Sunday, June 07, 2015


"If you knew then what you know now..."

It started with Jeb Bush, since his brother George was President when the decision was made to invade Iraq in 2003. Since then, it has become standard practice in the media to ask every one of the more than a dozen people running for President the same question: "If you knew then what you know now, would you have invaded Iraq?"

Readers who weren't politically active in 2003 might be forgiven if they thought that this question was serving some kind of progressive role, discrediting the invasion, occupation, and continuing U.S. military role in Iraq. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because the central function of this question is actually to perpetuate the myth that the invasion of Iraq was a "mistake," a well-meaning action based on "faulty intelligence" but all in the service of some noble goal.

In late 2002 and early 2003, there was a certain divergence of opinion in the ruling class. Some were pushing for an invasion of Iraq, based on claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD), that it had something to do with Al Qaeda's terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001, and that its alleged alliance with Al Qaeda meant that, even if Iraq wouldn't dare use nuclear weapons directly against the U.S. or its allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, it might give a nuclear bomb to Al Qaeda who would do so. All of these claims were utterly false, but in the media which reflect ruling class thinking, they were all (with the exception of the 9/11 connection) accepted uncritically.

The opposition to the invasion came not from those who disputed the supposed "facts", but from the more cautious who wanted U.N. inspections to continue, to be able to prove definitively that Iraq did (or did not) have WMD. Of course, following the famous dictum of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld — "the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence" — that proof would never have been forthcoming. There would always be one more place to look, and even if the inspectors had looked everywhere, those pushing for war simply claimed that WMD were being moved around to hide them.

But even that opposition vanished on Feb. 5, 2003, when Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke at the United Nations, repeating and expanding upon allegations that had been made a few days earlier by President Bush during his State of the Union Address. Brandishing an ominous vial of white powder (as if it were anthrax), diagrams of imaginary mobile bioweapons labs, and ambiguous satellite photos, Powell told the world with absolute certainty that Iraq had WMD. "We know that Iraq has at least seven of these mobile biological agent factories," he said. "There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more." "Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons." Every one of these statements, and more, were categorical. Not "we think he has," but "there can be no doubt."

Unlike Bush and his Vice-President Dick Cheney, Powell was looked on as a "moderate," a reasonable man. Faced with his speech at the U.N., ruling class opposition to the invasion collapsed, despite the fact that his speech didn't sway enough U.N. members into providing a Security Council endorsement of the invasion, which would have made it "legal." When reporters and politicians talk now about what "we" "knew" then, they're referring above all to Powell's speech at the U.N.

We know now that virtually every word of that speech was an out-and-out lie. But what about then? To begin with, even if it turned out that Iraq did have WMD, the speech was still a lie from beginning to end. Because, contrary to Powell's assertions, the U.S. did not "know" that Iraq had seven mobile biolabs (to take just one of the allegations). It had been told they did by a single person, later revealed to have the curious code name "Curveball," who had told the German intelligence agents who debriefed him that he had never made any bioweapons nor seen anyone else do so. The Germans categorized his claims as "vague, mostly secondhand and impossible to confirm" and categorized Curveball himself as "not a stable, psychologically stable guy." This kind of "evidence" was the basis for Powell's statement, which was not "we've heard that," or "we have reason to believe that," but "we know." It's true that the American public didn't learn about Curveball until 2004, but Powell certainly had. The only Defense Department analyst who had ever met Curveball had told Powell the day before his speech that his "information" was unreliable.

The person in charge of the weapons inspections in Iraq, David Kay, had even admitted in a September 2002 interview on CNN that there was a "lack of hard evidence" for the charges they were making. Did that stop Powell from speaking with such certainty at the U.N.? Of course not, because this speech was intended to launch a war and nothing less. Admitting that the U.S. wasn't actually sure of what he was claiming would have given more ammunition to those who wanted inspections to continue, and that is not what the Bush administration wanted. They (and the majority of the U.S. ruling class) wanted war.

It wasn't just that the U.S. didn't really "know" that Iraq had WMD, as Powell claimed they did. In fact, the U.S. actually had quite reliable evidence that Iraq did not have WMD. In 1995, General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law and the Iraqi minister who had been in charge of Iraq's weapons programs, had defected to Jordan. Kamel told U.N. debriefers that after the Gulf War (which ended in early 1991), Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons stocks and the missiles to deliver them. The U.S. government had managed to keep this story from the American public for years, but on Feb. 24, 2003, shortly after Powell's speech but still three weeks before the invasion actually happened, Newsweek broke the story, and two days later, the transcript of Kamel's testimony, which had been kept secret, was made public by a Cambridge University analyst.

