or in direct negotiations for rights to some of the best remaining oil fields on earth.

Levine wrote, "It's not hard to surmise how the participants in these meetings felt about this situation."

According to the New Yorker, at the same time, a top-secret National Security Council memo directed NSC staff to "cooperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered melding two seemingly unrelated areas of policy." The administration's national security team was to join "the review of operational policies towards rogue states such as Iraq and actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields."

At the State Department, planning was also underway. Under the auspices of the "Future of Iraq Project," an "Oil and Energy Working Group" was established. The full membership of the group -- described by the Financial Times as "Iraqi oil experts, international consultants" and State Department staffers -- remains classified, but among them, according to Antonia Juhasz's "The Bush Agenda," was Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, who would serve in Iyad Allawi's cabinet during the period of the Iraqi Governing Council, and later as Iraq's oil minister in 2005. The group concluded that Iraq's oil "should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war."

But the execs from Big Oil didn't just want access to Iraq's oil; they wanted access on terms that would be inconceivable unless negotiated at the barrel of a gun. Specifically, they wanted an Iraqi government that would enter into production service agreements (PSAs) for the extraction of Iraq's oil.

PSAs, developed in the 1960s, are a tool of today's kinder, gentler neocolonialism; they allow countries to retain technical ownership over energy reserves but, in actuality, lock in multinationals' control and extremely high profit margins -- up to 13 times oil companies' minimum target, according to an analysis by the British-based oil watchdog Platform (PDF).

As Greg Muttit, an analyst with the group, notes:

Such contracts are often used in countries with small or difficult oil fields, or where high-risk exploration is required. They are not generally used in countries like Iraq, where there are large fields which are already known and which are cheap to extract. For example, they are not used in Iran, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, all of which maintain state control of oil.

In fact, Muttit adds, of the seven leading oil-producing countries, only Russia has entered into PSAs, and those were signed during its own economic "shock therapy" in the early 1990s. A number of Iraq's oil-rich neighbors have constitutions that specifically prohibit foreign control over their energy reserves.

PSAs often have long terms -- up to 40 years -- and contain "stabilization clauses" that protect them from future legislative changes. As Muttit points out, future governments "could be constrained in their ability to pass new laws or policies." That means, for example, that if a future elected Iraqi government "wanted to pass a human rights law, or wanted to introduce a minimum wage [and it] affected the company's profits, either the law would not apply to the company's operations or the government would have to compensate the company for any reduction in profits." It's Sovereignty Lite.

The deals are so onerous that they govern only 12 percent of the world's oil reserves, according to the International Energy Agency. Nonetheless, PSAs would become the Future of Iraq Project's recommendation for the fledgling Iraqi government. According to the Financial Times, "many in the group" fought for the contract structure; a Kurdish delegate told the FT, "everybody keeps coming back to PSAs."

Of course, the plans for Iraq's legal framework for oil have to be viewed in the context of the overall transformation of the Iraqi economy. Clearly, the idea was to pursue a radical corporatist agenda during the period of the Coalition Provisional Authority when the U.S. occupation forces were a de facto dictatorship. And that's just what happened; under L. Paul Bremer, the CPA head, corporate taxes were slashed, a flat tax on income was established, rules allowing multinationals to pull all of their profits from the country and a series of other provisions were enacted. These were then integrated into the Iraqi Constitution and remain in effect today.

Among the provisions in the Constitution, unlike those of most oil producers, is a requirement that the government "develop oil and gas wealth … relying on the most modern techniques of market principles and encouraging investment." The provision mandates that foreign companies would receive a major stake in Iraq's oil for the first time in the 30 years since the sector was nationalized in 1975.

Herbert Docena, a researcher with the NGO Focus on the Global South, wrote that an early draft of the constitution negotiated by Iraqis envisioned a "Scandinavian-style welfare system in the Arabian desert, with Iraq's vast oil wealth to be spent upholding every Iraqi's right to education, healthcare, housing and other social services." "Social justice," the draft declared, "is the basis of building society."

What happened between that earlier draft and the constitution that Iraqis would eventually ratify? According to Docena:

While [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay] Khalilzad and his team of U.S. and British diplomats were all over the scene, some members of Iraq's constitutional committee were reduced to bystanders. One Shiite member grumbled, "We haven't played much of a role in drafting the constitution. We feel that we have been neglected." A Sunni negotiator concluded: "This constitution was cooked up in an American kitchen not an Iraqi one."

With a constitution cooked up in D.C., the stage was set for foreign multinationals to assume effective control of as much as 87 percent of Iraq's oil, according to projections by the Oil Ministry. If PSAs become the law of the land -- and there are other contractual arrangements that would allow private companies to invest in the sector without giving them the same degree of control or such usurious profits -- the war-torn country stands to lose up to 194 billion vitally important dollars in revenue on just the first 12 fields developed, according to a conservative estimate by Platform (the estimate assumes oil at $40 per barrel; at this writing it stands at more than $59). That's more than six times the country's annual budget.

To complete the ripoff, the occupying coalition would have to crush Iraqi resistance, make sure it had friendly people in the right places in Iraq's emerging elite and lock the new Iraqi government onto a path that would lead to the Big Four's desired outcome.

See part two tomorrow.

Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.

Bush's Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq's Oil (Part Two)
By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on October 17, 2006, Printed on June 12, 2007

Editor's note: This is the second part of a series on the struggle for control of Iraq's oil resources and self-determination. Go here to read the first installment.

With 140,000 U.S. troops on the ground, the largest U.S. embassy in the world sequestered in Baghdad's fortified "Green Zone" and an economy designed by a consulting firm in McLean, Va., post-invasion Iraq was well on its way to becoming a bonanza for foreign investors.

But Big Oil had its sights set on a specific arrangement -- the lucrative production sharing agreements that lock in multinationals' control for long terms and are virtually unheard of in countries as rich in easily accessible oil as Iraq.

