Franken Launches Liberals’ Air America Radio

March 31, 2004 at 2:31 pm
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Franken Launches Liberals’ Air America Radio

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Liberals added their voice to talk radio on Wednesday as comedian Al Franken launched the Air America Radio Network with "The O’Franken Factor" show, offering a sharp contrast to conservative hosts like Rush Limbaugh, who dominate the U.S. airwaves.

Franken brought the network to life with his opening: "Broadcasting from a bunker 3,500 feet below the bunker that (Vice President) Dick Cheney (news – web sites) is in, this is Air America Radio."

That was the opening salvo, according to network chief executive Mark Walsh. He added he got "chills up my spine" listening to the start up of the network that can be initially heard in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Bernadino, California, Portland, Oregon, XM Satellite Radio and over the Internet at <a href=""></a>.

Franken’s three-hour program featured interviews with former Sen. Bob Kerry of Nebraska on the Sept. 11 commission and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore (news), a satirical piece on airport security in London and call-ins from listeners, including former Vice President Al Gore (news – web sites).

Walsh said the goal was to provide a liberal voice that has been missing on the airwaves and to present it in such as way as "to make you laugh. You will giggle when you listen although we will be tackling serious subjects."

He said the aim of the network was not simply to derail the reelection bid of President Bush (news – web sites).

"We’re not regime change radio," Walsh said. "We do want to make a buck. We expect to go profitable in year three."

The "O’Franken Factor" title sends up conservative broadcasting rival Bill O’Reilly’s program on Fox News, The O’Reilly Factor.

Walsh said other stations would be added soon, with San Francisco joining on April 15.

"We clearly have a political tilt," Walsh said. "It’s obvious we are in direct philosophical conflict with virtually every other talk show host today.

Air America is armed with $30 million in investor cash and a $30 million credit line is being used to lease AM stations.

"I think what you’ll see in a short time, is that we will close deals with traditional consumer goods companies," said Walsh. "Liberals buy beer, they drive trucks, they take vacations, they have arthritis. We’re also consumers."

Help defeat George W. Bush, the easy way…

March 18, 2004 at 10:15 pm
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Please consider responding to this alert reader’s request for contributions to Kerry’s campaign. C’mon, he’s even put up a challenge grant out of his own pocket!


Got a credit card? Good. Contribute to John Kerry’s campaign here. I will match the first $1000 contributed dollar-for-dollar

It will take less than 2 minutes. Contribute early, contribute often (subject to the FEC limits of $2000/individual).

Myself, despite considering myself politically aware, I never gave a single dollar to any political campaign. But that changes now. This may be the most important presidential election of our generation. This isn’t just about choosing a leader, it’s about choosing how we define ourselves as a country and what kind of country we will leave to our children.

Kerry is fighting a slick GOP-driven money machine that has raised $145 million already, much of it from executives of energy companies and other beneficiaries of Bush policies.

Without cash, Kerry will not be able to respond to the lies and misrepresentations that have already begun to characterize this campaign.

Please, take the time now to contribute whatever you can and I’ll increase the impact by matching it. And regardless of whether you contribute, make sure you vote!

–Mark A. Gollin

Illusions of Empire: Defining the New American Order

March 18, 2004 at 12:21 pm
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This submission by an alert reader is an juxtaposition of book reviews on the subject of American empire. It’s a bit on the scholarly side, but if you’re interested in the topic, you will probably find it worthwhile.

You might also want to see some past GRL articles on American empire


An interesting overview of some recent books on US Foreign Policy from the Council on Foreign Relations. The whole thing has a lively pace. I particularly enjoy the part where the author dismisses the French essayist Emmanuel Todd’s assertion that “a rapacious clique of frightened oligarchs has taken over U.S. democracy is simply bizarre.” The very idea is unthinkable!

Illusions of Empire: Defining the New American Order

From the March/April 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs.
G. John Ikenberry is Peter F. Krogh Professor of Geopolitics and Global Justice at Georgetown University and Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic. By Chalmers Johnson. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004, 400 pp. $25.00

Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire. By Niall Ferguson. New York: Penguin Press, 2004, 368 pp. $25.95.

Fear’s Empire: War, Terrorism, and Democracy. By Benjamin R. Barber. New York: Norton, 2003, 192 pp. $23.95.

Incoherent Empire. By Michael Mann. New York: Verso, 2003, 284 pp. $25.00.

After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order. By Emmanuel Todd. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003, 192 pp. $29.95.

The debate on empire is back. This is not surprising, as the United States dominates the world as no state ever has. It emerged from the Cold War the only superpower, and no geopolitical or ideological contenders are in sight. Europe is drawn inward, and Japan is stagnant. A half-century after their occupation, the United States still provides security for Japan and Germany — the world’s second- and third-largest economies. U.S. military bases and carrier battle groups ring the world. Russia is in a quasi-formal security partnership with the United States, and China has accommodated itself to U.S. dominance, at least for the moment. For the first time in the modern era, the world’s most powerful state can operate on the global stage without the constraints of other great powers. We have entered the American unipolar age.

The Bush administration’s war on terrorism, invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, expanded military budget, and controversial 2002 National Security Strategy have thrust American power into the light of day — and, in doing so, deeply unsettled much of the world. Worry about the implications of American unipolarity is the not-so-hidden subtext of recent U.S.-European tension and has figured prominently in recent presidential elections in Germany, Brazil, and South Korea. The most fundamental questions about the nature of global politics — who commands and who benefits — are now the subject of conversation among long-time allies and adversaries alike.

Power is often muted or disguised, but when it is exposed and perceived as domination, it inevitably invites response. One recalls the comment of Georges Clemenceau, who as a young politician said of the settlement ending the Franco-Prussian War, “Germany believes that the logic of her victory means domination, while we do not believe that the logic of our defeat is serfdom.” At Versailles a half-century later, he would impose just as harsh a peace on a defeated Germany.

The current debate over empire is an attempt to make sense of the new unipolar reality. The assertion that the United States is bent on empire is, of course, not new. The British writer and labor politician Harold Laski evoked the looming American empire in 1947 when he said that “America bestrides the world like a colossus; neither Rome at the height of its power nor Great Britain in the period of economic supremacy enjoyed an influence so direct, so profound, or so pervasive. …” And indeed, Dean Acheson and other architects of the postwar order were great admirers of the British Empire. Later, during the Vietnam War, left-wing thinkers and revisionist historians traced the same deep-rooted impulse toward militarism and empire through the history of U.S. foreign policy. The dean of this school, William Appleton Williams, argued in The Tragedy of American Diplomacy that the nation’s genuine idealism had been subverted by the imperial pursuit of power and capitalist greed.

Today, the “American empire” is a term of approval and optimism for some and disparagement and danger for others. Neoconservatives celebrate the imperial exercise of U.S. power, which, in a modern version of Rudyard Kipling’s “white man’s burden,” is a liberal force that promotes democracy and undercuts tyranny, terrorism, military aggression, and weapons proliferation. Critics who identify an emerging American empire, meanwhile, worry about its unacceptable financial costs, its corrosive effect on democracy, and the threat it poses to the institutions and alliances that have secured U.S. national interests since World War II.


No one disagrees that U.S. power is extraordinary. It is the character and logic of U.S. domination that is at issue in the debate over empire. The United States is not just a superpower pursuing its interest; it is a producer of world order. Over the decades — with more support than resistance from other nations — it has fashioned a distinctively open and rule-based international order. Its dynamic bundle of oversized capacities, interests, and ideals constitutes an “American project” with unprecedented global reach. For better or worse, other states must come to terms with or work around this protean order.

Scholars often characterize international relations as the interaction of sovereign states in an anarchic world. In the classic Westphalian world order, states hold a monopoly on the use of force in their own territory while order at the international level is maintained through the diffusion of power among states. Today’s unipolar world turns the Westphalian image on its head. The United States possesses a near-monopoly on the use of force internationally; on the domestic level, meanwhile, the institutions and behaviors of states are increasingly open to global — that is, American — scrutiny. Since September 11, the Bush administration’s assertion of “contingent sovereignty” and the right of preemption have made this transformation abundantly clear. The rise of unipolarity and the simultaneous unbundling of state sovereignty is a new and volatile brew.

But is the resulting political formation an empire? And if so, will the American empire suffer the fate of great empires of the past: ravaging the world with its ambitions and excesses until overextension, miscalculation, and mounting opposition hasten its collapse?

The term “empire” refers to the political control by a dominant country of the domestic and foreign policies of weaker countries. The European colonial empires of the late nineteenth century were the most direct, formal kind. The Soviet “sphere of influence” in Eastern Europe entailed an equally coercive but less direct form of control. The British Empire included both direct colonial rule and “informal empire.” If empire is defined loosely, as a hierarchical system of political relationships in which the most powerful state exercises decisive influence, then the United States today indeed qualifies.

If the United States is an empire, however, it is like no other before it. To be sure, it has a long tradition of pursuing crude imperial policies, most notably in Latin America and the Middle East. But for most countries, the U.S.-led order is a negotiated system wherein the United States has sought participation by other states on terms that are mutually agreeable. This is true in three respects. First, the United States has provided public goods — particularly the extension of security and the support for an open trade regime — in exchange for the cooperation of other states. Second, power in the U.S. system is exercised through rules and institutions; power politics still exist, but arbitrary and indiscriminate power is reigned in. Finally, weaker states in the U.S.-led order are given “voice opportunities” — informal access to the policymaking processes of the United States and the intergovernmental institutions that make up the international system. It is these features of the post-1945 international order that have led historians such as Charles Maier to talk about a “consensual empire” and Geir Lundestad to talk about an “empire of invitation.” The American order is hierarchical and ultimately sustained by economic and military power, but it is put at the service of an expanding system of democracy and capitalism.

Fundamentally, then, the debate over the new American empire hinges on how extensive and deeply rooted these characteristics are — and whether its assertion of power since September 11 constitutes a fundamental break with this liberal past.


In The Sorrows of Empire, Chalmers Johnson advances the disturbing claim that the United States’ Cold War-era military power and far-flung base system have, in the last decade, been consolidated in a new form of global imperial rule. The United States, according to Johnson, has become “a military juggernaut intent on world domination.”

Driven by a triumphalist ideology, an exaggerated sense of threats, and a self-serving military-industrial complex, this juggernaut is tightening its grip on much of the world. The Pentagon has replaced the State Department as the primary shaper of foreign policy. Military commanders in regional headquarters are modern-day proconsuls, warrior-diplomats who direct the United States’ imperial reach. Johnson fears that this military empire will corrode democracy, bankrupt the nation, spark opposition, and ultimately end in a Soviet-style collapse.

In this rendering, the American military empire is a novel form of domination. Johnson describes it as an “international protection racket: mutual defense treaties, military advisory groups, and military forces stationed in foreign countries to ‘defend’ against often poorly defined, overblown, or nonexistent threats.” These arrangements create “satellites” — ostensibly independent countries whose foreign relations revolve around the imperial state. Johnson argues that this variety of empire was pioneered during the Cold War by the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe and the United States in East Asia. Great empires of the past — the Romans and the Han Dynasty Chinese — ruled their domains with permanent military encampments that garrisoned conquered territory. The American empire is innovative because it is not based on the acquisition of territory; it is an empire of bases.

Johnson’s previous polemic, Blowback, asserted that post-1945 U.S. spheres of influence in East Asia and Latin America were as coercive and exploitative as their Soviet counterparts. The Sorrows of Empire continues this dubious line. Echoing 1960s revisionism, Johnson asserts that the United States’ Cold War security system of alliances and bases was built on manufactured threats and driven by expansionary impulses. The United States was not acting in its own defense; it was exploiting opportunities to build an empire. The Soviet Union and the United States, according to this argument, were more alike than different: both militarized their societies and foreign policies and expanded outward, establishing imperial rule through “hub and spoke” systems of client states and political dependencies.

In Johnson’s view, the end of the Cold War represented both an opportunity and a crisis for U.S. global rule — an opportunity because the Soviet sphere of influence was now open for imperial expansion, a crisis because the fall of the Soviet Union ended the justification for the global system of naval bases, airfields, army garrisons, espionage listening posts, and strategic enclaves. Only with the terrorist attacks of September 11 was this crisis resolved. Bush suddenly had an excuse to expand U.S. military domination. September 11 also allowed the United States to remove the fig leaf of alliance partnership. Washington could now disentangle itself from international commitments, treaties, and law and launch direct imperial rule.

Unfortunately, Johnson offers no coherent theory of why the United States seeks empire. At one point, he suggests that the American military empire is founded on “a vast complex of interests, commitments, and projects.” The empire of bases has become institutionalized in the military establishment and has taken on a life of its own. There is no discussion, however, of the forces within U.S. politics that resist or reject empire. As a result, Johnson finds imperialism everywhere and in everything the United States does, in its embrace of open markets and global economic integration as much as in its pursuit of narrow economic gains.

Johnson also offers little beyond passing mention about the societies presumed to be under Washington’s thumb. Domination and exploitation are, of course, not always self-evident. Military pacts and security partnerships are clearly part of the structure of U.S. global power, and they often reinforce fragile and corrupt governments in order to project U.S. influence. But countries can also use security ties with the United States to their own advantage. Japan may be a subordinate security partner, but the U.S.-Japan alliance also allows Tokyo to forgo a costly buildup of military capacity that would destabilize East Asia. Moreover, countries do have other options: they can, and often do, escape U.S. domination simply by asking the United States to leave. The Philippines did so, and South Korea may be next. The variety and complexity of U.S. security ties with other states makes Johnson’s simplistic view of military hegemony misleading.

In fact, the U.S. alliance system — remarkably intact after half a century — has helped create a stable, open political space. Cooperative security is not just an instrument of U.S. domination; it is also a tool of political architecture. But Johnson neglects the broader complex of U.S.-supported multilateral rules and institutions that give depth and complexity to the international order. Ultimately, it is not clear what the United States could do — short of retreating into its borders or ceasing to exist — that would save it from Johnson’s condemnation.


In Colossus, Niall Ferguson argues that the United States is indeed an empire and has been for a long time. To Ferguson, however, it is a liberal empire that upholds rules and institutions and underwrites public goods by maintaining peace, ensuring freedom of the seas and skies, and managing a system of international trade and finance. The United States is the imperfect but natural inheritor of the British system of global governance; it is open and integrative and inclined toward informal rule. Accordingly, Ferguson’s worry is not that the world will get too much American empire but that it will not get enough. U.S. leaders, for all their benign intent, have unusually short attention spans and tend to go “wobbly.”

In Ferguson’s view, the United States shares many characteristics with past empires. Like Rome, it has remarkably open citizenship. “Purple Hearts and U.S. citizenship were conferred simultaneously on a number of the soldiers serving in Iraq last year, just as service in the legions was once a route to becoming a civis romanus,” Ferguson writes. “Indeed, with the classical architecture of its capital and the republican structure of its constitution, the United States is perhaps more like a ‘new Rome’ than any previous empire — albeit a Rome in which the Senate has thus far retained its grip on would-be emperors.” The spread of America’s language, ideas, and culture also invites comparison to Rome at its zenith.

But Ferguson is even more taken by parallels with the British Empire. U.S. presidents, from Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, have put their power to work promoting the great liberal ideals of economic openness, democracy, limited government, human dignity, and the rule of law — a “strategy of openness” that is remarkably similar, Ferguson argues, to the aspirations of the British Empire in the second half of the nineteenth century. After all, it was a young Winston Churchill who argued that the aim of British imperialism was to “give peace to warring tribes, to administer justice where all was violence, to strike the chains off the slave, to draw the richness from the soil, to place the earliest seeds of commerce and learning, to increase in whole peoples their capacities for pleasure and diminish their chances of pain. … ”

Most of Colossus retells the familiar story of the rise of U.S. global dominance as an exercise in liberal empire. What is distinctive about American imperialism, according to Ferguson, is that it has been pursued in the name of anti-imperialism. For each phase of U.S. history, Ferguson nicely illuminates the tensions between republican ideals and the exercise of global power and shows how those tensions are often resolved. The Cold War — and George Kennan’s doctrine of containment — provides the ultimate example of this fusion of anti-imperialism and hard power. Security, openness, democratic community, political commitment, and the mobilization of U.S. power went together. The core of U.S. global rule involved the enforcement of rules of economic openness, but the United States was also willing to act forcefully to integrate countries into the liberal order.

Ferguson’s most interesting claim is that the world needs more of this liberal American empire. This argument stems in part from the uncontroversial claim that the current international order needs enlightened leadership and that only Washington can provide it. (Ferguson holds little hope that Europe will ever overcome its preoccupation with the internal contradictions of its enlargement.) It is especially the wider system of sovereign but failed states that needs imperial supervision by Washington. In vast swatches of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East national self-determination has led to much grief. Ferguson argues without qualification that “the experiment with political independence — especially in Africa — has been a disaster for most poor countries.” To Ferguson, the extension of liberal empire into these regions (even involving some form of colonial rule) is necessary. What precisely these imperial arrangements would look like, however, remains unclear.

When Ferguson says that he is “fundamentally in favor of empire,” he is to some extent pulling a conceptual sleight of hand. What Ferguson means by “liberal empire” scholars have previously called “liberal hegemony”: a hierarchical order that is still very different from traditional forms of empire. By virtue of its power, the liberal hegemon can act on its long-term interests rather than squabble over short-term gains with other states; it can identify its own national interests with the openness and stability of the larger system. The United States thus shapes and dominates the international order while guaranteeing a flow of benefits to other governments that earns their acquiescence. In contrast to empire, this negotiated order depends on agreement over the rules of the system between the leading state and everyone else. In this way, the norms and institutions that have developed around U.S. hegemony both limit the actual coercive exercise of U.S. power and draw other states into the management of the system.

