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The Voice Of 40-Something Cynical Optimism!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

More pics

Frodo Has Failed!

Dick Cheney would make a good Gollum.

Here's the Hunch Back of Notre Steyn aka the Mark the Mad Mullah of Chickenhawkery.

Sorry ,I did type a piece on Lord of the Rings, WW2, Marx, "Humanitarian Interventions" & other bits & pieces but my computer has trouble noticing the difference between spell checking and a pop up. It's always a pain when your computer sends your thoughts into the Memory Hole.

I've learned how to add photos!

Tee hee!

Herr Hitler with Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail in the 1930s. "I say, you're bloody good for a German."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lots More on The War

The first two articles in this blog come from Tom Engelhardt's website. On the principle of giving people good rather than bad news first, this article by Mr E. suggests that the Neo-Cons in the White House are in big trouble when in comes to Iraq, as their imperial adventure goes the way of Saddam's imperial adventure in Iran in the 1980s (when he was on Oceania's side).

Tomgram: An American Tipping Point? Losing the Fear Factor
How The Bush Administration Got Spooked: By Tom Engelhardt

It's finally Wizard of Oz time in America. You know -- that moment when the curtains are pulled back, the fearsome-looking wizard wreathed in all that billowing smoke turns out to be some pitiful little guy, and everybody looks around sheepishly, wondering why they acted as they did for so long.

Starting on September 11, 2001 -- with a monstrous helping hand from Osama bin Laden -- the Bush administration played the fear card with unbelievable effectiveness. For years, with its companion "war on terror," it trumped every other card in the American political deck. With an absurd system for color-coding dangers to Americans, the President, the Vice President, and the highest officials in this land were able to paint the media a "high" incendiary orange and the Democrats an "elevated" bright yellow, functionally sidelining them.

How stunningly in recent weeks the landscape has altered -- almost like your basic hurricane sweeping through some unprotected and unprepared city. Now, to their amazement, Bush administration officials find themselves thrust through the equivalent of a Star-Trekkian wormhole into an anti-universe where everything that once worked for them seems to work against them. As always, in the face of domestic challenge, they have responded by attacking -- a tactic that was effective for years. The President, Vice President, National Security Adviser, and others have ramped up their assaults, functionally accusing Democratic critics of little short of treason -- of essentially undermining American forces in the field, if not offering aid and comfort to the enemy. On his recent trip to Asia, the President put it almost as bluntly as his Vice President did at home: "As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them into war continue to stand behind them." The Democrats were, he said over and over, "irresponsible" in their attacks. Dick Cheney called them spineless "opportunists" peddling dishonestly for political advantage.

But instead of watching the Democrats fall silent under assault as they have for years, they unexpectedly found themselves facing a roiling oppositional hubbub threatening the unity of their own congressional party. In his sudden, heartfelt attack on Bush administration Iraq plans ("a flawed policy wrapped in illusion") and his call for a six-month timetable for American troop withdrawal, Democratic congressional hawk John Murtha took on the Republicans over their attacks more directly than any mainstream Democrat has ever done. ("I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done. I resent the fact, on Veterans Day, he [Bush] criticized Democrats for criticizing them.") Perhaps more important, as an ex-Marine and decorated Vietnam veteran clearly speaking for a military constituency (and possibility some Pentagon brass), he gave far milder and more "liberal" Democrats cover.

For the first time since the war in Iraq began, "tipping points," constantly announced in Iraq but never quite in sight, have headed for home. Dan Bartlett, counselor to the President and drafter of recent Presidential attacks on the Democrats, told David Sanger of the New York Times that "Bush's decision to fight back… arose after he became concerned the [Iraq] debate was now at a tipping point"; while Howard Fineman of Newsweek dubbed Murtha himself a "one-man tipping point."

Something indeed did seem to tip, for when the White House and associates took Murtha on, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, and other Democrats leaped aggressively to his defense. In fact, something quite unimaginable even a few days earlier occurred. When Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio, the most junior member of the House, accused Murtha (via a Marine colonel from her district) of being a coward, Democratic Representative Harold Ford from Tennessee "charged across the chamber's center aisle to the Republican side screaming that Ms. Schmidts's attack had been unwarranted. ‘You guys are pathetic!' yelled Representative Martin Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts. ‘Pathetic.'"

There could, however, be no greater sign of a politically changed landscape than the decision of former President Bill Clinton (who practically had himself adopted into the Bush family over the last year) to tell a group of Arab students in Dubai only two-and-a-half years late that the Iraqi invasion was a "big mistake." Since he is undoubtedly a stalking horse for his wife, that great, cautious ship-of-nonstate, the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, should soon turn its prow ever so slowly to catch the oppositional winds.)

If you want to wet an index finger yourself and hoist it airwards to see which way the winds are blowing, then just check out how the media has been framing in headlines the recent spate of administration attacks. Headline writing is a curious in-house craft -- and well worth following. Changing headline language is a good signal that something's up. When the President attacks, it's now commonly said that he's "lashing out" -- an image of emotional disarray distinctly at odds with the once powerful sense of the Bush administration as the most disciplined White House on record and of the President and Vice President as resolutely unflappable. Here's just a small sampling:

The Miami Herald, "President lashes out at critics of Iraq war"; the Associated Press, Cheney Latest to Lash Out at Critics; the Buffalo News, Bush lashes out at war critics; even the Voice of America, Bush Lashes Out at Political Opponents Over Iraq Accusations.

In other headlines last week, the administration was presented in post-Oz style as beleaguered, under siege, and powerless to control its own fate: The Associated Press, for example, headlined a recent Jennifer Loven piece, Iraq War Criticism Stalks Bush Overseas; the New York Times, a David Sanger report, Iraq Dogs President as He Crosses Asia to Promote Trade; and CNN headlined the Murtha events, A hawk rattles GOP's cage.

The language used in such recent press accounts was no less revealing. Sanger, for example, began his piece this way:

"President Bush may have come to Asia determined to show leaders here that his agenda is far broader than Iraq and terrorism, but at every stop, and every day, Mr. Bush and his aides have been fighting a rearguard action to justify how the United States got into Iraq and how to get out."

While Loven launched hers with, "His war policies under siege at home…," attributing the siege atmosphere and the Bush "counterattack" to "the president's newly aggressive war critics."

Lashing out, stalked, dogged, under siege, counterattacking, fighting a rearguard action -- let's not just attribute this to "newly aggressive war critics." It's a long-coming shift in the zeitgeist, as evident in the media as in the halls of Congress.

On Thursday, for instance, ABC prime-time TV news, which led with a story on the President "lashing out" at critics, then offered a long, up-close-and-personal segment in which a teary-eyed Murtha spoke of the war-wounded he's regularly visited at hospitals and the fraudulence of administration policy. That same night, another prime-time news broadcast turned the President's claim that the Democrats were "irresponsible" in their criticisms into a montage of Bush repeatedly saying "irresponsible" in different poses -- so many times in a row, in fact, that the segment could easily have come from a sharp opening sequence on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show.

None of this would have been possible even weeks ago in a country where it was once gospel that you don't attack a president while he's representing the United States abroad. That's why, in the Watergate era, Richard Nixon had such a propensity for trips overseas and undoubtedly why our stay-at-home President's handlers decided to turn him into a Latin American and Asian globetrotter. The question is: How did this happen? What changed the zeitgeist and where are we heading?

Poll-driven Politics

Polls are, it might be said, what's left of American democracy. Privately run, often for profit or advantage, they nonetheless are as close as we come these days -- actual elections being what they are -- to the expression of democratic opinion, serially, week after week. Everyone who matters in and out of Washington and in the media reads them as if life itself were at stake. They drive behavior and politics. Fear, too, is a poll-driven phenomenon. Not surprisingly then, it was the moment late last spring when presidential approval ratings fell decisively below the 50% mark and looked to be heading for 40%, that the White House took anxious note and so, no less important, did a previously cowed media. Somewhere in that period, the fear factor, right in the administration's hands, was transformed into a feeling fearful factor. As I've written elsewhere, faced with the mother of a dead soldier on their doorstep, all the President's men blinked and the Camp Casey fiasco followed. Soon after, before hurricane Cindy could even blow out of town, hurricane Katrina blew in and the President's ratings headed for freefall. In just the last month, they look as if they had been shoved over a small cliff, dipping in the latest Harris and Wall Street Journal polls to an almost unheard of 34% (only five points above Richard Nixon's at his Watergate nadir).

The poll numbers which once gave the administration's fear factor meaning have simply evaporated -- as have any figures which might indicate that this administration is capable of staunching its own wounds. Emboldening media and political opposition in Washington, such figures give Murtha-like cover to behavior that not long ago would have been unthinkable. A record 60% of Americans surveyed in the most recent USA Today poll, including one in four Republicans, said "the war wasn't ‘worth it.' One in five Republicans said the invasion of Iraq was a mistake." Those who felt things were "going well" for the country as a whole dropped nine percentage points in a month.

Democrats long ago fled the ranks of presidential supporters, as more recently have independents; now moderate Republicans are beginning to peel away too. According to Tom Raum of the Associated Press,"[Bush's] approval on handling Iraq fell from 87 percent among all Republicans in November 2004 to 78 percent this month. Among Republican women, from 88 percent a year ago to 73 percent now. Among independents, approval on Iraq fell from 49 percent in November 2004 to 33 percent now." If you want a figure that, from the administration's viewpoint, offers a frightening glimpse into a possible future, consider the 79% of Americans who believe I. Lewis Libby's indictment is "of importance to the nation"; this, despite Republican claims that the grounds for indicting were insignificant, and a new Libby defense fund made up of Republican high-rollers and assorted neocons.

In other words, replace the still emotionally charged issues of the war in Iraq and the President's actions, where, at 34%-40%, a bedrock base of support remains more or less intact, with a less charged ethics-in-government issue and that vaunted Rock of Gibraltar shatters. This is the previously inconceivable future so many Republican politicians suddenly fear.

Just for the heck of it, throw in another factor -- "intensity" -- and you have an even more volatile picture, given the lack of positive, potentially mobilizing news on the domestic and foreign horizons. E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post suggests that the polling figures are even worse than they look because intensity of feeling on the war issue is now "on the side of the war's opponents." He adds:

"The findings on the strength of feelings about the war were matched by the intensity of feelings about Bush himself: Only 20 percent of those surveyed said they strongly approved of the overall job Bush was doing, while 47 percent strongly disapproved. A president who has always played to his base finds that his base is steadily shrinking."