The occupation authorities would have to steer an ostensibly sovereign government to the outcome they desired, and they'd have to overcome any resistance that they encountered from the fiercely independent and understandably wary Iraqis along the way. Finally, they'd have to make sure that the Anglo-American firms were well-positioned to win the lion's share of the choicest contracts.

Dealing with the most likely points of opposition began almost immediately. While the Oil Ministry, famously, was one of the few structures the invading forces protected from looters in the first days of the war, the bureaucracy's human assets weren't so lucky. With a stroke of the pen, Coalition Provisional Authority boss L. Paul Bremer fired hundreds of ministry personnel, ostensibly as part of the program of "de-Baathification." But, as Antonia Juhasz, author of "The Bush Agenda," told me, "it wasn't an indication that they were a party to Saddam Hussein's crimes … they were fired because they could have stood in the way of the economic transformation." Some fraction were certainly hard-core Baathists, but they were all veterans of the country's oil sector; they knew the industry, they knew what the norms in neighboring countries were and they had no loyalty to the occupation forces. Some had to go.

That was true at the top as well. Serving as oil minister in the Iraqi Interim Government was Thamir Ghadbhan, a British-trained technocrat who at one time had been chief of planning under Saddam Hussein and was widely respected for his political independence and his opposition to the previous regime (Saddam had ended up imprisoning him at Abu Ghraib). But despite working closely with American advisors, Ghadbhan was replaced with Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, a close associate of Ahmed Chalabi, the exile favored by some war planners to run the country as a kindler and gentler -- but no doubt just as corrupt -- version of Saddam Hussein.

According to Greg Muttit, an analyst with the British oil watchdog Platform, Uloum at first seemed to be a malleable figure. He told the Financial Times that he personally favored PSAs and giving priority to U.S. oil companies "and European companies, probably."

But Uloum would later publicly protest the elimination of fuel subsidies, a key provision of the country's economic restructuring, saying, "This decision will not serve the benefit of the government and the people. This decision brings an extra burden on the shoulders of citizens." He was, as the Associated Press reported, given "a forced vacation." It was, in the end, a permanent vacation; Chalabi, who was deputy prime minister at the time, took over the job himself (as "acting" minister for 30 days, but his term would last a year). Chalabi had no previous experience in the oil biz, but was a reliable, pro-Western figure with little in the way of nationalist zeal to get in the way of being a good lap dog. As leader of the Iraqi National Congress, he had said he favored the creation of a U.S.-led consortium to develop Iraq's oil fields. "American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil," Chalabi told the Washington Post in 2002.

According to Alexander Cockburn, Chalabi also orchestrated the ouster of Mohammed Jibouri, executive director of the state's oil marketing agency, who had offended the Swiss giant Glencore by telling its executives that they couldn't trade Iraqi oil after their extensive dealings with Saddam Hussein.

An emerging, although still fragile, civil society was another source of potential trouble. Iraqi trade unions were a thorn in the side of the CPA -- shutting down the port of Khor az-Zubayr in protest of a rip-off deal with the Danish shipping giant Maersk, halting oil production in the south to demand the rehire of laid-off Iraqi workers and kicking Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root out of their refineries. Perhaps it's not a coincidence, then, that the only significant law that Paul Bremer left on the books from the Hussein era was a prohibition against organizing public-sector workers. Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi analyst with the NGO Global Exchange, told me, "They're having a lot of legal problems."

Of course, none of that guaranteed that the Iraqis would stay on the preferred path, especially after the election of an ostensibly sovereign government.

And that's where the most common -- almost ubiquitous -- tool of neocolonialism, debt, came into play. In this case, massive, crushing debt run up by a dictator who treated himself and his cronies to palaces and other luxuries, spent lavishly on weapons for Iraq's war with Iran -- fought in part on behalf of the United States -- and owed Kuwait billions of dollars in reparations for the 1990 invasion.

To put Iraq's foreign debt in perspective, if the country's economy were the size of the United States', then its obligations in 2004, proportionally, would have equaled around $55 trillion, according to IMF figures (and that doesn't include reparations from the first Gulf War).

Clearly, that amount of debt was unsustainable, and the Bush administration launched a full-court press to get creditor nations to forgive at least part of the new government's debt burden. Former Secretary of State James Baker, long the Bush family's "fixer," was dispatched on a tour of the world's capitals to cut deals on behalf of the Iraqis.

The administration raised eyebrows in the NGO community when it adopted the language of debt-relief activists to frame their pitch. Bush, and Baker, called it "odious" debt, debt that financed the whims of a brutal dictator and used against the interests of the Iraqi population. Under international law, "odious" debt, in theory at least, doesn't need to be forgiven; it's written off as a dictator's illicit gains. As one might expect, wealthy creditor nations have long resisted the concept.

Debt-relief activists Basav Sen and Hope Chu wrote that the move "seemed inexplicable at first." But it soon became clear that Iraq's debt-relief program was, in fact, a way of locking in Iraq's economic transformation.

The largest chunk of debt, $120 billion, was owed to the Paris Club, a group of 19 industrialized nations. Baker negotiated a deal whereby the Paris Club would forgive 80 percent of Iraq's debt, but the catch -- and it was a big one -- was that Iraq had to agree to an economic "reform" package administered by the International Monetary Fund, an institution dominated by the wealthiest countries and infamous across the developing world for its painful and unpopular Structural Adjustment Protocols.

The debt would be written off in stages; 30 percent would be cancelled outright, another 30 percent when an elected Iraqi government accepted an IMF structural reform agreement and a final 20 percent after the IMF had monitored its implementation for three years. This gave the IMF the role of watchdog over the country's new economy, despite the fact that its share of the country's debt burden was less than 1 percent of the total.