Ferguson’s case for the virtues of American empire hinges on his claim that in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the world could have gone one of two ways: international order organized around independent nations or an American imperium. He maintains that a world of decentralized, competing states, many of which are not democracies, would result in chaos. This may be true; he is certainly right that stability and open markets are not easily sustained without the support of powerful states. But the notion of liberal empire conflates very different types of U.S.-led order. One in which Washington coerces other states into obedience is very different from a system of multilateral rules and close partnerships. The challenges of peace and economic development that Ferguson identifies are best pursued by advanced democracies working together. Ultimately, such a cooperative order would require that Washington transcend the atavistic habits of empire rather than pursue a more complete realization of it.

In the end, Ferguson finds invoking the image of empire useful for political reasons. Unlike the British, Americans do not believe that they operate an empire. As a result, the United States makes a flighty and impatient imperial power (in contrast to the British, who acquired a cultural mentality for global rule). Ferguson thinks that speaking honestly about the reality of American empire will foster understanding of its duties and obligations.

Yet precisely the opposite is true. The United States does not need to view the world as its Raj and deploy a colonial service to the vast periphery; it needs to find ways to exercise its power in sustained, legitimate ways, working with others and developing more complex forms of cooperative international governance. It is also extremely doubtful that the American people would accept such a massive imperial undertaking: last September, as soon as President Bush revealed the price tag for occupying Iraq, public support plummeted immediately.


Benjamin Barber’s Fear’s Empire presents a case against the recent unilateral impulses in U.S. foreign policy. According to Barber, empire is not inherent in U.S. dominance but is, rather, a temptation — one to which the Bush administration has increasingly succumbed. In confronting terrorism, Washington has vacillated between appealing to law and undermining it. Barber’s thesis is that by invoking a right to unilateral action, preventive war, and regime change, the United States has undermined the very framework of cooperation and law that is necessary to fight terrorist anarchy. A foreign policy oriented around the use of military force against rogue states, Barber argues, reflects a misunderstanding of the consequences of global interdependence and the character of democracy. Washington cannot run a global order driven by military action and the fear of terrorism. Simply put, American empire is not sustainable.

For Barber, the logic of globalization trumps the logic of empire: the spread of McWorld undermines imperial grand strategy. In most aspects of economic and political life, the United States depends heavily on other states. The world is thus too complex and interdependent to be ruled from an imperial center. In an empire of fear, the United States attempts to order the world through force of arms. But this strategy is self-defeating: it creates hostile states bent on overturning the imperial order, not obedient junior partners.

Barber proposes instead a cosmopolitan order of universal law rooted in human community: “Lex humana works for global comity within the framework of universal rights and law, conferred by multilateral political, economic, and cultural cooperation — with only as much common military action as can be authorized by common legal authority; whether in the Congress, in multilateral treaties, or through the United Nations.” Terrorist threats, Barber concludes, are best confronted with a strategy of “preventive democracy” — democratic states working together to strengthen and extend liberalism.

Barber’s overly idealized vision of cosmopolitan global governance is less convincing, however, than his warnings about unilateral military rule. Indeed, he provides a useful cautionary note for liberal empire enthusiasts in two respects. First, the two objectives of liberal empire — upholding the rules of the international system and unilaterally employing military power against enemies of the American order — often conflict. As Barber shows, zealous policymakers often invoke the fear of terrorism to justify unilateral exercises of power that, in turn, undermine the rules and institutions they are meant to protect. Second, the threats posed by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are not enough to legitimate America’s liberal empire. During the Cold War, the United States articulated a vision of community and progress within a U.S.-led free world, infusing the exercise of U.S. power with legitimacy. It is doubtful, however, that the war on terrorism, in which countries are either “with us or against us,” has an appeal that can draw enough support to justify a U.S.-dominated order.


Michael Mann also warns of a dangerous, and ultimately unsustainable, imperial turn in U.S. foreign policy. This “new imperialism,” he argues in Incoherent Empire, is driven by a radical vision in which unilateral military power enforces U.S. rule and overcomes global disorder.

Mann believes that this “imperial project” depends on a wildly inflated measure of American power; the United States may have awesome military muscle, but its political and economic capabilities are less overwhelming. This imbalance causes Washington to overemphasize the use of force, turning the quest for empire into “overconfident and hyperactive militarism.” Such militarism generates what Mann calls “incoherent empire,” which undermines U.S. leadership and creates more, not fewer, terrorists and rogue states.

In his distinguished scholarly work on the history of social power, Mann, a sociologist, has argued that four types of power drive the rise and fall of states, nations, empires, regions, and civilizations: military, political, economic, and ideological. Applying these categories to the United States, Mann concludes that it is, in a jumble of metaphors, “a military giant, a back-seat economic driver, a political schizophrenic, and an ideological phantom.”

Mann acknowledges that the United States is a central hub of the world economy and that the role of the dollar as the primary reserve currency confers significant advantages in economic matters. But the actual ability of Washington to use trade and aid as political leverage, he believes, is severely limited, as was evident in its failure to secure the support of countries such as Angola, Chile, Guinea, Mexico, and Pakistan in the Security Council before the war in Iraq. Moreover, Washington’s client states are increasingly unreliable, and the populations of erstwhile allies are inflamed with anti-Americanism. American culture and ideals, meanwhile, hold less appeal than they did in previous eras. Although the world still embraces the United States’ open society and basic freedoms, it increasingly complains about “cultural imperialism” and U.S. aggression. Nationalism and religious fundamentalism have forged deep cultures of resistance to an American imperial project.

Mann and Barber both make the important point that an empire built on military domination alone will not succeed. In their characterization, the United States offers security — acting as a global leviathan to control the problems of a Hobbesian world — in exchange for other countries’ acquiescence. Washington, in this imperial vision, refuses to play by the same rules as other governments and maintains that this is the price the world must pay for security. But this U.S.-imposed order cannot last. Barber points out that the United States has so much “business” with the rest of the world that it cannot rule the system without complex arrangements of cooperation. Mann, for his part, argues that military “shock and awe” merely increases resistance; he cites the sociologist Talcott Parsons, who long ago noted that raw power, unlike consensus authority, is “deflationary”: the more it is used, the more rapidly it diminishes.


The French essayist Emmanuel Todd believes that the long-term decline predicted by Mann and Barber has already started. In a fit of French wishful thinking, he argues in After the Empire that the United States’ geopolitical importance is shrinking fast. The world is exiting, not entering, an era of U.S. domination. Washington may want to run a liberal empire, but the world is able and increasingly willing to turn its back on an ever less relevant United States.

Todd’s prediction derives from a creative — but ultimately suspect — view of global socioeconomic transformation. He acknowledges that the United States played a critical role in constructing the global economy in the decades after World War II. But in the process, Todd argues, new power centers with divergent interests and values emerged in Asia and Europe, while the United States’ own economy and society became weak and corrupt. The soft underbelly of U.S. power is its reluctance to take casualties and to pay the costs of rebuilding societies that it invades. Meanwhile, as U.S. democracy weakens, the worldwide spread of democracy has bolstered resistance to Washington. As Todd puts it, “At the very moment when the rest of the world — now undergoing a process of stabilization thanks to improvements in education, demographics, and democracy — is on the verge of discovering that it can get along without America, America is realizing that it cannot get along without the rest of the world.”

Two implications follow from the United States’ strange condition as “economically dependent and politically useless.” First, the United States is becoming a global economic predator, sustaining itself through an increasingly fragile system of “tribute taking.” It has lost the ability to couple its own economic gain with the economic advancement of other societies. Second, a weakened United States will resort to more desperate and aggressive actions to retain its hegemonic position. Todd identifies this impulse behind confrontations with Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Indeed, in his most dubious claim, Todd argues that the corruption of U.S. democracy is giving rise to a poorly supervised ruling class that will be less restrained in its use of military force against other democracies, those in Europe included. For Todd, all of this points to the disintegration of the American empire.

Todd is correct that the ability of any state to dominate the international system depends on its economic strength. As economic dominance shifts, American unipolarity will eventually give way to a new distribution of power. But, contrary to Todd’s diagnosis, the United States retains formidable socioeconomic advantages. And his claim that a rapacious clique of frightened oligarchs has taken over U.S. democracy is simply bizarre. Most important, Todd’s assertion that Russia and other great powers are preparing to counterbalance U.S. power misses the larger patterns of geopolitics. Europe, Japan, Russia, and China have sought to engage the United States strategically, not simply to resist it. They are pursuing influence and accommodation within the existing order, not trying to overturn it. In fact, the great powers worry more about a detached, isolationist United States than they do about a United States bent on global rule. Indeed, much of the pointed criticism of U.S. unilateralism reflects a concern that the United States will stop providing security and stability, not a hope that it will decline and disappear.


Is the United States an empire? If so, Ferguson’s liberal empire is a more persuasive portrait than is Johnson’s military empire. But ultimately, the notion of empire is misleading — and misses the distinctive aspects of the global political order that has developed around U.S. power.

The United States has pursued imperial policies, especially toward weak countries in the periphery. But U.S. relations with Europe, Japan, China, and Russia cannot be described as imperial, even when “neo” or “liberal” modifies the term. The advanced democracies operate within a “security community” in which the use or threat of force is unthinkable. Their economies are deeply interwoven. Together, they form a political order built on bargains, diffuse reciprocity, and an array of intergovernmental institutions and ad hoc working relationships. This is not empire; it is a U.S.-led democratic political order that has no name or historical antecedent.

To be sure, the neoconservatives in Washington have trumpeted their own imperial vision: an era of global rule organized around the bold unilateral exercise of military power, gradual disentanglement from the constraints of multilateralism, and an aggressive effort to spread freedom and democracy. But this vision is founded on illusions of U.S. power. It fails to appreciate the role of cooperation and rules in the exercise and preservation of such power. Its pursuit would strip the United States of its legitimacy as the preeminent global power and severely compromise the authority that flows from such legitimacy. Ultimately, the neoconservatives are silent on the full range of global challenges and opportunities that face the United States. And as Ferguson notes, the American public has no desire to run colonies or manage a global empire. Thus, there are limits on American imperial pretensions even in a unipolar era.

Ultimately, the empire debate misses the most important international development of recent years: the long peace among great powers, which some scholars argue marks the end of great-power war. Capitalism, democracy, and nuclear weapons all help explain this peace. But so too does the unique way in which the United States has gone about the business of building an international order. The United States’ success stems from the creation and extension of international institutions that have limited and legitimated U.S. power.

The United States is now caught in a struggle between liberal rule and imperial rule. Both impulses lie deep within the American body politic. But the dangers and costs of running the world as an American empire are great, and the nation’s deep faith in the rule of law is undiminished. When all is said and done, Americans are less interested in ruling the world than they are in creating a world of rules.

Energy bill on last gasps?

March 11, 2004 at 10:40 pm
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You know what they say about politics and sausage: if you like them, you don’t want to know how they’re made.

This droll little article from Grist Magazine gets us down in the dirt with the key players who can make the once-beaten energy bill die or fly. Even in its current slimmed-down form, the bill is still rotten. Sen. John McCain called it “the same old package of pork — it’s rancid pork.”

Best of all:

DeLay is so committed to his special interests that he’s willing to defy his own president; by doing so, he may serve the public interest after all.

It’s great to know that, with dire problems like Peak Oil looming straight ahead, that the Congress is playing their little selfish games and holding up any real progress? That they can slavishly serve their cash contributors and their own careers, while letting us all careen headlong into the void created by so many decades of just such politicking? When are we going to have some leaders who actually care about the public good, and who want to see us on a path to energy sustainability, first and foremost, above any special interest?

At least we have the satisfaction of knowing that it is the opposition of people just like us that has so far successfully stalled this travesty. But somebody in Congress is going to have to offer up a real energy bill alternative, and with the way our political machine works, that’s not too likely.

It’s too early to rest on our laurels, though. The bill will come back up for another vote, and probably soon. Sen. Tom Daschle, the most reprehensible of all the bill’s backers, thinks he has enough votes to pass it this time around.

Here’s a useful bookmark for ya: The 108th Congress’ Energy Bill Web site. Check it for the latest news.

A Twitch Before Dying?

Grist Magazine

Energy bill may be gaining ground, but prospects are still dicey

by Amanda Griscom

09 Mar 2004

U.S. oil prices jumped to their highest levels since the Iraq war this week, hitting $37.51 a barrel, for an average of about $1.74 a gallon — unwelcome news for those feeling the pinch at the pump, but great news for supporters of the newly overhauled but still-stalled energy bill.

“They’ve been waiting for something like this — a blackout, a spike in gas prices, a terrorist attack — anything to convince a majority in the Senate that they have no choice but to steamroll this energy bill through,” said a staffer at the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Sure enough, on Monday, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), chair of the ENR committee, reasserted that the energy bill would likely come up for consideration again at the end of this month — when high gas prices will still be fresh on senators’ (or, more to the point, senators’ constituents’) minds.

Right on cue, a chorus of Bush officials chimed in to play up economic fears: Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said last week that the administration is “extremely concerned” about gasoline prices and called on Congress to pass the energy bill. His colleague Treasury Secretary John Snow used concern about rising oil prices — expected to continue their upward trajectory through the summer — to call for “greater access to reliable and dependable U.S. energy supplies like ANWR.”

Support for the energy bill isn’t just coming from the GOP — Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is now among its most enthusiastic proponents. The bill became more palatable to Daschle once deals were struck to remove a controversial provision that would have given liability relief to manufacturers of the fuel additive MTBE, which has contaminated water supplies throughout the nation, and to cut the corpulent $31 billion package to a comparatively lean $15 billion — though it still channels plenty of pork to polluting energy companies.

Daschle not only expressed support for the new version of the bill, but anticipated bringing along up to six new Democratic yea votes. “It’s Sen. Daschle’s belief that there’s a reasonable chance that this new version will pass when it comes up for reconsideration,” his spokesperson, Sarah Feinberg, told Muckraker.

Domenici’s team is equally upbeat: “We’re feeling pretty confident,” said Marnie Funk, spokesperson for the majority in the ENR committee. “We think we’ve made the necessary changes to get the bill through the Senate — changes that will appeal to Democrats who disliked the MTBE issue and the Republicans who were worried about cost. The vote count seems promising.”

According to an ENR committee staff member who asked to remain anonymous, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Daschle have been getting positive feedback on the Republican side from Sens. Rick Santorum (Penn.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Don Nickles (Okla.), and John Ensign (Nev.) — all of whom had grumbled about the high costs of the original bill.

But critics of the energy bill are singing a very different tune: “Put your bullshit detector on high alert,” said Kevin Curtis, vice president of National Environmental Trust. “We’re in election time, and from now to the end of this session it’s less and less about passing legislation and more about emphasizing the differences between certain politicians and parties.”

Bill Wicker, communications director for the Democratic minority on the ENR committee, adds that he has heard nothing definitive about new votes promised since the energy bill was reworked.

It’s no secret that Daschle, for instance, has political reasons to put on a happy face. He’s in a tight battle for his Senate seat this year, and the energy bill includes tax subsidies for ethanol production that would increase corn prices by as much as $0.50 per bushel, create an estimated 10,000 new jobs in his state, and generate $620 million for South Dakota’s economy, Daschle says. Whether or not the bill is likely to pass, it behooves the senator to convince his constituency that he’s making progress pushing it through Congress.

Likewise, Domenici’s optimism should be taken with a grain of salt: One senior Republican Senate aide confessed to a reporter at the Albuquerque Journal in Domenici’s home state of New Mexico over the weekend that the bill’s prospects are not so hot. “The odds of getting an energy bill along the lines of what we have proposed is maybe 25 percent,” the aide said.

Another indication that the forecast is gloomy came in a Monday article in CongressDaily about Senate Republicans with so little faith in the energy bill’s passage that they are maneuvering key portions of it onto other pieces of legislation that have better chances of making it to President Bush‘s desk. Senate Finance Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is orchestrating the process; last month he inserted ethanol tax provisions into a transportation bill, and last week he proposed an amendment to a corporate tax bill that would extend a tax credit for wind energy production for a year. “Both provisions are crucial to maintaining the coalition … needed to move a large energy bill through the Senate,” wrote CongressDaily reporter John Stanton.

But let’s say Domenici, Daschle, and Frist manage to maneuver the energy bill through the Senate in late March. There’s no guarantee that it will then make it past the House. In fact, last week House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) gave the Senate version the big, fat Texas finger, saying it’s unacceptable because it doesn’t protect MTBE manufacturers, the overwhelming majority of which are in his state. Even after a personal call from Bush entreating him, essentially, to get over himself, DeLay held his ground: No energy bill without MTBE liability relief would get past him.

The situation is rich with irony: DeLay is so committed to his special interests that he’s willing to defy his own president; by doing so, he may serve the public interest after all.

Grist Magazine: Environmental news and humor

© 2003, Grist Magazine, Inc. All rights reserved.

9-11: Bush knew. And did nothing.

March 11, 2004 at 6:15 pm
Contributed by:


It’s amazing to me that Bush is still getting away with stonewalling the 9-11 investigation, and limiting his questioning to one hour, with a small selection of friendly investigators, behind closed doors, when we KNOW that he and others in his administration have lied about what they knew, and what they did, on the morning of 9-11.