So "what we knew then" was, in fact, that Iraq had neither WMD nor an active WMD program. The government (although not the public) was also well aware at the time that George Bush's State of the Union claim that "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" was an out-an-out lie. Indeed the reason the words "the British government" were in that sentence was to defect responsibility, because the CIA already knew that the documents on which this claim were based were amateurish forgeries; the director of the CIA, George Tenet admitted as much, but only several months after the invasion.

Is this all "20-20 hindsight"? No. My own blog, Left I on the News, didn't begin until August, 2003, but in other writings before the invasion I wrote many of the things described above. And even in cases where the facts hadn't yet come out (as in the case of Curveball, for example), listening to Powell's speech with an open mind made very clear at the time that this evidence was less than solid, or completely fabricated. For example, I wrote then:

"The reason why the U.S. has not shared this "evidence" is readily apparent. George Bush and Tony Blair have stood before the cameras before and trotted out photos purporting to show, among other things, Iraq rebuilding nuclear facilities. But inspectors on the ground quickly verified that this was complete nonsense — the facilities in question were rusted, cobwebbed, and hadn't been used in years. Likewise we have heard much about aluminum tubes, which Bush and Powell continue to point to as evidence despite the fact that the IAEA has concluded they were intended for conventional weapons, not centrifuges. The Iraqi government may have minimal credibility, but the sad fact is that the credibility of the U.S. and British governments is nil."

Nor was I the only one, of course. Among others who wrote columns exposing the hollow nature of Powell's speech (and the U.S. "evidence" in general) were Rahul Mahajan, Phyllis Bennis, Robert Fisk, Ali Abunimah, and Stephen Zunes.

Nor was the antiwar movement fooled by Bush and Powell's lies. The ANSWER Coalition, which had formed a year and a half earlier in response to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, threw itself into organizing demonstrations against the impending war, demonstrations which brought out hundreds of thousands across the United States and millions around the world. In its response to Powell's speech, it wrote "Powell has presented no threat, no plan, no capability. Is there justification for waging a first strike war of aggression, for bombarding the people of Iraq with massive firepower?" And unlike the Bush administration, which was busy downplaying the potential cost of the war both in dollars and manpower, as well as the duration of the war ("weeks, not months" was their prediction), the ANSWER Coalition correctly foresaw what was to come:

"Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis may be slaughtered. Tens of thousands of service members will be sent to risk their lives. The economic cost, estimated between $200 billion to $2 trillion will loot the U.S. treasury and mortgage future generations, depleting funds that could provide essential human needs such as education, healthcare, childcare and jobs."

The truth is this — any objective person who wasn't looking for a reason (or an excuse) for the U.S. to launch a war on Iraq could look at the "evidence" presented and understand that it didn't support the U.S. claims.

And there's another aspect to this as well, perhaps in some ways even more important. What if Iraq did have WMD, or WMD programs? Based on their statements, all of the major candidates would have supported the invasion, even "knowing what we know now" (which is, among other things, that thousands of Americans and a million Iraqis would die, all to destroy a functioning country and leave in its place what is approaching what the U.S. government calls a "failed state"). But whether Iraq had WMD or not, the invasion was still illegal under international law because it was not supported by a vote of the U.N. Security Council.

There was also no "imminent threat" to the United States (e.g., troops massed on the U.S. border) which would justify such an attack without a U.N. vote. Far from threatening to attack the U.S., Iraq had in fact been under constant U.S. attack since the end of the Gulf War, both militarily and economically. So the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a war crime, the "supreme crime" according to Robert H. Jackson, chief prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg Trials. That's a simple statement of fact you won't hear from Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, or any of the other candidates, because they are quite prepared to commit such war crimes themselves in the future. Today, for example, almost without exception they support arming rebels in Syria attempting to overthrow the sovereign Syrian government, a clear violation of international law. Yet the only criticism we hear of Obama is that he didn't do it soon enough, or go far enough. To the U.S. ruling class, "international law" is something to be used to punish its enemies, but not something that applies to the U.S. itself.