In other words, doubt and demoralization are setting in -- a political rot that can do untold damage. Given how many independents and moderate Republicans who once supported the war have changed their minds, the scathing attacks on Democrats for mind-changing on the war may not prove a winning strategy either. They may, as Raum comments, "backfire on Republicans."

But here's a question: Can we trace Bush's polling near-collapse to its origins anywhere? In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine under the eerie title, "The Iraq Syndrome" (subscription only), John Mueller, an expert on how wars affect presidencies, offers a canny, cool-eyed interpretation of changing American opinion on Iraq. He tracks polling data on the three sustained wars -- Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq -- the U.S. has fought in the last half-century-plus where we took more than 300 casualties.

All three show approximately the same polling pattern: broad enthusiasm at the outset, a relatively quick and steep falloff in support, followed by steady erosion thereafter from which no long-term presidential recovery seems possible (certainly not via heightened rhetoric). In all three wars, as support fell, pro-withdrawal sentiment rose. Though some experts link this pattern to an American "defeat-phobia," Mueller points out that, in cases like Lebanon in the Reagan years and Somalia in the Clinton era, Americans have been quite capable of swallowing withdrawal and defeat (of a sort) without making the presidents involved pay any significant political cost.

The crucial factor in loss of support for each of these wars, Mueller insists, is a growing casualty list and not just any casualties either -- only American ones. (The fact that "vastly more" Iraqis have died than all the victims of "all international terrorists in all of history" matters little, he observes, in American popular judgments on the war.) What makes Iraq stand out in this list of three "is how much more quickly support has eroded in the case of Iraq. By early 2005, when combat deaths were around 1,500, the percentage of respondents who considered the Iraq war a mistake -- over half -- was about the same as the percentage who considered the war in Vietnam a mistake at the time of the 1968 Tet offensive, when nearly 20,000 soldiers had already died."

If Mueller's right, then the steady drip of American casualties -- many less dead and many more wounded than in Korea and Vietnam, in part because of improved medical care and triage techniques -- has seeped deeply into American consciousness. This seems so, despite the administration's careful attempt to keep returning bodies and individual funerals out of sight and so out of mind; despite the fact that the American dead -- 60 soldiers in the first 19 days of October -- have largely been kept off the front-pages of American papers and photos of dead Americans off television (where dead Iraqis can regularly be seen). Short of massive draw-downs of American forces in Iraq, there is no casualty end in sight for this administration; and drawing down ground forces (while substituting air power for them), as Richard Nixon learned in his "Vietnamization" program, only solves a home-front problem at the cost of creating staggering problems on the war front.

For an administration still fighting "withdrawal" with all its strength, this may prove a problem with no exit -- further casualties acting as a motor propelling the unhappiness that changes more minds and pushes falling polling figures ever downward, propelling unease about the country which only leads to escalating casualty figures of another kind -- those growing defections from the ranks of your core political supporters.

When Agendas Go Bump in the Night

To put the present crisis in some perspective, you could say that two central agendas of the Bush administration proved to be in conflict, although for years this was less than evident (even to the players involved). There was the long-planned neoconservative drive to invade Iraq and, through that act, begin to remake the Middle East. The neocons were backed in this by Vice President Cheney and his crew in the vice-presidential office as well as allied figures like John Bolton, Stephen Hadley, and (some of the time) Donald Rumsfeld, none of whom were necessarily neocons. The motives this disparate group held for remaking the region in their image ranged from the urge to establish a planetary, militarily enforced Pax Americana and/or an urge to control the oil heartlands of the planet to a desire -- from the Likudniks in the administration -- to secure the region for an ascendant Sharonista Israel.

Whatever the overlapping motivations, at the heart of this policy lay an urge to unleash a Constitutionally unfettered "war president" on the world. (Torture was a crucial issue in all of this largely because, once established as an essential tool of the war on terror, it would be proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that George Bush's presidency had been freed of all restraints.) Put into full effect on March 20, 2003, when the "war on terror" melded into an invasion of Iraq, the policy was meant to place in the President's hands every global lever of power that mattered for all time.

It now seems far clearer that the endless fallout from the fatal decision to invade Iraq is eating away at another agenda entirely, one that emerged from the domestic political wing of this administration -- from Karl Rove, Andrew Card, Tom DeLay and their ilk. This was the Republican desire to nail down the country as a purely red (as in red-meat) Republican land. The vetting of the K-Street lobbying crowd, the increasing control over the flow of corporate dollars into politics, the gerrymandering of congressional districts to create an election-proof House of Representatives, the mobilization of a religious base dedicated to an endless set of culture wars, the ushering in of a right-wing Supreme Court, and so many other activities were all meant to create an impregnable Republican Party in control of every lever of power in our country into an endless future.

The unfettered, imperial President and the unfettered, imperial Republican Party were joined at the hip by the attacks of September 11, 2001, which led to both the "war on terror" abroad and the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Department domestically. Had the Bush administration pursued both agendas, minus an invasion of Iraq, the two might have remained joined far longer. The crucial invasion decision, made almost immediately by the neocon war party backed by the President, was supported by White House Chief of Staff Andrew (""From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August") Card and Karl ("the architect") Rove, both of whom believed that a good war, well promoted and correctly wielded domestically, might drive a Republican agenda to eternal domination in America. None of them expected that it would prove to be the wedge driven between the two agendas.

The first hint of this was caught perfectly in a classic headline: On May 2, 2003, George Bush co-piloted an Air Force jet onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln (carefully kept thirty miles out of its San Diego homeport so that the President could have his "top gun" photo op instead of climbing a gangplank like any normal being). Following this "historic landing," he stepped up to an on-deck podium where, under a White House banner that read "Mission Accomplished," he declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." This was clearly meant to be the stunning start of the President's campaign for reelection in 2004, a classic piece of Rovian image manipulation and a nail in the coffin of the Democratic Party. And so it seemed to most at the time.

But if you revisit the CNN story about the landing and speech, headlined "Bush calls end to ‘major combat,'" it's hard now not to note the subhead lurking just under it: U.S. Central Command: Seven hurt in Fallujah grenade attack. Seven wounded American soldiers -- that really says it all. The photo-op that was meant for the reelection campaign was already being undermined by another story; two policies yoked together were already pulling in different directions. Our present moment was already being born, unnoticed but in plain sight.

Now both agendas are in disarray with no help whatsoever on the horizon. Imagine, for instance, that the South Koreans timed the announcement of the withdrawal of the first of their troops from (Kurdish) northern Iraq for the moment the President arrived in their country. Imagine that Tony Blair's people are now said to be perfecting total withdrawal plans for next year, and that the President recently may have had to slap down the top American general in Iraq for suggesting withdrawal (or at least drawdown) plans of his own. Imagine that various European nations are now investigating (or in the case of an Italian court charging) American agents in the war on terror with crimes. Imagine that the President, who often insisted Saddam had been overthrown to rid Iraq of its torture chambers ("the torture chambers and the secret police are gone forever") and to end the reign of a "murderous tyrant who… used chemical weapons to kill thousands of people," now faces a "tip-of-the-iceberg" torture scandal in Iraq involving the people we've brought to power and another spreading scandal about the American use of a chemical-like weapon, white phosphorous, on civilians in the city of Fallujah. Imagine that we proved less capable than Saddam of delivering basics like electricity and potable water to the people of Iraq, that we squandered billions of taxpayer dollars in "reconstruction" funds there, and that we face an insurgency which continues to grow and spread in opposition to a shabby elected government all but in league with the Iranians. Imagine that the President's Iraq War is now devouring his presidency and that it can only get worse.

The Middle East is a sea of political gasoline just waiting for the odd administration match or two; American foreign policy is in a kind of disarray for which even the final days of Vietnam offer no comparison; while at home, the DeLay, Frist, Libby, and Abramoff scandals (and associated indictments) can only grow and spread. Special Counsel Fitzgerald has just announced his decision to empanel a new grand jury, sure to drive the Plame scandal ever deeper and higher into the administration and ever closer to the 2006 elections or possibly beyond. It would be easy to go on, but you get the idea.

It is a truism of American politics that voters are almost never driven to the polls by foreign policy. In this case, however, the war in Iraq has chased the President and his men ever since he landed on that carrier deck. How little he knew what he was asking for when, in a moment of bravado, he said of the Iraqi insurgents, "Bring ‘em on." He just barely beat the erosive effects of his war to the polls in November 2004. Now, it continues to eat inexorably into the heartland of Republican political domination. Even Republican discipline in Congress -- without the Hammer's hammer -- has disintegrated under the heat of the war. As Chris Nelson wrote recently in his Washington insider's newsletter, The Nelson Report:

"The stunning swiftness of the bipartisan Congressional collapse of support for the Administration's conduct of the war in Iraq, and by extension the entire anti-terrorism effort, is such that it has not been fully appreciated by the ‘leadership' of either party. That's the real meaning of a Senate vote which Republicans tried to spin into a victory for the President, because they avoided the Democrat's amendment to set performance-based withdrawal deadlines."

Now, the war threatens to crack open the Republican base and chase the dream of a single-party Republican political future -- only recently so close -- right off the map. No wonder the Democrats have just come out swinging (sort of). The political shock and awe the administration so regularly deployed after Sept. 11, 2001 no longer works. The Democrats suddenly have discovered that -- no thanks to them -- the American people are somewhere else and they have little to fear from George Bush or Dick Cheney. No Presidential "counterattack," no "lashing out," no set of speeches or new agenda (to be announced in the 2006 State of the Union Address or anywhere else) is likely to change any of this for the better for this President. Fear is no longer on the Bush administration's side. No wonder they're now afraid -- very, very afraid.

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of American triumphalism in the Cold War. His novel, The Last Days of Publishing, has just come out in paperback.

The other piece, with an intro by Tom E., is the bad news. In that, Michael Klare suggests that the Bushites way of diverting attention from Iraq is starting another war with one of the other members of the "Axis of Evil". It's time for me to consider defecting to Canada...

Tomgram: Klare, What Are They Cooking Up in the White House?

We know one thing about the Bush administration, despite the President's Veterans Day speech on the "irresponsibility" of "rewriting history," he and his top officials -- possibly the greatest gamblers in our history -- had no hesitation about writing their own ticket to history and rejiggering the facts wherever necessary in the run-up to war. History like intelligence was seen a malleable thing, something that would, in the end, go to the victor anyway. It could be whatever they desired it to be, whatever they thought would best help them panic the American people and Congress into backing an invasion of their country of choice. And it could be brought to bear whenever they thought it most useful -- or, in White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card's now infamous September 2002 formulation (speaking of the timing of promoting an invasion of Iraq), ``From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August.''

