Sunday, September 30, 2001

I've already posted a couple entries concerning Christopher Hitchens's leftist apostasy. As might be expected, his harsh criticisms have drawn responses from 'the Chomsky-Zinn-Finkelstein quarter'.
Thomas Homer-Dixon, nicknamed the 'prophet of doom', is the head of the Peace and Conflict Studies programme at the University of Toronto (click here to hear a one hour audio feature of Homer-Dixon on CBC's Ideas). He's made his reputation writing and studying the interconnections between environmental damage, social upheaval, economic chaos and conflict. Not surprisingly, he rejects the recent injunction against studying the root causes of terrorism:

...these commentators declare any consideration of root causes to be off limits. And they throw calumnies at anyone who raises these issues.

Yet by keeping us from learning about the origins of the threats we face, this attitude could easily make us less safe over the long run. Until we understand the sources of terrorism and do something about them, we can arm ourselves to the teeth, rampage across the planet with our militaries, suspend many of our civil liberties, and still not protect ourselves from this menace.

Now the second argument. Are those who want to examine the root causes of terrorism saying we should delay our efforts to track down and punish those responsible for this latest attack? Again, of course not.

The analogy of a terrible illness, like cancer, is useful here. We must excise the social pathology of terrorism - which means we must identify, track down, and destroy the culprits -- just as we cut out a cancerous tumor. But when we're dealing with a critical illness, the task usually doesn't end there. We also want to change the underlying factors - such as smoking -- that make cancer more likely to emerge in the first place.

'Why Root Causes Are Important'
'Thomas Homer-Dixon' (first broadcast on IDEAS 1 June 1999)

Friday, September 28, 2001

In the midst of whatever dark period we are in, the juandiced eyes of Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair scan the horizon, and improbably enough find reason for good cheer. Such incorrigable contrarians...
Human Rights Watch has launched a new site which is likely to grow quickly....

Opportunism in the Face of Tragedy
Repression in the name of anti-terrorism

For the forseeable future, much of the world will understandably be focused on efforts to bring those responsible for the attacks of September 11 to justice. In the meantime, some governments may cynically try to take advantage of this struggle to justify or intensify their own crackdowns on political opponents or religious groups. In other places, leaders may exploit the situation to advance unnecessarily restrictive or punitive policies against refugees, asylum-seekers, and other foreigners. Human Rights Watch will seek to report any statements or actions of this kind on this site as they occur.

Opportunism Watch
Looking for an upside, any upside? One of the sectors hit hardest by the attacks has been the public relations industry. The impact described by one flak as 'like a freight train hitting a brick wall', the experience of reverse synergy so unsettling that some in the trade now 'say the work is unimportant'.

Jack Bergen, president of the Council of PR Firms, is determined to counter such perceptions -- with some good PR. He is on the record as 'personally frustrated' that he did not convey the point of 'PR's importance during a time of crisis.'

He assembled his 200 staffers following the attacks to tell them "that they are more relevant today than ever."

Bergen said the Council's board held a session to discuss how they can build morale among staffers and what can be done to "jump-start" their businesses.

Bergen feels the time is ripe to resume contact with the five key audiences of PR, which he lists as customers, employees, investors, communities and governments.

Those firms that don't pick up their PR will be at a "competitive disadvantage."

He recommends the PR people should talk it over with reporters if they are unsure about them being receptive to pitches. And above all, make sure the pitch is made with "dignity and taste," said Bergen.

Dignity and taste shouldn't be a problem. These people are experts...

Although a military operation has yet to begin, its anticipation has unleashed a humanitarian crisis of massive proportions in Afghanistan. Starvation and impending winter may rack up a death toll in the millions. Sensing their vulnerability, the Taliban are tightening their grip on the country, desperately preparing for war, 'the dreaded ministry of virtue and vice are ubiquitous, leaving a trail of tears, bruises, and broken limbs behind them', attempting to stave off an increasingly likely civil revolt.

