Friday, September 21, 2007

Welcome to Planet Gaza By Pepe Escobar


By Pepe Escobar

It is one of the most scandalous instances of collective punishment anywhere in the world in recent times. And what is the response of the high-minded "international community"? It's the standard "three monkeys" - willfully deaf, dumb and blind.

This Thursday, the Israeli cabinet's decision to declare the 8-kilometer-wide, 23km-long, arid Gaza Strip a "hostile territory" has started to be translated by facts on the ground. The Israel Defense Forces have begun "gradually" to cut the supply of fuel and electricity to the 1.5 million population, one of the highest densities on Earth, 50% of them already living under the poverty line, 50% of them under-15s, 33% of them refugees.

Gaza uses about 200 megawatts of electricity; 120 come from Israel; 65 are produced in Gaza; and only 17 come from Egypt. Israel says supply to generators at Gaza's hospitals will not be affected.

There's more to come: a trade ban, no freedom of movement, no visits to prisoners in Israeli jails, an overall hardcore financial squeeze, and sooner rather than later, another military onslaught. As the Israeli daily Ha'aretz so nicely put it, this is just a "plan to limit services to civilians".

Nobody will get in. Few, if any, will get out. If someone wants to go to Gaza, the only way will be via Egypt.

This comes on top of other "restrictions" already in place. No fewer than 200,000 kids went back to school in occupied Palestine this September - just like millions of other kids around the world. But they had nothing apart from their textbooks because the State of Israel deems paper, ink, ballpoint pens and binding materials not to be "fundamental humanitarian needs".

It was up to AMIN (Arabic Media Internet Network), Ramallah's information site, to put things in perspective. Ramallah is in the West Bank. The West Bank is "friendly". Gaza is "hostile". So West Bank residents can now "thank God for having escaped this collective punishment" - even though they still have to contend with walls, curfews, military incursions, arbitrary arrests and a thousand checkpoints.

Residents of the "hostile entity", according to AMIN, will closely follow the example of the "friendly entity", where walls and blast walls still bloom. The (good) point is to have been classified as "friendly"; "It's better being half 'enemy' than being it full-time, it's more comfortable being half deprived of electricity and fuel, it's better being half exposed to air raids, it's more benign to be half destructed than totally."

AMIN also points out that Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah government in the West Bank can always blame Hamas' government in Gaza for this sorry outcome. Then the "secular" will win over the "Islamists". But there's still a choice to be made. Gaza, full of shame for being branded an "enemy", may succumb to Israel's dictates. Or the West Bank, full of shame for being branded "friendly", may fight Israel's dictates. Conclusion: "What's worse under occupation, to be an 'enemy' or to be a 'friend'?"

And now for the monkeys
While this was being announced, US President George W Bush's Sunni Arab allies in the "axis of fear" - from Saudi Arabia and Egypt to Jordan, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf petromonarchies - had better fish to fry, from taking over almost half of the London Stock Exchange (Dubai, Qatar) to turning the screws on internal repression and fanning the specter of "the Persians". "Classic" al-Qaeda (not the diet Iraqi brand), through resident oracle Ayman al-Zawahiri in person and Osama bin Laden's voice, was more interested on its new video-op calling for a jihad against "infidel" Bush ally President General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan.

It was up to a lone, meek United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to urge Israel to "reconsider" its decision - which once more is "contrary to Israel's obligations towards the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights law" (as if that other occupying power, the US in Iraq, was giving a damn to the suffering of the Iraqi civilian population). Ban should have also explained what "hostile entity" means in international law: nothing.

Israeli strategy is to bring down the "quality" - non-quality, rather - of life in Gaza to unbearable levels, thus sabotaging any attempt by Hamas to govern the Strip properly. The crude Qassam rockets fired over Israel - the apparent reason for the blockade - are not even fired by Hamas, but by al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades, for instance, connected to Islamic Jihad. The actual blockade anyway comes on top of any further military incursions, soon to be decided by Israel, according to the Israeli press.

The US subscribes to everything. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - who is right in the middle of intense lobbying for a US-sponsored, and already discredited, November peace conference - incredibly said that Hamas "is indeed a hostile entity. It is a hostile entity to the US as well." Nobody asked Rice what kind of "peace" she is exactly lobbying for.

Rice added that the US "will make every effort to deal with their [Palestinian] humanitarian needs". How? By bombing Gaza with cornflakes? "Hostile" Hamas called the plan "a declaration of war". "Friendly" Palestinian Authority chairman Abbas - who meets his friend Bush next week in New York - only called it "oppressive". It was up to one of his ministers, Ashraf Ajami, to dare to use the crystal-clear words "collective punishment".

Voices of reason in Israel, such as Meretz (leftist political party) chairman Yossi Beilin, at least had the courage to denounce the plan as "foolish as well as dangerous".

University of Michigan professor and Informed Comment blogger Juan Cole has defined Gaza as "the worst outcome of Western colonialism anywhere in the world outside the Belgian Congo". And just like contemporary Belgium in relation to the Congo, Israel will never admit to what it has inflicted on Palestine.

No wonder Likud superstar Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu loves these Likudnik-style methods. It proves how the majority of Israel's political elite is still wallowing in the mire of Zeev Jabotinsky, a Zionist in love with fascism in 1930s Europe. This treatment of Palestinians bears all the elements of fascism: radical (Israeli) nationalism; racism (the demonization of Palestinians as a sub-race); colonialism; expansionism (the goal of Israel); a penchant for a military dictatorship (the preferred method for ruling Palestinians); and absolute indifference to the point of despising the (Arab) poor.

As much as peace and security for Israel are more than a just cause, the colonization and hardcore repression of the "friendly" West Bank and "hostile" Gaza are nothing but fascism. Professor Toni Negri, author of Empire and Multitudes, is one among throngs of top public intellectuals appalled that among so much cosmopolitanism at a global level, many Jews are simply not part of it, and are still attracted by "archaic and barbarian" ideologies such as Zionism.

Get me to my gulag on time
Planet Gaza may be our contemporary Congo - the heart of darkness, especially when taken in conjunction with that other heart of darkness, Iraq. There's nothing about a "Korea model" in Iraq - as much as Washington will try to keep an array of permanent military bases in Mesopotamia.

The logic of the US in Iraq is pure Planet Gaza. French geopolitical master Alain Joxe, in his book L'Empire du chaos, has been one of the few who have identified Palestine as the ultimate live textbook on urban repression - a "technical experiment" in the ultimate red zone carefully studied by the Pentagon, with all its known attributes (blast walls, checkpoints, pinpoint military incursions and "acquisition of targets", collective punishment, etc).

The Israeli wall penetrating the "friendly" West Bank like a dagger has been replicated by mini-walls in Baghdad. As much as Israeli armed settler/missionaries do their ethnic cleansing in slow motion in Palestine, mercenary Blackwater and their ilk do the dirty work in Iraq. "Friendly" West Bank Fatah and "hostile" Gaza Hamas are mirrored in Iraq by the "good" (Sunni tribes, collaborator Shi'ite parties Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Da'wa, the Kurds) and the "bad" (Sunni guerrillas, al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, the Shi'ite Mahdi Army).

Iraq is actually Planet Gaza redux. According to British polling organization ORB, no fewer than 1.2 million Iraqis may have died violent deaths, most of them caused directly or indirectly by the occupation, since 2003. That's close to the entire population of Gaza.

Invisibility is also part of the logic of Planet Gaza. Invisibility at least for US and Israeli exceptionalism - as both could not possibly assimilate the hard truth pointing to US and Israeli administrations killing loads of innocent Arab civilians. The "international community" - an antiseptic construct that basically means the US and western Europe - may not see it; autocratic, incompetent, corrupt Arab leaders may not see it; but the real world - public opinion in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Russia - sees Planet Gaza for what it is. It's not about "al-Qaeda". It's not about "Islamo-fascist terrorists". It's about fighting neocolonialism. It's about national liberation. And - barring any possibility of dialogue - it's about perennial blowback.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007). He may be reached at


“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” - Eduardo Galeano

History Will Not Absolve Us: Leaked Red Cross report sets up Bush team for international war-crimes trial by Nat Hentoff

Global Research, September 20, 2007
Village Voice - 2007-08-28

If and when there's the equivalent of an international Nuremberg trial for the American perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Guant√°namo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the CIA's secret prisons, there will be mounds of evidence available from documented international reports by human-rights organizations, including an arm of the European parliament-as well as such deeply footnoted books as Stephen Grey's Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program (St. Martin's Press) and Charlie Savage's just-published Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy (Little, Brown).

While the Democratic Congress has yet to begin a serious investigation into what many European legislators already know about American war crimes, a particularly telling report by the International Committee of the Red Cross has been leaked that would surely figure prominently in such a potential Nuremberg trial. The Red Cross itself is bound to public silence concerning the results of its human-rights probes of prisons around the world-or else governments wouldn't let them in.

But The New Yorker's Jane Mayer has sources who have seen accounts of the Red Cross interviews with inmates formerly held in CIA secret prisons. In "The Black Sites" (August 13, The New Yorker), Mayer also reveals the effect on our torturers of what they do-on the orders of the president-to "protect American values."

She quotes a former CIA officer: "When you cross over that line of darkness, it's hard to come back. You lose your soul. You can do your best to justify it, but . . . you can't go back to that dark a place without it changing you."

Few average Americans have been changed, however, by what the CIA does in our name. Blame that on the tight official secrecy that continues over how the CIA extracts information. On July 20, the Bush administration issued a new executive order authorizing the CIA to continue using these techniques-without disclosing anything about them.

If we, the people, are ultimately condemned by a world court for our complicity and silence in these war crimes, we can always try to echo those Germans who claimed not to know what Hitler and his enforcers were doing. But in Nazi Germany, people had no way of insisting on finding out what happened to their disappeared neighbors.