Among a number of provisions in the IMF agreement, along with privatizing state-run companies (which resulted in the layoffs of an estimated 145,000 Iraqis), slashing government pensions and phasing out the subsidies on food and fuel that many Iraqis depended on, was a commitment to develop Iraq's oil in partnership with the private sector. Then-Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mehdi said, none too happily, that the deal would be "very promising to the American investors and to American enterprise, certainly to oil companies." The Iraqi National Assembly released a statement saying, "the Paris Club has no right to make decisions and impose IMF conditions on Iraq," and called it "a new crime committed by the creditors who financed Saddam's oppression." And Zaid Al-Ali, an international lawyer who works with the NGO Jubilee Iraq, said it was "a perfect illustration of how the industrialized world has used debt as a tool to force developing nations to surrender sovereignty over their economies."

The IMF agreement was announced in December of 2005, along with a new $685 million IMF loan that was to be used, in part, to increase Iraq's oil output. The announcement came a month after Iraqis went to the polls to vote for their first government under the new Constitution in order, according to the Washington Post, to spare Iraqi "politicians from voters' wrath." That was a wise idea; immediately following the agreement, gas prices skyrocketed and Iraqis rioted.

The icing on the cake is that the deal James Baker negotiated with the Paris Club refers to Iraq as an "exceptional situation"; no precedent was set that would allow other highly indebted countries saddled with odious debt from their own past dictators to claim similar relief.

The deadline the Iraqi government must meet for the completion of its final oil law in December is a "benchmark" in the IMF agreement.

In an investigation for the Nation, Naomi Klein discovered that Baker had pursued his mission with an eye-popping conflict of interest. Klein discovered that a consortium that included the Carlyle Group, of which Baker is believed to have a $180 million stake, had contracted with Kuwait to make sure that the money it was owed by Iraq would be excluded from any debt-relief package. When Baker met with the Kuwaiti emir to beg forgiveness for Iraq's odious debt, he had a direct interest in making sure he didn't get it.

Another major creditor was Saudi Arabia. The Carlyle Group has extensive business dealings with the kingdom and Baker's law firm, Baker Botts, was representing the monarchy in a suit brought by the families of the victims of 9/11.

The most recent IMF report (PDF) shows how successfully he failed: "While most Paris Club official creditors have now signed bilateral agreements, progress has been slow in resolving non-Paris Club official claims, especially those of Gulf countries," it says. It's likely that Iraq, a country occupied for three years, devastated by 12 years of sanctions and with a per capita GDP of $3,400, will end up paying reparations to Kuwait, a country with a per capita GDP of over $19,000, for the five months Saddam occupied his neighbor in late 1990 and early 1991.

Iraq will still face a mountain of debt even if it meets all of the "benchmarks" required of it -- the IMF expects the country's debt service to equal five percent of its economic output in 2011 and warns that even a minor price shock in the oil market "would require significant borrowing from the international markets to close the financing gaps."

"Sovereign" debt is transferable between governments; if a new strongman arises or Iraq becomes a loose federation, the debt will remain on the books and defaulting on it, while a possibility, has serious long-term consequences.

All of this is about bringing different forms of pressure onto Iraq's nascent government, not controlling it, and it's an important distinction. Before and since the "handover" to Iraq's government, the Green Zone has been overrun with "advisers" from Big Oil. Aram Roston wrote, "It's clear that there is not just the one Iraqi Oil Ministry, but a parallel 'shadow' ministry run by American advisers." In business, that's known as "positioning."

Phillip Carroll, a former chief executive with Royal Dutch/Shell and a 15-member "board of advisors" were appointed to oversee Iraq's oil industry during the transition period. According to the Guardian, the group "would represent Iraq at meetings of OPEC." Carroll had been working with the Pentagon for months before the invasion -- even while the administration was still insisting that it sought a peaceful resolution to the Iraq crisis -- "developing contingency plans for Iraq's oil sector in the event of war." According to the Houston Chronicle, "He assumed his work was completed, he said, until Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called him shortly after the U.S.-led invasion began and offered him the oil adviser's job." Carroll, in addition to running Shell Oil in the United States, was a former CEO of the Fluor Corp., a well-connected oil services firm with extensive projects in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and at least $1.6 billion in contracts for Iraq's reconstruction. He was joined by Gary Vogler, a former executive with ExxonMobile, in Iraq's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

After spending six months in the post, Carroll was replaced by Robert E. McKee III, a former ConocoPhillips executive. According to the Houston Chronicle, "His selection as the Bush administration's energy czar in Iraq" drew fire from congressional Democrats "because of his ties to the prime contractor in the Iraqi oil fields, Houston-based Halliburton Co. He's the chairman of a venture partitioned by the … firm."

The administration selected Chevron Vice President Norm Szydlowski to serve as a liaison between the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Oil Ministry. Now the CEO of the appropriately named Colonial Pipeline Co., he continues to work with the Iraq Energy Roundtable, a project of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, which recently sponsored a meeting to "bring together oil and gas sector leaders in the U.S. with key decision makers from the Iraq Ministry of Oil."

Terry Adams and Bob Morgan of BP, and Mike Stinson of ConocoPhillips would also serve as advisors during the transition.

After the CPA handed over the reigns to Iraq's interim government, the embassy's "shadow" oil ministry continued to work closely with the Iraqis to shape future oil policy. Platform's Greg Muttit wrote that "senior oil advisers -- now based within the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office (IRMO) in the U.S. Embassy ... included executives from ChevronTexaco and Unocal." After the handover, a senior U.S. official said: "We're still here. We'll be paying a lot of attention, and we'll have a lot of influence. We're going to have the world's largest diplomatic mission with a significant amount of political weight."

The majors have also engaged in good, old-fashioned lobbying. In 2004, Shell advertised for an Iraqi lobbyist with good contacts among Iraq's emerging elites. The firm sought "a person of Iraqi extraction with strong family connections and an insight into the network of families of significance within Iraq." According to Platform, just weeks after the invasion, in a meeting with oil company execs and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in London, former British Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind promised to personally lobby Dick Cheney for contracts on behalf of several firms, including Shell.