I've added some links on Afghanistan to the sidebar. If anyone has resources to recommend on the subject please forward them. While poking around, one interesting site I stumbled on was, who come across as rather hurt and confused on their welcome page:

Thanks for visiting our web site. We would like to notify our visitors that, this web site does not belong to Terrorist Taliban and Usama bin Ladin regime. We have been receiving ignorant and disturbing emails from visitors who can't distinguish a difference between Taliban Usama Binladin with the Government of Islamic State of Afghanistan...

All due apologies, but the average Westerner's knowledge of the region's socio-political complexity isn't likely to reach that level of distinction until... well, it never will actually.

Thursday, September 27, 2001

A provocative photo gallery...
I'm a little worried that this weblog might degenerate into a sort of Guardian fanpage, but at times I can't help myself. This is such an occasion.

A common refrain we read in the Canadian press is that any skepticism of U.S. motives or tactics is simple anti-Americanism -- wrong-headed, un-neighbourly, and in monstrous bad taste. But as Hugo Young observes:

There's nothing anti-American in pointing out that a misguided missile strike could kill innocents by the hundred; or that ill-directed attacks could soon fragment the anti-Taliban alliance; or that Saudi Arabia, America's vital ally in the region, is intensely vulnerable to a wrong call; or that Pakistan could be overwhelmed by the about-turn it has been forced to make; or that more terrorist outrages are as likely to be provoked by doing something as doing nothing; or that, come what may, the humanitarian calamity will exceed anything yet seen.

The precarious balance may well be understood by American planners, though a measured response poses a political problem for Bush that may yet provoke intemperate action. Though indiscriminate bombing has reportedly been ruled out (for now), there is no clear alternative plan, and pressure is building from conservative quarters to 'do something'. Gary Younge summarizes the American dilemma in an excellent analysis of the Bush administration's media strategy:

The trouble is that in two weeks since the terror attacks [Americans] have had nothing particularly captivating to watch. This is a real concern for the Bush administration. Nothing is ever going to match the horrific drama of the bombing and then collapse of the towers of the World Trade Centre. But none the less the need to mediate if not satiate the American public's considerable desire for revenge demands that the White House provides some evidence for public consumption that they are doing something to respond to the assault. This is not just a war Bush must win in the air, from the sea, on the ground, or wherever else the US military might seek to fight. It is also one he must win on the television screens if he is going to keep the public with him.

Compounding the problem is that Bush's PR team has a lousy relationship with the media, in large part due to its own arrogance and duplicity. Just today, the administration admitted that their absurd claim that Air Force One had been targetted on September 11th -- a feeble attempt to explain Bush's absence from the White House -- was a heaping, steaming pile of self-serving horseshit.

'A new kind of war means a new kind of discussion'
'This is still a war that has few clear enemies and still fewer clear aims'
'Stay tuned'
'White House whitewashers'
'White House drops claim of threat to Bush'

Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Christopher Hitchens and Alexander Cockburn have a fair bit in common. They're both nasty, funny and talented writers, British leftists who have found comfortable niches living in America. Both loudly proclaim beliefs heretical to most progressives: Hitchens has taken pro-life positions and ranks with Kenneth Starr and Rush Limbaugh on the Clinton-hater scale; Cockburn is a global warming skeptic who has cultivated a persona memorably described as a 'backwoods misanthropic crank that summons up poet Robinson Jeffers and other notable American nut cases'.

But despite the shared characteristics, or more likely because of them, Cockburn and Hitchens have waged a vicious feud for years. One memorable episode provided fireworks during the Clinton-Lewinsky ordeal, when Hitchens reported that his friend, Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, had perjured himself while defending the President. The affair prompted Cockburn to write a particularly slashing column about 'Hitch the Snitch':

Many people go through life rehearsing a role they feel that the fates have in store for them, and we've long thought that Christopher Hitchens has been asking himself for years how it would feel to plant the Judas kiss. Indeed an attempted physical embrace has often been part of the rehearsal. Many's the time male friends have had to push Hitchens' mouth, fragrant with martinis away, as, amid the welcomes and good-byes, he seeks their cheek or lips.