They had no qualms about elbowing the CIA aside, or using forged, unreliable, or clearly inaccurate intelligence, or simple disinformation, or just repeating endlessly things they certainly knew to be fictions in order to make Democrats (who knew better) run for their lives and put a full-court press on the media. They were happy to raise rhetorical mushroom clouds over all-too-real American cities to panic Americans into their war of choice. They had no hesitation (as far as we know) -- to cite a conveniently forgotten absurdity of that prewar moment -- about sending the President out in front of television cameras to announce the ridiculous in all fearful solemnity: That, for instance, there was a danger Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) armed with chemical or biological weapons might be sent to spray their deadly mists over East coast cities or even hundreds of miles inland. (Forget that the planes didn't exist and that, if they had, and if the CBW weaponry had been available, the Iraqis had no way to get them to the coast, or anything to launch them from.) When people want to talk about what we may or may not have known about subjects like Iraqi WMDs, they forget the baldfaced absurdity of some of the administration's claims -- or exactly how unchallenged they went in the mainstream media. (I saw the President make the UAV claim on television with my own eyes, by the way.)

And that was when they were riding high. Imagine what they might do in desperation. In fact, Michael Klare, author of the indispensable Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependence on Imported Petroleum, does just that below, evaluating the various wag-the-dog scenarios this administration might seriously consider using if its situation grows too desperate and elections too near.

After considering these possibilities yourself, think about the context. The signal from the recent hotel bombings in Jordan seems clear enough in its own horrific way. Through its invasion and uniquely inept occupation, the Bush administration has already created a "failed state" not on the failed continent of Africa or in an economically or politically peripheral land like Afghanistan, but exactly in the heart of the richest oil lands of the planet. Iraq is now largely an anarchic world with a central government hardly capable of commanding its own fortified heart -- the Green Zone of Baghdad -- no less much of the rest of the country; where religious militias, terrorist organizations, and fractured insurgent groups have the run of the land; where internecine killing is on the rise; and the delivery of such basics of modern life as electricity and potable water (or water of any kind) are no longer givens.

Whether some in the Bush administration meant to turn Iraq into a land of "chaos" or not, they have certainly succeeded in doing so. Now, the chaos is spreading across borders. The Jordanian bombers, after all, were Iraqis. The targets, American hotels, were both soft and symbolic. But in the future, they may be harder and even more vital -- oil pipelines or other facilities outside Iraq, for instance.

Add into this formula for disaster, an "administration" in Washington that is "uninterested in governing," as Jonathan Schell wrote recently in the Nation magazine (focusing on what the post-Katrina world has revealed to us, but Iraqis already knew all too well). "We all keep referring to the ‘Bush administration,'" he added, "yet administering seems to be the last thing on its mind... If the Bush outfit is not governing, what is it doing? The answer comes readily: It wishes to acquire, increase and consolidate the power of the Republican Party."

If administration is nothing to Bush's people and power is all, the Klare scenarios that follow only seem that much more likely to be used, and what the implementation of any one of them will certainly do is add yet another chaotic pressure to the crumbling structure of our ever less safe and secure world and way of life. Tom

Wag the Dog
Crisis Scenarios for Deflecting Attention from the President's Woes
By Michael T. Klare

In the 1998 movie Wag the Dog, White House spinmeister Conrad Brean seeks to deflect public attention from a brewing scandal over an alleged sexual encounter in the White House between the president and an all-too-young Girl Scout-type by concocting an international crisis. Advised by a Hollywood producer (played with delicious perversity by Dustin Hoffman), Brean "leaks" a fraudulent report that Albania has acquired a suitcase-sized nuclear device and is seeking to smuggle it into the United States. This obviously justifies an attention-diverting military reprisal. The press falls for the false report (sound familiar?) and all discussion of the president's sex scandal disappears from view -- or, as Brean would have it, the "tail" of manufactured crisis wags the "dog" of national politics.

As Brean explains all this to the White House staff in the film, American presidents have often sought to distract attention from their political woes at home by heating up a war or crisis somewhere else. Now that the current occupant of the White House is facing roiling political scandals of his own, it stands to reason that he, too, or his embattled adviser Karl Rove (not to speak of his besieged Vice President, Dick Cheney) may be thinking along such lines. Could Rove -- today's real-life version of Conrad Brean -- already be cooking up a "wag the dog" scenario? Only those with access to the innermost sanctum of George Bush's White House can know for sure, but it is hardly an improbable thought, given that they have done so in the past.

It bears repeating that this administration -- more than any other in recent times -- has employed deception and innuendo to mold public opinion and advance its political agenda. Indeed, the very scandal now enveloping the White House -- the apparent conspiracy to punish whistle-blower Joseph Wilson by revealing the covert CIA identity of his wife, Valerie Plame -- is rooted in the President's drive to mobilize support for the invasion of Iraq by willfully distorting Iraqi weapons capabilities. Why then would he and his handlers shrink from exaggerating or distorting new intelligence about other hostile powers, and then using such distortions to ignite an international crisis?

Add to this the fact that a rising level of belligerence is already detectable in the statements of top administration officials regarding potential adversaries in the Middle East and Asia. Most striking perhaps was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's truculent appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 19. Under questioning from both Democratic and Republican Senators, she refused to rule out the use of military force against Syria or Iran, nor would she acknowledge any presidential obligation to consult Congress before engaging in such an action. Asked by Senator Paul Sarbanes (Dem.-Md.) whether the administration actually "entertains the possibility of using military action against Syria or against Iran" and "could undertake to do that without obtaining from Congress an authorization for such action," she replied: "What I said is that the President doesn't take any of his options off the table and that I will not say anything that constrains his authority as Commander in Chief." While insisting that the administration was still relying on diplomacy to resolve its differences with Syria and Iran, she left no doubt as to Bush's preparedness (and right) to employ force at any time or place of his choosing.

There are many who claim that Bush could not possibly contemplate military action against Iran, Syria, or any other hostile power at present. American forces, they argue, are stretched to the limit in Iraq and so lack the capacity to undertake a significant campaign in another country. At the very least, these analysts overlook the massive American air and naval capabilities hardly engaged in Iraq, and certainly available for use elsewhere. But this is not the point. As Wag the Dog suggested, war itself is not the only way to distract public attention from the President's domestic woes. An atmosphere of crisis in which rumors of war or preparations for war come to overshadow all else might well do the trick -- and administration officials don't need fresh armies to accomplish this, only plausible scenarios for the escalation of existing foreign troubles. These, unfortunately, are all too easy to find.

What then are the most promising scenarios at hand for such a purpose? Many such scenarios might be envisioned, but the most credible ones -- barring a major new terrorist attack on the United States -- would entail a military showdown with Syria, Iran, or North Korea.

The Syria Option

Syria appears the most likely candidate for an instant stir-and-mix foreign-policy crisis. To start with, it has already been branded a pariah state -- both because of its suspected involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and because the Bush administration regularly charges it with facilitating the entry of foreign jihadists into Iraq.

The issue of Syrian involvement in Hariri's assassination arose immediately following the February 14, 2005 bomb explosion that killed him (and 22 others) in downtown Beirut. Because Hariri had long campaigned for the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, his supporters insisted that Damascus must have played a role in the explosion. The United States and Great Britain persuaded the U.N. Security Council to initiate an investigation of the explosion. A preliminary report by the international team formed to investigate, released on October 24, strongly suggested that Syrian officials had played a key role in organizing the attack. Washington and London then returned to the Security Council on October 31and pushed through a resolution that calls on the Syrian government to cooperate fully with the continuing investigation and make available for questioning any of its top officials suspected of involvement. This resolution also warns of unspecified "further action" -- an obvious threat of economic sanctions -- if Syria fails to comply. The ante was raised further on November 7, when UN investigators requested interviews with six top Syrian officials, including General Assef Shawkat, the powerful brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad.

From the very beginning, the White House has seized on these developments to portray Syria as an outlaw state and set the stage for a diplomatic assault on the Assad regime. Condoleezza Rice has been particularly harsh. After the October 31 resolution was adopted, for instance, she declared, "With our decision today, we show that Syria has isolated itself from the international community -- through its false statements, its support for terrorism, its interference in the affairs of its neighbors, and its destabilizing behavior in the Middle East." Then came the clincher: "Now the Syrian government must make a strategic decision to fundamentally change its behavior."

What changes must the Syrian government make? What are the consequences if it fails to comply? There are no clear answers to these questions, nor are there likely to be any. The intent, so far as can be determined, is not to reach some sort of peaceful resolution of this issue but rather to keep Damascus, and the rest of the world, on edge, expecting some new crisis at any moment. This strategy -- "rattling the cage," as it's known in Washington -- was reportedly adopted by senior aides to President Bush at an October 1st meeting at the White House. According to the New York Times, this strategy entails putting relentless pressure on the Assad regime, forcing it to make humiliating concessions to Washington (thus weakening it domestically) or face increasingly severe reprisals from Washington and its allies

The public face of this assault is the diplomatic campaign being waged by Condoleezza Rice and her associates at the Department of State. The Department of Defense, meanwhile, is conducting the dark side of this campaign, involving nothing short of a covert, low-level military campaign against Syria, including commando raids by Iraqi-based U.S. forces into Syrian territory. These raids -- first reported by the New York Times in October -- are supposedly intended to impede efforts by Iraqi insurgent forces or foreign jihadists to use Syria as a staging point for forays into Iraq. Undoubtedly, however, they constitute but another component of the "rattling the cage" strategy, designed to keep the Assad regime off balance, tempting or provoking it into clashes with American forces that would only provide a justification for further escalations of the attacks.

It is easy to see how this could lead to something closer to the outbreak of full-scale military hostilities with Syria or, more likely, escalating air and missile attacks. Indeed, military analyst William Arkin of the Washington Post reports that the Pentagon has already commenced full-scale planning for such contingencies. "U.S. intelligence agencies and military planners [have] received instructions to prepare up-to-date target lists for Syria and to increase their preparations for potential military operations against Damascus," he observed recently. Such operations could include "cross-border operations to...destroy safe havens supporting the Iraqi insurgency" as well as "attacks on the regime of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad." Attacks of this type could be mounted at any time, and should be considered highly likely if Damascus rebuffs U.N. efforts to compel testimony by its senior officials or if conditions worsen in Iraq (as is likely).

