Tuesday, November 28, 2006

10 Lies About Iraq!!!

Ten Fallacies About the Violence in Iraq

By John Tirman, AlterNet
Posted on November 28, 2006

The escalating violence in Iraq's civil war is now earning considerable attention as we pass yet another milestone -- U.S. occupation there, in two weeks, will exceed the length of the Second World War for America. While the news media have finally started to grapple with the colossal amount of killing, a number of misunderstandings persist. Some are willful deceptions. Let's look at a few of them:

1. The U.S. is a buffer against more violence. This is perhaps the most resilient conjecture that has no basis in fact.

Iraqis themselves do not believe it. In a State Department poll published in September, huge majorities say the U.S. is directly responsible for the violence. The upsurge of bloodshed in Baghdad seems to confirm the Iraqis' view, at least by inference. The much-publicized U.S. effort to bring troops to Baghdad to quell sectarian killing has accompanied a period of increased mortality in the city.

2. The killers do it to influence U.S. politics. This was the mantra of right-wing bloggers and cable blowhards like Bill O'Reilly, who asserted time and again before November 7 that the violence was a "Tet offensive" designed to tarnish Bush and convince Americans to vote for Democrats. This is American solipsism, at which the right wing excels. If anything, the violence has grown since November 7.

English-language sources have more than 1,000 dead since the Bush rejection at the polls. Bill, are the Iraqi fighters now aiming at the Iowa caucuses in '08?

3. The "Lancet" numbers are bogus. Since the only scientific survey of deaths in Iraq was published in The Lancet in early October, the discourse on Iraqi casualties has changed. But many in media and policy circles are still in denial about the scale of mayhem.

Anthony Cordesman, Fred Kaplan, and Michael O'Hanlon, among many others, fail to understand the method of the survey -- widely used and praised by leading epidemiologists -- which concluded that between 400,000 and 700,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict. One knowledegable commentator describes the Lancet survey as "flypaper for innumerates," and the deniers indeed look foolishly innumerate when they state that there was "no way" there could be more than 65,000 or 100,000 deaths. As soon as that bit of ignorance rolled off their lips, the Iraq Health Ministry admitted to 150,000 civilians killed by Sunni insurgents alone, which would be in the Lancet ballpark. Much other evidence suggests the Lancet numbers are about right. (See "The Human cost of the War in Iraq" here; fyi, I commissioned the study. More on this another time.)

4. Syria and Iran are behind the violence. There is no compelling reason why the two neighbors would foment large-scale violence that could spill over to threaten their regimes. Iran is in the driver's seat -- as everyone not blinded by neo-con fantasies knew in advance -- with its Shia cousins in power; Syria has its own regime stability problems and does not need the large influx of refugees or potential jihadis. That both are happy to make life hard for the U.S. is not a secret (call it their Monroe Doctrine). But are they organizing the extreme and destabilizing violence we've seen this year? Doubtful. And, there's very little evidence to support this piece of blame-someone-else.

5. The "Go Big" strategy of the Pentagon could work. The Pentagon apparently is about to forward three options to Bush for a retreat: "Go Big," meaning more troops for a short time, "Go Long," a gradual withdrawal while training Iraqis, and "Go Home," acknowledging defeat and getting out. Go Big is what McCain and Zinni and others are proposing, as if adding 20,000 or 30,000 troops will do the trick. The argument about more troops, which speaks also to the "incompetence dodge" (i.e., that the war wasn't wrong, just badly managed), has one problem: no one can convincing prove that modest increments in troop strength will change the security situation in Iraq (see #1 above). One would need 300,000 or more troops to have a chance of pacifying Iraq, and that is neither politically feasible or logistically possible, and is therefore a nonstarter. So is "Go Big."

6. Foreign fighters, especially jihadis, are fueling the violence. This was largely discredited but is making a comeback as Washington's search for scapegoats intensifies. By most estimates, including the Pentagon's, foreign fighters make up a small fraction of violent actors in Iraq -- perhaps 10 percent overall. (This is based on identifying people arrested as fighters.) Some of the more spectacular attacks have been carried out by al Qaeda or its imitators, but overall the violence is due to three forces: U.S. military, Iraqi Sunni Arab insurgents, and Shia militia, with minor parts played by Kurdish peshmerga in Kirkuk and the foreign bad boys.

7. If we do not defeat the violent actors there, they will follow us here. This is now the sole remaining justification for U.S. involvement in the war. If the numbers about foreign fighters are correct, then it is plainly wrong. The main anatgonists are Iraqis, and they will remain there to fight it out for many years. That does not mean we have not created many "terrorists" who would do us harm, as U.S. intelligence agencies assert, but killing them in Iraq is not a plausible option. It's too difficult; aggressive counterinsurgency creates more fighters the longer we stay and harder we try; and they might not be there.