So it's no surprise to see that they are at each other's throats yet again. At issue is Hitchens's strong advocacy of decisive action against the Taliban, and a litany of insults directed at dissidents Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Sam Husseini (not toward Cockburn as yet), such as in 'Of Sin, the Left, & Islamic Fascism'

I have no hesitation in describing this mentality, carefully and without heat, as soft on crime and soft on fascism. No political coalition is possible with such people and, I'm thankful to say, no political coalition with them is now necessary. It no longer matters what they think.

Cockburn swiftly went on the counterattack against Hitchens's 'Bomb the Bastards outburst', noting that in 'times of crisis, by the way, it's often liberals who are quickest to set rules about what we should say and how we should say it'.

And Cockburn's online newsletter Counterpunch has just posted a piece by Tariq Ali entitled 'Hitchens at War' which concludes that if 'Hitchens carries on in this vein, he'll soon find himself addressing the same gatherings as his sparring partner, Henry Kissinger.'

Cockburn and Hitchens are contrarian gadflies who thrive on controversy, and both live to hurl invective, so this particular sideshow seems destined to get uglier. But the clash may well be a prelude of coming ruptures within the left as it struggles to formulate a coherent response to the crisis--much like the rest of us...

'Against Rationalization'
'Of Sin, the Left, & Islamic Fascism'
'The Price'
'Hitchens at War'
The apparent American emphasis upon coalition-building seems to justify Edward Luttwak's assertion that major offensives against Afghanistan or Iraq are not 'even being considered', in favor of a response that will be '95-per-cent diplomatic and only 5-per-cent military, if that'.

Luttwak's analysis makes eminent sense, and hopefully it proves to be correct. But reports of a rift between Colin Powell's State Department and the administration's more hawkish members (everyone else) aren't going away, amid indications that Bush's political base will not be satisfied with anything less than 'ending states that support terrorism'.

Influential conservative William Kristol (aka 'Dan Quayle's brain'), in a Washington Post opinion piece, suggests that Powell is undermining the success of the administration with his timidity and regard for international opinion. He argues that Powell's a fine fellow and all that, but his caution during the Gulf War was overruled by Bush Sr. and the President should follow his father's example.

In the months following the election, Powell was allowed to work toward consensus with the international community on a range of issues -- global warming, reworking Iraqi sanctions, missile defense -- only to have the rug pulled out from beneath him by the administration's ultra-conservative factions (with the backing of the President). Will Bush be able to fend off the blood and guts crowd? Will he even want to? Commentators have been near-unanimous in their praise of the President, suggesting that the gravity of the crisis has inspired Bush to rise above ideology and govern pragmatically. We can only hope that such confidence isn't as pollyannish as it sounds.

'America must develop tactics for a country without targets'
'Hawks gang up against Powell'
'Bush vs Powell'
'Bush is on a steep learning curve, just like the rest of us'
Did the Americans have plans to move militarily on Bin Laden before the September 11th attacks? Were the attacks pre-emptive strikes?

Did Bin Laden decide to get his retaliation in first? And did the new Bush administration make a horrible miscalculation by taking an ill-informed, "tough guy" approach to their fanatical Islamist opponent ?

These are the troubling questions raised by the Guardian's disclosure at the weekend that the Taliban received a specific warning - passed during secret diplomacy in Berlin in July - that the Bush team had prepared a new plan to topple the entire Afghan regime militarily unless they handed Bin Laden over.

If it turns out that our future safety is in the hands of those who might possibly have averted the horror of September 11 by behaving more cautiously, then we owe it to history to establish the true record. But we can be certain that no one presently in charge in Washington will want to do that.

Essentially, The Guardian is reporting that the Bush administration came into power determined to throw its weight against the Taliban, in contrast to what it regarded as a wussy liberal Clinton policy. They figured it was no use asking Pakistan for help, so they decided to apply military pressure against Afghanistan from the north, via the former Soviet Republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan--who were amenable to the idea, in exchange for military aid and other goodies...