I don’t know about you, but I am mad as hell about this. I don’t care what the politics are. I don’t care whose heads will roll. We deserve the truth about 9-11.

Here are some facts for your consideration.

“Bush Knew” presentation

This is an excellent video presentation on the timeline of events on 9-11, including the lies that Bush told about it that morning:
Bush Knew

20 crucial questions about 9-11

See this previous GRL article for a list of 20 crucial questions that we deserve to have answered, plus links to other detailed chronologies of 9-11 and the Bush cabinet’s actions: 20 Crucial 9/11 Questions

Bush in bed with Saudi terrorist financiers

Today’s Progress Report had a bunch of great new information, read it! Here’s one small sample:

AFTER 9/11 – CLASSIFYING INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE: In 2003, more and more evidence began to appear tying the Saudi royal family to the attacks. For instance, Newsweek reported that thousands of dollars in charitable gifts from Princess Haifa, the wife of Prince Bandar, “ended up in the hands of two of the September 11 hijackers.”  Yet, as congressional committees prepared to release a bipartisan report on the 9/11 attacks, the Bush Administration swiftly moved to classify a section of the report which dealt with the Saudi ties to the attack. According to CBS News, that section “examined interactions between Saudi businessmen and the royal family that may have intentionally or unwittingly aided al Qaeda or the suicide hijackers.” Not surprisingly, months after 9/11 Vice President Cheney went on Fox News to announce the Administration’s full opposition to an independent 9/11 commission.

BEFORE 9/11 – STRENGTHENED BUSH-SAUDI TIES: Despite the clear ties to terror, the Bush Administration maintained and strengthened its ties to the Saudi government upon taking office. As the Boston Herald reported, a “revolving U.S.-Saudi money wheel” exists “within President Bush’s own coterie of foreign policy advisers.”

What Congress isn’t doing about it

Time required by Bill Clinton to describe his personal relationships to a grand jury:

4 hours, 59 minutes – 15 people [Source]

Time limited by Bush to talk about the events of 9/11: 1 hour – 3 people

What you can do about it

Join the email, phone and fax campaign begun by the families of the 9-11 victims, to demand “open testimony under oath from President Bush and members of the cabinet as well as a full and complete response to a list of questions prepared by the Family Steering Committee for the 9/11 ‘independent’ commission.” Please see: Statement of the Family Steering Committee
for The 9/11 Independent Commission

Watch the progress

For information on how to participate and see what effect the campaign is having, please visit:

Please, don’t let them get away with this. Contact your Congressmen. Pick up the phone. Flood their offices with faxes. Demand a full investigation. Demand the truth.


[More GRL articles on 9-11]

Cheap oil myths and energy transition

March 10, 2004 at 11:09 pm
Contributed by: Chris


This article from Petroleum World (Latin American Energy, Oil & Gas – Venezuela) confirms the Peak Oil phenomenon, and states in no uncertain terms that we are headed for a major “restructuring.” The author, an energy economist, debunks the typical myths about cheap oil such as “high oil prices hurt growth,” and explains how the time-honored tool of raising interest rates “to bring down oil demand through provoking recession and mass unemployment” will not work this time around.

One good quote to get you started:

Current leaderships of the North will, this decade, learn that no amount of munitions and ordnance can solve or defeat the geological problem of oil depletion.

I thought this was very good reading. Check it.



LA Times: \"Running Out of Oil — and Time\"

March 10, 2004 at 10:52 pm
Contributed by:


This article won’t hold any surprises for those of you who are keeping up on the Peak Oil topic. But I thought it worth recirculating because it’s the first time I’ve seen Peak Oil discussed in the LA Times. That makes one more respected–well, at least large–U.S. newspaper to acknowledge the reality of Peak Oil and its consequences. (And it also shows the first glimmers of what I’m sure will be a gold mine in books about it.) Granted, it was on the Editorial page, but still.
Running Out of Oil — and Time

Panic will strike if we’re not prepared with new technologies.

By Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts writes about the energy industry for Harper’s Magazine and other national publications. His new book, The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World, will be published in May.

March 7, 2004

SEATTLE — The news last month that the vast Saudi oil fields are in decline is a far bigger story than most in the media, or the United States, seem to realize. We may begrudge the Saudis their 30-year stranglehold on the world economy. But even the possibility that the lords of oil have less of the stuff than advertised raises troubling questions. How long will the world’s long-term oil supplies last? As important, what will the big importing nations, like the U.S., do the day world oil production hits its inevitable peak?

For more than a century, Western governments have been relentlessly upbeat about the long-term outlook for oil. Whenever pessimists claimed that supplies were running low — as they have many times — oil companies always seemed to discover huge new fields. It’s now an article of faith among oil optimists, including those in the U.S. government, that global oil reserves won’t run out for at least four decades, which seems like enough time to devise a whole suite of alternative energy technologies to smoothly and seamlessly replace oil.

But such oil optimism, always questionable, is now more suspect than ever. True, we won’t “run out” of oil tomorrow, or even 10 years from now. But the long-term picture is grim. In the first place, it’s not a matter of running out of oil but of hitting a production peak. Since 1900, world oil production — that is, the number of barrels we can pump from the ground — has risen in near-perfect step with world oil demand. Today, demand stands at about 29 billion barrels of oil a year, and so does production. By 2020, demand may well be 45 billion barrels a year, by which time, we hope, oil companies will have upped production accordingly.

At some point, however, production simply won’t be able to match demand. Oil is an exhaustible resource: The more you produce, the less remains in the ground, and the harder it is to bring up that remainder. We won’t be “out of oil”; a vast amount will still be flowing — just not quickly enough to satisfy demand. And as any economist can tell you, when supply falls behind demand, bad things happen.

During the 1979 Iranian revolution, the last time oil production fell off significantly, world oil prices hit the modern equivalent of $80 a barrel. And that, keep in mind, was a temporary decline. If world oil production were to truly peak and begin a permanent decline, the effect would be staggering: Prices would not come back down. Any part of the global economy dependent on cheap energy — which is to say, pretty much everything these days — would be changed forever.

And that’s the good news. The term “peak” tends to suggest a nice, neat curve, with production rising slowly to a halfway point, then tapering off gradually to zero — as if, since it took a century to reach a peak, it ought to take another 100 years to reach the end. But in the real world, the landing will not be soft. As we hit the peak, soaring prices — $70, $80, even $100 a barrel — will encourage oil companies and oil states to scour the planet for oil. For a time, they will succeed, finding enough crude to keep production flat, thus stretching out the peak into a kind of plateau and perhaps temporarily easing fears. But in reality, this manic, post-peak production will deplete remaining reserves all the more quickly, thus ensuring that the eventual decline is far steeper and far more sudden. As one U.S. government geologist put it to me recently, “the edge of a plateau looks a lot like a cliff.”

As production falls off this cliff, prices won’t simply increase; they will fly. If our oil dependence hasn’t lessened drastically by then, the global economy is likely to slip into a recession so severe that the Great Depression will look like a dress rehearsal. Oil will cease to be viable as a fuel — hardly an encouraging scenario in a world where oil currently provides 40% of all energy and nearly 90% of all transportation fuel. Political reaction would be desperate. Industrial economies, hungry for energy, would begin making it from any source available — most likely coal — regardless of the ecological consequences. Worse, competition for remaining oil supplies would intensify, potentially leading to a new kind of political conflict: the energy war.

Thus, when we peak becomes a rather pressing question. Some pessimists tell us the peak has already come, and that calamity is imminent. That’s unlikely. But the optimists’ forecast — that we don’t peak until around 2035 — is almost as hard to believe. First, oil demand is climbing faster than optimists had hoped, mainly because China and India, the sleeping giants, are waking up to embrace a Western-style high-energy industrialism that includes tens of millions of new cars. Second, even as oil demand is rising, oil discovery rates are falling. Oil can’t be produced without first being found, and the rate at which oil companies are locating new oil fields is in serious decline. The peak for world discoveries was around 1960; today, despite astonishing advances in exploration and production technology, the industry is finding just 12 billion new barrels of oil each year — less than half of what we use. This is one reason that oil prices, which had averaged $20 a barrel since the 1970s, have been hovering at $30 for nearly a year.

Oil companies, not surprisingly, are getting anxious. Despite the fact that the current high oil prices are yielding massive company profits, companies are finding it harder and harder to replace the oil they sell with newly discovered barrels. On average, for every 10 barrels an oil company sells, its exploration teams find just four new barrels — a trend that can go on only so long. Indeed, most Western oil firms now say the only way to halt this slide is to get back into the Middle East, which kicked them out during the OPEC nationalizations of the 1960s and ’70s. This has, in fact, become the mantra of the oil industry: Get us back into the Middle East or be prepared for trouble. And the Bush administration seems to have taken the message to heart.

Now, of course, the Middle East is looking less and less like the Promised Land. Western analysts have long feared that the Saudis and other oil-state leaders are too corrupt, unstable and bankrupt to step up their oil production fast enough to meet surging world demand. Last week’s revelations, in which some Saudis themselves expressed doubt over future production increases, have only heightened such concerns.

Put another way, we may not be able to pinpoint exactly when a peak is coming, but recent events suggest that it will be sooner than the optimists have been telling us — perhaps by 2020, or even 2015 if Asian demand picks up as fast as some analysts now expect. What this means is that we can no longer sit back and hope that an alternative to oil will come along in time. Such complacency all but ensures that, when the peak does arrive, our response will be defensive, costly and hugely disruptive. Instead, we must begin now, with every tool at our disposal, to find ways to get “beyond petroleum” if we are to have any hope of controlling the shift from oil to whatever comes next.

Chavez warns U.S. about \’100-year war\’

March 10, 2004 at 9:08 pm
Contributed by:


We may depend on Venezuela heavily for their oil exports, but on Monday Hugo Chavez let us know that he wasn’t going to be pushed around like Haiti’s Aristide was.

President Hugo Chavez on Sunday vowed to freeze oil exports to the United States and wage a “100-year war” if Washington ever tried to invade Venezuela.

Half a million Venezuelans marching on Caracas in protest? Eight people dead? Fradulent recall petitions? Oh boy. Smells like CIA spirit.

Read on…

–CChavez warns U.S. about ‘100-year war’


Monday, March 8, 2004


President Hugo Chavez holds a copy of Venezuela’s constitution during his Sunday TV Show, while promising an investigation into the deaths of protesters last week.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez on Sunday vowed to freeze oil exports to the United States and wage a “100-year war” if Washington ever tried to invade Venezuela.

The United States has repeatedly denied ever trying to overthrow Chavez, but the leftist leader has accused Washington of being behind a failed 2002 coup and of funding opposition groups now seeking a recall referendum on his presidency.

Chavez accused the United States of ousting former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and warned Washington not to “even think about trying something similar in Venezuela.”

Venezuela “has enough allies on this continent to start a 100-year war,” Chavez said during his weekly television show.

He added that “U.S. citizens could forget about ever getting Venezuelan oil” if the United States ever tried to invade the South American country.

Venezuela provides about 15 percent of U.S. oil imports but relations between the two countries are rocky over Chavez’s friendship with Cuban President Fidel Castro, his criticism of U.S.-led negotiations for a free trade zone in the Americas and his opposition to the war in Iraq.

The United States was slow to condemn the 2002 coup, initially accusing Chavez of provoking his own downfall.

Chavez has increasingly railed against U.S. meddling in Venezuelan affairs as his opponents step up protests to demand the recall vote. Top U.S. officials have recently accused Chavez of becoming increasingly autocratic.

On Saturday, at least 500,000 Venezuelans marched in Caracas to protest the National Elections Council’s decision last week that an opposition petition for the recall vote lacked enough valid signatures. Opponents turned in more than 3 million signatures December 19 but the council ruled only 1.8 million were valid. The council ordered more than 1 million citizens to confirm they signed and rejected more than 140,000 signatures outright.

Rioting over the decision killed eight people and hurt scores more. The violence subsided after the Organization of American States and the U.S.-based Carter Center pledged to help give citizens a fair chance to proved they signed.

Venezuela is deeply divided between those who fear Chavez is trying to impose Cuba-style socialism and those who say he has given an unprecedented political voice to the impoverished majority.

Chavez insists election officials have reason to believe the recall petition is fraud-ridden. He claims many signatures belong to dead people, minors and foreigners.

On Sunday, Chavez promised his government would investigate the deaths and injuries from last week’s violence. Opposition leaders accuse National Guard troops of committing abuses while trying to keep rock-throwing protesters from blocking roads with burning tires. Chavez accuses his opponents of instigating chaos.

“The government is investigating all the acts of violence and especially those in which people died,” Chavez said. “Violence only takes place when a group of the opposition leaders decide there will be violence.”

Follow the Money

March 10, 2004 at 9:01 pm
Contributed by:


I hope you’ve all responded to my repeated pleas and subscribed to the Progress Report, and that you read it every day to keep your perspective on the news “fair and balanced.” If you have, you can skip this one.

If you haven’t, here is a carefully, lovingly, hand-picked selection of delights from just the last two issues for your enjoyment.

Original articles here:

The Progress Report: March 10, 2004

The Progress Report: March 9, 2004
DISHONEST REVENUE ASSUMPTIONS: Even though the proposal has been repeatedly rejected by Congress, the Administration’s budget assumes “revenues from oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” The President’s tax cuts have left the government so strapped for cash that the Administration has had to resort to assuming revenue “from an activity that is illegal under current law.”

“When it came to Iraq, Cheney made it clear that inspections could not go on forever if they did not produce results, Blix writes. In that case, the United States ‘was ready to discredit inspections in favor of disarmament,’ he quotes Cheney as saying.”

While Vice President Cheney has derided questioning of the Administration’s pre-9/11 behavior as “thoroughly irresponsible  and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war,” serious questions remain about whether the White House grossly neglected counter-terrorism in the lead-up to 9/11. As a 5/27/02 Newsweek cover story noted, before 9/11 “the Bushies had an ideological agenda of their own“: one that subordinated – and in many cases tried to reduce funding for – counter-terrorism efforts. As the NYT reported om 2/28/02, the shift was so dramatic that senior intelligence agents feared it would mean “that counterterrorism would be downgraded” over the long run and that there was a “lack of focus on fighting terrorism.”

Upon coming into office, the Bush Administration inherited a government that was receiving more and more specific warnings about the threat of an Al Qaeda attack on the United States. As ABC News reported, Bush Administration “officials acknowledged that U.S. intelligence officials informed President Bush weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks that bin Laden’s terrorist network might try to hijack American planes.” Similarly, Newsweek reported “that as many as 10 to 12 warnings” were issued, and “more than two of the warnings specifically mentioned the possibility of hijackings.” Meanwhile, George Tenet, “was issuing many warnings that bin Laden was ‘the most immediate’ threat to Americans.”

The warnings were so explicit that in the months leading up to 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft stopped flying commercial airlines and instead began “traveling exclusively by leased jet aircraft instead of commercial airlines” because of “what the Justice Department called a ‘threat assessment.'” That “threat assessment” was not made public.

THE WARNINGS – POST-9/11 DENIALS: Despite these explicit warnings, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice claimed that the Administration was never warned of an attack before 9/11, saying “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.” Similarly, President Bush denied having any idea about the threat, saying on 5/17/02, “Had I know that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people.”

Attorney General Janet Reno ended her tenure as “perhaps the strongest advocate” of counterterrorism spending, and Newsweek reported National Security Adviser Sandy Berger was “totally preoccupied” with the prospect of a domestic terror attack, telling his replacement that they need to be “spending more time on this issue than on any other.” As a 4/2/00 WP story noted Berger “insists that the threat of large-scale terrorist attacks on U.S. soil is ‘a reality, not a perception.'”

In January 2000, [Clinton] departed from the prepared text of his State of the Union address to predict that terrorists and organized criminals ‘with increasing access to ever more sophisticated chemical and biological weapons’ will pose ‘the major security threat’ to the United States in 10 to 20 years.”

In its final budget request for the fiscal year 2003 submitted on Sept. 10, 2001, the Administration “called for spending increases in 68 programs, none of which directly involved counterterrorism…In his Sept. 10 submission to the budget office, Mr. Ashcroft did not endorse F.B.I. requests for $58 million for 149 new counterterrorism field agents, 200 intelligence analysts and 54 additional translators. Mr. Ashcroft proposed cuts in 14 programs. One proposed $65 million cut was for a program that gives state and local counterterrorism grants for equipment, including radios and decontamination suits and training to localities for counterterrorism preparedness.”

Secretary Donald Rumsfeld elected not to re-launch a Predator drone that had been tracking bin Laden. When the Senate Armed Services Committee tried to fill those gaps, “Rumsfeld said he would recommend a veto” on September 9. By comparison, “Under Mr. Ashcroft’s predecessor, Janet Reno, the department’s counterterrorism budget increased 13.6% in the fiscal year 1999, 7.1% in 2000 and 22.7% in 2001.”

At the same time the White House was trying to gut counter-terrorism funding, it ignored human rights concerns and the Taliban’s known ties to terrorists, and gave “$43 million in drought aid to Afghanistan after the Taliban began a campaign against poppy growers.” As the 5/29/01 edition of Newsday noted at the time, the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan “are a decidedly odd choice for an outright gift of $43 million from the Bush administration. This is the same government against which the United Nation imposes sanctions, at the behest of the United States, for refusing to turn over the terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. The Bush Administration is so delighted at the opium ban that it’s willing to overlook America’s differences with the Taliban even its protection of bin Laden.”