The standoff between the United States and Syria has already been ratcheted up to dangerous levels and could be intensified even further in the weeks ahead if Assad refuses to turn over his brother-in-law and other top officials for questioning (and possible arrest) by the U.N. investigating team. Under these circumstances, it would be all too easy for the White House to create a brink-of-war environment in Washington, possibly by stepping up commando raids on the Iraq-Syrian border or by threatening to bomb terrorist "sanctuaries" inside Syria. Even if such strikes were merely hinted at, discussion of a possible war with Syria would monopolize media coverage of the White House and so deflect attention from the President's political woes.

The Iran Option

After Syria, the ongoing imbroglio over Iran's nuclear activities represents the most promising option for a "wag the dog" scenario. This dispute has approached moments of acute crisis before, only to subside following a concession by one side or another -- and this could certainly happen again. At present, however, a very serious confrontation appears to be in the offing. While long in the making, the current standoff with Iran hasn't been eased any by that country's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who seems to be prone to making inflammatory statements. (Israel, he said recently, "must be wiped off the map.") Nonetheless, the primary issue is Iran's apparent determination to engage in nuclear activities viewed in Washington as indicative of a covert Iranian drive to manufacture nuclear weapons. Here, a bit of background is useful.

Iran is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and, in accordance with the treaty, has asserted its right to build nuclear power plants and to construct the infrastructure needed to "enrich" natural uranium -- that is, increase the proportion of the fissionable isotope U-235 -- for use in its reactors. Over the years, however, Iran has violated its NPT obligations by building uranium enrichment facilities out of sight of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). These facilities include a plant to convert uranium ore into a gas, uranium hexaflouride (UF6), that can be introduced into high-speed centrifuges which separate U-238 from the lighter U-235, allowing for the gradual accumulation of "enriched" uranium -- the raw material for both power reactors and, in highly enriched form, nuclear weapons. The Iranians insist that they want the enriched material for peaceful purposes only; but their concealment of these efforts in the past leads easily to speculation that they ultimately seek to accumulate highly-enriched uranium for a future Iranian bomb.

The Bush administration has already made up its mind on this subject: "Iran [has] concealed a large-scale, covert nuclear weapons program for over eighteen years," then Undersecretary of State (and now U.N. Ambassador) John R. Bolton asserted on August 17, 2004. "The costly infrastructure to perform all of these [enrichment] activities goes well beyond any conceivable peaceful nuclear program," he added. "No comparable oil-rich nation has ever engaged, or would be engaged, in this set of activities -- or would pursue them for nearly two decades behind a continuing cloud of secrecy and lies to IAEA inspectors and the international community -- unless it was dead set on building nuclear weapons."

Despite such American assertions, the IAEA and the international community have not reached a consensus on Iran's ultimate intentions. The IAEA has, however, repeatedly stated that Iran is in violation of its obligations to fully disclose all nuclear-related activities and to abstain from actions that could lead to the manufacture of nuclear weapons. In 2003, a "trio" of European Union nations -- Britain, France, and Germany -- secured an agreement from Teheran to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment activities while negotiations were under way for a permanent suspension in exchange for a package of EU economic benefits. But neither these negotiations, nor repeated IAEA warnings, have fully halted Iranian enrichment programs. Now, the Bush administration is calling for an IAEA resolution that would find Iran in full breach of its NPT obligations and refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council for possible actions which could include the imposition of economic and other sanctions.

At a meeting on Sept 24, the IAEA Board of Governors formally held Iran in breach of its NPT obligations, but did not immediately refer the matter to the Security Council, presumably to leave more room for negotiations. President Ahmadinejad, however, has since rejected the IAEA resolution, and Iran subsequently announced the resumption of UF6 production in a strong rebuke to the EU trio. Meanwhile, Washington has stepped up its efforts to persuade other states that Iran is determined to acquire nuclear weapons. A showdown is likely in late November or early December, when the IAEA Board next convenes.

Were this matter to be sent to the United Nations, it is unlikely that harsh sanctions would be imposed as Russia and China, both allied to Iran, sit on the Security Council and possess veto power over any vote. What then might the White House do if Iran announces the full-scale resumption of nuclear enrichment activities? Under such circumstances, a military strike against nuclear facilities in Iran has to be considered a genuine possibility. After all, President Bush has already declared that the United States will not "tolerate" the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran, a clear expression of his willingness to employ military force. In addition, as early as last January, Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker magazine that U.S. Special Operations Forces units were already conducting secret forays into Iranian territory to pinpoint the location of hidden nuclear installations in preparation for any future decision to launch an attack.

Here again, the kindling exists for a full-blown international crisis. Although the European trio along with Russia and China are determined to avoid a military confrontation with Iran, the Bush administration clearly feels no such inhibitions. It has already laid the groundwork for air and missile strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities and has refused -- in Condoleezza Rice's phrase -- to take any "options off the table." Even the strong hint of an impending assault on Iran would probably push crude oil prices to stratospheric levels and invite anger and concern around the world, but this may not be enough to deter Bush and his advisers from initiating such a crisis if they saw no other way to boost the President's approval ratings.

The North Korean Option

Although less appealing than the Syrian or Iranian options, a scenario entailing possible conflict with North Korea is also likely to be on any White House list of future provocations. This scenario is less appealing than the others because everyone knows that an all-out conflict with North Korea would probably produce a horrendous bloodbath and might even trigger first an Asian economic, and then a global, economic meltdown. Any move to crank up such a crisis to dangerous levels would also meet with fierce resistance from China, Russia, South Korea, and the rest of the international community. At the same time, however, North Korea has long been branded an outlaw state and its nuclear-weapons activities are far more advanced than anything conceivably under way in Iran. The Defense Department also possesses a very robust air, ground, and naval presence in the region, so a confrontation on the Korean Peninsula need not even require the redeployment of American forces from Iraq -- as would presumably be the case in a war scenario involving Syria or Iran.

North Korea is believed to have begun a secret nuclear weapons program after the end of the Korean War. However, under the so-called Agreed Framework of 1994, it pledged to cease all such activities in return for a basket of economic and political incentives from the United States and its allies. Both sides complied with some aspects of the agreement but balked at others. The Clinton administration was well on its way toward resolving these inconsistencies when George W. Bush assumed the presidency in early 2001.

Soon after taking office, Bush foreclosed any serious diplomatic contact with the North Koreans and froze many of America's obligations under the Agreed Framework. In his 2002 State of the Union address, he included North Korea in his famed "axis of evil." In response, the North Koreans announced that they were no longer bound by the Agreed Framework and had resumed their work on the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Rather than deal with Pyongyang directly on such critical nuclear-proliferation matters, the White House insisted than any future negotiations had to be conducted on a multilateral basis. China subsequently agreed to convene "six-party" talks -- involving the United States, Japan, Russia, the two Koreas, and itself -- for this purpose.

At a September meeting of the six-party group, the North Koreans finally agreed to abandon their nuclear-weapons activities but only in return for significant economic benefits from the other parties and non-aggression assurances about an American attack. In subsequent statements, Pyongyang indicated that any such step would be predicated as well on a promise by the other participants to supply them with a light-water nuclear reactor (that could only be used for generating electricity). The United States has since ruled out any commitment of this sort, but has suggested that various incentives might be provided once North Korea commenced the irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear-weapons program.

At this point, there is reason to believe that a peaceful resolution of the dispute is within reach. China and South Korea have worked hard to promote a constructive stance on Pyongyang's part, but it is a situation that could turn sour again in a diplomatic instant. As if to highlight that possibility, the United States has recently bolstered its military capabilities in the area -- sending fifteen F-117 "stealth" bombers and other advanced weapons to South Korea and announcing other efforts aimed at isolating North Korea.

The Bush administration has many levers it could pull should a decision be made to provoke a fresh confrontation with North Korea. No doubt this would prove unpopular with China and South Korea, along with most of the rest of the world, but it would be guaranteed to produce a crisis atmosphere in Washington and so distract attention from escalating Presidential problems at home. As a result, it cannot be excluded as a potential wag-the-dog scenario.

Minus a microphone (or a leaker) in the Oval Office, it is impossible for outsiders to determine what attention-grabbing scenarios President Bush, his Vice President, and his closest advisers might be discussing at the moment. To some extent, the state of play will be shaped as well by the unpredictable actions of foreign leaders, especially the leaders and chief aides of Syria, Iran, and North Korea. But if past White House behavior is any indication, we can safely assume that the President's men are considering every option for turning these foreign crises into a compelling distraction from the administration's current political malaise. They have already shown by their decisions in Iraq that they are prepared to spill a lot of blood in pursuit of political advantage, and so the possibility that a contrived crisis with Syria, Iran, or North Korea might erupt into something much greater -- even a full-scale war or economic meltdown -- may be unlikely to deter them from a wag-the-dog maneuver.

Michael T. Klare is the Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependence on Imported Petroleum (Owl Books) as well as Resource Wars, The New Landscape of Global Conflict.

The final piece is by Greg Palast. How anyone (gullible chickenhawks mainly) who can say that the invasion & occupation of Iraq is nothing to do with oil with a straight face is beyond me.

Why Iraq Still sells its oil à la cartel: Twilight of the neocon gods
By Greg Palast, Harper's, Monday, October 24, 2005

On Saturday, October 22, the Greg Palast investigative team received a Project Censored award, the "alternative Pulitzer Prize," for uncovering the State Department's confidential pre-war plans for the economic conquest of Iraq.

...For months, the State Department denied the existence of this 323-page document ...

...The switch to an OPEC-friendly policy for Iraq was driven by Dick Cheney himself. "The person who is most influential in running American energy policy is the Vice President," who, said the insider, "thinks that security begins by . . . letting prices follow wherever they may."

Two and a half years and $202 billion into the war in Iraq, the United States has at least one significant new asset to show for it: effective membership, through our control of Iraq's energy policy, in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Arab-dominated oil cartel.

Just what to do with this proxy power has been, almost since President Bush's first inaugural, the cause of a pitched battle between neoconservatives at the Pentagon, on the one hand, and the State Department and the oil industry, on the other. At issue is whether Iraq will remain a member in good standing of OPEC, upholding production limits and thereby high prices, or a mutinous spoiler that could topple the Arab oligopoly.

According to insiders and to documents obtained from the State Department, the neocons, once in command, are now in full retreat. Iraq's system of oil production, after a year of failed free-market experimentation, is being re-created almost entirely on the lines originally laid out by Saddam Hussein.