The Americans were apparently feeling a little cocky, with Republican Senator and vice-chairman of the Senate intelligence committee Richard C Shelby bragging to the Washington Post that Osama bin Laden was 'on the run, and I think he will continue to be on the run, because we are not going to let up.' He went on: 'I don't think you could say he's got us hunkered down. I believe he's more hunkered down... He knows he's hunted.' Plans were drawn up, and American officials were talking tough in the diplomatic community about imminent military action against the Taliban.

The hawks in Washington could count on the connivance of Russian troops, and on facilities in such places as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, already host to US military advisers.

The message that thus went back via Pakistan to the Taliban was that the hawks in Washington thought they were backing Bin Laden into a corner. Unfortunately, he decided to push his own button, instead.

'Attack and counter-attack'

Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Hey, ever wondered what it's like to be a prisoner of war in Northern Afghanistan?

In a scene that could have been witnessed a millennium ago, the shuffling column of prisoners yesterday loaded huge logs on to their shoulders, clambered, bent double, on to the bridge, and carried the firewood up to the jail, built four months ago to house the PoWs.

Clamped in leg irons, forced to spend his days standing in a stuffy mud-and-straw prison room, one young prisoner described the journey that brought him to this Northern Alliance jail, in the mountains north-east of Kabul. As a teenager in the northern Yemeni town of Saada, Abdurahman yearned to fight for Islam. At 17 he ran away from home in search of lessons in warfare and terrorism, an odyssey that would take him to war for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

'Taliban prisoners glory in attacks'
A revealing profile of the disturbingly influential Paul Wolfowitz, uber-nut...

Paul Wolfowitz's admirers and detractors agree on one thing - "hawk" is too timid a description of the outspoken deputy defence secretary trying to persuade President Bush to bomb Iraq.

"Hawk doesn't do him justice," said one awed former colleague from academia. "What about velociraptor?"

Mr Wolfowitz, a native of Brooklyn, is untroubled by shyness. Soon after his appointment, he interrupted a New York Times interviewer to remind her that in Indonesia, where he was once ambassador, "I am a major international figure." Indonesians, he pointed out, "still have my picture on the walls."
In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack, Martin Amis wrote that the 'temperature of planetary fear has been lifted towards the feverish; "the world hum", in Don DeLillo's phrase, is now as audible as tinnitus.' It's certainly felt that way trying to withstand the barrage of information and misinformation that is the reigning media madhouse. As much as anything I intended this weblog to serve as a personal info-navigation tool. And in that spirit, I've just added a set of links (see sidebar) to other weblogs tracking this story.

I'm indebted to my friend and colleague Laura Trippi for links and for her assistance. And in her own blog net.narrative environments she offers a fine argument why this form is so appropriate for the times:

Broadcast media foster a cult of expertise that keeps us silent and timid in front of our TVs. But we also have the option to attempt to act like citizens instead. With the web and, increasingly now, with tools like those for blogging, we have the means to build our own news distribution systems, small but sprawling networks to publish our thoughts to one another, and, collectively perhaps, even make our voices heard.

I know I'm only linking to a small fraction of the excellent weblogs out there. I'll be adding more in the near future, and if anyone (assuming I'm not the only person reading this page) has a blog to plug, please send it my way.

Monday, September 24, 2001

A common maxim of the 'security experts' littering our screens is that superior intelligence information will be critical in this new form of war 'we' will be fighting. In today's Globe and Mail, Andrew Mitrovica notes the 'broad consensus among academics, intelligence experts, even veterans of the second-oldest profession, that the ingenious, catastrophic attacks in the political, military and entrepreneurial heart of America on Sept. 11 represent a calamitous intelligence failure.' Revelations emerging on how this debacle occurred, and the inability (or unwillingness) of the intelligence community to address its own shortcomings, do not bode well for their success in the coming crusade.

Lewis Lapham (thanks to Pat McPhee for the link), while being interviewed on CBC's As It Happens, points to a revealing deficiency within the US intelligence community when he mentions its long-standing ignorance of non-European languages and history. It's an oversight indicative of profound myopia afflicting those who would lead us into war.

A month before the terrorist attacks, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former high-level CIA operative, was arguing that the CIA's efforts to infiltrate bin Ladin's organization had been misdirected and impotent.