The Senate began consideration this week of its budget resolution, CongressDailyAM reports. “We’ve got an enormous deficit,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles (R-OK). “It’s far too high and we have to get it down.” Of course, Nickles’ budget plan proposes extending  “the national debt limit by $664 billion, to just over $8 trillion” (it would be the third such debt increase in as many years).

Nickles’ plan forces average Americans to shoulder cuts, while protecting the rich. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, this means “funding for domestic discretionary programs outside homeland security would be cut by $113 billion over five years, compared with the 2004 level adjusted for inflation. These cuts would affect nearly all domestic program areas, including education, veterans, environmental, and housing programs, among others.” At the same time, large, expensive tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans would be extended, with a price tag of $144 billion by 2009, and a whopping $1.1 trillion over the next decade.

CONSERVATIVES – THE ANTI-ROBIN HOODS: In a cruel inversion of robbing from the rich to give to the poor, the Senate budget wants to raise taxes for the poor to pay for tax cuts for the rich. Sen. Nickles’ budget would cut $3 billion from the “earned income tax credit,” thereby raising taxes for those Americans who earn the least. 

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Senate budget is devastating to Medicaid. As states struggle under already crushing fiscal burdens, the Budget would “cut Medicaid by more than $11 billion over the next five years, including reductions in the federal share of certain state Medicaid costs that would take effect on October 1.”  The weak economy and unfunded federal mandates have already led to states “cutting their Medicaid programs and thereby causing the ranks of the uninsured to rise faster.”

FUZZY MATH: Sen. Nickles claims his plan would cut the swelling deficit in half in three years. It looks good on paper, but in actuality, the plan uses fuzzy math to get there. […] the resolution would add nearly $1.4 trillion to projected deficits over the next ten years.”

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt goes to Congress on Wednesday to defend the President’s 2005 environmental budget – and it’s a doozy. The President’s proposed budget would slash more than $600 million, or 7.2%, from the EPA alone. Overall the President would slice $1.9 billion, or 5.9%, from environmental programs compared to last year. Compared to the minimum funding necessary to keep environmental protection at the same level as this year, which takes into account inflation and other cost increases, the President’s budget falls $3.2 billion short. But as bad as those numbers are the devil is in the details.

SLASHING MONEY FOR CLEAN WATER: President Bush declared 2002-2003 the “Year of Clean Water.” But, apparently, that is all in the past. This year, the President has proposed large cuts in funding for infrastructure necessary to reduce water pollution. Under the President’s proposal funding for clean water infrastructure would drop from $2.6 billion to $1.8 billion. The programs slated for reductions include “sewage treatment plants, water purification facilities, and targeted pollution-prevention investments.” The cuts come after the EPA produced a 2002 analysis that concluded that the nation has $450 billion in long-term clean water infrastructure needs.

SLASHING MONEY FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH: The President says he believes, when it comes to the environment, “we need to employ the best science and data to inform our decision-making.” But you wouldn’t know it by looking at his budget proposal, which requests significant cuts to funding for scientific research within the EPA. The President’s budget plan would slice $93 million, or 12%, from scientific research on air, water and toxins.

MAKING TAXPAYERS PICK UP THE BILL FOR CORPORATE CLEANUPS: The EPA proposed yesterday to add 11 sites to the Superfund list – a group of more than 1200 toxic waste sites around the country slated for clean up. While the Administration has proposed a small increase in funding for the Superfund program, it is still inadequate to meet the need. Despite the additions, “the Bush administration has proposed new toxic waste sites for the Superfund program at a much slower rate than previous administrations.” (See this chart tracking the additions to the list). Worse, the Administration has abandoned the “polluter pays” principle for the cleanup of federal lands – essentially abandoning the corporate tax that used to fund the Superfund program – meaning that taxpayers are left responsible. As a result, any increase in funding for the Superfund program means funding is drawn away from other needed programs.

PRESIDENT BREAKS HIS PROMISE ON NATIONAL PARKS: Bush pledged during his campaign to clear the maintenance backlog in National Parks by providing $4.9 billion in new funding. Thus far the President has only provided 7% of the money he promised. And, despite the Administration’s insistence that they remain on track, the President’s new budget doesn’t begin to address the problem.

According to a new report by Human Rights Watch, American forces in Afghanistan have detained “at least 1,000 Afghans and other people over the past two years in ‘a climate of almost total impunity‘.” The report contends that the U.S. military has been “employing interrogation techniques, like shackling prisoners, stripping them naked or depriving them of sleep, that the State Department had condemned as torture in countries like Libya, North Korea and Iran.” For the past two years the “American military has refused to release information about the number of detainees it is holding in Afghanistan, their nationalities or their names.”

RIGHT-WING – CULTURALLY INSENSITIVE CONSERVATIVE QUOTES OF THE DAY: The NY Post reports, if he had to spend his life as a woman, “the bow-tied conservative of CNN’s ‘Crossfire'” Tucker Carlson told Elle magazine it would as Elizabeth Birch, “formerly of the Human Rights Campaign because you’d be presiding over an organization of thousands of lesbians, some of them quite good-looking.” Plus, women are simple in their needs: “They want to be listened to, protected and amused. And they want to be spanked vigorously every once in a while.” And, according to the open-minded Carlson, it’s easy to trump them in a fight, too. “Most of the time you can beat a woman in an argument. But what do you win? Nothing. You get short-term pleasure followed by a lot of pain.”

RIGHT-WING – CULTURALLY INSENSITIVE CONSERVATIVE QUOTE OF THE DAY, PART DEUX: “I’m asking this question respectfully. Is it because that the major media in Hollywood and a lot of the secular press is controlled by Jewish people?” – Conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly to an editor from Variety on why Mel Gibson has faced criticism for his film, The Passion.

In a contentious hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday, CIA Director George Tenet “rejected recent assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney that Iraq cooperated with the al-Qaida terrorist network and that the administration had proof of an illicit Iraqi biological warfare program.” Tenet said “that he had privately intervened on several occasions to correct what he regarded as public misstatements on intelligence by Cheney and others, and that he would do so again.” Tenet was specifically asked by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) about Cheney’s recent public assertion that a document previously discredited by the Pentagon was the “best source of information” proving that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda had an operational relationship (the contradiction was first pointed out in the Progress Report). Tenet said the CIA “did not clear that document,” that harsh criticism over Cheney’s behavior was “a fair point” and that “I will talk to [Cheney] about it.”

Sen. Levin sent a letter to Cheney’s office on February 12 demanding answers about why Cheney publicly cited a discredited document as “the best source of information.”

Almost a month later, the Cheney has not responded to the letter. Instead, the WP reports a senior administration official close to the vice president’s office claimed that Cheney “was merely lending a hand to an interested reporter” and said “entirely too much is being made of an offhand reference to an article.” But even that statement belies reality: Cheney was making unsubstantiated claims about a Saddam-Al Qaeda link for months. See American Progress’ Claim vs. Fact analyzing his – and others’ – distorted statements.

BYPASSING THE CIA: The discredited document Cheney cited was originally authored by Douglas Feith, who headed the “Office of Special Plans” – an operation run by neoconservative political appointees set up to purposely bypass “usual intelligence channels to make a case [for war] that conflicted with the conclusions of CIA analysts.” The office presented unreviewed – and often uncorroborated – intelligence directly “to the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice” without the knowledge of CIA Director George Tenet (yesterday, Tenet acknowledged that he only learned about these side briefings last week). Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked in the office, writes in today’s that the operation was set up for neoconservatives to “usurp measured and carefully considered assessments, and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress and the executive office of the president.”

[See also this article about the Office of Special Plans: The spies who pushed for war. More GetRealList articles about the OSP.]

WHERE WAS THE MEDIA?: The University of Maryland released a new study on the media’s pre-war coverage showing that “many press stories stenographically reported the incumbent administration’s perspectives on WMD, giving too little critical examination of the way officials framed the events, issues, threats and policy options.” The other main conclusions of the study: Too few stories offered alternative perspectives to the “official line” on WMD surrounding the Iraq conflict and most journalists accepted the Bush administration linking the “war on terror” inextricably to the issue of WMD. See the complete study.

President Bush’s nominee to oversee Medicare, Mark McClellan (currently head of FDA), has announced he is refusing to answer questions about “his opposition to importing prescription drugs from Canada before he takes over the government health program.”
(For more on drug reimportation, read this American Progress backgrounder.) McClellan’s refusal to answer questions is just another example of how conservatives are playing politics with Medicare.

Conservatives continue to react angrily when presented with reports about the Bush Administration’s actions – and lack thereof – prior to 9/11. Yesterday, CNN’s Tucker Carlson accused the Progress Report of “blood libel” for noting CBS News’ report that, because of a secret threat assessment, Attorney General John Ashcroft traveled on a $1600-an-hour privately leased jet, not commercial aircraft, in the months prior to 9/11. Carlson told his viewing audience that the Progress Report accused Ashcroft of “knowing about 9/11 in advance.” That charge is flatly false. Read yesterday’s Report for yourself. Email Tucker Carlson at and tell him he should correct the record.

THREAT ASSESSMENT HAS NEVER BEEN MADE PUBLIC: Carlson also attacked the Progress Report for noting that Ashcroft’s threat assessment “was not made public,” claiming the threat assessment has been “on the CBS website” since the summer of 2001. While the news story about Ashcroft’s private jet flights is on the CBS website, history professor Thomas Spencer notes accurately that the “threat assessment’ was never revealed in the months prior to or since 9/11” and remains secret to this day. According to the same 7/26/01 CBS report that Carlson points to as “proof” of his charges, “neither the FBI nor the Justice Department, however, would identify what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it.” Eight months after 9/11, in an attempt to deflect mounting criticism, the Justice Department announced that Ashcroft began flying on a private jets in July 2001 because of “personal threats on his life.” But when Ashcroft was asked about it he “walked from the room without comment.”    

RICE’S REVISIONIST HISTORY: Carlson and other conservatives who have attempted to deny that there were clear warnings of an imminent terrorist attack on America before 9/11 are echoing a similar distortion coming out of the White House. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on 5/16/02 said “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.” This statement – and others like it – ignore the widely reported string of warnings about the use of aircraft to commit terrorism in the months prior to 9/11 – several of which specifically contemplated the use of an airplane as a missile.

WHAT THE ADMINISTRATION REALLY KNEW ON SEPTEMBER 10: The LA Times reported on 9/27/01 that U.S. and Italian officials were warned in July 2001 that “Islamic terrorists might attempt to kill President Bush and other leaders by crashing an airliner into the Genoa summit of industrialized nations” (this was the same month as the CBS report on Ashcroft’s “threat assessment”). ABC News reported on 5/16/02 “White House officials acknowledged that U.S. intelligence officials informed President Bush weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks that bin Laden’s terrorist network might try to hijack American planes.” Dateline NBC reported 9/10/02 “on August 6th [2001], [Bush] received a one-and-a-half page briefing advising him that Osama bin Laden was capable of a major strike against the US, and that the plot could include the hijacking of an American airplane.” Newsweek reported on 9/24/01 that on 9/10/01 “a group of top Pentagon officials suddenly canceled travel plans for the next morning, apparently because of security concerns.”

WHAT IS THIS REALLY ABOUT?: Coincidently, the same day Tucker Carlson accused the Progress Report of “resurrecting a blood libel” against Ashcroft, we covered Carlson’s controversial comments in which he said women “want to be spanked vigorously every once in a while” and that “most of the time you can beat a woman in an argument.”

EDUCATION – FORGET KNOWLEDGE, CALIFORNIA CREDITS KLEENEX: Who needs to earn grades through hard work when a box of Puffs will do? That’s the case in California, where education budgets have been slashed so severely that teachers are now offering inflated grades for students who bring in school supplies, like tissues, lab supplies and markers. The San Jose Mercury News reports, “With school budgets shriveling across the state, teachers are enticing students to help stock the supply shelves in exchange for extra credit.” It sends the message that “grades are not a reflection of the quality of your schoolwork,” said Buzz Bartlett, president of the Council for Basic Education. And what about the kids who can’t afford to inflate their grades by stocking their schools with supplies? The “arrangement can put poorer students at a disadvantage — especially when teachers award more extra credit for expensive items, like markers for overhead projectors and dry-erase boards.”

FOREIGN POLICY –DEFINING DEMOCRACY: The White House treatment of “democracies” seems to shift with the wind. Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney defended U.S. involvement in the ousting of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, saying he “was democratically elected but he didn’t govern in a democratic manner.” But today’s In the Loop column by Al Kamen points out the Administration’s rather arbitrary policies for meeting with leaders with sketchy democratic credentials. To Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi, “upset at not being invited to the White House,” the WP’s Kamen writes, “Note to Gaddafi: Forget the Rose Garden for now. Try Crawford, Tex. It’s much easier. Well-known democrats such as Saudi Prince Abdullah, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Jiang Zemin have visited there. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, not known to have run any tight races lately, is headed there next month. Hey! Maybe you could hitch a ride with him?”

Screwing Mexico for their natural gas

March 10, 2004 at 8:55 pm
Contributed by: Chris


In the same week that Venezuela’s Chavez promised us a 100-year war if we ever tried to take control of their oil, comes this news from Mexico. U.S. natural gas (LNG) suppliers, in compensate for declining oil production, are angling to put new LNG plants in Mexico in order to supply California’s ever-growing energy needs. The plants would endanger gray whales and take advantage of the lax environmental controls of Mexico, but that’s not going to stop anything.

You can bet we’ll be seeing more–a lot more–of this sort of thing as oil gets increasingly expensive. It’s fine and well to say we’ll supplant the loss with gas, until you really start to look at how, exactly, we expect the gas to get here.

For another article on Calfornia’s LNG supply woes, see Calpine seeks to use Humboldt Bay as a LNG terminal.



Iraq: Losing the American Way

March 10, 2004 at 7:03 pm
Contributed by:


For those of us who predicted, before our invasion of Iraq, that it would prove to be a boondoggle, and that the Administration’s claims about the ease with which we would bring democracy to the Middle East were wrong, this article will come as no surprise. Except, perhaps, for the fact that it comes from The American Conservative magazine.

I’m encouraged to see another rational head on the Right taking issue with our occupation of Iraq. A few more of those, and maybe we can get ourselves out of there before our losses of blood and treasure get any greater.

I’d like to say that I hope Bush reads this, but we all know how he likes to brag that he doesn’t read. I’d like to say that maybe Wolfowitz will have a change of heart, realize that he horribly underestimated the complexity of Iraq, and will lobby to get us out of there. I’d like to see somebody, anybody, in the Administration admit, for once, that maybe they were wrong.

But I’m not holding my breath. Like Vietnam, a change of our policy toward Iraq will probably only happen with a change of leadership in this country. Go get ’em, John.

–CIraq: Losing the American Way

By James Kurth

March 15, 2004 issue

Copyright © 2004 The American Conservative

By repudiating our historic ways of war and democratization, the Bush administration threatens attempts at nation-building elsewhere.

The Iraq War has been underway for less than a year, but it has already lasted long enough for us to get some sense of its place in American history and particularly in the grand narrative of America’s role in the world. The war has a complex relation with the major dimensions of American foreign policy—particularly the diplomatic, military, and political—but it is increasingly evident that the war policy of the Bush administration represents a radical abandonment of traditional American ways of dealing with the world, ways that overall have served the United States very well.

First, the way that the administration prepared for the war—disregarding the objections of every international organization and most of America’s traditional allies—was a sharp departure from the long-standing U.S. diplomatic practice of obtaining some form of international approval and legitimization for our wars and military interventions. The Iraq War represents a repudiation of the traditional American way of diplomacy. Second, the way that the administration has fought the war—deploying military forces unusually few in number and now stretched far too thin—has been a sharp departure from the long-standing U.S. military practice of using overwhelming mass not only to defeat an enemy but also to deter any renewed resistance later. The Iraq War represents a repudiation of the traditional American way of war. Finally, the way that the administration has tried to establish stability and peace—promoting liberal democracy while imposing military occupation—is in some senses an extension of the historic U.S. practice with democratization projects, but it is one carried to such an unrealistic and impractical extreme that the prospects for success are bleak. The Iraq War represents a perversion of the traditional American way of democratization. In sum, the war is a three-dimensional assault on the American way in international affairs. It is reasonable to expect that it will cause serious harm to America’s role in the world.

The diplomatic damage has already been much discussed by policy analysts. Certainly, the arrogant posturing and unilateral actions of the Bush administration as it went to war alienated most of our traditional European allies and provoked suspicion, resentment, and even anger in many. However, unexpected difficulties and experienced incapacities can teach even abrasive officials that help from others—even inferior others—can be a good thing. By now, almost one year into the war, the administration has been driven by its hardships in Iraq to solicit the assistance of the very nations, and the United Nations, that it held in such contempt at the beginning of the war. And remarkably, but realistically, these nations and the United Nations are beginning to respond positively and to heal their breach with the United States. Most of the diplomatic damage from the war is likely to prove self-correcting and short-lived, perhaps like the quarrels of Russia and China with the United States regarding the Kosovo War five years ago.

The Iraq War is likely, however, to cause more grave and long-term injury to the U.S. military and to U.S. efforts to promote democracy abroad. This is because of its violations of the traditional American way of war and way of democratization.

