Monday, May 12, 2008

War Without End: 2004

In the second part of Al Jazeera's year by year focus on the events and the policies that helped shape Iraq and the current chaos in the country, we look at 2004.

Mosaic News - 5/9/08: World News from the Middle East

US confession: Weapons were not made in Iran after all

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In a sharp reversal of its longstanding accusations against Iran arming militants in Iraq , the US military has made an unprecedented albeit quiet confession: the weapons they had recently found in Iraq were not made in Iran at all.

According to a report by the LA Times correspondent Tina Susman in Baghdad: “A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was canceled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran. A U.S. military spokesman attributed the confusion to a misunderstanding that emerged after an Iraqi Army general in Karbala erroneously reported the items were of Iranian origin. When U.S. explosives experts went to investigate, they discovered they were not Iranian after all.”

The US , which until two weeks ago had never provided any proof for its allegations, finally handed over its “evidence” of the Iranian origin of these weapons to the Iraqi government. Last week, an Iraqi delegation to Iran presented the US “evidence” to Iranian officials. According to Al-Abadi, a parliament member from the ruling United Iraqi Alliance who was on the delegation, the Iranian officials totally refuted “training, financing and arming” militant groups in Iraq . Consequently the Iraqi government announced that there is no hard evidence against Iran.

In another extraordinary event this week, the US spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, for the first time did not blame Iran for the violence in Iraq and in fact did not make any reference to Iran at all in his introductory remarks to the world media on Wednesday when he described the large arsenal of weapons found by Iraqi forces in Karbala.

In contrast, the Pentagon in August 2007 admitted that it had lost track of a third of the weapons distributed to the Iraqi security forces in 2004/2005. The 190,000 assault rifles and pistols roam free in Iraqi streets today.

In the past year, the US leaders have been relentless in propagating their charges of Iranian meddling and fomenting violence in Iraq and since the release of the key judgments of the US National Intelligence Estimate in December that Iran does not have a nuclear weaponisation programme, these accusations have sharply intensified.

The US charges of Iranian interference in Iraq too have now collapsed. Any threat of military strike against Iran is in violation of the UN charter and the IAEA’s continued supervision on Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities means there is no justification for sanctions.

CASMII calls on the US to change course and enter into comprehensive and unconditional negotiations with Iran.

For more information or to contact CASMII please visit

Four days that changed the Middle East

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By Rami G. Khouri

Events in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon continue to move erratically, with simultaneous gestures of political compromise and armed clashes that have left 46 dead in the past week. The consequences of what has happened in the past week may portend an extraordinary but constructive new development: the possible emergence of the first American-Iranian joint political governance system in the Arab world. Maybe.

If Lebanon shifts from street clashes to the hoped-for political compromise through a renewed national dialogue process, it will have a national unity government whose two factions receive arms, training, funds and political support from both the United States and Iran. Should this happen, an unspoken American-Iranian political condominium in Lebanon could prove to be key to power-sharing and stability in other parts of the region, such as Palestine, Iraq and other hot spots. This would also mark a huge defeat for the United States and its failed diplomatic approach that seeks to confront, battle and crush the Islamist-nationalists throughout the region.

The brief, isolated, but intense clashes that occurred in the four days between Wednesday and Sunday threatened a total, Iraq-like collapse of Lebanon, with the Hizbullah-led alliance controlling power in the capital Beirut and other critical areas. The frantic pace of political and street action comprised and clarified four noteworthy developments, whose implications for the rest of the Middle East could be momentous:

1. When the government decided to challenge Hizbullah on Tuesday by announcing it was sacking the Shiite army general in charge of airport security and dismantling Hizbullah's underground security telecommunications network, Hizbullah saw this as the first serious attempt by the government to try and disarm it. Hizbullah immediately challenged the government, warned it against these decisions, and made a show of force to protect its security and telecommunications system. When street clashes started in several parts of Beirut, the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hizbullah-led opposition alliance quickly and roundly asserted its dominance over the US- and Saudi-backed government alliance. Put to the test, the new balance of power in Lebanon affirmed itself on the street for the first time in less than 24 hours.

2. All the Lebanese parties repeatedly indicated a preference for political compromise over communal war, but also showed they were prepared to fight if forced to. The persistent negotiations via the mass media included critical agreements on naming the armed forces commander, General Michel Suleiman, as the new president, resuming the national dialogue, forming a government of national unity, and revising the electoral law before holding parliamentary elections next year. Negotiating offers came in sequence from Hizbullah secretary general and Shiite leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Future Movement head and Sunni leader Saad Hariri, Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and the Shiite Amal movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hizbullah ally.

3. The newly vulnerable government effectively backed down Saturday and reversed its two decisions, as Hizbullah had demanded. The street balance of power was translated into a new political equation inside Lebanon. Hizbullah and its allies had achieved on the street that which they had been asking for politically: the capacity to veto government decisions that were seen as threatening Hizbullah's security and resistance activities.

4. By immediately handing over to the armed forces those few buildings and strategic locations that they had taken over in Beirut, Hizbullah and its allies sent the signal that they did not want to rule the entire country, and that they trusted the army as a neutral arbiter between the warring Lebanese factions. Prime Minister Siniora sent the same message when he asked the armed forces and their commander, Suleiman, to decide on the fate of the two contested government security decisions that had sparked Hizbullah's move into West Beirut. The armed forces emerged as the powerful political arbiter and peace-keeper, effectively forming a fourth branch of government, and the only one that is credible and effective in the eyes of the entire population.

All factions have agreed to get their gunmen off the streets and leave only the army and police as public security guardians. Now they are expected to follow up quickly by formally naming Suleiman as president (to which they have all agreed already), agreeing on a transitional national unity government of technocrats, and drawing up a new election law. The precise sequence of those events is one of the disputed points that must be agreed, but agreement may be easier now that the army has emerged as a pivotal arbiter and political actor.

The new domestic political balance of power in Lebanon will reflect millennia-old indigenous Middle Eastern traditions of different and often quarreling parties that live together peacefully after negotiating power relationships, rather than one party totally defeating and humiliating the other. Lebanon can only exist as a single country if its multi-ethnic and multi-religious population shares power. As the political leaders now seek to do this, they operate in a new context where the strongest group comprises Iranian- and Syrian-backed Islamist Shiites and their junior partners, Christian and Sunni Lebanese allies. They will share power in a national unity government with fellow Lebanese who are friends, allies, dependents and proxies of the United States and Saudi Arabia.

If a new Middle East truly is being born, this may well prove to be its nursery.

Hamas condemns the Holocaust

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By Bassem Naeem

As the Palestinian people prepare to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nakba ("catastrophe") - the dispossession and expulsion of most of our people from our land - those remaining in Palestine face escalating aggression, killings, imprisonment, ethnic cleansing and siege. But instead of support and solidarity from the western media, we face frequent attempts to defend the indefensible or turn fire on the Palestinians themselves.

