Posts Tagged ‘McCain’

The F-card won’t wash

September 13, 2008

Sarah Palin is disastrous for women’s rights, no matter how Republicans try to frame her as a feminist

Jessica Valenti | The Guardian, Friday September 12 2008

The New York Post calls her “a feminist dream”. National Public Radio asks if she’s the “new face of feminism”. And the Wall Street Journal, ever subtle, calls it “Sarah Palin Feminism”. I call it well-spun garbage. (Yes, I’d even call it a pig in lipstick.) It seems you can’t open a newspaper or turn on the television without running across a piece about how the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, is not just a feminist, but the feminist – a sign that all is right in the US when it comes to gender equality. (Turn in those Birkenstocks and picket signs, gals!)

Palin’s conservative cohorts are claiming her candidacy as a win for women and proof that it’s Republicans who are the real agents of change. After all, what more could American women want in a vice-presidential candidate than a well-coiffed “hockey mom”?

Never mind that Palin talks about her teen daughter’s decision to keep her child while awaiting the chance to take that choice away from American women. Don’t worry about how Palin cut funding for a transitional home for teenage mothers. And forget that, under Palin’s mayoralty, women in Wasilla, Alaska, were forced to pay for their own rape kits to the tune of up to $1,200.

We’re not supposed to care about these issues because – say Republicans – we should just be happy that there’s a woman on the ticket. The McCain campaign is cynically trying to recreate the excitement that surrounded Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, believing that all women want is … another woman.

Ann Friedman, deputy editor of the American Prospect, wrote: “In picking Palin, Republicans are lending credence to the sexist assumption that women voters are too stupid to investigate or care about the issues, and merely want to vote for someone who looks like them … McCain has turned the idea of the first woman in the White House from a true moment of change to an empty pander.”

What’s worse is conservatives can’t understand why women aren’t lining up to thank them. In fact, the same people who moaned that women – those darn feminists, especially – were only supporting Hillary because of her gender are now screaming to the rafters because they’re not supporting Palin for the same reason. That’s what makes Republicans pulling the feminist card that much more insulting – the stunning hypocrisy. The McCain touting himself as the person who will put a woman in the White House is the same man who joked that Chelsea Clinton is “so ugly” because “her father is Janet Reno”.

And despite the talk about being the party of change, appropriating feminist symbols – such as at a Pennsylvania rally, where people held up signs of Rosie the Riveter with Palin’s face – and propping up anti-feminist women as trailblazers is typical of the Republicans.

Organisations such as the Independent Women’s Forum and Concerned Women for America, who call themselves the “real” feminists while fighting against things such as equal pay and legislation to combat violence against women, have been around (and funded by conservatives) for years. Their brand of feminism means benefiting from the gains of the women’s movement while striving to keep other women down – all for a patriarchal pat on the head. Sound familiar?

As the feminist writer Rebecca Traister says: “Palin’s femininity is one that is recognisable to most women: she’s the kind of broad who speaks on behalf of other broads but appears not to like them very much … It’s like some dystopian future … feminism without any feminists.”

The good news is, this twisted homage to feminism means conservatives must recognise it as a force in American politics – why spend so much time framing Palin as feminist if we’re all just a bunch of hairy man-haters? The bad news, however, trumps all. If this campaign is successful, American women will suffer. We’ll be under the thumb of yet another administration that thinks nothing of rolling back women’s rights.

No matter how many times feminists point out the hypocrisy of Republicans pulling the F-card, however, the bigger truth is that it’s not Palin’s anti-feminist bona fides alone that matter. While Palin is bad for women’s rights, she’s terrible for America. In addition to being investigated by her own legislature for abuse of power, she is also reported to have asked a librarian about the process for banning books in Wasilla, doesn’t support sex education, and has made lying about her record unusually central to her candidacy – even for a politician. These are big warning signs that cut across gender lines.

So while the McCain campaign holds Palin up as a shining example of feminism in action, let’s not forget the truth about who’s doing the spinning and what they’re selling. Because the last thing America needs is another corrupt and lying politician – man or woman.

· Jessica Valenti, founder of the Feministing website, is the author of Full Frontal Feminism

A bigger liar than Bush

September 11, 2008

McCain (and Palin) are setting a record for outright lies. But what is to stop them?