The American Way of War

Military strategists and historians have discerned in some nations a distinctive strategic culture or way of war. In the last third of the 20th century, there was a widespread understanding among these professionals that there was a distinctive American way of war and that it was characterized by a reliance upon such advantages as (1) overwhelming mass (a pronounced advantage in men and materiel), (2) wide-ranging mobility (a pronounced advantage in transportation and communication), (3) high-technology weapons systems, and, underlying and sustaining them all, (4) high public support for the war effort. The purest expression of this American way of war was, of course, World War II. Another excellent example was the Persian Gulf War. However, the origins of the American way of war lie in the greatest American conflict of all, the Civil War. The use of overwhelming mass was crucial to the final victory of the North; it was exemplified by the strategy of Ulysses S. Grant. Conversely, the use of wide-ranging mobility was critical to the initial victories of the South; it was exemplified by the strategy of Robert E. Lee.

The classical American way of war was a product of the distinctive geographical and economic features of the United States. The U.S. possessed a vast continental territory, which was endowed with ample natural resources and with a population larger than that of most European powers. Thus the United States almost always had a pronounced advantage in men and materiel. Only the Soviet Union could surpass the U.S. in this respect. In turn, mass geography and widespread population created a need for a correspondingly extensive transportation and communication network, and the large industry and advanced technology of the U.S. economy provided the means with which to build it. Furthermore, the United States was bordered by two oceans; it was not only a continent but also a continental island. This also created demand for a transportation and communication network that extended to other continents. This meant that the United States always had a pronounced advantage in the rapid movement of people and products in peace and of men and materiel in war. No power has ever surpassed the U.S. in this respect. The conjunction of a pronounced advantage in both mass and mobility made the United States the most successful military power of the 20th century, and thereby made the 20th century the American century. No other military power could excel in both dimensions.

On the rare but important occasions when the United States could not deploy its advantages in both mass and mobility, the U.S. military faced serious problems. Both the Korean War and the Vietnam War degenerated into wars of attrition in which the U.S. military had the advantage in mass firepower but no obvious advantage in the mobility of its ground combat forces. In the last two years of the Korean War, both the U.S. Army and the communist armies were trapped in a static war of position near the 38th Parallel, and the end result was a stalemate. In the Vietnam War, the communist guerrilla forces had the advantage in mobility, and this contributed greatly to the U.S. defeat. Indeed, it is the nature of any guerrilla war that the insurgent forces have the advantage of mobility, and the counterinsurgency forces have the advantage of mass. It seems that the classical American way of war has no obvious answer if the military challenge comes from guerrillas and insurgents.

In the aftermath of its Vietnam debacle, the U.S. Army painfully examined the lessons of that war, and it largely concluded that the classical American way of war was really the only right way of war for the Army. The lessons learned were institutionalized in the curriculum of the Army War College, as well as several other military schools, and in the strategic doctrine, bureaucratic organization, and weapons procurement of the Army itself. Many of the lessons learned were crystallized in what became known as the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine (after Caspar Weinberger, secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the first Bush administration). Central to the classical American way of war and its recapitulation in the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine was the idea that when the United States goes to war, it should do so as a nation defending its vital national interests against another nation, and when the U.S. Army goes to war, it should do so as an army fighting another army. Wars to advance peripheral, imperial interests and wars against insurgent forces were violations of the American way of war.

The Rumsfeld Transformation Project

From the beginning of the second Bush administration, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has worked vigorously and systematically to overthrow the classical American way of war and the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine and to replace them with a new program of military “transformation” and a new doctrine of preemptive (really preventive) war. He has moved to reduce the role of heavy weapons systems (armor and artillery) and large combat divisions in the U.S. Army and to increase the role of lighter and smaller forces (airborne and special operations); in effect, he seeks to reduce the role of mass and to accentuate the role of mobility. To implement his transformation project, he has canceled the Crusader heavy-artillery system, and he has appointed a retired Special Forces general to be the new Army Chief of Staff. Most importantly, however, Rumsfeld has seen the Iraq War as the pilot plant and exemplary case of his grand project of transformation. If the U.S. could win a war in Iraq with a transformed military and a transformed doctrine, it would also be a decisive victory in Washington for the thoroughly new American way of war in its bureaucratic struggles with the old one.

The Rumsfeld transformation project gains credibility because there are indeed some serious problems with the classical American way of war—particularly with the idea that the U.S. Army should only fight another army. The most obvious difficulty is that there no longer seems to be any other real army to fight. Indeed, neither the Army, the Navy, nor the Air Force have any equivalent force or “peer competitor” to fight. Although the Chinese nation might become a peer competitor to the American nation in a couple of decades, that is far in the future, and the last peer competitor—the Soviet military—is now far in the past.

The United States still has enemies, however, most obviously in transnational networks of Islamic terrorists but also in rogue states, such as North Korea. These enemies will seek to attack the United States not with conventional military forces or an American-style way of war but with asymmetrical warfare. At the upper end of the war spectrum, this will mean weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear ones in the case of North Korea. At the lower end of the spectrum will be terrorist operations like al-Qaeda and guerrilla warfare, with the Iraqi insurgents now becoming the exemplar. Of course, the most ominous threat comes from a diabolical synthesis of the upper end and the lower end—weapons of mass destruction in the hands of transnational terrorist networks.

The Rumsfeld transformation program and preemptive doctrine does not really address the challenge of rogue states that have already acquired nuclear weapons. Hypothetically, some combination of highly accurate intelligence and highly effective weapons, such as nuclear bunker bombs, could destroy an enemy’s stock of WMD. However, the failure to find any significant stock of such weapons in Iraq certainly casts doubt on the accuracy of U.S. intelligence. And even highly effective weapons systems would have a hard time destroying widely dispersed stocks of biological weapons. The only way that the Rumsfeld transformation project can deal with the WMD threat is when a rogue state has not yet acquired these weapons and a U.S. military operation can destroy the rogue regime before it does so. But this would really be a preventive war, not a preemptive one. This was the case with Iraq and conceivably could become the case with Iran.

Nor does the Rumsfeld transformation project really address the challenge of transnational terrorist networks, such as al-Qaeda. This threat is better dealt with by a multidimensional array of agencies and instruments (intelligence, security, and financial) working with their counterparts in other countries that face similar threats, particularly those in Europe. The war in Iraq certainly has not helped to enhance these counterterrorist capabilities, and it may have made more difficult the necessary international trust and cooperation.

The Rumsfeld Army and Counterinsurgency War

The only task that the new Rumsfeld Army, with its lighter, more mobile configuration, can perform better than the old classical Army, with its heavy armor and artillery configuration, will be operations against an enemy that is even more light and mobile, such as guerrillas and insurgents. And here, several ironies are immediately apparent. First, the origins of the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine lie in the lessons learned from the Vietnam War, and its basic impetus was “no more Vietnams.” Among other things, this meant that the regular units of the U.S. Army would fight no more counterinsurgency wars. The Rumsfeld transformation project amounts to a radical overthrow of the Weinberger/ Powell Doctrine, and it seeks to return the Army to the period at the beginning of the Vietnam War—the era when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was engaged in his own radical program of military transformation and when other political appointees of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were enthusiastic advocates of some major combination of high-technology and counterinsurgency. More fundamentally, the Rumsfeld project seeks to transform the U.S. Army into an instrument which will fight for peripheral, imperial interests, and not just for vital national ones. As such, the new way of war can be seen as the neoconservative way of war.

Second, it was not until the United States invaded Iraq and imposed a military occupation that the U.S. faced any guerrilla threat that needed to be dealt with by regular U.S. military forces. (Almost everyone agreed that the guerrilla forces in Afghanistan and in Colombia would be better handled by a combination of U.S. Special Forces and local military forces.) The U.S. occupation of Iraq has created, for the first time since the Vietnam War, the very problem that the Rumsfeld transformation project was supposed to solve.

Third, even before Rumsfeld began his construction of his new Army and his deconstruction of the old one, the United States already had a long established, lighter, and more mobile ground force. That was the U.S. Marines. During the first half of the 20th century, the Marines had far more experience and success with light and mobile operations than did the Army. This included operations against insurgents in the Caribbean basin and in Central America. With only minor modifications, and perhaps some expansion, the Marines could perform virtually all of the tasks that Rumsfeld’s lighter, more mobile, transformed Army is supposed to perform. But his new Army may not be able to perform some of the tasks that the old army could perform so well, such as quickly overwhelming another peer competitor army, if one should ever come into being and pose a threat to the vital national interests of the United States.

The American Way of Democratization

The 20th century witnessed numerous attempts to bring democracy to countries that hitherto had been ruled by dictatorial or authoritarian regimes. Most of these efforts were promoted by the United States, and many of them were backed by U.S. military intervention and occupation. Because the 20th century was the American century, it was also the century of democratization. Indeed, the century began with the United States engaged in two separate military occupations to bring democracy (albeit of a distinctively American sort and in a somewhat distant future) to colonies of the former Spanish empire, one in the Philippines and one in Cuba; the Philippine occupation and successful repression of the insurgents there was especially bloody and costly. A decade later, President Woodrow Wilson defined the essence of this new century—which indeed might be seen also as the Wilsonian century—when he first sent the U.S. Marines into several Latin American countries and declared that he was going to “teach the South Americans to elect good men,” and then sent the entire U.S. military into Europe and declared that the United States was going “to make the world safe for democracy.”

The U.S. attempt at the beginning of the 21st century to use military conquest and occupation to bring democracy to Iraq and, by a process vaguely defined, perhaps to its neighbors as well (particularly Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia) is thus the latest chapter in a grand American narrative has been underway for more than a hundred years. By now, many countries know what it means to be, in the words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “forced to be free.”

Indeed, there have been four great theaters where the United States has performed its epic drama of political democratization through military occupation, of ballots through bullets, over the decades. These were (1) the Caribbean basin and Central America from the 1900s-1930s (Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua) and again from the 1960s-1990s (the Dominican Republic and Haiti again and also Grenada and Panama); (2) Central Europe from the 1940s-1950s (West Germany, Austria, and Italy); (3) Northeast Asia from the 1940s-1950s (Japan and South Korea); and (4) Southeast Asia from the 1960s-1970s (particularly South Vietnam).

Together, these add up to more than a dozen cases in which the United States has used military occupation to bring about political democratization. They provide useful precedents and lessons for the current efforts in Iraq. (The Bush administration and neoconservative writers have repeatedly cited the U.S. successes in West Germany and Japan, but they have been notably silent about the large numbers of failures or disappointments elsewhere, particularly in the Caribbean basin and Central America.)

In addition, the 1990s were the decade of numerous attempts to bring democracy to the countries of the former Soviet Union and communist Eastern Europe. With the exception of Bosnia and Kosovo, these democratization projects did not involve military occupation by U.S. forces. However, as we will see, these ex-communist countries (almost two dozen in number) also provide plenty of evidence and lessons relevant to the prospects for democratization in Iraq.

The Bush administration and the neoconservatives promoted the Iraq War and accompanying regime change as the first phase in a grand project that would bring democracy to Iraq’s neighbors and perhaps even to the Middle East more generally. Whenever they had to present an historical precedent to show that this kind of radical and ambitious project had succeeded in the past, they pointed to West Germany and Japan.

They never mentioned the many other U.S. efforts to use military force to democratize countries in Latin America, and of course they never mentioned the epic U.S. failure in South Vietnam. (The one exception is Max Boot, especially in his important book, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.) Nor did they mention the most recent, wide-ranging, and numerous efforts with democratization among the countries of the former Soviet Union and communist Eastern Europe. If any honest discussion about the prospects for democratization in Iraq and other countries of the Middle East had included any analysis of a few of these three dozen cases, the discussion would have ended with a general consensus that the prospects were surely bleak.

The German and Japanese Exceptions

The cases of West Germany and Japan certainly demonstrate that military conquest and occupation can bring about a successful and permanent democratization. The U.S. achievement in these countries was all the more impressive since, in the 1940s, the leading American area specialists and professional experts frequently argued that the peculiar features of German and Japanese history and culture made democracy an alien and unlikely system for these nations. When, in the early 2000s, the leading American area specialists and professional experts have made similar arguments about Arab or Muslim history and culture, one can understand why the promoters of the democratization project for the Middle East could dismiss these arguments and why they might do so in good faith. It is important, however, to look at the circumstances of the German and Japanese cases in more detail. There were three crucial ways in which these circumstances differed from those of today’s Iraq.

A prior liberal-democratic experience. First, Germany and Japan (as well as Austria and Italy) actually had considerable experience with some version of liberal democracy only a couple of decades before, during the 1920s between the First World War and the Great Depression. The Weimar Republic, with its grand drama of blighted hopes and dark tragedy, is especially well-known, but Japan also experienced liberalization and even democratization in the 1920s. Austria had a political system similar to the Weimar Republic. And Italy had had a functioning liberal democracy for more than two decades before Mussolini put an end to it in 1922. For a time, each of these countries had developed liberal, democratic, and even social-democratic parties. Although these parties were repressed by the later totalitarian or authoritarian regimes, in the late 1940s the experience was still in the memories of substantial portions of the population. Indeed, some of the prominent leaders of the liberal-democratic period were still there—Konrad Adenauer in Germany, Karl Renner in Austria, Alcide de Gasperi in Italy, and Shigeru Yoshida in Japan—and the U.S. occupation authorities soon drew upon them to assume leadership in the new (really re-newed) liberal-democratic systems.

With regard to this feature of prior historical experience, the contrast between West Germany and Japan in the late 1940s and Iraq (as well as Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia) today could not be greater. These latter countries have never been liberal democracies. Further, the most liberal (but hardly democratic) regime in Iraqi history was the monarchy of King Faisal II, but that was violently overthrown in 1958, almost half a century ago. In Iraq, there is no historical base whatsoever for the American democratization project.

To get some sense of how successful externally imposed democratization would be in the absence of internally developed historical experience, one would have to look instead at the U.S. efforts to impose democracy upon such countries as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Panama. Here, the only cases that can be said to be successful were the slow establishment of a liberal-democratic system in the Dominican Republic during the decade or so after the U.S. military intervention and occupation in 1965-1966 and the quick establishment of such a system in Panama after the U.S. intervention and occupation of 1989-1990. In contrast, each of the U.S. democratization projects of the 1900s-1930s ended in failure, with the liberal-democratic system overthrown and replaced by some kind of dictatorial regime.

A greater foreign threat. Second, and probably more important, West Germany and Japan in the late 1940s each perceived a foreign threat that was even greater than the one posed by the U.S. occupation. As oppressive as the military forces of the United States might have seemed to the West Germans and Japanese, there was the fear of something that would be even worse: the military forces of the Soviet Union. The threat from the Soviet military was especially obvious to the West Germans, who had ample evidence of the reign of pillage, rape, and murder that the Red Army inflicted upon Germans in the East and could be expected to inflict upon Germans in the West, if they ever got the chance. Even the Japanese feared a possible conquest by the Soviet military and revolution by the Japanese communists, particularly after they saw what the Soviets did to the Japanese colonists and soldiers they captured in Manchuria. As bad as the reality of the American occupation was for both nations, the specter of a Soviet occupation was a good deal worse. And it soon became clear to many West Germans and Japanese that only the American military stood in the way of that specter being realized.

With regard to this second feature, that of perceived foreign threat, there is again a great contrast between West Germany and Japan then and Iraq now. Of course, given the memory of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s and the close relations between the Shi’ite regime in Iran and the Shi’ite majority in Iraq, Iran would appear to pose a potential threat to Iraq. And given the long-standing hostility of the Turks to the Kurds, Turkey might also appear to pose a potential threat to Iraq.

But Iraqis perceive these hypothetical threats in the context of the ethnic hostilities within Iraq itself. For now, the Iraqi Shi’ites fear and loathe the Iraqi Sunnis more than they do the Iranian Shi’ites, and it even seems that for now the Iraqi Kurds fear and loathe the Iraqi Sunni Arabs more than they do the Turks. And it is increasingly evident that both the Sunnis and the Shi’ites loathe the American occupation as much or more.

Again, to get some sense of how acceptable a U.S. military occupation would be in the absence of a still-greater foreign military threat, one would have to look not at West Germany and Japan but instead at the U.S. occupations in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Panama. In the cases where the occupation was prolonged beyond a couple of years, there developed substantial local resentment and even resistance. And in the two most successful cases (the Dominican Republic in 1965-1966 and Panama in 1989-1990), the United States withdrew its military forces and ended its occupation in less than a year.

An ethnically-homogenous population. Third, and probably most important, West Germany and Japan (and also Austria and Italy) were among the most ethnically homogeneous nations in the world. There were no significant ethnic minorities—they formed less than two percent of the populations—and there were no significant secession movements. Democratization did bring all sorts of political conflicts and cleavages—particularly around issues of economic class—but no ethnic group or territory voted to separate itself from the rest of the nation.

With regard to this third feature, the ethnic homogeneity prevalent in Germany and Japan is manifestly lacking in Iraq. As is well known, Iraq has never been ethnically homogeneous; from its creation in 1920, it has always been divided into three ethnic parts, the Sunni Arabs, the Shi’ite Arabs, and the Kurds (who are Sunni, but non-Arab), with the Sunni minority imposing an authoritarian and usually brutal regime upon the Shi’ite majority and the Kurdish minority. Moreover, the three ethnic parts have roughly corresponded to three territorial parts, with the Sunni Arabs in the center, the Shi’ite Arabs in the south, and the Kurds in the north (with mixed populations in major cities). Iraq was always an unstable equilibrium, a partition waiting to happen, artificially held together by the iron bonds of an authoritarian and brutal regime. In such circumstances, “regime change” would inevitably result in state change or even country change; in particular, democratization would mean that one or more of the three ethnic and territorial parts of Iraq would vote to separate itself from the others. One could have an Iraq, but without democracy. Alternatively, one could have democracy, but without an Iraq. But one could not have both.

