"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Friday, October 29, 2004

100,000 War Crimes

The staggering research reported in the British journal Lancet shows the magnitude of the Bush administration’s war crimes: 98,000 Iraqi civilians dead, including 40,000 children. And that’s not even counting Fallujah.

The number of deaths is particularly shocking because the researchers measured deaths in the 18 months after March 2003 in comparison to a similar period before March 2003. But it’s been widely reported the under sanctions deaths in Iraq were already very high, including among children—so the post-March ’03 increase is even more significant.

The researchers didn’t include Fallujah because the number of deaths there were so high they didn’t want that city’s dead to skew their national sample, measured in 808 Iraqi households in 33 clusters spread across Iraq.

Newsday, reporting the study, notes :

The most common causes of death before the invasion of Iraq were heart attacks, strokes and other chronic diseases. However, after the invasion, violence was recorded as the primary cause of death and was mainly attributed to coalition forces—with about 95 percent of those deaths caused by bombs or fire from helicopter gunships.

I guess I don’t think most Americans care a lot about dead Iraqis. I hope I’m wrong. The researchers deliberately released their report on the eve of the U.S. elections in the hope that it would have the greatest impact. Two more American soldiers died yesterday in combat, bringing the total of American dead to 1,106. That the ratio is 100 to 1 won’t change most American minds, I don’t think. But in a close election, if it affects one of a hundred American voters, it can make a difference. It should.

Dreyfuss Report at DreyfussReport@tompaine.com

President Edwards?


It's Jan. 20, 2005, and a stunned America watches as John Edwards is sworn in as both vice president and acting president of the United States. Impossible? No, nor is a Bush-Edwards administration.

There are just a few upsets needed in states where the presidential race is very close. Even if President Bush wins Wisconsin and Minnesota - two states he lost in 2000 - Senator John Kerry would force a 269-269 Electoral College tie if he carries Colorado, Missouri, Nevada and New Hampshire, and Al Gore's states.

But Colorado's ballot initiative to divide its electoral votes by popular ballot, rather than have them be winner take all, could change all that. If it's approved, and voting in that state splits as it did in 2000, Mr. Bush would pick up four votes, and win 273-265.

If recounts, challenges to provisional ballots and other legal actions don't overturn that result, the Supreme Court could again be called upon to decide the election. Imagine a ruling that applies the results of the Colorado initiative only to future presidential elections, not the 2004 contest. That would reinstate the Electoral College 269-269 deadlock, and send the tied contests to Congress; the House would choose the president and the Senate the vice president.

In the Senate, at least 51 votes would be required to elect a vice president. Given current polls, the Democrats can gain control of the Senate by picking up seats in Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky and Oklahoma, while losing seats in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Senator Edwards would be elected as vice president.

The House, however, votes for president by state, with 26 delegations required for election. If members of the House then voted as their states did, President Bush, in this scenario, would carry 28 states, thus leading to a Bush-Edwards administration.

Both Minnesota and Wisconsin, however, have House delegations that are evenly divided and are expected to remain that way. Members in those two states could decide to vote in line with the results of their districts, not the statewide result, thus their states would not be able to cast a vote because they deadlocked. If the Congressional delegation in one other state that also voted for Mr. Bush happened to deadlock, or defied the state result and voted for Senator Kerry, President Bush would get only 25 states.

The Constitution provides that the vice president becomes president if the president dies, resigns or is removed from office. But the 20th Amendment states that: "If a president shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the president-elect shall have failed to qualify, then the vice president-elect shall act as president until a president shall have qualified."

The House could remain deadlocked for two years, and perhaps even four, depending on the results of the 2006 Congressional elections. And until the House reaches a decision, Acting President John Edwards would occupy the Oval Office.

Stephen J. Marmon, who reported on the House of Representatives for The Times from 1971 to 1973, is an investment banker.

Pushing the Mini-Me Nonsense

Homo TomThumbus

The discovery of the skeletal remains of hobbit-size humans on a remote island in Indonesia has set anthropologists atwitter. The bones appear to belong to a new and unexpected species of humans, little more than three feet high, who lived among giant rats and pygmy elephants on the island of Flores until at least 13,000 years ago. That would make these miniature people contemporaries of our own human ancestors for tens of thousands of years, though no one knows if they ever met.

If the findings hold up, the partial skeleton of a 30-year-old woman and bone fragments from six other individuals suggest that Homo floresiensis, or Flores man, is a descendant of the Homo erectus line that left Africa some 1.8 million years ago. Scientists speculate that full-size members of the line reached Flores more than 800,000 years ago, were marooned and evolved in isolation. With scant food and few predators, large size became a disadvantage. That favored the evolution of smaller humans and smaller elephants, which needed far fewer calories to live. A surprising byproduct of this downsizing was that the brain of Flores man shrank to become smaller than a chimpanzee's. Even so, these humans were no dummies, given the evidence that they used fire, made stone tools and hunted cooperatively.

The Floresians may have been wiped out, along with the pygmy elephants, by volcanic eruptions some 12,000 years ago, although local lore speaks of "little people" living in remote caves on the island right up to the 1500's, when Dutch traders arrived. Speculative minds raise the possibility that even today, in some remote corner of Earth, a primitive line of humans remains to be discovered.

That's probably pushing it. But the new discovery chips away at our smug notion that human evolution is a steady march toward bigger and brainier. In a tough environment, smaller may fare better. Meanwhile, our long reign as the sole human species on Earth appears to be shorter than we thought.

The Great Delusion

Kerrycrats and the War

I asked one usually radical friend of mine, now a Kerrycrat, how she could support a fellow who pledges a “better”, wider war in Iraq and then a march on Teheran. “Oh” she said airily, “you can’t believe anything a candidate will say.”

From where we sit, here at mission control, CounterPunch hq, (currently a facility known as the Claremont Inn off Interstate 10 east of LA, where Jeffrey St Clair is watching three inches of rain sluicing down on the San Gabriel mountains) voting for John Kerry now is like voting for LBJ in 1964 with full precognition of what he was going to do in Vietnam for the next four years. By all means vote for the guy if you think your ballot will really count in keeping Ralph Nader out of the White House, but don’t do so with the notion that all along John Kerry has been holding a secret withdrawal plan close to his chest and that his first three months in office will see the US Marines haul down the colors from the US embassy in Baghdad, scoop Ambassador Negroponte off the roof and head for home.

That’s not what Democrats do when they get into office. When they settle down in the White House and put up the portraits of Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman in the Oval Office, they settle down to fight the usual good fight of all Democratic presidents, which is battling the slur that they are wimps, and less than real men.

Like Jimmy Carter back in the 1970s, President Kerry will be well aware that what shoe-horned him into the White House was an entirely negative public emotion, hostility to George Bush. Just as Kerry consistently disdained his eager and all-forgiving left supporters before November 2, he’ll redouble his public and private displays of rejection thereafter, contemptuously wiping Michael Moore’s moist kisses from all his cheeks. The constituencies President Kerry will be eager to placate and to satisfy will be exactly the ones he has courted the whole of this election year: the Neocons in Washington, and the bankers in Wall St.

You doubt this, Kerrycrats? Take a look at what realistic right-wingers are saying. Here for example is Edward Luttwak, no fool. Last weekend Luttwak, currently ensconced at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, had an article in Britain’s conservative Sunday Telegraph, whose editors gave his piece the headline, “John Kerry will make his adoring anti-war groupies look like fools”.

Luttwak reckons that Kerry is credible in those pledges to Wall Street and the bankers to cut the deficit. (So much for any hopes of any job creation at home.) But “to support him in the hope that he would make American military policy more doveish is absurd. All the evidence is that he will do the exact opposite.”
Luttwak rolls out his case:

“He has declared that he wants to increase the US Army by two divisions, more than the total of Continental Europe's intervention troops. That too is a credible promise, in part because Iraq has exposed an acute shortage of ground forces and an excess of navy and air force personnel. But beyond any specific policy positions, there is Kerry, the very combative man.

