"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

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

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Osama's New Strategy

Don't hold your breath, but it begins to look like a new al-Qaida MO -- shifting the focus of terrorist attacks from the U.S. mainland to U.S. interests in the Middle East and European governments that support the United States in Iraq.

As Osama bin Laden surveys the international scene from his secret base in Pakistan, he has convinced himself the American empire can be defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia much the way his mujahideen guerrillas defeated the Soviet empire in Afghanistan.

In his videotape released four days before the U.S. elections, bin Laden referred to the way the Afghan resistance had bankrupted the Soviet Union, which he invoked as a model for inflicting a similar fate on the United States. President Bush's wars on terror, he noted smugly, caused record deficits.

In an audiotape posted on a jihadist Web site Dec. 16, his 18th message since 9/11, bin Laden praised the Dec. 6 attack on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and urged Saudis to rise up against the House of Saud, "agents of infidels." The Western world's oil supply is now al-Qaida's priority target.

In his current hideout, Bin Laden has access to local and international media, CNN, FOX, BBC, al-Jazeera and other Arab satellite channels. He heard Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tell FOX News he had not anticipated the strength of the Iraqi insurgency "because no one has a perfect view of the future." Bin Laden also watched CNN as Gen. Lance Smith, deputy chief of the U.S. Central Command, concede that a bold, innovative insurgency in Iraq is becoming more effective against U.S. supply lines, and explosive attacks have slowed military operations.

He can hear newscasts say the U.S. has begun using large military cargo aircraft to ferry food and equipment high above dangerous roadways, bringing the total cost of Afghanistan and Iraq to $6 billion a month.

As someone prone to exaggeration, bin Laden cannot believe the number of U.S. killed so far in Iraq is 1,300. He assumes it is several times that number. He has also read that 5,500 U.S. military have deserted to Canada rather than serve in Iraq; that the Army National Guard is short of 5,500 citizen-soldiers; that lawsuits have been filed by those whose duty period has been involuntarily extended; and that soldiers have refused to go on dangerous missions without proper equipment.

In the past three years, bin Laden has also seen his small tight-knit group of transnational terrorists morph into a global politico-religious ideological and spiritual movement that draws its recruits from many of the same spawning grounds that provisioned communist parties throughout the Cold War. He presumably knows why some 7,500 jihadis who fought the United States in Iraq have been trickling back to their homes in Muslim slums in Western Europe. They returned with new terrorist skills and the ability to form sleeper cells and/or encourage others to sign up for jihad.

Europe's Muslims -- about 20 million of them -- are for the most part moderate and good citizens of their country of adoption. But the silent majority has been cowed into silence by growing numbers of unemployed who are alienated, angry and refuse to integrate in European societies. They are also vocal in favor of bin Laden as the new pinup who rivals Che Guevara on university campuses.

Bin Laden sees his ratings in the Muslim world and among Muslim minorities in Europe have far surpassed Bush's on the scale of credibility and trustworthiness. The administration's Israel-right-or-wrong policy has now been confirmed -- for bin Laden to read in dozens of newspapers -- by no less an authority than Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Bush 41.

In an interview with the global newspaper Financial Times, Gen. Scowcroft said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "has wrapped president Bush around his little finger" and his peace plan consists of evacuating Gaza and three or four minor settlements in the West Bank -- "and then call it a day." Scowcroft thought he was off the record, but he has since confirmed he did indeed say this.

Bin Laden has read what prominent non-royal Saudis have said about him -- e.g., in a truly free election in Saudi Arabia he would win hands down against the royal family, which is now cordially and widely disliked, if not despised. The world's most wanted terrorist also has friends in high places in Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf is also widely despised by a majority of the population. In Pakistan bin Laden mustered a 66 percent approval rating. In the two provinces governed by the pro-al-Qaida, pro-Taliban coalition of six politico-religious parties, bin Laden's popularity rating as a "freedom fighter" climbs above 80 percent.

Bin Laden must also have concluded that another 9/11 - which would have to be even more deadly than the first -- is not possible in the light of ever-tighter security precautions. It could also rekindle the kind of European solidarity with the United States not seen since 2001.

Instead, America's European allies that back the war -- Britain and Italy in particular -- offer the same opportunities as Spain did with the train bombings last March 11. The "new" Europeans have already announced a steady reduction of their modest troop levels in Iraq.

Britain's highest court scored a minor triumph for bin Laden and a huge blow to the government's anti-terror policy last week by ruling it cannot detain foreign suspects indefinitely without trial.

Bin Laden's new strategy appears designed to (1) further detach America from its European allies -- much the way the Soviet Union unsuccessfully tried to do throughout the Cold War; (2) assist the insurgency in Iraq by encouraging more jihadis to volunteer for suicide duty; (3) stoke public opinion against the royals in Saudi Arabia; (4) stoke public opinion against Musharraf in Pakistan.

All this does not require an attack in the United States with CBRN WMD -- chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Bin Laden could be keeping this one on the shelf until his other pawns are in place.

Arnaud de Borchgrave
UPI Editor at Large

An Open Letter to Our Leaders From an Iraq War Soldier

I am writing to you because you have been elected to serve the people. I am one of those people, my family is one family in America. We are just a family, we care about each other, we work hard and we believe in good things. We have a modest income, not much, but enough to give us what we need. Like most American families, we struggle with the way things are these days. We try to justify that our votes have mattered, our voices are heard, our opinions count, all the while watching decisions being made, unable to recognize the “voice of the people” in the final outcome.

I have worked for years serving those whom I felt called to serve, our elderly. I have fought hard for them, to ensure that they receive the respect they deserve, not only from family, but from community as well. But now, I have left my fight for the elderly, to do what I can to help in a more significant effort.