Meanwhile, major oil firms were positioning themselves so that they'd have the best contacts in the new government. According to the Associated Press, "The world's three biggest integrated oil companies" -- BP, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch/Shell -- "struck cooperation or training deals with Iraq" in 2005. "It's a way to maintain contact and get the oil officials to know about them," former Iraqi Oil Minister Issam Chalabi told the AP. And it seems to have worked; in May, Iraq's current oil minister, Husayn al-Shahristani, said that one of his top priorities would be to finalize an oil law and sign contracts with "the largest companies."

Washington has its hands all over the drafting of that law. Early on, in 2003, USAID commissioned BearingPoint, Inc. to submit recommendations for the development of Iraq's oil sector. BearingPoint was the firm that designed the country's economic transformation under a previous USAID contract, so it was no surprise that its report reinforced the preference for PSAs that "everybody [kept] kept coming back to" during meetings of the State Department's "Future of Iraq Project."

In February, just months after the Iraqis elected their first constitutional government, USAID sent a BearingPoint adviser to provide the Iraqi Oil Ministry "legal and regulatory advice in drafting the framework of petroleum and other energy-related legislation, including foreign investment." According to Muttit, the Iraqi Parliament had not yet seen a draft of the oil law as of July, but by that time it had already been reviewed and commented on by U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, who also "arranged for Dr. Al-Shahristani to meet with nine major oil companies -- including Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and ConocoPhillips -- for them to comment on the draft."

All of these points of pressure are only what we can see in the light of day. There is certainly much more occurring under the table. Raed Jarrar told me that he "was personally familiar with the kind of intimidation that can be brought by both the U.S. military and civilian" personnel, and that he would be shocked if "multiple millions of dollars in bribes" were not changing hands. The IMF noted in its latest report (PDF) that "corruption related to the production and distribution of refined fuel products was rampant." Last March, 450 Oil Ministry employees were fired for suspected corruption, and Mohammed al-Abudi, the Oil Ministry's director general for rrilling, said that "administrative corruption" was pervasive. "The robberies and thefts are taking place on a daily basis on all levels," he said, "committed by low-level government employees and by high officials in leadership positions of the Iraqi state." The same day that the U.N. legitimized the occupation, George Bush signed Executive Order 13303 providing full legal immunity to all oil companies doing business in Iraq in order to facilitate the country's "orderly reconstruction."

Yet, despite a five-year effort, Big Oil still sits on the sidelines, wary of the disorder and violence that's plagued the country. Ironically, it appears that China may well receive the first deal in post-Saddam Iraq (although it's one negotiated with Hussein's government before the war). The Kurdish autonomous zone has signed three PSAs -- none with the majors -- although there is some dispute about their validity (and, at this writing, there are reports that the Kurds are in negotiations with Royal Dutch/Shell and BP, among others).

At this point, the situation is very fluid. Last week, Iraqis were shocked when a controversial measure that might lead to the country's effective breakup was passed by Parliament by one vote. The major Sunni parties and Muqtada al Sadr's ministers boycotted the vote in outrage. Muddying the waters further is a heated debate about whether a somewhat ambiguous provision in the Iraqi Constitution already gives provincial governments the right to hold on to oil revenues rather than send them to the central government. The results of all of these debates will have an enormous impact on Iraq's chances to build an autonomous and potentially prosperous country down the road.

It's possible that the administration and its partners badly overplayed their hand. Iraq's new government stands on the verge of a complete meltdown, faced with a crisis of legitimacy based largely on the fact that it is seen as collaborating with American forces. Overwhelming majorities of Iraqis of every sect believe the United States is an occupier, not a liberator, and is convinced that it intends to stay in Iraq permanently. "If you go in front of Parliament, Raed Jarrar told me, "and ask: 'who is opposed to demanding a timetable for the Americans to withdrawal?' nobody would dare raise their hand." The passage of a sweetheart oil law could prove to be a tipping point. It's also possible Iraq's government won't make it to December; at this writing, rumors of a "palace coup" are swirling around Baghdad, according to Iraqi lawmakers.

What is clear is that the future of Iraq ultimately hinges to a great degree on the outcome of a complex game of chess -- only part of which is out in the open -- that is playing out right now, and oil is at the center of it. It's equally clear that there's a yawning disconnect between Iraqis' and Americans' views of the situation. Erik Leaver, a senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, told me that the disposition of Iraq's oil wealth is "definitely causing problems on the ground," but the entire topic is taboo in polite D.C. circles. "Nobody in Washington wants to talk about it," he said. "They don't want to sound like freaks talking about blood for oil." At the same time, a recent poll asked Iraqis what they believed was the main reason for the invasion and 76 percent gave "to control Iraqi oil" as their first choice.

Correction: an earlier version of this article identified BearingPoint, Inc. as a company spun off from Arthur Anderson Consulting. It is a spin-off from KPMG, LLC.

Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.

War takes up less time on Fox News

War takes up less time on Fox News

By DAVID BAUDER, AP Television WriterMon Jun 11, 9:52 AM ET

On a winter day when bomb blasts at an Iraqi university killed dozens and the United Nations estimated that 34,000 civilians in Iraq had died in 2006, MSNBC spent nearly nine minutes on the stories during the 1 p.m. hour. A CNN correspondent in Iraq did a three-minute report about the bombings.

Neither story merited a mention on Fox News Channel that hour.

That wasn't unusual. Fox spent half as much time covering the Iraq war than MSNBC during the first three months of the year, and considerably less than CNN, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The difference was more stark during daytime news hours than in prime-time opinion shows. The Iraq war occupied 20 percent of CNN's daytime news hole and 18 percent of MSNBC's. On Fox, the war was talked about only 6 percent of the time.

The independent think tank's report freshens a debate over whether ideology drives news agendas, and it comes at a delicate time for Fox. Top Democratic presidential candidates have refused to appear at debates sponsored by Fox. Liberals find attacking Fox is a way to fire up their base.