“In the televised debates, when President Bush spoke of ‘defeating terrorism’, Kerry invariably spoke of ‘killing the terrorists’. This was not just an electoral pose: the words accurately reflect the character of the man. … he is a fighter, and a ferocious one. I am quite certain that if Kerry had been president on September 11 he would have reacted more violently than Bush, sending bombers into Afghanistan, not just Special Forces scouts, and demanding immediate co-operation - or else - from Saudi Arabia, not just Pakistan. European anti-militarists have really picked the wrong guy as their hero.

“It is true that Kerry opposed the 1991 Gulf War (as did Senator Nunn, among other certified hawks) but he urged the use of force in Bosnia, regretted the failure to invade Rwanda before that, approved the Panama intervention of the first President Bush and was an enthusiast for the 1999 Kosovo war, before voting in favor of the war in Iraq. If Kerry is elected next month, he will certainly not act out his apparently clear-cut opposition to the war by immediately withdrawing US forces from Iraq - although even the Bush Administration is pursuing a form of disengagement, striving to add to the number of Iraqi police and National Guard as quickly as possible rather than sending more US troops…The only difference - and here is the greatest irony - is that Kerry would almost certainly disengage more slowly than Bush simply as a matter of political positioning: he is the one more vulnerable to accusations of abandoning Iraq to Islamic fanatics, warlord-priests and Saddam loyalists.

“It is not just over Iraq that the hawkish Kerry will confound European liberals. He has harshly criticized Bush for not being tough enough with Iran - another irony, because it implies a preference for unilateral action rather than the multilateral diplomacy he supposedly espouses.”

Luttwak concludes: “Unless Kerry really does ask Congress for the money to add two Army divisions, one will need a microscope to tell the difference in military policy if Kerry wins the election. Perhaps The Guardian and its readers should take a close look at those pictures of Kerry with his shotgun after last week's goose shoot: there goes a genuine American hawk, red in tooth and policy.”
Of course Kerrycrats mostly eschew any analysis of what President Kerry might do, probably because they know that to do so would be to open Pandora’s Box. CounterPuncher Joe Paff just called me to say that before him on his breakfast table is a begging letter from Peace Action (the merger of Sane and The Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign). The letter discloses that “for the first time in its 47 years” the group is advocating the defeat of an incumbent president. Joe says he’s read the letter three times but nowhere could espy the name Kerry. So he’s writing back assuring Peace Action he’s sending money to Nader.

From Chicago Suzanne Erfurth writes: “ Look what came over my electronic transom from the local ‘Peace Calendar’ of the American Friends Service Committee. In 35 years, will they be hawking invitations to movies glorifying the torturers at Abu Ghraib in an attempt to help defeat whoever is running against the Democrat?

Here’s what the AFSC featured on its calendar: “Event: Brothers in Arms: The Story of the Crew of Patrol Craft Fast 194 Description: Acclaimed author and first-time filmmaker Paul Alexander (Man of the People: The Life of John McCain) began his Vietnam war-era documentary on John Kerry and his crewmates of the patrol boat in the Mekong Delta long before Kerry became the Democratic presidential nominee. In the context of a smear campaign casting doubt on Kerry's military service, the film takes on new meaning as it uses interviews, photographs, and archival footage to examine the bond formed by six men of diverse backgrounds under combat conditions.“

In Oregon, we hear from Michael Donnelly, Oregon Peaceworks is supporting a war candidate, Kerry. This is the same group that back in the Nineties possibly helped Republican Senator Mark Hatfield over the top in a desperately close race against Democratic challenger Harry Lonsdale. Oregon Peaceworks endorsed Hatfield, saying he’d been a staunch antiwar senator. Today Oregon Peaceworks supports a prowar candidate, rather than the vehemently antiwar Ralph Nader.

No deed or slur is too dirty for the Kerrycrats, in their frenzy to
have a Democrat back in the White House. In years to come the list of liberals and leftists renouncing their support of Nader in 2000 and urging support this time for Kerry even in safe states will, I think, be correctly brandished as a shameful advertisement of political hysteria and even prostitution (often enforced by big foundations threatening to cut funding from any outfit not bending the knee to Kerry.) Until this year I don’t think I’d ever fully understood the inner psycho-political dynamic of the cold-war liberals, eagerly signing on to, and often leading, the witch-hunts of the late 1940s and 1950s.

Seeing the ABB-ers and Kerrycrats in action now, I am a wiser man.


Study: 100,000 Excess Civilian Iraqi Deaths Since War

LONDON (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in violence since the U.S.-led invasion last year, American public health experts have calculated in a report that estimates there were 100,000 "excess deaths" in 18 months.

The rise in the death rate was mainly due to violence and much of it was caused by U.S. air strikes on towns and cities.

"Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100,000 excess deaths, or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq (news - web sites)," said Les Roberts of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in a report published online by The Lancet medical journal.

"The use of air power in areas with lots of civilians appears to be killing a lot of women and children," Roberts told Reuters.

The report came just days before the U.S. presidential election in which the Iraq war has been a major issue.

Mortality was already high in Iraq before the war because of United Nations (news - web sites) sanctions blocking food and medical imports but the researchers described what they found as shocking.

The new figures are based on surveys done by the researchers in Iraq in September 2004. They compared Iraqi deaths during 14.6 months before the invasion in March 2003 and the 17.8 months after it by conducting household surveys in randomly selected neighborhoods.

Previous estimates based on think tank and media sources put the Iraqi civilian death toll at up to 16,053 and military fatalities as high as 6,370.

By comparison about 849 U.S. military were killed in combat or attacks and another 258 died in accidents or incidents not related to fighting, according to the Pentagon (news - web sites).


The researchers blamed air strikes for many of the deaths.

"What we have evidence of is the use of air power in populated urban areas and the bad consequences of it," Roberts said.

Gilbert Burnham, who collaborated on the research, said U.S. military action in Iraq was "very bad for Iraqi civilians."

"We were not expecting the level of deaths from violence that we found in this study and we hope this will lead to some serious discussions of how military and political aims can be achieved in a way that is not so detrimental to civilians populations," he told Reuters in an interview.

The researchers did 33 cluster surveys of 30 households each, recording the date, circumstances and cause of deaths.

They found that the risk of death from violence in the period after the invasion was 58 times higher than before the war.

Before the war the major causes of death were heart attacks, chronic disorders and accidents. That changed after the war.

Two-thirds of violent deaths in the study were reported in Falluja, the insurgent held city 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad which had been repeatedly hit by U.S. air strikes.

"Our results need further verification and should lead to changes to reduce non-combatant deaths from air strikes," Roberts added in the study.

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said the research which was submitted to the journal earlier this month had been peer-reviewed, edited and fast-tracked for publication because of its importance in the evolving security situation in Iraq.

"But these findings also raise questions for those far removed from Iraq -- in the governments of the countries responsible for launching a pre-emptive war," Horton said in an editorial.

Patricia Reaney

Thu Oct 28, 2:57 PM ET

Will There Be a War Against the World After November 2?

10/28/04 -- There is a surreal quality about visiting the United States in the last days of the presidential campaign. If George W Bush wins, according to a scientist I met, who escaped Nazi-dominated Europe, America will surrender many of its democratic trappings and succumb to its totalitarian impulses. If John Kerry wins, according to most Democrat voters, the only mandate he will have is that he is not Bush.

Never have so many liberal hands been wrung over a candidate whose only memorable statements seek to out-Bush Bush. Take Iran. One of Kerry's national security advisers, Susan Rice, has accused Bush of 'standing on the sidelines while Iran's nuclear programme has been advanced'. There is not a shred of evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, yet Kerry is joining in the same orchestrated frenzy that led to the invasion of Iraq. Having begun his campaign by promising another 40,000 troops for Iraq, he is said to have a 'secret plan to end the war' which foresees a withdrawal in four years. This is an echo of Richard Nixon, who in the 1968 presidential campaign promised a 'secret plan' to end the war in Vietnam.