One recent approach, which seems to be part of the wider attempt to isolate the elected Palestinian leadership, is to portray Hamas and the population of the Gaza strip as motivated by anti-Jewish sentiment, rather than a hostility to Zionist occupation and domination of our land. A recent front page article in the International Herald Tribune followed this line, as did an article for Cif about an item broadcast on the al-Aqsa satellite TV channnel about the Nazi Holocaust.

In fact, the al-Aqsa Channel is an independent media institution that often does not express the views of the Palestinian government headed by Ismail Haniyeh or of the Hamas movement. The channel regularly gives Palestinians of different convictions the chance to express views that are not shared by the Palestinian government or the Hamas movement. In the case of the opinion expressed on al-Aqsa TV by Amin Dabbur, it is his alone and he is solely responsible for it.

It is rather surprising to us that so little attention, if any, is given by the western media to what is regularly broadcast or written in the Israeli media by politicians and writers demanding the total uprooting or "transfer" of the Palestinian people from their land.

The Israeli media and pro-Israel western press are full of views that deny or seek to excuse well-established facts of history including the Nakba of 1948 and the massacres perpetrated then by the Haganah, the Irgun and LEHI with the objective of forcing a mass dispossession of the Palestinians.

But it should be made clear that neither Hamas nor the Palestinian government in Gaza denies the Nazi Holocaust. The Holocaust was not only a crime against humanity but one of the most abhorrent crimes in modern history. We condemn it as we condemn every abuse of humanity and all forms of discrimination on the basis of religion, race, gender or nationality.

And at the same time as we unreservedly condemn the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews of Europe, we categorically reject the exploitation of the Holocaust by the Zionists to justify their crimes and harness international acceptance of the campaign of ethnic cleansing and subjection they have been waging against us - to the point where in February the Israeli deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai threatened the people of Gaza with a "holocaust".

Within 24 hours, 61 Palestinians - more than half of them civilians and a quarter children - were killed in a series of air raids. Meanwhile, a horrible crime against humanity continues to be perpetrated against the people of Gaza: the two-year-old siege imposed after Hamas won the legislative elections in January 2006, which is causing great suffering. Due to severe shortages of medicines and food, scores of Palestinians have lost their lives.

It cannot be right that Europeans in general and the British in particular maintain a virtual silence toward what the Zionists are doing to the Palestinians, let alone supporting or justifying their oppressive policies, under the pretext of showing sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust.

The Palestinian people aspire to freedom, independence and peaceful coexistence with all their neighbours. There are, today, more than six million Palestinian refugees. No less than 700,000 Palestinians have been detained at least once by the Israeli occupation authorities since 1967. Hundreds of thousands have so far been killed or wounded. Little concern seems to be caused by all of this or by the erection of an apartheid wall that swallows more than 20% of the West Bank land or the heavily armed colonies that devour Palestinian land in a blatant violation of international law.

The plight of our people is not the product of a religious conflict between us and the Jews in Palestine or anywhere else: the aims and positions of today’s Hamas have been repeatedly spelled out by its leadership, for example in Hamas’s 2006 programme for government. The conflict is of a purely political nature: it is between a people who have come under occupation and an oppressive occupying power.

Our right to resistance against occupation is recognised by all conventions and religious traditions. The Jews are for us the people of a sacred book who suffered persecution in European lands. Whenever they sought refuge, Muslim and Arab lands provided them with safe havens. It was in our midst that they enjoyed peace and prosperity; many of them held leading positions in Muslim countries.

After almost a century of Zionist colonial and racist oppression, some Palestinians find it hard to imagine that some of their oppressors are the sons and daughters of those who were themselves oppressed and massacred.

Palestinians had nothing to do with the Holocaust but find themselves punished for someone else’s crime. But we are well aware and warmly welcome the outspoken support for Palestinian rights by Israeli and Jewish human rights activists in Palestine and around the world.

We hope that journalists in the west will begin to adopt a more objective approach when covering events in Palestine. The Palestinian people are being killed by Israel’s machine of destruction on a daily basis. Nevertheless, we still see a clear bias in favour of Israel in the western media.

The Europeans bear a direct responsibility for what is befalling the Palestinians today. Britain was the mandate authority that handed over Palestine to Israeli occupation. Nazi Germany perpetrated the most heinous crimes against Jews, forcing the survivors to migrate to Palestine in pursuit of safety. We, therefore, expect the Europeans to atone for their historic crimes by restoring some balance to the inhuman and one-sided international response to the tragedy of our people.

Forget the two-state solution

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By Saree Makdisi

Israelis and Palestinians must share the land. Equally.

There is no longer a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Forget the endless arguments about who offered what and who spurned whom and whether the Oslo peace process died when Yasser Arafat walked away from the bargaining table or whether it was Ariel Sharon's stroll through the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem that did it in.

All that matters are the facts on the ground, of which the most important is that -- after four decades of intensive Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories it occupied during the 1967 war -- Israel has irreversibly cemented its grip on the land on which a Palestinian state might have been created.

Sixty years after Israel was created and Palestine was destroyed, then, we are back to where we started: Two populations inhabiting one piece of land. And if the land cannot be divided, it must be shared. Equally.

This is a position, I realize, which may take many Americans by surprise. After years of pursuing a two-state solution, and feeling perhaps that the conflict had nearly been solved, it's hard to give up the idea as unworkable.

But unworkable it is. A report published last summer by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found that almost 40% of the West Bank is now taken up by Israeli infrastructure -- roads, settlements, military bases and so on -- largely off-limits to Palestinians. Israel has methodically broken the remainder of the territory into dozens of enclaves separated from each other and the outside world by zones that it alone controls (including, at last count, 612 checkpoints and roadblocks).

Moreover, according to the report, the Jewish settler population in the occupied territories, already approaching half a million, not only continues to grow but is growing at a rate three times greater than the rate of Israel's population increase. If the current rate continues, the settler population will double to almost 1 million people in just 12 years. Many are heavily armed and ideologically driven, unlikely to walk away voluntarily from the land they have declared to be their God-given home.

These facts alone render the status of the peace process academic.

At no time since the negotiations began in the early 1990s has Israel significantly suspended the settlement process in the occupied Palestinian territories, in stark violation of international law. It preceded last November's Annapolis summit by announcing the fresh expropriation of Palestinian property in the West Bank; it followed the summit by announcing the expansion of its Har Homa settlement by an additional 307 housing units; and it has announced plans for hundreds more in other settlements since then.

The Israelis are not settling the occupied territories because they lack space in Israel itself. They are settling the land because of a long-standing belief that Jews are entitled to it simply by virtue of being Jewish. "The land of Israel belongs to the nation of Israel and only to the nation of Israel," declares Moledet, one of the parties in the National Union bloc, which has a significant presence in the Israeli parliament.