"It illustrates the danger of cheerleading for one particular point or another because they were obviously cheerleaders for the war," said Jon Klein, CNN U.S. president. "When the war went badly they had to dial back coverage because it didn't fit their preconceived story lines."

Fox wouldn't respond to repeated requests to make an executive available to talk about its war coverage.

So how to explain the divergent priorities? Different opinions on what is newsworthy? A business decision?

A mere coincidence?

Fox News Channel viewers argue that their favorite network is simply the most fair. Fox has long objected to suggestions that its newscasts go through a conservative filter. Surveys have shown its audience is dominated by Republicans.

There are no similar differences in priorities among the broadcast evening-news programs, where Iraq was the top story between January and the end of March. NBC's "Nightly News" spent 269 minutes on Iraq, ABC had 251 and CBS 238, according to news consultant Andrew Tyndall.

Another story that has reflected poorly on the Bush administration, the controversy over U.S. attorney firings, also received more attention on MSNBC (8 percent of the newshole) and CNN (4 percent) than on Fox (2 percent), the Project for Excellence in Journalism found.

Tim Graham of the conservative Media Research Center, said Fox has always claimed to report from an American perspective and to not follow the pack. While Graham said he may have questions about the PEJ's methodology, he doesn't dispute the results.

His group published its own study last year about the content of coverage. Fox didn't have its head in the sand; there were more negative stories about what was happening in Iraq than positive. But his group's view was that Fox was more balanced while CNN and MSNBC were relentlessly pessimistic. Between May 15 and July 21 of last year, Fox aired nearly twice as many stories about successes in Iraq as CNN and MSNBC combined, he said.

Most coverage of Iraq focuses on what gets blown up, he said.

"The problem we have with the media elite is that they clearly see Fox as pandering to an audience and they don't see CNN as pandering to an audience," Graham said. "That's where I think the double standard sets in."

While polls say its size is diminishing, there's clearly an audience that resists the general tenor of war coverage. GOP presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani was applauded during last week's debate when he wondered aloud what would happen if the American war effort succeeds over the next few months. "Are we going to report that with the same amount of attention that we would report the negative news?" he said.

Klein disputed the idea that CNN doesn't give a complete picture of what is happening in Iraq.

"Certain folks don't want to see any bad news," he said. "It's our job to report all of the news."

The project's findings surprised MSNBC chief executive Dan Abrams, who has been pushing his network to concentrate on politics and inside-the-Beltway issues lately.

"I'm not going to get on a high horse and judge our competition based on the numbers," he said. "We are looking for the right balance."

Fox's business interests may depend on less negative news about Iraq.

If Fox's audience is dominated by Republicans who are disgusted about hearing bad news on Iraq, it would stand to reason that you'd want to feed them less of it. Bill O'Reilly touched upon that idea on the air one night last December, telling viewers that the lowest-rated segment of his show the previous night was when Iraq was discussed. Ratings jumped at talk about Britney Spears, he said.

The danger is whether those concerns eat away at journalistic credibility.

They're a news network, said CNN's Klein, "so it is surprising that they're not covering the biggest story in the country and the world."

The Project for Excellence in Journalism steered clear of questions about what its findings proved. "We just wanted to tell people that it does make a difference where you go for the news," said the group's Mark Jurkowitz.

So with less on-air attention being paid to Iraq during the first few months of the year, what filled the void for Fox? PEJ's report said the network gave the death of Anna Nicole Smith significantly more air time than its rivals.;_ylt=Au1AkNlGwwR6X1rvP9L7CFVY24cA

Monday, June 11, 2007

Pentagon Confirms It Sought To Build A 'Gay Bomb'

Pentagon Confirms It Sought To Build A 'Gay Bomb'

Hank Plante

(CBS 5) BERKELEY A Berkeley watchdog organization that tracks military spending said it uncovered a strange U.S. military proposal to create a hormone bomb that could purportedly turn enemy soldiers into homosexuals and make them more interested in sex than fighting.

Pentagon officials on Friday confirmed to CBS 5 that military leaders had considered, and then subsquently rejected, building the so-called "Gay Bomb."

Edward Hammond, of Berkeley's Sunshine Project, had used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of the proposal from the Air Force's Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.

As part of a military effort to develop non-lethal weapons, the proposal suggested, "One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior."

The documents show the Air Force lab asked for $7.5 million to develop such a chemical weapon.

"The Ohio Air Force lab proposed that a bomb be developed that contained a chemical that would cause enemy soliders to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their soldiers became irresistably attractive to one another," Hammond said after reviwing the documents.

"The notion was that a chemical that would probably be pleasant in the human body in low quantities could be identified, and by virtue of either breathing or having their skin exposed to this chemical, the notion was that soliders would become gay," explained Hammond.

The Pentagon told CBS 5 that the proposal was made by the Air Force in 1994.

"The Department of Defense is committed to identifying, researching and developing non-lethal weapons that will support our men and women in uniform," said a DOD spokesperson, who indicated that the "gay bomb" idea was quickly dismissed.

However, Hammond said the government records he obtained suggest the military gave the plan much stronger consideration than it has acknowledged.

"The truth of the matter is it would have never come to my attention if it was dismissed at the time it was proposed," he said. "In fact, the Pentagon has used it repeatedly and subsequently in an effort to promote non-lethal weapons, and in fact they submitted it to the highest scientific review body in the country for them to consider."

Military officials insisted Friday to CBS 5 that they are not currently working on any such idea and that the past plan was abandoned.

Gay community leaders in California said Friday that they found the notion of a "gay bomb" both offensive and almost laughable at the same time.

"Throughout history we have had so many brave men and women who are gay and lesbian serving the military with distinction," said Geoff Kors of Equality California. "So, it's just offensive that they think by turning people gay that the other military would be incapable of doing their job. And its absurd because there's so much medical data that shows that sexual orientation is immutable and cannot be changed."

Paul Krugman - Authentic? Never Mind

Authentic? Never Mind


Rich liberals who claim they’ll help America’s less fortunate are phonies.

