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Monday, November 27, 2006

U.S. Involved in Iraq
Longer Than WW II

The war in Iraq has now lasted longer than the U.S. involvement in the war that President Bush's father fought in, World War II.

Nov. 25, 2006

As of Sunday, the conflict in Iraq has raged for three years and just over eight months.

Only the Vietnam War (eight years, five months), the Revolutionary War (six years, nine months), and the Civil War (four years), have engaged America longer.

Fighting in Afghanistan, which may or may not be a full-fledged war depending on who is keeping track, has gone on for five years, one month. It continues as the ousted Taliban resurges and the central government is challenged.

Bush says he still is undecided whether to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq or add to the 140,000 there now.

He is awaiting the conclusions of several top-to-bottom studies, including a military review by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Expected soon, too, are recommendations from an outside blue-ribbon commission headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican close to the Bush family, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who was one of the leaders of the Sept. 11 commission.

The Iraq war began on March 19, 2003, with the U.S. bombing of Baghdad. On May 1, 2003, Bush famously declared major combat operations over, the pronouncement coming in a speech aboard an aircraft carrier emblazoned with a "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Yet the fighting has dragged on, and most of the 2,800-plus U.S. military deaths have occurred after Bush suggested an end to what he called the Iraq front in the global fight against terrorism.

Politicians in both parties blame the increasingly unpopular war for GOP losses on Capitol Hill in the November elections that handed control of the House and Senate to Democrats.

Twice before in the last half-century have presidents - Harry S. Truman in Korea and Lyndon B. Johnson in Vietnam - been crippled politically by prolonged and unpopular wars.

Bush last week visited Vietnam for the first time, attending a summit of Asian and Pacific Rim nations. Asked if the Vietnam war held any messages for U.S. policy in Iraq, Bush said it showed that "we'll succeed unless we quit."

John Mueller, an Ohio State University political scientist who wrote the book "War, Presidents and Public Opinion," said Americans soured on Iraq after "doing a rough cost-benefit analysis. They say, `What's it worth to us and how much is it costing us?'"

By that standard, Americans were willing to abandon the Iraq war long before they turned against the war in Vietnam, Mueller suggested. "So that, for example, when more than 2,000 Americans had died in Iraq, support lowered. It took 20,000 deaths in Vietnam to lower support for that war to the same level," he said.

In the casualty count, the Civil War was the most lethal, with military deaths of the North and South combined totaling at least 620,000. By comparison, the total for World War II was roughly 406,000; Vietnam, 58,000; Korea, 37,000; World War I, 116,000.

The outgoing Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John Warner of Virginia, a veteran of World War II and a former Navy secretary, noted solemnly at a recent hearing of his committee that Sunday would mark the day when U.S. was involved longer in the Iraq war than it had been in World War II.

Yet the October 2002 congressional resolution that authorized the Iraq war "addressed the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, which is now gone, and no more a threat to us," Warner

While the United States is helping the Iraq's current government to assume the full reins of sovereignty, "we need to revise (our) strategy to achieve that goal," Warner said.

U.S. involvement in the Iraq war has outlasted that of the Korean War (three years, one month); the War of 1812 (two years, six months); the U.S.-Mexican War (one year, 10 months); World War I (one year, seven months); the Spanish American War (eight months); and the first Persian Gulf War (one and a half months).

Democrats and Republicans are divided about what to do next in Iraq.

Many Democrats and some Republicans have called for a phased withdrawal. Some lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a 2008 presidential hopeful, are urging that more U.S. troops be sent to help stabilize Iraq.

Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who will be the next chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, argues for beginning to bring troops home soon. "We should put the responsibility for Iraq's future squarely where it belongs, on the Iraqis," Levin said. "We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves."

Experts of various political stripes have suggested that the options are few.

"No mix of options for U.S. action can provide a convincing plan for 'victory' in Iraq," said Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The initiative has passed into Iraqi hands."


Thursday, November 23, 2006

How the West Came To Run Islamic Banks

Giants like Citigroup dominate the sector, through Islamic subsidiaries and hired Sharia scholars.

By Owen Matthews
Oct. 31, 2005 issue

You're a pious Muslim with a few million in oil dollars to invest. So would the perfect Islamic bank for you be Citigroup, perhaps? HSBC?

Actually, yes. Giant Western banks-or, rather, their Islamic subsidiaries-are leading the market for financing that complies with Qur'anic laws forbidding lending money for profit, or sponsoring un-Islamic activities such as gambling or smoking. Citigroup's Bahrain-based Citi Islamic subsidiary was first into the market in 1996, and now leads the pack with deposits of more than $6 billion. Citi and at least 10 other Western majors dwarf the biggest locally owned rival, Al Baraka of Bahrain, worth a little more than half a billion.

Westerners are drawn in by oil money. The Middle East is enjoying its fastest growth in a generation. According to Islamic Banking and Finance magazine, there are $265 billion in deposits that comply with Sharia, the law that governs the behavior of Muslims, finances included. That's up 17 percent in the past year, and by almost 10 times in the past decade, according to the U.A.E.'s Sharjah Islamic Bank. Since 1996 Dow Jones has offered indexes of stocks vetted by Sharia scholars. Now there are more than 40 Islamic indexes, and last year Islamic stocks on average outperformed the market by 5 percent.

How did Western banks come to dominate a market predicated on Islamic purity? A generation ago, an Islamic bank was just a simple investment house that, instead of paying interest on deposits, created dividends by buying and renting out property. "Islam forbids making money on money," says Alun Williams, marketing director of the new Islamic Bank of Britain. "But it does allow you to rent, and to trade." Now Western banks are using that template to pioneer Islamic credit cards, Islamic mortgages and Islamic bonds (known as sukuks) that during the past year have financed everything from a $1 billion upgrade of Dubai airport to Pakistani government debt. As growth picks up in the Middle East, more and more Muslim-run corporations find they need sophisticated services, from bond issues to derivatives, that so far only Western banks provide.

The Western banks gain Islamic credibility by hiring top-drawer Sharia scholars to sit on their boards. "The caliber of your scholars is the basis on which these [financial products] are marketed," says Majid Dawood, a London-based consultant on Sharia compliance. Because there are just a handful of financially literate Islamic scholars in the market, most sit on the boards of many institutions and can, says Dawood, command salaries of as much as $88,500 per year per bank. Sheik Mohammed Taqi Usmani, a former Sharia judge on the Supreme Court of Pakistan, sits on the board of Citi Islamic, HSBC, Al Baraka and eight others, and is chairman of the Dow Jones Islamic indexes' Sharia panel.

But the trend toward investing in Islamic funds really took off after 9/11, when many Muslims began bringing their money home from America. Since then, international banks like Societe Generale, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and Standard Chartered have all entered the Islamic banking business. Accounting and consulting firms like Ernst Young are now offering Islamic financial services. The recently opened Islamic Bank of Britain, owned by leading Islamic banks and other institutions from the Middle East, plans to create a retail-banking chain for "average income" Muslim Britons, says Williams.

Customers in Muslim nations are driven to Western banks in part by distrust of their own banks. Prominent failures, such as the 2001 collapse of Turkey's Ilhas Finance dented depositors' faith. In Turkey, the Islamic world's largest economy, the fledgling Islamic-banking sector is lobbying the state to guarantee deposits of up to $36,000, which could in time make Turkey a major player. In Malaysia, where more than 11 percent of deposits are now Sharia-compliant, local houses like Bank Muamalat are working to gain on the multinationals. "Local Islamic banks lack sophistication," says Humayun Dar, an Islamic economist. "Customers are still more comfortable with an international name." Even if the rules are strictly local.


Islamic Banking Comes of Age - But What's Next?

March 10, 2004

Events of the last few years have forcefully shown the Muslim world's resentment of the West's power, influence and encroachment on its way of life. That power is nowhere more evident than in the finance arena, where Western banks and financial markets dominate but contradict strikingly with traditional Islamic beliefs. Over the past 25 years, however, a non-violent challenge to that dominance has been building.

The change has come from a caravan of Islamic financial institutions and Islamic subsidiaries of major international banks that have steadily expanded their operations. Islamic banking has gone from almost nothing to an industry with assets of hundreds of billions of dollars and half of the consumer market and 10% of the assets under management in countries such as Malaysia.

Yet, it has still not emerged as a truly revolutionary force in the financial world. Whether it can make that leap is a crucial question for every Islamic banker.

The Islamic holy book, the Qu'ran, includes a prohibition against charging riba, (excessive) interest, which was common in pre-Islamic Arabian society. For example, a riba rate might double a debt if it cannot be repaid when due, and continue to do so at every payment interval.