Moledet's position is not as far removed from that of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as some Israelis claim. Although Olmert says he believes in theory that Israel should give up those parts of the West Bank and Gaza densely inhabited by Palestinians, he also said in 2006 that "every hill in Samaria and every valley in Judea is part of our historic homeland" and that "we firmly stand by the historic right of the people of Israel to the entire land of Israel."

Judea and Samaria: These ancient biblical terms are still used by Israeli officials to refer to the West Bank. More than 10 years after the initiation of the Oslo peace process, which was supposed to lead to a two-state solution, maps in Israeli textbooks continued to show not the West Bank but Judea and Samaria -- and not as occupied territories but as integral parts of Israel.

What room is there for the Palestinians in this vision of Jewish entitlement to the land? None. They are regarded, at best, as a demographic "problem."

The idea of Palestinians as a "problem" is hardly new. Israel was created as a Jewish state in 1948 only by the premeditated and forcible removal of as much of the indigenous Palestinian population as possible, in what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, which they commemorate this week.

A Jewish state, says Israeli historian Benny Morris, "would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. ... There was no choice but to expel that population." For Morris, this was one of those "circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing."

Thinking of Palestinians as a "problem" to be removed predates 1948. It was there from the moment the Zionist movement set into motion the project to make a Jewish state in a land that, in 1917 -- when the British empire officially endorsed Zionism -- had an overwhelmingly non-Jewish population. The only Jewish member of the British government at the time, Edwin Montagu, vehemently opposed the Zionist project as unjust. Henry King and Charles Crane, dispatched on a fact-finding mission to Palestine by President Wilson, concurred: Such a project would require enormous violence, they warned: "Decisions, requiring armies to carry out, are sometimes necessary, but they are surely not gratuitously to be taken in the interests of a serious injustice."

But they were. This is a conflict driven from its origins by Zionism's exclusive sense of entitlement to the land. Has there been Palestinian violence as well? Yes. Is it always justified? No. But what would you do if someone told you that there was no room for you on your own land, that your very existence is a "problem"? No people in history has ever gone away just because another people wanted them to, and the sentiments of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull live on among Palestinians to this day.

The violence will end, and a just peace will come, only when each side realizes that the other is there to stay. Many Palestinians have accepted this premise, and an increasing number are willing to give up on the idea of an independent Palestinian state and embrace instead the concept of a single democratic, secular and multicultural state, which they would share equally with Israeli Jews.

Most Israelis are not yet reconciled this position. Some, no doubt, are reluctant to give up on the idea of a "Jewish state," to acknowledge the reality that Israel has never been exclusively Jewish, and that, from the start, the idea of privileging members of one group over all other citizens has been fundamentally undemocratic and unfair.

Yet that is exactly what Israel does. Even among its citizens, Israeli law grants rights to Jews that it denies to non-Jews. By no stretch of the imagination is Israel a genuine democracy: It is an ethno-religiously exclusive state that has tried to defy the multicultural history of the land on which it was founded.

To resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, Israeli Jews will have to relinquish their exclusive privileges and acknowledge the right of return of Palestinians expelled from their homes. What they would get in return is the ability to live securely and to prosper with -- rather than continuing to battle against -- the Palestinians.

They may not have a choice. As Olmert himself warned recently, more Palestinians are shifting their struggle from one for an independent state to a South African-style struggle that demands equal rights for all citizens, irrespective of religion, in a single state. "That is, of course," he noted, "a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle -- and ultimately a much more powerful one."

I couldn't agree more.

Saree Makdisi is a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA and the author of "Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation," out this month from W.W. Norton.

One in Three Military Women Experience Sexual Abuse

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By Nancy Van Ness

I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know just how bad. Colonel Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army, grabbed the audience’s attention at a panel called Women in the Military, hosted last month by Women Center Stage in New York City, when she said that one in three women in the military is sexually abused by her male colleagues. Ann wants to see huge signs displaying this statistic in every recruiting office, to let young women know what to expect if they sign up.

After 26 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves, Ann went on to serve in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps for fifteen years, receiving the State Department’s Award for Heroism in 1997. She helped open the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in January 2002 and then was Deputy Chief of Mission in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. But in 2003 she resigned from the Diplomatic Corps, saying, "I have served my country for almost thirty years in the some of the most isolated and dangerous parts of the world. However, I do not believe in the policies of this Administration," referring to the invasion of Iraq. Since then, she has advocated tirelessly for peace.

She described first hand accounts from witnesses and seeing photographs that document an atrocious rape that ended in the murder of a female US soldier in Iraq, which the military had reported as a suicide. She pointed out that even in the handful of cases resulting in court martial and conviction, few perpetrators have served any prison time.

Two other young veterans, Kelly Dougherty and Jen Hogg, described life in the military for women today.

Sgt. Kelly Dougherty, now Executive Director of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and former chair of its Board of Directors, told of a veteran who calmly described killing an Iraqi while she breast-fed her baby. To Kelly, this was just one example of the incredible disconnect veterans live with and of the brutalization that everyone in the armed forces is subjected to. She noted, however, that this is new for women, since for the first time in US history so many women are participating in combat situations.

Sgt. Jennifer Hogg of IVAW and Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) explained that women are automatically excluded from the infantry because they are considered unfit to do on-the-ground fighting. Jennifer granted that while some but not all women aren’t suitable for infantry service, some men aren’t capable either. She declared that categorically excluding women from the infantry is not only arbitrary but another of the many visible ways that women in the military are regarded as second-class citizens, ripe for abuse.

It’s not just a matter of promotions. Women are given only the basic training that everyone receives; they do not get advanced infantry training. However in the everyday reality of the Iraq occupation, women are routinely thrust into situations that require infantry skills. They then find themselves in combat situations for which they are not prepared.

However, the greatest danger that military women in Iraq and Afghanistan face is from their male peers and officers. More women there are the victims of sexual assault than of injuries from hazardous military duties. Reuters reported as far back as 1995, "Ninety percent of women under 50 who have served in the US military and who responded to a survey report being victims of sexual harassment, and nearly one-third of the respondents of all ages say they have been raped."

Blatant sexism and misogyny are at the root of this high rate of violence against these women who just want to defend their country.

Some military training actually encourages violence thus adding greatly to the inherent violence of war. Jennifer described training while "jodies" were ringing in her ears - the cadences that sing about a soldier’s trashy girlfriend having sex with a civilian who is not as good a man as he. She first heard these chants while serving as a mechanic in the New York Army National Guard from 2000-2005. The "jodies" were crafted to engender men’s rage: at women, at non-military men and at "the other."

According to Jennifer, some men join the army for honor but also to belong to a group that permits them to express their aggression. She questions whether such motivations are any different than those of the young men who join gangs. So, she asked, why would we be surprised when these super-aggressive men behave brutally toward Iraqi civilians or towards women?

She says most of their male counterparts view women in the military as either "dykes," "whores," or "bitches." These women must cope with these grotesque distortions on a daily basis.