So when you hear candidates claiming that "knowing then what we know now" they wouldn't have attacked Iraq, realize that they are either ignorant of the facts discussed above, or lying. Because the politicians at the time also "knew then what we know now" (at least about WMD in Iraq, although obviously not about the outcome of the war), and it didn't stop them from launching the war, which was never about Iraqi WMD, Al Qaeda, or any of the other explanations offered by the ruling class. Facts simply didn't play a role in the decision. Not those facts, anyway.

A good chronology of what the U.S. government was saying, what they actually knew, and when the public learned the truth can be found here

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Robert Doggart: The terrorist who wasn't

On April 10, a man was arrested by the FBI. He had been recorded discussing plans to travel with other armed people to burn down a religious institution and gun down anyone who tried to stop them. His plan was nothing short of "Holy War": "We will offer those lives as collateral to prove our commitment to our God" and "We shall be Warriors who will inflict horrible numbers of casualties" were two of the things he had written.

Two weeks after his arrest, he pleaded guilty to "interstate communication of threats," a charge that carries a sentence of between 0 and 5 years in prison, along with a fine. He was not charged with terrorism, or even with a hate crime. He wasn't even charged with "conspiracy" despite having talked to numerous individuals around the country to plan his attack. And despite his murderous threats and the fact the he is armed, he is currently out on bail, awaiting sentencing.

To this day, the name of this man - Robert Doggart - has not appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, nor been heard on CNN or any other national media, despite the fact that just last year he was a Congressional candidate who received six percent of the vote. Nor, in the literal handful of local news articles which have appeared about the case, has he been referred to as a terrorist.

Robert Doggart, you see, isn't a Muslim, but an Islamophobe, and the religious institution he planned to burn down was a mosque. The community he planned to attack and "utterly destroy" was called Islamberg, a New York community of the Muslims of America consisting primarily of African-American Muslims. It goes without saying that the coverage of this story, and the treatment Doggart would have received from the legal system, would have been completely different had he been a Muslim targeting a synogogue and a Jewish community.

The U.S. ruling class is heavily invested (psychologically and monetarily!) in spreading the false idea that the American people are under threat from Muslims, threats that require spending trillions of dollars and expending hundreds of thousands of lives (mostly Muslim lives) to counter. Acknowledging the very real threat to American lives - Muslim-American lives - from people right here in the United States, not mention the role that constant propaganda plays in influencing people like Robert Doggart, isn't in their interest, and once again the "free press" demonstrates its role in shoring up ruling class interests.

More details on the story can be found here.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Mark Twain on events in Gaza and Ferguson

Last week I watched Ken Burns' latest documentary about the great American author Mark Twain. It was a fascinating portrait of a fascinating man, although it gave short-shrift to his most radical views, which included being Vice-President of the Anti-Imperialist League which opposed the annexation of the Philippines by the United States. The film did mention Twain's stinging denunciation of King Leopold II, the man responsible for the death of 10 million Congolese in the late 1800's.

My interest in Twain awakened by the film, I picked up my copy of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, one of a literal handful of "classics" amidst my library of books on Marxism, socialism, and feminism. It was a book I had enjoyed enough when I read it years ago to save it from periodic purging, an enjoyment kept alive over the years by several viewings of the movie, which features the delightful Bing Crosby as the protagonist Hank Morgan.

Morgan is a man from the 19th century transported by a blow on the head back to 6th century England and King Arthur's Court. The book has Twain's trademark humor, but is also a serious indictment of organized religion, slavery, and especially of the "1%" of the day, the kings and nobles whose only credential for "leadership" was birth. But, with events in Gaza and Ferguson foremost in my mind, it was the following passage which really caught my attention. Hank has just met with a group of "freeman," the agricultural working class of the day, ostensibly free, but in reality contributing virtually all the fruits of their labor to their "lord", the owner of the land:

"Why, it was like reading about France and the French, before the ever memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of such villainy away in one swift tidal wave of blood - a settlement of that hoary debt in proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell. There were two "Reigns of Terror," if we would be remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the "horrors" of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the ax compared with lifelong death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by the older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves."