While different interpretations exist among Islamic scholars and clerics as to how far this injunction against interest payments goes -- riba is clearly outdated -- most traditional Muslims view the charging or receiving of interest as being against their religion. This would seem to rule out conventional banking practices. But Muslims would still like to save money, keep up with inflation, invest in ways that will offer a steady return and meet other financial needs. In addition, Muslims would also like the companies they own to expand, build new plants and accommodate working capital needs. These contradictory demands of religious belief and economic necessity have provided the impetus to the origin and growth of Islamic banking.

The contradictions were not a big deal when the Middle East and other predominantly Muslim areas were poor. Those desperate or determined enough could use Western banks. But when petro-dollars starting pouring into the Middle East during the 1970s, and local companies and governments planned major capital spending projects, the monopoly on finance held by foreign banks rankled. A school of economic thought began developing that explored new ways of meeting the saving, investing and financing needs of Muslims in a religiously acceptable way.

In 1973 seven Arab nations banded together to form the Islamic Development Bank, which would function like the World Bank in promoting economic development, regional trade and Islamic financial markets but do so in a way that was acceptable to Islam. (The bank was launched in 1975 and now has 55 member states.) Several countries, including Turkey, that were looking for new ways to fund development projects conceived of products such as revenue bonds that were compliant with Shariah or Islamic law because they did not distribute interest.

"It was part of a development strategy for financial markets," says Wharton finance professor N. Bulent Gultekin, formerly the head of Turkey 's Privatization and Housing department and later a governor of that country's central bank. "There was concern that many people didn't use banks or financial services because interest was prohibited," he explains.

It is unclear whether Islamic banking resulted from the entrepreneurial drive of bankers, governmental efforts to obtain funds for economic growth in ways that appeased traditional religious constituencies and eliminated competition from Western institutions, or the revival of religious zeal. Most likely, all three factors contributed to its rapid growth. For example, in 1974, Pakistan made interest-based banking illegal, taking much of government financing operations as well as private banking activities away from Western banks. Since then, a number of banks and financial institutions have emerged which offer products and conduct their businesses in ways that comply with the Sharia.

Replacing Interest with Profits

Elli Elhadj, who got his master's degree in applied mathematics from Wharton in 1968, claims to be the first to have introduced an Islam-compliant parallel instrument to bankers acceptances [short-term financial instruments that are similar to T-bills] in the early 1980s. At that time, he worked for the London subsidiary of the Saudi-Arabia based Al Rajah Investment Corporation.

"The work we did set the stage for the mechanics and documentation of doing banking in an Islamic way," he explains.

Islamic jurists had previously concluded that if financing entities take possession of an item and thereby accept some of the risk, they might be entitled to a profit similar in amount to an interest payment. In doing so, they are not lending money to the customer but buying a commodity themselves and reselling it. Further, they may package a bundle of such contracts and sell them to investors, as is commonly done today with mortgages. For Elhadj, this meant creating contracts and documentation and dealing with different taxation and customs authorities in cross-border transactions. These were complex and time-consuming challenges, but ultimately the efforts paid off. By 1987, the product had $3 billion outstanding owned by some 50 major corporations around the world. "Our way had a great attraction for trading companies because it allowed them to build inventory but not increase bank borrowings on their balance sheet," says Elhadj.

Elhadj's product was one of many as Islamic products multiplied. Trade finance was one of the first and largest areas. Over time, however, many types of Islam-friendly financial products were created to cater to needs such as corporate borrowing, mortgage financing and long-term investment. Though specific numbers are hard to come by, the Islamic finance industry is said to have some $200 billion to $250 billion in assets under management; the Economist Intelligence Unit reckons that it is growing an annual rate of 10% to 15%. Today some 150 dedicated Islamic banks exist around the world. Almost all these banks are based in Islamic countries, but they also have subsidiaries in countries with Muslim communities, including the U.S., U.K. and France.

As the Islamic banking industry has grown, conventional international banks have followed suit by offering products to investors and even dedicated ATM or deposit windows for Muslim customers who want to know that their money has been treated in a religiously pure manner. "I was surprised by the growth in Islamic banking," says Ibrahim S. Dabdoub, chief executive of the National Bank of Kuwait, a conventional bank. "But I believe it was the result of a sincere outgrowth of feeling among religious people." Dabdoub is among the speakers at the Wharton Middle East Alumni Conference, titled "Leading Change in a Changing Business Environment," which will be held in Dubai on March 13.

Dow Jones Islamic Index

There is now a Dow Jones Islamic Index -- which includes companies that do not produce alcohol, tobacco products or other items forbidden by Islam and have a very low level of debt or earnings from interest -- and dozens of Islamic mutual funds. Malaysia, the leader in Islamic finance, issued almost $4 billion in Islamic bonds in 2003. Companies such as the Swiss food giant Nestle placed a $184 million seven-year Islamic bond last year.

The Governor of Malaysia's Central Bank, Zeti Akhtar Aziz, who got her PhD in economics at Wharton, has urged local financiers to develop Islamic derivatives as well. Generally, Islam is receptive to the idea of risk-sharing and acceptable forms of Islamic finance include partnerships of some form between the bank and the borrower. In a recent speech, Aziz made the point that many Islamic banking products already contain hedges. "An interesting example is the Istijrar contract, introduced in Pakistan, which includes the characteristics of a put and call option, allowing the buyer to cap the purchase price, and the seller to set a floor for the selling price."

While the growth of Islamic finance has been impressive, expert observers as well as practitioners are frustrated for a variety of reasons. Aziz worries about applying appropriate capital and regulatory structures to the industry. "While the conventional banking system is guided by the Basel core principles, which outlines the minimum requirements for the supervisory regime, these principles need to be reviewed from the perspective of Islamic banking, taking into account the unique characteristics and risks involved in Islamic banking and its products and services," she cautions. "It is not as straightforward as a debtor-creditor relationship in conventional banking but also needs to include other inherent risks arising from the investor-entrepreneur relationship that is inherent in Islamic banking."

Another challenge that confronts Islamic banking is the enormous variation across countries and among Islamic banks, which offers opportunities to unscrupulous operators as well as perfectly normal, if less religiously motivated, Western firms. Citigroup, the U.S. financial behemoth, handled the Nestle bond issue. HSBC offers a popular Islamic car loan program. Neither institution is Islamic, and money being fungible, questions are sometimes raised about how these institutions might be co-mingling funds, or how much risk they are really assuming in funding activities such as buying cars. Both institutions have appointed Islamic clerics to approve their transactions. Still, according to Mahmoud Amin El-Gamal, chair of Islamic economics, finance and management at Rice University, "a more realistic approach would be to conclude that Islamic products differ from their conventional counterparts in the same manner that kosher water bottles differ from most other bottled water: certification by certain religious figures."

Since there is no institutional Islamic church and Muslims are spread across geographic borders, a lot of variation exists among Islamic banks' products and the way they are legally constituted. "The market is segmented by the level of religious conservatism," says El-Gamal. Several groups, including the Islamic Financial Services Board, an organization of representatives of seven central banks organized by Malaysia, are trying to construct uniform standards. But the low level of Islamic uniformity is masked by the high level of general conformity to conventional banking. "Islamic investors are basically rational," says Elhadj. "They want to see their money preserved, and they know what the other alternatives are."

As a result, it is hardly surprising that most Islamic financial products look a lot like regular bank products, and often cost the same amounts. Moreover, Dabdoub of the National Bank of Kuwait notes that in many Middle Eastern countries -- and in specific product lines such as investment banking -- Islamic banks have yet to make many inroads. "Islamic banks have been strong in retail banking and consumer credit," he says. So far, though, they have not challenged his bank in other areas or taken aim at large public projects.

"The idea of Islamic banking is very old, from the Middle Ages. It is more like private equity or venture capital" ,says Gultekin. Yet the level of Islamic banking diverted to long-term business or economic development is very low. Timur Kuran, a professor of law and economics and the King Faisal professor of Islamic thought and culture at the University of Southern California, has pointed out that longer term or venture capital investment has never been more than 5% of any of these institutions' portfolios.

Shariah Arbitrage

Perhaps the most damning concern so far is that most efforts by Islamic banks have been imitative, not innovative, according to El-Gamal. "Islamic banking has taken money from rich people in the Muslim world and put it into repackaged conventional banking products," he says. "There has to be a limit to Shariah arbitrage."

Other experts also acknowledge that Islamic institutions are only copying or repackaging conventional banking products to reach the "cream" of the Muslim market, people who have liquid assets and an awareness of their financial options in the marketplace. Even Aziz urged her colleagues at a recent Islamic banking conference in London to remember that "the Shariah should always be viewed as an enabler to innovation and creativity, rather than a constraint. Efforts, therefore, need to be enhanced to fully appreciate and maximize the true potential and wisdom of the Shariah."