Kelly, who served as a medic and in a military police unit, says that misogyny is rampant and seldom countered from above. She described how bitter that is when a woman knows that the first duty of an officer is to care for those in her or his command. She is convinced that officers’ failure to protect the women serving under them has contributed fundamentally to the serious breakdown of good military operations in Iraq. Betrayal by one’s own chain of command is devastating to women, and ultimately, everyone suffers.

Kelly and Jennifer both also noted the lack of female solidarity, declaring that women simply cannot bond in that culture. (I had to remind myself that the men in this culture cannot bond with their peers to resist certain kinds of abuses either.) In August of 2006 at Camp Casey I heard such first hand accounts from returning male veterans. One watched a peer shooting Iraqi children from their vehicle, much as some boys will shoot animals. Though horrified, he says that in this environment, he was neither able to stop that marine nor could he come to the defense of a comrade who tried to stop him.

So it is not surprising that in this environment, women seldom come to one another’s defense. Women who report abuse are often punished instead of helped, creating even greater fear among their peers.

Neither Jennifer nor Kelly thinks that having more women officers at higher ranks would change anything. They say the "divide to conquer" system, which begins by conquering U.S. recruits’ moral values, permeates the military.

Jennifer brought up another issue; as a lesbian, she knew discrimination had started when the "don’t ask, don’t tell" provisions were read to her before she signed up.

Already in the Army National Guard, she was activated for duty on September 11th. Surrounded by soldiers hugging and kissing loved ones before being deployed, Jennifer’s partner was unable to support her in the same way. By then, having already been exposed to the "jodies," Jennifer became increasingly aware of the system’s brutality and the many injustices it perpetrates.

In every area women are not treated as equals, not respected. "The shoes for women are of poorer quality and women’s uniforms fit tightly to emphasize her body," Jennifer told us.

Since mechanics and welders are deployed as infantry, from which women are excluded, Jennifer was not deployed as a mechanic even though she was qualified. She ultimately left the service, unable to reconcile her conscience with the treatment of minorities, the injustices, and the invasion. She now works in the GI peace movement.

Like many young people from blue-collar communities, Jennifer turned to the military for opportunities. She trained as a mechanic, a field that few women enter or consider a likely occupation for such a small, beautiful young woman.

Ann pointed out that many recruits join for the education they can get. "Almost no one joins the military because they want to kill people," she commented. Both Kelly, who went to college, and Jennifer, who learned a trade, received their educations as a result of military service.

Traditionally, the U.S. military has been good to its veterans, providing not only education but health care and good retirement. However my friends at Camp Casey decried the "economic draft" that exists today: working class young people with little future sign up disproportionately.

Ann suggests that if there were another kind of national service, many of these young people would never enlist. If the United States offered free post secondary education to qualified persons like other developed nations do, the number of young people who enlist would be greatly reduced.

All three women are proud of their military service. Though appalled at the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, they still feel very connected to the military. Kelly expressed sadness and disappointment that people who see her wearing her military jacket remark that is must belong to her boyfriend or husband. She served at great risk to her own life in Hungary, Croatia and Iraq and is now using her skills to stop the abuse of her service by the very people who should respect its integrity.

I would not have understood the pride these women feel about their service before I went to Camp Casey.

As my friend, Patrice Schexnayder of Texas Impact, an interfaith group working for justice, said: "The military at its best is not about weapons that destroy buildings and the life within, photographed by satellite or spy plane, and totally bloodless, all in the name of aggression. It is about staying awake and on guard, while others sleep."

Kelly and Jennifer were key organizers of the Winter Soldier event in March. Their skillful negotiation made the session on gender in the military possible in spite of initial resistance by some of their male colleagues. They spoke of it as a beginning, an opening of the door. I think it is a major victory.

The three women veterans of this panel are true Warriors, horrified at the way the U.S. uses their service in Iraq and Afghanistan, but nonetheless willing to serve to protect us.

It was a privilege to hear these women tell their stories.

Ex-State Officials Allege Corruption Cover-Up

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By Anne Flaherty

The Bush administration repeatedly ignored corruption at the highest levels within the Iraqi government and kept secret potentially embarrassing information so as not to undermine its relationship with Baghdad, according to two former State Department employees.

Arthur Brennan, who briefly served in Baghdad as head of the department's Office of Accountability and Transparency last year, and James Mattil, who worked as the chief of staff, told Senate Democrats on Monday that their office was understaffed and its warnings and recommendations ignored.

Brennan also alleges the State Department prevented a congressional staffer visiting Baghdad from talking with staffers by insisting they were too busy. In reality, Brennan said, the staffers were watching movies at the embassy and on their computers. The staffers' workload had been cut dramatically because of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's "evisceration" of Iraq's top anti-corruption office, he said.

The State Department's policies "not only contradicted the anti-corruption mission but indirectly contributed to and has allowed corruption to fester at the highest levels of the Iraqi government," Brennan told the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

The U.S. embassy "effort against corruption - including its new centerpiece, the now-defunct Office of Accountability and Transparency - was little more than 'window dressing,'" he added.

The Office of Accountability and Transparency, or "OAT" team, was intended to provide assistance and training to Iraq's anti-corruption agencies. It was dismantled last December, after it alleged in a draft report leaked to the media that al-Maliki's office had derailed or prevented investigations into Shiite-controlled agencies.

The draft report sparked hearings in Congress and prompted a showdown between Democrats and senior State Department officials on whether the public has a right to know the extent to which al-Maliki was involved in corruption cases.

Brennan charges the State Department never responded to his team's report, which was retroactively classified because agency officials said it could hurt bilateral relations with Iraq. Other recommendations by the group also were kept secret, including a negative assessment of Iraq's Joint Anti-Corruption Committee, Brennan said.

In July 2007, the OAT team concluded that the committee's only purpose was to provide a forum for complaints against Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, a top anti-corruption official in Baghdad whom many U.S. officials have hailed as the most effective in exposing fraud and abuse.

But information later released by the embassy ignored the team's assessment and ultimately "failed to even mention what a disaster" the committee "really was," Brennan said.

Brennan said he approved the embassy report against his better judgment but later regretted it.

Mattil, who worked with Brennan, made similar allegations. Specifically, he said the U.S. "remained silent in the face of an unrelenting campaign" by senior Iraqi officials to subvert Baghdad's Commission on Public Integrity, which had been led by al-Radhi. Then, the U.S. turned its back on Iraqis who fled to the United States after being threatened for pursuing anti-corruption cases, he said.

"Since we have done so little (to undercut corruption), it's easy to see why the government of Iraq has not done more," said Mattil, who left the accountability office last October after having served for a year as its chief of staff. "We have demanded no better."

Brennan was appointed as OAT director last summer and arrived in Baghdad in July. He left only a few weeks later after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. He stepped down from his position in August.

The State Department did not immediately provide comment. Iraqi government officials could not be reached.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, head of the Democratic Policy Committee, said the latest testimony is disheartening in light of al-Radhi's previous estimate that corruption had cost Iraq - and U.S. taxpayers - some $18 billion.