We, however, have the right and the power to insist that Congress discover and reveal the details of the torture and other brutalities that the CIA has been inflicting in our name on terrorism suspects.

Only one congressman, Oregon's Democratic senator Ron Wyden, has insisted on probing the legality of the CIA's techniques-so much so that Wyden has blocked the appointment of Bush's nominee, John Rizzo, from becoming the CIA's top lawyer. Rizzo, a CIA official since 2002, has said publicly that he didn't object to the Justice Department's 2002 "torture" memos, which allowed the infliction of pain unless it caused such injuries as "organ failure . . . or even death." (Any infliction of pain up to that point was deemed not un-American.) Mr. Rizzo would make a key witness in any future Nuremberg trial.

As Jane Mayer told National Public Radio on August 6, what she found in the leaked Red Cross report, and through her own extensive research on our interrogators (who are cheered on by the commander in chief), is "a top-down-controlled, mechanistic, regimented program of abuse that was signed off on-at the White House, really-and then implemented at the CIA from the top levels all the way down. . . . They would put people naked for up to 40 days in cells where they were deprived of any kind of light. They would cut them off from any sense of what time it was or . . . anything that would give them a sense of where they were."

She also told of the CIA interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who was not only waterboarded (a technique in which he was made to feel that he was about to be drowned) but also "kept in . . . a small cage, about one meter [39.7 inches] by one meter, in which he couldn't stand up for a long period of time. [The CIA] called it the dog box."

Whether or not there is another Nuremberg trial-and Congress continues to stay asleep-future historians of the Bush administration will surely also refer to Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality, the July report by Human Rights First and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The report emphasizes that the president's July executive order on CIA interrogations-which, though it is classified, was widely hailed as banning "torture and cruel and inhuman treatment"-"fails explicitly to rule out the use of the 'enhanced' techniques that the CIA authorized in March, 2002, "with the president's approval (emphasis added).

In 2002, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell denounced the "torture" memos and other interrogation techniques in internal reports that reached the White House. It's a pity he didn't also tell us. But Powell's objections should keep him out of the defendants' dock in any future international trial.

From the Leave No Marks report, here are some of the American statutes that the CIA, the Defense Department, and the Justice Department have utterly violated:

In the 1994 Torture Convention Implementation Act, we put into U.S. law what we had signed in Article 5 of the UN Convention Against Torture, which is defined as "an act 'committed by an [officially authorized] person' . . . specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering . . . upon another person within his custody or physical control."

The 1997 U.S. War Crimes Act "criminalizes . . . specifically enumerated war crimes that the legislation refers to as 'grave breaches' of Common Article 3 [of the Geneva Conventions], including the war crimes of torture and 'cruel or inhuman treatment.'"

The Leave No Marks report very valuably brings the Supreme Court- before Chief Justice John Roberts took over-into the war-crimes record of this administration. I strongly suggest that Human Rights First and Physicians for Social Responsibility send their report-with the following section underlined-to every current member of the Supreme Court and Congress:

"The Supreme Court has long considered prisoner treatment to violate substantive due process if the treatment 'shocks the conscience,' is bound to offend even hardened sensibilities, or offends 'a principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.'"

Among those fundamental rights cited by past Supreme Courts, the report continues, are "the rights to bodily integrity [and] the right to have [one's] basic needs met; and the right to basic human dignity" (emphasis added).

If the conscience of a majority on the Roberts Court isn't shocked by what we've done to our prisoners, then it will be up to the next president and the next Congress-and, therefore, up to us-to alter, in some respects, how history will judge us. But do you see any considerable signs, among average Americans, of the conscience being shocked? How about the presidential candidates of both parties?

Global Research Articles by Nat Hentoff


US exceptionalism meets Team Jesus - Interview by Tom Engelhardt

He's a man who knows something about the dangers of mixing religious fervor, war, and the crusading spirit, a subject he dealt with eloquently in his book Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews. A former Catholic priest turned anti-war activist in the Vietnam era, Carroll also wrote a moving memoir about his relationship to his father, the founding director of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency.

Carroll in essence grew up in that five-sided monument to US imperial power. For him, as a boy, the Pentagon was "the largest playhouse in the world", and he can still remember sliding down its ramps in his socks, as he has written in the introduction to his recent magisterial history of that building and the institution it holds, House of War.

As a weekly columnist for the Boston Globe, he was perhaps the first media figure to notice - and warn against - a presidential "slip of the tongue" just after the assaults of September 11, 2001, when US President George W Bush referred briefly to his new "global war on terror" as a "crusade". Carroll was possibly the first mainstream columnist in the United States to warn against the consequences of launching a war against Afghanistan in response to those attacks - now just another of Bush's missions unaccomplished; and, in September 2003, he was possibly the first to pronounce the Iraq war "lost" in print. ("The war in Iraq is lost. What will it take to face that truth this time?")

His stirring columns on the early years of Bush's attempt to bring "freedom" to the world at the point of a cruise missile were collected in Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War. In those years, Carroll was a powerful moral voice from - to use a very American phrase - the (media) wilderness until much of the American world finally caught up with him.

He has most recently completed, with director Oren Jacoby, a stirring documentary film, also titled Constantine's Sword, in which he explores the roots of religiously inspired violence in our present world. He submitted to a Tomdispatch interview in August 2005 and when, this summer, I suggested that we meet again, he agreed to discuss "American fundamentalisms", a subject that receives remarkably less coverage and consideration than other fundamentalisms of the world.

We met on a warm day, just after a rare downpour in a dry summer, in the study of his house in the state of Massachusetts. His many books dot the bookshelves. Out the window is a piney landscape, not quite the one the Puritans first saw when they arrived from England early in the 17th century, but beautiful nonetheless. Carroll, his hair graying, has not so much a worn as a well-inhabited face. You can see him thinking as he speaks - not so common a trait as you might imagine. As he warms up to the subject of American fundamentalisms, his voice gains the quiet yet powerful passion that any reader of his weekly columns has come to expect, a passion that nonetheless leaves room for reason and criticism, for further thought.

I put my two small tape recorders on a modest coffee table, turned them on, asked my first question, and discovered that this was an interview in name only. It was more like being back in the most riveting classroom of my life. A single lecture, an hour's genuine education, stretching from America's first Puritan moments to Bush's Iraq, with hardly an interpolation needed on my part.

Tom Engelhardt: I recently heard this joke: How many neo-cons does it take to screw in a light bulb? The answer: Neo-cons don't believe in light bulbs, they declare war on evil and set the house on fire.

[Carroll chuckles.]

TE: That's my introduction to a discussion of American fundamentalism. Any comments?

James Carroll: Well, embedded in that joke is a central idea: that what matters is not outcome, but purity of intent. A mark of a fundamentalist mindset is that one's own personal virtue is the ultimate value. The American fundamentalist ethos of the Cold War prepared us to destroy the world. In other words, a world absolutely devastated through nuclear war was acceptable as an outcome because it reflected the virtue of our opposition to the evil of communism. Better dead than red.

TE: A phrase I hadn't thought about in a long time ...

JC: Better the world destroyed than taken over by communism. It's profoundly nihilistic, which is also one of the marks of the fundamentalist mindset. An irony, of course, is that so much, then and now, is done in the name of realism, but this is such a profoundly unrealistic way of thinking.

TE: It's in this sense, I suppose, that our president has been unable to learn. So give me the basics on American fundamentalisms, as you see them.

JC: First of all, what is fundamentalism? The word itself was coined in the early 20th century and applied to a particular brand of Protestantism. It comes from a determination to protect what were called, in foundational manifestos, the five fundamentals of Christian belief, particularly the inerrancy of scripture. Scripture can't make a mistake, right? It has to be read literally.

This was a counterattack against so-called liberal religion's embrace of the insights of the Enlightenment and the scientific age. Can you apply normal standards of historical criticism to religious belief? The fundamentalists said no, because normal standards might lead you to understand texts as having been composed in normal human circumstances, instead of inspired by God. So when you read the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus through the lens of historical critical method, you may conclude that the three kings never actually traveled to Bethlehem, that it's a mythical story created to make a point - a genre that the people who wrote it were comfortable with.

Fundamentalists reacted against any mitigating of the literal fact of the three kings. To read texts for their theological meaning rather than for their historical literalness would undercut the whole affirmation of the religion. The next thing, you'd be saying that Jesus didn't rise from the dead on the third day. And if that didn't happen, where are you?

That was then. Today, fundamentalism remains a useful point of reference in understanding the human panic that can be engendered by the uncertainties attached to Enlightenment thinking - when the world view of science tells you that nothing is dependable, that everything has to be submitted to the test of experimentation, verification.

My argument is that religious belief can mature, can be moved to a new level of sophistication by historical, critical, enlightened thinking, but a lot of people are completely threatened by it. Not to denigrate them. Human beings all over the world are dislocated - all of us are - by so many things we don't control, the various revolutions sweeping the globe, the degradation of the environment, the challenge to the very integrity of communities.

The 'city on a hill'
For our conversation, fundamentalist Christianity is a perfect paradigm within which to understand what has been happening in America, a profoundly Christian super-culture. America is also a secular nation, of course. The separation of church and state was a critical innovation, giving us this special standing as a people. The separation's purpose was to protect the conscientious freedom of every individual by making the state neutral on questions of religious conscience. An absolutely ingenious insight.

It's important, however, to understand the profoundly American origins of this insight. The argument began in the first generation. John Cotton, a Puritan preacher, embodied the first idea America had of itself, captured in the image his colleague John Winthrop used in defining the new settlement as "the city on a hill", a phrase that's fodder for political speeches every four years.

Americans don't generally like to think this way, but the United States of America is more descended from Massachusetts than Virginia - an important distinction, because the people who settled Virginia were adventurers and entrepreneurs. The people who settled Massachusetts were religious zealots who had left England as an act of dissent against the Church of England, which they considered too popish. Their dissent was against a certain kind of religion, but not in favor of religious freedom. They came to America assuming the power of the state over the religious convictions of the civic body.