So far, the players in this industry -- from the El Shamil Bank in Bahrain to Citigroup -- have developed products that mimic conventional financial instruments while meeting the careful legal parsing of Islamic jurists who sit on the advisory banks of these institutions. Instead of paying interest, banks pay a pre-specified profit on funds they "invest" for depositors. Muslim investors cannot hold debt instruments but they can collect rent or lease payments from a prudently packaged portfolio of real estate or leased equipment. These products do not stretch the boundaries of conventional finance or systematize a method to involve a community in the success of enterprises in their midst. "The Islamic world is poised on a precipice where it can fall into stagnation and repression like socialism in the 20th century or, its evolution can follow the course of the Protestant Reformation which ushered in an era of forward looking reforms," says USC's Kuran.

Kuran notes that small differences in cultural practices, legal or religious structures can add up over time to create a defining climate for the economic or social order. He argues that the underdevelopment of the Muslim world was largely the result of religious rules that curtailed the size of organizations, predicated wide inheritance patterns, and withheld legal protection to corporations or groups of individuals. In the process, the Muslim world lost out at a time when the industrial revolution was sweeping the West and developing new legal and religious systems that accommodated this economic growth. Now, however, Kuran believes that innovations in Islamic finance could potentially ignite development booms throughout the Muslim world.

Interestingly, Wharton finance professor Richard Herring points out that banking in the Christian world went through a similar process during the Renaissance. Usury laws prohibiting interest were strongly enforced in medieval Europe and were considered venal sins by the Roman Catholic Church. Led by bankers like the Medici, bills of exchange, which allowed money to be received with credit for travel time to destinations around Europe, were one of the early ways to get around these laws. Fledgling European banks often gave financial "gifts" to depositors. "These so-called gifts were not contractual but they were pretty regular," says Herring. "Facing a really tough obstacle forces innovation. The whole system had to become innovative in order to become cost-competitive," he explains. "It took a very long time for full-fledged banking as we know it to develop."


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

May I Quote You, Mr. President?

50 quotes from President George W. Bush

by Prof. Rodrigue Tremblay
Global Research, Nov. 19, 2006

•A man lost in his geography:

1-"We have a firm commitment to NATO, we are a part of NATO. We have a firm commitment to Europe. We are a part of Europe." -George W. Bush

2-"It's time for the human race to enter the solar system." -George W. Bush

3-"The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country." -George W. Bush

•A man lost in his logic:

4-" It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it. " - George W. Bush

5-"Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream." - George W. Bush

6-"These people are trying to shake the will of the Iraqi citizens, and they want us to leave...I think the world would be better off if we did leave..." - George W. Bush

7-"I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family." - George W. Bush

8-"If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure." - George W. Bush

9-"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." - George W. Bush

10-Well, I think if you say you're going to do something and don't do it, that's trustworthiness. - George W. Bush

•A man lost in space:

11-"For NASA, space is still a high priority." - George W. Bush

•A man with Heaven on his side

12-"I believe God wants me to be president." - George W. Bush

13- [I was] "chosen by the grace of God to lead at that moment." - George W. Bush

14-"God told me to strike at al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East." - George W. Bush

15-"I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job." - George W. Bush

•The man lost in his vocabulary:

16-" Quite frankly, teachers are the only profession that teach our children." - George W. Bush

17-"The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for 'entrepreneur'." - George W. Bush

18-"One word sums up probably the responsibility of any Governor, and that one word is, 'to be prepared'." - George W. Bush

19-'There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.' - George W. Bush

• Thoughts coming straight from George Orwell's '1984':

20-"Iraq and Afghanistan ...are now democracies and they are allies in the cause of freedom and peace." - George W. Bush

21-"Ariel Sharon ... is a man of courage and a man of peace." - George W. Bush

22-"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda." - George W. Bush

•The deceiving pacifist:

23-"I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace." - George W. Bush

24-"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table." - George W. Bush

25-"Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction." - George W. Bush

26- “Governments accountable to the voters focus on building roads and schools—not weapons of mass destruction.” (N.B.: The U.S. has 10,000 nuclear weapons) - George W. Bush

•The Theologian:

27-"Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion." - George W. Bush

28-"The Islam that we know is a faith devoted to the worship of one God, as revealed through The Holy Qur'an. It teaches the value and the importance of charity, mercy, and peace." - George W. Bush

•The Flip-Flopper:

29-"I favor leaving up to a woman and her doctor the abortion question." - George W. Bush

30-"I am pro-life." - George W. Bush

31- "The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him." - George W. Bush

32- "I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority." - George W. Bush

33-"We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories...for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them." - George W. Bush

•The forecaster of things to come:

34-"Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties [in Iraq]." - George W. Bush

35-"We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur. " - George W. Bush

36-"I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future." - George W. Bush

37-"Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast, and I have a message for them: If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you." - George W. Bush, (speech of March 17, 2003)

38-"To the C students, I say you too can be president of the United States." - George W. Bush

•The astute observer:

39-"A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls." - George W. Bush

40-"Brownie (Michael Brown of FEMA), you're doing a heck of a job." - George W. Bush

•A man and his environment:

41-"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully." - George W. Bush

•The double-talker:

42-"There's a lot of suffering in the Palestinian territory, because militant Hamas is trying to stop the advance of democracy." (N.B.: The Hamas government was elected) - George W. Bush

43-"We look forward to analyzing and working with legislation that will make—it would hope—put a free press's mind at ease that you're not being denied information you shouldn't see." - George W. Bush

•The would-be dictator:

44-"In a time of war, the president must have the power he needs to make the tough decisions, including, if need be, the decision to grant himself even more power." - George W. Bush

45-"I'm also not very analytical. You know I don't spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things." - George W. Bush

46-"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." - George W. Bush

47-"I'm the commander — see, I don't need to explain — I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being president." - George W. Bush

48- "I will not withdraw [from Iraq], even if Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me." - George W. Bush

49- "I'm the decider, and I decide what's best." - George W. Bush

•And, last but not least, CONSIDERING THE MESS IN IRAQ:

50-“I don’t have the foggiest idea about what I think about international, foreign policy.” - George W. Bush

Rodrigue Tremblay is professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montreal and a frequent contributor to Global Research. He is the author of 'The New American Empire'. The above article was first published on Professor Tremblay's blog site at:


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Victory in Iraq Is Not Possible"
Kissinger Says

By Brian Knowlton
The New York Times
Sunday 19 November 2006

Washington - Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, who regularly advises President Bush on Iraq, said today that a full military victory was no longer possible there. He thus joined a growing number of leading conservatives openly challenging the administration's conduct of the war and positive forecasts for it.

"If you mean, by 'military victory,' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible," Mr. Kissinger told BBC News.

In Washington, a leading Republican supporter of the war, Senator John McCain of Arizona, said American troops in Iraq were "fighting and dying for a failed policy."

But Mr. McCain continued to argue vigorously for a short-term surge in American forces, and he gained a vocal ally in Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another influential Republican, who said, "We're going to lose this war if we don't adjust quickly."

The comments came at a sensitive time, just as the Bush administration, deeply frustrated by the persistent chaos in Iraq - where more than 50 people died in violence today - and stung by Republicans' electoral setbacks on Nov. 7, has undertaken an intense search for new approaches to the war.

Mr. Kissinger, in the BBC interview, said the United States must open talks with Iraq's neighbors, pointedly including Iran, if progress is to be achieved in Iraq. Mr. Bush has said the United States is ready for such talks, but only if Iran moves to halt its nuclear enrichment work. American officials say low-level talks with Syria have produced little progress.

But Mr. Kissinger also said that a hasty withdrawal from Iraq would have "disastrous consequences," leaving not only Iraq but neighboring countries with large Shiite populations destabilized for years.

He said the United States would probably have to plot a road between military victory and total withdrawal.

The comments reflected a markedly more pessimistic view than Mr. Kissinger has expressed publicly in the past. The book "State of Denial" by Bob Woodward quotes Mr. Kissinger as saying in September 2005 that the only exit strategy for Iraq was victory.

Analysts of the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies are working feverishly to complete a report for the White House meant to lay out American options in Iraq.

They hope to do so before a much-awaited review from the bipartisan commission headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, which is expected by mid-December. The Baker group has sought Kissinger's advice.

As those projects go forward, three proposals - not necessarily mutually exclusive - have emerged, and today senior lawmakers argued them all: to quickly begin a phased troop withdrawal as a means to compel the Iraqi government to seize greater responsibilities, to temporarily increase American troop strength to bolster security before initiating a withdrawal, and to engage Iraq's neighbors in talks aimed at halting their support for unrest in Iraq.

Mr. McCain, a respected figure on military matters who is exploring a presidential bid in 2008, has argued before for more troops, and he made the case passionately today.

"I believe the consequences of failure are catastrophic," McCain told ABC News. "It will spread to the region. You will see Iran more emboldened."