Michael Tomsky | The Guardian, Sep 11, 2008

In 2002 and 2003, the Bush administration knew something about the media that the media still don’t fully understand about themselves. If you’re in a position of power and you want to say something, just say it, no matter what, and the media will repeat it and repeat it.

Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction to speak of? No matter. Just say he did. He wasn’t six months away from nuclear capability? So what—just assert that he was. He wasn’t tied to 9-11, there was no famous Prague meeting? No problem. Suggest there might have been. Muddy it up. Good enough.

Bush and co. knew that the media are constitutionally unequipped to call a lie a lie. People in the media like to flatter themselves as truth-tellers and the people’s watchdogs and all that, but the fact is that except in very rare circumstances, there’s no such thing as “objective truth” in the media, particularly the political media. There’s just what one side says and what the other side says. This is especially so on cable television.

The Bush people manipulated this. But the McCain campaign has taken it to extremes that make even Dick Cheney look like a wallflower. The number and intensity of outright lies, even for jaded observers, is just staggering.

There’s Sarah Palin’s lies about the bridge and earmarks. There’s an unbelievable one I mentioned yesterday about Obama’s alleged opposition to combat systems. There’s the flatly false assertion to middle-class audiences that Obama will raise their taxes, even though his tax plan does no such thing.

Now there’s this incredible McCain education ad that tries to argue that Obama wants to pervert kindergartners. The legislation, in Illinois, was in fact designed to allow local school boards to teach “age appropriate” sex education – and to teach children about how to identify sexual predators!

And then there’s this silly pig-lipstick business, which I wouldn’t even dignify by mentioning except that, obvious as it was that Obama was talking about McCain and not Palin, the McCain camp has now created something called the “Palin Truth Squad” that was formed to push the lie that Obama was talking about Palin. I’ll say that again: a “truth squad” created for the express purpose of pushing a lie.

And where is the truth squad of the press, the people’s watchdogs? Mostly enjoying the show, hyping the “mudslinging” between the two sides, which of course “both sides” are guilty of. Nonsense. Obama and Biden distort certain things about McCain’s record – that whole 100 years in Iraq business is a stretch. But McCain did say it, so it’s only a stretch, not a fabrication.

McCain and Palin are engaged in serial total fabrications. And almost no one calls them on it. The New York Times, which found the space to run a puffy piece on Palin’s family on its front page the other day, hasn’t found similar space to run a story under a headline like, “McCain-Palin Claims Stretch Credulity, Some Say.”

CBS and CNN have finally gotten around to running reports that pretty much state outright that Palin is lying about the bridge. ABC’s Jake Tapper plainly called out the “truth squad” on the lipstick story. McClatchy did a strong fact-check of the McCain education ad. But for the most part, the media treats it all as entertainment, a matter of which side has seized the offensive.

The McCain team knows all this. So they consciously promote lies, knowing that no real mechanism exists to stop them from doing so.

The Obama team should have been doing a stronger job of push-back these last few days. It was only after Obama himself said Palin was lying about the bridge that a few media outlets started pursuing that angle. That’s how the game is played, and the McCain strategy will be a test of their ability to hit back fast and hard.

But this race is now a test of the media too. You’d think after being told in the run-up to the Iraq war a bushel of things that didn’t end up being true that they printed anyway, they’d have given some thought to the question of how not to let themselves be manipulated like that again. But it is happening again, and the media are getting played in exactly the same way.

And what does all this say about John McCain? In 2000, when he was running against George Bush in the South Carolina primary, he was smeared by outright lies charging among other things that he’d fathered an out-of-wedlock black child. The man who “directed communications” for Bush’s 2000 South Carolina effort was Tucker Eskew. McCain confidants have long held Eskew partly responsible for those smears.

Last week, McCain hired him, to staff up Palin. That just about says all we need to know about today’s McCain.

Now let me ask you. What is more revealing of a candidate’s “character”: The fact that a candidate used a phrase as old as the hills, a phrase the other candidate himself has used (see Jake Tapper above), or the fact that a candidate would hire someone he once regarded as having helped spread vile innuendo about him and his family?