Once in office, he accelerated the slaughter and the war dragged on for six and a half years. For Kerry, like Nixon, the message is that he is not a wimp. Nothing in his campaign or his career suggests he will not continue, even escalate, the 'war on terror', which is now sanctified as a crusade of Americanism like that against communism. No Democratic president has shirked such a task: John Kennedy on the cold war, Lyndon Johnson on Vietnam.

This presents great danger for all of us, but none of it is allowed to intrude upon the campaign or the media 'coverage'. In a supposedly free and open society, the degree of censorship by omission is staggering.The New York Times, the country's liberal standard-bearer, having recovered from a mild bout of contrition over its abject failure to challenge Bush's lies about Iraq, has been running tombstones of column inches about what-went-wrong in the 'liberation' of that country.

It blames mistakes: tactical oversights, faulty intelligence. Not a word suggests that the invasion was a colonial conquest, deliberate like any other, and that 60 years of international law make it 'the paramount war crime', to quote the Nuremberg judges. Not a word suggests that the American onslaught on the population of Iraq was and is systematically atrocious, of which the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was merely a glimpse.

The coming atrocity in the city of Fallujah, in which British troops, against the wishes of the British people, are to be accessories, is a case in point. For American politicians and journalists - there are a few honourable exceptions - the US marines are preparing for another of their "battles". Their last attack on Fallujah, in April, provides a preview. Forty-ton battle tanks and helicopter gunships were used against slums. Aircraft dropped 500lb bombs: marine snipers killed old people, women and children; ambulances were shot at. The marines closed the only hospital in a city of 300,000 for more than two weeks, so they could use it as a military position.

When it was estimated they had slaughtered 600 people, there was no denial. This was more than all the victims of the suicide bombs the previous year. Neither did they deny that their barbarity was in revenge for the killing of four American mercenaries in the city; led by avowed cowboys, they are specialists in revenge. John Kerry said nothing; the media reported the atrocity as 'a military operation', against 'foreign militants' and 'insugents', never against civilians and Iraqis defending their homes and homeland.

Moreover, the American people are almost totally unaware that the marines were driven out of Fallujah by heroic street fighting. Americans remain unaware, too, of the piracy that comes with their government's murderous adventure. Who in public life asks the whereabouts of the 18.46 bn dollars which the US Congress approved for reconstruction and humanitarian aid in Iraq?

As Unicef reports, most hospitals are bereft even of pain-killers, and acute malnutrition among children has doubled since the 'liberation'. In fact, less than 29m dollars has been allocated, most of it on British security firms, with their ex-SAS thugs and veterans of South African apartheid. Where is the rest of this money that should be helping to save lives? Non-wimp Kerry dares not ask.

Neither does he nor anybody else with a public profile ask why the people of Iraq have been forced to pay, since the fall of Saddam, almost 80m dollars to America and Britain as 'reparations'. Even Israel has received an untold fortune in Iraqi oil money as compensation for its 'loss of tourism' in the Golan Heights - part of Syria it occupies illegally. As for oil, the 'o-word' is unmentionable in the contest for the world's most powerful job. So successful is the resistance in its campaign of economic sabotage that the vital pipeline carrying oil to the Turkish Mediterranean has been blown up 37 times. Terminals in the south are under constant attack, effectively shutting down all exports of crude oil and threatening national economies. That the world may have lost Iraqi oil is enveloped by the same silence that ensures Americans have little idea of the nature and scale of the blood-letting conducted in their name.

The most enduring silence is that which guards the system that has produced these catastrophic events. This is Americanism, though it dares not speak its name, which is strange, as its opposite, anti-Americanism, has long been successfully deployed as a pejorative, catch-all response to critical analysis of an imperial system and its myths. Americanism, the ideology, has meant democracy at home, for some, and a war on democracy abroad.

From Guatemala to Iran, from Chile to Nicaragua, to the struggle for freedom in South Africa, to present-day Venezuela, American state terrorism, licensed by both Republican and Democrat administrations, has fought democrats and sponsored totalitarians. Most societies attacked or otherwise subverted by American power are weak and defenceless, and there is a logic to this. Should a small country succeed in breaking free and establish its own way of developing, then its good example to others becomes a threat to Washington.

And the serious purpose behind this? Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton's secretary of state, once told the United Nations that America had the right to 'unilateral use of power' to ensure 'uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources'. Or as Colin Powell, the Bush-ite laughably promoted by the media as a liberal, put it more than a decade ago: "I want to be the bully on the block." Britain's imperialists believed exactly that, and still do; only the language is discreet.

That is why people all over the world, whose consciousness about these matters has risen sharply in the past few years, are 'anti-American'. It has nothing to do with the ordinary people of the United States, who now watch a Darwanian capitalism consume their real and fabled freedoms and reduce the 'free market' to a fire-sale of public assets. It is remarkable, if not inspiring, that so many reject the class and race based brainwashing, begun in childhood, that such a class and race based system is called 'the American dream'.

What will happen if the nightmare in Iraq goes on? Perhaps those millions of worried Americans, who are currently paralysed by wanting to get rid of Bush at any price, will shake off their ambivalence, regardless of who wins on
2 November. Then, will a giant awaken, as it did during the civil rights campaign and the Vietnam war and the great movement to freeze nuclear weapons? One must trust so; the alternative is a war on the world.

John Pilger is currently a visiting professor at Cornell University, New York. His latest book is Tell Me No Lies: investigative journalism and its triumphs (Jonathan Cape)

Israeli Troops Kill Eight-Year-Old Girl

Israeli troops shot and killed an eight-year-old Palestinian girl who was on her way to school in a Gaza Strip refugee camp today, witnesses said.

Rania Iyad Aram of the Khan Younis camp was killed by random machine gun fire an army outpost near the neighbouring Jewish settlement of Ganei Tal, they said.

The Israeli army had no immediate comment.

The Israeli military completed a two-day operation earlier in the week against Palestinian militants firing mortars at Jewish settlements from the Khan Younis area. Seventeen Palestinians were killed in the operation.

In other Israeli-Palestinian violence, 40 Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles moved into the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank last night, exchanging fire with Palestinian militants, witnesses said.

There were no initial reports of injuries.

Military officials said the raid was intended to root out Palestinian militants in the camp and was expected to last a number of days. Israel has frequently raided West Bank towns and refugee camps during the last four years of fighting.


The Prisoner of Ramallah: A Profile Of Yasser Arafat

Every television viewer recognizes the bridge between the last two buildings left standing among the ruins of the Mukata'ah (compound) in Ramallah.

During one of my last visits, a Palestinian officer pointed to a simple table and chair near one of the windows of this bridge. Through this window a stretch of the Palestinian landscape beyond the town is visible. "Here Abu Ammar likes to sit between meetings and look out," he explained. Abu Ammar is the affectionate name for Yasser Arafat.

Twenty-one years ago, when I went to Beirut and met him for the first time, he was one of the most mobile leaders in the world, if not the most mobile of all. Once he told me that during the last five days he had visited seven countries, sleeping on the plane between destinations. At the time, his neck was in a surgical collar.

Now he has been imprisoned in the compound for more than two years. For some of the time, the conditions were worse than in an ordinary prison: he lived in a closed room without fresh air and almost without water, with the sewage blocked. He knew that at any moment Sharon's soldiers could storm in and kill him.

In a few days, he will be 74 years old. He will spend his birthday in his prison.

This is a good opportunity to take stock of the man and his work.

He has been on the world stage longer than any other current leader, apart from Fidel Castro. Many of today's world leaders, like Bush and Blair, were infants when he took the responsibility for the destiny of the Palestinian people in his hands.

His face is well known throughout the world.

He is one of the most maligned statesmen in the world, perhaps the very most.

He is the most hated person in Israel. Rightists and leftists compete with each other in expressing their hatred of him. There is hardly an article by an Israeli "leftist" which does not include some words of abhorrence about him.

He is the most admired and beloved leader of his own people, and apparently the leader most admired by the masses throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

Not bad for a person who is turning 74.

