Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Russian Envoy Derides Iran Sanctions

Is it possible that even Russia is worried that there will be an attack on Iran? At least Russia is advising Ahmadinejad to do his best to lie low: keep the rules, satisfy the UN, etc. In this way he makes it harder for the Bush administration to make the case against Iran. Lets hope it works. It is going to have to work just 14 more months….

New York Times
Russian Envoy Derides Iran Sanctions
By Nazila Fathi

"The Russian foreign minister made a surprise visit to Iran today to meet with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and discuss Iran’s nuclear program"
"[Mr. Lavrov] was quoted as saying that he had urged Iran to continue working with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, and to 'do it as actively as possible, to clarify all questions that the international community has regarding Iran’s previous nuclear program.'"
"But he also stressed that further sanctions would not help the situation.For more than a year, a fragile coalition of world powers has been trying to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions through United Nations sanctions. But after two rounds of sanctions, Russia and China have balked at escalation to another round"
"Mr. Lavrov’s visit comes two weeks after the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, made a landmark trip to Iran"
"After Mr. Putin’s visit, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said the Russian president had delivered a proposal to Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on state matters.Neither the Iranians nor the Russians would disclose any details, but Mr.Larijani said that it involved a new way to help resolve the nuclear standoff and that the Iranian side was studying it."

Iran Is Cutting Dollar Reserves

As I have indicated before the run up to an attack on Iran has a familiar ring. Several reasons have been proposed, and I have already suggested that the whole administration policy may have been affected by "peak oil". I don't know what to think of that argument. But here is another, and it seems to me more compelling: Iran wants its receipts for oil to be paid in currencies other than dollars. That decision was announced on March 27, and in July Bloomberg indicated that Japan would comply by paying in yen. The same sources suggest that other buyers are thinking about paying in yen or euros.

What would that mean for the dollar? For over 70 years oil has been priced in dollars, so even though the dollar is supposed to be floating it is in fact closely linked to the world's most critical commodity. If not gold, then oil: which makes it truly a "hard" currency. If it turns out that oil begins to be priced in other currencies, might that weaken the dollar? Without being an expert, I would suppose so. In fact, I wonder if a case might be made that such a change would represent a fundamental "attack" on the dollar.

So, is that the reason the Bush administration wants to attack Iran? Could there be another message in the attack? -- Like, don't mess with the dollar. Could this be a warning to other oil producing countries tempted to make such a change?

Is this a reach? I don't know, but I know that there have to be better reasons for attacking Iran now than the ones being given us.

Iran Is Cutting Dollar Reserves, Central Bank Says
By Stephanie Phang and Soraya Permatasari

"Iran is cutting its U.S. dollar reserves to lessthan 20 percent of total foreign currency holdings, and will buy moreeuros and yen as tensions with the U.S. increase, Central Bank GovernorEbrahim Sheibany said."
"The UN asked nations and international lenders such as the World Bank to stop giving grants, loans and other financial aid to Iran, except for humanitarian or development purposes. The U.S. on Jan. 9 blocked Bank Sepah, the state-owned Iranian bank, from accessing the American financial system, accusing it of aiding Iran's weapons programs."
"Iran exports 60 percent of its crude to Asia, 32 percent to Europe and 8percent to Africa. It is the world's fourth-largest oil exporter and the second-largest producer among the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries."

By Megumi Yamanaka

"Iran asked Japanese refiners to switch to the yen to pay for all crude oil purchases, after Iran's central bank said it is reducing holdings of the U.S. dollar. Iran wants yen-based transactions 'for any/all of your forthcoming Iranian crude oil liftings,'' according to a letter sent to Japanese refiners that was signed by Ali A. Arshi, general manager of crude oil marketing and exports in Tehran at the National Iranian Oil Co."
"The request is for all shipments 'effective immediately,' according to the letter, dated July 10 and obtained by Bloomberg News."
"The yen rose on speculation for an increase in demand for the currency,the result of Japan's annual 1.24 trillion yen ($10.1 billion) of oil imports from Iran. Central bankers in Venezuela, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates have said they will invest less of their reserves in dollar assets because of the weakening currency."
"Iran asked the refiners to use the yen exchange rate quoted at the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ on the date oil cargoes are loaded. The use of yen-based letters of credit for oil 'has finally been approved' by the Iranian central bank and the NIOC, according to the letter, titled 'New payment mechanism for Iranian Crude Oil Cargoes.'Japan imported 1.59 million kiloliters of Iranian crude oil in May, the least since June 2006, according to government data.Only Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are larger oil suppliers to Japan than Iran."

Inside rebel Pakistan cleric's domain

Descriptions of how this militant Islamist lives give us reason to wonder how Pakistan can contain all the conflictive elements that clamor for a place in Pakistani society.

Associated Press

"Long-haired militants with assault rifles and walkie-talkies guard the approach to the stronghold of Maulana Fazlullah, the radical cleric whose mission to spread fundamentalist Islam has provoked a bloody showdown with Pakistan's government."
"...a sprawling seminary beyond state control, [is] the new front line in Pakistan's faltering campaign against Islamic extremists."
"Six years after President Gen. Pervez Musharraf joined the U.S.-led war onterror, pro-Taliban militants are gaining sway across a swath of the country's northwest near Afghanistan."
"Officials said Saturday that Fazlullah's followers killed 13 captives - six security personnel and seven civilians - in apparent retaliation for an assault on Fazlullah's stronghold"
"Jehangir Khan, a local resident, said he saw six beheaded bodies, with notes attached reading: "It is the fate of an American agent. Whoever works for America will face the same fate."
"Fazlullah's demands: hostilities would cease if Shariah,or Islamic law, was adopted and the government released Sufi Muhammad, Fazlullah's father-in-law who was jailed in 2002 for having sent thousandsof volunteers to Afghanistan during the U.S.-led invasion in 2001."
"Muhammad had been head of the banned pro-Taliban group Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammedi - or Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law. After his arrest Fazlullah became the new chief. The group has re-emerged this year in Swatand Malakand, another impoverished conservative region near the Afghan border."
"The seminary has yet to open for religious studies but often draws thousands of worshippers at Friday prayers, residents say. Sirajuddin claimed some80,000 devotees had gathered for prayers Fazlullah led during the recent religious holiday of Eid ul-Fitr."
"As well as marshaling armed militants and enforcing Islamic law, Fazlullah has used his FM station to urge schoolgirls to wear all-covering burqas and has forced several development organizations to close their offices,accusing them of spreading immorality for using female staff, residents say.
"That has irked authorities, but Sirajuddin said tensions in Swat had risen in the wake of the Pakistani army raid on the pro-Taliban Red Mosque in Islamabad - which had launched a freelance, Islamic anti-vice campaign similar to Fazlullah's own efforts to dispense Islamic justice. More than100 people died in the July assault on the mosque and neighboring girls' seminary.'The situation in the whole country, particularly here, has changed because of Lal Masjid,' Sirajuddin said, referring to the Red Mosque. 'This situation is the reaction to Lal Masjid.'"