Robert Baer, one of the most talented Middle East case officers of the past twenty years (and the only operative in the 1980s to collect consistently first-rate intelligence on the Lebanese Hizbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad), suggested to headquarters in the early 1990s that the CIA might want to collect intelligence on Afghanistan from the neighboring Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union.

Headquarters' reply: Too dangerous, and why bother? The Cold War there was over with the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. Afghanistan was too far away, internecine warfare was seen as endemic, and radical Islam was an abstract idea.

Bill Clinton nows says he gave the CIA his own set of 'wanted dead or alive' orders back in 1998, when Osama bin Laden bombed two American embassies, and then humiliate its armed forces the following year with an audacious attack crippling the USS Cole. Yet even with three years to respond to America's most wanted fugitive, the military still does not have a single officer that speaks the mission's pertinent languages. It seems inconceivable that they would take a similar attitude toward the Russian tongue, for instance. Imagining how American intelligence could be caught so unaware by a network they were said to have 'under constant surveillance' looks like simple hubris.

Despite the magnitude of their failure, don't expect to see purges and harsh investigations of the CIA's decision-makers. Their media mantra that they have been underfunded and hamstrung by liberal regulations has been repeated in the mainstream press without much argument, and no doubt the intelligence community will soon be rewarded for its incompetence with an increased budget and a new degree of impunity.

The respected military and intelligence publication Jane's Defence Weekly reports that the US relentlessly pursued budget priorities that buffed its high-tech sheen, no doubt pleasing arms industry contractors. 'While national technical means continued to receive high levels of funding for surveillance satellites, signals intelligence flights, and other eavesdropping technologies, human-based intelligence capabilities have withered.'

And as for its supposed legal shackles, Robert Scheer writes:

There's something absurd in the sentiment of congressional leaders, who the New York Times reported Sunday "have concluded that American spy agencies should be allowed to combat terrorism with more aggressive tactics, including the hiring of unsavory foreign agents." When did the CIA stop hiring "unsavory" agents? Like Bin Laden, the CIA recruited "freedom fighters" from throughout the Islamic world to overthrow the secular government in Kabul that was backed by the Soviets.

The arrogance and adherence to its own traditions carry some troubling implications for American planners. This from The Guardian:

When terror came out of a clear blue sky on September 11, some of the Pentagon's top brass were given a jolting reminder of a wargame they had recently played. In the game, the US was pitted against a zealous, decentralised terror organisation very like Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida, and the US lost.

'The real problem with our spies'
Lewis Lapham's CBC interview, September 18th
'US lacks knowledge to launch land war'
'The Counterterrorist Myth'
'Chronic underfunding of US HUMINT plays role in intelligence failures'
'CIA Tracks Lead in Disastrous Circle'
'Wargame exposed gaping hole in Pentagon strategy'

Saturday, September 22, 2001

If you're as big a fan of the Backstreet Boys as I am, you already know about the throbbing pre-teen hearts that B'Boy Kevin Richardson broke with his astonishing and incendiary remarks to Canada's video network MuchMusic: 'I just think we are a little bit of an arrogant nation and maybe this is a little bit of a humbling experience,' he said. 'What has our government done to provoke this action, that we don't know about?'

Whoa dude, slow down there. Are you saying that people might have, like, a reason to hate America? That's so whacked, man. Never forget, they were attacking Freedom and Democracy, and that's why everybody has to shut up and agree with whatever the President says we should do.

Richardson, who perhaps misunderstands those Mountain Dew ads urging him to be 'extreme' and 'radical', quickly recanted and apologised, having learned what Robert Fisk and others have discovered, that 'criticising the United States is now to be the moral equivalent of Jew-hating'.

Fisk's editorial in The Independent
The Bush administration has been reported to be divided on the scope of retaliation. Those of us who watched Thursday's Presidential Address trying to determine which camp the President is favoring could point to rhetoric supporting either position. The kind words for Islam and calls for tolerance suggest that the administration recognises the danger of broad civil unrest--or worse--in Islamic nations. Yet Bush's declaration that 'whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done' seemed an extension of his earlier wild west, 'wanted dead or alive' bellicosity.