Deeper and deeper we go into the hall of mirrors…

Stars, Stripes, War and Shame

August 31, 2008

By MISSY COMLEY BEATTIE | Counterpunch, August 30 / 31, 2008

The Pentagon says “only” five civilians were killed Friday, a week ago, by US aerial bombardment. According to Afghan officials and a United Nations report, 90 Afghan civilians died, 60 of whom were children.

Just days after this carnage, the Democrats, so many dressed in red, white, and blue, opened their convention in Denver. In the wake of the barbarity in Afghanistan and the continued suicide bombings in Iraq, the revelry and flag waving in Colorado seemed inappropriate. Sure, I understand that hope was and is in the air, but I reached for the remote and powered off.

Thursday night, I tuned in to hear a sweet, young voice, pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of American. “With freedom and justice for all.”

Freedom and justice are concepts we can no longer take for granted. They aren’t guaranteed by stars, stripes, and platitudes. The truth is that George and Dick have sucked the life out of our Constitution, aided by Congressional Republicans and Democrats as well as too many among the electorate who are guilty by reason of fear or complacency.

The events of 9/11 sent masses rushing to either purchase or dust off their Bibles and reference scripture for guidance and to to justify “an eye for an eye.” Never mind that we leveled a country with no link to those who used our commercial airplanes as weapons. The attack on our soil provided the neocons the excuse they needed to implement their plan for domination of Earth’s bounties. Add to this the groupies convinced that George Bush was chosen by God to be president at this particular time of crisis. That Bush himself believed this should have been a red-flag warming that the path he demanded we follow would lead us, not to an Eden of security and prosperity but, to a miasma of endless conflict and contempt from most of the world.

The warmongers forgot the song learned in childhood:

“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

The lyrics crawl through my consciousness as war rages on and candidates for the highest office in our land spar in their own war of words for the power prize, which is the authority to declare war. To John Bomb Bomb McCain, war is something about which to joke, promote, and accelerate. He reminds us repeatedly of his years as a tortured prisoner of war. Yet he never mentions the targets whose eyes he didn’t see–all those Vietnamese peasants, men, women, and children, whose bodies he melted. For Barack Obama who opposed the invasion of Iraq but, without fail, has voted to fund it, the prudent foreign policy strategy is to send more troops to the “right” hotspot, Afghanistan. Russia must love this.

Monday is the beginning of the Republican version of Denver. When McCain, who seems to have a “thing” for beauty queens, speaks, we’ll probably hear about that trip he’s going to take to the “gates of hell.” Also, he’ll offer the usual “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here,” and “if we leave too soon, they’ll follow us home,” and that we “must achieve victory.”

But no one is defining victory, so allow me: Victory is pledging allegiance to peace.

Imagine if we had a candidate who said:

So much of the history of our country has been sanitized. The truth is that we have battled unnecessarily, illegally, immorally. We have sent our sons and daughters to die, to return maimed, to sustain traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder while destroying the lives of those we call the enemy, the other. We have invaded for resources that we call our “interests” and for superior positioning. Just to show we can. Just to show our might. Not to defend ourselves. I say no more. Not on my watch. As your president, I pledge allegiance to the people. I pledge allegiance to peace.

Actually, we do have aspirants who have said as much. Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney certainly are transformational choices. Bob Barr, the Libertarian, gets it, too, when he says that war “should be the last rather than the first resort.” But our corporate media give them little credibility and even less airtime.

So, we wait. Some wave their flags and hope while others feel despair and shame at what continues to be done in our names.

Missy Beattie lives in New York City. She’s written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. An outspoken critic of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq, she’s a member of Gold Star Families for Peace. She completed a novel last year, but since the death of her nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase J. Comley, in Iraq on August 6,’05, she has been writing political articles. She can be reached at: Missybeat@aol.com

MIDEAST: Arabs Despair of U.S. Even More

August 1, 2008

Analysis by Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani

CAIRO, Jul 31 (IPS) – For decades, the U.S. has jealously guarded its role of sole arbiter of the Arab-Israeli dispute. In light of recent shows of support for Israel by U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama, however, many Arabs fear that Zionist influence on the U.S. body politic — across the political spectrum — has made the notion of ‘U.S. even-handedness’ a contradiction in terms.