My husband works with an equal amount of passion. Everything that he has been asked to do by his employer, he has done. Everywhere he has had to go, he has gone with the trust that the words of his employer are honest, and committed to his needs and the needs of his fellow workers. Lies. My husband has had faith in an employer who cares more about the American lifestyle than its people. My husband is an American Soldier. My husband deserves so much more than what he has been given in return by his country. I deserve more, my children do. The families of all the soldiers who have VOLUNTEERED to serve and now are asked to fight in a war that is not about defending this country deserve more. This country has disrespected them at every turn. This country has and is failing them. It is failing all who have given with faith, who have fought for the right thing, who have been led in their commitment with the false promises and empty words of our leadership. This is the fight I take on now, and my husband joins me. Now, I write to show you some of the specifics of the last year of disrespect that my husband and I have seen, as his unit has prepared for a possible return deployment to Iraq.

Our soldiers are putting their lives on the line. Our VOLUNTEER army is sacrificing its integrity to fight for a cause that has lost its meaning, in a country that did nothing to America before we chose to invade it and occupy it in the name of democracy. As they serve in the most dangerous situations, we hear how they are supported, how our government fights to give them everything they need. We see no pictures of the sacrifice. That is hidden, and our media is ordered not to show it. We see only words and videos of politicians speaking boldly about supporting our military, and honoring their service with all the best equipment, supplies, and motivation. We see nothing of the loss, the destruction: It is kept from us.

We have seen faulty leadership. We have seen a company commander who is not strong enough to understand that the men he leads do not “sweat the small stuff.” They have been in hell, and survived. The small stuff means nothing when you have a choice of fighting over petty paperwork issues or leaving for the day to spend time with your family. We have experienced this commander’s frustration repeatedly. When a Private 1st Class received a DUI one weekend, off post, this commander decided that he would punish his entire unit by forcing them to participate in training classes on their weekend, an illegal order that was promptly disobeyed by most of the NCO’s in the unit. There is an Army regulation that states, “extra training or instruction is used when a soldier’s duty performance has been substandard or deficient.” This company commander tried to threaten these soldiers with what is known as an “Article 15,” for having disobeyed his order. When the soldiers demanded that they be given a Court Martial so that they could defend their actions, the company commander withdrew from the fight.

In a later situation, this same Company Commander was quite irritated when a bag that he was to have prepared and maintained with his equipment could not be found. Many soldiers had observed the commander leave with his bag, and yet he insisted that he could not be responsible, that a soldier had taken it. He ordered the entire unit to stay at the Company headquarters until 10:30 at night, as discipline for his not being able to monitor his own equipment. Again, more than 15 soldiers appealed this order.

Military radios are a sensitive piece of equipment. They must be kept under lock and key when not being used, and in most units, they are kept in the Arms Room along with the weapons that the soldiers are registered to use. When there is a deployment, training mission, qualifying day, the soldiers must sign the weapons out of the room, and return them for verification after use. This procedure is also followed with the radios. Except in the situation of this particular unit. Radios have been lost, or missing on several occasions, because this Company Commander does not see the need to assign anyone to be responsible for them. When he discovers them missing, temper tantrums ensue, and soldiers who have had nothing to do with the radios are disciplined in his rage. But this Commander will not take responsibility for his actions.

Almost a month ago, this unit was sent to the rifle range for a weekend of qualifying. Supplies being what they are, the soldiers could not perform any night firings. There is not enough ammunition available. On Sunday, soldiers watched while their Company Commander prepared to qualify. He could not. It is required that a soldier fire a minimum of 26 rounds into the bulls-eye area of the target in order to qualify. This Commander could not get 15 rounds on the target, let alone near the bulls-eye. Finally, at the end of the day, the 1st Sergeant of the unit had to spot for the commander, and he returned a target with 29 rounds on the bulls-eye. The 1st Sergeant, when questioned by the Training Room NCO regarding the validity of the target, ordered that NCO to document that the company commander had qualified. The Training Room NCO refused the order, saying that the 1st Sergeant would have to accept that responsibility.

This same Company Commander and 1st Sergeant have asked the Training Room NCO on several occasions to “pencil-whip” the training reports that are being sent on to the Battalion Command. This is a new Company, and they are having quite a bit of trouble getting organized. The Battalion Command is never satisfied with the reports, and the numbers regarding soldiers’ training records. Rather than do what is needed to improve the actual training programs, this Company Commander files misrepresentations of facts.

After the initial experience of the Iraq invasion, the Defense Department determined that it was time to make the Army more streamlined and moveable. In January of this year, they took several units offline in order to redesign them. The Company that my husband was reassigned to was one of these new companies. There was talk about the change for several months, dates changed, soldiers changed. Finally, as the brigade was preparing for its rotation to the National Training Center in California, the Command decided it was time to make the change. All soldiers would travel to California with their original assignment and return as part of their new units. These changes are still trying to situate, and as a result, soldiers’ needs are still not being met. While in California, Company Commanders participated in “cat fights” over who actually commanded which units. These temper tantrums repeatedly flared up in front of the soldiers they were supposed to be leading. When the units returned from California at the end of June, there were no headquarters prepared for the new support units to report to or work out of. They set up temporary offices in old motor pools, with nothing but desks and chairs. There were no phones, no computers, no paper, and no idea whose command they fell under.