"One would have expected that our own government would have been doing everything it could to support" Iraq's anti-corruption efforts, said Dorgan, D-N.D.

But "that was simply not the case. On the contrary, our own government contributed to the culture of corruption," he added.

Fierce Fighting Breaks Out East of Beirut

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By Nada Bakri

Beirut - Fierce clashes broke out on Sunday in the mountains east of Beirut between supporters of the Western-backed government and followers of Hezbollah, the militant group backed by Iran.

The fighting, in the Shouf and Aley districts in the mountains overlooking the capital, Beirut, followed overnight clashes in the northern city of Tripoli that left at least two people dead and five wounded, according to security officials.

Beirut, where there had been heavy fighting between Sunnis and Shiites since Wednesday, was calm on Sunday. Hezbollah and its allies began withdrawing their gunmen from the capital on Saturday evening, raising hopes for a truce after four days of street battles there.

But with the underlying political crisis still unresolved, the worst violence since Lebanon's 15-year civil war ended in 1990 seems to have shifted to the eastern villages.

Security officials put the toll of five days of fighting at 44 dead and 128 wounded.

Hezbollah's military dominance, and its continuing blockade of the main road to Beirut's airport, have raised pressure on the governing coalition to accept a resolution of Lebanon's 17-month political crisis on terms favorable to Hezbollah and its allies in the opposition.

Supporters of the Druse leader, Walid Jumblatt, who is allied with the government, and Hezbollah gunmen and their Druse allies exchanged machine gun fire and rockets in several villages, a day after Hezbollah accused Mr. Jumblatt's followers of killing two of its members and kidnapping a third. There was no word on casualties.

Several hours after the clashes erupted, Mr. Jumblatt urged Talal Arslan, a rival Druse leader allied with Hezbollah, to mediate an end to the mountain clashes and allow the safe deployment of the Lebanese Army in villages where there was heavy fighting.

Mr. Arslan agreed to a cease-fire, but sporadic fighting continued on Sunday night.

"I tell my supporters that civil peace, coexistence and stopping war and destruction are more important than any other consideration," Mr. Jumblatt said in a brief television interview.

In Beirut, Lebanese Army troops patrolled the streets, setting up roadblocks and taking positions after Hezbollah fighters pulled back from areas they had seized on Friday.

However, many streets in western Beirut, including the one leading to the airport, remained blocked by opposition supporters.

Hezbollah had agreed Saturday evening to withdraw its militants from the streets after the government said it would reconsider a decision it made last week to challenge the group's private telephone network.

The government and the Hezbollah-led opposition have been locked in a stalemate that has prevented the election of a president, leaving the country without one since November.

Hezbollah vowed to continue what it called a civil disobedience campaign, continuing to block the airport road, until the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora officially rescinded the decision on the telephone network and a solution to the political crisis was reached through dialogue.

A government spokesperson said Sunday that the cabinet would meet in the next two days to discuss an end to the crisis.

At noon, Mr. Siniora and some of his ministers and staff members held a moment of silence at the government building in honor of those killed in the fighting.

After an emergency meeting in Cairo called by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Arab foreign ministers issued a statement urging an immediate cease-fire. They also condemned Hezbollah's use of weapons against the Lebanese and said they would send a delegation to Beirut on Monday, led by Qatar, to try to end the violence.

Walid al-Moallem, the foreign minister of Syria, which backs Hezbollah, did not attend the meeting.

Domestic Spying Far Outpaces Terrorism Prosecutions

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By Richard B. Schmitt

As more Americans are watched, fewer cases are made. The trend concerns civil liberties groups as well as some lawmakers and legal experts.

Washington - The number of Americans being secretly wiretapped or having their financial and other records reviewed by the government has continued to increase as officials aggressively use powers approved after the Sept. 11 attacks. But the number of terrorism prosecutions ending up in court - one measure of the effectiveness of such sleuthing - has continued to decline, in some cases precipitously.

The trends, visible in new government data and a private analysis of Justice Department records, are worrisome to civil liberties groups and some legal scholars. They say it is further evidence that the government has compromised the privacy rights of ordinary citizens without much to show for it.

The emphasis on spy programs also is starting to give pause to some members of Congress who fear the government is investing too much in anti-terrorism programs at the expense of traditional crime-fighting. Other lawmakers are raising questions about how well the FBI is performing its counter-terrorism mission.

The Senate Intelligence Committee last week concluded that the bureau was far behind in making internal changes to keep the nation safe from terrorist threats. Lawmakers urged that the FBI set specific benchmarks to measure its progress and make more regular reports to Congress.

These concerns come as the Bush administration has been seeking to expand its ability to gather intelligence without prior court approval. It has asked Congress for amendments to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to make it clear that eavesdropping on foreign telecommunications signals routed through the U.S. does not require a warrant.

Law enforcement officials say the additional surveillance powers have been critically important in ways the public does not always see. Threats can be mitigated, they say, by deporting suspicious people or letting them know that authorities are watching them.

"The fact that the prosecutions are down doesn’t mean that the utility of these investigations is down. It suggests that these investigations may be leading to other forms of prevention and protection," said Thomas Newcomb, a former Bush White House national security aide. He said there were half a dozen actions outside of the criminal courts that the government could take to snuff out potential threats, including using diplomatic or military channels.

Although legal experts say they would not necessarily expect the number of prosecutions to rise along with the stepped-up surveillance, there are few other good ways to measure how well the government is progressing in keeping the country safe.

"How does one measure the success? The short answer is we aren’t in a great position to know," said Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor. With prosecutions declining, he said, the public is left with imperfect and possibly misleading ways to gauge progress in the Bush administration’s war on terrorism - such as the number of secret warrants the government issues or the number of agents it assigns to terrorism cases.

"These are the only tracks in the snow left by terrorism investigations, if there are no more counter-terrorism prosecutions," Richman said. "This is why, more than ever, there is a pressing need for congressional oversight, for accountability at the top of the [Justice] department, and for public confidence in the department."

Changing Numbers

A recent study showed that the number of terrorism and national security cases initiated by the Justice Department in 2007 was more than 50% below 2002 levels. The nonprofit Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which obtained the data under the Freedom of Information Act, found that the number of cases brought declined 19% in the last year alone, dropping to 505 in 2007 from 624 in 2006.

By contrast, the Justice Department reported last month that the nation’s spy court had granted 2,370 warrant requests by the department to search or eavesdrop on suspected terrorists and spies in the U.S. last year - 9% more than in 2006. The number of such warrants approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has more than doubled since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The department also reported a sharp rise in the use of national security letters by the FBI - from 9,254 in 2005 to 12,583 in 2006, the latest data available. The letters seek customer information from banks, Internet providers and phone companies. They have caused a stir because consumers do not have a right to know that their information is being disclosed and the letters are issued without court oversight.