Let me give you one example — a Democrat who said he’d work on behalf of workers and the poor. He even said he’d take on Big Business. But the truth is that while he was saying those things, he was living in a big house and had a pretty lavish summer home too. His favorite recreation, sailing, was incredibly elitist. And he didn’t talk like a regular guy.

Clearly, this politician wasn’t authentic. His name? Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Luckily, that’s not how the political game was played 70 years ago. F.D.R. wasn’t accused of being a phony; he was accused of being a “traitor to his class.” But today, it seems, politics is all about seeming authentic. A recent Associated Press analysis of the political scene asked: “Can you fake authenticity? Probably not, but it might be worth a try.”

What does authenticity mean? Supposedly it means not pretending to be who you aren’t. But that definition doesn’t seem to fit the way the term is actually used in political reporting.

For example, the case of F.D.R. shows that there’s nothing inauthentic, in the normal sense of the word, about calling for higher taxes on the rich while being rich yourself. If anything, it’s to your credit if you advocate policies that will hurt your own financial position. But the news media seem to find it deeply disturbing that John Edwards talks about fighting poverty while living in a big house.

On the other hand, consider the case of Fred Thompson. He spent 18 years working as a highly paid lobbyist, wore well-tailored suits and drove a black Lincoln Continental. When he ran for the Senate, however, his campaign reinvented him as a good old boy: it leased a used red pickup truck for him to drive, dressed up in jeans and a work shirt, with a can of Red Man chewing tobacco on the front seat.

But Mr. Thompson’s strength, says Lanny Davis in The Hill, is that he’s “authentic.”

Oh, and as a candidate George W. Bush was praised as being more authentic than Al Gore. As late as November 2005, MSNBC’s chief political correspondent declared that Mr. Bush’s authenticity was his remaining source of strength. But now The A.P. says that Mr. Bush’s lack of credibility is the reason his would-be successors need to seem, yes, authentic.

Talk of authenticity, it seems, lets commentators and journalists put down politicians they don’t like or praise politicians they like, with no relationship to what the politicians actually say or do.

Here’s a suggestion: Why not evaluate candidates’ policy proposals, rather than their authenticity? And if there are reasons to doubt a candidate’s sincerity, spell them out.

For example, Hillary Clinton’s credibility as a friend of labor is called into question, not by her biography or life style, but by the fact that, as The Nation recently reported, her chief strategist — a man Al Gore fired in 2000 because he didn’t trust him — heads a public relations company that helps corporations fight union organizing drives.

And where do you start with Rudy Giuliani? We keep being told that he has credibility on national security, because he seemed so reassuring on 9/11. (Some firefighters have condemned his actual performance that day, saying that rescue efforts were uncoordinated and that firemen died because he provided them with faulty radios. “All he did was give information on the TV,” said a deputy fire chief whose son died at the World Trade Center. “He did nothing.” And the nation’s largest firefighters’ union has condemned his handling of recovery efforts in the weeks following 9/11.)

But he’s spent the years since then cashing in on terrorism, and his decisions about Giuliani Partners’ personnel and clients raise real questions about his seriousness. His partners, as The Washington Post pointed out, included “a former police commissioner later convicted of corruption, a former F.B.I. executive who admitted taking artifacts from ground zero and a former Roman Catholic priest accused of covering up sexual abuse in the church.”

The point is that questions about a candidate shouldn’t be whether he or she is “authentic.” They should be about motives: whose interests would the candidate serve if elected? And think how much better shape the nation would be in if enough people had asked that question seven years ago.

Army's influence in top posts is waning

Army's influence in top posts is waning


At a time when the Army's soldiers are doing most of the fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, the service's influence in key decision-making positions is waning.

Of the U.S. military's nine combat commands, only two are run by Army generals, and that number will be cut in half when Bryan Brown retires next month as the senior officer at U.S. Special Operations Command.

Inside the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is relying on officers from the maritime services to be his top advisers. He picked the current chief of naval operations, Adm. Michael Mullen, to replace Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Marine Gen. James Cartwright will be Mullen's deputy.

The lack of green-suited four-stars in top jobs is seen partly as an extension of an attitude brought to the Pentagon six years ago by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. It's also a sign, however, of the successful culmination of a two decade effort to promote the concept of "jointness" within the military. The premise is that properly schooled officers should be able to lead troops regardless of service affiliation.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, former head of the Army War College who holds a Ph.D. in history from Duke University, said he could find no prior period when the Army was so engaged overseas and so underrepresented at top levels.

"It's absolutely extraordinary," he said. "I just can't believe the numbers. It's cultural, it's political, and it's deeply ingrained. I've never seen it to the degree it exists today."

Besides Special Operations Command, which is located at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, there are eight other "combatant commands." These are the structures responsible for unique wartime functions, such as transportation, or for managing troops in a particular region of the world, such as Europe or the Middle East.

Combatant commanders have short lines of authority; they report to the defense secretary and the president.

While the Army's presence in the upper ranks of these commands has diminished, the Navy's is growing. Brown, who is ending a 40-year military career in July, will be replaced by Eric Olson, a Navy special warfare officer. Olson's confirmation hearing is Tuesday.

U.S. Central Command, also headquartered at MacDill, oversees military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and is led by Adm. William Fallon.

Once Brown gives way to Olson, Navy admirals will run four of the commands. Air Force generals are in charge of three. Army Gen. Bantz Craddock is the top officer at U.S. European Command.

Cartwright, a Marine pilot, has been running U.S. Strategic Command since July 2004. He'll succeed Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, who is retiring, as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Cartwright's replacement at Strategic Command has not yet been named.

The Bush administration decided not to reappoint Pace for a second two-year term because his Senate confirmation hearing might turn into a partisan battle over the Iraq war, Gates said in a surprise announcement Friday.

Mullen, a 1968 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, "has the vision, strategic insight, experience and integrity to lead America's armed forces," Gates said a Pentagon news conference.