The analogy of the French Revolution with either Gaza or Ferguson is far from perfect, of course. But in both of those, the media and Western politicians want us to focus on what they call a "Reign of Terror" (the missiles being shot at Israel in the case of Gaza, the alleged Molotov cocktails and looting in the case of Ferguson), while the real Reign of Terror is the rain of Israeli missiles and artillery on Gaza, and the rubber bullets, tear gas, and sound bombs raining down on the streets of Ferguson. And in both cases, the "horrors" of the "minor Terror" (the reaction of the oppressed) that the media and politicians dwell on are dwarfed by the "slow tortures" that have been visited on the oppressed people of Gaza and Ferguson (and so many other communities across the country) over a period of decades, if not centuries.

To close, a few more notes about Mark Twain which got left out of Burns' film. First, his comment on the French Revolution:

"When I finished Carlyle's French Revolution in 1871, I was a Girondin [a moderate]; every time I have read it since, I have read it differently — being influenced and changed, little by little, by life and environment ... and now I lay the book down once more, and recognize that I am a Sansculotte! And not a pale, characterless Sansculotte, but a Marat." [The Sanculottes - whose name says that they were not the moderate bourgeois revolutionaries who wore culottes (silk knee-breeches) - were the more radical, left-wing, working class arm of the revolution].
Next, this perhaps startling quote, definitely not heard in Burns' film:
"I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute."
And one final quote, this one from Connecticut Yankee:
"All gentle cant and philosophizing to the contrary notwithstanding, no people in this world ever did achieve their freedom by goody-goody talk and moral suasion: it being immutable law that all revolutions that will succeed, must begin in blood, whatever may answer afterward. If history teaches anything, it teaches that."

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


"Changing everything"

A year ago, two bombs left near the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed 3 people and injured 264. As a result, this year in Boston (and, I expect, all future years) was completely different in many ways, all designed ostensibly to ensure security.

But this wasn't the first time a large group of people watching an event had been bombed. Back in 1916 (see p. 3 of the link), a "Preparedness Day" parade in San Francisco was being held, the largest parade ever held in the city, with more than 50,000 marchers (!) and who knows how many people watching. A suitcase bomb, most likely placed there by anarchists objecting to the parade's clear intent to encourage U.S. entry into World War I, exploded, killing 10 people and injuring 40. A death toll much higher than that in Boston, and quite possibly just as many or more serious injuries (I suspect the criteria for who was "really injured" were stricter in 1916).

And what happened? Well, two union leaders, Thomas Mooney and Warren Billings, were railroaded into prison with life sentences, convicted by perjured testimony (finally pardoned and released after 23 years as the evidence of their false conviction became overwhelming). Other than that, nothing. Parades didn't stop in San Francisco. You didn't have to pass through security barriers and be scrutinized to watch a parade. And guess what? As far as I can tell, despite that utterly lax attitude by today's standards, no one else was ever killed while watching a parade in San Francisco.

So why the difference today? Because "security" here at home and military action abroad (also supposedly to ensure our "security") is big business. It's really just that simple. One bombing of a public event, or even the 2977 dead from 9/11 attacks, do not "change everything." What "changes everything" is the security/war industry convincing the public, through their "elected" (i.e., rented) representatives in Washington and elsewhere, as well as their media (owned by the same establishment forces if not directly by the war industries themselves), that we need to "change everything." The need for enemies is strong (witness the ongoing demonization of North Korea and Syria, and the ever-increasing demonization of Russia, and of course the now every-present demonstration of "Muslim extremists), and with the Soviet Union gone, the need to gin up crises that need the "services" of the "security" and "defense" industries is strong.

Which is why what should be events that can be taken in stride, and responded to with fairly simple measures, become the all-consuming events that they are. 9/11, and now the Boston Marathon bombing, will take their place in the "national religion," to be invoked as often as possible, and indefinitely into the future, not because the death of innocent people should be remembered and honored, but because their deaths serve the larger purpose of capitalism and imperialism.