Now, almost 5 months later, when these soldiers should be concentrating on training, they are finally getting offices in shape, only to have to break them down to load them into Conex boxes to prepare for their possible deployment. The Training Room NCO finally received his laptop computer last month. His responsibility is to take care of all the training records, and qualification records for the almost 200 soldiers in his unit. In the office itself, there are now 5 laptops, with printers. There is only one printer cartridge, and it is in the office of the 1st Sergeant. He has a habit of becoming very upset when a report he has asked for is not on his desk, but when the Training Room NCO suggests that he has to use the 1st Sergeant’s printer since it is the only one with a cartridge, the response is that “no one is allowed in my office, or using my equipment.” There could be more supplies, if the Supply Sergeant could have been given access to an account to be able to purchase what the unit needed.

Three weeks ago, the 1st Sergeant ordered the soldiers in the unit to mark all the duffle bags that they would have to pack for deployment, and the markings were to be in Tan and Black paint. Unfortunately, the company had no money to purchase the paint, so part of the order was that the soldiers had to buy their own paint, paint their bags over the weekend and have them at the company the following Monday. What is wrong with this picture? Once again, most soldiers disobeyed what they saw to be an illegal order. The Training Room NCO reported the order to the Brigade Sergeant Major on that Monday, who informed the 1st Sergeant that he could not order soldiers to buy paint. His response, the Army had not given the unit any means to purchase what they needed. The Supply Sergeant was finally issued a debit card to use for Company purchases, unfortunately, he was not allowed to activate it for an additional week, and since that time it has been de-activated. In the meantime, it became time for the soldiers to mark these same bags with an additional marking, this time with large width bright orange tape. Once again, they were ordered to purchase the tape, for the Company had none to supply.

Interestingly enough, there are some supplies that seem to be in an over-abundance in the military. We are quite concerned with this matter, as we have seen this on more than one installation. The infantry soldiers spend about two weeks out of every month in the field training. During this time, they remain in the field, usually training sites that are in remote parts of the installations they are stationed at. While they are training, the support units bring all the supplies they will need out to the field in military semi-trucks. Supplies include army cots, food for every meal, canned fruits and vegetables, fresh produce, condiments, industrial sized cans of coffee, powdered creamer, etc., plates, napkins, cups, plastic ware, everything a soldier would need for a two week stay in the field. At the end of the training period, the semi trucks return to the garrison area and DISPOSE of EVERYTHING THAT WAS NOT USED DURING THE FIELD PROBLEM.

Army cots are disposed of, canned fruits and vegetables that could be returned to the storage building, unopened cans of coffee, paper products, EVERYTHING leftover is thrown away. This is taxpayers’ money, my money, our soldiers’ money, being thrown away.

The armored vehicles, Bradley fighting vehicles and tanks that our soldiers use are in no better condition than the organization. The waiting period for most parts is still longer than two weeks in most cases. The equipment is not to the standard that our government would like people to believe. Most of the equipment was damaged during the first tours in Iraq, as it was not made to withstand the heat and sand of the Iraqi deserts, and the waiting period for repairs in Iraq was so long that there were times when mechanics pieced parts together, to make the equipment last longer. General Sanchez himself wrote to our administration about the failure to provide adequate supplies for repairs of equipment and vehicles last February. Not much has changed. Civilians are responsible for much of the maintenance on the vehicles that are not deployed or being used in a training field problem. Civilians work 4 day weeks, and are paid 3 times what our soldiers are paid for the same work. Soldiers defer to the civilians in many aspects of vehicle services which makes it difficult for soldiers in the field and in combat to be able to deal with the repairs needed as efficiently and accurately as they could if they actually had to do the work offline as well. Commanders demand reports giving a 90% readiness on vehicles when that number is actually closer to 60%, and even at that, there are many vehicles with only partial system function.

Security on our military installations has deteriorated in the last 8 months. It was about that long ago that our government decided to contract the security of the military installations to private security firms in an effort to free more soldiers to train for combat. Prior to that time, soldiers were assigned periods of gate duty, and routinely patrolled all access points to each installation. As a rule, all personally owned vehicles of military members and their families must be registered on post and bear a decal indicating this. When vehicles approach access gates, each is stopped, decals are checked along with military identification cards of all vehicle occupants. If someone does not carry a military ID card, they may present a driver’s license for identification purposes. All vehicles that do not bear a military decal must be stopped, and vehicle registrations, insurance cards, and driver identifications are verified and a temporary pass to the installation is issued. No vehicles carrying any weapons are allowed through the gates, and any trucks and trailers must pass through a separate gate equipped with x-ray machines. There should be routine safety checks of vehicles, in which a vehicle is stopped and searched inside and out, to deter any who might consider passing through the gate with contraband items. Since the civilian contractors have taken over, security checks at these gates have become quite haphazard. There have been many times when guards merely hold ID cards, and don’t even look to verify the information. There have been times when trucks have been allowed to pass through without security checks. Last month, a soldier was shot and killed on Ft. Stewart, in the evening of a weekend night, the victim of a drive by shooting. This is appalling, and un-nerving. The security guards were obviously not doing their job. This weekend, we carried a rifle, in a case, across post to the rifle range on the other side of the installation. We placed the rifle case in the rear of the truck, in the open, and drove through the gate. No one even questioned the rifle. They looked briefly at our ID’s and let us through without one glance at the rifle. These are the people that our government has hired to secure our military installations.

Soldiers are being told how lucky they are and how much they are going to love being in Iraq. They are being told that they will have air conditioning, and heat, and larger cots. They are told that the meals they will have will be almost like home, and that there will be internet access in Iraq, so that they can take college courses for military credit while they are there. They have very low morale now. The chaplain here works overtime, and it is difficult to get access to him. He spends so much time counseling soldiers to prepare for this deployment. Their way to boost morale is to assure the soldiers of how much they will have over there, and how good it will be. After all the misrepresentations they have already experienced, and with leadership being what it is, how can they trust anything now? The war was based on misrepresentations, and the manipulations are continuing. Today brought a briefing from West Point cadets to the enlisted soldiers. The briefing was on “Selective Perception.” Veteran soldiers from this Iraq war, were given a lesson by students who have yet to see a battlefield, on how to alter the reality of what these soldiers see in combat. They are being taught to recreate their reality, the reality being shown the American public is being created by politicians, and somewhere in between, the reality is that soldiers are dying, civilians are dying, and a country is being destroyed for no good reason.