To get some sense of how successful democratization would be with such pronounced ethnic heterogeneity, one would have to look not at West Germany and Japan in the late 1940s but instead at the recent and very extensive experience of democratization in the former communist countries. Certainly, one would have to look especially at the Balkans, which were once called the Near East and which is not that far geographically and sociologically from the contemporary Middle East.

Here the evidence is unambiguous. In virtually every country in the communist world where there was ethnic heterogeneity, democratization—which included free elections—was followed immediately by secession and partition. This was largely peaceful in the case of the Slavic and the Baltic republics of the Soviet Union and in the case of the “velvet divorce” between the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. It was violent and even genocidal in the Caucasian republics of the Soviet Union and in several of the republics of Yugoslavia. But be the process peaceful or violent, the democratization of multiethnic societies almost always issued in secession and partition. Given these results of democratization in multiethnic countries of the communist world in the 1990s—especially the violent results in the Caucasus and the Balkans, which are so proximate to Iraq both geographically and historically—it is almost incredible that anyone could seriously argue that the most relevant comparisons to Iraq were the homogeneous nations of West Germany and Japan in the 1940s.

The Coming Failure

In summary, ample historical experience with a wide variety of democratization projects predicts that the U.S. effort to bring democracy to Iraq will end in failure. That effort may fail because the Iraqi people do not have the cultural values, social conditions, or historical experience with which to construct a democracy. Or it may fail because the Iraqi people come to associate democracy with the U.S. occupation and with all the disruptions and humiliations that a military administration inevitably brings. Or it may fail because there is actually no Iraqi people at all, only three peoples who will use democracy to break away from each other—at best, this would result in three democracies, rather than one; at worst, it would result in three states engaged in a new war of their very own. Or it may fail because of all of the above. With all these paths leading straight to failure, it will take a miracle for the U.S. democratization project in Iraq to succeed.

The failure of democratization in Iraq will discredit similar U.S. efforts elsewhere. The damage will be greatest in the Middle East and in the Muslim world more broadly, where Islamism will be left as the only valid ideology and Islamization as the only vital political and social project. Elsewhere, the harm will not be as profound, but for a few years at least, other countries will dismiss any U.S. proclamations and promotions of democratization as just another preposterous, feckless, and tiresome American conceit.

The United States might be able to absorb and eventually recover from this failure in Iraq, rather like it absorbed and eventually recovered from its epic failure in Vietnam three decades ago. Indeed, 30 years from now, Islamism might itself be discredited in the Middle East, rather like communism is discredited in Southeast Asia today. But like that earlier war, at the end of the day virtually all honest and reasonable people will agree that it would have been best if the United States had never gone to war at all.

James Kurth is the Claude Smith Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College, where he teaches American foreign policy, defense policy, and international politics.

March 15, 2004 issue
Copyright © 2004 The American Conservative

Rove Admits Smear Campaign Against Wilson

March 10, 2004 at 6:42 pm
Contributed by:


Looks like the other shoe is about to finally drop in the treasonous smear campaign against Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson. When I first posted an article about this story on Sept. 15 of last year, the major media had yet to pick it up. Almost six months later, we still have yet to know who, in Bush’s administration, leaked Plame’s identity. We’ve thought it was Karl Rove all along, but nobody’s been sure.

Nice work, media. Nice work, Bush. Way to stand up for truth, personal character, and loyalty to America. We all appreciate your hard work.


Plugging Leaks

By Murray S. Waas

The American Prospect

Monday 08 March 2004

More details emerge on the Plame investigation, as Karl Rove’s testimony is revealed for the first time.

     President Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove, told the FBI in an interview last October that he circulated and discussed damaging information regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame with others in the White House, outside political consultants, and journalists, according to a government official and an attorney familiar with the ongoing special counsel’s investigation of the matter.

     But Rove also adamantly insisted to the FBI that he was not the administration official who leaked the information that Plame was a covert CIA operative to conservative columnist Robert Novak last July. Rather, Rove insisted, he had only circulated information about Plame after it had appeared in Novak’s column. He also told the FBI, the same sources said, that circulating the information was a legitimate means to counter what he claimed was politically motivated criticism of the Bush administration by Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

     Rove and other White House officials described to the FBI what sources characterized as an aggressive campaign to discredit Wilson through the leaking and disseminating of derogatory information regarding him and his wife to the press, utilizing proxies such as conservative interest groups and the Republican National Committee to achieve those ends, and distributing talking points to allies of the administration on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. Rove is said to have named at least six other administration officials who were involved in the effort to discredit Wilson.

     Rove, through an aide, declined to comment for this story. The White House also declined comment, referring any further inquiries to the Department of Justice because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

     These revelations come on the heels of a Newsday report that Justice Department officials had subpoenaed the phone records of Air Force One for several days in July before the Novak column ran. In addition, according to Newsday, officials subpoenaed records from the same time period of the White House Iraq Group, an internal task force created to strengthen the case for war made to Congress and the American public. In addition to Rove, prominent members of the task force included National Security Council deputy Stephen J. Hadley; I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney; and former Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs Nicholas E. Calio.

     The leak of Plame’s name to Novak last July came at a time when Plame’s husband was criticizing the Bush administration for using faulty intelligence to bolster its case to go to war with the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Wilson had led an eight-day, CIA-sponsored mission to Niger to investigate allegations that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium to build an atomic weapon. Wilson reported back to the CIA that the allegations were contrived and that documents purportedly revealing the scheme were crude forgeries.

     Still, President Bush, in making the case to go to war with Iraq, cited the allegations in his 2003 State of the Union address. Bush has since admitted that using the Niger information was a mistake, and he has appointed a presidential commission to investigate that and other instances of faulty intelligence considered by Congress before it authorized war.

     It was last July, when Wilson first made public his criticisms, that Novak wrote his now-infamous newspaper column alleging that Wilson had received his assignment because his wife had recommended him for the position. The claim has since turned out to be untrue. Novak revealed that Plame was a covert CIA operative in the context of incorrectly asserting that she was responsible for her husband’s appointment.

     According to sources, Rove, in his interview with the FBI, said that he and others on the White House’s political staff wanted to contain the political fallout from Wilson’s allegations, and that they thought the charge of favoritism was a legitimate issue. Rove added that when he steered others in the direction of the now-disproved charges, he believed them to be true, in part because he regarded Novak as a credible news source.

     When the Justice Department investigation began last September, the White House press corps repeatedly questioned White House press secretary Scott McClellan as to whether Rove was the person who leaked Plame’s name to Novak. Initially, McClellan said that Rove had denied that he was the leaker.

     Then, on September 28, The Washington Post reported:

     “Yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak’s column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson’s wife. ‘Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge,’ the senior official said of the alleged leak. A source said reporters quoted a leaker as describing Wilson’s wife as ‘fair game.'”

     A subsequent Newsweek story suggested that the Post had been incorrect in some details. According to the magazine’s account, the calls to “at least six Washington journalists” took place after Novak’s column appeared, rather than before. Furthermore, Newsweek made an assertion (confirmed by Wilson) that MSNBC talk-show host Chris Matthews called Wilson in July, a full week after Novak’s column appeared, telling the former ambassador that “Karl Rove … said your wife was fair game.”

     When grilled on this variation of Rove’s involvement, McClellan became evasive. McClellan insisted that the criminal investigation only centered on “whether someone leaked classified information;” questions regarding the “fair game” report were “down the road of rumor and innuendo and unsubstantiated accusations.”

     McClellan then warned reporters “not to read anything into what I said,” refusing to answer questions about whether it was, in one reporter’s words, “ethical for a senior administration official to advance a story about an illegal disclosure of a CIA operative, basically giving that story legs.”

     McClellan then repeatedly refused to exonerate Rove, according to a transcript of his remarks, instead insisting that any White House comments were merely a matter of “setting the record straight” rather than “spreading information to punish someone for speaking out,” something the White House “would not condone.”

     As a result of the Post report, federal investigators are now hunting for not only the identity of the administration official who leaked Plame’s name to Novak but also the administration official who told the paper about the telephone calls to the six other reporters. The investigators believe it likely, according to an attorney familiar with some aspects of the criminal investigation, that the source of the Post story may very well know the identity of the person who leaked Plame’s name to Novak.

     In interviews with potential witnesses, investigators have taken to referring to the story and its mysterious source as “one by two by six,” meaning that one official may know the identity of two other administration officials who spoke to the six reporters.

     “If they find ‘one by two by six,’ then just maybe… they have also found their guy,” said one attorney familiar with the criminal investigation.

     Still, little else is known regarding special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation of the Plame leak. A federal grand jury only recently began hearing evidence in the matter. FBI agents working on the probe have signed unprecedented secrecy agreements as a condition for working for the special counsel, and Fitzgerald has asked government officials and their attorneys appearing before his grand jury to agree not to disclose anything to the press or the public.

     Media attention has so far focused largely on four current and former White House aides who have testified: McClellan; Claire Buchan, a deputy press secretary; Adam Levine, a former White House communications aide, and Mary Matalin, a former adviser to Vice-President Dick Cheney.

     But several sources have said that some news reports were reading too much into the recent grand-jury appearances. One government official familiar with the inquiry suggested that the grand jury was focusing on the “periphery of the action” and working toward “ruling certain people out and certain theories wrong.” Reporters, meanwhile, were “maligning people simply because they did not know anything and had nothing to write.” Questioning of more than one witness who has appeared before the grand jury, said an attorney familiar with the inquiry, was “truncated … and over fairly quickly,” adding that “they gave every impression they were closing some doors.”

Bush energy advisor\’s slide deck on Peak Oil and Saudi Arabia

March 8, 2004 at 10:09 pm
Contributed by:


This is an excellent presentation by Matthew Simmons, a key advisor to the Bush Administration, Vice President Cheney’s 2001 Energy Task Force and the Council on Foreign Relations, whose current company, Simmons and Company International, “provides a complete line of investment banking services to its energy clients.”

This is a 60-slide deck that deals with the specifics of our oil commerce with the Saudis, and their bearing on how we address the Peak Oil problem. Please view it!

The Saudi Arabian Oil Miracle (PDF file)

For another Matthew Simmons article, previously posted to GRL, see:

Revealing Statements from a Bush Insider about Peak Oil and Natural Gas Depletion

On his site, there is also an index of recent speeches and papers by Matthew Simmons.

This presentation definitely seems to have caught the attention of people on Wall Street and in government. Now it’s just a question of when the major media will really tackle it. So I wrote Paul Krugman this morning and asked him to do so.

Please do your part, look at the Peak Oil problem, and discuss it with your friends and family.


Shell chiefs quit over oil reserve errors

March 8, 2004 at 8:00 pm
Contributed by:


I guess it’s not surprising that heads rolled at Shell since they lost $18 billion in market value after restating their reserves downward by 20%. But such a market reaction is not good news for those concerned about the oil crash, because it means that those ever-squishy numbers about production and reserves could be a lot harder to come by.

The kind of “reserve write downs” that Shell did here are not only honest corrections to previously flawed (or dishonest) data, but they are critically important corrections for us to get accurate assessments of what’s left to harvest. The whole industry has reported flawed and politically canted data throughout its history. We really need these data corrections right now. The lack of clean data is part of what’s made the case for Peak Oil difficult to make, and to understand. Acknowledging the problem, Bush energy advisor Matthew Simmons directly calls for greater transparency in energy markets in his acknowledgement of Peak Oil (see “Bush energy advisor’s slide deck on Peak Oil and Saudi Arabia”).

It’s naiive to think that Wall Street will learn to ignore such corrections, but we can hope they’ll learn to be more tolerant of them. Oil companies must not be afraid to take a $13 billion hit for producing more accurate data.

–CShell chiefs quit over oil reserve errors

Expatica News

4 March 2004

AMSTERDAM —Following Royal Dutch/Shell’s reduction of its oil reserve estimates by 20 percent earlier this year, Sir Philip Watts, the chief executive of the energy firm, has resigned and will be replaced by Dutchman Jeroen van der Veer.

The 58-year-old Sir Philip, who was due to take retire in 2005, refused to resign last month. But continued criticism from institutional investors and a resignation request from the supervisory board led to his departure on Wednesday, public news service NOS reported.
Van der Veer, 56, was previously deputy chief executive of the multinational and since 2000 has been the boss of Koninklijke Olie, the Dutch arm of the joint Anglo-Dutch company. He has a contract until June 2008.

The Dutchman has worked with Shell since 1971 and was responsible for the company’s chemical division. He is a backer of a durable energy sources and British national, Malcolm Brinded, will be his second-in-command.

Besides Sir Philip, the director of the Exploration and Production division, Walter van der Vijver, has also resigned at the request of the supervisory board. Despite the fact the reserve estimates were made by his department, Van der Vijver had also initially refused to resign.

Sir Philip, a British national, was the chief of the exploration and production division before he was appointed company chief in 2001. Outsiders had previously considered Van der Vijver as the likely replacement for Sir Philip, news agency ANP reported.  

Shell announced unexpectedly in January that it was reducing its oil reserve estimates by 20 percent because they were not as guaranteed as previously thought. Van der Vijver, a Dutchman, had said he would personally solve the problem.

Shell share price has suffered heavily as a result of the affair, knocking EUR 15 billion off its stock market valuation. The revision of its oil reserves means Shell now has 11 rather than 13 years of acknowledged reserves.

The company said the change in leadership was a decision taken with “mutual consent”, but no decision has been made about departure bonuses. That is a matter for the board of commissioners, a company spokesman said.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Thermal Depolymerization White Paper

March 8, 2004 at 12:31 pm
Contributed by:


If you follow energy issues closely, you’ve probably heard of the process known as “thermal depolymerization” that promises to turn much of our waste products today–from turkey offal to oil tires and plastics–into usable, clean, separated component oils, fuel gases, solids, and water. This is the first technical paper on the process I have seen, with detailed data about the energy inputs and outputs. Finally we know what the energy efficiency of this process is: 85% for turkey parts. Not bad, but hardly a solution to the Peak Oil problem.

Good reading for science nerds and energy freaks:

(PDF file)

Terry N. Adams, Ph.D. and Brian S. Appel

Changing World Technologies, Inc.

West Hempstead NY,

P. J. Samson

Renewable Environmental Solutions, LLC

and Michael J. Roberts, P.E.

Gas Technology Institute

Oil is evil!? How to change that erroneous view?

March 6, 2004 at 8:46 am
Contributed by:

author: MK
What if we had a forest of great commercial value and wood products companies were cutting it down as fast as they could? What if that forest were just about half gone and the cutting rate was accellerating? What if that forest could NEVER regrow, ever?
The world’s petroleum reserves are that irreplacable forest. They are literally ancient forests and other biomass and we are permitting oil companies to "clearcut" them.
Petroleum is a resource of nature. It is natural. It is a very valuable gift from the earth. What is it going to take to wake up and notice what is going to happen as this valuable substance disappears from easy access and easy usability?
I have been walking and talking about peak oil to everyone I can, for an hour or two a day, for a couple weeks now. It is exhausting! While talking to people, I have noticed a very interesting thing and having trouble sorting it out.
Many people I talk to are the same people who devote themselves to good causes like protecting forests, reducing pollution, sustainable living, etc. Some of these people have the mind set that running out of oil is a GOOD thing! They see oil as evil, as the source of many global problems, as its abuse indeed it is. They say they will be happy to see the end of cheap petroleum.
When I stop someone to chat, I have to be very quick to get their positive attention. Seconds count. What I am often having trouble with is a quick way to plant the idea that oil itself is not bad, but what we have done with it (waste, pollution, etc) is bad AND that oil is also another natural resource, like water, forests, etc. that needs to be radically conserved.
I have thought about making an analogy that oil is rather like the living forests; a very valuable resource that needs to be valued and used conservatively. And that oil, unlike forests, is not going to grow back if left alone for awhile, therefore should be conserved even more radically than the forests.
We are dismayed and angry when a wood products company clearcuts the forest. We shrug when an oil company "clearcuts" an oil field by draining as quickly as profitability allows.
Your thoughts are invited and welcome.
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NM Gov. Richardson signs renewable energy bill

March 5, 2004 at 10:56 pm
Contributed by: Chris


Here’s another bit of good news to report. Progressive New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has signed a measure that requires electric utilities to invest in alternative sources of energy, such as the wind, the sun and biomass. It’s a great start. Now, if we could just get the other 49 states to do the same…


Gov. Richardson signs renewable energy bill (more…)

Help Defeat Bush: Join the MoveOn PAC

March 5, 2004 at 8:39 pm
Contributed by:


The folks at MoveOn have launched another brilliant campaign to unseat George Bush. Yes, they’d like to have your donation, but maybe even more importantly, they want your time. Check out their invitation to join their political action committee and help out by “writing post cards to voters in swing states to distributing flyers to holding house parties for the nominee.”

All of you who have asked me “But what can I do?”, here is your chance. Accept the burden of representative democracy, and play your part in educating and persuading America to choose better leadership.

I think it’s very encouraging that MoveOn’s goal in their letter was to get pledges of over 1 million hours, but in the four days since they sent out the letter, they have already raised 6.6 million hours. This is the kind of organizing that Democrats need to do to take back the White House, and MoveOn is doing it in spades.

Won’t you spend a bit of your time to help out?