“When it comes to the Middle East conflict, the Arabs no longer see any difference between Republicans and Democrats,” Ahmed Thabet, political science professor at Cairo University told IPS. “Both parties vie with one another in expressing total support for Israel.”

In a speech before Israeli parliament in May, U.S. President George W. Bush went further than any of his predecessors in voicing praise for the self-proclaimed Jewish state. Referring to Israelis as a “chosen people”, Bush pledged Washington’s unwavering support against Israel’s traditional nemeses, including Iran and resistance parties Hamas and Hezbollah.

In statements heavy on “Judeo-Christian” religious references, Bush went on to describe Washington’s alliance with Israel as “unbreakable”.

Similar sentiments have been echoed by Bush’s would be Republican successor, Senator John McCain, who has also pledged “eternal” U.S. support for Israel.

“Israel and the U.S. must always stand together,” McCain declared before the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in early June. “We are the most natural of allies. And, like Israel itself, that alliance is for ever.”

Calling Israel “an inspiration to free nations everywhere,” McCain barely addressed longstanding Palestinian aspirations for statehood. Like Bush, he denounced regional actors opposed to Israel’s occupation of Arab land, referring to Hamas as “the terrorist-led group in charge of Gaza.”

Neither Bush nor McCain so much as mention — let alone criticise — Israel’s inhumane treatment of Palestinian populations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This treatment includes frequent military assaults often targeting civilians, the use of ‘targeted assassinations’, the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip (which has brought that territory to the brink of starvation), continued construction of Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land, and the forced removal of non-Jewish, Arab inhabitants from the city of Jerusalem.

Arab analysts, meanwhile, express little surprise at such blatant pro-Israel bias, coming as it does from a political party thoroughly influenced by the so-called “neo-conservative” movement, of which Israeli ascendancy is a central tenet.

More disturbing to Arab critics of U.S. policy is the fact that Democratic presidential contenders have shown just as much zeal for Israeli supremacy as their Republican rivals.

In his own speech to AIPAC in early June, Obama stressed the need for a “more nuanced” approach to U.S. Middle East peacemaking. He stunned many, however, when he went on to state that Jerusalem would “remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

Although Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since 1967, its claim to the city has never been recognised by the international community. Officially, the status of Jerusalem — which Palestinians also want as capital of their future state — is supposed to be determined in long-awaited “final status” negotiations.

Continued . . .

Let’s Speak the Truth About Afghanistan

July 31, 2008

The Huffington Post, Posted July 30, 2008 | 12:55 PM (EST)

By Eric Margolis


NEW YORK — During his triumphant European tour, Senator Barack Obama again urged NATO’s members to send more troops to Afghanistan and called the conflict there, “the central front in the war on terror.” Europe’s response ranged from polite evasion to downright frosty.

It is unfortunate that Obama has adopted President George Bush’s misleading terminology, “war on terror,” to describe the conflict between the United States and anti-American groups in the Muslim world. Like many Americans, he and his foreign policy advisors are sorely misinformed about the reality of Afghanistan.

One understands Obama’s need to respond with martial élan to rival John McCain’s chest-thumping about “I know how to win wars.” Polls put McCain far ahead of Obama when it comes to being a war leader. But Obama’s recent proposal to send at least 7,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and his threats to attack Pakistan’s territory, and warnings about Islamabad’s nuclear forces, show poor judgment and lack of knowledge.

The United States is no longer “fighting terrorism” in Afghanistan, as Bush, Obama and McCain insist. The 2001 U.S. invasion was a legitimate operation against al-Qaeda, a group that properly fit the role of a “terrorist organization.” But, contrary to the White House’s wildly inflated claims that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda was a worldwide conspiracy, it never numbered more than 300 hard core members. Bin Laden and his jihadis long ago scattered into all corners of Pakistan and elsewhere. Only a handful remain in Afghanistan.

Continued . . .

Bush’s Legacy of Torture

July 31, 2008

Truthdig, posted July 28, 2008

By Eugene Robinson

I still find it hard to believe that George W. Bush, to his eternal shame and our nation’s great discredit, made torture a matter of hair-splitting, legalistic debate at the highest levels of the United States government. But that’s precisely what he did.