Sunday, February 09, 2014


Book review: The Almond Tree

Two years ago I wrote a review of a novel called "Mornings in Jenin" by Palestinian Susan Abulhawa. This past week I had the opportunity to read another novel, "The Almond Tree," by Jewish-American Michelle Cohen Corasanti. Remarkably, although the plots of the two novels are completely different, and of course the authors come from very different backgrounds, the review I wrote for "Mornings in Jenin" (reproduced below) is almost word-for-word applicable to "The Almond Tree." The time period covered by the two novels is slightly different ("The Almond Tree" starts in 1955 and continues past the Israeli assault on Gaza in early 2009), and, as noted, the basic framework of the plot is very different (this one is about the life of a Palestinian mathematical genius). But the way it makes you understand in the marrow of your bones the nature of the Palestinian experience and Israeli oppression is just as powerful. As I wrote in that review two years ago, "No matter how much history you know, no matter how many facts you know, this book will deepen your understanding of that history." That a Jewish-American, whose family didn't experience that oppression first hand, can convey that feeling just as well as a Palestinian who did, is impressive. Two thumbs way up for "The Almond Tree."

Here's the review I wrote two years ago:

Book Review: Mornings in Jenin

I've just finished reading an unbelievably powerful novel entitled "Mornings in Jenin" by Susan Abulhawa. You can read all the history books and articles that you want, and completely understand the history and plight of the Palestinian people. You can be in complete intellectual support of such things as the "right of return." But nothing will make you understand that history in your bones, make you feel it in your gut, like reading this fictional, but all too real, account of one Palestinian family's history, as it spans the pages of time from 1941 through 2002.

All of the key events in modern history - the Nakba of 1948, the 1967 war, the 1973 Israeli assault on Lebanon and the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, and so on through the massacre of Jenin in 2002, are here. All of them (perhaps improbably, but this is after all a novel) impacting on the lives of this one family. And really, not so improbably, because just like every Iraqi now has a family member or a close friend who was either killed or in some way affected by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, so too is it likely that every Palestinian has a family member or a close friend who was affected by not just one of the key events in Palestinian history, but several of them.

The reader feels deeply, personally, the pain which is inflicted on the characters in the book; one feels deeply, personally, the different possible responses - rage and revenge on the one hand, impotence and drawing inward on the other. No matter how much history you know, no matter how many facts you know, this book will deepen your understanding of that history. And on top of all that, the book is written beautifully, with a lyrical style that makes reading every page a delight.

To sum up: read this book.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Syrian Sarin

A new report, authored by Richard Lloyd, a former United Nations weapons inspector, and Theodore Postol, a professor of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has cast serious doubt on the claim that sarin-carrying missiles were launched from Syrian government-held positions, and thus serious doubt on the charges made at the time by the United States. You can read about the report here.

Although you might think this would be a big story, what with Syria still very much in the news, it doesn't appear to have run anywhere with the exception of McClatchy (the origin of the story, link above) and RT. Neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post have mentioned it.

But back in September, these very same scientists published an earlier report on the sarin attacks. That one didn't discuss the origin of the sarin, but instead reported that the amount of sarin used in the attacks was much greater than had been previously thought. And that report was covered by the Times. Same scientists, same subject - sarin gas attacks in Syria. Their report on the quantity of sarin was newsworthy, according to the Times. But their report casting doubts on the claim that the rockets were launched by the Syrian government? Not part of "all the news that's fit to print."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Keeping "us" safe from the "terrorists"

Today in a Capitol Hill hearing, Gen. Keith Alexander was defending the NSA, justifying its extensive spying. He actually had the nerve to say the following without seeming to have the slightest idea of what he was really saying:
"In just this last month, 2,336 people were killed, 1510 injured [by terrorists] in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria. And yet there has not been a mass casualty here in the U.S. since 2001."
Alexander neglected to point out how many people were being killed per month by terrorists in Iraq or Afghanistan before the U.S. invaded those countries (answer: 0). Or how many people were being killed per month in Pakistan before the U.S. started drone bombing that country (answer: 0). Or how many people were being killed by terrorists each month in Syria before the U.S.-supported "revolution" started (answer: again 0). (Not sure what's going on in Nigeria, to be honest).

And as far as this nonsense that there has not been a "mass casualty" in the U.S. since 2001, my guess is that there are hundreds of families in this country who would beg to differ. Perhaps none killed by "terrorists" as the U.S. government defines them (i.e., Muslims), but plenty killed in "mass casualty" events.

And, by the way, there were ten U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan last month, four in one "mass casualty" event. Ten people (along with thousands before them in Iraq and Afghanistan) who would all be alive were it not for the U.S. wars. The U.S. "defending" itself, via the NSA or anything else, is the main source of such deaths in the world, not the major thing preventing them.

Why stop here? There's more...

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