The mainstream consensus was George W. Bush gave 'the speech of his life' Thursday night, and the comparisons to Roosevelt and Churchill were duly made. Gadflies Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair offer a typically harsh contrarian view on the speech, and move on to consider the dire omens regarding the prospects for civil liberties and American society:

Thursday night, the President managed the task capably enough. Reduced to its essentials, the speech was a declaration of lawlessness, with the concept of "justice" being reduced to that of the freedom to shoot the other guy on whatever terms America may find convenient.
. . .
A great nation does not respond to a single hour of terrible mayhem in two cities by hog-tying itself with new repressive laws and abuses of constitutional freedoms, like Gulliver doing the work of the Lilliputians and lashing himself to the ground with a thousand cords.

Friday, September 21, 2001

That retching sound you hear is me, every time somebody forwards an ill-formatted email mentioning Nostradamus or the supposed bizarre coincidences surrounding the number 11. As if we aren't already swimming in a sea of misinformation. Thankfully, the cranky but lovable skeptics at the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal have set up a 'Hoaxwatch' site to examine these and the myriad other urban legends as they develop.

Also: Snopes's 'Rumors of War' site.

The outbreak of these rumours is not at all surprising. Although the stories invoke 'mysteries', they imply a faith in an underlying and fixed universal order--strangely reassuring at a moment in which we really are plunging headlong into a dangerous unknown.

Yes, the truth is out there. And it's likely way scarier than we think.
The concerns regarding the Pentagon code name "Infinite Justice" (see below) appear to have been heard by Washington policy makers. As John Stackhouse reports in today's Globe and Mail, 'the tag, announced only a day earlier, was the name for its military buildup in the Persian Gulf. The reference to "infinite justice" had offended Muslim scholars who believe infinite justice is the work of God, or Allah, not of humans.'

Stackhouse does not mention the potentially decisive impact of this weblog's fearsome commentary.

The Guardian has reported it has seen diplomatic cables indicating a plan to overthrow the Taliban, place the country under UN control, and perhaps even restore the exiled 86-year-old monarch of Afghanistan, King Zahir Shah to power.

It also reports that U.S. Transport planes loaded with surveillance equipment have landed in Tashkent, capital of the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, a move which risks 'the wrath of Russia which views the central Asian republics as its backyard'.

The fine Guardian correspondent Ian Traynor has also filed an audio report (RealAudio) from Dushanbe on a potential alliance with northern Afghanistan's rebel forces.

Thursday, September 20, 2001

'Operation Infinite Justice'. Although the Pentagon has yet to confirm that this is indeed the code name for its deployment of combat forces, merely proposing such words reveals a great deal about the current American mindset. Besides its implication that this will be a war without end (or more horrifying, a war with its terminus in the Infinite), the Globe and Mail's Michael Valpy reports that the phrase was 'carefully chosen by someone familiar with the rhetoric of conservative, fire-and-brimstone Christianity'.

The U.S. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, which says its purpose is "to equip Christians with good information on doctrine," defines God's "infinite justice" as His "terrible price" exacted for the reinstatement to sin-free purity of "all His created humanity."

The outrageous comments by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson made in the wake of the tragedy (and their laughably inept non-apology apologies) have demonstrated clearly that their twisted brand of Christianity has more in common with the Taliban than any vision of democracy worthy of the name. For the U.S. to adopt terminolgy such as 'Infinite Justice' is a troubling indication that this may be more a war of religious hatred than is generally understood.
Yesterday I speculated that the U.S. Military, sensing that its prospects for a satisfying retaliation in Afghanistan were remote at best, would train at least some of its fire toward a more visible and convenient target: Iraq. The signals from Washington were somewhat obscure, but today the New York Times has published an account of divisions within the Bush adminstration regarding strategy. Here conservatives such as Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz are reported to be mounting an effort to broaden and intensify America's planned response, 'calling on the president to "make a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power" even if he cannot be linked to the terrorists who struck New York and Washington last week.'