Three previously classified administration memos obtained last week by the American Civil Liberties Union add to our understanding of this disgraceful episode. The documents are attempts to justify the unjustifiable—the use of brutal interrogation methods that international agreements define as torture—and keep those who ordered and carried out this dirty business from being prosecuted and jailed.

The memos don’t call it torture, of course. Heavily redacted before being surrendered to the ACLU under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the documents refer euphemistically to “enhanced techniques” of interrogation. Changing the name doesn’t change the act, however. One memo, written in 2004, specifically makes clear the administration’s view that “the waterboard” is an acceptable way to extract information.

Waterboarding, a technique of simulated drowning, is considered torture virtually everywhere on earth except in the Bush administration’s archive of self-exculpatory memos, directives and opinions.

The most stunning of the memos—written in August 2002 by Jay Bybee, who was head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel—makes the incredible claim that unless a torturer has the “specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering,” no violation of U.S. laws against torture has occurred. Bybee, since appointed to the federal bench, wrote that the torturer needed only the “honest belief” that he was not actually committing torture in order to avoid legal jeopardy. Oh, and Bybee added that it wasn’t even necessary for that belief to be “reasonable.”

The memo notes that U.S. torture statutes outlaw the infliction of severe mental pain, as well as physical pain. It acknowledges that “the threat of imminent death” is one of the specific acts that can constitute torture. Somehow, though, the administration pretends not to understand that strapping a prisoner down and pouring water into his nose until he can’t breathe constitutes a death threat—regardless of whether the interrogator intended to stop before the prisoner actually drowned.

Perhaps that question was dealt with in the nine-tenths of the memo that was redacted before the administration handed it over to the ACLU. The memo never would have been released at all if the government hadn’t been ordered to do so by a federal judge.

The whole thing would be laughable if it were not such a rank abomination. No government obeying the law needs a paper trail to absolve its interrogators of committing torture. Conversely, a government that produces such a paper trail has something monstrous to hide.

It is not difficult to avoid violating federal laws and international agreements that prohibit torture. Just don’t torture people, period. The idea that there exists some acceptable middle ground—a kind of “torture lite”—is a hideous affront to this nation’s honor and values. This, perhaps above all, is how George Bush should be remembered: as the president who embraced torture.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, as he left office, Bush issued some sort of pardon clearing those who authorized or carried out “enhanced techniques” of interrogations from any jeopardy under U.S. law. International law is something else entirely, however, and I imagine that some of those involved in this sordid interlude might want to be careful in choosing their vacation spots. I’d avoid The Hague, for example.

Barack Obama has stood consistently against torture. John McCain, who was tortured himself as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has denounced torture as well—and, although he voted against restraining the CIA with the same no-exceptions policy that now applies to military interrogators, he has been forthright in saying that waterboarding is torture, and thus illegal. On Inauguration Day, whoever wins, this awful interlude will end.

The clear and urgent duty of the next president will be to investigate the Bush administration’s torture policy and give Americans a full accounting of what was done in our name. It’s astounding that we need some kind of truth commission in the United States of America, but we do. Only when we learn the full story of what happened will we be able to confidently promise, to ourselves and to a world that looks to this country for moral leadership: Never again.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.

© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

A new consensus on Iraq

July 29, 2008

Eric Ruder looks at the factors driving the seeming convergence of Barack Obama, the Bush administration and other players when it comes to Iraq–and what policy they are actually converging around.

Socialist Worker, July 25, 2008

IS THE end of the U.S. occupation of Iraq within sight?

In late July, newspaper headlines announced that the Bush administration and Iraqi officials had agreed on a “general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals” for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The fuzzy phraseology allows the Bush administration to deny that it had agreed to a “timetable” for withdrawal–something it has repeatedly denounced as “irresponsible” when advocated by Democrats.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama, who has promised to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq by late 2010 if he becomes president, captured the world’s attention with a whirlwind tour that took him to Baghdad for meetings with Iraqi politicians and U.S. military leaders.

Shortly before he arrived, an interview with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Germany’s Der Spiegel made headlines because Maliki basically endorsed Obama’s 2010 timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops–and made the pointed remark that “he who wants to exit in a quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq.”

The sudden convergence of Obama, Maliki and the Bush administration on Iraq left Republican presidential candidate John McCain out in the cold. For months, he has attacked Obama for failing to understand what’s at stake in Iraq with his 16-month withdrawal proposal. But suddenly, McCain looks like the one who’s out of step–with the heads of state in both the U.S. and Iraq.