The story of this war is no different at any level. In the grand design, it was destined to fail before the invasion happened. The government of America is failing to support the service of our military men and women, and it is denying the sacrifice of those same soldiers and their families in the manner in which it leads the American people. When the American people are shown the truth of the sacrifice our soldiers make, when they are told the truth of the manner in which our government fails to support those soldiers, and their families, when they see the destruction that this war has actually caused, in vivid Technicolor reality, then, perhaps the war will be called to a close, our soldiers brought home where they belong, and Americans will come together in strength against this ever happening again. The discipline of our leadership is a farce, the support of our leadership is a farce, and the truth needs to be shown to everyone who can make a difference.

The illusion is that the war is going well. The illusion is that our soldiers are strongly motivated and emotionally prepared for what they have volunteered to face. The illusion is that we are actually giving the Iraqis their freedom. The illusion is that we in America have that freedom to give. The illusion is that we are taking care of those who are making the greatest sacrifice. The illusion is that our government cares about any of the humanity involved in this war. The illusion is that this war is right.

The truth is different: When the passion and commitment of our government equals the salary they have voted for themselves, when the campaign promises are no longer forgotten after the elections, when I can look a senator in the eye, or a president, or a secretary of defense, and know that he will remember words he spoke to me in the truth of his actions, THEN AND ONLY THEN, will our government begin to come close to deserving what all of our soldiers and their families have sacrificed in the name of freedom for America. Then the illusion may begin to fade and truth become strong. The war is wrong. Our soldiers are not receiving the support they and their families need. There is incredible waste in the military process, beginning with lives, and ending with honor. We, as Americans, cannot give the Iraqis their freedom. Freedom is earned, and it is the Iraqis who will have to do the fighting, if it is truly freedom that they want. Until America leaves Iraq to the Iraqis, and brings its soldiers home, freedom cannot begin to materialize for the Iraqi people. Soldiers are dying, civilians are dying, and America is the perpetrator. The only support that we should be giving our soldiers now, is in bringing them all home, where they can defend what is their duty to defend... their families, their country, and their honor. Someone has to be strong enough to stand against the illusion and tell the truth. And Americans have to be strong enough to bear witness to what they are told.

Sgt. Kevin and Monica Benderman . 3rd Infantry Division -- Ft. Stewart, GA Email - mdawnb@coastalnow.net.

See also http://www.mfso.org/main_f.html

Unemployed and Gray? Truly, Uncle Sam Wants You

They are desperate. How else can I explain the fact that I am 54 years old and the military is trying to recruit me?

The Naval Reserve found my résumé on monster.com where I posted it in August
2001. Of course, my age is not on my résumé, but a smart person can look at my dates of employment and figure out this is a pretty old nurse, well into middle age and all of its concerns about osteoporosis, bifocals and memory loss.

With enthusiasm the e-mail from the Navy declares, "One of the greatest benefits of joining our force is that you won't have to sacrifice your personal life to serve. Your training sessions will almost always be with the Naval Reserve unit located closest to your home."

Yes, and pigs can fly and the stop-loss orders are working so well, they won't need to pull up any more reserves and send them to Iraq. Well, they do say, "almost always ... closest to your home." They do give themselves wiggle room. But these days the military has no credibility. The call-up of the reserves to active duty and the stop-loss policy of not allowing troops to leave the military once they've fulfilled their duty has destroyed the military's credibility.

Which may be why they've had to go to monster.com for recruitment. Which is impressive in a pathetic sort of way. Despite the dearth of resources, such as the lack of armor for vehicles in Iraq, the military remains resourceful.

If the justness of the cause -- democracy in Iraq -- doesn't inspire people to sign up, the military will recruit them from the ranks of the unemployed, hoping that with our slack economy, a résumé posted three years ago might lead them to a person still unemployed. Which makes me wonder, if the American people are truly supporting this war, why aren't more people signing up to fight it?

Probably because they're not willing to give up their limbs for a prosthesis and their lives for glory. And because there are so many casualties in this war, medical workers are badly needed. So why are they being squandered on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay? This is where the International Committee of the Red Cross charges that the U.S. military intentionally used psychological and physical torture with the assistance of doctors and other medical workers. Which is another reason why today's military is not the place for me. I do not want to place myself at risk of being implicated in a system of torture. Where's the glory in that?

On the other hand, I might like to go to Guantanamo Bay. I would like to take care of prisoners there because I love democracy and I want to demonstrate to the Arab countries that democracy is different from Saddam Hussein's torture chambers; democracy requires prisoners to be charged with crimes and forbids the use of cruel and unusual punishment. Democracy may be a hard job, but someone has to do it and the military hasn't.

So if I show up at the recruiting office with my gray hair, wearing my bifocals, popping calcium tablets, will they sigh with relief, promise me all my trainings will be near my grandchildren and sign me up? Will they be willing to write in a clause that the stop-loss policy wouldn't apply to me?

I know I can't trust this military. I know they are misleading me and hoping I won't notice. But why are they trying to recruit an old person? Why is the military desperate?

Reva Rasmussen lives in St. Paul.
12/27/04 "Star Tribune"

Elections without Democracy

During the 1970's, the apartheid government of South Africa sought to bolster its claims to legitimacy by allowing elections in the Bantustans - the equivalent to today's walled in Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The thought was that if people elected local officials, even to hold largely ceremonial offices, then the rest of the world would stop whining about how undemocratic and illegal apartheid was.