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Another reason to bomb Iran now: they are religious fanatics.

Norman Podhoretz of Commentary Magazine has given us one more reason to bomb Iran now: The Iranians are irrational religious fanatics.

The reason deterrence can't work with Iran is that there's a different element involved here than was involved with either Mao or even Kim Jong Il or Stalin, and that is the element of religious fanaticism.
The fact of the matter is that, with a religious fanatic like Ahmadinejad and the "mullahcracy" ruling Iran generally, there's no assurance that self-preservation or the protection, preservation of the nation, will deter them. [On the Lehrer News Hours, PBS, Oct 29, 2007.]

The Iranians are crazy fanatics, he says, so they should be bombed. Bombed now, well before they have developed the nuclear capacity to produce power, much less to produce bombs.

I wonder if the real reason is to do it before a new administration decides to do something else. The rush to war, to attack -- we have seen this before. But we ask why? Why now?

[Click on the title to link to the whole transcript.]

Al Qaeda takes aim at Al-Jazeera over Bin Laden Coverage

Associated Press

"Al Qaeda sympathizers have unleashed a torrent of anger against Al-Jazeera television, accusing it of misrepresenting Usama bin Laden's latest audiotape by airing excerpts in which he criticizes mistakes by insurgents in Iraq."
"Analysts said the reaction highlighted militants' surprise at bin Laden's words, and their dismay at the deep divisions among Al Qaeda and other Iraqi militants that he appeared to be trying to heal."
"The recording aired Monday contained unusually strong criticism of insurgents in Iraq from bin Laden, who urges them to admit mistakes and unify."
"the Al-Fajr Media Center, which usually posts Al Qaeda video and audio tapes on the Web, accused Al-Jazeera of "counterfeiting the facts" by making the speech appear as exclusively critical of insurgents."
"The editor-in-chief of the Qatar-based station, Ahmed Sheik, refused to comment on the criticism but said the tape had not been misrepresented."
"Bin Laden's message came at a time of deepening splits in the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq."
"The splits are believed to have been caused by anger over Al Qaeda attempts to dominate the insurgency as well as by its killings of Sunni tribal leaders and its attempts to impose Taliban-like rules."
"Kara Driggers, Mideast analyst for the Terrorism Research Center, said bin Laden's criticisms of Al Qaeda in Iraq and his rhetoric addressing all Iraqis — including tribal leaders — 'seems to have brought more authority to the request (for unity) and the groups are taking it more seriously.' "
"But Eric Rosenbach, a terror expert ... said the splits will be difficult to mend, pointing out that Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq view bin Laden as being as foreign as the Americans."

A Pakistani's concerns for his country

Here is a recent note I received from my friend, Habib-uz-Zaman Khan. It is one more evidence of the growing anxiety among Pakistanis about what is happening to their country.

The suicide blasts at Benazir's arrival have left me shocked and extremely worried. I never thought I could literally lose sleep thinking about where Pakistan was headed until that night. I noticed how no one really cares or vocally disapproves when the Musharraf's motorcade is attacked in a similar fashion, but this was different. Bhutto is a mainstream figure, belongs to a political family that is treated like royalty and her followers are real people, secular Punjabis, Pathans, Sindhis and Balochis from all walks of life. The attack on her and her party members was an act of terrorism in the eyes of all Pakistanis -- except for the Taliban who belong to neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan. If anything positive comes out of this tragedy I hope it is a total shift in public opinion against these extremists so that they can be seen for what they really are: enemies of the people of Pakistan. I also hope Pakistanis realize these violent people are not just someone else's problem or that we can afford to continue ignoring them because their jihad is against outsiders. On a regular basis these terrorists indiscriminately kill more of their own people ? Pakistanis and Muslims ? than any foreigners they claim to target. I believe the majority of Pakistanis understand this but cannot express this opposition because they are a nation held hostage to these extremists and at the same time they are also most directly affected victims of this terrorism. I have talked to quite a few apologists for these so-called "good Muslims" who tell me these people are being persecuted for the sincerity of their religious beliefs. Their madrasas are being proscribed only because they work against America's through jihad. Excuses like this deny that these terrorist activities violate Islamic principles and work against Muslim interests as well, especially when more Muslims lives are lost or ruined after America retaliates. Shutting these madrasas down altogether would remove the most important base of support upon which the terrorists rely. It would also be for the good of everyone, Pakistanis, Americans, and the rest of the world. There already was tremendous popular support within the country to flush out the clowns hiding in the Lal Masjid, so this is definitely not an impossible thing provided action is taken. But no one can really predict what or how things will end if this untenable situation remains the status quo.

Court rules delay in release of presidential papers is illegal

This White House has become notorious for hiding information from the public. What are they hiding? Thanks to the courts there is some chance that we might get a clue, at least. But we should not assume they will comply without a fight. It is well known that this administration believes that it is not merely an equal branch of government with the other two, but the dominant branch, with the power to run the country as they please. The original Continental Congress was struggling to ensure that this country would never have a "King George". Lets hope it doesn't happen.

National Security Archive

"A District Court in the District of Columbia has ruled that an Executive Order issued by President George W.Bush in 2001, which severely slowed or prevented the release of historic presidential papers is, in part, invalid. In a carefully constructed decision, the court held that the Archivist of the United States acts arbitrarily, capriciously, and contrary to law by relying on the Executive Order to delay release of the records of former presidents."

"The underlying lawsuit, which was filed in November 2001 by the National Security Archive and other plaintiffs, challenges President Bush's Executive Order 13,233 that gave former Presidents and their heirs (as well as former Vice-Presidents for the first time) indefinite authority to hold up release of White House records."

"Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs commented, 'The court is enforcing procedural standards, but has avoided the hard questions about the role former presidents, former vice presidents, and their heirs can play when it comes to disclosure of presidential records.' "

"The decision comes at a time when a bill that would overturn Executive Order13,233 is stalled in the U.S. Senate, reportedly due to a hold placed on the measure by Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY). The bill, H.R. 1255, was approved in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 14, 2007 by a vote of 333-93. The White House has threatened to veto the bill if it is passed in the Senate."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Cheney's rush to war: the real reason?