Mr. Graham, a fellow member of the Armed Services Committee, had hinted Wednesday, when his committee questioned General John P. Abizaid, commander of American forces in the Middle East, that he backed McCain; and he made this clear today.

"We need an overwhelming presence in Iraq for the short term," he told CBS News.

General Abizaid said Wednesday that while the American military could find an additional 20,000 troops for a short deployment, the nation's ability to stay longer was "simply not something that we have right now with the size of the Army and the Marine corps."

Mr. Graham said he disagreed with Mr. Kissinger about the impossibility of a military victory in Iraq. But as someone who was able to visit the open-air markets of Baghdad to buy a rug on his first Iraq visit - but had to travel in a tank during his latest - Mr. Graham said that matters were "absolutely" worse.

Mr. Kissinger said that a rapid withdrawal could have "disastrous consequences."

"If you withdraw all the forces without any international understanding and without any even partial solution of some of the problems, civil war in Iraq will take on even more violent forms and achieve dimensions that are probably exceeding those that brought us into Yugoslavia with military force," he said.

Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, a Democrat who will become chairman of the Armed Services Committee when the new Congress convenes in January, has led the calls for a phased withdrawal, to begin within months, as a way to jolt Iraqi leaders into grasping greater control.

"If you don't do that, they're going to continue to have the false assumption that we're there in some kind of open-ended way," he said today on CNN.

But a phased withdrawal could leave Iraq perilously vulnerable, military analysts say, not just to internal violence but to its neighbors - Iran, Syria and possibly even Turkey, should it decide to send forces into the north of Iraq to pursue Kurdish guerrillas.

A growing number of lawmakers, and reportedly the Baker commission, favor intense direct negotiations with those neighbors to ensure their cooperation.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, cited Mr. Kissinger's own negotiations with the North Vietnamese in arguing for engagement with Iran and Syria.

"If you pursue legitimate diplomacy, the way Henry Kissinger did when he made multiple trips, night after night, day after day, twisting arms, working; if you make the effort that Jim Baker did to build a legitimate coalition, I'm confident we can do what's necessary to get the neighborhood - and I include in that Iran and Syria - to take greater stakes," Mr. Kerry told Fox News.

Mr. McCain said he was not against talks with Syria and Iran, but questioned whether Iran had sufficient reason to cooperate. "Iranians are on the ascendancy if we fail" in Iraq, he said, "so it's going to be very difficult to find common interests."

Several conservatives who had strongly supported the war have since fallen out with the administration.

One of them, Kenneth Adelman, a former assistant secretary of defense, said on CNN that the management of the war "just breaks your heart."

Mr. Adelman, who had famously predicted that the invasion of 2003 would be a "cakewalk," criticized the decisions that allowed widespread looting after the fall of Baghdad, as well as the dismissals of Iraqi military and civilian officials.

He is no longer on speaking terms with Vice President Dick Cheney, according to The Washington Post, which quoted him in an article today as saying: "This didn't have to be managed this bad. It's awful."



Saturday, November 18, 2006

Army Fury
Chief in Afghanistan
Told No Vital Armour

Daily Mail
November 19, 2006

The senior Army officer who will command British troops in Afghanistan next year is embroiled in a furious row with the Ministry of Defence after learning he will be denied vital armour to protect his men.

Fury at American contempt for British war dead

Dramatic video of British soldiers on the front line shot by the troops themselves

WARNING: The footage shot by British soldiers in Afghanistan is graphic and the soundtrack includes strong language that is unsuitable for minors

Brigadier John Lorimer, who will take charge of more than 5,000 troops in the spring, issued a 'shopping list' of requirements after a week-long recce in volatile Helmand province, the stronghold of Taliban fighters.

The tough and experienced Parachute Regiment officer asked for up to 12 Challenger 2 tanks, 14 Warrior armoured vehicles and four AS90 artillery guns - plus an extra 600-strong battalion of troops.

But he has been told by senior MoD officials that his requests will be denied.

A source close to 43-year-old Brigadier Lorimer, who commands 12 Mechanised Brigade, said: "He has been told that there is little likelihood of him getting his tanks. He is extremely unhappy about this. He is disappointed and frustrated."

The MoD snub comes just six weeks after Tony Blair promised on TV: "If the commanders on the ground want more equipment, armoured vehicles for example, more helicopters, that will be provided. Whatever package they want, we will do."

A senior Army source told The Mail on Sunday last night: "The denial of John Lorimer's operational requirements shows how empty Blair's words were."

"The Taliban are certain to launch a major offensive in Helmand next spring and the Brigadier wanted the extra armour to protect his men. No chance, as his requests were rejected in their entirety."

"Officers in 12 Mech Brigade see this as as a dereliction of duty by Defence Ministers. Lorimer still hasn't been given an explanation. One can only assume it's to do with lack of availability, equipment shortages and cost-saving."

Last night Shadow Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "This insult to the man taking over as commander of our troops in Afghanistan proves that no one, including those on the front line, can take seriously a word that Tony Blair says."

"He is not trusted by anyone and he should go now. He promises everything and gives nothing. His words are not worth the breath he uses to say them."

The row is yet another example of Labour's volatile relationship with Armed Forces top brass. Last month Mr Blair was left reeling after General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, said British troops should come home from Iraq within two years and warned that the Army could 'break' if British soldiers were kept there too long.

Brigadier Lorimer came to prominence as the commander of British troops in Basra in September last year, when he ordered 40 SAS men to storm an Iraqi police station where two undercover Special Boat Service (SBS) troopers were being held captive by armed militia.

British Warriors bulldozed their way in to rescue the SBS pair. Three soldiers had to jump clear from a Warrior with their clothes on fire after being petrol-bombed by insurgents.

The deployment of 12 Mechanised Brigade in Afghanistan will last six months. The lead infantry element will be the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, backed by troops from 19 Field Regiment Royal Artillery, 26 Engineer Regiment, two squadrons of Light Dragoons and men from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards.

Yesterday the MoD took the unusual step of issuing a statement on behalf of Brigadier Lorimer. It said: "Suggestions that I am angry or frustrated are simply not true. I have conducted my reconnaissance and made recommendations. I am perfectly happy that those are being considered in the normal way and I am closely involved in that process."

An MoD spokesman said: "No decisions about the force package for Afghanistan in 2007 have been taken and no requests have been turned down."


Friday, November 17, 2006

John Dean:
Impeachment of the President

By Blair Golson
September 12, 2006

John Dean, the man who famously blew the whistle on the Nixon White House during the Watergate hearings, gives a primer on the discussion he will conduct with former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman on Sept. 13 at UCLA, "Bush and the Potential for Impeachment."

A prolific author, most recently of the New York Times bestsellers "Worse Than Watergate" and "Conservatives Without Conscience," Dean discussed with Truthdig managing editor Blair Golson (via e-mail) his view that the Democrats should not initiate impeachment hearings unless they have strong reason to believe the Senate would then vote to remove Bush from office - or else risk the kind of "sham" proceedings that characterized the Clinton impeachment saga.

Q: What's the difference between the political atmosphere in late 1973 and late 2006? Is the only reason that impeachment hearings haven't started yet because Democrats controlled the House then, and don't now?

A: The second part of your question clearly identifies the most significant difference between then and now in the context of impeachment. By late 1973 the public had already been educated about the abuses of power in the Nixon White House because the Senate Watergate Committee had held several months of public hearings (during the spring and summer of 1973). In addition, Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox had been appointed and was actively pursuing his investigations. Among other things, Cox was going after Nixon's secret tape recordings, whose existence had been revealed during the Senate hearings. In late 1973 when Nixon fired Cox for pursuing the tapes - with his attorney general and deputy attorney resigning and refusing to fire the special prosecutor created by the Department of Justice as a matter of principle - the rather lackadaisical impeachment inquiry became a top priority of the House, and there was no question the president was in trouble.

Q: If the Democrats retake control of the House in November, do you think John Conyers will press for impeachment right out of the gate? Or do you think he and his ilk will seek to hold hearings to build more public support for impeachment? Or will we see something else?

A: Congressman John Conyers, who would become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is a seasoned and savvy professional. He is very aware that when the Republicans controlled the House and Judiciary Committee, they ran the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton like a kangaroo court. They embarrassed themselves, and shamed the committee and House of Representatives. John Conyers will not make that mistake. He sat on the Nixon Impeachment Inquiry, which moved a step at a time, slowly gathering bipartisan support based on the facts. The great difficulty with an impeachment proceeding against President Bush (or any other officials of his administration) is that unlike either the Nixon or Clinton proceeding, there is no special prosecutor (or independent counsel) currently conducting an investigation that the House Judiciary Committee can rely on - as occurred with both Nixon and Clinton. The House Judiciary Committee would be forced to start from scratch, hiring investigators and legal staff, and then commencing an investigation against a presidency that has made stonewalling into an art form - and more than likely would fight the committee for every tidbit of information. In fact, unless there is a dramatic change in public attitude - the latest poll on the subject I have seen was an earlier September 2006 CNN Poll showing 69 percent of American opposed impeaching Bush - it will be the first responsibility of any impeachment undertaking to educate the public and Congress as to the need for impeachment. Without doing that, and finding bipartisan support for the undertaking, it would be the same sort of sham proceedings that the GOP undertook with Clinton.