TE: : They just wanted a different religion to do the coercing?

JC: Exactly. Of course, these folks thought of themselves as re-enacting the journey of Exodus. What was the city on a hill? Jerusalem, of course - a biblical reference. They had been brought out of the slave condition of a popish church. They were now across the water - think of "the Jordan River" as the Atlantic Ocean - in the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey. Hello, there are Canaanites here.

Finally, after 1,600 years, the true vision of Jesus Christ was going to be realized - and there was no room for another way of looking at it, no room for what we would call dissent, and certainly no room for any tolerance of the "paganism" of the native Americans. One of the first manifestations of the settlers' zealotry was the religious coercion that began to mark their relationships with the native Americans they met right here in this very place where we're now talking. They felt empowered to offer the ancient choice of conversion or death to the people they called the Indians.

One of the members of this early party objected. His name was Roger Williams, and he rejected the coercive violence he saw wielded against native peoples. He rejected the whole idea that the magistrate should be in charge of the religious impulse of the citizen. As a result, he was banished from Boston, exiled to Salem, then banished from Salem. Finally, he started his own foundation in what we call Rhode Island and organized a new kind of state in which the magistrate would have no power over the religious practice of the citizens. This is all within the first generation.

Roger Williams lost the argument in his own day, but he planted the seed of something. He was the first person to use the phrase "wall of separation" between the magistrate and the religion. One hundred eighty years later, Thomas Jefferson picks up that phrase to describe the distinction between the church and the state.

The point here is that the initial city-on-a-hill impulse has never stopped being part of our self-understanding - the idea of America as having a mission to the world or, in biblical terms, a mission to the gentiles. "Go forth and teach all nations," Jesus commands. This commission is implicit in George Bush's war to establish democracy - or "freedom" - everywhere. When Americans talk about freedom, it's our secular code word for salvation. There's no salvation outside the church; there's no freedom outside the American way of life. Notice how, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Soviet system, there is still something called the "Free World". As opposed to what?

A special mission to Iraq - and the world
This missionizing in the name of freedom is a basic American impulse. [President Abraham] Lincoln was the high priest of this rhetoric, "the last best hope of mankind". The United States of America is justified by the virtue of its mission. The entire movement of American power across the continent of North America was a movement to fulfill the "manifest destiny" of a free people extending freedom. Because this is understood as a profoundly virtuous impulse, we've seldom criticized it. As a nation, we have begun to reckon with the crime of slavery, but we haven't begun to reckon with the crime of genocide against the native American peoples. That's because we haven't really acknowledged what was wrong with it.

Think of that phrase - "manifest destiny". A key doctrine in what I am calling American fundamentalism. It remains an inch below the surface of the American belief system. What's interesting is that this sense of special mission cuts across the spectrum - right wing/left wing, liberals/conservatives - because generally the liberal argument against government policies since World War II is that our wars - Vietnam then, Iraq now - represent an egregious failure to live up to America's true calling. We're better than this. Even anti-war critics, who begin to bang the drum, do it by appealing to an exceptional American missionizing impulse. You don't get the sense, even from most liberals, that - no, America is a nation like other nations and we're going to screw things up the way other nations do.

TE: That kind of realism is in short supply here.

JC: It hardly exists even now.

Let me make one final point about that missionizing impulse, and the way it transcends right and left. One reason we're in Iraq today is because, in the 1990s, the left was split on the question of American violence, the proper use of American power. It was split over the issue of what was called "humanitarian intervention". There are times, it was argued, when the forceful exercise of American power is necessary for the sake of humanitarian causes. Human rights, beginning in [president] Jimmy Carter's day, became a new form of American religion. If conservatives go abroad speaking the language of freedom, liberals go abroad speaking the language of human rights. And if we have to destroy a nation so that it can exercise human rights, so be it. That's why, in the early days of the Iraq war, so many surprising people supported it.

The liberal embrace of humanitarian intervention is part of what set loose this new phenomenon of the Bush moment - an explicit appeal to religious motivation in the exercise of American power. Since George W Bush came to power, the religious right has been set free to use overt religious language, missionizing language that actually moves from "freedom" to "salvation", as a justification for American power. We cast ourselves against Saddam Hussein entirely in terms of a binary evil-versus-good contest. Bush's appeals to evil were a staple of his speechmaking from the earliest days of this war. The purpose of his war was, he told us, not just to spread democracy, but to end evil. You see what's happening. We've moved into specifically religious categories, and that was all right in America.

Tom, here's the thing that's important to acknowledge: if Americans are upset with the war in Iraq today, it's mainly because it failed. If we could have "ended evil" with this war, it would have been a good thing. It goes back to the joke you began with: if we have to destroy the world in order to purify it of evil, that's all right. It's the key to the apocalyptic mindset that Robert J Lifton has written about so eloquently, in which the destruction of the Earth can be an act of purification. The destruction of Iraq was an act of purification. Even today, look at the rhetoric that's unfolding as we begin to talk about ending the war in Iraq. It's the Iraqis who have failed. They wouldn't yield on their "sectarian" agendas. These people won't get together and form a cohesive government. Now, we're going to let them stew in their own mess. We're going to withdraw from this war because they're not worthy of us.

That's the mainstream Democratic anti-war position! America is a city on a hill, exceptional; so, if we do it, by definition it must be virtuous. If we've gone to Iraq and all hell's broken loose, it may be a fiasco, but in origin it can't be our fault because we were motivated by good intentions.

Now, put all of that in the context of this astounding religious resurgence ...

TE: It's the surge ...

JC [laughs]: Yes, the surge of overt religious claims within the United States government, people who understand themselves as fulfilling their sworn oaths to uphold the United States constitution in the name of religion. I interviewed the chief chaplain of the US Air Force, who said to me: "I have two commissions. One commission is to uphold the US constitution and the other is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they go hand in hand with each other."

I grew up in the air force. I gotta tell ya, there was no chaplain in the air force in my day who would have said that. In fact, the chaplains I knew didn't see themselves as having a commission to preach the Gospel at all. You bent over backward not to do that when you were dealing with soldiers outside of the chapel.

A Christian defense of the nation
TE: You have a new film, based on your book Constantine's Sword, in which you explore this change at, among other places, the Air Force Academy, right?

JC: Yes, what happened there was striking. Take just this example: a couple of years ago, Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ rendered in profoundly fundamentalist ways, most terribly, the death of Jesus as caused by "the Jews", not the Romans. In that movie, [Pontius] Pilate is a good guy, the Jewish high priest the villain. Gibson justified this by saying it was how the Gospels tell the story, which is literally true. A fundamentalist reading of the Gospel story ignores what we know from history and from scientific inquiry and analysis of the Gospels. It wasn't "the Jews" who murdered Jesus, it was the Romans, pure and simple. There were complicated reasons why the Gospels were written that way, but a fundamentalist reading of those texts is dangerous. Gibson demonized the Jews, while celebrating grotesque violence as a mode of salvation, as willed by God.

And then that film was featured at the United States Air Force Academy. Its commanders made it clear that every one of the cadets, over 4,000 of them, was supposed to see that movie. Repeatedly over a week, every time cadets went into H H Arnold Mess Hall, they found fliers on their dinner plates announcing that this movie was being shown. I saw posters that said: "See The Passion of the Christ" and "This is an official Air Force Academy event, do not remove this poster."

As a result of that film, there was an outbreak of pressure, practically coercion, by born-again evangelical Christians aimed at non-Christian cadets and, in a special way, at Jews. This went on for months, and when the whistle was blown by a Jewish cadet and his father, the air force denied it, tried to cover it up. Yale University sent a team from the Yale Divinity School to investigate. They issued a devastating report. The commander at the academy was finally removed; the air force was forced to acknowledge that there was a problem.

In fact, the academy had allowed itself to become a proselytizing outpost for evangelical Christian mega-churches in the Colorado Springs area. Chief among them were Ted Haggard's and James Dobson's, both men then in the inner circle of the Bush White House, involved in the sort of faith-based initiatives that marked the Bush administration.

In the Pentagon today, there is active proselytizing by Christian groups that is allowed by the chain of command. When your superior expects you to show up at his prayer breakfast, you may not feel free to say no. It's not at all clear what will happen to your career. He writes your efficiency report. And the next thing you know, you have, in the culture of the Pentagon, more and more active religious outreach.

Imagine, then, a military motivated by an explicit Christian, missionizing impulse at the worst possible moment in our history, because we're confronting an enemy - and yes, we do have an enemy: fringe, fascist, nihilist extremists coming out of the Islamic world - who define the conflict entirely in religious terms. They too want to see this as a new "crusade". That's the language that Osama bin Laden uses. For the United States of America at this moment to allow its military to begin to wear the badges of a religious movement is a disaster!

TE: What does this point to, when it comes to the future?

JC: Well, the best thing that's happened, when it comes to all of this, has been the near-complete political and moral collapse of the Bush administration, but that doesn't mean this movement is going away. Bush was a sponsor of it. But look how it took off! Bush sponsored it, to take another example, in the Justice Department under attorney general [Alberto] Gonzales - all those born-again Christian lawyers coming from fundamentalist Christian law schools that have no history of excellence.

We must be aware that there's something much deeper than the Bush administration and a particular wing of the Republican Party at work here, however. This isn't just Karl Rove, though he was ingenious at exploiting it.

Let's go back to what kind of a nation the United States is. Here is something I read recently: though we are officially a secular people, there are more self-identified Christians in this country than self-identified Jews in Israel in percentage terms. We commonly think of Israel as a Jewish state. Something like 75% of Israelis would identify themselves as Jewish. Eighty percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian! And we're not a Christian nation? We have to be wary of our Christian roots and of the city-on-a-hill impulse that still lives just an inch below the surface.