8. The violence is about Sunni-Shia mutual loathing; a pox on both their houses. This is the emerging "moral clarity" of the right wing, that we gave it our best, we handed the tools of freedom to Iraqis, and they'd rather kill each other. That there was longstanding antagonism, stemming from decades of Sunni Arab domination and repression, is well known. But the truly horrifying scale of violence we see now took many months to brew, and is built on the violence begun by the U.S. military and the lack of economic stability, political participation, etc., that the occupation wrought. Equally as important, sectarian killing found its political justification in the constitution fashioned by U.S. advisers that essentially split the country into three factions, giving them a very solid set of incentives to go to war with each other.

9. The war is an Iraqi affair, and the best we can do now is train them to enforce security. This is the more upbeat version of #8, the "Go Long" strategy that sees training as a panacea. Despite three years of serious attempts, the U.S. training programs are bogged down by the sectarian violence itself, or by incompetence all round. No one who has looked at this carefully believes that training Iraqis is a near-term solution. It's a useful ruse as an exit strategy, blaming the victims for violence and failure.

10. Trust the same people who caused or endorsed the war to tell us what to do next. We know who they are: Bush, Cheney, McCain, and other cronies; the neo-cons now increasingly on the periphery of power but still bleating (Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle, Adelman, Lieberman), the liberal hawks, and the right-wing media (Krauthamer, Fox News, Glenn Beck, phalangist bloggers, et al). They say, "just finish the job." Just finish the job... at a human cost of how many more dead? How many lives ruined? How much more damage to U.S.-Arab relations? How much anti-Muslim racism fomented to justify the killing?

The distortions about the violence in Iraq persist even as the mayhem increases. Yesterday there was a report about 100 widows a day being created in Iraq. A Times of London report from last summer notes that gravediggers in one Baghdad cemetery are handling 200 bodies daily, compared with 60 before the war. The situation of the displaced is becoming a humanitarian crisis that will soon rival the worst African cases; the middle and upper classes have fled, leaving the poor to cope. So the poor from the U.S. go to beat up the poor in Iraq, or stand by helplessly as the Iraqi poor ravage each other.

That is the harsh reality of violence in Iraq. A half million dead. More than two million displaced. No end in sight.

Beware the delusions.

John Tirman is Executive Director of MIT's Center for International Studies.
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/44771/

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

GO Barbara!!!

From today's Progress Report:

Changing Climate Apathy

World temperatures are rising to levels not seen in at least 12,000 years. Greenland's ice mass is melting at "what what NASA calls a 'dramatic' rate of 41 cubic miles per year." And unless climate change is reined in, "extreme drought could eventually affect one-third of the planet." More than 5,000 activists, scientists, and diplomats understand these facts and have gathered in Nairobi, Kenya for the annual two-week U.N. Climate Change Conference, which is now in its final three days. As U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, "The stakes are high. ... Yet too often climate change is seen as an environmental problem when it should be part of the broader development and economic agenda." The Bush administration and the 109th Congress haven't understood these stakes. Hopefully, the 110th Congress will. Incoming Senate Environment and Public Works chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) recently said, "Time is running out, and we need to move forward on this." The Bush administration's chief climate negotiator, however, promised conference participants that the White House would continue to do as little as possible.

CONFERENCING AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE: The Nairobi conference is the 12th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is second meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, a portion of which the Bush administration will not be attending. The United States and Australia are the only major industrialized countries to reject the Kyoto Protocol, which "requires 35 industrialized countries to reduce those emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012." Some of the main agenda items at the conference are securing commitments to reduce greenhouse gases under Kyoto for the period after 2012 and helping poor countries manage climate change. (At the 2006 Clinton Global Initiative, the Center for American Progress made a commitment to help poor countries enter the global carbon-trading system.) "We are all gathered...on behalf of mankind because we acknowledge that climate change is rapidly emerging as one of the most serious threats humanity will ever face," Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori told delegates in an opening speech. Delegates are also receiving "a closed-door preview of the latest scientific findings on a warming world, to be published next year in a comprehensive U.N. assessment by the world's leading climate scientists." This report -- which will offer "much stronger" evidence and "authoritative new data" on manmade global warming -- may provide "just the right impetus to get the negotiations going in a more purposeful way," according to the group's chief scientist.