There were two problems with this strategy. First, the world understood that ceremonial elections do not make a democracy. Second, the major candidate in any election that would be endorsed by black South Africans-Nelson Mandela-was being held in a South African prison. Instead, black South Africans were being offered collaborator candidates that were chosen by the white South African government.

Through its policy of "constructive engagement," however, the Reagan administration tacitly endorsed this strategy, even when Congress resisted by passing the Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986.

How little has changed. Except for the lack of Congressional resistance, the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories mirrors that of apartheid South Africa. Palestinians are being forced, either by choice or fate, to agree to "acceptable" candidates for elections to offices that will have only as much power as the Israeli government, underwritten by the Bush administration, grants.

Consider the ceremonial character of the offices for which any Palestinian would be running. The Palestinian infrastructure has been decimated by thirty-seven years of military occupation and, more recently, the Israeli invasion of 2002 and subsequent military incursions. Palestinians do not control the resources that lie on their land. Their streets are patrolled by a foreign army and their movements limited by humiliating checkpoints. There are not even recognized borders for this land over which the legislators will have no legislative control. In short, for those who would receive the honor of being elected to a Palestinian democratic institution, there will be nothing to legislate, nothing to be legislated over, and no resources with which to legislate. This is the democracy Palestinians are being offered.

And there is more. Not only was the last elected president of the Palestinian people forced to languish until his death under permanent house arrest, two current Palestinian Legislative Council members, who were supposed to be immune from Israeli interference, currently reside in Israeli jails for their political leadership. Along with these two political prisoners, over 7,000 Palestinian prisoners remain detained by Israel, many of them leaders of their communities.

Say what one will, both apartheid South Africa and Israel have recognized leaders when they have seen them.

Eventually, South Africa stopped the bloodshed on its land by reversing the historic injustice caused to blacks in South Africa. Israel, on the other hand, seems not only blind to the future Palestinian leaders, but has refused even to acknowledge the growing number of its own citizens who are choosing to be jailed instead of serving the Israeli occupation.

Calls for democratization among the Palestinians serve the wider purposes of the Sharon and Bush administrations. Such calls hint that the problem lies not in the occupation of Palestinian land but in the political character of the Palestinian people. If we are not ready for democracy, as defined by our occupier and its funder, then perhaps, they reason, the occupation can justifiably continue.

However, the Palestinian people, and much of the world besides, understand the difference between an empty democracy and the real thing. If Palestinians have been so slow to ratify the institutional trappings that have recently been offered to them, if they seem to balk at the 'generosity' shown by the Israelis and the Americans, perhaps the fault does not lie solely with the Palestinians themselves. Perhaps it is because what Palestinians seek is true independence on their own land over which they have effective control. In other words, a democracy.

Sam Bahour (SBAHOUR@palnet.com) is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah and Todd May (TKDRJMAY@aol.com) is a Professor of Philosophy at Clemson University (Institution given for identification purposes only).

Latest articles on EI:
Opinion/Editorial: Elections without Democracy (28 December 2004)
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Human Rights: Gazan students' fugitive lives (26 December 2004)
Development: Abbas' rival strikes confident note (25 December 2004)
Diaries: Living into Hope: Christmas in Zababdeh, Palestine (24 December 2004)
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Sam Bahour and Todd May, The Electronic Intifada, 28 December 2004

Slaughter of the Innocents, 2004

The Netherlands celebrates Christmas by reenacting Herod.

If you close your eyes and picture a housewife with a bucket of hot water and a bristle brush, scrubbing away at her front doorstep, the small line of type at the lower corner of your imagination reads "The Netherlands." That's the Dutch: tidy, polite, reasonable and compassionate.

"Tidy" and "compassionate" can intersect in a strange way, however, when it comes to handling the tragedies of life. Three years ago, the Dutch Parliament shocked the world by passing a law allowing "mercy killing" under certain circumstances. The patient had to be in intractable pain, and to request it personally. In such a case, his doctor could deliver a lethal injection of sedatives and muscle relaxants.

Lay aside the question of whether there is such a thing as "intractable pain;" as Eric Chevlen and Wesley J. Smith explain in their useful book, Power over Pain: How to Get the Pain Control You Need, advances in medicine mean that it's now possible to manage even severe chronic pain. But from the perspective of the healthy physician or family member standing at the bedside, it might well look like a person would be better off dead. It doesn't take patients long to get the message that their unsightly, untidy existence distresses those who love them, and that it's time to clear out. That's only good manners.

The question at the time the law was passed was how young a patient could be deemed capable of making such a decision. At present, a Dutch sixteen-year-old can order himself terminated, even against his parents' wishes. A proposal to drop the age of autonomy for self-annihilation to twelve did not pass.

Thank God for small favors, you may say. But now it appears that the thoughtful, compassionate Dutch have found a way to begin tidying up at the other end. What about people who are incapable of deciding for themselves, such as the mentally ill or comatose? What about babies? Isn't it unfair to exclude them from the right to die?

The Groningen Academic Hospital recently revealed that it had been quietly exploring this question, and euthanized four babies in 2003. The guidelines they used included requirements that pain be intractable (as above), that there be no hope for improvement, and that the parents agree. A number of potential conditions were cited that could allow for the compassionate snuff, such as extreme prematurity and diseases that would require permanent life support.

There's a puzzler. Aren't we already dealing with cases where a newborn is premature, or needs life support? We do it by treating the premature condition as best we can, and supplying the support necessary. And sometimes the damage exceeds our ability to help, and the child dies. No one is obligated to use painful and pointless treatments when a condition is incompatible with life, but isn't it enough just to let nature take its course? Why the rush to kill?