Q: If the Dems do retake the House in November, what kind of political considerations will hold Democratic members of Congress from pushing for impeachment?

A: The only political restraint on a Democratic controlled House would be their collective good judgment. There is no question they have a duty to tell Americans what the Bush administration has been up to the past six years - and I have no doubt they will do that through aggressive oversight by all the committees of the House. But, say the Democrats win the House but not the Senate, meaning there is no chance in the world to convict Bush. Should the House impeach a president who will never be convicted? When the House files articles of impeachment with the Senate, it is acting in a manner analogous to that of a prosecutor. But prosecutors do not indict people they know they cannot convict. Should the House adopt a similar standard? Is it not blatantly political to undertake impeachment when there is no chance of conviction? This, of course, is what the House Republicans did with Clinton: They impeached him because they could, although they knew they did not have the votes in the Senate to convict. Do Democrats want to mimic that sorry exercise? I hope not. Another consideration is that Bush and his administration will be in its final years. Should impeachment be launched when a president is headed for the door, and it could take a year or more to conduct the inquiry? Or should it be pursued regardless of the prospects in the Senate, as a statement of what is unacceptable behavior for a president? Frankly, I think the issue of what is acceptable behavior for a presidency (following Bush and Cheney) should be front and center in the next election, for it is more important that voters address this subject than what could be considered an excessively political act by the House of Representatives.

Q: What lessons can we draw from the Clinton impeachment hearings that can be applied to people seeking to launch impeachment hearings, assuming the Dems retake the House?

A: I've anticipated this question in my earlier answers. I would only add that if Democrats were to do what the Republicans did to Clinton - impeach merely because they had the votes to do so and because they wanted to tarnish him - it will pretty much make a nullity of the impeachment clause. The founders added this clause to give the people, and their representatives in Congress, a means to control executive (and judicial) branch officials whose conduct threatens the well-being of the Constitution they have sworn to uphold. There may come a day when a president's conduct demands immediate removal, but the impeachment clause has been so politicized (by partisan impeachments) that a dangerously out-of-control presidency can hold on to office given the damage that has been done from these excessively political impeachments (where there was no bipartisan support). Democracy, and our constitutional machinery, is quite sturdy but they cannot withstand endless incautious political abuses. Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment and removal - both of which were near certainties for he not only had the Democrats seeking his removal but an overwhelming number of Republicans agreed. In short, no Congress should do again what was done to President Clinton. The Clinton impeachment was even more shameful than that of President Andrew Johnson. If there is not bipartisan support for impeachment, as there was with Nixon, Congress should only in extreme situations consider such proceedings.

Q: Considering your respective roles during the runup to the Nixon impeachment, will it feel odd to be sharing a stage with Liz Holtzman?

A: To the contrary. In fact, I have previously shared the stage with both Liz Holtzman and John Conyers on this subject, and I have learned something every time I do.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Was Lebanon a Weapon-Testing Ground for US, Iran?

Robert Fisk
The Independent
Oct. 29, 2006

Did Israel use a secret new uranium-based weapon in southern Lebanon this summer in the 34-day assault that cost more than 1,300 Lebanese lives, most of them civilians?

We know that the Israelis used American ‘bunker-buster’ bombs on Hezbollah’s Beirut headquarters. We know that they drenched southern Lebanon with cluster bombs in the last 72 hours of the war, leaving tens of thousands of bomblets which are still killing Lebanese civilians every week. And we now know — after it first categorically denied using such munitions — that the Israeli Army also used phosphorous bombs, weapons which are supposed to be restricted under the Third Protocol of the Geneva Convention which neither Israel nor the United States have signed.

But scientific evidence gathered from at least two bomb craters in Khiam and At-Tiri, the scene of fierce fighting between Hezbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops last July and August, suggests that uranium-based munitions may now also be included in Israel’s weapons inventory — and were used against targets in Lebanon. According to Dr. Chris Busby, the British scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, two soil samples thrown up by Israeli heavy or guided bombs showed “elevated radiation signatures.” Both have been forwarded for further examination to the Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire for mass spectrometry — used by the Ministry of Defense — which has confirmed the concentration of uranium isotopes in the samples.

Busby’s initial report states that there are two possible reasons for the contamination. “The first is that the weapon was some novel small experimental nuclear fission devise or other experimental weapon (e.g. thermobaric weapon) based on the high temperature of a uranium oxidation flash.... The second is that the weapon was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium.” A photograph of the explosion of the first bomb shows large clouds of black smoke that might result from burning uranium.

Enriched uranium is produced from natural uranium ore and is used as fuel for nuclear reactors. A waste product of the enrichment process is depleted uranium, an extremely hard metal used in anti-tank missiles for penetrating armor. Depleted uranium is less radioactive than natural uranium, which is less radioactive than enriched uranium.

Israel has a poor reputation for telling the truth about its use of weapons in Lebanon. In 1982, it denied using phosphorous munitions on civilian areas — until journalists discovered dying and dead civilians whose wounds caught fire when exposed to air. I myself saw two dead babies who, when taken from a mortuary drawer in West Beirut during the Israeli siege of the city, suddenly burst back into flames.

Israel officially denied using phosphorous again in Lebanon last summer — except for “marking” targets — even after civilians were photographed in Lebanese hospitals with burn wounds consistent with phosphorous munitions. Then last Sunday, Israel suddenly admitted that it had not been telling the truth. The Israeli minister in charge of government-Parliament relations, Jacob Edery, confirmed that phosphorous shells were used in direct attacks against the Hezbollah, adding that “according to international law, the use of phosphorous munitions is authorized and the (Israeli) Army keeps to the rules of international norms.”

Asked by the Independent if the Israeli Army had been using uranium-based munitions in Lebanon this summer, Mark Regev, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that “Israel does not use any weaponry which is not authorized by international law or international conventions.” This, however, begs more questions than it answers. Much international law does not cover modern uranium weapons because they were not invented when humanitarian rules like the Geneva Conventions were drawn up and because Western governments still refuse to believe that their use can cause long-term damage to the health of thousands of civilians living in the area of the explosions.

American and British forces used hundreds of tons of depleted uranium (DU) shells in Iraq in 1991 — their hardened penetrator warheads manufactured from the waste products of the nuclear industry — and five years later, a plague of cancers emerged across the south of Iraq. Initial US military assessments warned of grave consequences for public health if such weapons were used against armored vehicles. But the US administration and the British government later went out of their way to belittle these claims. Yet the cancers continued to spread amid reports that civilians in Bosnia — where DU was also used by NATO aircraft — were suffering new forms of cancer. DU shells were again used in the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq but it is too early to register any health effects.

When a uranium penetrator hits a hard target, the particles of the explosion are very long-lived in the environment,” Busby said yesterday. “They spread over long distances. They can be inhaled into the lungs. The military really seem to believe that this stuff is not as dangerous as it is.”

Yet why would Israel use such a weapon when its targets — in the case of Khiam, for example — were only two miles from the Israeli border? The dust ignited by DU munitions can be blown across international borders, just as the chlorine gas used in attacks by both sides in World War I often blew back on its perpetrators.

Chris Bellamy, professor of military science and doctrine at Cranfield University, who has reviewed the Busby report said: “At worst it’s some sort of experimental weapon with an enriched uranium component the purpose of which we don’t yet know. At best — if you can say that — it shows a remarkably cavalier attitude to the use of nuclear waste products.” The soil sample from Khiam — site of a notorious torture prison when Israel occupied southern Lebanon between 1978 and 2000, and a front-line Hezbollah stronghold in last summer’s war — was a piece of impacted red earth from an explosion; the isotope ratio was 108, indicative of the presence of enriched uranium.

The health effects on local civilian populations following the use of large uranium penetrators and the large amounts of respirable uranium oxide particles in the atmosphere,” the Busby report says, “are likely to be significant.... We recommend that the area is examined for further traces of these weapons with a view to clean up.”

This summer’s Lebanon war began after Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the Lebanese frontier into Israel, captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others, prompting Israel to unleash a massive bombardment of Lebanon’s villages, cities, bridges and civilian infrastructure. Human rights groups have said that Israel committed war crimes when it attacked civilians, but that the Hezbollah were also guilty of such crimes because they fired missiles into Israel which were also filled with ball-bearings, turning their rockets into primitive one-time-only cluster bombs.