"The political appointees seem to be saying to the Army that its senior officers are not intellectually equipped to hold the highest levels of command," said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Va.

Rumsfeld came to the Pentagon in January 2001 with a plan to push the military away from a dependence on large numbers of personnel and toward a high-tech approach to warfare.

With more than 500,000 active-duty troops, the Army is the largest of the military branches. Friction between its top leaders and the defense secretary was inevitable.

The tension spilled over in February 2003 when then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki told Congress the invasion and occupation of Iraq could require "several hundred thousand soldiers."

Shinseki retired in June 2003. Rumsfeld picked Peter Schoomaker, a general who'd been retired for three years, to replace him, a move Thompson said still resonates at the Pentagon.

"When a defense secretary chooses to bypass all of the active-duty generals to find the next chief of staff, it's a sign of low esteem for the service," he said.

Col. Gary Keck, a Pentagon spokesman, said decisions on command selections are "based on the best qualified officer, not their service."

Retired Army Gen. John Tilelli, former commander of U.S. forces in Korea, agreed, saying the process is designed to be "agnostic."

"You have to look at this individual by individual," he said. "Frankly, I'm not concerned."

Generals and admirals are carefully controlled commodities; federal law prescribes how many each military branch may have. In the event of a national emergency, the president can authorize the Pentagon to waive the limits.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush did just that. There are now 39 four-star generals and admirals - 13 in the Air Force, 12 in the Army, 10 in the Navy and four in the Marine Corps.

The Army is not without generals in important positions. Gen. David Petraeus is the top commander in Iraq and is being counted on to make Bush's troop surge in Baghdad a success.

In other parts of the world, Army Gen. Dan McNeill controls all NATO forces in Afghanistan and Army Gen. Burwell Bell is the senior officer in Korea.

Yet a military branch's clout is measured by how many of its officers are in the Joint Staff and combatant command slots.

"All the services keep count, and they all think they should have a fair share," said retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Hoar, who led Central Command from 1991 to 1994.

When a command slot opens, each branch submits a candidate to the defense secretary, who then sends his recommendation to the White House for a final decision.

Candidates are vetted to ensure their world view tracks with that of the current administration, a process Hoar said is necessary although it makes the system "susceptible to manipulation."

"The president is entitled to have a guy who agrees with his policies," he said.

Seen through a different lens, the shortage of Army officers at the highest levels indicates that "true jointness is spreading," said Robert Work of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. But he cautions there's a downside to leaning toward one military branch.

"We are all shaped by our experiences," he said. "If everyone comes from the same background, you may not get the diversity of views you need.";_ylt=AnPGEmiIXGQL9QuH7v3sgB2WwvIE

Sunday, June 10, 2007

U.S. Arming Sunnis in Iraq to Battle Old Qaeda Allies

U.S. Arming Sunnis in Iraq to Battle Old Qaeda Allies

BAGHDAD, June 10 — With the four-month-old increase in American troops showing only modest success in curbing insurgent attacks, American commanders are turning to another strategy that they acknowledge is fraught with risk: arming Sunni Arab groups that have promised to fight militants linked with Al Qaeda who have been their allies in the past.

American commanders say they have successfully tested the strategy in Anbar Province west of Baghdad and have held talks with Sunni groups in at least four areas of central and north-central Iraq where the insurgency has been strong. In some cases, the American commanders say, the Sunni groups are suspected of involvement in past attacks on American troops or of having links to such groups. Some of these groups, they say, have been provided, usually through Iraqi military units allied with the Americans, with arms, ammunition, cash, fuel and supplies.

American officers who have engaged in what they call outreach to the Sunni groups say many of them have had past links to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia but grew disillusioned with the Islamic militants’ extremist tactics, particularly suicide bombings that have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians. In exchange for American backing, these officials say, the Sunni groups have agreed to fight Al Qaeda and halt attacks on American units. Commanders who have undertaken these negotiations say that in some cases, Sunni groups have agreed to alert American troops to the location of roadside bombs and other lethal booby traps.

But critics of the strategy, including some American officers, say it could amount to the Americans’ arming both sides in a future civil war. The United States has spent more than $15 billion in building up Iraq’s army and police force, whose manpower of 350,000 is heavily Shiite. With an American troop drawdown increasingly likely in the next year, and little sign of a political accommodation between Shiite and Sunni politicians in Baghdad, the critics say, there is a risk that any weapons given to Sunni groups will eventually be used against Shiites. There is also the possibility the weapons could be used against the Americans themselves.

American field commanders met this month in Baghdad with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, to discuss the conditions Sunni groups would have to meet to win American assistance. Senior officers who attended the meeting said that General Petraeus and the operational commander who is the second-ranking American officer here, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, gave cautious approval to field commanders to negotiate with Sunni groups in their areas.

One commander who attended the meeting said that despite the risks in arming groups that have until now fought against the Americans, the potential gains against Al Qaeda were too great to be missed. He said the strategy held out the prospect of finally driving a wedge between two wings of the Sunni insurgency that had previously worked in a devastating alliance — die-hard loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s formerly dominant Baath Party, and Islamic militants belonging to a constellation of groups linked to Al Qaeda.

Even if only partly successful, the officer said, the strategy could do as much or more to stabilize Iraq, and to speed American troops on their way home, as the increase in troops ordered by President Bush late last year, which has thrown nearly 30,000 additional American troops into the war but failed so far to fulfill the aim of bringing enhanced stability to Baghdad. An initial decline in sectarian killings in Baghdad in the first two months of the troop buildup has reversed, with growing numbers of bodies showing up each day in the capital. Suicide bombings have dipped in Baghdad but increased elsewhere, as Qaeda groups, confronted with great American troop numbers, have shifted their operations elsewhere.