Many of us have struggled to grasp what lay behind the behavior of this administration in the Middle East. Now we know that from the beginning there were individuals within this administration – Wolfowitz has been mentioned explicitly – who from the very moment after 9/11 were arguing for attacking Saddam Hussein in Iraq rather than the Taliban who were sheltering Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. We also know that Richard Cheney used many devices to bully the CIA into consenting to the possibility [despite their considered opinion to the contrary] that Hussein might have weapons of mass destruction. We know that in 2002, leading up to the attack on Iraq spurious charges were made to justify attacking Iraq: Saddam had been involved in the 9/11 attack, and later [as it became every more clear that that claim was without substance] that Saddam’s regime had weapons of mass destruction. Now we watch, with dismay that a similar run up to war is taking place, only now it is Iran: Iran is building a bomb, possibly within the next few years, Iran has been producing the Improvised Explosive Devices that are killing our troops in Iraq. So – it is being argued – we can’t wait: we have to attack Iran lest they soon get the bomb and to ensure they won’t continue making IED’s.

Such is the claim, and for many of us it seems as contrived as the run up to war before. Indeed, none of the arguments given seem sufficient to explain the investment of lives and American wealth in Iraq so far.

Could there be yet another reason?

Could it be the prospect that oil will become in short supply soon? Here is a statement by Dick Cheney in a speech in 1999:

By some estimates, there will be an average of two-percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with, conservatively, a three-percent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will need an additional 50 million barrels per day.

What does he mean by “need an additional 50 million barrels per day” by 2010? Does he mean that existing reserves will have peaked by 2010, and that somehow we, the United States, will need to ensure control of an additional 50 m. barrels a day?

The Peak Oil argument is that the world’s oil reserves will at some point reach a peak and thereafter decline -- producing, perhaps, a dramatic rise in prices and a rush among the world's powers to control what remains of the oil reserves. As the world’s known oil and gas reserves are concentrated in a narrow space in West and North Asia, the Middle East would be the most strategic place to hold territory.

Can this explain the rush to war in the Middle East? The construction of the largest embassy in the world -- vatican-sized, with many high-rises? This makes one wonder, again, if we are being told all that should be said about the reason for the rush to war in the Middle East.

[Click here for a link to a site on peak oil that quotes Cheney's speech.]

Himalayas warming? What would be the consequence?

There is an issue about which I have seen nothing said so far, and that is the social and political consequences of the warming of the Himalayas. I am aware that, for instance, Mt Kilimanjaro is losing its glacial cover; I suppose that the consequences of that loss to agriculture in Africa will be huge.

But to consider this issue in the context of the Himalaya mountains suddenly stuns me. Almost all the great rivers of Asia are fed by waters from the Himalayas: the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddi, Menam, Mekong, Yangtze, Huang Ho, Oxus, Helmand. Hari Rud -- rivers that nourish billions of people from Afghanistan to the Pacific Ocean. These populations could be at risk when the glacial ice on the Himalayas declines, as it will if the process now foreseen elsewhere takes place globally.

When might such a development take place? Of course the time frame is now under discussion, but some recent formulations of the process suggest that awareness of such this development would take form intermittently, as catastrophic changes take place in the glacial ice cover. As water for crops declines the result will be huge shortfalls in production even as the populations of the world continue to increase.

The notion of limits to growth that was once scorned may be gaining new relevance.

We are living in a time when the impact of global warming and the size of the earth's populations may be pushing the system beyond recovery. Nothing new, since many other folks are saying this, but somehow the realization of how it might work in the greater part of Asia where the greater population of the world is situated generates new reasons for concern -- not least the awareness that historically we humans tend to avoid confronting issues that can be deferred. And in this case, what is there to do?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Habib-uz-Zaman Khan's comment on Gen. Musharraf’s Cynical Win

I received a note from a friend whom I correspond with that is worth putting up here. He refers to The New York Times's October 9 editorial on the Musharraf elections in Pakistan, which called his win "cynical". Here is his comment, followed by a few select statements in the article [click on the title for the whole article]:

"I am glad to see the New York Times take a stand against Musharraf's attempts to cling to power despite his unpopularity. Even though the NYT is probably motivated more by the mistreatment of one of its reporters earlier this year than by any real concern for Pakistanis in general, it is still heartening to see at least one major U.S. newspaper take him to task for his anti-democratic actions." [Habib-uz-Zaman Khan]

[The New York Times editorial]

Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s “election” last weekend as Pakistan’s president was a perversion of democracy.

The vote was not really a vote since, knowing how badly the deck was stacked, the opposition parties refused to participate. The results must now be certified by the Supreme Court, which must decide whether General Musharraf was even eligible to run while still in uniform. We hope the court will rule fairly and independently — and that General Musharraf’s enablers in Washington will make clear that he must respect that decision and finally start moving his country toward the rule of law.

. . .. Time and again [Musharraf] has promised that he would resign his post as chief of army staff and take off the uniform, but even now he is playing cute about when — and whether — that might happen.

He has … squandered his popular support by forcing rivals into exile and by harassing and intimidating journalists, judges and anyone who has tried to stand up to him. . . .

Almost all of the time, President Bush has acquiesced in General Musharraf’s many misdeeds — and provided billions in American aid — as payment for the general’s service in the war on terrorism. There, too, the general has delivered a lot less than promised . . . . .

General Musharraf’s back-room deal with Benazir Bhutto . . . was his latest attempt to buy time and stay in office. . . . Rather than encourage such cynical deal-making, Mr. Bush should have encouraged a more-inclusive election process true to his democratic principles and true to what so many Pakistanis — professionals, ordinary people, even some in the military — want. . . . Washington has to make clear that its days of buying time for General Musharraf are over. . . . .

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Crisis fatigue

I wonder if anyone else has been suffering from "crisis fatigue", as I am. Even though much is taking place that invites comment -- as in Pakistan, Darfur, and the White House, to mention only a few loci of concern -- one can lose the heart to keep saying what seems to me is the same thing over and over again: That our world is seriously at risk, not only because of "the other guys" but also because of the kind of leadership now in power in the United States. One wonders how things cannot continue to get worse. The "train wreck" our world has been experiencing in North Africa/ Middle Easter / Central Asia / South Asia (it would be called WWIII if such things were taking place in Europe) merely continues to get worse. And the risks enlarge as the prospects get dimmer. The list is too long even to try to enumerate. At least, if one has to explain it now, after all this, then it isn't possible to explain it.