Many Lebanese, however, long ago concluded that the latest Lebanon war was a weapons testing ground for the Americans and Iranians. Just as Israel used hitherto unproven US missiles in its attacks, so the Iranians were able to test-fire a rocket which hit an Israeli corvette off the Lebanese coast, killing four Israeli sailors and almost sinking the vessel after it suffered a 15-hour on-board fire. What the weapons manufacturers make of the latest scientific findings of potential uranium weapons use in southern Lebanon is not yet known. Nor is their effect on civilians.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Nuclear Proliferation and Burma
The Hidden Connection
Nov 13, 2006
Article by Dictator Watch
Roland Watson

Dictator Watch has received information that Burma's military junta, the SPDC, is intimately involved in one of the greatest security threats the world faces, nuclear proliferation. The SPDC is mining and refining uranium and then bartering it to North Korea and reportedly also Iran. In return it is receiving, from North Korea, missiles including SAMs (surface to air missiles) and also possibly ballistic missiles, and technical assistance on its own nuclear weapons program.

While we do not have independent confirmation of this information, the case it presents is compelling. Uranium ore is being mined in Moehnyin Township in Kachin State and Mogok in Mandalay Division. The ore is then transported to a refinery on the Irrawaddy River at Thabeikkyin (just over one hundred kilometers north of Mandalay), which is conveniently located between the two mine sites. There the ore is processed into a material known as "yellow cake," which is likely what is being bartered.

Yellow cake is the raw material for the uranium enrichment process, which increases the proportion of uranium 235 isotope, the fissionable form of the element used in weapons and also nuclear fuel. The process involves adding fluorine to create uranium hexafluoride. This is then melted and pressurized to create uranium hexafluoride gas, which is subsequently filtered via gas diffusion, or put through a series of gas centrifuges, to yield higher concentrations of U235.

The SPDC has many secret facilities spread throughout Burma, but the most important are east of Mandalay in Maymyo (a.k.a Pyin-U-Lwin) and to the southwest of this in the Setkhya Mountains. The military complex at Maymyo includes Defense Industry buildings, the Defense Institute of Technology, and the Defense Services Academy. Approximately forty kilometers south of this the Chinese built a hydroelectric dam on the Myit Nge River. Local villagers who have fled to Thailand report that there is a tunnel from this dam leading to the defense complex, presumably to deliver electricity for weapons production. Just west of this, in the Setkhya Mountains, Burma's "Nuclear Battalion" has in its own network of tunnels and reportedly is engaged in bomb-making research. Democratic Voice of Burma has reported that the center of this operation is near the villages of Lun Kyaw and Taung Taw, and that the latter is well guarded. Local villagers reported hearing huge explosions at night in April, June and September this year.

The implosion triggering system for a nuclear weapon uses conventional high explosives. The explosives surround the fissile material core and on detonation rapidly compress it to a supercritical state.

As background, beginning in 2001 Burma's junta began a project to build a research reactor with Russian assistance (Miniatom) and training. Technicians who are sent to Russia are prohibited from seeing their families on their return to Burma. The families are given cell phones for communication. This program is also known to involve North Korean technicians and possibly Pakistani nuclear weapons experts who took refuge in Burma, also in 2001.

For missiles, the SPDC has made purchases from numerous countries including China, North Korea, Russia, and the Ukraine. These include different types of missiles: air-to-air missiles (AAMs), including for the MIG-29s it bought from Russia; SAMs; and perhaps surface-to-surface missiles (including ship-launched). The Congressional Research Service has just reported that between 2001 and 2005 North Korea sold forty ballistic missiles to other countries. Given that they are already working together, and with China, with whom they share a land corridor, it would be surprising if Burma were not a customer. North Korea is desperate for cash, and the SPDC has money to spare from its energy and other natural resource sales, and narcotics dealings (witness the recent extravagant wedding of Than Shwe's daughter).

An additional question is if the junta is now constructing its own missile production facility, at the Defense Industry complex, using imported equipment and technical assistance.

The Chief of Staff of China's Army, General Liang Guanglie, visited the Maymyo complex, specifically the Defense Institute of Technology, on October 24th. The conventional view of the trip is that it was to negotiate weapons sales and perhaps to initiate training. Dictator Watch believes that a visit from this high a military official would have had other purposes, likely concerning both Burma's missile and nuclear weapons programs.

Proliferation involving Burma, including with the possibility that the SPDC will (or already has), obtained both ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, has severe security implications for the region, notably Thailand and India, who would be exposed to the greatest possible threat. Also, China, under the new Security Council sanctions, is obliged to stop any transport of Burmese yellow cake through its territory to North Korea.

United Nations Under-Secretary Gambari is about to visit Burma, as a prelude to reporting to the Security Council. These issues of proliferation should be at the top of his investigation agenda. Further, he should document the ethnic cleansing now being committed against the Karen, and the longer-term genocide to which the Karen, Karenni and Shan have been subjected.

Gambari should also investigate the massacre against prison porters, news of which has just been released by the Karen Information Center. Two different and separate porters who escaped to the Karen National Union on October 19th reported that fifty prison porters had been executed in an area between the villages of Nor Soe and Gor Thay Doe, Taungoo District, Karen State. Prison porters are individuals who typically have been arrested for committing petty crimes and are then sent to the front lines to porter. Many are actually political prisoners, having been arrested for defying local authorities in some way. Also, these political prisoners, of which there are undoubtedly hundreds if not thousands in the country, are not included in the official political prisoner tally of 1,100 people, which is limited to pro-democracy activists.

The Burma Army brought some 600 prison porters from Kachin State, 200 to Nyaunglaybin District and 400 to Taungoo. The massacre was committed in Taungoo, by officers of Battalions 80 and 35, under Light Infantry Division 66. Forty-eight individuals were shot, one was beheaded, and one was beaten to death. The escapees reported that additional porters are being killed on a daily basis.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Secret World of Robert Gates

By Robert Parry
November 9, 2006

Robert Gates, George W. Bush’s choice to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary, is a trusted figure within the Bush Family’s inner circle, but there are lingering questions about whether Gates is a trustworthy public official.

The 63-year-old Gates has long faced accusations of collaborating with Islamic extremists in Iran, arming Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq, and politicizing U.S. intelligence to conform with the desires of policymakers – three key areas that relate to his future job.

Gates skated past some of these controversies during his 1991 confirmation hearings to be CIA director – and the current Bush administration is seeking to slip Gates through the congressional approval process again, this time by pressing for a quick confirmation by the end of the year, before the new Democratic-controlled Senate is seated.

If Bush’s timetable is met, there will be no time for a serious investigation into Gates’s past.

Fifteen years ago, Gates got a similar pass when leading Democrats agreed to put “bipartisanship” ahead of careful oversight when Gates was nominated for the CIA job by President George H.W. Bush.

In 1991, despite doubts about Gates’s honesty over Iran-Contra and other scandals, the career intelligence officer brushed aside accusations that he played secret roles in arming both sides of the Iran-Iraq War. Since then, however, documents have surfaced that raise new questions about Gates’s sweeping denials.

For instance, the Russian government sent an intelligence report to a House investigative task force in early 1993 stating that Gates participated in secret contacts with Iranian officials in 1980 to delay release of 52 U.S. hostages then held in Iran, a move to benefit the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Robert Gates, at that time a staffer of the National Security Council in the administration of Jimmy Carter, and former CIA Director George Bush also took part” in a meeting in Paris in October 1980, according to the Russian report, which meshed with information from witnesses who have alleged Gates’s involvement in the Iranian gambit.

Once in office, the Reagan administration did permit weapons to flow to Iran via Israel. One of the planes carrying an arms shipment was shot down over the Soviet Union on July 18, 1981, after straying off course, but the incident drew little attention at the time.

The arms flow continued, on and off, until 1986 when the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal broke. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege. For text of the Russian report, click here. To view the actual U.S. embassy cable that includes the Russian report, click here.]

Iraqgate Scandal

Gates also was implicated in a secret operation to funnel military assistance to Iraq in the 1980s, as the Reagan administration played off the two countries battling each other in the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq War.

Middle Eastern witnesses alleged that Gates worked on the secret Iraqi initiative, which included Saddam Hussein’s procurement of cluster bombs and chemicals used to produce chemical weapons for the war against Iran.

Gates denied those Iran-Iraq accusations in 1991 and the Senate Intelligence Committee – then headed by Gates’s personal friend, Sen. David Boren, D-Oklahoma – failed to fully check out the claims before recommending Gates for confirmation.