The inspector general of the Justice Department has found numerous cases in which FBI agents failed to comply with rules and guidelines in issuing the letters, often gaining access to information they were not entitled to. The FBI has responded by taking a number of measures to tighten its internal procedures.

Civil liberties groups say the new data reveal a disturbing consequence of the government’s post-Sept. 11 expanded surveillance capabilities.

"The number of Americans being investigated dwarfs any legitimate number of actual terrorism prosecutions, and that is extremely troubling - for both the security and privacy of innocent Americans as well as for the squandering of resources on people who have not and never will be charged with any wrongdoing," said Lisa Graves, deputy director of the Center for National Security Studies, a Washington-based civil liberties group.

A Mixed Record

But Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said statistics on court-approved FISA applications and statistics on criminal prosecution were "apples and oranges."

"There are a variety of factors that may account for the increase in court-approved FISA applications since 9/11," he said. Boyd said he could not comment on those factors, but said, "It is important to remember that surveillance under FISA is authorized by an independent court and used carefully and judiciously to protect the country from national security threats."

Certainly, the government has pursued a number of high-profile terrorism cases of late. A U.S. sailor was convicted in March of providing support to terrorists by passing classified information regarding movements of a Navy battle group to operators of an Internet site suspected of terrorist leanings.

The record in court has been somewhat mixed, however. Federal prosecutors in Miami twice have failed to secure verdicts in the cases of six men accused of plotting to destroy Chicago’s Sears Tower and several FBI offices. After two mistrials, the "Liberty City Seven" case is due in court in January.

Even some former government officials concede many intelligence investigations fail to yield evidence of a serious threat to the U.S. "Most of these threats ultimately turn out to be wrong, or maybe just the investigating makes them go away," said Washington lawyer Michael Woods, former head of the FBI national security law unit. "A lot more information is going to pass through government hands, and most of that is going to be about people who turn out to be innocent or irrelevant."

Number of Disabled Vets Up With Iraq, Afghan Wars

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By Jennifer C. Kerr

Washington - Increasing numbers of U.S. troops have left the military with damaged bodies and minds, an ever-larger pool of disabled veterans that will cost the nation billions for decades to come - even as the total population of America's vets has begun to shrink.

Despite the decline in total vets - as soldiers from World War II and Korea die - the government expects to be spending $59 billion a year to compensate injured warriors in 25 years, up from today's $29 billion, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press. And the Veterans Affairs Department concedes the bill could be much higher.


Worse wounds. More disabilities. More vets aware of the benefits and quicker to file for them.

Also, ironically, advanced medical care. Troops come home with devastating injuries that might well have killed them in earlier wars.

Time is also a factor when it comes to disability compensation costs. Payments tend to go up as veterans age, and an increasing number of soldiers from the Vietnam War will be getting bigger payments as they get older and are less able to work around their disabilities.

The number of disabled veterans has jumped by 25 percent since 2001 - to 2.9 million - and the cause really is no mystery.

"This is a cost of war," says Steve Smithson, a deputy director at the American Legion. "We're still producing veterans. We've been in a war in Iraq for five years now, and the war on terror since 9/11."

VA and Census Bureau figures show the previous six-year period, before hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, saw a more modest increase of 4 percent in the number of disabled vets. Veterans can make claims for disability benefits long after their military service has ended.

Today's veterans - disabled or not - number nearly 24 million. That population is projected by the VA to fall under 15 million by 2033, mostly because of dying World War II and Korean War vets. But costs are expected to rise.

Inflation accounts for a big chunk of the increase. But even when the VA factors out inflation, the compensation for disabled veterans would still grow from $29 billion to $33 billion in today's dollars - a more than 10 percent increase. And the department acknowledges the estimate could rise by 30 percent.

VA officials were not eager to talk about reasons for the increases. They declined several requests for interviews. In a written response to a handful of questions, the agency noted a few factors at play in the rising costs, such as the aging veterans population, an increase in the number of disabilities claimed and the severity of injuries sustained.

Outside experts provided more insight.

The American Legion's Smithson says the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are resulting in more severe injuries - amputations and traumatic burns - the kind of injuries that troops in Vietnam and earlier wars would not have survived.

Smithson says today's veterans also are filing claims for more disabilities.

"People are more aware of the benefits they are able to file for (because of) better outreach," Smithson said. "It's not like the WWII generation and Korean war generation where they weren't aware of what they could file for, and they were also reluctant to file if they didn't think they needed it."

Iraq veteran Christopher Bain filed for about 10 disabilities after his tour in 2004. Bain came under mortar fire outside Baghdad and was hit several times. He successfully fought doctors who wanted to amputate his left arm. But 10 operations later, he still needs help getting dressed each day. An electrical stimulator implanted in his upper buttocks helps dull the pain from his injuries.

"It's hard, you go through certain periods of remorse," said Bain. "I am never going to be the man I once was."

Bain suffers from tinnitus, post-traumatic stress disorder and serious injuries to his arms. He receives a check each month for $2,618 that helps the former Army staff sergeant pay the mortgage, food and clothing costs for his family of five in Williamsport, Pa.

Bain is one of about 755,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Of that group, the VA says more than 181,000 are collecting disability benefits.

Another factor driving up costs and the overall number of disabled veterans is Vietnam. Veterans from that era make up the biggest group of vets today receiving disability compensation. At the end of 2006, more than 947,000 Vietnam vets were getting monthly checks.

"You see an awful lot of Vietnam veterans over the course of the years have gone from a 30 percent to 40 percent disability rating up to 100 percent when their employment years start to wane a little bit," said David Gorman, a Vietnam War veteran who is executive director at the Washington headquarters of Disabled American Veterans.

Conditions, such as a bad back or knee, can worsen with age and draw higher payments. A big concern for Vietnam vets is diabetes. Last year, more than 271,000 veterans were receiving disability benefits for diabetes. Most of the disabilities - 236,000 of them - were linked to Agent Orange exposure.

Veterans who are approved for disability receive monthly checks for injuries or illnesses sustained or aggravated while on active duty. Ratings are scaled from 0 to 100 percent in 10 percent increments. A rating of 10 percent, for example, is given to tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, which is increasingly common for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan because of roadside bombings. Ratings for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury can range from 0-to-100 percent, and 10-to-100 percent, respectively.

Former Army Sgt. Michelle Saunders was rated at 70 percent by the VA after being shot at during a 2004 convoy mission in Iraq. The bullet was caught in her flak jacket, but she sustained painful injuries, including two ruptured disks in her lower back and nerve damage to her right leg.

"It's turned me from a really alive, pretty happy person into somebody who is numb. I don't know how to feel anymore," she said.

Saunders gets a disability check each month from the VA for just under $800.

Annual benefits run from $1,404 for a veteran rated at 10 percent to about $30,324 for those at 100 percent. Severe disabilities, such as the loss of a limb, draw additional compensation.

Iraq: Will We Ever Get Out?