Uzbek journalist shot dead in southern Kyrgyzstan

One more journalist is shot dead. It has to be one of the most dangerous professions in the modern world: Dictators, and even Presidents don't like to have people writing up what they say and do. Alisher Saipov was writing about affairs in Uzbekistan and it would seem that someone -- the natural culprit is Karimov -- was so aggrieved by his reporting that they could not bear for him to live.
[Click on the title to get the whole article from the International Herald Tribune]

Monday, October 22, 2007

A new publication from Kabul

The new on-line publication from Kabul, KabulDirect, has recently been published. We need to welcome this publication. Indeed, this issue has a number of entries worth serious attention. It was sent to me in a downloadable pdf file. Here I reproduce the invitation letter, in hopes others will also subscribe. Anyway, welcome KabulDirect.

Free Introductory Edition, Oct 07
A Welcome Letter from the Editor

Why this new magazine Kabul Direct?
Welcome to the first issue of Kabul Direct. This is Afghanistan’s first English‐language publication produced and directed by Afghans and targeted to the specialist following events in Afghanistan closely.
We are publishing this new journal because we want to show you, the reader, military and security personnel, policy makers, journalists, and scholars our perspective from here on the ground in Afghanistan as we build our nation out of the ruins of decades of war.

Who are we?
Some of us already write for foreign publications and you may recognize our names. But this is the first time you will be able to hear from us unfiltered by outside editors or publishers.
Here at Kabul Direct we will bring you the news we Afghans see fit to print, introduce you to the players we think you have to meet, and help you understand the problems of Afghanistan as we Afghans see them.

A word about our values
We at Kabul Direct are dedicated to the establishment of political rights and civil liberties in Afghanistan, the country that we, the sons and daughters of this nation, love.
We want accountable government, to be treated equally and fairly under the law, to be able to speak our minds, believe what we believe, and organize ourselves in ways we think will move us forward as a nation in which we can take pride.
We also want to participate as full equals in the modern world. But at the same time we don’t want to lose the traditions and values that we as Afghans hold dear.
Why we are focused on terrorism, extremism and other problems
Unfortunately, at this point in time, we have to cover these topics because these are the problems that plague our nation. But God willing, over time, we will be able shift our
focus to cover more positive news. We at Kabul Direct live for the day when we can instead talk about the myriad investment opportunities here in Afghanistan, share the pride we take in our rich cultural and religious heritage, and give you an idea of the contributions we Afghans should be making to the world’s progress.

Why now?
We started Kabul Direct during the holiest time of year, the month of Ramadan, when we Muslims fast, hoping that this will help us win our struggle against sin. We started Kabul Direct at this time because we see this endeavor as an extension of
this good struggle. And we also hope that by beginning this venture at this auspicious time of
year, that our efforts will be especially blessed.
And so welcome to Kabul Direct, your window into the heart and soul of Afghanistan.

In the name of God, the Compassionate and Merciful,
Rahmani Rahmani,
Editor‐in‐chief and Publisher
Kabul, Afghanistan

Northern Afghanistan: Now in the crosshairs of Afghanistan insurgency
Taliban Resurgence: An interview with Taliban former foreign minister
Assessing Hizbe Islami threats: Questions to Qazi Amin Waqad
Al Qaida in Afghanistan: Waheed Mujda Explains
This issue has been produced with love by an all‐volunteer staff.
We are asking our readers to help us cover our costs. Please send whatever you can to
assist us in this effort.
Phone: +93 (0) 700 260094

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Benazir arrives, embodying unrealizable hopes

Again, as Benazir arrives in Karachi, folks are pouring their own imaginative hopes into a heroic figure. "She will bring employment, she will restore democracy, and she will bring peace," . . . "We are proud to have a woman as a leader. Our children's future in her hands. She is our mother." Such is the prediction of a wishful imagination. What will they do when -- not if -- she fails to deliver? Who will be blamed?

[Click on the title to see the report of the reception in Karachi.]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pakistan at Sixty

Tariq Ali ("Pakistan at Sixty") has as usual given us a valuable insight into the situation in Pakistan, one of the world's most conflicted and worrisome countries. But this time he is unusually pessimistic. One wonders what can become of a country like this. The most astonishing statement in the article is that even some Pakistanis are thinking that the formation of the country was a mistake. The Indians have been thinking this for years, but not the Pakistanis. And given the mess that Pakistan has now become there is no way that India could even want it. This region was in British times one of the continuing problem areas of the subcontinent; now its problems are compounding. That Washington still cannot think creatively about what to do about Pakistan compounds the problem.
Some selections from the article follow:
[Click on the title for the original and complete source]

Pakistan at Sixty
Tariq Ali

"In private, of course, there is much soul-searching, and a surprising collection of people now feel the state should never have been founded."
"Can Pakistan Survive?"
"The country is here to stay. And it's not religion or the mystical 'ideology of Pakistan' that guarantees its survival, but its nuclear capacity and Washington."
"The European and North American papers give the impression that the main, if not the only, problem confronting Pakistan is the power of the bearded fanatics skulking in the Hindu Kush, who as the papers see it are on the verge of taking over the country. In this account, all that stops a jihadi finger finding the nuclear trigger is Musharraf. Alas, it now seems he might drown in a sea of troubles and so the helpful State Department has pushed out an over-inflated raft in the shape of Benazir Bhutto."
"There is no possibility of a takeover by religious extremists unless the army wants one"
"There are serious problems confronting Pakistan, but these are usually ignored in Washington"
"The lack of a basic social infrastructure encourages hopelessness and despair, but only a tiny minority turns to jihad"
"Corruption envelops Pakistan. The poor bear the burden, but the middle classes are also affected"
"The resulting moral vacuum is filled by porn films and religiosity of various sorts. In some areas religion and pornography go together: the highest sales of porn videos are in Peshawar and Quetta, strongholds of the religious parties"
"Nor should it be imagined that the bulk of the porn comes from the West. There is a thriving clandestine industry in Pakistan, with its own local stars, male and female"
"Meanwhile the Islamists are busy picking up supporters. The persistent and ruthless missionaries of Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) are especially effective. Sinners from every social group, desperate for purification, queue to join."
"Another triumph was the post-9/11recruitment of Junaid Jamshed, the charismatic lead singer of Pakistan'sfirst successful pop group, Vital Signs. He renounced his past and now singsonly devotional songs – naats."
"some younger male recruits, bored with all the dogma, ceremonies and ritual, are more interested in getting their hands on a Kalashnikov."
"Many believe that the Tablighi missionary camps are fertile recruiting grounds for armed groups active on the Western Frontier and in Kashmir. The establishment has been slow to challenge the interpretation of Islam put forward by groups such as Tablighi. Musharraf advised people to go and see Khuda Kay Liye ('In the Name of God'), a new movie"
"This may not help the film, or the moderate Islam it favours, given that Musharraf's popularity ratings currently trail Osama bin Laden's"
"After the Supreme Court insisted that 'disappeared' political activists be produced in court and refused to dismiss rape cases, there were worries in Islamabad that the chief justice might even declare the military presidency unconstitutional ... The general and his cabinet decided to frighten Chaudhry by suspending him ... But instead of caving in ... the judge insisted on defending himself, triggering a remarkable movement in defence of an independent judiciary."
"There was something delightfully old-fashioned about this struggle: it involved neither money nor religion, but principle."
"The judge was due to visit Karachi, the country's largest city, on 12 May. Political power here rests in the hands of the MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement/United National Movement), an unsavoury outfit created during aprevious dictatorship"
"On Islamabad's instructions, the MQM leaders decided to prevent the judge addressing the meeting in Karachi. He was not allowed to leave the airport. His supporters in different parts of the city were assaulted. Almost fifty people were killed."
"A devastating report, *Carnage in Karachi*, published in August by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, confirmed in great detail what everyone already knew: the police and army had been ordered to stand by while armed MQM members went on the rampage."
"The fact is that jihadis are not popular in most of Pakistan, but neither is the government."
" The Red Mosque episode raised too many unanswered questions.Why did the government not act in January? How did the clerics manage to accumulate such a large store of weapons without the knowledge of the government? Was the ISI aware that an arsenal was concealed inside the mosque? If so, why did they keep quiet? What was the relationship between the clerics and government agencies?"
"Back in the heart of Pakistan the most difficult and explosive issue remains social and economic inequality. This is not unrelated to the increase in the number of madrassas"
"A general election is due later this year. If it is as comprehensively rigged as the last one was, the result will be increased alienation from the political process. The outlook is bleak. There is no serious political alternative to military rule."