Under the quiet direction of U.S. oil company executives working with the State Department, the Iraqis have discarded the neocon vision of a laissez faire, privatized oil operation in favor of one shackled to quotas set by OPEC, which have been key to the 148% rise in oil prices since the beginning of 2002. This rise is estimated to have cost the U.S. economy 1.5% of its GDP, or a third of its total growth during the period.

Given this economic blow, and given that OPEC states account for 46% of America's oil imports, it may seem odd that the United States' "remaking" of Iraq would allow for a national oil company that props up OPEC's price gouging. And in fact the original scheme for reconstruction, at least the one favored by neoconservatives, was to privatize Iraq's oil entirely and thereby undermine the oil cartel. One intellectual godfather of this strategy was Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation, who in September 2002 published (with Gerald P. O'Driscoll, Jr.) a post-invasion plan, "The Road to Economic Prosperity for a Post-Saddam Iraq," that put forward the idea of using Iraq to smash OPEC. Cohen explained to me how such an extraordinary geopolitical feat might be accomplished. OPEC maintains high oil prices by suppressing production through a quota system effectively imposed on each member by Saudi Arabia, which reigns by dint of its overwhelming reserves. The Saudis, to maintain their control on pricing, must keep a lid on production from other members-particularly Iraq, which has the second greatest proven reserves.

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq adhered to the OPEC quota limit (historically set to equal Iran's, now 3.96 million barrels a day) via state ownership of all fields. Cohen reasoned that if Iraq's fields were broken up and sold off, a dozen competing operators would quickly crank up production from their individual patches to the maximum possible, swiftly raising Iraq's total output to 6 million barrels a day. This extra crude would flood world petroleum markets, OPEC would devolve into mass cheating and overproduction, oil prices would fall over a cliff, and Saudi Arabia-both economically and politically - would fall to its knees.

By February 2003, Cohen's position had been enshrined as official policy, in the form of a hundred-page blueprint for the occupied nation titled, "Moving the Iraqi Economy from Recovery to Sustainable Growth"-a plan that generally embodied the principles for postwar Iraq favored by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and the Iran-Contra figure Elliott Abrams, now Deputy National Security Adviser. Nominally written by a committee of Defense, State, and Treasury officials, the blueprint was in fact the brainchild of a platoon of corporate lobbyists, chief among them the flattax fanatic Grover Norquist. From overhauling tax rates to rewriting copyright law, the document mapped out a radical makeover of Iraq as a free-market Xanadu-a sort of Chile on the Tigris-including, on page 73, the sell-off of the nation's crown jewels: "privatization... [of] the oil and supporting industries."

Following the U.S. military's swift advance to Baghdad, those skeptical of the neocon plan were summarily brushed aside. Chief among the castoffs was General Jay Garner, the shortlived occupation viceroy who on the very night he arrived in Baghdad from Kuwait received a call from Rumsfeld informing him of his dismissal. When I met with Garner last March at the Washington offices of L3 Corporation's giant security subsidiary he now heads, the general told me that he had resisted imposing on Iraqis the plan's sell-off of assets, especially the oil. "That's just one fight you don't have to take on right now," he said. "You don't want to end the day with more enemies than you started with."

In plotting the destruction of OPEC, the neocons failed to predict the virulent resistance of insurgent forces: the U.S. oil industry itself. From the outset of the planning for war, U.S. oil executives had thrown in their lot with the pragmatists at the State Department and the National Security Council. Within weeks of the first inaugural, prominent Iraqi expatriates-many with ties to U.S. industry-were invited to secret discussions directed by Pamela Quanrud, an NSC economics expert now employed at State. "It quickly became an oil group," one participant, Falah Aljibury, told me. Aljibury, an adviser to Amerada Hess's oil trading arm and to investment banking giant Goldman Sachs, who once served as a back channel between the United States and Iraq during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, cut ties to the Hussein regime following the invasion of Kuwait.

The working group's ideas about the war had been far less starry-eyed than those of the neocons. "The petroleum industry, the chemical industry, the banking industry-they'd hoped that Iraq would go for a revolution like in the past and government was shut down for two or three days," Aljibury told me. "You have a martial law . . . and say Iraq is being liberated and everybody stay where they are . . . Everything as is." On this plan, Hussein would simply have been replaced by some former Baathist general. One candidate was General Nizar Khazraji, Saddam's former army chief of staff, who at the time was under house arrest in Denmark pending charges for war crimes. (Khazraji was seen in Iraq a month after the U.S. invasion, but he soon disappeared and has not been heard from since.)

Roughly six months before the invasion, the Bush Administration designated Philip Carroll to advise the Iraqi Oil Ministry once U.S. tanks entered Baghdad. Carroll had been CEO of both Fluor Corporation, now a major contractor in Iraq, and, earlier, of Royal Dutch/Shell's U.S. division. In May 2003, a month after his arrival in Iraq, Carroll made headlines when he told the Washington Post that Iraq might break with OPEC: "[Iraqis] have from time to time, because of compelling national interest, elected to opt out of the quota system and pursue their own path. . . . They may elect to do that same thing. To me, it's a very important national question." Carroll later told me, though, that he personally would not have been supportive of privatizing oil fields. "Nobody in their right mind would have thought of doing that," he said.

Soon after Carroll resigned his post in September 2003, the new provisional government appointed an oil minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum. Uloum (who had been maneuvered into the job by then-neocon favorite Ahmad Chalabi) quickly fired Muhammad al-Jiburi, chief of Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization, and Thamer Ghadhban, the expert in charge of the southern oil fields, both of whom had been trusted by the Western oil industry. Production faltered from a combination of incompetence, wholesale theft (Iraq's oil was unmetered), sabotage, and corruption that one oilman told me was "rampant," with "direct payoffs to government officials by commercial operators."

With pipelines exploding daily, the fantasy of remaking Iraq's oil industry also went up in flames. Carroll was replaced by another Houston oil chieftain, Rob McKee, a former executive vice-president of ConocoPhillips and currently the chairman-even during his tenure in Baghdad-of Enventure, an oil-drilling supply subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation. McKee had little tolerance for the neocons' threat to privatize the oil fields. A close associate of McKee's and the executive adviser to Hess's trading arm, Ed Morse, told me that "Rob was very promotive of putting in place a really strong national oil company," even if he had to act over the objections of the Iraqi Governing Council. Morse, who says he takes as many as six calls a day from the Bush Administration regarding Iraq, is one of the men to whom Washington turns to obtain the views of Big Oil. Like Carroll and McKee, Morse sneers at what he calls "the obsession of neo-conservative writers on ways to undermine OPEC." Iraqis, says Morse, know that if they pump 6 million barrels a day, i.e., 2 million above their expected OPEC quota, "they will crash the oil market" and bring down their own economy.

In November 2003, McKee quietly ordered up a new plan for Iraq's oil. The drafting would be overseen by a "senior adviser," Amy Jaffe, who had worked for Morse when he held the formidable title of Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations-James Baker III Institute Joint Committee on Petroleum Security. Jaffe now works for Baker, the former Secretary of State, whose law firm serves as counsel to both ExxonMobil and the defense minister of Saudi Arabia. The plan, nominally written by State Department contractor BearingPoint, was guided, says Jaffe, by a handful of oil industry consultants and executives.

For months, the State Department officially denied the existence of this 323-page plan for Iraq's oil, but when I identified the document's title from my sources and threatened legal action, I was able to obtain the complete report, dated December 2003 and entitled "Options for Developing a Long Term Sustainable Iraqi Oil Industry." The multi-volume document describes seven possible models of oil production for Iraq, each one merely a different flavor of a single option: the creation of a state-owned oil company. The seven options ranged from the Saudi Aramco model, in which the government owns the whole operation from reserves to pipelines, to the Azerbaijan model, in which the state-owned assets are operated almost entirely by "IOCs" (International Oil Companies). The drafters had little regard for the "self-financing" system, such as Saudi Arabia's, which bars IOCs from the fields; they prefer the production-sharing agreement (PSA) model, under which the state maintains official title to the reserves but operation and control are given to foreign oil companies. These companies then manage, fund, and equip crude extraction in exchange for a percentage of sales receipts.

While promoting IOC control of the fields, the authors take care to warn the Iraqi government against attempting to squeeze IOC profits: "Countries that do not offer risk-adjusted rates of return equal to or above other nations will be unlikely to achieve significant levels of investment, regardless of the richness of their geology." Indeed, to outbid other nations for Big Oil's favor will require Iraq to turn over quite a large share of profits, especially when competing against countries such as Azerbaijan that have given away the store. The Azeri government, notes the report, has "been able to partially overcome their risk profile and attract billions of dollars of investment by offering a contractual balance of commercial interests within the risk contract." This refers to the fact that Azerbaijan, despite its poor oil quality and poor location, drew in the IOCs via scandalous splits of revenue allowed by the nation's corrupt government.

Given how easily the interests of OPEC and those of the IOCs can be aligned, it is certainly understandable why smashing the oil cartel would not strike oilmen as a good idea. In 2004, with oil approaching the $50-a-barrel mark all year, the major U.S. oil companies posted record or near record profits. ConocoPhillips, Rob McKee's company, this February reported a doubling of its quarterly profits from the previous year, which itself had been a company record; Carroll's former employer, Shell, posted a record-breaking $4.48 billion in fourth-quarter earnings. ExxonMobil last year reported the largest one-year operating profit of any corporation in U.S. history.

When I talked to Ariel Cohen at Heritage, his dream of smashing OPEC in shambles, he blamed the State Department for acquiescing to the Saudis and to Russia, which also benefit s from selling oil at high OPEC prices. The poisonous policies were influenced, he said, by "Arab economists hired by the State Department who are basically supporting the witches' brew of the Saudi royal family and the Soviet ostblock . . . because the Saudis are interested in maximizing their market share and they're not interested in fast growth of the Iraqi output."

According to Morse, the switch to an OPEC-friendly policy for Iraq was driven by Dick Cheney himself. "The person who is most influential in running American energy policy is the Vice President," who, says Morse, "thinks that security begins by . . . letting prices follow wherever they may."

Even, I asked, if those are artificially high prices, set by OPEC? "The VP's office [has] not pursued a policy in Iraq that would lead to a rapid opening of the Iraqi energy sector . . . so they have not done anything, either with producers or energy policy, that would put us on a track to say, 'We're going to put a squeeze on OPEC.'"