Go to Original
By Thomas Powers

The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict
By Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes
Norton, 311 pp., $22.95

Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy
By Andrew Cockburn
Scribner, 247 pp., $25.00

Still Broken: A Recruit’s Inside Account of Intelligence Failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon
By A.J. Rossmiller
Ballantine, 236 pp., $25.00

The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost
By the Russian General Staff, translated from the Russian and edited by Lester W. Grau and Michael A. Gress
University Press of Kansas,364 pp., $17.95 (paper)

The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan
Translated from the Russian and edited by Lester W. Grau
National Defense University Press, 223 pp., $35.00 (paper)

The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War
By Ali Ahmad Jalali and Lester W. Grau
US Marine Corps Studies, 419 pp. (1995)

The Fateful Pebble: Afghanistan’s Role in the Fall of the Soviet Empire
By Anthony Arnold
Presidio, 225 pp. (1993)

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
By Steve Coll
Penguin, 712 pp., $16.00 (paper)

The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran
By Yossi Melman and Meir Javedanfar
Carroll and Graf, 285 pp., $16.95 (paper)

The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America
By Kenneth M. Pollack
Random House, 539 pp., $15.95 (paper)


There is a working assumption among the American people that a new president enters the White House free of responsibility for the errors of the past, free to set a new course in any program or policy, and therefore free - at the very least in constitutional theory, and perhaps even really and truly free - to call off a war begun by a predecessor. No one would expect something so dramatic on the first day of a new administration but it remains a fact that the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces, and the power that allowed one president to invade Iraq would allow another to bring the troops home.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the current presidential campaign have promised to do just that - not precipitously, not recklessly, not without care to give the shaky government in Baghdad time and the wherewithal to pick up the slack. But Obama and Clinton have both promised that the course would be changed on the first day; ending the American involvement in the Iraqi fighting would be the new goal, troop numbers would be down significantly by the middle of the first year, and within a reasonable time (not long) the residual American force would be so diminished in size that any fair observer might say the war was over, for the Americans at least, and the troops had been brought home.

The presumptive Republican candidate, John McCain, has pledged to do exactly the opposite - to "win" the war, whatever that means, and whatever that takes. Politicians often differ by shades of nuance. Not this time. The contrast of McCain and his opponents on this question is stark, and if they can be taken at their word, Americans must expect either continuing war for an indefinite period with McCain or the anxieties and open questions of turning the war over to the Iraqi government for better or worse with Obama or Clinton. Which is it going to be?

It is not just lives, theories about national security, and American pride that are at stake. Money is also involved. The two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have already cost about $700 billion, and the economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimate that costs such as continuing medical care will add another $2 trillion even if the Iraq war ends now. But the true cost of the Iraq war ought to include something else as well - some fraction of the rise in the price of oil which we might call the Iraq war oil surcharge. If we blame the war for only $10 of the $80-$90 rise in the price of a barrel of oil since 2003, that would still come to $200 million a day.

At some point the government will have to begin paying for these wars - if it can. What looks increasingly like a serious recession, complicated by an expensive federal bailout of financial institutions, may combine to convince even John McCain that the time has come to declare a victory and head for home. It’s possible. But the United States did not acquire a $9 trillion national debt by caution with money. A decision to back out of the war is going to require something else - resolve backed by a combination of arguments that withdrawal won’t be a victory for al-Qaeda or Iran, that it isn’t prompted by fear, that it doesn’t represent defeat, that it’s going to make us stronger, that it’s going to win the applause of the world, that the people left behind have been helped, and that whatever mess remains is somebody else’s fault and responsibility.

Missing from this list is victory - the one thing that could make withdrawal automatic and easy. Its absence makes the decision an easy one for McCain - no victory, no withdrawal. But everybody else needs to think this matter through the hard way, trying to understand the real consequences of easing away from a bloody, inconclusive war. After six and a half years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Democratic candidates for president and the public weighing a choice between them have a moment of relative quiet, right now, with the primaries nearly over and the nominating conventions still ahead, to consider where we are before deciding, to the extent that presidents or publics ever do decide, what to do.

The state of play in what some writers call the Greater Middle East is roughly this: 190,000 American troops are at the moment engaged in two unresolved hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The magnitude of this endeavor is hard to exaggerate - two wars thousands of miles from home, covering a total area roughly as big as California and Texas, with a combined population of almost 60 million, speaking half a dozen major languages few Americans know. In addition, both wars are insurgencies, and in both the "enemy" is not a well-defined political, social, or military entity under central command, but something much more fluid. The difficulty of defining the "enemy" helps to explain why success, not to mention "victory," is so elusive. In Iraq and Afghanistan alike the Americans have been trying to establish a government of convenience - friendly to the West, moderate in politics, predictable in business, open to peace with Israel, hostile to Islamic fundamentalists. The United States has been trying to establish such governments in the Middle East for sixty years.

What is new is that since 2001 we have abandoned talk for force. Our means are now military: the United States has sent its army to remake the social and political landscape of Iraq and Afghanistan, and perhaps of their neighbors as well. A long-simmering political struggle for hegemony in the Middle East has been abruptly transformed into a military conflict. The invasion of Afghanistan is easily justified by the Taliban’s complicity in the terrorist attacks of September 11, but we must look for different explanations for the invasion of Iraq. That was a "war of choice" and it seems to have been prompted by two factors - sheer frustration with the long defiance of Saddam Hussein and American itchiness to use a military machine so superior to all others that some Army officers thought allies would only slow us down.

One big reason President Bush invaded Iraq was that he thought it would be easy, and in a sense it was. The occupation of Baghdad took only three weeks. But the formidable American military machine proved to be a clumsy instrument for conducting the political struggle to remake Iraq, and it has been powerless to prevent the growing presence and influence of Iran throughout most of the country. The fighting in Afghanistan has been less intense - five hundred American dead in six years, versus four thousand in Iraq - but equally erratic and frustrating. It is this shapeless military undertaking to remake the Greater Middle East - not simply "the war in Iraq" - that McCain promises to push through to victory, and that Obama and Clinton promise at the very least to limit and reduce if not to end. Let us look at these arenas of conflict and consider how things are going.

As soon as Baghdad was occupied five years ago things began to go wrong in a serious way. Responsibility for this failure can largely be traced to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally. He did not simply run an organization that failed; he personally made many of the key decisions that led to failure. As described by Andrew Cockburn in a useful new biography, and supported by a five-foot shelf of other books and articles, Rumsfeld is a blustering, bullying executive with one idea at a time who dominated "planning" for the war. The one idea was to go in "light" with about a third of the forces the generals at first suggested, counting on a thundering opening bombardment - "shock and awe" - to cow the Iraqis while highly mobile US forces would dash for Baghdad. Once there, the army waited for further instruction, but the secretary of defense was flummoxed. He had no idea what to do next.