Devices of Contemporary World Leaders: cheap virtue and political fantasy

One of the most troubling features of our times is the deliberate manipulation of information, which places the media in compromising positions. The media is blamed when in fact various interested parties are deliberately using the huge power of the modern media to forward their own interests. In virtually every case the issue is not the truth but the control of “truth” so as to control vested interests.

It is sickening to see a Democratic Congress, for no reason in particular, decide to condemn the Armenian genocide just now (why now?) and then, since the Turks are rattling their saber over the matter, backing down. It is not truth or uprightness or virtue that drives this behavior, merely the search for more reasons to justify their existence. Cheap virtue is the coin of politics.

The same seems to be operative among the Republicans, some of whom have now gotten the global warming religion, creating a problem for the rest: If enough of the party would just get together on this issue, perhaps they could stop global warming from taking place after all [!]. Mind over matter.

The crisis in Darfur, information on which is likewise controlled by interested parties, remains deadly; real people are being really killed while, in the mean time, some officials publicly wonder if Sudan even cares about the crisis. A member of the African Union says that “people are now becoming very skeptical” about whether the government is “interested in peace.” Really? After so much brutality against Sudanese civilians, he thinks maybe the Sudanese government is not serious about protecting their own people. In fact, for the governments of the world to acknowledge what is taking place, that will constitute an obligation, a responsibility that hardly anyone out there, out here, wants to face. It can cost real money, perhaps the lives of their own folks as well as those of the locals. Again we note the ancient wisdom: "Men loved darkness because their deeds were evil; they would not come into the light lest their deeds be exposed."

It is not truth that the world lives by, but myth, and whoever controls the mechanisms of mythical promotion has all the advantages. So what we get from our leaders is cheap virtue and political fantasy.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sanchez: Why isn't he accountable?

"Who will demand accountability for the failure of our national political leaders involved in the management of this war? They have unquestionably been derelict in the performance of their duty."

So says General Ricardo Sanchez. More and more people are asking that question. But it is old news now: virtually everyone in sight has pointed to the blunders of the current administration. Why didn’t those like Sanchez who were well positioned at the time, raise these kinds of questions before the disastrous actions were taken? The only surmise that makes sense to me is the fear of being summarily fired as General Shenseki was for raising such questions. Could the military leadership not have joined in common cause to resist – no, condemn – disastrous policy? At some point the military leadership must accept responsibility for their failure to expose the folly of the Bush administration’s agendas. There really was scarce evidence for a preemptive war and yet a small cabal within the administration made it happen. Scary. And not only that, a small cabal has encouraged a whole series of faulty decisions that the American public and the world are now burdened with: warrentless wiretaps on American citizens, torture of prisoners, or remanding of prisoners to countries already used to torturing its own citizens, renunciation of the Kyoto treaty, tax cuts for the super-rich – not to mention the assignment of incompetent cronies to important positions of responsibility.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Anthropologists helping the military in Afghanistan?

It is interesting how many people have written me notes about the news that anthropologists are working with the military in their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. All of them are asking whether this is a good idea.

Because I care about the Afghans I am pleased to think that perhaps there is some interest in trying to relate to the Afghan people as people – at least that's better than beating a house door down first and asking questions later. Of course none of us wants anthropology to be tainted by its connection with government activities. We anthropologists see ourselves as serious scholars wanting to know the truth as we can best discover it, whereas governments always have an interest in what is to be “known” by the public. Not only governments, of course; everyone involved in a situation has an interest, of course. The anthropologist’s task is to discover not only what falks are saying – what their rhetoric is -- but also what their respective interests are and their interests relate to their public pretensions. That means we have to be good listeners and good interpreters of what we hear and see, not just stenographers.

American anthropologists are more sensitive about how they relate to government than anthropologists in some countries [like France, it seems to me, for instance], and that goes back to Boas's quarrel with anthropologists during WWI over the use of anthropologists as spies, and in the Vietnam war, in which anthropologists seemed to have been used to collect information about the “enemy” [again, as intelligence agents]. I am hoping that in the Afghanistan case, at least, the services of anthropologists to the military are useful and uncorrupted by the connection. For them to help the army become more aware of the sensibilities and problems of the local populations would seem to be a great service -- anyway, if anthropologists have anything to contribute to the world this has to be it. So far, what I have read about anthropologists in Afghanistan sounds like they have actually helped the military deal usefully with the problems of the folks on the ground. So, good for them.

Of course, the truth eludes us – all of us, including anthropologists. We get lied to, told stories for reasons of effect, given claims that are entirely self interested, etc., etc. – so anthropologists, for all their claims, have problems of their own. So their utility is only as good as their ability to discern information. Lets hope these guys are good.