Opposition to Iraq's membership in OPEC was handled in a style that would have made Saddam proud. On May 20, 2004, Iraqi police raided Ahmad Chalabi's home in Baghdad and carted away his computers and files. Chalabi was hunted by his own government: the charge was espionage, no less, for Iran. Chalabi's Governing Council was soon shut down and, crucially, Bahr al-Uloum was yanked from the Oil Ministry and replaced by the very men he had removed: Thamer Ghadhban took al-Uloum's job at the oil ministry and Chalabi rival Muhammad al-Jiburi was made minister of trade.

But just when you thought the fat lady sang for the neo-cons, who should rise from his crypt eight months later but Ahmad Chalabi. In January 2005, Chalabi cut a deal with his former oil minister al-Uloum's father, a Shia power broker, and rode that religious ethnic vote back into office. Chalabi landed himself the post of Second Deputy Prime Minister and, in addition, the tantalizing title of Interim Oil Minister. The espionage investigation was dropped; the King of Jordan offered to pardon Chalabi for the $72 million missing from Chalabi's former bank; and Chalabi once again turned over his oil ministry to al-Uloum, the sheik's son. The Texans' pro-OPEC man Ghadhban was again kicked downstairs.

But Chalabi had learned his lesson: don't mess with Texas, or the Texan's favorite cartel. A chastened Chalabi now endorses Iraq's cooperation with OPEC's fleecing of the planet's oil consumers.

And Dick Cheney, far from "putting the squeeze on OPEC," has taken his de facto seat there, assenting by silence to the oil monopoly's piratical price gouging. But hasn't OPEC's stratospheric crude prices choked the life out of America's auto industry and bankrupted half a dozen airlines? In the Vice-President's bunker the elimination of jobs of Democratic-leaning union members is likely seen as a bonus for the good deed of boosting oil industry profits far above the ozone layer.

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. This is his fourth investigative report for Harper's Magazine. Leni von Eckardt was chief researcher with Palast on this investigation. This is the Palast team's sixth Project Censored award from California State University's school of journalism.
The BBC Television Newsnight broadcast of this story was produced by Meirion Jones. View the BBC television report and sign up for Palast's updates at

Big stuff worth checking

Sorry the title sounds like a porn site.

A couple of things I've found (or refound) on the Net which people may find of interest/use. However, both are quite large, and I suggest you go to the actual links below to access them.

The first is a piece which Kevin Carson submitted to the Libertarian Alliance. The LA are anarcho-capitalists, the answer over here to North America's Libertarian Parties, although the LA are non-party political. Having said that, most of the LA appear (I'm ready to be corrected) Tory Party aligned. The big split in the LA seems to be between those who think the Cons offer something to free marketeers, and those who think the Cons are a bad joke. Some LAers seem to be Thatcherite partisans and think the Great Woman was sent from above to save us all from Socialism. Useful idiots, to quote Lenin.

Anyhow, Kevin's dry sounding Austrian and Marxist theories of Monopoly-Capital: A Mutualist Synthesis is an extremely good read. Caveat empor: it is 85 pages of A4 in length when printed off.

Secondly, another long (32 pages of A4) piece worth visiting if one is fascinated by the activities of the British Left is the 1988 publication "As Soon As This Pub Closes". It is biased, as the intro says, and it is pre-collapse of Berlin Wall/USSR and the appearance of NuLab, but it is witty & informative.

Monday, November 28, 2005

More Vancouver

This is not in any real order & I will add links to places when I find them. However, enough ado.

This summer was the 5th time I've been to Vancouver. As you may have gathered, I really like the place. As long as you don't stay on the east side of downtown (the corner of Hastings & Main Streets is the poorest postcode in Canada), you should have a good time. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that if you don't like Vancouver there is something fundamentally wrong with you!

The last three times I've stayed in Vancouver I've stayed at the Sylvia Hotel which is on English Bay & a minute max from the beach. A very good hotel. Even if you don't stay there, please visit the bar which has magnificent views of the Bay (at dusk on a sunny day, bring a camera). It is reasonably cheap as well. Less than a C$100 per night for a room, which is very reasonable considering the location. People may want rooms with more features, but even the smallest has a bed & bathroom, and who stays in their room if the weather is fine on their hols? The Buchan Hotel a couple of minutes away is cheaper, but I can think of only one occasion when I've seen anyone eating/drinking in its very fine patio. The Buchan has no breakfast facilities, & it has a bar attached to it which is nothing to do with the hotel itself.

If it is a nice day it takes me some mental & physical effort to go further than English Bay beach. The only thing you should avoid on the main part of the beach (the various small coves with sand further up towards Stanley Park are a different matter) is eating. That is, unless you want to be harassed by large numbers of seagulls and crows. If you do want to eat your sandwiches in peace I suggest you try the tree protected area towards the tennis courts and bowls areas in Stanley Park, which has picnic tables and chairs.

English Bay is where Vancouver holds its firework competitions in late July/Aug. I'm really amazed that a city of 2 million people makes such a big deal about fireworks. However, a good half a million people make their around the Bay (and get there so early! Granted it was the BC Day holiday weekend, but on one Saturday I saw a family take up their spot at 1pm, and the show wasn't going to start until 10pm!). The only real problem is that gangs of horrible teenage rich kids from Vancouver's satellite cities ie Burnaby & Surrey come into central Vancouver to cause trouble. One of the evenings, some teenager got stabbed opposite the Sylvia. It sounds bad, but most of these obnoxious brats wouldn't last 5 mins at kicking out time in central London. If you go to the fireworks, please take your time getting there and be careful. By the way, if anyone knows any good reason to go to Burnaby and/or Surrey, please tell!

The only really out in the sticks part of the far flung Vancouver conurbation I've visited is New Westminster, as I have a friend (and husband to be) who lives & works there. Considering it is the oldest city in British Columbia there are very few historical bits to see. It has the world's biggest tin soldier and a floating casino but that's about it for taking touristy photos! It struck me as a very quiet laid back sort of place (although I didn't go short of food, drink, good conversation & company there!). There is also a lot of building going on (you notice that in Vancouver as a whole) in New West; mainly condominiums in a flood zone. Although one can easily forget, Vancouver is in the same volcano/earthquake zone as Mount Saint Helens, San Francisco & Los Angeles, and one day the Big One will come. I wouldn't like to be in one of those new condos in New West when a tsunami wings its way up the Fraser River. I also wonder to what extent all the new blocks of flats in downtown Vancouver would survive a big hit. At the very least there would be a lot of shattered glass. I noticed this time round that Burrard Bridge had notices on it saying that it was being upgraded to survive an earthquake. My guess (hopefully it won't happen for centuries yet) is that government owned properties & older buildings in the Vancouver conurbation will largely survive intact but the newer high rise stuff will suffer badly. As I say, hopefully no-one alive now will ever have to see it, fingers crossed (thankfully, my New West friends are living well up a hill in a made to last building!).

Going back to Vancouver itself, Stanley Park is well worth visiting. I just like walking around it and getting half-lost, knowing that I am only minutes away from downtown & civilisation. Walking/running/cycling/rollerblading the sea wall is always good exercise and makes one feel less guilty about how much food and drink one consumes during the rest of the day. It takes me about an hour & a half to stroll around the seawall. Sometimes 2nd & 3rd Beaches, up from English Bay, are too tempting when the sun is out and I dawdle there. However, something I will say about Vancouver is how relatively few overweight people there are. Vancouverites are generally a good advert for living well in terms of exercising without starving.

Commercial Drive is a good place to go (a couple more of my friends live just off the main drag there). It's mostly shops and ethnic restaurants- you won't starve there, that's for sure. In a way, the Drive is very similar to Broadway/4th Avenue down by Kitsilano Beach. As for Kitsilano beach: this place can be bad for the ego. Most of the time, going about Vancouver makes me feel about ten years younger. However, Kits beach, especially by the volleyball areas, has the opposite effect, making me feel ten years older. Unless you look (i) younger than 25; (ii) are musclebound or walked out of the pages of Playboy in a bikini; and (iii) know how to play volleyball you don't belong there!

Granville Island is well worth a visit, except it is not really an Island, more of a peninsula. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, bars & Granville Island Brewery. It is well worth visiting Granville Island by catching one of the ferries which hop around False Creek. If you try to get there from Downtown via the Granville Bridge, you may find it deceptively long.

I've still more to say about Vancouver, but I will leave it there for the moment. I will return.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The SWP is in trouble- good!

There were loads of meetings this weekend gone in London which the politically aware could have gone to. Funny, a fortnight before there was nothing to go to, as far as I could see. Anyway, the George Galloway/Socialist Workers Party cunning plan to get mosque attenders to vote them in, ie Respect, is starting to hit the buffers. This is a report from the most anti-Galloway group in British Bolshevism, the Alliance for Workers' Liberty:

Respect/ SWP in decline? Submitted on 19 November, 2005 - 11:42.

Selling Solidarity outside the annual conference, this weekend, of the George Galloway/ SWP coalition "Respect", I thought the crowd looked thinner, older, and more dispirited than at the "Respect" conference last year.

"Respect" insiders confirm this, saying that the conference is smaller despite last-minute efforts by the SWP to drum up people to attend as observers and fill the hall.

Meanwhile, the Socialist Party's annual weekend event (last weekend, 12-13 November) was bigger than previous years. About 500 there, and a lot of them young, according to AWLers who attended.

I attended one of these SP annual events a few years back - in 2001, maybe - and then the main session had just 90 people in the hall at its start (though it filled up a bit more as it went on).

Since then the SP has increased its numbers steadily, and this year perhaps a bit more than steadily.

Why? My guess would be that it's as simple as this: with the SWP's self-conversion into a fan club for George Galloway and Moqtada al-Sadr, the SP is now the most visible organisation in England and Wales promoting basic socialist ideas. If socialists plug away at the basics - paper sales, an organised presence on demonstrations, and so on - then they can recruit. And the more visible you are, the more you recruit.

Martin Thomas

"Basic socialist ideas" is good old Trotskyism, but at least the Socialist Party have got some councillors in Peckham & Coventry, while Respect only seem to elect those if the local mullahs give them the thumbs up. I think the SP also benefit from calling for "workers' MPs/councillors on a workers' wage", which chimes with widespread anti-fat cat sentiment. On the other hand, George G says that he needs an income of £150k per annum to function politically. I'm sure anyone the least bit politically active feels the same way as George!

PS When I spell check, Bloggers' suggested replacement for "Trotskyism" is "tortoises"...

Monday, November 21, 2005

O Canada!