Although we are bound to hear differently in the days ahead, it must be stressed that there is no known credible link between Iraq and the horror in New York and Washington, that just last Sunday Dick Cheney 'said in a televised interview that the administration did not have evidence linking Saddam Hussein to last week's attacks'. That is irrelevant to the position articulated by Wolfowitz and like-minded extremists, who advocate 'a military campaign against Iraq that would not only punish Mr. Hussein for his past support for terrorism at home and abroad but would also eliminate the danger he poses to Israel and the West in his quest to acquire weapons of mass destruction.'

It should be noted that Secretary of State Colin Powell, while undoubtedly a hawk, is a voice within the administration at least aware of the powderkeg such an act would detonate, reportedly arguing that 'targeting Iraq and Saddam Hussein would "wreck" the coalition'.

For now, while the U.S. is focused on shoring up international support, Powell's somewhat more measured approach may prevail, but long-term prospects are dim indeed. Prior to the present crisis, Powell's internationalist leanings on the Kyoto accord and missile defense were consistently overruled within the White House in favor of provocative and unilateralist positions. He was such an obvious non-factor in the Bush administration that Time magazine published a story on September 10th pondering how such a titanic figure could be 'leaving such shallow footprints.'

It's hard to overstate the extent of violence that Paul Wolfowitz is willing to unleash, boasting of wielding 'a very big hammer' in the interests of 'ending states that support terrorism.' Counterpunch has published a frightening account of the advocacy of Wolfowitz and others for 'mini nukes'--an oxymoron that would be ludicrous if only the horror was not so plausible.

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seems to flirt briefly with sanity in today's New York Times ("Scarcity of Afghan Targets Leads U.S. to Revise Strategy"), acknowledging that a massive bombing campaign has little prospect for success. "Several countries have exhausted themselves pounding that country," said Mr. Rumsfeld, referring to Afghanistan. "There are not great things of value that are easy to deal with. And what we'll have to do is exactly what I said: use the full spectrum of our capabilities." Alas, it seems unlikely that American decision-makers are heeding the warnings of Robert Fisk, or even the 'don't go mad, George' counsel supposedly being offered by Tony Blair.

No, this tactical difficulty is being used to justify an even broader military mission. A clue of what likely lies ahead can be found on the front page of the rabid New York Post, which screams "Saddam Terror Link". And sure enough, the latest reports are suggesting that the U.S. now suspects 'several foreign powers' of colluding in this act.

Of course, even though the massive coverage of Osama bin Laden has neglected to mention any connection between him and (the more or less secular) Saddam Hussein, it would be cynical to suggest that the potential quagmire that Afghanistan represents and the emergence of Iraq as a potential target might be connected somehow. Surely, the fact that the U.S. already has air superiority in Iraq (indeed was bombing it the week before the WTC disaster) plays no role in America's strategic planning...
Writers such as John Updike, Jonathan Franzen, Denis Johnson and Rebecca Mead address the attacks and the aftermath in the current issue of The New Yorker. Most scathing in her analysis is Susan Sontag, whose statement is already generating intense criticism, with Andrew Sullivan referring to her as a 'pretentious buffoon' peddling contemptible claptrap. Sontag writes:

A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.

Read the New Yorker pieces.

Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Interviewing Chomsky
Radio B92, Belgrade

To quote the lead analysis in the _New York Times_ (Sept. 16), the perpetrators acted out of "hatred for the values cherished in the West as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and universal suffrage." U.S. actions are irrelevant, and therefore need not even be mentioned (Serge Schmemann). This is a convenient picture, and the general stance is not unfamiliar in intellectual history; in fact, it is close to the norm. It happens to be completely at variance with everything we know, but has all the merits of self-adulation and uncritical support for power.

It is correct to say that this is a novel event in world history, not because of the scale of the atrocity -- regrettably -- but because of the target. How the West chooses to react is a matter of supreme importance. If the rich and powerful choose to keep to their traditions of hundreds of years and resort to extreme violence, they will contribute to the escalation of a cycle of violence, in a familiar dynamic, with long-term consequences that could be awesome. Of course, that is by no means inevitable. An aroused public within the more free and democratic societies can direct policies towards a much more humane and honorable course.