I do think the "anthropologists" involved [whatever their background is matters a lot: how good their grasp is of the language, how well informed they are on local customs, etc.] may be taking a risk, because it is easy for all of us to take self-righteous stands that provide no real help to anyone. The AAA has done so many times, sometimes foolishly, in my opinion.

For now, I think we should withhold judgment; at least give this policy a chance. It would be great if in fact anthropologists could help the military resolve some of the problems on the ground. If there is to be a winning of “hearts and minds” this could help. Anyway, it is a better approach than bombing households about which we know almost nothing and taking offensive action whenever in doubt. RLC

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

White House leaked classified info to FOX News, tipped off al Qaeda to secret surveillance, destroyed year-long spy effort

If, as Joe Sudbay says on Americablog, the White House leaked classified info to FOX News, tipping off al Qaeda to secret surveillance and destroying a year-long spy effort, then as he says someone should go to jail. It is hard to believe that things could consistently go bad in this administration. But there is another part of the situation that worries me: Many folks in our country are indifferent to the blunders of this administration; I think many of them cannot believe that the situation could be as bad as it seems. They want to believe the best in people and the best in this administration. The consequences of such a cascade of errors could be devastating when the day of reckoning comes.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Pakistan's Thug

Alvaro Vargas Llosa has said about "President" Musharraf what one might surmise about any dictator: that he is loath to relinquish power. Here is a person the American government considers strategic to their interest who as it happens holds power by usurpation and seems now willing to relinquish some power merely because he must. If he is to hold on for now, he must make concessions, or at least seem to do so, given the demonstrations by thousands of lawyers against him in the streets, some of the demonstrations having gone on for more than a month, and given the evident reluctance of the Supreme Court to legitimate his persisting attempts to rule. I know we must all hope, and undoubtedly changes of importance are taking place for the time being. But will they actually constitute a turning point in Pakistani affairs? Will the new changes lead to stability? And how will the Islamist groups figure in the future of the country? Tune in. . . . RLC

By Alvaro Vargas Llosa
The Independent Institute

"The idea behind Musharraf's support was that his authoritarian army would crush religious terrorist groups. Instead, the influence of fanatics in Pakistan's political and military institutions has grown under his watch."

"The general is now making a mockery of any notion of the rule of law in order to remain president and head of the armed forces. By stepping over institutions such as the Pakistani Supreme Court, he has unleashed precisely what his macho rule was supposed to prevent?chaos and civil strife."

"Military rulers cannot govern without making some sort of alliance with key civilian groups. Musharraf,whose party basically is a spinoff from the Pakistan Muslim League, has allied himself with Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of Muslim political organizations with close ties to fundamentalists. Furthermore, the organization that he has placed in a position of absolute power, the army,is disproportionately made up of Pashtuns, an ethnic group that is dominant in the tribal areas in which al-Qaeda is active."

"By heavily repressing former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League, the current government rid itself of the few available means that Pakistan had of diluting fundamentalism in Pakistan's society."

"For the umpteenth time in history, a military ruler who promised to bring order has generated worse disorders than those he set out to correct."

"Leaders in Washington, London and other Western nations have now belatedly realized that dictatorship was not the solution to the problems that had been incubated during Pakistan's democratic period. They should have known better."

Pakistani Taliban besieged, but confident

This report by Suzanna Koster on the Taliban reveals the continued confidence and zeal of the movement: her informant tells her "everybody is on the road to get training in suicide attacks . . ." The culture -- the conventional practices produced by those organizing the Taliban -- have made suicide seem natural to the foot soldiers, the right thing to do by upright people. One wonders if any of them ever has any doubts. Despite the popular images of culture it is pliable, always changing, always manipulable (although not always successfully). We can see it elsewhere.
In our own society, how many doubts do folks have about practices that seem to becoming conventional here, the practice of "remanding" prisoners to countries that torture, indeed the practice of torturing our prisoners even within our borders? American culture is changing before our eyes and scarcely anyone notices.
Click on the title for a link to the whole article.

By Suzanna Koster
Christian Science Monitor

"The 26-year-old Pakistani pro-Taliban militant Majnoon used to openly vice patrol in his hometown ... But since a peace agreement in his area ended two months ago, the Pakistani Army is after him, and he says he can no longer go after those who violate Islamic social norms. But he still wants to continue his struggle for an Islamic state in Afghanistan.'Now the training camps over here are shunned, and everybody is on the road to get training in suicide attacks and other tactics inside Afghanistan,' says Majnoon"

"the NATO and US forces in Afghanistan now face more threats from Pakistani pro-Taliban militants than before a controversial peace agreement was broken."

"Pro-Taliban militants and the Pakistani government signed a heavily criticized peace agreement in February 2005 and September 2006. The Pakistani Army agreed to reduce its presence in tribal areas if the militants would stop attacking the Pakistani Army and forces in Afghanistan.But many analysts and observers said that the peace agreement provided free cross-border movement for Taliban fighters, thereby increasing violence and instability."

"Last July, the agreement came to an end following a standoff between the Pakistani military and militants in Islamabad's Lal (Red) Mosque."
"Indeed, a new United Nations report shows an upsurge in violence"

" It ... said that 100,000 troops and 1,000 military posts were put along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.But militants maintain that crossing the border is easy"

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Russia’s year round seaport

For more than a century the western powers, mainly the British in the nineteenth century and the Americans in the twentieth, have taken comfort that Russia (and the Soviet Union) had no year-round seaport, a limitation that some geopolitical experts took to be reason for a Russian urge to the sea – one reason for Jimmy Carter’s worry about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

But the situation seems to be changing. If, as they say, the warming of the earth will dissipate the Arctic ice-cap, then Russia will at last have its year-round port on the open sea, maybe several -- through the Arctic Sea, of course, where many ports could be developed if the Sea warms up. (However, it can be argued that, even then, the Arctic Sea is itself enclosed, with few outlets.)

This emerging opportunity comes along with Russia’s strategic position, for it lies between the great population centers of the east (China) and west (Europe), both starving for fossil fuels, of which Russia and its Central Asian neighbors are abundantly supplied. Strategic location in Eurasia, better access to the sea -- Russia seems likely to have an even more dominant position in the world later in this century. The world’s geostrategic configuration may look very different a few decades from now.

Iran Draws Up Plans to Bomb Israel

Mark Weiss of the Jerusalem Post is predicting that war between Israel and Iran is imminent. He says he has been predicting this for a long while. His latest prediction appears to be a response to an article by AP reporter, Ali Akbar Dareini, in Tehran. The most significant part of Weiss's article, I think, is his prediction that the war between Israel and Iran will draw in Pakistan. He does not elaborate on the reasons for that and how it would work, but he states what seems ever more evident, that Pakistan enshrines many dangerous contradictions. One wonders if a single spark could create a devastating conflagration, devastating to the Pakistani people, yes, but also to the rest of the world, for this country has the bomb.