As news of Maliki’s praise of Obama sunk in, McCain stuck to his script. “The fact is, if we had done what Senator Obama wanted to do, we would have lost,” McCain said. “And we would have faced a wider war. And we would have had greater problems in Afghanistan and the entire region. And Iran would have increased their influence.”

That perfectly describes the situation that already exists–as a direct product of the U.S. war on Iraq.

At the same time, McCain might be trying to change direction. “If there is any fixed position in John McCain’s policy agenda, it’s that we must never, ever, set a timetable for leaving Iraq,” observed the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman. “So it was a surprise to hear him say Monday [July 21], when asked if our troops might depart in the next two years, ‘Oh, I think they could be largely withdrawn, as I’ve said.'”

Continued . . .

Europe’s Obama cheers ring hollow in the Middle East

July 25, 2008

Here the US leader has much less power. Israel calls the shots, and the reality on the ground is gloomy and anti-peace

What a contrast. In western Europe Obama-mania is in full flood, epitomised by raving crowds in Berlin last night as well as the polls which show the Democratic candidate to be far more popular than John McCain in almost every country. In Israel he is met with apprehension, and in the Palestinian territories there is only the faintest hope that the deadlocked conflict will ever end.

The difference is that Europeans know the American president holds the keys to war or peace. He has enormous influence in dragging European governments after him, as the disastrous Iraq adventure showed. So it is not surprising that many Europeans are crying out for a man in the White House who will be less aggressive, less unilateral, less imperial, and more attuned to the complexities of international policy. Obama seems to be the one.

In the Middle East the US leader has much less power. Israel calls the shots, and what’s happening on the ground is deeply gloomy and anti-peace. The chances of creating a viable Palestinian state have almost vanished as Israeli settlements on the West Bank go on increasing and yet more checkpoints appear.

No wonder that, while they like Obama more than McCain, Palestinians feel little optimism. “Obama might create a different atmosphere,” says Yasser Abed Rabo, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, stressing the “might”. “Bush polarised things between him and Osama bin Laden. The moderates were the big losers. People in the middle felt crushed,” he argues.

Others expect Obama will take time to focus on the Middle East in spite of his promise this week to be engaged in peace from day one. “He’ll concentrate first on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and the economy, which all matter more for Americans,” an adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team told me.

His visit to the Israeli border town of Sderot was one-sided, not just because he did not balance it with visits to places where Palestinians are oppressed. Sderot is more than a place under threat of terror. It is a model for how ceasefires are negotiable, and why they are the vital first step towards any serious peace agreement. Yet Obama ignored the point.

Continued . . .

U.S. mercenaries in Iraq

July 9, 2008

Jeremy Scahill | Socialist Worker, July 9, 2008

Jeremy Scahill, an investigative journalist and author of the award-winning book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, spoke at Socialism 2008 on the spread of privatized war corporations and the struggle against them.

Blackwater's heavily armed security forces

I GAVE a talk the other day in San Francisco in front of an audience primarily of military people. I was invited by the Marines’ Memorial Association of San Francisco, and I was actually introduced by Major Gen. Mike Myatt, who was one of the commanders of the 1991 Gulf War.

This was hardly an antiwar crowd, but as an indication of how serious the problem of mercenaries and private forces in Iraq has become, many from within the established military are now starting to speak out about it.

So I was honored to be in a room full of people, regardless of their perspective on the war, who take this issue seriously enough to do something about it–who realize that this is an incredible problem. We didn’t share the same global outlook and certainly not the same opinion about the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but on this issue, we’re hearing more and more voices coming from the established military.

Series: From Socialism 2008

Some 1,000 people from across the U.S. gathered for a weekend of left politics and discussion at the Socialism 2008 conference on June 19-22 in Chicago. SocialistWorker.org will be publishing some of the presentations from the weekend, so stay tuned for more.

I’m going to spend time talking about what’s at stake not just with mercenaries in Iraq, but also with the election. But I want to begin by telling a story that makes up part of a substantial investigation I did for the update of my book Blackwater. I have over 110 new pages of material in this book, and I also went through and substantially updated it based on some of the important investigations that have been conducted and are ongoing into Blackwater’s activity.