Over the years, as a pastor's wife and as a childbirth teacher, I've encountered tragic situations where a newborn came into the world dying. In a couple of cases, it was known ahead of time; sonography revealed that the child had a condition that could be accommodated in the weightless symbiosis of the womb, but that from the moment the cord was cut the child would begin to die.

In light of such news, families began making plans. Grandparents, aunts and uncles would be waiting nearby. As soon as the child was born, all would gather to hold and kiss her. Photos would be taken, wrinkled hands surrounding a tiny, gasping form. Prayers were said and hymns were sung. When the end came, the child who had so recently felt secure in the womb was secure in her mother's arms.

Now you have to think about why someone would prefer to whisk the child away to a steel table and a lethal injection. I think it has to do with the intersection of those two admirable virtues, tidiness and compassion. Tidiness requires that people who are damaged be scrubbed away. Compassion murmurs that this is what they, themselves, actually wish. If they can't say so, we'll strongly wish it for them.

But what is the ultimate outcome of a world where only the perfect survive? Yes, I know that at present there are plenty of imperfect specimens around. Yet this kind of thinking has a tendency to creep. I'm not sure, for example, what is envisioned by this line in the Associated Press report on the Groningen Protocol: infant euthanasia for "diseases where a child could survive only on life support for the rest of its life, such as severe cases of spina bifida." What's "severe"? I've known people with spina bifida and so have you, and they prefer being alive, thank you. If it's dramatically more severe than that, can't we just let nature take its course? And as to the ambiguous phrase "for the rest of its life"—first of all, can we at least say "his"? Second, how long a "rest of his life" are we talking about—decades? And what is "support"—assistance with respiration, nutrition, surgery, a wheelchair?

If you were reading a history book you might be less shocked to find incidents of termination of the ill, elderly, and unwanted children in a time of famine or distress, but it seems to be our very success, our comfort and safety, that makes us deem these imperfect ones disposable. Everyone on TV looks so fine and healthy; everyone we pass while shopping looks well-fed. Surely that's the standard. Those who fail to meet it unsettle or disgust us. Surely they'd prefer to be put to sleep.

This season celebrates the bright moment of a birth in a stable in Bethlehem. But that birth was shadowed immediately with death, lots of it, as Herod wiped out hundreds of newborn children in his futile attempt to get at the one he feared. He cleaned up Bethlehem the way the Marshall cleans up Dodge City.

Herod was searching for the Perfect One, the Christ, who was prophesied to be his downfall. In the process hundreds of "imperfect" children were ripped from their mothers' arms and sacrificed. A similar quest for the "perfect" child now drives this impulse to scrub away the "imperfect" children who fail to meet our expectations. When we greet the sick and dying with speedy annihilation we replicate the ruthlessness of Herod. But what would Christ have us do? Picture him holding a dying child in his arms. What action would he take?

Death looks superficially like such a compassionate thing to do. But that's a projection on the part of the strong and healthy, who find the sight of the weak and dying unsettling. We wish to "put them out of their misery" as we would a pet. But it's really our misery that we're trying to end. Death is an efficient way to solve lots of problems, no doubt about it. It cures poverty, illness, and unpopular opinions. It's tidy, and can certainly be presented as compassionate. But this time-tested means of problem-solving has been opposed, throughout all history, by Christians. Herod's Slaughter of the Innocents was exposed by St. Luke, and believers ever since have honored the memory of those children as a warning of what too much zeal for tidiness can do. It's a Christmas tradition well worth preserving.

Frederica Mathewes-Green | posted 12/28/2004 10:00 a.m.
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information

U.S. to Take Bigger Bite of Iraq's Economic Pie

The United States is helping the interim Iraqi government continue to make major economic changes, including cuts to social subsidies, full access for U.S. companies to the nation's oil reserves and reconsideration of oil deals that the previous regime signed with France and Russia.

During a visit here this week, officials of the U.S.-backed administration detailed some of the economic moves planned for Iraq, many of them appearing to give U.S. corporations greater reach into the occupied nation's economy.

For example, the current leadership is looking at privatising the Iraqi National Oil Company, said Finance Minister Adil Abdel Mahdi.

The government, which is supposed to be replaced after elections scheduled for January, will also pass a new law that will further open Iraq's huge oil reserves to foreign companies. U.S. firms are expected to gain the lion's share of access in a process estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

"So I think this is very promising to the American investors and to American enterprises, certainly to oil companies," Abdel Mahdi said at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on Tuesday.

Abdel Hadi, formerly a member of the exile Iraqi opposition, said the interim government will also reconsider deals signed between French and Russians oil firms and the regime of former President Saddam Hussein. It is still not clear whether those contracts will be cancelled altogether or just reduced.

France and Russia both opposed the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of the Arab country and companies from those nations were initially banned by the U.S. occupation administration, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), from helping to "rebuild" Iraq.

Washington later said non-U.S. firms could work there, after the world's rich nations agreed to forgive part of Iraq's debt, a decision that opened the door to Baghdad signing on to a loan programme designed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

But to date all contracts let for "reconstruction" by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have gone to U.S. firms, which have then subcontracted some work to foreign companies.

Iraq's oil sector is essential both to world energy markets and to the nation's economy. Iraq sits on the planet's second largest oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia, and oil revenues account for more than 95 percent of the country's current budget. (The rest comes mainly from taxes and profits of certain state-owned enterprises).

Iraq is now producing a maximum 2.5 million barrels of oil a day (bpd), which drops to around two million bpd during attacks from the armed opposition.

But Baghdad says it expects to produce 3.5 million bpd when more U.S. companies move in and security improves.