Our war against the Soviet Union was a religious war. [Secretary of state] John Foster Dulles [under president Dwight Eisenhower] was practically explicit about this in his speeches, which were like sermons. Not just "communism", but "atheistic communism". Dwight D Eisenhower was baptized while he was president - part of a Cold War feeling that we were involved in a Christian defense of the nation against an atheistic enemy.

Huddling up for Team Jesus
TE: And, of course, he titled his memoir Crusade in Europe.

JC: Christian points of reference came very easily in those years, but what has made the Bush era especially dangerous is that a political party has explicitly, overtly embraced a religious movement for the political power it generates. Fundamentalists have their rights, their place, in America, but there's no place for a political movement that aims to take control of the levers of state power in the name of religion. That's a violation of the "wall of separation". You can't have military commanders giving orders down the chain of command that have religious content to them. You can't, on the eve of battle, require your soldiers to gather in a huddle the way a coach might, and say the Lord's Prayer.

TE: And yet it's happening ...

JC: It's happening all the time! At the Air Force Academy, "Team Jesus" was one of the nicknames for the football team and one of the most vociferous evangelical Christian proselytizers was the football coach. Look at it from his point of view. What happens when he can get his huddle together and they're all saying the Lord's Prayer? A chief military virtue is "unit cohesion". It can be created in any number of ways, but one shortcut is if you can get everybody into a kind of Pentecostal religious fervor. If you can get your young men and women feeling the presence of the Lord, they're going to fight better, possibly more selflessly. That's what's in it for the military. Let's think cynically. There may be some military commanders who don't give much of a damn about God, but who see what God can do for fighting spirit. It works.

Let's all gather around the Humvee before we head into this village. Let us pray. You can bet that's going on in Iraq right now. Here's the question: What happens to the kid who doesn't want to get around that Humvee or, more to the point, to the Muslim bystanders who see American soldiers invoking God on their way into battle?

TE: Or when you loose well-armed, even nuclear-armed people eager to purify the world ...

JC: If I have a point to make, it's this: the religious tradition of Christian fundamentalism is one thing; the tradition of American exceptionalism another. They both have their roots in the same experience. They were separated. Under George Bush they've been brought together.

TE: When it comes to the Bush administration, complete collapse or not, we know that this man, without the possibility of changing his mind, and his vice president, without the possibility of changing his mind, with whomever they can still control in their own government and military, are there until January 2009. What does it mean to have people in a fundamentalist mindset, but thoroughly embattled and on the downward slide? I wouldn't like to write off the next year and a half. It's a potential nightmare.

JC: It could indeed be. But this issue involves more than the temperament of George Bush. It involves the structure of the fundamentalist mind. One pillar is bipolarity - the understanding of reality as divided between good and evil; you're on the side of good and they're on the side of evil. However, they can begin by being Osama bin Laden's band, which then becomes the Taliban, which becomes Afghanistan, which becomes all the Muslims who ever talked about the Great Satan, which becomes Iraq, and now maybe Iran, and even critics in the US. "They", "they", "they". We see that progression in Bush.

A second pillar is an absolute allergy to doubt. The fundamentalist mindset doesn't survive once you admit doubt or self-criticism. When asked for an example of a mistake he had made, Bush surprised people two years ago by claiming he couldn't think of one. The tragedy of Bush is, if you ask that question of him today, I'm sure he would answer the same way.

A world religiously aflame
Let's just step back a minute, though. How different are the Democratic presidential candidates really? What I hear from them, too, is a world divided between the good and the bad. I also hear - this is the meaning of the new rhetoric about the failure of Iraq being the failure of Iraqis - that we Americans are not to criticize what we've done in any basic way. "I wouldn't renounce my vote." "The president lied to me, that's why I voted the way I did." No capacity for self-criticism, for doubt.

You know, the genius of the American system - why the constitution is worth defending - is that our constitution comes from Roger Williams, not John Winthrop and John Cotton. It assumes a world not divided between good and evil, but one where everybody participates in the whole mess.

What are checks and balances? The constitution's authors understood that even people motivated by good intentions are going to screw up. So everybody, every institution, needs to be checked. This system assumes not bipolarity but unipolarity, in the sense that we're all capable of mistakes, that we all have to be constantly criticized. The constitution is an ingenious structure for living in the real world.

TE: And yet, in recent years, the presidency and the Pentagon, in particular, as you've written in your history of the Pentagon, House of War, have seemingly grown beyond institutional checks and balances.

JC: The question today is whether the constitution continues to exist as anything beyond a kind of totem, a vestige. Recent history certainly suggests that the Pentagon is now "unchecked". And if we can end our present war by blaming the Iraqis, then the Pentagon will be immune from criticism and prepared for the next foray of American power. That's why we must challenge this laying the blame on the Iraqi people, as if their "sectarianism" weighs more than our hubris. As of now, I fear, we'll be getting out of this war with what brought us into it intact.

TE: People sometimes ask me about Iraq: "Well, what would you do?" It's a question that drives me crazy. I always think: Well, why didn't you ask me back when it mattered? Why didn't you ask me when I could have said, "Don't go in"? So I'm hesitant to ask you, but if you had the power to begin to organize people in some fashion, what first steps would you take to mend this world?

JC: Let me just say that we've been talking only America here, in part because I think people are attuned to the threat from what's called "Islamic fundamentalism". My own conviction is that a crucial 21st-century problem is going to be Christian fundamentalism. Its global growth is an unnoticed story in the United States. Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia are now absolutely on fire with zealous belief in the saving power of Jesus, in the most intolerant of ways. A religious ideology that affirms the salvific power of violence is taking hold. It denigrates people who are not part of the saved community, permitting discrimination, and ultimately violence. Hundreds of millions of people are embracing this kind of Christianity.

So what am I doing? I'm a Christian. I'm raising this alarm from within the community. That's why I believe, as a Roman Catholic, that my own tradition must be rescued from its current temptation to fundamentalism. There are a billion Catholics in the world. For all its problems, Roman Catholicism has reckoned with the Enlightenment, has accepted the scientific world view, has no argument with evolution, has learned to read the Bible in metaphoric ways, as opposed to literal ones. Today we have a fundamentalist pope, but he rules from the margin. It's hugely important that the Catholic tradition not go fundamentalist.

You ask me what I would do. I think, for one thing, that believing people, whether Jews, Muslims or Christians, need to affirm the importance of pluralism, respect for the other, and modesty about religious claims. I could be a Jew sitting in Jerusalem and offer exactly the same argument about the Jewish zealots making claims on land in the name of God. So Jewish zealotry, Muslim zealotry, Christian zealotry, all three empowered lately, all three armed to the teeth. That's what's really terrifying - and, in the world of weapons of mass destruction, it's not that hard to get armed to the teeth.

So here's a message addressed to the participants in the Tomdispatch community who may have a religious interest: embrace it. Fight for it. Fight for a post-Enlightenment, post-modern, intelligent approach to religion. Don't surrender religion to the wackos.

If the wackos take over religion, they're going to take over state power, and the world won't survive the 21st century. And the United States of America has been at the center of this. When George W Bush launched his war in the name of God ... even more, when this nation took the September 11 assaults as a religious war, Muslims attacking us good, virtuous - we didn't call ourselves Christians, but we were an inch away from it - that's when we began to make our part of this mistake.

TE: And we should have taken it as ...?

JC: A savage crime. Think of al-Qaeda as the Mafia. When the Mafia blows up a distillery and kills 18 people in the neighborhood as part of a turf war, or goes after a hardware dealer who doesn't pay protection money and paralyzes the neighborhood with fear, or when the Mafia takes over a whole region of a nation, as it did in Italy for most of the 20th century, fight back; but fight back against the criminal network with a massive act of law enforcement the way the Italian government did.

It took the Italian government 50 years to break the Mafia's hold over Sicily, and they still have to keep fighting. But they never declared war on Sicily. They never went in and bombed Sicily. They gave their judges and police inspectors and detectives body armor and they went after the Mafia hitmen with highly armed SWAT [special weapons and tactics] teams. I'm not talking about pacifism here. But keep religious ideology out of this. And keep the language of war out, too.

You know, only in going to war do humans feel the need to appeal to God. There's no "God with us" on the belt buckles of cops. God gets invoked in war, because it's a much more extreme state of the human condition. War always brings you very quickly to the point of "us or them".

When somebody comes at you with a savage act of violence, go back at them with your best, most heavily armed cops. Don't go to war against them. It's a very basic idea. It can't be emphasized enough. We're going to have another terrorist attack in this country. It's crucially important that, however horrendous, it be treated as a crime - not an act of war.

Unbuilding the Pentagon
TE: You've written a whole book recently about the Pentagon. In this period, it has grown fantastically. We've even ended up with two Pentagons, the second being the Department of Homeland Security. Now, we have a North American Command, Northcom, for the first time ...

JC: ... And there's another deeply troubling phenomenon, these so-called "contractors" outside the purview of the Pentagon, of the US government, people paid to serve, who are not sworn officers of the government ...

TE: And isn't the all-volunteer army itself becoming a part-mercenary army, because they're having to pay and pay and pay to lure in reluctant recruits? My question is: Do you see a way to begin to unbuild the Pentagon? Are we stuck with the Department of Homeland Security forever?

JC: If any nation was ever stuck with an all-powerful, untouchable military establishment, it was the Soviet Union. By 1987, 1988, the only institution in Soviet society that was working, the only one that was funded, was the military; and it was the most reactionary wing of society.

If the Russians could get out from under that, there's no reason in the world why we can't get out from under our version of the same. But it takes a Gorbachev. Who knows when such a figure will come here?