I still want to get my pieces on Vancouver and Canada's federal system of goverment done, but I find that other things get in the way. I hope to get both done by the end of the year. I find blogging a satisfying pastime, and I find myself messing around with this rather than doing what I said I'd do.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Day At Bruges (Group)

Yesterday I spent the day at the Bruges Group ( conference called Integration Marching On. I went, despite knowing the deep Toryism/Thatcherism/Neo-Conism on the organisation ,as I knew a couple of EU-critical people going there who wouldn't try to buttonhole me with the words "Brussels- it's a communist conspiracy gone mad" while carrying a copy of the Daily Mail.

I'm terrible when trying to estimate how many people turn up at meetings, but I would say about 100. There were a few young people (or young looking people) but there were a lot of balding heads. As almost always with political meetings, the audience was mostly male, although there was a smattering of female Tory undergrads. There was even a handful of non-Caucasian guests, which would have down gone well with Richard Barnbrook, who is the British National Party's main man in London. Looking like a pub singer appearing as Tony Hadley out of Spandau Ballet on Stars In Their Eyes, Mr. Barnbrook was the sole BNPer there (it seemed). I'm sure those who like to smear all the EU-critical as racist extremists will have a field day with the BNP presence at this meeting. He did ask one question, when no-one knew who he was, and you could sense that the temperature was cooling after saying he was BNP. Hopefully the Bruges Group will cut out this bit when they produce the DVD. Of course, Mr. B has a bit of experience with video, so he could help.

Most of the people there were either Cons or UKIP. Of course, the Cons were split between David Davis and David Cameron supporters. Most seemed to be DDers, the only prominent DCer being one of the platform speakers, MEP Daniel Hannan, who, to be honest, probably supports Cameron on class grounds ("us smug ex-public schoolboys should stick together against the great unwashed, old boy"). However, one thing I noticed whether or not people were Cons or UKIP was that none of them could admit that they lost the May General Election. Since there is little chance of a referendum on any EU issue before the next general election, what can any of this lot do of any practical use to stop the EU?

Anyway, the morning session consisted of speeches by 4 platform speakers followed by a Q&A session. The first was Howard Flight, ex-Tory MP- the one who had to resign before the last election after being covertly recorded saying that the next Tory government would make much bigger tax cuts than they were publicly mooting. His speech consisted of saying how the rest of the EU had to "reform" their economies in a Thatcherite manner, blah, blah, blah. He mentioned the euro in passing once. As I think the euro is the main reason that the eurozone's economies are doing so badly (ie one interest rate for 12 countries does not work), abolishing the euro would do a hell of lot more to help Europe's peoples than abolishing their welfare systems and throwing them to the corporate wolves. Mr F. also said that the UK should stay in the EU to make sure the EU didn't descend into anarchy.

Next speaker was Marc Glendening of the Democracy Movement, whose presence convinced me that the meeting wouldn't be that bad. He argued that what the EU represented was "Post-Modern Authoritarianism". It was all clever stuff, arguing that Blair's government and its gurus talk completely obtuse gibberish (the essence of post-modernism) to hide the networks of elites across the EU who use the obtuse nature of the EU's treaties to keep hold of power beyond form any democratic accountability. Furthermore, Marc argued that EU-critical discourse had to change. It was no good just labeling the EU as a "socialist superstate": the treaties allow it to be all things to all people. I don't think this went down well with the audience. However, as the Cons & UKIP barely got a third of the vote at this years' General Election, how do they expect to gain a majority in a future EU referendum if they do not change their language to attract people who don't see the EU as a "socialist superstate"? Marc also said the EU-critical should emphasising the issue of democracy not nationalism; Britain could not simply withdraw without taking account of what was going on in the rest of the EU.

From the intellectually sublime to the ridiculous: some idiot from the Campaign Against Political Correctness. John Midgely looked like a saloon bar bore and sounded like one as well. He quoted a lot of examples of "PC" and tried to link the EU to the use of "PC" language, but he never once defined "PC" (you can check his website as well- there is no definition there either). I somehow doubt whether he could define "Political Correctness". At least it wasn't called the Campaign Against Political Correctness Gone Mad. Perhaps one will emerge ("SPLITTERS!!").

The fourth speaker was Lindsay Jenkins, who has written several books on how Britain is being destroyed by the EU. I did buy a copy of her new tome Disappearing Britain and had it autographed. She said a lot how the EU is behind regionalism and the breakdown of local government. All very well, but I think she has no idea that there are radical regionalists who are opposed to the EU. Are we all waiting for our cheques from Brussels as well? Without straying too far from the subject, I see radical devolutionists and EU-critical campaigners as being on the same side: fighting for decentralisation and democracy. How people can't see the logical connection is beyond me. Anyhow, at least Miss Jenkins has a grasp of her subject, unlike the previous speaker.

After that came the questions from the floor. It seems some people don't seem to know the difference between asking a question and making a statement. It does seem that many Brugesists just want somewhere to air their frustrations. Furthermore, it seems many of those selected seemed to have no idea that other people wanted to ask questions/make statements as well. I'm not a great fan of "soundbite culture", but yesterday you could see the advantage of keeping it short and snappy.

Lunch was not impressive. One glass of decent wine, a glass of orange juice & a small plate of not great sandwiches (has the "euro-sarnie" arrived?).

The afternoon session had 3 speakers. Christopher Booker made a good speech; however when I checked his book "The Great Deception" I found no mention of the European Round Table of Industrialists! You can't talk about the last 20 years of so of the EU project without bringing in the ERT. That's the trouble with labeling the EU a "socialist superstate"- you can't explain why capitalists support it (or why so many socialists oppose the EU). As I managed to articulate talking to people over lunch (it must have been the red wine) the EU is the ultimate Third Way institution- it brings together the worst aspects of corporate capitalism and state socialism.

Although scathing of both Tory leadership contenders for not understanding the EU, looking through his book (well, co-authored with Richard North: more below) Mr Booker seems to let Mrs. Thatcher off the hook. Sorry, I think when it comes to the EU, Thatcher was, to use a phrase of Lenin's, a useful idiot. Anyone can talk anti-EU when out of office, like Trotsky could talk of liberty when he wasn't in power crushing all opposition to the Bolshevik regime. Remember these facts:

Thatcher supported Britain's first application to join in 1961-63;
Thatcher was a member of the Heath Cabinet which joined the EEC (as was) in 1973;
Thatcher campaigned for a "Yes" vote in the 1975 Referendum on whether Britain should stay in;
Thatcher signed the Single European Act, which introduced Qualified Majority Voting (undermining the national veto) in 1985, and got it pushed through Parliament on a 3 line whip after a severely guillotined debate in 1986; &
Thatcher allowed Sterling to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1990.

If actions speak louder than words, Thatcher was a big a "traitor" when it came to dealing with the EU as Heath, Major or Blair.

Anyway, straying a bit there! Next speaker was aforementioned Con MEP Daniel Hannan. Like Mr. Booker, he emphasised that, despite the Dutch & French "No" votes the EU institutions were acting like the EU Constitution was already in place. However, although the EU's people are going through the motions, their faith has been shaken by the "No" votes. Mr Hannan did come across as a Tory Boy though. The other speaker was Kenneth Minogue, who made good points about having more rights but less freedom than when he was younger, but it wasn't much connected to the EU.

The Q&A session seem to end up with the same boring questioners as the first session!
However, the question of the police came up (the number of police authorities is soon to be reduced from 43 to 12) and Mr H was very animated about how we are becoming a police state and how direct democracy would make public bodies like the police accountable. He'll be advocating workers' control of factories next...

I had an orange juice at afternoon tea (although I could murder a pint by then) then it was a session on Alternatives to the EU. There were two speakers. Richard North co-wrote The Great Deception with Christopher Booker. Once I start reading it, and get to stodgy parts, I'll assume Dr. North wrote them. Blimey, he is a boring speaker. At the end of a long day I was surprised to see nobody snoring, although I saw a lot of suppressed yawns behind hands (myself included). Moreover, his message was hardly going to inspire the troops. It was virtually impossible to pull out the EU. We are too enmeshed in its rules and regulations. We would have to start from scratch. The only hope would be if I get given lots of research money and I can spend years researching the alternatives.

In contrast to Eeyore, Ruth Lea was a veritable Tigger. Now of the Centre for Policy Studies, once of the Institute of Directors, I was expecting a hectoring Thatcherite but she was very jolly & lively. Furthermore, she saw no real problem about pulling out. There was definitely a Punch & Judy atmosphere on the platform between the two Rs. The only problem with Ruth Lea's outlook was that instead of embracing the EU, we should embrace total global free trade and not worry about the effects of competing with China & India. Without going off at another tangent, being blase about taking on those wannabe industrial superpowers is not particularly clever. It is the sort of stuff that gives the likes of the day's token BNPer hope for mass support in the future.

Anyway, that was a version of what happened yesterday. I couldn't cover everything, but I hope it gives a flavour. However,I get the feeling that if I go in 12 months time it will be the same type of audience with the same type of speakers going on about the same sort of subjects.

Britain gets gold in the 7 year Pork Barrel category

I thought it would take at least until 2006 until they got the accountants in on the London Olympic gravy train. It looks like the London public will have to fund the shortfall. Is the City of London going to chip in? (rhetorical question).

Olympic costs set to double
· Games bill to hit £6bn · DCMS calls in accountants to review the books· Londoners face huge tax rise
Nick Mathiason, The Observer,Sunday November 20, 2005

The cost of staging the London Olympic Games in 2012 is set to double. Senior officials organising the Games say construction costs have been seriously underestimated by Tessa Jowell's Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

A rise in costs could spell financial disaster for Londoners. The Observer has learnt that the government has in recent days appointed consultancy KPMG to begin a reappraisal of its Olympic costs. These have surged because original projections allowed for inflation at 3 per cent, but inflation in the construction sector is now over 7 per cent, as the price of raw materials, particularly oil and steel, has soared.

And wages in the construction sector are expected to rise substantially as London readies itself for a building boom. Improvements are being made to the underground system, and new Docklands Light Railway and East London lines are planned, as is a new Thames Gateway Bridge.

A senior figure involved in preparing for the London Olympics said: 'This has the makings of another [Millennium] Dome. Not factoring in construction inflation was a massive oversight.'

Another said: 'It's going to cost £6 billion ... KPMG have been appointed to look across the board at costs.' But Games insiders say cost overruns could be offset by land sales to the private sector once the Olympics are over.

Building the Olympic Park in east London was projected to cost £2.37bn. The city's mayor, Ken Livingstone, assured Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that any overruns would be met by Londoners. On these figures that amounts to an extra £1,000 per household. This means a steep rise in council tax is on the cards in London, as the Chancellor is unlikely to meet any shortfall.