The title most often attached to his name is "symbol". Even the Palestinian opposition groups call him "the symbol of the Palestinian people". That is true, but also misleading.

Misleading, because a "symbolic" person is usually someone in honour of whom statues are erected and whose likeness adorns the walls. The president of Israel is a symbol, and so are the presidents of Germany and Italy, while Arafat is very much an active leader, dominating the Palestinian scene.

Yet the title is also appropriate. Arafat's progress, from leader of a tiny group of refugees to the present stage, when the whole world supports the idea of a Palestinian state, symbolizes the Palestinian struggle for survival. No one symbolizes the condition of the Palestinian people, its suffering, determination and courage, more than the man in the besieged Mukata'ah, a prison within a prison (Ramallah) within a prison (the Palestinian territories as a whole).

Much has already been written about his early life, about his father, a merchant from Gaza who had settled in Egypt; about his mother, who died when he was still an infant; about his childhood with his mother's family in Jerusalem.

Lately, Arafat likes to recount to his guests - Palestinians, Israelis and foreigners - about those happy years, when he played with Jewish children near the Western Wall. His years with his father's family in Cairo seem to evoke much less nostalgia.

He likes to remind people that he studied engineering. He attributes his legendary memory - especially for numbers and facts - to his profession. More than once he has corrected me on numbers - how many ultra-religious members were in the Knesset, exactly what percentage of the West Bank Sharon has said he was ready to "give" to the Palestinians as part of his "painful concessions".

His political career started in the Palestinian Students' Association in Cairo. It assumed historical significance when he was the main founder, in the late 1950s, of the Fatah organization, the first Palestinian liberation movement since the catastrophe of 1948.

Liberation - from who? Well, obviously from Israel. But in reality, from the domination of the Arab leaders, too. It is impossible to understand Arafat without knowing this important chapter of his life. At the time, the Palestinian cause served as a football in the inter-Arab game. Each Arab ruler used it in order to reinforce his claim for leadership of the Arab world and to beat his competitors. Gamal Abd al-Nasser in Egypt, Abd al-Karim Qasim in Iraq, the young King Hussein in Jordan and their equivalents in Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the other countries - each proclaimed himself the Defender of the Palestinian People while mercilessly suppressing any sign of independent Palestinian activity in his own realm. In the eyes of Arafat and his comrades, the "independence of Palestinian decision-making" became a sacred goal.

Fatah was born into this reality. Arafat and his group wanted to wrest the Palestinian cause from the hands of the Arab rulers. The new movement had no power, no money, no arms. It had no base anywhere where it could operate freely. Its activists were at the mercy of the secret services of any Arab country, if they did not fulfil the demands of the local dictator. That happened many times. The climax was reached when the Syrian dictator put the whole Fatah leadership, including Arafat, in prison. Only the wife of Abu Jihad, Umm Jihad (now the minister for social affairs in the Palestinian government) was left outside and so she assumed the command of all Fatah forces.

For the movement to survive, Arafat had to manoeuvre between the leaders, flatter people he despised, suck up to leaders who did not give a damn for the interests of the Palestinian people. As an important Palestinian personality told me: "For the survival of our people he had to dissemble, lie, trick, be equivocal, use ruses. At was then that the typical Arafat language evolved."

In spite of sabotage by the Arab regimes and with the help of these methods, the power of Fatah slowly grew. In order to block it and to subordinate the Palestinians to Egyptian interests, Abd al-Nasser initiated the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and appointed an ageing and ineffectual demagogue, Ahmad Shukairy, as its leader. But the June 1967 war destroyed the respect for the rulers of Cairo, Amman and Damascus. The battle of Karameh (1968), in which the Fatah fighters, led by Arafat in person, won a victory against the Israeli forces sent to destroy them, caused Fatah's prestige to rise sky-high. After three Arab armies had been shamefully defeated by Israel, the fighters of Fatah had held on heroically. The result: Fatah took over the PLO, the 39 years old Arafat became the leader of the nation.

All the Arab leaders with whom Arafat had to contend at that time have in the meantime died natural or unnatural deaths. Arafat remains.

Perhaps his greatest achievement as a national leader lies in his ability to hold the Palestinians together.

Most liberation movements have known fratricidal wars, bitter splits and desperate internal struggles. The pre-state Hebrew underground, too, experienced the fratricidal "saison" and the bloody Altalena incident. But the Palestinians, whose situation was incomparably more difficult, were spared this fate.

Almost all other movements grew from populations that lived on their land, under one particular foreign regime. But the Palestinian people were dispersed in a dozen countries, almost all of them oppressive dictatorships. The name "Palestine" had disappeared altogether from the map, and even the Palestinians who had remained in their homeland lived under oppressive rulers - first the Jordanian and Egyptian, and then the Israeli military governor.

When the PLO grew, all the Arab regimes tried to gain influence over it. Damascus, Baghdad, Riyad, Cairo, in addition to Moscow, set up Palestinian organizations in order to impose their agendas on the Palestinian people. Secular and religious, leftist and rightist organization tried to play their games inside the movement. Arafat had to cope with all of them, manoeuvre, cajole, threaten, appease. He became a past master of this art, perhaps its outstanding practitioner in the world.

At the same time, he had to lead the national struggle. Like almost all leaders of modern liberation movements, from Garibaldi to Nelson Mandela, he was convinced of the need for the "armed struggle" (always called "terrorism" by the opposing regime.) The PLO organizations carried out many bloody attacks, many of them brutal, some of them outright monstrous, even if most of these were made by organizations who also fought against Arafat. All PLO leaders believed that the "armed struggle" was necessary, considering the vast disproportion between the might of Israel and the almost negligible force of the Palestinians.

Arafat himself, according to the testimony of his assistants, is far from being cruel or bloodthirsty. Only in rare instances did he confirm death sentences, and that only when the public demand was irresistible. The number of executions carried out in his domain is incomparably lower than in former Governor George W. Bush's Texas.

It is accepted by most authorities that, without the "armed struggle", the Palestinians would not have achieved anything and would have lost their homeland long ago. They believe that the violent attacks enabled the Palestinian people to return to the world map and allowed the PLO to attain its historic achievements: its recognition as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Palestinian people, its invitation to the UN, its international standing, the Oslo agreement, its return to Palestine and the creation of a world-wide consensus supporting the idea of a Palestinian state.

But Arafat did not see the "armed struggle" as an end in itself. Violence is for him one means among many.

At the end of 1973 he did something that is rare among leaders. After making one revolution (the creation of Fatah and the start of the "armed struggle") he initiated another. (Years later, Yitzhaq Rabin did something similar.)

The October 1973 war changed his strategic concept. Until then he believed that Israel could be overthrown by force. The Palestinian struggle was designed, primarily, to cause a general military confrontation between Israel and the Arab world, as happened in 1967. In October 1973 Arafat realized that this hope had no basis in fact. The armies of Egypt and Syria did indeed attack Israel and achieved initial surprise, giving them a resounding victory, but within two weeks the Israeli army had turned the tables and was advancing on Cairo and Damascus. Arafat, forever the rational engineer, drew the logical conclusion: there exists no military option.

From there it was but one step to the second conclusion: the Palestinian state can be achieved only through compromise, by a political settlement with Israel. He started to work on it.

The necessary effort was immense. A whole generation of Palestinians saw in Israel a monstrous enemy that had expelled half the Palestinian people from their homes and lands and continued to oppress and dispossess the other half. In their time of desperation, the Palestinians clung to their belief that the very existence of Israel is illegitimate and that some day, somehow, it will be eradicated. Arafat had to uproot this belief and to cause his people to accept a compromise that left the Palestinian people only 22 per cent of their historic homeland.

He worked as he always has done: with infinite patience, sensitivity to human beings, tactical manoeuvres, zigzags and equivocation. He started secret contacts with a tiny group of Israeli peace activists (including myself), hoping that they would open the way to the heart of the Israeli establishment. He encouraged some of his people (mainly Sa'id Hamami and Isam Sartawi, who were both murdered because of this) to express his hidden thoughts publicly. He caused the Palestinian National Council, the parliament in exile, to gradually change its resolutions. In this effort, which lasted from 1974 to 1988, he was assisted mainly by Abu Mazen.