Two things happened that enabled [general secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail] Gorbachev to defeat his own military and dismantle the Soviet system. One was the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, a massive, horrendous public mistake - and the mistake wasn't just the nuclear meltdown, but the way in which the militarized establishment dealt with it. They sent hundreds of people in to shut down a poisoned reactor, saying there was no threat to their health. They were mostly poisoned. Dead very quickly. And then the militarized establishment told the people of Ukraine and the eastern Soviet territories that there was no radioactive threat to them, and hundreds of people later came down with serious illnesses and cancers. That happened in 1986, within months of Gorbachev's coming to power. It prepared the people for a different kind of power.

And then there was that second, wonderful incident, forgotten today. An absolute fluke, pure serendipity. These things happen in life. A young German kid named Mathias Rust flew a Piper Cub plane from Germany to Moscow and landed in Red Square, untouched. He had demonstrated in the most graphic way possible that the best-funded, most vaunted system in the Soviet Empire, the anti-aircraft defense system, a supposedly unbreachable set of defenses, could be totally fooled by a prankster. It was madness.

Anybody else would have executed that kid! But Gorbachev had him sent right home to Germany. Then he fired his entire military establishment - army and air ministers, a hundred generals - his reactionary nemesis. Rust's flight was such an embarrassment that he could do it.

I'm saying: don't ever claim the system is unreformable. [US president Bill] Clinton had a golden opportunity after the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991-92. Les Aspin, a dove, an expert at arms reduction and arms control, was put in as secretary of defense. And you remember who Clinton's national security adviser was? Anthony Lake, who had resigned in an act of conscience against the invasion of Cambodia. Clinton's motive upon coming to office was to disempower the Pentagon. I'm certain of it. He failed. Aspin was destroyed by the president's failure to support him. The gays-in-the-military episode was part of the story. The real "don't ask/don't tell" story of that moment, though, was the Pentagon's: don't ask us about our nuclear weapons and we won't tell you what we're doing to maintain them.

Could we get out of this trap? Yes, but Democrats would have to be far more direct in challenging the assumptions and structures of the American military ethos.

TE: Last words?

JC [pauses]: Well, the last word in this conversation is: religion and politics, religion and military power, are a deadly mix in an age of weapons of mass destruction; and, if the United States of America gets this wrong, there's no reason to think anybody else is going to get it right. Casting an eye across the century to come, this is the issue.

(Used by permission Tomdispatch)


“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” - Eduardo Galeano

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Written by Michael Barker

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

For some time it has been apparent that President Hugo Chavez – the democratically elected President of Venezuela – and his government have been on the US’s ‘regime change shopping list’. Such coup-inspiring attitudes were especially transparent in 2006, when the US’s National Security Strategy noted that: “In Venezuela, a demagogue awash in oil money [i.e. Chavez] is undermining democracy and seeking to destabilize the region.”[1] So given the US government’s evident hostility towards Chavez’s emancipatory politics, it is not too surprising that their incessant propaganda is duly amplified by their corporate mouthpieces, the US media.[2] Similarly, British-based media watchdog, Medialens, have amply documented how supposedly progressive media outlets (e.g. the BBC) have contributed their part to the global disinformation campaign being waged against Chavez.[3] It is all too obvious that in the eyes of the world’s ruling elites Chavez is promoting the ‘wrong kind’ of democracy, that is, popular democracy instead of low-intensity democracy (or polyarchy).

To remedy the democratic problem that Venezuela poses to the interests of transnational capitalism, the US’s main democracy manipulating body, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), has been busily financing opposition groups within Venezuelan civil society. Most famously such ‘democratic’ interventions have seen the NED and its cohorts facilitate the unsuccessful coup that temporarily removed Chavez from power in 2002. [4] More recently though, a central prong of the US governments War on Democracy [5] has been to criticise Chavez’s domestic media policies, which have been widely reported in the international corporate media as being hostile to “freedom of expression”. [6]

Considering the miserable state of affairs of the US’s ‘mainstream’ media, [7] it is strange that earlier this year this same media vilified the Venezuelan government for failing to renew the licence of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). The irony of this situation is especially delightful because the CIA-linked [8] RCTV is “one of the oldest and largest opposition-controlled TV stations”, was an active participant in the US/NED-backed coup of 2002, and has been busy leading mediated attempts to oust Chavez from office ever since. [9]

While it has been well reported in the progressive media that the NED-linked media watchdog Reporters Without Borders [10] has been at the forefront of recent efforts to de-legitimize Venezuela’s media policies, [11] this same progressive media has for the most part overlooked the role of similarly ‘democratic’ human rights groups in facilitating such attacks. Noteworthy exceptions to this trend include two recent articles written by Greg Grandin [12] and Gregory Wilpert respectively: the latter of whom notes that is “very disappointing to see international human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Carter Center, and the Committee to Protect Journalists condemn the [Venezuelan] government’s decision” to revoke RCTV’s license. [13] (For further details on the close links that exist between the NED and these human rights groups see Hijacking Human Rights). [14]

The focus of this article, however, will not be on such ‘human rights’ groups or on dubious activities of Reporters Without Borders, but in contrast to previous articles this article will draw attention to the ‘democratic’ activities of a little mentioned South American media watchdog which goes by the name of the Instituto De Prensa Y Sociedad. [15]

The Instituto De Prensa Y Sociedad (IPYS) – otherwise known as the Press and Society Institute – was founded in 1993 by Laura Puertas Meyer, and the Institute obtained their first NED grant in 1998 to help them “develop a national network to protect journalists” in Peru. Meyer’s involvement in founding IPYS is particularly noteworthy because he is presently the executive director of the Peruvian chapter of Transparency International, which perhaps not coincidentally is a key global ‘democracy promoting’ organization. IPYS’s linked to Transparency International do not end there, as in 2002 Transparency International’s Americas programme coordinator, Marta Erquicia, joined forces with IPYS to launch an annual award for investigative journalism. [16] Furthermore, it is significant to observe that George Soros’s [17] Open Society Institute sponsors the award, and two of the five members of the prizes jury have ‘democratic’ ties: these two judges are Gustavo Gorriti (who is a member of IYPS, has received the ‘democratically’ connected Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award in 1998, [18] is listed as an individual endorser of the UN Democracy Caucus, and is a member of the Center for Public Integrity’s International Consortium for Investigative Journalism), [19] and Tina Rosenberg (who serves on The New York Times editorial board, and on the advisory board of the National Security Archive). [20] Considering all these ‘democratic’ ties it is ironic that the two winners of this Soros-sponsored award in 2006, Tamoa Calzadilla and Laura Weffer, won because of their reporting on the “irregularities in the investigation of the [Danilo] Anderson murder case” – Anderson being the Venezuelan state prosecutor “in charge of identifying those responsible of [the] failed [2002] coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.” [21]

The current executive director of IPYS Peru is Ricardo Uceda, a reporter who formerly “directed the newsweekly Si, and ran the El Comercio’s investigative unit”. It is significant to note that in 1993 – while working for Si – Uceda was awarded the Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award. [22] Again perhaps not coincidentally, two of the four other winners of the International Press Freedom Award in 1993 have ‘democratic’ ties, these being, Doan Viet Hoat (who was the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial’s 1995 Human Rights Award, and is a director of the World Press Freedom Committee – a group that describes its original purpose as “oppos[ing] proposals for a restrictive new world information and communication order”) [23] and Veran Matic (who in 1993 was working for Radio B92 in Yugoslavia – a station that received a grant from the NED in 1991, and continued to receive support throughout the 1990s from ‘democracy promoting’ organizations intent on ousting Slobodan Milosevic). [24]

IPYS Peru can boast other ‘democratic’ links as they have worked alongside the NED-funded Association for Civil Rights, an Argentinean NGO that “was founded in 1995 in Argentina with the purpose of contributing to the establishment of a legal and institutional culture that would guarantee fundamental rights to the inhabitants of our country, based on respect for the Constitution.” [25] The Association for Civil Rights also receives funding from other key ‘democratic’ groups like the British Council, the Ford Foundation, and the Open Society Institute: [26] likewise it is interesting to observe that IPYS Peru is a partner organization of the Open Society Institute’s Open Society Justice Initiative. [27]

IPYS Peru obtained renewed NED support to continue their work protected press freedom in Peru in both 2000 and 2001. Of more relevance to this article though, was the creation, in 2002, of a Venezuelan branch of IPYS. Like their Peruvian chapter, IPYS Venezuela has obtained ongoing support from the NED, and in their founding year they received their first grant to organize a forum “for media owners, editors, journalists, and leaders of international media-advocacy groups to reflect on the state of freedom of expression and journalism in Venezuela.” The following year they obtained another NED grant, which was used to (1)“construct a network of alerts in Venezuela to report attacks and threats against journalists”, (2) “support correspondents in the provinces by monitoring press conditions and investigating cases of attacks or threats, and… offer a series of professional training sessions for journalists”, and (3) to “participate in regional press-advocacy meetings and work with international and regional organizations dedicated to freedom of expression.” The NED has continued to provide annual grants to IPYS Venezuela, and in 2006 they gave them their largest grant to date. [28]

However, perhaps most significantly, today – that is, on September 18, 2007 – IPYS Venezuela received the NED’s coveted Democracy Award. [29] As their website notes, the NED’s Democracy Award is given annually “to recognize the courageous and creative work of individuals and organizations that has advanced the cause of human rights and democracy around the world.” This year however, instead of judging the work of an assortment of democracy activists, the Democracy Award aimed to spotlight the work of press freedom activists from around the world. Four awards were given this year, so in addition to IPYS obtaining the award, three other individuals were awarded the NED’s Democracy Award: these three journalists were Anna Politkovskaya (the Russian journalist who was murdered in October 2006, and was formerly the 2005 recipient of the ‘democratic’ Civil Courage Prize), [30] Hisham Kassem (who is “[o]ne of Egypt’s most prominent publishers and democracy activists”, and has served as chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights – a group that received six NED grants between 1994 and 2003), and Kavi Chongkittavorn (who is the assistant group editor of Nation Media Group, a member of the steering committee of the NED-created World Movement for Democracy, [31] and chair of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance – a group that since 1999 has received annual NED support for its work in Malaysia).