–CDear MoveOn member,

On Thursday, President Bush will go on the air with his first campaign ads — a $3.6 million blitz.

This is it, folks — the fight is on. So today, we’re launching the MoveOn PAC and our major campaign to beat President Bush in the fall election. We’d like to know if we can count on your help and how much time and energy you’re willing to give to the cause.

You can join the campaign now at:
MoveOn PAC Pledge

As a member of the campaign to take back the White House, we’ll send you special emails that identify ways in which you can help swing the election — from writing post cards to voters in swing states to distributing flyers to holding house parties for the nominee. We’re asking for a committment of a certain number of hours per week on average — if you don’t have time to help out one week, you can make it up another.

We’ll need MoveOn members to pledge over 1,000,000 hours between now and November 2nd to beat George Bush and take back our country. It’s a big number, but if we each pledge just a few hours a week, we’ll far exceed it. We’ve posted a running tally of the hours pledged on the page above.

President Bush has already raised hundreds of millions for his bid. Our great hope is in our collective power to get out the vote. We’ll work via the Internet, the telephone, and face-to-face conversations with voters. And we’ll take back our democracy, city by city, block by block, and voter by voter.

It’s clear that our nation needs new leadership. We can make that a reality if we work together. Join the growing movement to beat George Bush at:
MoveOn PAC Pledge

–Adam, Carrie, Eli, James, Joan, Laura, and Wes
  The MoveOn PAC Team

  March 2nd, 2004

P.O. Box 9218, Berkeley, CA 94709

Job Crisis: March 5, 2004 Progress Report

March 5, 2004 at 5:26 pm
Contributed by:


Today’s Progress Report was so good, I decided to post the whole thing to GRL. I know I’ve said it before, but I strongly encourage every one of you to subscribe to their free daily email newsletter. It’s the best source of daily news I have found. Just click the Sign Up link below.

March 5, 2004 Progress Report

by David Sirota, Christy Harvey and Judd Legum

March 5, 2004

Jobs Crisis Continues
WH Must ‘Come Clean’
Haiti Policy Grilled


Jobs Crisis Continues

Just weeks after the President predicted the nation would add 320,000 jobs each month of 2004, the Department of Labor reported this morning that “America’s unemployment rate remained stuck at 5.6% in February as the economy added a paltry 21,000 positions.” Not only did the new jobs report fall short of the White House’s explicit promise, but it fell short even of Wall Street’s conservative expectation of 125,000 jobs. Also, nearly 8.2 million people remained out of work, and last month alone 400,000 of the jobless stopped looking for work because the economy has become so bleak. The average time they have been unemployed was 20.3 weeks – “the highest average duration of joblessness in 20 years.” The already decimated manufacturing sector lost another 3,000 positions.

PRESIDENT CONTINUES HAPPY TALK: President Bush visited Bakersfield, CA yesterday – a city with an unemployment rate of 12.8% that has added 4,400 workers to its unemployment rolls over the last 3 years – and “rhapsodized…about the possibility that a stock-car firm in [Bakersfield] will add two new jobs this year.” Bush said that the prospect that chassis maker Les DenHerder would hire two more employees was “really good news” and “a sign a lot of people are confident about our future.” The event, along with five similar “conversations” held by Bush this year, was an attempt “to make the case that his tax cuts were good for the economy even though they have failed to produce the jobs he forecast.”  But real economic indicators suggest a much bleaker jobs picture. Nationwide, the economy has still lost more than 2 million jobs over the course of Bush’s term – virtually assuring that, by the end of his term, Bush will have “the worst record on jobs since President Herbert Hoover.” As a column by American Progress economist Christian Weller notes, working families just aren’t buying the Administration’s rhetoric anymore.

DIVORCED FROM ECONOMIC REALITY: A chronological look at the White House’s policy response to the jobs crisis is instructive: first the Administration claimed that sending jobs U.S. jobs overseas is “a good thing” for the American economy. Then the President tried to distance himself from his own prediction that his policies would create 2.6 million jobs by 2004. Then, the Administration considered reclassifying low-wage fast food workers as “manufacturing workers” to make the statistics look better. And now, even with the tax cuts for the wealthy failing to create the jobs that it promised, the President is touring the country saying a $1 trillion plan to make the tax cuts permanent is the only economic prescription that will work.

LABOR SECRETARY LIES TO CONGRESS ABOUT JOBS REPORT: The President’s Council of Economic Advisor’s released a report last month that predicted 320,000 jobs would be created this month. This week, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao testified before the House Ways and Means Committee and was asked by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) about the projection. Chao, attempting to dodge the question, said “[the President] doesn’t sign this report. The Council of Economic Advisors sings this report.” In fact, the President signed the report on page 4.

NEWSFLASH – CHENEY TELLS THE TRUTH: One top Administration official who managed to tell the truth this week about the Administration’s economic policies and its effect on jobs was Vice President Dick Cheney. He said “If the Democratic policies had been pursued over the last two or three years…we would not have had the kind of job growth that we’ve had.” And he is correct: with a net 2 million negative job growth record over the last three years, Cheney was correctly asserting that his opponents’ policies would have stemmed the job loss tide.

COURT REPRIMANDS WHITE HOUSE: As the U.S. hemorrhages manufacturing jobs due to an increased reliance on imports and outsourcing, the Administration is failing to properly administer existing programs that deal with the problem of worker dislocation. The Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, provides benefits to workers who lost their jobs because of trade agreements. The Economic Policy Institute reveals that, over the last two years, the TAA has used less than 60% of the funds it was allocated to help workers. This was due to inadequate outreach and program administration by the Department of Labor. Things were so bad a federal court reprimanded the agency for “‘flaws and dysfunctions’ in its administration of TAA and noted that the [Department of Labor’s] ‘dereliction of duty’ is depriving workers of the aid they need.” But, instead of trying to improve the administration of the TAA, “the President’s budget proposes significant cuts to the TAA benefits program.”

PRESIDENT CUTS TRAINING MONEY FOR LAID OFF WORKERS: While the President has touted his commitment to job training, his latest budget proposes cutting funding to states used to retrain workers who have been laid off. The proposed funding level is 11% lower in actual dollars than it was in the 2002 budget. But, because so many more people are unemployed today than three years ago, the actual problem is even worse. The average dislocated worker program expenditure was $274 in 2001 but just $167 today. This means, at a time when long-term unemployment is at its highest level in 20 years, fewer people can obtain the training they need to reenter the workforce. The budget cuts come on top of the White House’s efforts to slash more than $1 billion out of job training over the last three years.

WH Must ‘Come Clean’

In two explosive stories this week, the top CIA weapons inspector demanded that the Bush Administration “come clean” for misleading Americans about Iraq’s weapons stockpiles, and Knight-Ridder debunked the White House’s pre-war claims of a Saddam-Al Qaeda connection. While the Administration claimed Iraq was an “imminent,” “immediate,” “urgent” and “mortal” threat, the two new stories directly refute two of the most important underpinnings of the White House’s entire case for war. Bush-appointed weapons inspector David Kay now says the President needs to “come clean” with the American public and says the administration’s reluctance to admit its culpability “was delaying essential reforms of US intelligence agencies, and further undermining its credibility at home and abroad.” As Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) said in a speech this morning at the Council on Foreign Relations, “the Bush Administration allowed its wishes, its inclinations and its passions to alter the state of facts and the evidence of the threat we faced from Iraq.” Here are some details of what Kennedy is talking about:

FALSE – AL QAEDA AND IRAQ WERE WORKING TOGETHER: In  September 2003, President Bush said, “There’s no question that Saddam Hussein had al Qaeda ties.”  This is a familiar refrain with Vice President Cheney, who in January said, “There’s overwhelming evidence there was a connection between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government. I am very confident that there was an established relationship there.” False. According to Knight-Ridder, “The Bush administration’s assertion that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda – one of the administration’s central arguments for a preemptive war – appears to have been based on even less solid intelligence than the administration’s claims that Iraq had hidden stocks of chemical and biological weapons.” Senior U.S. officials “now say there never was any evidence that Hussein’s secular police state and Osama bin Laden’s Islamic terrorism network were in league…Moreover, the U.S. intelligence community never concluded that those meetings produced an operational relationship.” When did the White House know this? That verdict was “in a secret report by the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence that was updated in January 2003, on the eve of the war.” (For more, read this American Progress backgrounder on the lack of evidence of a Saddam/al Qaeda connection.)

FALSE – IRAQ HAD OPERATIONAL MOBILE BIOWEAPONS LABS: In February 2003, President Bush said, “Iraq has at least seven mobile factories for the production of biological agents – equipment mounted on trucks and rails to evade discovery.” That May, he also said, ” “We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories.” False. “U.S. intelligence officials now describe as hasty and premature the May 28 public claim by the CIA and the DIA that two semitrailers discovered in Iraq in April were most likely part of the bioweapons fleet.” Instead, “a retired senior intelligence official said recently that the unclassified paper was hastily put together before a full, classified analysis was written and circulated within the intelligence community.”  After the matter was fully assessed, weapons inspector David Kay said “that the ‘intelligence consensus’ was that the semitrailers probably were for making hydrogen, not biological agents.” However, “Administration officials continued to describe the threat posed by Hussein’s mobile biological weapons facilities.”

FALSE – WE HAVE “FIRST-HAND” DESCRIPTION OF BIOWEAPONS LABS: Secretary of State Colin Powell, in making his case to the U.N. said, “Let me…share with you what we know from eyewitness accounts. We have first-hand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails.” False. According to the WP, the Bush administration never actually interviewed the Iraqi defector who made the claims that Iraq had mobile bioweapons labs. The claims, which turned out to be false, were widely repeated as fact by the Bush administration in the lead up to war. Now, it turns out, U.S. intelligence analysts didn’t even know the source’s name but were, “relying entirely on foreign officials to vouch for his credibility, according to a former CIA employee as well as administration and congressional sources.” The U.S. is now “trying to get access to the Iraqi engineer to verify his story, the sources said, particularly because intelligence officials have discovered that he is related to a senior official in Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, a group of Iraqi exiles who actively encouraged the United States to invade Iraq.”

FALSE – IRAQ HAD WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION:  In March 2003, Donald Rumsfeld said, “We know where the [WMD] are.” The previous September, the President claimed, “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons.” False. The U.N. is releasing its quarterly report this week, which will say they believe there were no weapons of mass destruction of any significance in Iraq after 1994. Far from the prewar claims that war was necessary because Iraq was an “imminent,” “immediate,” “urgent” and “mortal” threat, the new report is “the first outside study to confirm the recent conclusion by David Kay, the former U.S. chief inspector, that Iraq had no banned weapons before last year’s U.S-led invasion. It also goes further than prewar U.N. reports, which said no weapons had been found but noted that Iraq had not fully accounted for weapons it was known to have had at the end of the Gulf War in 1991.”

Haiti Policy Grilled

The controversial architect of the Bush Administration’s Haiti policy was grilled on Capitol Hill yesterday by lawmakers concerned that the White House had set a dangerous precedent of supporting armed autocrats over democratic governments it did not like. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, a Jesse Helms prodigy who “has been dedicated to ousting Jean-Bertrand Aristide for many, many years,” was “denounced as insolent and misguided, and faced derisive laughter” as he testified that the United States had no role in the Haitian mayhem. He claimed the White House “did not support the violent overthrow of [Aristide].” However, the Administration reversed its long-standing policy of sending in troops only after a negotiated settlement between Aristide and the rebels had been reached, and instead sent in troops immediately after Aristide had been deposed. The White House also issued a “harsh statement” against Aristide just before the coup – a statement that emboldened the “death-squad veterans and convicted murderers” who led the armed insurgency.

QUESTIONS ABOUT DEMOCRACY: Rep. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said that, despite the President’s pledge to pursue a “renewed commitment to democracy and freedom in the [Southern] hemisphere,” people in Latin America and the Caribbean were “watching the U.S. government turn its back on democracy ….The message is clear. This government will not stand up for a democratically elected head of state they do not like.” And as American Progress National Security Analysts point out, for the Bush Administration, democracy took a back seat in Haiti.

WHY DID WE WAIT?: Noriega claimed “the Bush administration decided not to intervene ‘and put American lives at risk’” – even though those lives are at risk now. As the Florida Sun-Sentinel reports, many of the troops who will be deployed to Haiti are “just returning from Iraq” with “the prospect of another deployment…about as appealing as war itself.”

MORE QUESTIONS OF CREDIBILITY: With its international credibility already severely damaged by the failure to find WMD in Iraq, the Administration is facing questions about its role in the Haitian coup. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are “demanding a congressional investigation,” while Reuters reports “South Africa is backing a call by Caribbean states for an international probe into circumstances surrounding the exile of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.” In a detailed LA Times analysis, Professor Jeffrey Sachs says the Administration’s complicity in the Haitian mayhem should not be surprising because “from his first day in office, President Bush was ousting Aristide.” And yet with all the questions swirling, the White House is refusing to clear the air, categorically opposing any investigation and saying only “that Aristide’s exit is a lesson for ‘failed’ leaders.”

LYING IN THE BED WE MADE: By helping to remove Aristide, the Administration directly aided the band of armed insurgents who were overtaking the island. But now, the White House is saying that the “rebel groups will have no role in the process now under way to form a successor government in Haiti.” And while Noriega himself referred to the rebels as “criminal gangs” and said “we have told them to lay down their arms,” rebel leader (and human rights violator) Guy Philippe “declared himself the new military chief and threatened to arrest the acting prime minister” of Haiti. Meanwhile, Louis-Jodel Chamblain, “a convicted assassin who led army death squads and is accused of ordering hundreds of executions”, declared himself Haiti’s ruler, saying “What’s mine is mine.” Meanwhile, “lawlessness and revenge rage on within Haiti” with the “vigilantes” patrolling the countryside, and convicted human rights violators flooding out of Haitian prisons.

MOVING FORWARD: Despite leaders of “criminal gangs” claiming control of Haiti, newswires report “the Organization of American States announced the establishment Thursday of a tripartite council that is the first step to forming a unity government in Haiti. The three are to choose seven members for a Council of Sages, which will propose a new prime minister.”

INTIMIGATE – WHITE HOUSE PHONE SUBPOENA: Newsday reports, “The federal grand jury probing the leak of a covert CIA officer’s identity has subpoenaed records of Air Force One telephone calls in the week before the officer’s name was published in a column in July.” In an attempt to find who in the White House was responsible for the security breach leaking the operative’s name to Bob Novak, the subpoenas are also asking for “records created in July by the White House Iraq Group, a little-known internal task force established in August 2002 to create a strategy to publicize the threat posed by Saddam Hussein,” as well as a transcript of a White House spokesman’s press briefing in Nigeria – which does not appear on the White House website – as well as a long list of “records of White House contacts with more than two dozen journalists and news media outlets.”

INTELLIGENCE – NOT SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE: According to testimony by senior intelligence officials, the  “Central Intelligence Agency and other spy agencies” are “at 30 percent of the capacity they need in Arabic, Persian, Pashto, Urdu and other languages considered critical to national security.” The language deficiency “definitely contributed to our lack of preparation prior to the Sept. 11 attacks” and “continues to hamper American intelligence operations in Iraq and around the world.” As many as “2,000 positions for linguists worldwide [are] unfilled, out of a total of 6,000 contract positions, mostly within the Army.”

HEALTH CARE – THOMPSON UNDER FIRE: AP reports, “Lawmakers grilled HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson Thursday about his opposition to importing prescription drugs from Canada…Pointed questions from Democrats and Republicans focused on Thompson’s decision to appoint Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Mark McClellan to lead a study of drug importation. “Said Rep. Anne Northup (R-KY) of this fox-guarding-the-henhouse arrangement:  “When Mark McClellan is put in charge of this consideration, it’s a stacked jury. He’s been the most aggressive public name in stopping reimportation.” Thompson actually acknowledged that the issue would not disappear. “Everybody’s upset and mad,” he said. “I see it all over the country.”

CIVIL LIBERTIES – FEARMONGERING THE SUPREME COURT: Solicitor General Ted Olson, in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court, argued that giving the hundred of detainees any access to U.S. courts would “would undermine the war on terrorism and aid enemy forces.” Olson added that any decision not conforming with his opinion would be “highly comforting to the enemies of the United States.” But despite the rhetoric, it does not seem at all certain that everyone held on Guantanamo is a terrorist or even guilty of a crime. In fact, the U.S. has already set free almost 90 men who were held at the prison. The Supreme Court will hear the case next month. For more on the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo, and what to do about it, see this American Progress Report.

ECONOMY – AMERICA IS IN DEBT: The Federal Reserve reported yesterday that “the nation’s debt, including both household and government borrowing, grew last year at a pace not seen since the late 1980’s.” The problem is across the board. Total national debt? Up 8.1%, the “fastest pace since 1988.” Households? Even worse, up 10.4%, the biggest percentage gain since 1987. And the Federal government? “Borrowing expanded by 10.9 percent, the fastest rate since 1992.” “There’s a time-bomb issue,” said Allen Sinai of Decision Economics, a consulting firm. “There are potential adverse consequences, but we don’t know when.”

INTERNATIONAL POLICY – MEETING MEXICO: President Bush will be “[rolling] out the welcome wagon at his Texas ranch today for Mexican President Vicente Fox, hoping to put an election-year gloss on a complex relationship strained by divisions over immigration and the Iraq war.”  CBS analyst Pamela Falk says that while the leaders “have an interest in burying the hatchet…  with conflicts on immigration, water use, death sentences for Mexicans in U.S. prisons, an International Court of Justice challenge, and the U.S. Supreme Court set to hear a contentious case about Mexican drug dealing, the mood is far from friendly.'”  Furthermore, “[in] spite of initial overtures to Mexico and his renewed call for guest-worker visas, Bush’s popularity in Mexico is low and Mexicans’ expectations for immigration reforms have fallen.”  