At that time, Yitzhaq Rabin was still an extreme opponent of a peace settlement with the Palestinians, and Shimon Peres was the godfather of the settlements. Both advocated the "Jordanian option" (returning parts of the West Bank to Jordan and making peace with the king, ignoring the will of the Palestinians). If anyone deserved the Nobel Prize for the Oslo agreement, it was Arafat.

One of the attributes that endear him to the Palestinian public is his rare personal courage.

When Ariel Sharon invaded Lebanon in 1982, in order to expel the Palestinians and kill their leader, Arafat could have easily left Beirut in time. This would have been accepted by everyone as a sensible step. But he remained with his fighters in the besieged city until the last day. After a long battle, his men left with their heads held high, bearing their arms, led by Arafat.

Another, almost forgotten, episode brought him even more esteem. A year after the exit from Beirut, the Syrians and their agents attacked the Palestinian forces in a north Lebanese refugee camp near Tripoli. At the time, Arafat was the guest of the UN in Geneva. He did something almost unbelievable: he secretly returned to Lebanon, slipped into the besieged camp and, in the end, left with his fighters, who did not surrender this time either.

He has spent most of his life in constant danger, with a dozen secret services trying to kill him. He survived several assassination attempts. Once he escaped with his life when his plane had to perform a tough emergency landing in the middle of the desert. His bodyguards were killed.

In the middle of the battle of Beirut I asked him where he would go if he got out alive. Without hesitation, he said: "Home, of course!" Twelve years later, on his first day in Gaza, he whispered to me: "Remember what I told you in Beirut? Well, here I am."

As head of the new Palestinian National Authority, he was confronted with one of the toughest jobs of his life. He faced a challenge unknown to any other liberation movement: to set up a kind of state while the liberation struggle was still far from over.

Arafat returned together with the veterans of the struggle, who believed, quite understandably, that it was their right to control the Palestinian National Authority. The same was claimed by a new generation of fighters, veterans of the Intifada, the prisons and the underground. The same was claimed by thousands of professionals who had studied in universities the world over. (One of them told me: "OK, let's give medals to all the fighters. But the state must be governed by people trained for it.") Arafat had to give a part of the pie to the Christian minority, to the representatives of the various regions, and, most importantly, to the heads of the great families who have dominated Palestinian society for centuries and without whom one cannot rule. Altogether, an almost impossible task.

It cannot be said that the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority was an unqualified success. But, considering the objective pressures, Arafat did not do too bad a job either.

One of the weak points was the centralism of the new administration. During the decades of struggle, Arafat has got used to deciding alone and quickly. His colleagues had all too willingly let him take the historic decisions that demanded courage and personal risk. Most of his closest comrade- in-arms had been killed during the struggle, some by Israel, some by the Iraqi agent Abu Nidal and his ilk. Like all leaders who have been at the centre of internal struggles and responsibility for a long time, Arafat has become lonely and suspicious.

Some of the Palestinian personalities believed that, with the establishment of the Authority, the struggle had come to an end. They started to look out for their own personal interests, some became corrupt, assimilating the norms of the neighbouring countries (and not only theirs.) This aroused resentment among the Palestinian public. Israeli leftists began to condemn the "corrupt Authority", the official Israeli propaganda machine took the story up and gleefully distributed it around the world. This caused grievous damage to the Palestinian cause at a most sensitive time.

But not the slightest hint of suspicion ever attached itself to Yasser Arafat himself. While Ariel Sharon is sinking in a morass of corruption affairs and world leaders like Helmut Kohl in Germany and Jacques Chirac in France have starred in major scandals, Arafat has remained above suspicion. Neither his opponents at home nor the Israeli intelligence agencies have succeeded in discovering any spots. He lives a very simple life, has no home of his own, his clothes are his khaki uniforms.

Throughout his life, Arafat has made many mistakes. He may have exaggerated his opposition to the 1977 Sadat initiative, surrendering to the pressure of his enraged colleagues. His support of Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf war was a major mistake that cost dearly. More than once he erred in choosing assistants and confidants.

But, to his own people, he has remained the only leader who can be trusted unconditionally. Foreigners are unable to understand this. They find it odd that the very same attributes that made him abhorrent to many people in the West make him a hero to his people.

For example, when, at Camp David, Arafat emphatically rejected the proposals of Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton, he was condemned by most of the Israeli "peace camp". But, in Palestinian eyes, it was the epitome of courage and national pride. When he went to the summit meeting, many Palestinians were afraid that he was walking into a trap and would not have the strength to extricate himself. It was clear that the "generous proposals" of Barak did not meet the minimum demands of the Palestinians. When he came back without having surrendered, he received a hero's welcome.

Now the Palestinians are ready to give some credit to Abu Mazen, who believes that he can get some concessions from Israel and the US. Abu Mazen is an old partner of Arafat and respected by the public. But no Palestinian can imagine entrusting him with the destiny of the nation.

One person only enjoys that kind of trust: the man besieged in the Mukata'ah. He remains the ultimate judge.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli journalist, writer and peace activist.

Why the U.S. Must Withdraw From Iraq

Vietnam proved that offensive occupations are doomed. In his arrogance, Bush is repeating the same blunder.

In 1991, after the Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush proclaimed, "The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula." But the specter he and the Pentagon had feared for over a decade, of a devastating shrinkage of U.S. influence following a military withdrawal, had always been a phantom.

That "specter," of defeat in Vietnam, proved in time to be as harmless as a Halloween ghost. Asia did not tip as predicted toward the Communist camp after America withdrew; Asia tipped decisively the other way. And it did so precisely because America's troops stopped fighting where they did not belong, leaving space for other Americans to come in and do more constructive forms of business.

We face a different specter today: the sibling specter of escalation and imperial overstretch. The true Vietnam syndrome is our country's proven pathological history of involvement in unnecessary and unwinnable wars.

These sibling Vietnam specters, one of withdrawal and one of escalation, haunt different sectors of our bitterly divided country. The first haunts those who fear America might lose control of the world. They are haunted also by memories of domestic antiwar opposition, as in Oliver North's revealing complaint to Congress that the Vietnam War was lost, not in Asia, but in the streets of this country. (This complaint recently surfaced in ugly partisan form when the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, enraged at Sen. John Kerry's opposition to the war in Vietnam, smeared his honorable service there.)

The second Vietnam specter haunts those who fear America is becoming trapped again by delusional dreams of domination. The immediate danger in Iraq, unfortunately, is not that we will pull out our troops and come home. On the contrary, it is that we will commit more and more troops, incur greater and greater casualties on all sides, and quite possibly expand the war beyond Iraq's frontiers, before we finally reach the relatively happy and simple outcome of withdrawal.

Last April U.S. Marines attacked the city of Fallujah with tanks and helicopter gunships, in reprisal for the killing of four American contract workers. According to Iraqi doctors, at least 600 people were killed, mostly civilians. This was more than the total number of civilians killed by the Iraqi insurgents in the previous year. As John Pilger noted, the slaughter could be compared to the S.S. killing of 600 French civilians in the village of Oradour, in revenge for the kidnapping of a German officer.

Such brutal acts are the inevitable consequence of sustained offensive occupation in a foreign land, where troops at war are not welcomed. The assaults are not easily forgotten. Given any publicity, they are far less likely to cow opponents than to mobilize them. This is why, for almost 50 years, offensive occupations have led to defeat, not victory, for the invader.

One would have thought therefore that America might admit its error last May in Fallujah and take steps to make sure it is not repeated. This is what the British in India did after the notorious Amritsar massacre of 1919, which killed 379 civilians and galvanized Indian resistance into Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement.

But America is not about to reconsider. After backing off last May, the current U.S. plan is to soften up Fallujah with heavy air strikes before Marines and Iraqi troops go back in. This policy is supported by both the presidential candidates. Kerry, in the first presidential debate, said that Bush was wrong to "back off of Fallujah and other places and send the wrong message to terrorists."