The main elements of Dareini’s article are summarized by Tom below, followed by Weiss’s comments. [Click on the title for a link to Dareini's whole article ]

Associated Press

"The deputy commander of Iran's air force said Wednesday that plans have been drawn up to bomb Israel if the Jewish state attacks Iran"
"The announcement came amid rising tensions in the region, with the United States calling for a new round of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program and Israeli planes having recently overflown, and perhaps even attacked, Iranian ally Syria."
"Iran has said in the past that Israel would be Iran's first retaliatory target if attacked by the United States"
"Many in the region fear Israel could launch airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities to prevent it from building a nuclear weapon."
"A top Revolutionary Guards commander said this week that Americans could be found all around Iran and that they were legitimate Iranian targets if the U.S. takes military action."

Email from Mark Weiss:
In the last four years, I have twice argued that a confrontation with Tehran is imminent. This is because the United States will not tolerate any person or entity to have any say over the supply of oil. Because the Middle East supplies the rest of the world, any disruption in the supply of oil affects the United States economy.

Although the Iraq invasion is not won militarily, the United States gained a valuable base in the heart of the Middle East. This was the most significant act of the Bush-Rumsfeld presidency. To prevent the negative repercussions from an imminent pull back from Iraq, the United States will not allow Tehran to gain any foothold in Iraq or its surrounding.

However, what policy makers do not understand is that a decisive response to an attack on Tehran will come from reneged Pakistani military officers. Pakistan is on the verge of disintegration. Regardless of the Bhutto-General alliance and return to pseudo democracy, the crux of the Pakistani society and military remain fiercely anti-American. To state that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is under safe and secure control of the American trained and loyal Generals is to argue that death only comes at an old age. Yes it does, but young people die too.

The Pakistani people have taken refuge in the arms of fatalistic religious groups who have perverted the teachings of the Prophet. This refuge is fueled by the growing resentment that the Pakistani people feel due to lack of any social mobility. For the first time in its young history, the very religion that the nation was founded on is being used in a vicious struggle to challenge the power and prestige of the Generals who dominate the country.

The religious groups have run enough roots in the Pakistani society and will not be forced to change course because of pseudo democracy. For too long they have sat on the sidelines and allowed the Generals to use them as bulldogs.

Thus, a confrontation of decisive nature is imminent on both sides of Afghan border. Afghanistan will suffer enormously if such a bleak scenario happens. The Afghan leaders must prepare for a prolonged disruption of channels of commerce both in the east and west side of the country.

M. R. Weiss

New military leaders question Iraq mission

McClatchy papers are reporting that the new military leaders in the Pentagon are questioning the way the extant "mission" in Iraq is conceived. These are the guys who have replaced General Pace and the others who went along with Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. (We still wonder if those generals had been intimidated by the way General Shinseki was treated when he challenged Rumsfeld's plans.) Anyway, this is good news, although little remarked so far. RLC

Click on the title to link to the whole article.

By Nancy A. Youssef and Renee Schoof
McClatchy Newspapers

"Four and a half years after the nation's top military leaders saluted and fell in behind President Bush's pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, their replacements are beginning to question the mission and sound alarms about the toll the war is taking on the Army and the Marine Corps."
"The change at the Pentagon is striking but little-noticed, in part because Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a longtime veteran of the CIA, is quiet where his predecessor Donald H. Rumsfeld was not."
"top officials ... are concerned that the war may be crippling the military's ability to respond to other crises"
"Although Democrats in Congress have been powerless to halt or even slow the war, six developments have combined to produce growing resistance"
"1. The Democratic takeover of the Senate and the House of Representatives last January.
2. Bush's choice of Gates to replace Rumsfeld, one of the main architects of the war. Gates was a member of the independent bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which called for the United States to reach out to Syria and Iran and 'strongly urged' a drawdown in Iraq.
3. A shift, completed this week, in the military's top uniformed leadership from administration loyalists to officers who are more concerned about the growing strains on the military.
4. Mounting evidence, in a variety of official reports in recent weeks, that Iraqi forces won't be prepared to take over from American troops in significant numbers until late next year at the earliest, and that Iraqis have made little progress toward political reconciliation.
5. Mounting evidence, most recently in a United Nations report, that the war against al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan is faltering, in part because Iraq is tying down so many U.S. troops.
6. Bush's low approval ratings and popular discontent with the Iraq war, which have prompted some legislators to reconsider their support for the president's policy as next year's elections approach."
"the change in outlook among many senior officials is unmistakable."

Tehran a paradox of rich and poor

It is true enough, as one of the speakers in this article, that Americans don’t understand Iranians, but what strikes me is how the old dichotomy between north Tehran and south Tehran is still so evident. Evidently the rich have not faired badly under the current clergy-managed regime. It was that difference that Khomeini and his followers exploited in the revolution against the Shah in 1978-1979. It is hard to conceive such a revolution – or rebellion – as that was could take place today. All the more reason to wonder what the Bush administration thinks it is doing if it actually does attack strategic sites in Iran, as some Neocons are recommending.
[Click on the title above for the whole article.]

Associated Press
"TEHRAN, Iran - The shops are full of Western pop music and movies — the latest Harry Potter film, even "The Simpsons." Young women stroll the streets in skinny jeans and short coats, their heads barely covered, arm-in-arm with boys in muscle shirts and spiky hair."
"This is affluent north Tehran, where clerics are rare, lifestyles are relatively liberal and Iran's growing isolation from the world is a source of deep anxiety."
"Not far to the south, though, in a dilapidated bureaucratic building near the city's government center, and farther to the south in Tehran's sprawling poorer neighborhoods, things are different."
"It is the paradox of Tehran today — a city and people surprisingly cosmopolitan and far different from Western stereotypes, paired with an ultraconservative government working to consolidate its power and at sharp odds with the West."
"Yet, whether modern or strictly traditional, many Iranians share one thing: A strong national pride and desire for respect from the outside world, sharpened by their sense of being under siege"
"The bulk of protests and street fighting surrounding the revolution occurred in the city's center, especially around Tehran University and the long boulevard now called Vali Asr, but supporters of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini recruited many of their 'foot soldiers' from Tehran's southern neighborhoods. And Khomeini, on his return to the country from exile, based his headquarters there."
"the northern neighborhoods have remained something of a haven for the more liberal and well-off _ with modern freeways, new and often graceful high-rise apartment buildings and green parks."
"Only miles to the south, however, many women still wear the long, enveloping black chador as they go out to shop or take children to school"
"And hard-line figures like Hossein Shariatmadari, close to Khamenei, cast Iran's differences with the United States as an unending ideological struggle between their Islamic theocracy and a plundering, arrogant America."
" 'We simply want to control our own resources, run our own affairs,' he said. 'The mistake that the U.S. administration makes is to threaten Iran ... They don't understand the Iranian nation'."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Shifting Targets: The Administration's Plan for Iran