Here it is significant to note that the three aforementioned media freedom groups – IPYS, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance – are all members of a media network known as the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX). Their affiliation to IFEX is especially noteworthy because 16 of IFEX’s 72 members have received funding from either, the NED, the Westminster Foundation or Rights and Democracy (the NED’s counterpart organisations in the UK and Canada respectively). [32] Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, to name just two, are perhaps the most notorious media organisations that can be counted among these 16 ‘democratically’ tied groups. [33] (A full exposition of IFEX’s ‘democratic’ links will be outlined in my forthcoming article Polyarchy and the Public Sphere.)

Finally, it is also important to point out that Democracy Award winner, Kavi Chongkittavorn, serves on the executive board of the International Press Institute (IPI). [34] This affiliation is indicative of Chongkittavorn’s ‘democratic’ credentials, as IPI is not only an IFEX member, but this group’s interests have historically been closely aligned with those of American foreign policy elites, as in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the IPI actively opposed UNESCO’s proposed New World Information and Communication Order. [35] This is significant because in 2000 IPYS was awarded the IPI’s Free Media Pioneer Award: an award which is cosponsored by Freedom Forum, which provides a further clue as to the political nature of the award, as emeritus chair of Freedom House, Bette Bao Lord, is also a trustee of the Freedom Forum. Similarly, Allen H. Neuharth, the founder of Freedom Forum, is also a member of the advisory board of the World Press Freedom Committee.

IPYS Venezuela through it ongoing demonization of Chavez’s media policies is currently fulfilling a vital role in the US-led war on Venezuelan democracy. This should be even more worrisome for progressive activists as the NED notes IPYS “has become an authoritative voice on freedom of expression issues in Venezuela, and is a point of reference for journalists, academics and human rights defenders.”[36] So while it is hardly likely that corporate media outlets will ever view the work of ‘media freedom’ groups like IPYS with skepticism, it is vital that all people concerned with freedom and democracy work to expose the insidious nature of their anti-democratic work.

First and foremost, to counter the negative influence of the ‘democracy promoting’ establishment on nongovernmental organizations (like IPYS or Human Rights Watch) it is crucial that progressive citizens committed to a participatory democracy work to develop alternate funding mechanisms for sustaining grassroots activism. Then perhaps as James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer (2001) observe in their seminal book, Globalization Unmasked, progressive NGOs and activists will be able to “systematically criticize and critique the ties of their colleagues with imperialism and its local clients, their ideology of adaptation to neoliberalism, and their authoritarian and elitist structures.” [37] As they go on to note, it is vitally important that progressive NGOs encourage their less progressive counterparts “to get out of the foundation/government networks and go back to organizing and educating their own people in Europe and North America to form socio-political movements that can challenge the dominant regimes and parties that serve the banks and the [Transnational Corporations].” This is certainly no small order, but it is certainly one that will better enable concerned citizens all over the world to promote participatory democracy rather than polyarchy.

Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael.J.Barker [at]





Indeed, US Department of State documents report that “it is clear that NED, Department of Defense (DOD), and other US assistance programs provided training, institution building, and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chavez government”. The NED has also provided ongoing funding to the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, a group with close associations to the organisations involved in the major strike actions against Chavez in 2003.






Here it is interesting to note that pro-Chavez citizens who led the 2002 counter-coup recognised the integral role of the media in enabling the coup and “targeted the offices of the media, especially television” for their protests. See, Antony Castillo, Breaking Democracy: Venezuela’s Media Coup, Media

International Australia, 108, 2003, p.149.


For a review of all of Reporters Without Borders ‘democratic’ ties see my forthcoming article ‘Reporters For ‘Democracy’, Znet.

[11] Referring specifically to the role of NED-aided Reporters Without Borders in (mis)reporting on Venezuela, Ignacio Ramonet highlights the importance of the “relevant international organizations” in denigrating the attempts by a democratic government in attempting to limiting the influence of pro-coup forces within their country. Indeed during the 2002 coup, Ramonet wrote that Reporters Without Borders “clos[ed it’s] eyes to the one of the most odious media campaigns ever launched against a democratic government”. Ignacio Ramonet, The perfect crime, Le Monde Diplomatique, June 2002.

Concerned by the same coverage, Thierry Deronne (2002) suggests that: “The ‘super-objectivity’ displayed by the letters authored by ‘Reporters Without Borders’ gives the [pro-coup] campaign by the commercial media great efficiency in circulating around the world, for example, among other Human Rights organizations who believe ‘Reporters Without Borders’ without question.” Thierry Deronne, The “Distorters Without Borders”, NarcoNews, 4 October 2002.


Wendy Luers is currently a co-chair of Project on Justice in Times of Transition, and president of the Foundation for a Civil Society, a group that was established in 1990 to support “projects that strengthen the forces of democracy, civil society, the rule of law and a free-market economy in the Czech and Slovak Republic.” Luers’ biography notes that she has worked on numerous other nonprofit boards which include the Fund for Free Expression (now HRW’s Free Expression Project) and Helsinki Watch (now Human Rights Watch), and in the late 1980s she also served as director of special projects at Human Rights Watch. Luers is also a member of the International Rescue Committee’s leadership council on children in armed conflict, and in 1996 she was a member of the presidential delegation (led by Richard C. Holbrooke) to observe the Bosnian election. Interestingly she has also been a cultural correspondent for Venevision Television in Venezuela, a media outlet which played an important role in supporting the attempted 2002 coup in Venezuela. Interestingly, Luer’s husband, William H. Luers, in addition to having many ‘democratic’ links was the US Ambassador to Venezuela from 1978 to 1982, and then to Czechoslovakia from 1983 to 1986. (For references see



Similarly, John Pilger castigated both Amnesty International for being wrong in demonizing Chavez concerning the RCTV affair.

[15] Also see, Eva Golinger, Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS): Unidad de Propaganda de Washington, Telesur, Undated. Telesur



[18] See forthcoming, Michael Barker, Polyarchy and the Public Sphere.






In the late 1970s, UNESCO acknowledged that there were serious problems with the world’s media organisations and took active steps to expand the democratic potential of global media systems, leading to their proposal for a New World Information and Communication Order. This plan suggested the need for a radical departure from (then current) media trends, and recognised that the current domination of media systems by Western states was inherently undemocratic.

[24] newcastle










[34] freemedia

[35] Anthony C. Giffard, UNESCO and the Media (New York: Longman, 1989), p.28.

For more details about the see William Preston, Jr. Edward S. Herman, Herbert I. Schiller, Hope and Folly: The United States and UNESCO, 1945-1985 (University of Minnesota Press, 1989).


[37] James Petras, Henry Veltmeyer, Globalization Unmasked: Imperialism in the 21st Century (London, Zed Books, 2001), p.137.

The Revenge of the Fighting Quaker (Major General Smedley Darlington Butler)

Written by Alan Bellows on September 14th, 2007 at 6:08 am

Smedley Darlington Butler

In the early 1930s, a secret collection of prosperous men are said to have assembled in New York City to discuss the dissolution of America's democracy. As a consequence of the Great Depression, the countryside was littered with unemployed, and the world's wealthy were watching as their fortunes deflated and their investments evaporated. As men of action, the well-financed New York group sought to eliminate what they reasoned to be the crux of the catastrophe: the United States government.

To assist them in their diabolical scheme, the resourceful plotters recruited the assistance of Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, a venerated, highly decorated, and considerably jaded former Marine. It was the conspirators' earnest hope that their army of 500,000 Great War veterans, under the leadership of General Butler, could overpower the US' feeble peacetime military and reconstitute the government as a more economical fascist dictatorship.

General Smedley Darlington Butler's long military career was packed with conspicuous gallantry, and owing to his bravery and brilliance he was highly respected throughout the ranks. During his service he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of both the Army and the Navy; he was one of only twenty people in history to receive the Marine Corps Brevet Medal; and he was one of only a handful of men to twice receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Despite his intrepid leadership in multiple conflicts, Smedley "the Fighting Quaker" Butler gradually cultivated some resentment towards the frequent misuse of the military as a corporate cudgel.

In July 1930, when the Commandant of the Marine Corps Wendell C. Neville died unexpectedly, it was widely assumed that the responsibility would pass to the most senior major general on the active list, General Smedley Butler. But his candid comments regarding military misapplication had won him many political enemies, including President Hoover, and he was consequently denied the appointment. His irritation increased when he was threatened with a court-martial due to an uncomplimentary comment regarding Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. At his own request, Butler retired from active duty soon thereafter.

A Bonus Army encampment aflame

About six months later, he stood before a sea of exasperated World War 1 veterans which surrounded Washington DC's Capitol Hill. The mass of over twenty thousand men– all unemployed by the Great Depression– were assembled to urge the early payout of their Service Certificates; a pension which had been granted to them in 1924, but was not scheduled to be paid for another thirteen years. General Smedley "Old Gimlet Eye" Butler addressed the marchers amidst a storm of applause, describing the event as "the greatest demonstration of Americanism we've ever had." Three days later, two cavalry regiments descended upon the veterans' encampment. Calamity ensued. Brandishing rifles, bayonets, and tear gas, the soldiers scattered the so-called Bonus Army and set their shanty town ablaze.

The incident, combined with the economic breakdown it represented, led many citizens to suspect that the liberal democracy of America was hopelessly broken. Revolutionary rumblings were afoot, and some of the nation's wealthiest men began to seriously contemplate taking matters into their own hands. Such sentiments were cemented following the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his promised New Deal, a series of reforms which decoupled American currency from the gold standard and erected a tall stack of corporate regulations. Convinced that the program would produce cataclysmic economic effects, the cabal of capitalist conspirators allegedly set their plan into motion.