However, four years later – in early January 1995 – Howard Teicher, one of Reagan’s National Security Council officials, added more details about Gates’s alleged role in the Iraq shipments.
In a sworn affidavit submitted in a Florida criminal case, Teicher stated that the covert arming of Iraq dated back to spring 1982 when Iran had gained the upper hand in the war, leading President Reagan to authorize a U.S. tilt toward Saddam Hussein.

The effort to arm the Iraqis was “spearheaded” by CIA Director William Casey and involved his deputy, Robert Gates, according to Teicher’s affidavit. “The CIA, including both CIA Director Casey and Deputy Director Gates, knew of, approved of, and assisted in the sale of non-U.S. origin military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to Iraq,” Teicher wrote.

Ironically, that same pro-Iraq initiative involved Donald Rumsfeld, then Reagan’s special emissary to the Middle East. An infamous photograph from 1983 shows a smiling Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein.

Teicher described Gates’s role as far more substantive than Rumsfeld’s. “Under CIA Director [William] Casey and Deputy Director Gates, the CIA authorized, approved and assisted [Chilean arms dealer Carlos] Cardoen in the manufacture and sale of cluster bombs and other munitions to Iraq,” Teicher wrote.

Like the Russian report, the Teicher affidavit has never been never seriously examined. After Teicher submitted it to a federal court in Miami, the affidavit was classified and then attacked by Clinton administration prosecutors. They saw Teicher’s account as disruptive to their prosecution of a private company, Teledyne Industries, and one of its salesmen, Ed Johnson.

But the questions about Gates’s participation in dubious schemes involving hotspots such as Iran and Iraq are relevant again today because they reflect on Gates’s judgment, his honesty and his relationship with two countries at the top of U.S. military concerns.

About 140,000 U.S. troops are now bogged down in Iraq, 3 ½ years after President George W. Bush ordered an invasion to remove Saddam Hussein from power and eliminate his supposed WMD stockpiles. One reason the United States knew that Hussein once had those stockpiles was because the Reagan administration helped him procure the material needed for the WMD production in the 1980s.

The United States also is facing down Iran’s Islamic government over its nuclear ambitions. Though Bush has so far emphasized diplomatic pressure on Iran, he has pointedly left open the possibility of a military option.

Political Intelligence

Beyond the secret schemes to aid Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, Gates also stands accused of playing a central role in politicizing the CIA intelligence product, tailoring it to fit the interests of his political superiors, a legacy that some Gates critics say contributed to the botched CIA’s analysis of Iraqi WMD in 2002.

Before Gates’s rapid rise through the CIA’s ranks in the 1980s, the CIA’s tradition was to zealously protect the objectivity and scholarship of the intelligence. However, during the Reagan administration, that ethos collapsed.

At Gates’s confirmation hearings in 1991, former CIA analysts, including renowned Kremlinologist Mel Goodman, took the extraordinary step of coming out of the shadows to accuse Gates of politicizing the intelligence while he was chief of the analytical division and then deputy director.

The former intelligence officers said the ambitious Gates pressured the CIA’s analytical division to exaggerate the Soviet menace to fit the ideological perspective of the Reagan administration. Analysts who took a more nuanced view of Soviet power and Moscow’s behavior in the world faced pressure and career reprisals.

In 1981, Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl of the CIA’s Soviet office was the unfortunate analyst who was handed the assignment to prepare an analysis on the Soviet Union’s alleged support and direction of international terrorism.

Contrary to the desired White House take on Soviet-backed terrorism, Ekedahl said the consensus of the intelligence community was that the Soviets discouraged acts of terrorism by groups getting support from Moscow for practical, not moral, reasons.

We agreed that the Soviets consistently stated, publicly and privately, that they considered international terrorist activities counterproductive and advised groups they supported not to use such tactics,” Ekedahl said. “We had hard evidence to support this conclusion.”

But Gates took the analysts to task, accusing them of trying to “stick our finger in the policy maker’s eye,” Ekedahl testified

Ekedahl said Gates, dissatisfied with the terrorism assessment, joined in rewriting the draft “to suggest greater Soviet support for terrorism and the text was altered by pulling up from the annex reports that overstated Soviet involvement.”

In his memoirs, From the Shadows, Gates denied politicizing the CIA’s intelligence product, though acknowledging that he was aware of Casey’s hostile reaction to the analysts’ disagreement with right-wing theories about Soviet-directed terrorism.

Soon, the hammer fell on the analysts who had prepared the Soviet-terrorism report. Ekedahl said many analysts were “replaced by people new to the subject who insisted on language emphasizing Soviet control of international terrorist activities.”

A donnybrook ensued inside the U.S. intelligence community. Some senior officials responsible for analysis pushed back against Casey’s dictates, warning that acts of politicization would undermine the integrity of the process and risk policy disasters in the future.

Working with Gates, Casey also undertook a series of institutional changes that gave him fuller control of the analytical process. Casey required that drafts needed clearance from his office before they could go out to other intelligence agencies.

Casey appointed Gates to be director of the Directorate of Intelligence [DI] and consolidated Gates’s control over analysis by also making him chairman of the National Intelligence Council, another key analytical body.

Casey and Gates used various management tactics to get the line of intelligence they desired and to suppress unwanted intelligence,” Ekedahl said. [Sound familiar?]

Career Reprisals

With Gates using top-down management techniques, CIA analysts sensitive to their career paths intuitively grasped that they could rarely go wrong by backing the “company line” and presenting the worst-case scenario about Soviet capabilities and intentions, Ekedahl and other CIA analysts said.

Largely outside public view, the CIA’s proud Soviet analytical office underwent a purge of its most senior people. “Nearly every senior analyst on Soviet foreign policy eventually left the Office of Soviet Analysis,” Goodman said.

Gates made clear he intended to shake up the DI’s culture, demanding greater responsiveness to the needs of the White House and other policymakers.

In a speech to the DI’s analysts and managers on Jan. 7, 1982, Gates berated the division for producing shoddy analysis that administration officials didn’t find helpful.

Gates unveiled an 11-point management plan to whip the DI into shape. His plan included rotating division chiefs through one-year stints in policy agencies and requiring CIA analysts to “refresh their substantive knowledge and broaden their perspective” by taking courses at Washington-area think tanks and universities.

Gates declared that a new Production Evaluation Staff would aggressively review their analytical products and serve as his “junkyard dog.”

Gates’s message was that the DI, which had long operated as an “ivory tower” for academically oriented analysts committed to an ethos of objectivity, would take on more of a corporate culture with a product designed to fit the needs of those up the ladder both inside and outside the CIA.

It was a kind of chilling speech,” recalled Peter Dickson, an analyst who concentrated on proliferation issues. “One of the things he wanted to do, he was going to shake up the DI. He was going to read every paper that came out. What that did was that everybody between the analyst and him had to get involved in the paper to a greater extent because their careers were going to be at stake.”

A chief Casey-Gates tactic for exerting tighter control over the analysis was to express concern about “the editorial process,” Dickson said.

You can jerk people around in the editorial process and hide behind your editorial mandate to intimidate people,” Dickson said.

Gates soon was salting the analytical division with his allies, a group of managers who became known as the “Gates clones.” Some of those who rose with Gates were David Cohen, David Carey, George Kolt, Jim Lynch, Winston Wiley, John Gannon and John McLaughlin.

Though Dickson’s area of expertise – nuclear proliferation – was on the fringes of the Reagan-Bush primary concerns, it ended up getting him into trouble anyway. In 1983, he clashed with his superiors over his conclusion that the Soviet Union was more committed to controlling proliferation of nuclear weapons than the administration wanted to hear.

When Dickson stood by his evidence, he soon found himself facing accusations about his fitness and other pressures that eventually caused him to leave the CIA.

Dickson also was among the analysts who raised alarms about Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons, another sore point because the Reagan-Bush administration wanted Pakistan’s assistance in funneling weapons to Islamic fundamentalists fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

One of the effects from the exaggerated intelligence about Soviet power and intentions was to make other potential risks – such as allowing development of a nuclear bomb in the Islamic world or training Islamic fundamentalists in techniques of sabotage – pale in comparison.
While worst-case scenarios were in order for the Soviet Union and other communist enemies, best-case scenarios were the order of the day for Reagan-Bush allies, including Osama bin Laden and other Arab extremists rushing to Afghanistan to wage a holy war against European invaders, in this case, the Russians.

As for the Pakistani drive to get a nuclear bomb, the Reagan-Bush administration turned to word games to avoid triggering anti-proliferation penalties that otherwise would be imposed on Pakistan.

There was a distinction made to say that the possession of the device is not the same as developing it,” Dickson told me. “They got into the argument that they don’t quite possess it yet because they haven’t turned the last screw into the warhead.”

Finally, the intelligence on the Pakistan Bomb grew too strong to continue denying the reality. But the delay in confronting Pakistan ultimately allowed the Muslim government in Islamabad to produce nuclear weapons. Pakistani scientists also shared their know-how with “rogue” states, such as North Korea and Libya.