Meanwhile the Christian Science Monitor recently reported that the result of the recent intense bombardment of Fallujah is "new fear that is tearing at family social fabric, which Iraqis say has only hardened attitudes against American efforts." One Iraqi mother whose family decided to flee Fallujah after witnessing civilian casualties said, "What did this teach us about the Americans? First we thought the Americans came to liberate our country, but now our conclusion is the opposite. We know they came to destroy our country."

Kerry has said he wants more troops in Iraq (which of course will mean more casualties). He has called for adding 40,000 troops, while Sen. John McCain wants 90,000. However, these figures may not begin to match what the Bush administration has in mind if it remains in the White House.

Predicting a war against Islamic terrorism that "will continue for several years," the private research group Stratfor recently reported that "there will be a massive increase in the size of the U.S. military in 2005." It foresaw that the occupation and "pacification" of several countries -- not just Iraq -- will require the presence of ground forces "far in excess of those needed to defeat an enemy armored force."

Such grandiose visions are reinforced by books like Niall Ferguson's "Colossus." Ferguson argues that "imposing democracy on all the world's 'rogue states' would not push the defense budget much above 5 percent of GDP" and "would pay a long-run dividend." Failure to step up to this challenge, he warns, could lead to imperial decline "from within."

Not mentioned by Stratfor, but certainly pertinent, are U.S. plans for permanent bases in Iraq. The Bush administration's National Security Strategy document of 2002 announced that "the United States will require bases and stations within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia." There was much press alarm about the uncertain political future of Saudi Arabia, then the home of America's largest bases in the Gulf. Journalist Jay Bookman predicted that "having conquered Iraq, the United States will create permanent military bases in that country from which to dominate the Middle East, including neighboring Iran."

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurities.org, has since identified no less than 12 "enduring bases" being constructed by the U.S. Army in Iraq (two less than the 14 reported by the Chicago Tribune last March). Those bases will have to be both manned and defended, while some are eager to use them for still wider wars. (Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, told Americans to be ready for a "long war in the Middle East and Central Asia.")

Stratfor, in talking of multiple occupations, recognized that the Army cannot be seriously expanded by present policies and that a draft as an alternative is politically unacceptable. Its solution: "There is no way around an expanded force and there is no way, therefore, around vastly increased pay and benefits for the troops."

A trial balloon for an expanded force may have also been floated in a long article on Iraq strategy by Michael Gordon in the Oct. 19 New York Times. In his piece, "many military officers and civilian officials" blamed the problems so far in Iraq on a tactical miscalculation: the failure to have sent enough troops. One suggestion from military advisors was that the United States should match the troop-to-population ratios that saw the U.S. succeed in occupying Bosnia and Kosovo.

An equivalent ratio in Iraq would mean something between 360,000 and 480,000 troops. This would be in line with the "several hundred thousand" that in 2002 Gen. Eric Shinseki, then the Army's chief of staff, testified would be needed –- a figure that deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz derided as "wildly off the mark."

Many news stories by the Times' Gordon and his frequent coauthor Judith Miller have uncritically presented the current mindset of the pro-war clique in the Pentagon. A now-notorious story he co-wrote with Miller that ran on Sept. 8, 2002, promoted the claim, later refuted, that aluminum tubing observed in Iraq was "intended for a nuclear weapons program." It failed to acknowledge that this allegation was (as the Times admitted two years later) the subject of "bureaucratic infighting ... so widely known that even the Australian government was aware of it." The story provided the centerpiece for Dick Cheney and others' erroneous case that Saddam was pursuing nuclear weapons.

Whether the initial deployment of a much larger U.S. force would have prevented the Iraqi insurgency from becoming so entrenched is debatable. But it should be noted that Gordon's discussion of successful troop levels in Bosnia and Kosovo fails, as do the military planners he cites, to make an elementary distinction. In both Bosnia and Kosovo, U.S. troops were welcomed by the majority of the local population, against a hated Serb minority who were seen as foreign oppressors. In Iraq, on the other hand, the only groups actively desiring a U.S. invasion were the unrepresentative exiles of the Iraqi National Congress, along with the non-Arab Kurdish minority in the north.

It was not the number of U.S. troops that made the difference, it was acceptance by the people. U.S. officials assumed that the Iraqi people were so desperate to be rid of Saddam that they would welcome American troops as liberators. There was perhaps a brief period of time when that could have been true, but if it ever existed it is gone. And it is unlikely that the U.S. Army as we know it was capable of doing the job, when its political action officers were mostly reservists with only one weekend of special training.

Meanwhile the air strikes continue, in Fallujah and elsewhere. (According to Knight Ridder 3,487 Iraqi civilians were killed in U.S. attacks between April 5 and Sept. 19, more than twice the number killed by insurgents.) The fallacious assumption is that one can kill off a resistance by using tactics which cause that resistance to grow. This might have been possible in past centuries, when brutal tactics could be covered by a shroud of secrecy, but is now highly unlikely in a world of mass communications and growing public opinion.

Why does America persist in a tactic that is doomed to fail? In the short run, of course, it is because January's elections in Iraq cannot meaningfully take place if parts of the country are not under central Iraqi control. But this does not answer the question why America initiated an offensive occupation that to outsiders seemed certain to arrive at just this dilemma.

To understand this, I believe we must examine that other specter, the inner momentum to overstretch, that has escalated previous U.S. military offensives, particularly in Vietnam.

Recent history has shown that an army can occupy a foreign country without alienating it. Despite occasional tensions, U.S. troops have been able to stay without major crises for over 50 years in Germany, Japan and South Korea. Sentiment in these three countries is still more pro-American than in France, where U.S. troops are not stationed at all.

Troops can even fight in a foreign land and be popular, if it is clear that they are expelling foreign occupiers rather than becoming invasive occupiers themselves. This was the U.S. experience in Kosovo and Bosnia, just as in 1944 the Americans were welcomed in France, and the Russians at least tolerated in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. (Western propaganda notwithstanding, the Russian presence in those countries did not become doomed until after the disastrous oppressions of Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968.)

Even the American experience in Vietnam can be divided into two phases. Before Americans began a heightened offensive campaign in 1964-65, American troops, admittedly still relatively few in number, were generally tolerated by most South Vietnamese. They were indeed welcomed by some, including the large Catholic minority.

But the U.S. Army's search-and-destroy tactics (of the type repeated this year at Fallujah) soon guaranteed that the U.S. would be fighting a war it could not win. As Daniel Ellsberg reports in "Secrets," there was no shortage of American observers who knew this. He and other Americans in Vietnam felt uncomfortably like the British redcoats sent to quell the American Revolution.

Compare the situation in Thailand, where Americans had been active since about 1950, and U.S. combat troops had been introduced in 1962. The U.S. troops were concentrated in the northeast (Isan) territory, where there was an active pro-communist resistance and the allegiance of most people to Bangkok was far from secure. By 1965 the U.S. troops (mostly Air Force) were active combatants, supporting heavy anti-civilian bombing campaigns in northern Laos, along the Ho Chi Minh trail, and occasionally inside North Vietnam.

But wisely, U.S. troops were never committed to the counterinsurgency campaign inside Thailand itself. As a result anti-Americanism never became widespread, even though the CIA had helped to install a series of oppressive and uncharacteristically violent military dictators in Bangkok. Soon after U.S. troops were withdrawn from Thailand in 1976, the era of military dictatorships and violence came to an end.

Today the Thai people and rulers alike are resolutely pro-American. Thailand at last has a civilian democratic government. The pro-communist insurrection in the northeast has ended. But these results were not and could not have been achieved until after the U.S. troops withdrew.

Ironically America was the victim of its own early successes in containing communism and stabilizing Thailand, in part by developing a Thai counterinsurgency force, PARU. This led America, step by successful step, into the increasing follies of using PARU in rollback campaigns, in Laos and Vietnam. This pattern of momentum to overstretch from success has since been repeated, most recently in Afghanistan (1980, 1984, 2001) and Iraq (1991, 2003).