On the 1st of July 1933, Smedley Butler was visited by a pair of gentlemen who had come to urge him to run for the office of National Commander of the American Legion, an influential organization of veterans. Though Butler declined the invitation, one of the men– Gerald MacGuire– made several subsequent visits during which he disclosed additional details. He claimed to represent The Committee for a Sound Dollar, whose primary purpose was to pressure the president to reinstate the gold standard. He implied that his organization had the support of several political leaders, and the financial backing of some of the country's most affluent individuals and successful corporations.

Gerald MacGuire

The credibility of MacGuire's claims was reinforced when he produced evidence of considerable cash resources and made some eerily accurate predictions regarding personnel changes in the White House. He also accurately described the still-secret but soon-to-be-announced American Liberty League, a high-profile group whose stated purpose was to "defend and uphold the Constitution." The League's principal players were comprised of wealthy Americans, including the leaders of DuPont, JP Morgan, US Steel, General Motors, Standard Oil, Colgate, Heinz Foods, Chase National Bank, and Goodyear Tire. There are some who claim that Prescott Bush– father to the 41st US President and grandfather to the 43rd– was also entangled in the scheme.

On 22 August 1934, upon his return from a fact-finding trip to Europe, Gerald MacGuire dropped all pretense when he met with General Butler at an empty hotel restaurant. He indicated that his financial backers aimed to assemble an army of half a million disgruntled veterans, sown from the seeds of the original Bonus Army. He also stated that the group would like Butler to be the leader of this force. "We've got three million [dollars] to start with on the line," MacGuire claimed, "and we can get three hundred million if we need it."

According to MacGuire, the League's members could easily manipulate the media to provide public approval. He went on to suggest that the League planned to protect the country from communism by mimicking the methods of Benito Mussolini, a dictator who had risen to power a decade earlier with the support of a veteran militia. Mussolini's fascist government had successfully restored Italy's industrial viability, so it was deemed as an ideal model for repairing America's impoverished economy. According to the plan, Roosevelt and other existing US leadership would be allowed to remain as figureheads, while the true policy-making power would fall to a new cabinet position which Smedley Butler would occupy: The Secretary for General Affairs.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"Old Gimlet Eye" seemed to show some enthusiasm for the arrangement, and invited an associate named Paul Comly French to join the discussions. "Roosevelt hasn't got the real solution to the unemployment situation," MacGuire allegedly told French, "but we'll put across a plan that will be really effective. All unemployed men would be put in military barracks, under forced labor, as Hitler does, and that would soon solve that problem. Another thing we would do immediately would be to register all persons in the United States, as they do in Europe. That would stop a lot of Communist agitators wandering around loose." He also hinted that weapons would be furnished by the Remington Arms company, in which the DuPont family owned a controlling interest.

The American Liberty League's strategy seemed bold, but not implausible. At that time much of the public held the president in low regard, and the League members had considerable control over the nation's news outlets. Furthermore, the US armed forces were at decreased peacetime levels. With the Fighting Quaker to galvanize the 500,000 armed revolutionaries, it was quite possible that such a coup d'état could be successful.

In the autumn of 1934, General Smedley "Old Duckboard" Butler finally sprang into action. A crowd of journalists surrounded him as he addressed the nation in a press conference. But the General did not demand the surrender of the United States government. Instead, he related to the reporters the details of the secret pro-fascist plot, and described the principal players. "The upshot of the whole thing," he explained, "was that I was supposed to lead an organization of five hundred thousand men which would be able to take over the functions of government." The Old Gimlet Eye, it turned out, had been playing along with Gerald MacGuire in order to glean information about the plot. Though Smedley Butler had indeed grown weary of being a government-sponsored "gangster for capitalism," he was still a true patriot. Butler's associate– Paul Comly French– was in actuality an undercover reporter for the Philadelphia Record and New York Evening Post. The two men testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), delighted to disclose all they had gathered from MacGuire. Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander James Van Zandt also testified, stating that he had likewise been approached to lead such a march on Washington.

General Smedley Butler's press conference

MacGuire and the wealthy men he allegedly represented all denied involvement in any such plot, referring to such suggestions as "a joke, a publicity stunt." They even publicly questioned the sanity of General Butler. But MacGuire's self-contradicting testimony was crippling to his credibility. Ultimately the investigative HUAC committee concluded that there was indeed compelling evidence of a plot, as outlined in their report:

"In the last few weeks of the Committee's official life it received evidence showing that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist organization in this country…. There is no question but that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient.

"This committee received evidence from Major General Smedley D. Butler (retired), twice decorated by the Congress of the United States. He testified before the Committee as to conversations with one Gerald C. MacGuire in which the latter is alleged to have suggested the formation of a fascist army under the leadership of General Butler.
"MacGuire denied these allegations under oath, but your Committee was able to verify all the pertinent statements made by General Butler, with the exception of the direct statement suggesting the creation of the organization. This, however, was corroborated in the correspondence of MacGuire with his principal, Robert Sterling Clark, of New York City, while MacGuire was abroad studying the various forms of veterans' organizations of fascist character."

The press was quick to pick up the story, referring to the conspiracy as a "plot without plotters", which "failed to emerge in any alarming proportion." A handful of papers took the story seriously, but most newsmen ridiculed the notion that their bosses' close acquaintances would participate in such rabble-rousing.

The government's inaction was also swift and decisive. Criminal charges were brought against no one, and the collection of prominent men implicated in the plot were immediately excused from testifying; in fact, all mention of their names was scrubbed from the committee's public report. The document stated that "the Committee has ordered stricken therefrom certain immaterial and incompetent evidence, or evidence which was not pertinent to the inquiry." The omitted bits of the report were later published by John L. Spivak when he was mistakenly furnished with a full transcript of the hearings, but the public accepted the additional information with indifference. Even a 1936 letter to Roosevelt from William Dodd, the US Ambassador to Germany, failed to prompt any action:

"A clique of U.S. industrialists is hell-bent to bring a fascist state to supplant our democratic government and is working closely with the fascist regime in Germany and Italy. I have had plenty of opportunity in my post in Berlin to witness how close some of our American ruling families are to the Nazi regime…. A prominent executive of one of the largest corporations, told me point blank that he would be ready to take definite action to bring fascism into America if President Roosevelt continued his progressive policies."

Theories regarding the government's apparent apathy are plentiful. Foremost is the fact that there were still relatively few laws to address such conspiracies during peacetime, so it was unclear what charges could be made with so little evidence. In addition, the plot was replete with political figures and the social elite, turning any journey towards justice into a minefield for all involved. Moreover, one month after the report was issued, Gerald MacGuire died of natural causes at the age of thirty-seven, eliminating the only witness with insight into the shadowy cabal.

Smedley Darlington Butler, still popular among veterans, continued to speak and write regarding what he referred to as the "racket of war." Though he was officially a Republican, he spoke openly to publications of any party affiliation, as evidenced by his oft-quoted remarks in a 1935 issue of the socialist magazine Common Sense:

Capture of Fort Riviere, Haiti, 1915, by D. J. Neary; illustrations of Maj. Smedley Butler, Sgt. Iams, and Pvt. Gross (USMC art collection)
"I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras "right" for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested…. Looking back on it, I felt I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents."

In the same year he wrote the short book War is a Racket wherein he advocated the transition of the military into a powerful defense-only force. His dream was to eliminate military gangsterism by restricting the American navy to within 200 miles of the US coast, to limit armed aircraft to within 500 miles, and to prohibit the army from even setting foot off of the US mainland.

In the decades since the Business Plot was brought to light, many historians have suggested that the treachery was exaggerated by Butler, or that Gerald MacGuire overstated the resources at the conspirators' disposal. There is much evidence, however, to suggest that not only was such a fascist-friendly conspiracy afoot, but that its underwriters had the will– and very nearly had the resources– to bring their un-American ideas to fruition. Were it not for the uncompromising patriotism of Retired Major General Smedley Old-Gimlet-Eye Duckboard Fighting-Quaker Butler, the outcome of that turbulent time might have been profoundly different, indeed.

Further reading:
Video: The Plot to Overthrow FDR
Wikipedia: Smedley Darlington Butler
John L. Spivak's New Masses article (PDF)
Buy Smedley Butler's War Is a Racket on Amazon
Buy The Plot to Seize the White House on Amazon
BBC documentary implicating Prescott Bush

Alan Bellows is the founder, designer, and Editor-in-Chief of

Death from above

by Stan

The recent extrapolation of figures from the Lancet Report, in conjunction with further research in Iraq, conducted by ORB, a British polling agency, now puts the figure of Iraqi deaths due to the war since March 2003 at 1.2 million. This, in a country of 27 million, and alongside wounds that are often devastating (and unreported), as well as 4 million now displaced, gives us a true picture of what this invasion and occupation have wrought on the lives of Iraqis, both adults and children.

Hyper-reporting of Iraqi-on-Iraqi fighting and of suicide bombings has been uncritical and implies that the majority of these deaths are due to the innate deviancy of “these Arabs” (a suggestion in this undifferentiated, ill-explained, and often plain false reporting). We are seldom reminded of how many operations in which Iraqi kill and displace other Iraqis are conducted by US allies, the Badr Army in particular.

But the bigger story is the one that gets no coverage at all here, it seems, at least from the patri-cap media.

Bombing. That old standby of “great powers” when they cannot make any headway against recalcitrant natives. It is in progress now, and has been all along, in both Iraq and Afghanstan. The newest twist is the employment of pilotless drones, also counted by the Pentagon and its spokepersons at CNN as “precision” weapons.

We buy this lethal gadgetry for the Pentagon, and of course the Chinese and Japanese float loans to us to buy more. It’s expensive, so it makes some jobs. Since we don’t export much these days, the only things being hled inside the borders — so to speak — are these “dual-use” technologies (dual meaning civilian and military). So the one sector that is forced to stay inside the US with its “jobs” is provided a surrogate export market called the Department of Defense.