The politicization that took place during the Casey-Gates era is directly responsible for the CIA’s loss of its ethical compass and the erosion of its credibility,” Goodman told the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1991. “The fact that the CIA missed the most important historical development in its history – the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the Soviet Union itself – is due in large measure to the culture and process that Gates established in his directorate.”
Confirmation Battle

To push through Gates’s nomination to be CIA director in 1991, the elder George Bush lined up solid Republican backing for Gates and enough accommodating Democrats – particularly Sen. Boren, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman.

In his memoirs, Gates credited his friend, Boren, for clearing away any obstacles. “David took it as a personal challenge to get me confirmed,” Gates wrote.

Part of running interference for Gates included rejecting the testimony of witnesses who implicated Gates in scandals beginning with the alleged back-channel negotiations with Iran in 1980 through the arming of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the mid-1980s.

Boren’s Intelligence Committee brushed aside two witnesses connecting Gates to the alleged schemes, former Israeli intelligence official Ari Ben-Menashe and Iranian businessman Richard Babayan. Both offered detailed accounts about Gates’s alleged connections to the schemes.
Ben-Menashe, who worked for Israeli military intelligence from 1977-87, first fingered Gates as an operative in the secret Iraq arms pipeline in August 1990 during an interview that I conducted with him for PBS Frontline.

At the time, Ben-Menashe was in jail in New York on charges of trying to sell cargo planes to Iran (charges which were later dismissed). When the interview took place, Gates was in a relatively obscure position, as deputy national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush and not yet a candidate for the top CIA job.In that interview and later under oath to Congress, Ben-Menashe said Gates joined in meetings between Republicans and senior Iranians in October 1980.

Ben-Menashe said he also arranged Gates’s personal help in bringing a suitcase full of cash into Miami in early 1981 to pay off some of the participants in the hostage gambit.Ben-Menashe also placed Gates in a 1986 meeting with Chilean arms manufacturer Cardoen, who allegedly was supplying cluster bombs and chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein’s army. Babayan, an Iranian exile working with Iraq, also connected Gates to the Iraqi supply lines and to Cardoen.

Gates has steadfastly denied involvement in either the Iran-hostage caper or the Iraqgate arms deals.

I was accused on television and in the print media by people I had never spoken to or met of selling weapons to Iraq, or walking through Miami airport with suitcases full of cash, of being with Bush in Paris in October 1980 to meet with Iranians, and on and on,” Gates wrote in his memoirs.

The allegations of meetings with me around the world were easily disproved for the committee by my travel records, calendars, and countless witnesses.” But none of Gates’s supposedly supportive evidence was ever made public by either the Senate Intelligence Committee or the later inquiries into either the Iran hostage initiative or Iraqgate.

Not one of Gates’s “countless witnesses” who could vouch for Gates’s whereabouts was identified. Though Boren pledged publicly to have his investigators question Babayan, they never did.Perhaps most galling for those of us who tried to assess Ben-Menashe’s credibility was the Intelligence Committee’s failure to test Ben-Menashe’s claim that he met with Gates in Paramus, New Jersey, on the afternoon of April 20, 1989.

The date was pinned down by the fact that Ben-Menashe had been under Customs surveillance in the morning. So it was a perfect test for whether Ben-Menashe – or Gates – was lying.

When I first asked about this claim, congressional investigators told me that Gates had a perfect alibi for that day. They said Gates had been with Senator Boren at a speech in Oklahoma. But when we checked that out, we discovered that Gates’s Oklahoma speech had been on April 19, a day earlier. Gates also had not been with Boren and had returned to Washington by that evening.

So where was Gates the next day?

Could he have taken a quick trip to northern New Jersey? Since senior White House national security advisers keep detailed notes on their daily meetings, it should have been easy for Boren’s investigators to interview someone who could vouch for Gates’s whereabouts on the afternoon of April 20.

But the committee chose not to nail down an alibi for Gates. The committee said further investigation wasn’t needed because Gates denied going to New Jersey and his personal calendar made no reference to the trip.

But the investigators couldn’t tell me where Gates was that afternoon or with whom he may have met. Essentially, the alibi came down to Gates’s word.

Ironically, Boren’s key aide who helped limit the investigation of Gates was George Tenet, whose behind-the-scenes maneuvering on Gates’s behalf won the personal appreciation of the senior George Bush. Tenet later became President Bill Clinton’s last CIA director and was kept on in 2001 by the younger George Bush partly on his father’s advice.

Now, as the Bush Family grapples with the disaster in Iraq, it is turning to an even more trusted hand to run the Defense Department. The appointment of Robert Gates suggests that the Bush Family is circling the wagons to save the embattled presidency of George W. Bush.

To determine whether Gates can be counted on to do what’s in the interest of the larger American public is another question altogether.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'


Thursday, November 09, 2006


November 09, 2006

I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade. There will no doubt be some minor improvements in the lives of average Americans with a Democrat-controlled Congress. The craziest parts of the Bush domestic legislative agenda are dead, and he won’t even bother to propose the most neanderthal of judges.

The Democrats felt snake-bit and have shaken the curse of Rove, and it’s good to prove that the United States isn’t doomed to be a one-party state forever, no matter how identical the two parties are (unfortunately, part of what happened is replacing moderate Republicans with conservative Democrats).

On the other hand, that old bugbear of the militia movement from the 90’s, the Zionist Occupation Government, is now in full force and effect. The House is entirely the construction of Israeli military veteran Rahm Emanuel (a man with a family background in terrorist / extremist Zionism who mysteriously and suddenly popped up as a force during the Clinton years, and was rewarded with personal enrichment by the Jewish Billionaires Club), with the new members hand-chosen to ensure full compliance with the Zionist plan for the Middle East. The most striking thing about the Democrat victory is the fact that the Republicans handed the Democrats three winning issues:

1) Prosecution of those responsible for the lies which led to the attack on Iraq,
2) Withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, and
3) A refusal to become involved in any more wars fought against American interests,

and the Democrats ran from those issues as quickly as they could. The voters wanted to send a clear message to Bush, so held their noses and voted for Democrats who steadfastly refused to run on the issues the voters felt were important. The only possible explanation for the Democrat refusal to run on the winning issues is that the Lobby didn’t want its agents prosecuted, didn’t want American troops out of Iraq, and has some more wars in mind for the sole benefit of Israel.

If Rahm wasn’t bad enough, there’s also Nancy Pelosi.

Despite a possible razor-thin Democrat win in the Senate, the horse-trading necessary to pass bills will mean that the most powerful man in Congress is ultra-Zionist Joe Lieberman (and it is not a coincidence that Democrat leadership did everything it could to undermine the campaign of Ned Lamont).

Despite some talk in Israel that a sane Congress might hurt Israeli interests, Henry Waxman and AIPAC (!) laid such fears to rest:

“‘There will be some Democratic chairmen who may not share all my views or have as clear a perspective on Israel as I do,’ Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California), a Jewish lawmaker, said in a recent on-line chat with Jewish voters, sponsored by the House Democratic caucus. ‘But they will not be chairing committees dealing with Israel and the Middle East.’

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee also weighed in. In a statement last week, it said, ‘Strong bipartisan support for Israel exists in both parties and, regardless of who is in control, that support will remain steadfast.’

‘AIPAC works closely with leaders on both sides of the aisle, each deeply committed to strengthening the bonds between the United States and Israel,’ the statement continued. ‘No matter who wins the upcoming elections, AIPAC is confident that Congress will continue to support a strong Israel and a strong relationship between the United States and its most reliable ally in the Middle East.

From an AIPAC briefing:

AIPAC reached nearly every lawmaker elected in Tuesday’s mid-term congressional elections as part of its effort to educate political candidates on the value of the U.S.-Israel relationship. During the campaign that ended Tuesday, nearly every viable candidate met with AIPAC professional staff members and submitted a position paper summarizing his or her views on U.S. Middle East policy. A non-partisan organization, AIPAC has for decades worked with Republican and Democratic members of Congress to strengthen the ties between the United States and Israel.”

Just to make things crystal clear, the probable new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, is being investigated by the FBI for her relationship to AIPAC, specifically the influence used by big AIPAC donors (aka the Jewish Billionaires Club) to keep her on the Committee in return for running interference for AIPAC in its ongoing espionage case concerning Rosen, Weissman, and Franklin. As we know from the Iraq attack debacle, bad manipulated intelligence leads to war.

Another fake ‘terrorist’ attack, Bush calls for another war for Israel, the Zionist-controlled media lies (again), and Rahm, Nancy, Joe and Jane fall in line. The future of the United States is actually more perilous, and in more danger from another treasonous attack from the Lobby, than it was before the midterm elections.