"We found it very useful and interesting to hear the representatives of the government describe some of the preliminary thinking about structuring of the state-owned oil sector in Iraq," said Alan Larson, undersecretary of state for economic, business and agriculture, during the press club conference with Iraqi officials.

Washington is also expanding its influence in Iraq's oil sector via training programmes.

During meetings this week of the Iraq-U.S. Joint Economic Commission (JEC), the body that coordinates U.S. plans for Iraq's economy, Larson said the United States will provide training for oil-sector personnel, at U.S. universities.

Since it invaded Iraq, the United States has worked to reshape the Arab nation in its image. All the economic programmes, including the most liberal tax scheme in the Middle East and nearly non-existent trade tariffs, instituted by the CPA are being continued by the interim government.

Washington has installed hundreds of U.S. economic advisors in all Iraqi government ministries, who have a decisive say on most economic decisions. It has also sponsored the bulk of the nation's economic changes, based on a neo-liberal model that emphasises privatisation of government entities and cuts to social spending.

One major move the country is inching towards under U.S. guardianship, which was discussed this week, is a rollback of Iraq's huge subsidies system, which may have kept millions of Iraqis from starvation under U.S. and UK-backed sanctions imposed by the United Nations after the 1991 Gulf War.

The sanctions lasted for 12 years. A study by the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Iraq's Ministry of Health found that 500,000 more Iraqi children died under sanctions, from 1991 to 1998, than would have otherwise perished, but they stressed that not all the deaths could be directly blamed on the provisions.

It is believed that many more Iraqis would have died if not for a strong subsidies system that gave food rations to Iraqi families.

Under its October agreement with the IMF, Baghdad's interim leaders agreed to cut the support, among many other conditions. Officials defended the move during their Washington visit.

"I think this is a necessity for the Iraqi economy," Abdel Mahdi said. "We really need to work on our subsidy side. Subsidies are taking almost 60 percent of our budget. So this is something we have to work on … Other measures really were a real necessity for the Iraqi economy before (becoming) conditions asked by the IMF."

Iraqi officials say the country's unemployment rate is now 27 percent, but some groups have estimated it to be as high as 50 percent.

The IMF has been notorious for imposing conditions that its economists say are necessary to slash nation's budget deficits.

Development groups and anti-poverty campaigners argue those measures favour corporations in the most industrialised nations while harming the poor and middle class in borrowing countries.

The programme with Iraq appears to be no different.

Called the "enhanced post-conflict facility," the IMF programme bestows 420 million dollars in loans to the Iraqi government as a first step, promising more in 2005 if the nation meets more demanding conditions.

The IMF, which is dominated by the United States and other rich nations, has said it is willing to loan Iraq 2.5-4.3 billion dollars over three years now that an internationally recognised government is in place in the nation.

Washington also brokered talks that began two weeks ago to make Iraq a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

During this week's meeting of the JEC, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said it will focus on lending for Iraq's agricultural sector, which will include over 100 demonstration projects throughout the country to reinvigorate crops and to boost the industry, with the help of U.S. companies.

The United States Treasury and USAID also said they will back a housing fund in Iraq, which will start lending in January 2005 and is designed to add 30,000 new residential units in and around Baghdad during the year. Many U.S. companies will be involved.

Washington is also pushing lending programmes to Iraq through the U.S. Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, all of which would produce more opportunities for U.S. firms in the occupied nation. (END/2004

Emad Mekay

Pentagon Is Pressing to Bypass Environmental Laws for War Games and Arms Testing

WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 - The Defense Department, which controls 28 million acres of land across the nation that it uses for combat exercises and weapons testing, has been moving on a variety of fronts to reduce requirements that it safeguard the environment on that land.

In Congress, the Pentagon has won exemptions in the last two years from parts of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It has sought in recent years to exempt military activities, for three years, from compliance with parts of the Clean Air Act.

Also, the Pentagon, which controls about 140 of the 1,240 toxic Superfund sites around the country, is seeking partial exemptions from two laws governing toxic waste. And two months ago, it drafted revisions to a 1996 directive built on a pledge "to display environmental security leadership within Department of Defense activities worldwide."

The draft revisions eliminate the reference to environmental security, and emphasize instead that it is the Pentagon's role to sustain the national defense mission. Potential risks to the environment and worker safety, it says, should be addressed as part of a larger effort to manage risks, save money and preserve readiness.

The Pentagon's enthusiasm for the environmental ethos has waxed and waned over the past 15 years, as it has grappled with its roles as one of the country's longest-standing industrial polluters and conservator of some of the nation's most ecologically sensitive land.

It has spent more than $25 billion since 1985 on a program to clean up active and closed military bases, but at the same time has continued to generate pollution. Toxic residues like perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel, have been found in the Colorado River and in ground water in some states.

In addition, the Congressional appropriations for cleanups under the department's environmental restoration program, which usually hew to the department's budget requests, have been largely unchanged in recent years but slightly lower overall than in the Clinton administration, even as estimates for cleanups at closed military bases have far exceeded current spending.

The 1996 directive was produced under the Clinton administration, at a time of heightened concern over environmental issues. It was unclear when the revised draft directive might go into effect.

But the copy made available on the Web site of an environmental group made it clear that it represented a fundamentally different philosophy. Kyla Bennett, leader of the New England chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which released the directive, said the draft policy "says, 'We'll do whatever we have to do under the cloak of readiness and national security.' " Ms. Bennett added, "It's discouraging to me that the Department of Defense uses the terrorist attacks as a cloak to excuse themselves from environmental laws."

In a telephone interview last week, Pentagon officials would not comment on the draft directive nor predict whether the department would renew its push for legislation exempting the agency from some Clean Air Act and toxic waste disposal requirements.