Mediocre minds often learn bad lessons from military success. Though the examples of Hitler and Napoleon leap to mind, a more recent example is neocon Max Boot's cheery assertion in 2002 that "Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs." (The English, for the record, totally failed to administer Afghanistan.)

Such untroubled thinking inspired the Bush White House, also in 2002, after Afghanistan but before Iraq. According to Ron Suskind, who related the conversation in the New York Times Magazine, a senior Bush advisor told him then that people like Suskind were ''in what we call the reality-based community.'' The advisor defined it as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality ... That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he said. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too."

Those "other new realities," according to other Bush advisors, would include not just Iraq, but Syria, Iran and possibly North Korea.

Defeat can be an even more powerful motive for overstretch. "The specter of Vietnam" (meaning the embarrassment of a forced withdrawal) obsessed U.S. strategic and military minds after 1975. It clearly was a motive in the graduated crescendo of U.S. interventions that began with Grenada and Panama and climaxed with the Gulf War of 1991. (And of course George H.W. Bush's premature announcement that "the specter of Vietnam has been buried forever.")

America's wars since 1950 can all be seen in the light of this recurring paradigm. Time after time they began as limited interventions in the name of containment, and these goals were achieved. But time after time, in Southeast Asia, in Central Asia and most recently in Iraq, the mobilizations for the limited goal of containment (the Gulf War in 1991) have unleashed internal U.S. forces that have carried America into unwinnable offensive occupations of rollback (Iraq in 2003).

The message is clear, even if one does not often hear it from geostrategists and military historians. American interventions have been successful when limited in their goals: containment, support of the local populations, and maintenance of international order. But these very successes have also led to disasters, when, time after time, the momentum of war has propelled American strategy beyond those limits.

The example of Korea in 1950 most easily illustrates the paradigm. American-led troops quickly expelled the invaders from South Korea, but then suffered heavy losses after they moved north and became invaders themselves. The same can be said of the North Koreans in South Korea: Indeed a key event in creating two countries out of one was the war itself, leading most people to identify with their local army and regard the other as invasive oppressors.

In the end, after many casualties and much loss of civilian life, America could point to the success of an independent and now prosperous South Korea. But that success could have been achieved, and had already been achieved, before the folly of crossing the 38th parallel north.

One can make a similar observation about America's proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The campaign to expel Russians from Afghanistan was successful, but its very success led to an expansion of U.S. goals beyond Afghanistan's borders. America made a secret decision in 1984 to train foreign Islamist troops to cross the Amu Darya north, for the sake of separating the Muslim peoples of Central Asia from the Soviet Union. This rollback campaign was also successful, but in a way inimical to the United States.

For the U.S. decision to train Muslim foreigners in offensive terrorism outside Afghanistan's borders was a key factor in the emergence of the al-Qaida menace that we (as well as the Russians) face today. The U.S. is now paying dearly for its 1980s excesses in Afghanistan, which our intelligence experts persist in calling the "most successful covert action program in American history."

This pattern of historic momentum toward overstretch underlies all of the world's recent offensive occupations, both foreign and even domestic. Russia's efforts in Chechnya today date back to Czar Nicholas' order in 1829 to his commander in chief in the Caucasus, I.F. Paskevich: "Thus, having completed one glorious campaign [against Turkey], you are to launch another one, ... to pacify the mountainous nations once and for all." So began the failed military efforts, described vividly by Tolstoy, that are still failing today.

The ill-fated Indonesian campaign to subdue Timor Leste was similarly fuelled by misleading momentum. As Indonesian officers told a Catholic missionary there in 1981, "We did the same thing [that is, terrorize the population] in Java, in Borneo, in the Celebes, ... and it worked."

Perhaps the most relevant example of internal momentum leading to overstretch is the now 37-year-old Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Born of the euphoria of the lightning-quick 1967 war, the occupation has become a wound that will not heal.

In general, nations have been able to send troops overseas and achieve their objectives when the objectives are both limited and locally supported. But for almost half a century neither America nor any other country has been able to win what was clearly a major offensive occupation in a hostile foreign land.

(The last successes were won by the British, against the Chinese in Malaya, 1948-1957, and against the Mau Mau in Kenya, 1952-1956. Both campaigns were against well-defined ethnic minorities in limited areas. Meanwhile the French failed spectacularly to maintain their former colonial dominance even in Algeria, which had been governed as part of metropolitan France.)

This simple truth -- that an offensive occupation of an unwilling foreign nation is now unwinnable -- can rightly be seen as a subversive one. For it is at odds with assumptions underlying the Bush national security doctrine of Full Spectrum Dominance over the rest of the world. Indeed it calls into question why America has 725 military bases scattered over the world, down from a Cold War peak of 1,700 in about 100 countries.

To to understand the case for withdrawal, we need to remember that withdrawal from Vietnam was the key to the ultimate U.S. success in Southeast Asia. The hot Vietnam War that only began in 1965 was a late and unnecessary stage of a U.S. Southeast Asian deployment that began in Thailand in the early 1950s and continued incrementally but continuously thereafter, into Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It passed from being a campaign of containment to a doomed campaign of rollback, when America began a campaign to reverse the neutralism decreed for Indochina by the Geneva Agreements of 1954.

This U.S. war in Southeast Asia was largely successful in its primary strategic goals, even though it failed in the secondary goal of "saving" Indochina. It succeeded above all in restricting communist governments to Indochina, whereas in 1950 there were serious fears that communism might spread through Southeast Asia. (The "domino theory," though irrelevant by 1965, had been a legitimate concern in the early 1950s.)

The U.S. succeeded in winning the hearts and minds of the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia for Western capitalism, rather than Chinese communism. And it succeeded in securing and protecting large tracts of the South China Sea for offshore exploration and development by Western oil companies. Those successes, along with parallel and related successes in Japan, were important if not vital in presenting a contemporary vision of capitalism that is global rather than Eurocentric.

In retrospect we can see that it was precisely the early U.S. successes in Thailand that misled America into an unwinnable hot war. One can debate at what point the U.S. should have been willing to rest on its limited defensive achievements. I would personally put the optimum checkpoint at 1954. The U.S. could, I believe, have achieved all that it ultimately did achieve in Southeast Asia, if it had decided to accept the 1954 Geneva Agreements for a political resolution in Indochina.

That the United States did not do so must be attributed chiefly to the paranoia of the Cold War. American officials saw insurgencies in Vietnam and even Laos as part of a global game plan being masterminded in the Kremlin. Today even the imperialist hawk Niall Ferguson can admit, in "Colossus," that it was a "tragic error" to have seen North Vietnam "as a mere instrument of world communism." But it is just as paranoid, and just as tragic, to see the predictable nationalist resistance to our troops in Iraq as part of a global Islamist conspiracy. There is less excuse for this latest folly: America knows far more about Iraq in 2004 than it did about Indochina a half century earlier.

The important point is that whereas a limited strategy of containment succeeded in achieving America's strategic goals, an unnecessary hot war led only to a defeat still bitterly remembered. And the U.S. displacement of a neutralist government in Cambodia led to the brief dominance there of the Khmer Rouge, one of the most infamous by-products of America's propensity to enlarge its wars. Our excesses helped produce killers in Southeast Asia then, as they are doing in Central Asia today.

Above all the eventual happy outcome of the war in Southeast Asia must be seen as a success for America, not as a victory. It was far more a product of the many smaller things America let happen, than of the bigger things, some of them disastrous, that America made happen. Paradoxically this success could only be fully realized after the U.S. withdrew its troops, with which it had been seeking vainly to impose other unworkable outcomes. America's success came from its finally permitting Southeast Asians do things democratically for themselves.

Here we see the complex analogy with Iraq, and the only reasonable road ahead. The wisdom of the elder Bush in withdrawing after the Gulf War in 1991, produced, even within his own administration, forces frustrated by this acceptance of limited victory. Intoxicated by victory, they wished instead to impose a more forceful U.S. presence upon Iraq and the Middle East.