In a statement, the DCMS last night said: 'We are committed to keeping a tight lid on costs, which is why we're involving professional advisors like KPMG now - not three or four years down the road. Our financial planning was praised by the International Olympic Committee and so far things have been running smoothly. This is not the first Olympic scare story in the run up to 2012 and it probably won't be the last.

'Inflation in the construction industry has been factored in and it is completely premature and total speculation to raise this as a concern.' But talk of how construction costs could lead to spiralling Olympic budgets is now widespread in Whitehall.

Last Friday, Jack Lemley, who was in charge of building the Channel Tunnel, was appointed to chair the Olympic Delivery Authority. Lemley will be responsible for ensuring all Olympic facilities and infrastructure is delivered on time and on budget. His chief executive will be appointed within 10 days.

· The battle over ownership over a key piece of land next to Stratford station took a new twist this weekend. The Reuben Brothers, Multiplex and Westfield jointly own a development site called Stratford City, which is where the Olympic village will be sited. It is understood that the Reuben Brothers and Westfield are engaged in a battle to seize overall control of the land. Multiplex, the Australian construction company building Wembley Stadium, is keen to sell out of Stratford.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Trasformismo English style?

Trasformismo. This term was used from the 1880s onwards to describe the process whereby the so-called "historic" Left and Right parties which emerged from the Risorgimento tended to converge in terms of programme during the years which followed, until there ceased to be any substantive difference between them....The two main parties disintegrated into personal cliques and factions, which characterised Italian parliamentary life until fascism. Footnote from Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci edited by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (1986 [1971], London: Lawrence & Wishart), p58.

The result of the Conservative leadership contest has still to be announced, so David Davis may still win. However, the chances are David Cameron will be the new Conservative leader. It is interesting (what? a Tory leadership contest?!) that I've read over the past few weeks that Cameron plans to attack Blair on the grounds of being sincere but weak. That is, Blair will be praised by Cameron for having a programme of "reform" of the public services ie handing them over to big business, but will be attacked by Cameron as being unable to implement these because of opposition from within the Labour Party and the unions.

What will be the difference between the two main parties then? Gordon Brown at the Labour Party conference said he would continue the "reform" programme after Blair leaves office. By using the right amount of "Old" Labour rhetoric he will probably get his way, especially as he can use the bogey of a Conservative government with even fewer qualms than Brown as a way of forcing the unions to tow the line in the run-up to the next election. I remember before Labour took power how Brown used to attack the Conservatives repeatedly as "incompetent" ie it wasn't their policies, but the way they implemented them, that was their main fault. Sounds familiar, eh?

I always think one of the most important statements in Western politics in recent times was back at the 1988 Democratic Party conference when Michael Dukakis (remember him?) was nominated as the Democrats' Presidential candidate. I remember a line of his quite distinctly: "This election is about competence not ideology." Politics is seen as about managing the world, not changing it: ideal for those who see politics as merely another career not as a means to change the world. No wonder political parties (particularly mainstream ones) have so many problems now enthusing their own members, let alone the electorate at large.

I can't see the Lib Dems being much of an alternative to the two main parties either. Last year there was a selection of essays published in the "Orange Book" by so-called Lib Dem "modernisers" (I suppose they are "Young Turks" in cliched journalistic-speak, although that phrase always brings to my mind people in Tommy Cooper fezs). Basically, the Orange Bookers want the private sector (ie the usual suspects) to take over more running of public services. Spot the difference! If Charles Kennedy goes before the next election I can see the Orange Bookers getting their way (arguing that to take Tory seats they need Tory policies), with their appeals to the public based on claims that both main parties are "incompetent".

I'm not sure how the next election will go, but I would not be surprised if there is a hung parliament. I would not be too surprised if the "modernisers" of all three main parties then united around a programme of "reform" in the aftermath. After a bit of English-style trasformismo, a de facto "National Government" for the 21st Century, an unabashed government of the Far Centre, would emerge. How democrats outside the magic circle would deal with that is another matter.

Anyway, enough idle speculation. If you think the main difference between Blair and Cameron is age, I can quote the following Nick Cohen article in your defence.

The Birth of Blameron, New Statesman, 8th August 2005

Evelyn Waugh once complained that the Conservatives had been in power for years but not turned the clock back by one minute. The old reactionary should be alive at this hour. He could watch with shock and awe as the Tory “modernisers” defy their name by wrenching back the hands of the clock - to 1995.

Once again a public school boy with good manners is seeking to become prime minister, although this time his alma mater is Eton rather than Fettes. Once again, he seems refreshingly normal. He has a pleasant wife and young family, and announces that he is as far from the old-fashioned machine politician as it is possible to get. Once again, public relations are at the core of his campaign, although this time he doesn’t need hired help in the form of Philip Gould and Peter Mandelson because he has spent years as director of communications for a media conglomerate and can spin himself. Like Dr Who, Tony Blair is regenerating into a fresher, younger actor who, in a novel twist in the plot, will lead the Conservative rather than Labour Party.

Close your eyes and listen to the young pretender’s speeches and you are back in the time when Oasis topped the charts, Bridget Jones was counting the alcohol units and Osama Bin Laden’s name was unknown to all save a handful of twitchy intelligence officers.

Here is David Cameron setting out his vision for the Tory party in a speech to the Policy Exchange think-tank at the end of June:

“We’ll never achieve a dynamic economy and a decent society if we expect the government to do everything, as the left say, or if we expect individuals acting on their own to do everything, as some on the right have implied . . . Shared responsibility is the hallmark of a civilised society. It’s a profound Conservative insight and instinct that the state can’t do everything and shouldn’t try.”

It might have been the master in his prime. First Cameron establishes a false dichotomy: only communists have ever believed that the state should do everything, and only anarchists have believed that the state should do nothing. No serious British politician in the 20th century believed in anything other than a mixed economy. Then he uses the false dichotomy’s dialectic to show that he, Cameron, has seen the thesis clash with the antithesis and can give the electorate the triumph of concluding the synthesis.

This is Blair, 1997, talking to an audience in Southampton:

“In the 1950s and the 1960s the big question in politics was: what can the state achieve? In the 1970s and 1980s the big question was: what can the individual achieve? Neither of these questions is right for the new century. Today the question we must answer is: what can society achieve - not the state on its own, not individuals on their own, but all of us together in a community, where opportunity for all is matched by responsibility from all.”

Blair’s interpretation of history was as selective as Cameron’s. At the end of Margaret Thatcher’s reign in the 1980s taxes took roughly 40 per cent of gross domestic product, just as they did at the end of the 1960s and just as they do now. Even if they didn’t, why does it follow that Cameron’s “shared responsibility” or Blair’s “opportunity for all and responsibility from all” is the best policy? Why not return to state power or anarchic indivi-dualism? If Thatcherism was the answer in the 1980s, why not in the 2000s? Ditto with the alleged socialism of the 1960s.

As the philosopher Jamie Whyte points out in A Load of Blair, these reasonable questions cannot be asked. The cunning of dialectical rhetoric is that it shoves the listener on to the train of history. There is no choice about the destination, no chance to change direction. You had x, then you had y, so - QED! - you must have z.

Not that Cameron wants us to think he’s a sly political manipulator. On the contrary, he assures us he likes nothing better than swapping the falsity of the metropolis for the decent values of his West Oxfordshire constituency. “I love being a constituency MP,” he enthuses. “And it often strikes me that we behave completely differently in our constituencies from the way we behave at Westminster . . . We’re calm and reasonable. We don’t score points; we help solve people’s problems. We try to understand what’s going wrong, and how it can be put right. We bring people together to tackle issues.”

Or, as Tony Blair explained in 1994: “I feel a perfectly normal person. I look at politicians who are older than me and I wonder when was the last time they had their own thoughts to themselves in their own way without feeling they had to programme their thoughts to get across a message . . . This may sound an odd thing to say, but I don’t actually feel much like a politician.”

In 1993 Tony Blair was for the family - “out of a family grows the sense of community. The family is the starting place.” In 2005 Cameron, too, bravely came out for the family - “It can make us happy when we’re sad” (as can beer with whisky chasers).

Blair was “tough on crime”; Cameron says the Prime Minister is not tough enough. Blair used globalisation to justify a flexible labour market; Cameron says that “in the era of globalisation, we’ll never achieve our economic potential if we smother our economy with excessive taxation and regulation”.

In 1997 Blair stated that he believed firmly in the bleeding obvious - “that people achieve more together than they can alone. That the rights we enjoy are matched by the duties we owe, that security is life’s most precious commodity.” In 2005 Cameron announced he, too, wanted policies whose virtues were so universally agreed that they were beyond political debate - “a dynamic economy”, “a decent society” and “a strong, self-confident and outward-looking country”.

I could go on, but it’s time to take on the understandable objection and ask what is wrong with the modernisers . The case for them appears so overwhelming that criticism feels like mere contrarianism. It is true that for the first time in a century the Tories have made the fatal mistake of falling out of step with British society. Millions of people who have no real objection to their policies won’t vote for them because of their repellent image. Imitating Tony Blair appears the logical tactical manoeuvre. As writers in the New Statesman - your correspondent included - have repeated a thousand times, Blairism is just a PR stunt. Why not use the tactics of the man who destroyed the Conservative Party to destroy new Labour?

Yet sometimes it can be a mistake to take the NS literally. The Blair of circa 1995 disappeared in the global crisis of 11 September 2001, and it has been impossible to accuse him of being all style and no substance ever since. Think what you will about his policies, but at least you know what they are. By contrast, the Conservative modernisers have nothing to say about the great issues of the modern world. You leave Cameron’s speeches without the faintest idea of how he would tackle Islamism or protect his country. Should Britain stick with the United States or move closer to France and Germany? What’s gone wrong with multi-culturalism? Should democracy be encouraged in the Middle East, and if so how? Answer comes there none.

Derivative and dated, Conservative modernism is ultimately a counterfeit. You can almost catch the sweet reek of the caramelised sugar that holds the confection together. A public grown weary of PR will turn up its nose in an instant.

At about the time Evelyn Waugh was complaining about the modernism of his generation of Conservatives, a journalist confronted Brendan Bracken, Winston Churchill’s slippery but plausible sidekick. He couldn’t put his finger on what was wrong, until something clicked, and in an indomitable voice he cried: “You’re phoney! Everything about you is phoney! Even your hair, which looks like a wig, isn’t!”

Unless he can mature by at least ten years overnight, the same will be said of David Cameron.