The strategy of arming Sunni groups was first tested earlier this year in Anbar Province, the desert hinterland west of Baghdad, and attacks on American troops plunged after tribal sheiks, angered by Qaeda strikes that killed large numbers of Sunni civilians, recruited thousands of men to join government security forces and the tribal police. With Qaeda groups quitting the province for Sunni havens elsewhere, Anbar has lost its long-held reputation as the most dangerous place in Iraq for American troops.

Now, the Americans are testing the “Anbar model” across wide areas of Sunni-dominated Iraq. The areas include parts of Baghdad, notably the Sunni stronghold of Amiriya, a district that flanks the highway leading to Baghdad’s international airport; the area south of the capital in Babil province known as the Triangle of Death, site of an ambush in which four American soldiers were killed last month and three others abducted, one of whose bodies was found in the Euphrates; Diyala Province north and east of Baghdad, an area of lush palm groves and orchards which has replaced Anbar as Al Qaeda’s main sanctuary in Iraq; and Salahuddin Province, also north of Baghdad, the home area of Saddam Hussein.

Although the American engagement with the Sunni groups has brought some early successes against Al Qaeda, particularly in Anbar, many of the problems that hampered earlier American efforts to reach out to insurgents remain unchanged. American commanders say the Sunni groups they are negotiating with show few signs of wanting to work with the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. For their part, Shiite leaders are deeply suspicious of any American move to co-opt Sunni groups that are wedded to a return to Sunni political dominance.

With the agreement to arm some Sunni groups, the Americans also appear to have made a tacit recognition that earlier demands for the disarming of Shiite militia groups are politically unachievable for now given the refusal of powerful Shiite political parties to shed their armed wings. In effect, the Americans seem to have concluded that as long as the Shiites maintain their militias, Shiite leaders are in a poor position to protest the arming of Sunni groups whose activities will be under close American scrutiny.

But officials of Mr. Maliki’s government have placed strict limits on the Sunni groups they are willing to countenance as allies in the fight against Al Qaeda. One leading Shiite politician, Sheik Khalik al-Atiyah, the deputy Parliament speaker, said in a recent interview that he would rule out any discussion of an amnesty for Sunni Arab insurgents, even those who commit to fighting Al Qaeda. Similarly, many American commanders oppose rewarding Sunni Arab groups who have been responsible, even tangentially, for any of the more than 29,000 American casualties in the war, including more than 3,500 deaths. Equally daunting for American commanders is the risk that Sunni groups receiving American backing could effectively double-cross the Americans, taking weapons and turning them against American and Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government forces.

Americans officers acknowledge that providing weapons to breakaway rebel groups is not new in counterinsurgency warfare, and that in places where it has been tried before, including the French colonial war in Algeria, the British-led fight against insurgents in Malaya in the early 1950s, and in Vietnam, the effort often backfired, with weapons given to the rebels being turned against the forces providing them. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the Third Infantry Division and leader of an American task force fighting in a wide area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers immediately south of Baghdad, said at a briefing for reporters on Sunday that no American support would be given to any Sunni group that had attacked Americans. If the Americans negotiating with Sunni groups in his area had “specific information” that the group or any of its members had killed Americans, he said, “The negotiation is going to go like this: ‘You’re under arrest, and you’re going with me.’ I’m not going to go out and negotiate with folks who have American blood on their hands.”

One of the conditions set by the American commanders who met in Baghdad was that any group receiving weapons must submit its fighters for biometric tests that would include taking fingerprints and retinal scans. The American conditions, senior officers said, also include registering the serial numbers of all weapons, steps the Americans believe will help in tracing fighters who use the weapons in attacks against American or Iraqi troops. The fighters who have received American backing in the Amiriya district of Baghdad were required to undergo the tests, the officers said.

The requirement that no support be given to insurgent groups that have attacked Americans appeared to have been set aside or loosely enforced in negotiations with the Sunni groups elsewhere, including Amiriya, where American units that have supported Sunni groups fighting to oust Al Qaeda have told reporters they believe that the Sunni groups include insurgents who had fought the Americans. The Americans have bolstered Sunni groups in Amiriya by empowering them to detain suspected Qaeda fighters and approving ammunition supplies to Sunni fighters from Iraqi Army units.

In Anbar, there have been negotiations with factions from the 1920 Revolution Brigades, a Sunni insurgent group with strong Baathist links that has a history of attacking Americans. In Diyala, insurgents who have joined the Iraqi Army have told reporters that they switched sides after working for the 1920 group. And in an agreement announced by the American command on Sunday, 130 tribal sheiks in Salahuddin met in the provincial capital, Tikrit, to form police units that would “defend” against Al Qaeda.

General Lynch said American commanders would face hard decisions in choosing which groups to support. “This isn’t a black and white place,” he said. “There are good guys and bad guys and there are groups in between,” and separating them was a major challenge. He said some groups that had approached the Americans had made no secret of their enmity.

“They say, ‘We hate you because you are occupiers’ ” he said, “ ‘but we hate Al Qaeda worse, and we hate the Persians even more.’ ” Sunni militants refer to Iraq’s Shiites as Persians, a reference to the strong links between Iraqi Shiites and the Shiites who predominate in Iran.

An Iraqi government official who was reached by telephone on Sunday said the government was uncomfortable with the American negotiations with the Sunni groups because they offered no guarantee that the militias would be loyal to anyone other than the American commander in their immediate area. “The government’s aim is to disarm and demobilize the militias in Iraq,” said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Mr. Maliki. “And we have enough militias in Iraq that we are struggling now to solve the problem. Why are we creating new ones?”

Despite such views, General Lynch said, the Americans believed that Sunni groups offering to fight Al Qaeda and halt attacks on American and Iraqi forces met a basic condition for re-establishing stability in insurgent-hit areas: they had roots in the areas where they operated, and thus held out the prospect of building security from the ground up. He cited areas in Babil Province where there were “no security forces, zero, zilch,” and added: “When you’ve got people who say, ‘I want to protect my neighbors,’ we ought to jump like a duck on a june bug.”

Damien Cave and Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributed reporting.