Both the moderates and the hawks of the Bush I administration were again represented in the administration of Bush II. But the moderates who had prevailed in 1991, notably Colin Powell, were now conspicuously overshadowed by the neocon hawks who then had lost, notably Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz. The scores to be settled were not against external enemies alone.

For a decade after the elder Bush's defeat in 1992, neocons had been calling for a reversal of his self-imposed limits on the containment of Iraq. Success in the Gulf War, as much as earlier defeat in Vietnam, fueled their distaste for any limitations on the scope and exercise of American power.

Once in power, they were not shy about advertising their ambitions. In February 2003 Undersecretary of State John Bolton told Israeli officials that after defeating Iraq, the United States would "deal with" Iran, Syria and North Korea. A month later Jeffrey Bell of the Weekly Standard revealed that the administration was preparing for a "world war between the United States and a political wing of Islamic fundamentalism ... a war of such reach and magnitude [that] the invasion of Iraq, or the capture of top al Qaeda commanders, should be seen as tactical events in a series of moves and countermoves stretching well into the future."

It is time for Americans to go back to a saner Middle East policy that once again rejects impossible rollback ambitions in Iraq and the rest of the region. We need above all a policy that will help the Middle East to resolve its own problems, rather than seek to impose a solution. There will always be the fear that these solutions could work against the United States. But the example of Southeast Asia suggests the opposite: that the Middle East will choose what is best for it, and this will work to America's favor.

We need more laissez-faire abroad politically. This will include cutting back on state efforts to impose laissez-faire economically. It will be relatively easier to work for a defense of U.S. strategic interests, including assured access to the oil of the region, without the fantasies of maintaining permanent U.S. bases there, to say nothing of dictating the cultural and political future of a much older civilization.

But first, it is time for America to realize not only that its continued military presence in Iraq serves no purpose, but also that it is a source of danger for America, the region and the world.

There have been numerous withdrawals by former imperial powers in the last half century. Of all these only one, the overly delayed Soviet withdrawal from Eastern Europe, failed to strengthen the global position of the great power in question. This means that there is more than one available model for the U.S. to emulate in Iraq.

William Pfaff, of the International Herald Tribune, has proposed the option of negotiated unilateral withdrawal. He points out that when Charles de Gaulle negotiated independence for Algeria in 1958, his courageous act "did not leave France revealed as 'a pitiful, helpless giant' (as Nixon said would be the case if the United States left Vietnam). It strengthened France, freeing it to deal with real issues of political and economic reform." (Although Pfaff did not mention this, it also enabled French oil companies to participate in the peaceful development of Algeria's oil and gas resources.)

Pfaff reports that, according to the available polls, 98 percent of the Iraqis want the Americans to leave. Meanwhile a poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations has shown that more than two-thirds of both the U.S. public and U.S. leaders agree that the United States should withdraw from Iraq if a clear majority of Iraqi people want it to do so.

Nevertheless, as was the case with Vietnam 30 years ago, both of our political parties have failed to respond to this groundswell of public opinion. Although the Democratic challenger may have felt it necessary to stake out a more hawkish position in the debates than he actually holds, Kerry seemed to categorically rule out a withdrawal: "Now that we're there, we have to succeed. We can't leave a failed Iraq ... Nobody's talking about leaving ... We're talking about winning and getting the job done right."

At the same time, Kerry has distinguished himself from Bush in two important ways. He has said that he would make it clear that the U.S. has no interest in permanent bases in Iraq, or in controlling Iraqi oil. He has said also that we must "internationalize [the U.S.] presence and de-Americanize what is perceived as an occupation." He believes that then it will be possible to begin to withdraw U.S. troops in six months and get them all out in four years.

Kerry's proposal to keep prosecuting the war aggressively, while training Iraqis and bringing home U.S. troops, is distressingly similar to Nixon's solution of "Peace with Honor" for Vietnam. Prominent Canadian commentator Richard Gwyn has retorted that this trying to have it both ways "is the worst option of all ... During the Vietnam War, public opinion turned against the conflict once Americans realized they were sacrificing their lives in a futile mission." In addition, it is clear that most nations will only contemplate a security role in Iraq that has nothing to do with the Typhoid Mary of a protracted U.S. presence.

However, Kerry's promise to "internationalize" suggests a range of other options for withdrawal: by handing over the future of the country to multilateral supervision or the United Nations. In 1954 the French accepted the multilateral Geneva Conference as a way to withdraw their troops successfully from Indochina. This too facilitated an ongoing French economic presence for another two decades: the French did not finally lose their rubber plantations in Cambodia until after the United States destroyed that country.

A U.N. presence would clearly require new countries to enforce it. Newsday reported on Oct. 18 that "President George W. Bush rebuffed a plan last month for a Muslim peacekeeping force that would have helped the United Nations organize elections in Iraq, according to Saudi and Iraqi officials." Initially, the Saudis pressed to create a full-fledged peacekeeping force, possibly made up of several thousand Muslim troops. But the Bush administration objected because the special force would have been controlled by the U.N. instead of by the United States.

If Kerry is sincere in being ready to renounce U.S. bases and U.S. interests in Iraq, the multinational option may still be a live one. It is true that U.N. forces have been less than brilliant as peace-keepers, but assuredly they would do less to aggravate the problem than the current U.S. presence.

It is easy to list the risks of a weak multinational peace-keeping force. There could be civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. The country could split into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish territories, potentially destabilizing neighbors like Turkey. Or Iraq, beset by tribal conflicts, could become a failed state like Afghanistan (another beneficiary of U.S. liberation).

One risk often cited, that Iraq would become a new haven for terrorists, is unlikely. Most non-U.S. observers see the alleged influence of al-Zarqawi and foreign terrorists in Iraq as vastly inflated by Washington for propaganda purposes. Just as it is the U.S. presence that has made Iraq a honeypot for foreign terrorists, so the best plan to disperse them is for the U.S. itself to go away. The once-held fantasy of attracting terrorists to destroy them is now a nightmare, because of the planners' failure – once again -- to factor in Iraqi public opinion.

In short, staying the present course does not look preferable to what might happen after U.S. withdrawal. As Richard Cohen wrote in the Washington Post, we now "all have to face the prospect that Iraq will end up a mess no matter what. The administration's own national intelligence estimate raises the possibility that civil war may erupt by the end of next year."

He and other Americans, both liberal and conservative, from Pfaff to Robert Novak, have begun to contemplate withdrawal as the only solution for Iraq. They tend to do so from a sense that the game is over and America's original hopes for a better society there are no longer relevant.

I do not know the Middle East, but the example of Southeast Asia makes me somewhat more optimistic. I believe that a short American intervention, followed by swift withdrawal, could still result in an improved situation, even a gradual evolution toward more open and democratic societies in the region.

But for this to happen unilateralist hopes for an enduring or even short-term American presence must be clearly renounced. Moderate politics can only begin to prevail in Iraq and neighboring countries after we put fears of the withdrawal "specter" behind us and get our armies out of Iraq. This will not even mean abandoning the Middle East, where small states like Qatar are still eager to have a protective U.S. presence.

Meanwhile the specter of escalation grows steadily more frightening. As Colin Powell acknowledged in September, "we have seen an increase in anti-Americanism in the Muslim world" since the war began, and the insurgency in Iraq itself is "getting worse." This rise in Islamist terrorism is as dangerous for Israel as it is for the United States. In the words of a report from the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, "Iraq has now become a convenient arena for jihad, which has helped Al Qaeda to recover from the setback it suffered as a result of the war in Afghanistan." A report Tuesday from the head of Australian intelligence reached the same conclusion.

Back in 2003 Gen. William Odom, former head of the U.S. National Security Agency, accurately predicted, "Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends."

About the writer: Peter Dale Scott is a former Canadian diplomat and a professor of English at the University of California. His last book was "Drugs, Oil, and War" (2003). This article is a distillation from his next book on imperial overstretch. In 2002 he was given the Lannan Poetry Award. His Web site is http://www.peterdalescott.net.