One must wonder, what exactly are we “defending” in Waziristan?

1.2 million dead. Think this kind of cynical math is new?

Here is a flash from the Clinton era:

Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.

–60 Minutes (5/12/96)


Send this to your Democratic (or Republican) elected official, and ask why they are not cutting the money for the war. Tell them that this is the price of your vote.

from Death at a Distance: The U.S. Air War

Conn Hallinan | August 30, 2007

According to the residents of Datta Khel, a town in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, three missiles streaked out of Afghanistan’s Pakitka Province and slammed into a Madrassa, or Islamic school, this past June. When the smoke cleared, the Asia Times reported, 30 people were dead.

The killers were robots, General Atomics MQ-1 Predators. The AGM-114 Hellfire missiles they used in the attack were directed from a base deep in the southern Nevada desert.

It was not the first time Predators had struck. The previous year a CIA Predator took a shot at al-Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, but missed. The missile, however, killed 18 people. According to the Asia Times piece, at least one other suspected al-Qaeda member was assassinated by a Predator in Pakistan’s northern frontier area, and in 2002 a Predator killed six “suspected al-Qaeda” members in Yemen.

These assaults are part of what may be the best kept secret of the Iraq-Afghanistan conflicts: an enormous intensification of US bombardments in these and other countries in the region, the increasing number of civilian casualties such a strategy entails, and the growing role of pilot-less killers in the conflict.

According to Associated Press, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of bombs dropped on Iraq during the first six months of 2007 over the same period in 2006. More than 30 tons of those have been cluster weapons, which take an especially heavy toll on civilians.

The U.S. Navy has added an aircraft carrier to its Persian Gulf force, and the Air Force has moved F-16s into Balad air base north of Baghdad.

Balad, which currently conducts 10,000 air operations a week, is strengthening runways to handle the increase in air activity.

French-kissing the war on Iran By Pepe Escobar


President George W Bush goes to New York next week for the annual United Nations General Assembly to ratchet up the demonization of Iran, confident that his new French ally is doing "a heck of a job". President Nicolas Sarkozy - widely referred to in Paris as King Sarko the First - has let loose the dogs of war with more panache than a madame from the chic seventh arrondissement parading her miniature Pinscher.

The Sarkozy-sponsored, Europe-wide demonization-of-Iran campaign has now begun. Hot on the heels of Sarkozy coining the ultimate catch phrase - "the Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran" - it was the turn of his glamorous, dashing, humanitarian top diplomat.

"We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war," said Bernard Kouchner, foreign minister and founder of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) on French 24-hour news channel LCI.

In the reasoning of the "French doctor", as he is known around the world, there was always the unspoken aside during the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program that it might proceed "right to the end". But then came the assumption, set in stone, that an Iranian nuclear bomb is inevitable and will pose "a real danger for the whole world".

The Bush White House, opportunistic Republicans and assorted neo-conservatives obviously loved it. From Vienna, Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), abandoned his cautious demeanor in an effort to dismiss all the hysteria set off by the French comments, saying, "We need to be cool and not hype the Iranian issue."

ElBaradei has not endeared himself to Western powers led by the United States and France over the IAEA's agreement with Iran requiring it to answer questions about past secret nuclear research but without addressing its uranium-enrichment program.

ElBaradei's remarks are a reminder to all the players that only the UN Security Council is entitled to authorize the use of force against Iran, and recall events leading up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the elusive search for weapons of mass destruction.

"There are rules on how to use force, and I would hope that everybody would have gotten the lesson after the Iraq situation, where 700,000 innocent civilians have lost their lives on the suspicion that a country has nuclear weapons," ElBaradei said.

A measure of the perplexity in European diplomatic circles was contributed by Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik: "I don't understand why he [Kouchner] resorted to martial rhetoric at this juncture," she said at the sidelines of an IAEA meeting in Vienna.

As much as Europe may be divided over the issue, the problem is there's a looming fatalistic atmosphere in most European chancelleries, not to mention the European Union in Brussels, that an attack on Iran is all but inevitable.

The white man's oil burden
Meanwhile, it seems clear that Sarkozy's game is playing messenger to big (energy) business. He is well known in Paris as the man of the CAC 40 - the French equivalent of the Dow Jones index.

The French rapprochement with the Bush administration - in both Iraq and Iran - could not but revolve around oil, what has been called "the entry of France into Mesopotamia and Persia". The former US Federal Reserve oracle and the world's most powerful central planner, Alan Greenspan, finally admitted what even the mineral kingdom already knew: Iraq was invaded because of oil. An attack on Iran, if it happens, will also be because of oil (and gas).

The huge Majnoun oilfield in southeast Iraq, near the Iranian border, the fourth-largest in the country with reserves of more than 12 billion barrels, had been awarded by Saddam Hussein to Elf of France. The US occupation obviously nullified all of Saddam's contracts.

Then last month US giant Chevron and Total of France signed an agreement to prospect and develop Majnoun together. They already have a partnership regarding the Nahr ben Omar field in southern Iraq (6 billion barrels).

The recent Kouchner trip to Baghdad had a non-humanitarian central theme: oil. But there's a huge catch: the new oil law - the key Bush "benchmark", meaning a de facto denationalization of the Iraqi oil industry - has to be approved by the Iraqi Parliament (the debate has already been postponed for months).

In June, Chevron and Total executives met with Iraqi government representatives to discuss their agreement - but there was still no new oil law. And even if there were a law, there would have to be some sort of security on the ground, what with the Sunni Arab resistance attacking oil installations on a daily basis.

Meet the charming hot warrior
Former UN secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali described Kouchner as "an unguided missile". The missile is moved by a lethal weapon: vanity. There's a lot of murkiness behind the glowing, vapid, ingratiating profiles of this charming "humanitarian patriot".

It's a long time since the barricades of May 1968 at the Latin Quarter in Paris, when he wanted to change the world by defying the "square" bourgeois order; a long time since the 1970s when he was sent by the visionary Jean-Francois Bizot, the founder of the swingin' countercultural Actuel magazine, all over the world as a reporter to document the planet's ills; a long way from a medical non-governmental organization founded - with the discreet Richard Rossin - to alleviate people's misery and suffering and defend their human rights in war theaters.

Kouchner was in favor of the war on Iraq - on the basis of human rights serially violated by Saddam (as if the US occupation would turn Iraq into Sweden). Recently, he became the first French foreign minister to go to Iraq since 1988 - vainly offering French mediation as an "honest broker" among Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds, none of whom, perhaps wisely, bothered to take it.

Another myth perpetrated by the majority of the French, and large sectors of the US, press is that Kouchner and Sarkozy harbor "humanitarian motives" for an intervention in Darfur in Sudan. There are rumors in Paris of a dodgy French-supported coup about to be engineered against the government in Khartoum. The motive in this case is precious Sudanese oil - which simply cannot be allowed to be solely in the hands of the Chinese.

Media hero? Certainly. Shameless egomaniac? Most of the time. There are reasons to believe Kouchner may also be quite a distorted humanist. The French doctor is arguably the most popular European proponent of imperialism with a human face. The phenomenon has been dissected with implacable brilliance by Jean Bricmont in his book Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War (Monthly Review Press, New York, 2006).

Bricmont is a first-class, rigorous European intellectual, a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Louvain, one of the executive directors of the highly respected Brussels Tribunal (an association of "intellectuals, artists and activists who denounce the logic of permanent war promoted by the American government and its allies"), and recently a co-organizer of an extensive Noam Chomsky compilation at the prestigious French collection L'Herne.

In his book, Bricmont describes how humanitarian imperialism became the ordre du jour:

Moralizing rhetoric combined with perfectly cynical practice (notably in Afghanistan) was amazingly successful. In Europe, especially in France, where revolutionary illusions were fading, the intelligentsia took charge of a major reversal, from the systematic criticism of power, associated with [Jean-Paul] Sartre and [Michel] Foucault, to its systematic defense - especially the power of the United States - symbolized by the emergence of the "new philosophers" as media stars. Defense of human rights became the theme and principal argument of the new political offensive against both the socialist bloc and Third World countries emerging from colonialism.

Gone are the days when France, as Bricmont writes in his book regarding the war on Iraq, could "act independently of European Union structures" and oppose US hegemony "without firing a single shot". In a recent piece on, Bricmont explained how there won't be any opposition at the core of Europe to an attack on Iran:

France has been changed from the most independent European country to the most poodlish (this was in fact the main issue in the recent presidential election, but it was never even mentioned during the campaign). In France, moreover, the secular "left" is, in the main, gung-ho against Iran for the usual reasons (women, religion). There will be no large-scale demonstrations in France either before or after the bombing. And, without French support, Germany - where the war is probably very unpopular - can always be silenced with memories of the Holocaust, so that no significant opposition to the war will come from Europe (except possibly from its Muslim population, which will be one more argument to prove that they are "backward", "extremist" and enemies of our "democratic civilization").

Kouchner is of course aware he's playing in the "winning" camp. Nevertheless, quite a few top European intellectuals are baffled that a doctor who created an association helping populations destroyed by war is now all but advocating war (humanitarian imperialism as a way to "save" the women and the youth of Iran). By following the dictates of Sarkozy - whose knowledge of foreign policy rivals Miss France's - Kouchner seems to ignore how Iraq turned into an ethical, political, strategic - and humanitarian - disaster of biblical proportions.

French public opinion, though, simply will not swallow Sarkozy basking in the glow of a self-appointed role as preferred Bush courtesan. The excellent French blog has pointed out how foreign policy in France is woven "without a national debate, even a parliamentary discussion".

"Unguided missile" Kouchner has been to many a theater of war to know better: he should beware his missiles don't reduce himself - and his master - to collateral damage.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007). He may be reached at

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)