SOCIAL SECURITY – THE $44 TRILLION SCARE: In Today’s NYT Paul Krugman reveals the truth behind recent reports that Social Security and Medicare face a $44 trillion dollar hole. First, Social Security is in good shape. Krugman writes that Social Security needs “only modest injections of money to maintain that system’s current benefit levels for at least the next 75 years.” Most of the projected deficit comes from Medicare but the problem is not with the program or population increases but “the rising cost of medical care, which in turn mainly reflects medical progress, which allows doctors to treat a wider range of conditions.” It is really a “long-term dilemma that involves all medical care, not just care for retirees, and is as much moral as economic.” Last September, Dean Baker and David Rosnick revealed that the $44 trillion figure was unrealistic because it was calculated by estimating “annual deficits through eternity, under the assumption that current tax and spending rules remained in place.”

 Don’t Miss

DAILY TALKING POINTS: President’s Jobs Crisis Continues

INTIMIGATE: Grand Jury subpoenas Air Force One phone records in investigation of White House leak of CIA operative’s name.

ECONOMY: WP Columnist Harold Myerson analyzes the Wal-Mart effect on California

ECONOMY: New American Progress column explores how proposed changes to welfare will hurt working mothers.

Contact The Progress Report at

 Daily Grill

“We have first-hand descriptions of biological weapons factories” in Iraq.

– Secretary of State Colin Powell, 2/5/03


The Administration’s pre-war claims that Iraq had biological weapons factories came from an Iraqi defector “who was never interviewed by U.S. intelligence officers.” The defector “never dealt directly with U.S. intelligence agencies” and “U.S. intelligence analysts did not know his name.”

– WP, 3/5/04

 Daily Outrage
Despite the President’s signature appearing on page 4 of the report, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao this week told Congress that the President did not sign the Economic Report of the President, which claimed the Administration would create 320,000 jobs each month of 2004.


Progress Report



Saudi Arabia: Adapt or Die

March 5, 2004 at 10:14 am
Contributed by:


Here’s another article about the inner political workings of Saudi Arabia, with a bit more detail than the last one. Why is this important? Because 3/4 of the 9-11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, and because the Saudis are one of the few players in global oil and gas supply who have enough excess production capacity that they can open and close the spigot as needed, thus controlling the global oil markets and counterbalancing major fluctuations therein. Never mind Iraq. Never mind Afghanistan and Korea. Never mind Libya. We should be watching the Saudi kingdom above all, because, for the time being at least, our future and theirs are inextricably linked.

–CAdapt or die

Mar 4th 2004

From The Economist print edition

The royal rulers of Saudi Arabia sense that their country is in crisis but don’t know how to solve it. Time is short

“WHAT the Saudis want is a quiet life,” says a distinguished British Arabist, dolefully acknowledging that they can no longer have it. Sitting on top of the world’s biggest patch of oil, the extended family that runs the most absolute and also the most complex of the world’s surviving monarchies has managed to fend off the assaults of modernity and democracy for the 72 years since the Saudi state’s foundation. It has done so by paying off subjects and neighbours and by pandering to the region’s most ferociously puritanical religious establishment, all as a reward for relative calm.

No more. Saudi Arabia’s biggest neighbour, Iraq, is a cauldron whose swirling potion threatens to spill over into the kingdom. The Saudi clergy are divided, resentful and restive. And judging by the relentless catalogue of raids against suspected terrorist nests within the kingdom, some of the ailing King Fahd’s subjects are ready to die in order to bring down the house of Saud, though what they want instead is not so plain. Saudi Arabia is simmering.

Crown Prince Abdullah, the king’s 81-year-old half-brother, who has run the show since the monarch suffered a series of strokes in 1995, knows he must reform if he is to save his country—and his family—from chaos. In the past year he has made several unprecedented but still tentative changes. Wittingly or not, he has raised hopes among reformers and prompted a wave of foreboding among conservatives.

The most daring of his promises is to let people vote for half the seats in local elections to be held by October. That is a far cry, to be sure, from full-blooded democracy; but the crown prince’s reform-minded friends drop heavy hints that it is only a beginning: a new tolerance, openness and accountability are on the way, leading to greater religious, economic and political pluralism. More recently, however, a sense of dithering hesitation has returned; discord within the ruling family may be bubbling, as the crown prince seeks to balance liberals and reactionaries.

The two biggest events that have knocked Saudi Arabia askew are the felling of New York’s Twin Towers in September 2001 by suicide bombers, some three-quarters of whom were Saudi, and the American invasion of Iraq, together with the subsequent continuing attempt to replace an Arab dictatorship with that rarest of species, an Arab democracy. Two other events have also shaken Saudi Arabia: the bombings and terrorist attacks inside the kingdom last May and November.

As far as Saudis were concerned, the Twin Towers were far away. Many Saudis felt that, at least to a degree, the arrogant Americans deserved that disaster. Moreover, many Saudis remained in denial of their country’s connection, often subscribing to the view, popular even among well-educated Arabs, that somehow the Israelis were responsible for the atrocity. And the surge of American hostility to Saudi Arabia, when it emerged that most of the hijackers were Saudi, fostered an ever sharper sense of Saudi prickliness.

Many Saudis say that the bomb blast in May last year, which killed 34 people, eight of them American, opened Saudi eyes to the reality of home-grown terror. But again, the attack was directed at foreigners, and moreover a growing number of Saudis wanted all Americans out. The November bomb, however, was different: almost all of its 18 victims were Arabs, and many were Saudis. That, it appears, has changed and concentrated minds. It was certainly a spectacular own goal by the bombers that may well have set back the cause of creating an infidel-free, Sunni Islamist, theocratic republic.

But the cause lives on. Last year the Saudi security forces, according to a paper circulated by the Saudi-US Relations Information Service, carried out “158 raids on various terrorist elements and groups”. Since September 11th 2001, several thousand terrorist suspects have been questioned and more than 600 detained. The net has been cast wide, taking in the capital, Riyadh, as well as the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, the commercial port of Jeddah, the conservative heartland’s province of Qasim and its city of Buraida, and the south-western province of Asir that abuts the notoriously porous border with Yemen, where the family of Osama bin Laden originates. The authorities say they are getting on top of the terrorists. But the continuation of activities—the police were brazenly attacked in Riyadh in January—suggests they have far to go.

It is, of course, difficult to judge the popularity of Mr bin Laden—or indeed of anyone in the kingdom, given the absence of elections, the muzzling of the media, the reluctance to talk openly about politics and the dearth of opinion polls. A survey carried out last July for the Arab-American Institute, an American lobby, found barely 8% of respondents praising the al-Qaeda leader—perhaps unsurprisingly, given Saudi awareness of the risks of dissent. It seems likely, anyway, that his popularity has dipped since the November attacks.

Anecdotal evidence, however, backs an assertion by an Australian writer on Saudi Arabia, Daryl Champion, that Mr bin Laden “enjoys a semi-underground folk-hero status with many in the kingdom—and not just the 15,000 Saudi nationals who participated in the jihad in Afghanistan”. His admirers are said to be numerous on university campuses and among the rising number of unemployed. Plainly, many radical clerics have expressed support for his aims, though the authorities have been vigorously cracking down on the more outspoken of them. A former West European ambassador to Saudi Arabia recently made a bold guess: “If there were an election today, bin Laden would win by a landslide.”

Who can tell? Doubtless many Saudis do still want that quiet life. But clearly, too, there is a widening pool of resentment that could, especially if the oil price were to dive, foment extremism. The spectre of Mr bin Laden terrifies both the royal rulers and the professional middle class that wants more of a say in running the place.

Saudis feel a lot less perky than they did, say, 20 years ago. For one thing, demography is going against prosperity. Some 60% of the indigenous population is reckoned to be under 20, and some 70% under 30. The population has soared since 1980, the high point in the country’s GDP per head, without a commensurate growth in national wealth. Income per person has since fallen, by some accounts, from around $20,000 to less than half of that. Unemployment has soared, though no one can agree on a figure—in a country where, as a leading Saudi banker puts it, “We don’t have a tradition of statistics.” The government says 8-9%;other estimates range from 13-30%.

Other causes of dissent are more obviously political. As Saudis become more educated and cosmopolitan, many of them, especially professionals, increasingly resent their country’s isolation from the modern world, the power of the clerics to control their social life, and the ability of the royal family to limit their influence in public affairs and to hog the exchequer. The mutawwain, the religious police, officially known as the Commission for the Protection of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, still throw their weight about. Cinemas are still banned, as is music in public places; companies have even been forbidden to play jingles on the telephone when calls are on hold. Alcohol remains banned, in private as well as in public. This year, as usual, any manifestation of St Valentine’s Day was expressly forbidden by the authorities as being “pagan Christian”—and some 200 Bangladeshi and Burmese workers were arrested, apparently for drinking and dancing despite the edict.

The internet, the mobile phone and satellite television (technically banned but accessible without interference to a good 80% of the population) are all eroding the authorities’ control. But even in the communications ether, the security organs still strive to have their way. By one estimate, some 30,000 websites are blocked. Technically, all sites must be approved.

Newspapers are strictly controlled, and even the more respected ones published abroad (and invariably owned or controlled by members of the Saudi royal family) tend to observe the limits—or risk loss of advertising as well as the freedom to circulate. No Saudi newspaper, for instance, reported the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991 until five days after the event, presumably under the government’s instruction. Last year The Economist was banned eight times, for reasons ungiven.

Saudi editors who are considered too liberal (al-Watan‘s Jamal Khashoggi, for instance) or columnists who cross a line (Okaz‘s Hussein Shobokshi) are summarily sacked. In a column last year, Mr Shobokshi’s offence was to dream that his grown-up daughter, a lawyer, picked him up from the airport after he had won a prize at an international human-rights conference; and that on the way home, they had chatted about voting in the local election and about the finance minister’s broadcast on television about the next budget—all things that cannot yet happen.

Public protests remain strictly forbidden. Last October the government said that 271 people in Riyadh had been arrested, of whom 83 were told they would be put on trial, for demonstrating during a human-rights conference organised by the Saudi Arabian Red Crescent, itself an unusual event. A week later, likeminded protesters in Jeddah, Dammam and Hail were similarly dealt with.

For those who flout the law, punishment is usually severe. Yet its application is inconsistent and most trials are held behind closed doors, without counsel for defendants. Amnesty International, which remains barred from the kingdom, has recorded over 1,400 executions since 1980. Some 40 people a year are still publicly beheaded for crimes including drug offences, robbery and rape. Sodomy and sorcery have also, in recent years, earned the ultimate penalty. Saudis—and more often expatriates—are frequently reported to have been flogged for such crimes as selling illicit alcohol, sometimes with as many as 1,000 lashes being inflicted, with 50 or so strokes in a session being administered at intervals of two or three weeks.

A host of restrictions against women are still in force. With a probable fertility rate of over six children per woman, the religious authorities deem the rightful place for females is home. In public they must be shrouded in the black abaya, letting only the face be seen; usually just eyes are visible. They cannot travel without a male chaperone, usually a husband or close relation. They cannot run a business in their own name unless they get permission from a mahram (a kind of agent), probably the husband. They cannot marry non-citizens without government permission. Nor can they drive cars—by fatwa from on high.

Though they make up more than half of the university intake, they have only 6% of the jobs, and in the workplace (with the exception of hospitals) they are invariably segregated, even, for instance, in newspaper offices or banks. And they are entirely unrepresented in government or in the majlis al-shura, the consultative council that is the closest thing to a parliament.

This picture of repression is, however, a lot less bleak than it was. Criminal and commercial laws are gradually being encoded and liberalised. Last year a stream of petitions were graciously accepted by the crown prince from various groups that purported to speak for—among others—Shia Muslims, businessmen and intellectuals of both an Islamist and secular tint, including a number of women. Newspapers, though still looking over their shoulder, have begun to reflect a growing debate about the need for reform. Above all, Saudis are becoming far readier —though wariness persists—to discuss such matters at home and in the workplace. Topics that were taboo—talk of Shias and women’s rights, for instance—are entering discourse, at least in professional circles.

In June Crown Prince Abdullah opened a “national dialogue”, bringing a hundred or so people together to discuss the future in a procedure he is now institutionalising. This month the third such meeting—perhaps including, unprecedentedly, some 30 or so women—will discuss women’s issues. The majlis al-shura now has three female “advisers”. This year television got its first female presenters. Businesswomen, such as Lubna Olayan, are gaining more serious attention. It is clear that the crown prince wants gradually to bring women into the public arena and realises, besides, that their enforced inability to play a bigger part in the economy is damaging it.

There is talk of some members of both local and provincial councils being directly elected. Ditto the majlis al-shura. Many reformers say that accountability and openness are more vital than elections. There is growing demand for full publication of the budget. The majlis al-shura is slowly gaining powers, for instance, to question ministers, though not yet with a right to follow up their answers on the spot. Meanwhile, the prospect of partly elected local councils may, if reformers’ hopes are fulfilled, uncork the genie of democracy and let the public enter the sphere of decision-making.

For Crown Prince Abdullah, the worry is that by legitimising alternative sources of power, however limited at this stage, he will risk opening the floodgates of democracy and destroy his royal family. Yet it is unlikely that that bastion of wealth and privilege can last much longer in its present state. Gradual economic and political reform is already threatening to alter the status quo dramatically. For example, the government’s wish for Saudi Arabia to join the World Trade Organisation will not be achieved without a drastic opening of a pretty closed economy in which the royal family has special privileges to tap into the country’s huge natural wealth.

Probably no one outside the royal family knows the precise numbers within it or how power is allotted. (“Those who talk don’t know, and those that know don’t talk,” applies pretty well to Saudi royal Kremlinology in general.) Estimates of the number of princes vary widely, from around 5,000 to 10,000, with the extended family all told numbering between 20,000 and 27,000, all getting a slice of wealth, with no publication whatever of the amounts. Saudi Arabia still has no personal income tax, for princes or others.

The ones who count for most are the direct descendants—probably now in the high hundreds—of King Abdel Aziz ibn Saud (1880-1953), the founder of the modern kingdom, who had some 44 recognised sons. If King Fahd dies, as he soon may, Crown Prince Abdullah would take over. Next in line is his half-brother Prince Sultan, now 79, who has been defence minister since 1962. Thereafter come more sons of King Abdel Aziz: Prince Nayef, interior minister since 1975, and Prince Salman, the long-time governor of Riyadh province. After that, it gets fuzzy.

There is a hopeful prospect and a gloomy one. In the former, the crown prince, with hard-nosed reformers at his side such as Ghazi al-Gosaibi, the minister for electricity and water, pushes boldly but tactfully ahead towards political, religious and economic pluralism. In the boldest of such schemes, he arranges for the succession to skip a generation and move to a caucus of younger, western-educated princes, who acknowledge that the era of royal unaccountability and virtually unlimited wealth is over and that a constitutional monarchy must gradually emerge, with the majlis al-shura becoming the parliament, directly elected, maybe with a self-elected or indirectly-elected assembly of princes (and princesses?) as a senate. The notion of the succession moving down the line to the likes of Prince Nayef, who is utterly loathed by the reformers for his diehard conservatism as well as incompetence, is unbearable to the modernisers.

This far-reaching reformist possibility is widely seen as both Utopian and dangerous. Already there are signs of resistance within the family. Prince Nayef, for one, is hugely powerful: he controls the media and the religious establishment as well as the police. Reformers fear that the long-prevailing tradition of consensus and balance (family unity at all costs has long been a mantra) is making the crown prince hesitate. But they fear, too, that if he moves too fast the conservatives will oust him.

The clergy, heirs to the puritanical Wahhabi strain of Islam with which the house of Saud allied itself two centuries ago, are bound to fight against efforts to liberalise society and, for instance, to give wider rights to the country’s 1m-plus Shias, who have only two of the 120 members of the majlis al-shura and are still reviled in textbooks, by the Sunni ulema (clergy) and by society at large. It should be added, moreover, that very many Saudis sympathise with the conservatives.

Iraq is another reason for royal hesitation. If it settled down and a Shia-dominated government emerged in a federal set-up, many Sunni Saudis would be aghast; for one thing, their own Shias would start demanding a lot more power. But if Iraq descended further into chaos, with al-Qaeda or its allies making it ungovernable, the spill-over across a porous border could spell disaster for the Saudi regime. Either way, the Saudi royals lose.

Is there a “third way”? Perhaps. The most hopeful sign of compromise, albeit outside the current power base, is that moderate Islamists and secular reformers sound prepared, so far, to work together towards winning greater representation for themselves and greater accountability from the royal rulers. Indeed, it is arguable that the al-Qaeda phenomenon has forced non-violent Islamists and secular gradualists to converge. Both lots, in any case, think the house of Saud must adapt or die.

Is there a Saudi Gorbachev—or could Crown Prince Abdullah become one? Probably not. Besides, he would point out that, though Soviet rule ended more or less peacefully, the Union collapsed and the ruling elite were chased out. Perhaps Spain’s General Franco is a more hopeful model. But where is a Saudi Adolfo Suárez, let alone a democracy-loving constitutional monarch à la Juan Carlos. He could be there, among the vast array of princes. But no one seems to have found him yet.

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