I open the book with a new investigation of an incident that I know everyone in this room remembers well–the Nisour Squre shootings last September. What I want to do right now is begin by giving you a narrative overview of what exactly happened there–what we understand from eyewitness testimony and from investigations that have been done. Because it really is a horrifying story. I think it’s important not just that we know that Blackwater killed 17 Iraqi civilians, but the nature of that crime, and what the response of the Bush administration was after it.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ON THAT morning of September 16, 2007, a young 20-year-old Iraqi medical student, Ahmed Haithem Ahmed, was with his mother and father. Ahmed was driving; his mother Mohassin was in the passenger seat. They dropped off his father at the local hospital where he worked, and then they went to go run some errands.

What else to read

Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army climbed into the New York Times best-seller list on its release. Now the book has been republished in paperback, with indispensable additional materials.

Scahill documents Blackwater’s latest venture, a private spy company run by the shadowy J. Cofer Black, in “Blackwater’s Private Spies” in the Nation. Scahill’s “Blackwater: From the Nisour Square Massacre to the Future of the Mercenary Industry” is an extended interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!

For more on the rise of the mercenaries, see “Blackwater’s Heart of Darkness” in the International Socialist Review, an article based on an earlier speech by Scahill.

Among the errands that they were running was dropping off college applications for Ahmed’s younger sister. This was an extraordinary family. They very much had medicine in their DNA; they were a family of doctors. They had an opportunity to leave Iraq when the U.S. invasion was imminent, but they ultimately decided as a family that they were going to stay in their country, because they felt that more than ever in the history of their nation, the country was going to need doctors because of the incredible violence and bloodshed that was going to be unleashed. So they stayed in Iraq.

Ahmed and his mother were driving, and they pulled into an area of Baghdad known as the Monsour district. I had been there many times in my travels to Iraq. It used to be an upscale section of the city, where there were markets and cafes and restaurants. Now it’s a hollow shell of its former self.

Continued . . .

Iran: The Threat

July 8, 2008

The New York Review of Books, Vol. 55, No. 12, July 17, 2008

By Thomas Powers

At a moment of serious challenge, battered by two wars, ballooning debt, and a faltering economy, the United States appears to have lost its capacity to think clearly. Consider what passes for national discussion on the matter of Iran. The open question is whether the United States should or will attack Iran if it continues to reject American demands to give up uranium enrichment. Ignore for the moment whether the United States has any legal or moral justification for attacking Iran. Set aside the question whether Iran, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently claimed in a speech at West Point, “is hellbent on acquiring nuclear weapons.” Focus instead on purely practical questions. By any standards Iran is a tough nut to crack: it is nearly three times the size of Texas, with a population of 70 million and a big income from oil which the world cannot afford to lose. Iran is believed to have the ability to block the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf through which much of the world’s oil must pass on its way to market.

Keep in mind that the rising price of oil already threatens the world’s economy. Iran also has a large army and deep ties to the population of Shiite coreligionists next door in Iraq. The American military already has its hands full with a hard-to-manage war in Iraq, and is proposing to send additional combat brigades to deal with a growing insurgency in Afghanistan. And yet with all these sound reasons for avoiding war with Iran, the United States for five years has repeatedly threatened it with military attack. These threats have lately acquired a new edge.

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are the primary authors of these threats, but others join them in proclaiming that “all options” must remain “on the table.” The option they wish to emphasize is the option of military attack. The presidential candidates in the middle of this campaign year agree that Iran is a major security threat to the United States. Senator Hillary Clinton in the last days of April threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran—presumably with nuclear weapons—if it attacked Israel. Senator Barack Obama dismissed Clinton’s threat as “bluster” in the familiar Bush style but agrees that Iran cannot be permitted to build nuclear weapons, and he too insists that a US attack on Iran is one of the options which must remain “on the table.” The presumptive Republican candidate, John McCain, takes a position as unyielding as the President’s: Iran must abandon nuclear enrichment, stop “meddling” in Iraq with support for Shiite militias, and stop its sponsorship of “terrorism” carried out by Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Any of these threatening activities, in McCain’s view, might justify a showdown with Iran.

Continued . . .


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