FUZZY CLIMATE MATH: President Bush and his administration have faced especially harsh criticism at the conference. Over the weekend, Kenyan children led a march through Nairobi and called on industrialized nations to do more to fight climate change. One man carried a poster of President Bush reading: "Wanted -- For Crimes Against the Planet." U.K. Environment Secretary David Miliband said, "It's absolutely vital that the United States is party to the global commitment that is necessary. I can think of no greater legacy for President Bush in his last two years of office than to lead a bi-partisan drive to put the United States at the heart of global emissions reductions." But no bipartisan drive is likely from Bush. On Monday, chief U.S. climate negotiator Harlan Watson defended the Bush administration's stand against compulsory caps on global-warming emissions: "I certainly got no indication that there's any change in our position, nor is there likely to be during this presidency." He added that the United States "is doing better at voluntarily restraining the growth of such gases than some countries that are committed to reductions under the Kyoto Protocol." Watson cited a U.N. report that showed "growth in U.S. emissions in 2000-04 was 1.3 percent, compared with 2.4 percent overall for 41 industrialized nations." But as Forbes notes, "When compared with Kyoto's 1990 benchmark, however, the picture is different. ... [E]missions of all industrialized countries declined by 3.3 percent between 1990 and 2004, while U.S. emissions grew by almost 16 percent. Among the Kyoto-obligated countries, Germany's emissions dropped 17 percent between 1990 and 2004, Britain's by 14 percent and France's by almost 1 percent."

A LACK OF INVESTMENT: The United States is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, responsible for 25 percent of global emissions. According to a new study released by Climate Action Network Europe at the Nairobi conference, the United States ranks 53rd in climate change performance of the 56 top carbon dioxide-emitting nations. Bush has contended that the Kyoto Protocol would be too expensive to implement and continues to shirk his campaign commitment to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. "If the USA, currently among the bottom five, were to exercise an international climate policy stance as progressive as the UK, it would move up more than 30 places," notes the Climate Action study, "but because of their adverse position in national and international climate policies the United States blows this chance." Annual federal spending for research energy and development has fallen from an inflation-adjusted peak of $7.7 billion in 1979 to just $3 billion in the current budget. Bush has "sought an increase to $4.2 billion for 2007, but that would still be a small fraction of what most climate and energy experts say would be needed." In contrast, funding for military research has increased 260 percent and is now at more than $75 billion a year.

HOPE IN A NEW CONGRESS: Environmentalists likely won't miss the 109th Congress. Twice in three years, the Senate has rejected a bill from Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) that would have limited greenhouse gas emissions. Other more aggressive bills by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) in the Senate and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) in the House have not received a vote. Senate Environment and Public Works chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) has been one of America's most vocal climate skeptics, calling global warming the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" and the Kyoto Protocol "a lot of economic pain for no climate gain." (He's wrong.) But when the 110th Congress takes office in January, the new chairwoman, Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has promised to begin "a very long process of extensive hearings" on global warming and hopes to put together a global warming bill that addresses all contributors to carbon dioxide emissions. "He [Inhofe] thinks global warming is a hoax and I think it is the challenge of our generation," Boxer said recently. "We have to move on it." In the House, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), who is poised to take over as the Energy and Commerce Committee, is expected to hold a series of hearings on global warming. Incoming chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, Henry Waxman, will likely "conduct extensive oversight of federal agency efforts on environmental and energy matters, primarily climate change."

Friday, November 03, 2006

Another One Bites The Dust!!!

From today's Progress Report:

CULTURE -- ANTI-GAY EVANGELICAL LEADER RESIGNS AFTER ACCUSATIONS OF GAY AFFAIR: Yesterday, Rev. Ted Haggard resigned as president of the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals and temporarily stepped down as pastor of a Colorado mega-church after a male prostitute reported that he and Haggard had engaged in a three-year affair. Haggard, a married father of five, vigorously denied the allegation. "Never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I'm steady with my wife. I'm faithful to my wife." But in a later interview, the church's associate pastor said Haggard had offered "some admission of indiscretion" to the church leadership. "There is an admission of some guilt," said Rev. Ross Parsley. Time Magazine ranked Haggard as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals and Harper’s contributing editor Jeff Sharlet noted, “No pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction of evangelicalism than does Pastor Ted.” Every Monday, Haggard participates in a conference call with the White House. "We have direct access," says Haggard. "I can call [Tim Goeglein, the White House's liaison to the conservative community], he'll take my concern to the president and get back to me in 24 hours." Mike Jones, the male escort, said he had voicemails from Haggard as well as an envelope he said Haggard used to mail him cash as evidence for his claims. "People may look at me and think what I've done is immoral, but I think I had to do the moral thing in my mind and that is expose someone who is preaching one thing and doing the opposite behind everybody's back," Jones said. Haggard has called homosexuality a "sin" and "devastating for the children of our nation and for the future of Western civilization."