Seymour M. Hersh’s article in the latest New Yorker [Oct 8, 2007],“Shifting Targets, The Administration’s Plan for Iran,” adds to our confusion, puzzlement, and anxiety about this administration. When friends have expressed worry that the administration will concoct a war with Iran, as they did with Iraq, I have confidently assured them that the government could not be that stupid. Anyone would know, on many grounds, that that makes no sense. But if Hersh is right, we do in fact have reason to wonder if, to the multiple blunders for which this administration will be infamous, they might just add another, or rather, some more. God save us.

Shifting Targets: The Administration's Plan for Iran
by Seymour M. Hersh

"In a series of public statements in recent months, President Bush and members of his Administration have redefined the war in Iraq, to an increasing degree, as a strategic battle between the United States and Iran."
"the White House ... requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran ... The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack ... Now the emphasis is on 'surgical' strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps"
"The shift in targeting reflects three developments. First, the President and his senior advisers have concluded that their campaign to convince the American public that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed (unlike a similar campaign before the Iraq war), and that as a result there is not enough popular support for a major bombing campaign. The second development is that the White House has come to terms, in private, with the general consensus of the American intelligence community that Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a bomb. And, finally, there has been a growing recognition in Washington and throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging as the geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq." "The difficulty of determining who is responsible for the chaos in Iraq can be seen in Basra ... Over the course of this year ... the region became increasingly ungovernable, and by fall the British had retreated to fixed bases. A European official who has access to current intelligence told me that 'there is a firm belief inside the ... intelligence community that Iran is supporting many of the groups in southern Iraq that are responsible for the deaths of British and American soldiers.' "
"A June, 2007, report by the International Crisis Group found, however, that Basra’s renewed instability was mainly the result of 'the systematic abuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism...' ”
[regarding the possibility of an attack on Iran, a former intelligence official said] “Do you think those crazies in Tehran are going to say, ‘Uncle Sam is here! We’d better stand down’? ... The reality is an attack will make things ten times warmer.”

Monday, October 01, 2007

Right wing advocacy group proves that Washington can be bought

If power corrupts, what does huge amounts of money do? We can see in the case of Russia what happens when individuals in power positions establish close ties with the super-rich -- some of whom are rich through ignoble deals. The "mafia" are established and operating rather freely in many parts of the old Soviet Union, beneficiaries of government attempts to sell off state assets. Most of the beneficiaries are former bosses in the Soviet system whose connections gave them special access at the critical time when properties were being sold off. Now, in Russia the new wealthy turn out to be, in many cases, the same folks people who had strategic positions in the Soviet Union.

What worries me about the way wealth is being deployed in the United States lately is that large amounts of money have been deployed to finance misrepresentations of truth: the "Swift Boat Boys" are now infamous for their unverified claims that were plausible enough to sway an election. The news (article below) that one more well-funded political "Swift Boat"-supporting organization has been founded gives reason worry.

The Pakistanis call what they are about to do a "democratic process" and we in the US call what we do a democratic process, even if in these instances it turns out that lies are being promoted in order to subvert the spirit of the democratic process. When lies are promoted to shape the course of affairs by misleading the public true democracy is compromised.

I pray that the truth will not be compromised in the forthcoming elections. The American people and the world have already been exploited and misled enough by big money interests. Could our system be as fully subverted as that in Russia? Some of us have felt helpless for years as our country has been run into cataclysm. Is that how those in Russia feel who long for a just society?

Big Coffers and a Rising Voice Lift a New Conservative Group
By Don Van Natta Jr.
The New York Times

"Freedom’s Watch, a deep-pocketed conservative group led by two former senior White House officials, made an audacious debut in late August when it began a $15 million advertising campaign designed to maintain Congressional support for President Bush’s troop increase in Iraq."
"Founded this summer by a dozen wealthy conservatives, the nonprofit group is set apart from most advocacy groups by the immense wealth of its core group of benefactors, its intention to far outspend its rivals and its ambition to pursue a wide-ranging agenda. Its next target: Iran policy."
"Next month, Freedom’s Watch will sponsor a private forum of 20 experts on radical Islam that is expected to make the case that Iran poses a direct threat to the security of the United States, according to several benefactors of the group."
"One benefactor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the group was hoping to raise as much as $200 million by November 2008. Raising big money 'will be easy,' the benefactor said, adding that several of the founders each wrote a check for $1 million."
"Mr. Blakeman and Mr. Fleischer said they intended to turn Freedom’s Watch into a permanent fixture among Washington advocacy groups, waging a 'never-ending campaign' on an array of foreign policy and domestic issues."
"Several of the group’s spots suggested that Iraq, rather than Al Qaeda, was behind the Sept. 11 attacks, even though the independent Sept. 11 commission investigation and other inquiries found no evidence of Iraq’s involvement. But in August, when the organization rolled out the advertisement with Sergeant Kriesel to two focus groups in Pennsylvania, its upbeat, patriotic message was well received, even causing a few viewers to weep, Mr. Blakeman said."
"The campaign was seen as a way to head off any momentum in Congress toward halting the financing for the Iraq war. The group’s advertisements, placed in nearly 60 Congressional districts in 23 states, targeted wavering moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats."

What to do about Iraq now? I wonder

A friend has asked me to comment on a statement by Seymour Hersh who has said “We've basically Balkanized” Iraq, “building walls and walling off Sunnis from Shiites.” (Interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE).

My response: I am deeply troubled over what the Bush administration has done, but as you say, we are now at a point where enough has been said about the blunders of the past. And of course none of us has clever solutions. The one thing I do think is that the American supposition that ethnic distinctions should be the basis of political recognition in the new government has made the extant distinctions in Iraq more politically viable and the differences more inflammatory than necessary. Consider what it would do to this country if representatives of the American public were chosen by the religious communities: Catholic, Protestant (several kinds?), Muslims, Jews, etc. The way the American government encouraged identities to be represented in Iraq has made the religious divisions among them, which were already serious problems for administration, even more politically electric. Dangerous business, I think. It would be nice if they could back away from that, for it will continue to provide a rich moral vocabulary for representing vested interests, even ignoble interests.