But these officials said that without changes in the laws, they feared that if they tried to redeploy fighter jets, they might find themselves required to adopt burdensome environmental controls. This could happen if the areas where the jet squadrons were being sent were already in violation of Clean Air Act standards, and locating the squadrons there would add to the pollution.

The officials, including two of the department's senior environmental officials, said that they feared a wave of lawsuits to block munitions testing that could rely on the Superfund law or a second law on toxic materials, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, to argue that live-fire training was a waste management activity subject to environmental controls.

Benedict S. Cohen, a deputy general counsel at the Pentagon, said in an interview on Thursday, "The department felt it was appropriate, rather than to wait for a range to be shut down by a court injunction, to warn Congress that this problem is looming" and seek exemptions from the laws.

Two lawsuits, one seeking to prevent live-fire exercises at a Navy bombing range at Vieques Island, off Puerto Rico, and the other seeking protections from artillery for a marsh - home to migratory birds - bordering on Fort Richardson, Alaska, have relied on the two toxic waste laws.

The Army settled the lawsuit involving Fort Richardson in October, promising to restrict firing during twice-yearly bird migrations and while cleanup activities were under way in the marsh. It also agreed to monitoring to determine if toxic constituents of explosives were seeping into water beyond the base.

The Vieques lawsuit was rendered moot when the Navy closed the bombing range.

"Our concern was that there is no distinction in principle between activities taking place at Vieques and Richardson and efforts taking place all over the country at our installations," Mr. Cohen said. "There's nothing unique about military tests and training."

If, he said, a precedent had been set that these activities were subject to control under the two toxic waste laws, "it would have been extraordinarily difficult to defeat such litigation anywhere in the United States."

But the opposition of Democrats in Congress, along with some moderate Republicans, has thus far bottled up the legislation providing the Pentagon exemptions from the toxic waste laws and extending by three years the requirement to comply with some Clean Air Act provisions. If the legislative effort is renewed, two House Democratic staff members said, the opposition will remain intense.

"These exemptions are part of a much broader pattern going on from D.O.D., a huge retrograde pattern," said a Democratic staff member who requested anonymity because the ranking Democratic member, Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan, had instructed the staff to do so. Among other things, he said, the Pentagon has, in the past four years, added almost no sites to the Superfund list of toxic waste areas that must be cleaned up, reversing the trend established during three previous administrations.

"The whole thrust of these exemptions," the staff member added, "is to remove any kind of independent authority from the states, Environmental Protection Agency, water authority or from a citizen suit that would get them to sample, identify and clean up the contamination."

A former Pentagon official who served in a Democratic administration and requested anonymity because of current job concerns said that the department's actions had sent a signal "that the Defense Department is less interested in environmental leadership and isn't working as hard as I think it could" to engage states, local communities and others with a stake in environmental compliance and cleanup. The laws from which the department seeks exemption, the former official said, already contain waivers for national emergencies.

In response, Glenn Flood, a department spokesman, said in an e-mail message, "Asking the president to grant an exemption every time the military needs to train is not practical."

NY Times

The Hard Left's Intolerance and Fear of Christianity

The hard left's increasing intolerance and fear of Christianity has been well documented over the last few decades. Let's look at just a few examples ... and consider the real reason for such a mindset.

We have seen attempts through the judicial system to remove long-standing Christian symbols such as crosses or seals, and challenges through the school system to remove the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. Many of us have personally witnessed efforts in the public sector to change the phrase "Christmas vacation" to "Holiday vacation," and to replace "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays." We have read or heard of attempts in the educational realm to limit or ban religious expression by Christian students, to disallow Nativity scenes -- or, in the case of a liberal university professor, to direct blatant scorn and derision toward any pro-Christian view that might dared be put forth by his students. And we are often subjected to an entertainment industry that routinely ridicules and typecasts Christian characters and will not tolerate a pro-Christian movie such as Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, or to a predominately biased and liberal mainstream media. Need I go on?

Many times, these attacks have hidden behind an argument that flaunts the constitutional necessity of "separation of Church and State" -- which is a misnomer, because the phrase does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. But often the argument is put forth by individuals who don't understand that our founding fathers intended this principle to be used to protect the church from the state, not vice versa.

So I ask what I think is a good question: Why do so many liberals fear Christianity? I think it's because they are afraid of moral authority.

In the "progressive" world of Darwinism, evolution, absence of moral absolutes, and no relationship with a personal God, we become our own gods. If we do not believe in moral absolutes, we cannot be judged or restricted in our behavior and are free to do what we will -- "as long as we don't hurt anybody." (Although, then, who judges whether we hurt someone by our behavior?)

The Judeo-Christian belief system teaches that there is good and evil in the world, and that we have to choose each day which to follow. It teaches that even if no one is watching, an omniscient God is, and therefore is continually watching and, yes, judging our actions. The Judeo-Christian belief system teaches the concept of rewarding good and punishing evil.

I am convinced that the hard left cannot deal with moral absolutes because they are afraid such a system of belief would overly restrict their behavior. Liberals are so afraid of judgment that many of them are afraid to enforce the death penalty on even the most heinous serial killer. They are afraid of the subject of life after death involving heaven and hell because that too involves Divine judgment.

All this is really too bad, as the hard left misses out on the redeeming and saving power God has for all of us. While they might ridicule the Bible as "a book of myths and fables" -- a descriptor offered by Lynn Harper, television talk-show host and regular CNN guest -- it seems that the left is terrified of the transforming power the Bible has on people.


James L. Lambert, a frequent contributor to AgapePress, is the author of Porn in America (Huntington House), which can be purchased through the American Family Association.