In particular Rumsfeld had no idea what to do about the storm of looting which began almost immediately after the Iraqi military disappeared and continued without letup until private businesses and government offices - the Iraqi oil ministry alone excepted - had been stripped of every movable item with a street value, from desktop computers and air conditioners to eighteen-wheelers. The US Army, ordered to stand aside, watched as the national infrastructure was carried away, a turn of events shrugged off by Rumsfeld with the explanation "Freedom’s untidy.... Stuff happens."

While the Army was watching the looters it was not watching the vast Iraqi arms depots established by Saddam Hussein - munitions dumps covering literally hundreds of square miles containing among other things unimaginable numbers of artillery shells. It was these shells, lying unguarded and free for the taking for many months, that were soon being assembled by phantom opponents into deadly roadside bombs called Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Rumsfeld dismissed the phantom opponents as "Saddam loyalists" and Sunni "dead enders," refusing to recognize the growing insurgency for a year.

When efforts to write an Iraqi constitution and create an Iraqi government elevated Shiites to power for the first time in many centuries, infuriated Sunnis responded with a program of sectarian murder. Shiite militias and their allies in the Iraqi military and national police in turn responded with an all-out killing spree that approached genocide - a campaign to push Sunnis out of mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad, and even out of the city altogether. At the height of the killing a hundred bodies a day were dumped onto Baghdad’s streets, many showing signs of grisly torture. A million Iraqis left the country and another million left their homes for safer neighborhoods inside Iraq. By now there are two million refugees outside the country and two million displaced people inside. The man who had denied the insurgency now denied the danger of open civil war.

Rumsfeld was not merely wrong; he was self-replicating. The pattern of denial he established in the Office of the Secretary of Defense spread out and down, eventually reaching into the most remote crevices of the Office of Iraq Analysis of the Defense Intelligence Agency, where the young analyst Alex Rossmiller watched the DOD try to get what it wanted in Iraq by hoping, wishing, and predicting that it would happen. Rossmiller’s memoir, Still Broken, describes denial triumphant in both Iraq and the halls of the Pentagon. During his six months with the Combined Intelligence Operations Center (CIOC) based at the Baghdad International Airport, Rossmiller’s job was to produce "actionable intelligence" on "bad guys" to be picked up by the Army. The job was frequently interrupted by spasms of bureaucratic reorganization and by VIP visits from congressmen who nodded through long briefings.

Those who worked at the CIOC - the FBI, DIA, and OGA (meaning Other Government Agency, which designated the CIA) - referred to it as "a self-licking ice-cream cone." By this they meant that the reports they wrote were read mainly by people down the hall, who sent back reports of their own. But eventually Rossmiller found himself in a Direct Action Cell putting together target packages which led to operations ending with detentions - actual bad guys taken off the streets. "Going after the bad guys," Rossmiller writes, "was at least doing more good than harm, I thought. But my optimism was misplaced; I was wrong."

The lightbulb went on one night in the field when Rossmiller accompanied US and Iraqi special forces to help process detainees seized during an operation. Few details are provided of time, place, or occasion, but Rossmiller relates a harrowing, sixteen-page narrative of bullying incomprehension. The S-2, an Army officer in charge of intelligence for a brigade, explained the drill:

Okay, we’re going to bring in these shitheads on that pad over there, and then walk them over to this field. We’ll put them on the ground and tag them, take pictures, and do a field debrief. Then they’re off to Abu G where they belong.

Off to Abu Ghraib prison? At that point Rossmiller began to understand that all his care as an intelligence analyst to separate the good guys from the bad guys was academic. The debrief was a barrage of shouted accusations. What Rossmiller saw among the detainees was confusion, fear, despair, anger, humiliation, and tears. It gradually became apparent that one of the detainees, shouted at repeatedly, was a retarded deaf mute. His brothers tried to explain this but were loudly accused of being insurgents and told they were "going away...for a long time." It was simply a question of paperwork. Two affidavits were enough to put a detainee in prison - one saying he was armed, a second saying he resisted detention. "They get an initial three-month stay," the S-2 explained, "and the debriefers there figure out what happens after that." Rossmiller got the point. There were no good guys. "Anybody who’s picked up gets sent to prison."

That was Lesson Number One. Lesson Number Two emerged that autumn back at the Pentagon, where Rossmiller was a rising member of the Office of Iraq Analysis. In the months running up to the Iraqi elections in December 2005, Rossmiller and other DIA analysts all predicted that Iraqis were going to "vote identity" and the winners would be Shiite Islamists, who were already running the government. President Bush and the US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, publicly predicted the opposite - secularists were gaining, the Sunnis were going to vote this time, a genuine "national unity government" would end sectarian strife, the corner would be turned as the war entered its fourth year.

Rossmiller soon realized that this was not simply a difference of opinion. Nobody dared to tell the President he was wrong, either to his face or in an official report. This timidity ran right down the chain of command from the White House to Rumsfeld to the director of the DIA, ever downward level by level until it reached the analysts actually working the data. "You’re being too pessimistic," they were told. "We can’t pass this up the chain.... We need to make sure we’re not too far off message with this." Some analysts protested and watched their careers sputter; most retreated into bitter humor. Reports were rewritten to support official hope. On the very eve of the Iraqi election a briefing was concocted to "report" that Islamists were worrying about a late surge by some administration favorite, as if a roomful of nodding heads at a briefing in the Pentagon were somehow going to carry the election in Iraq. Watching this exercise in magical thinking and self-delusion convinced Rossmiller that under Rumsfeld intelligence itself was "still broken" nearly three years into the war - an expensive charade to find or predict whatever the White House wanted.

But despite Rumsfeld’s history of strategic and military failure, and the failure of the secularists as predicted by ground-level DIA analysts, President George Bush announced in April 2006, "I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best. And what’s best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as secretary of defense." In November, following loss of control of both houses of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections, the President changed his mind, replaced Rumsfeld with Robert Gates, a former director of the CIA, and pushed through a new plan to stave off outright civil war in Iraq with a short-term increase of US forces by 30,000 referred to as "the surge." Now the surge is a year old and General David Petraeus is pleased by the reduction in violence. But he recommends a pause in troop withdrawals next summer after the 30,000 have been pulled back. Has the surge achieved anything enduring? President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney say they think so but the new president taking office next January ought to take a careful look at the rearrangement of forces on the ground in Iraq.

At the height of the sectarian killing in late 2006 it appeared that Iraq was spinning out of control. Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, said the war was lost. Before the White House settled on the surge as a solution, national security advisers floated a number of radical ideas - dividing Iraq into three parts; dropping the democracy idea and backing the Shiites, who were in any event the majority; and leveling the playing field and bringing the Sunnis back into the government. In the event it was the third of these ideas that emerged during the course of the surge, beginning in the Sunni province of Anbar in western Iraq where the insurgency had reached its greatest intensity. There Sunnis who resented the Islamist fundamentalists of al-Qaeda in Iraq sought American help to drive out AQI. Modest pay of ten dollars a day, weapons, and a promise of eventual employment in the army or national police attracted thousands of former insurgents to join "awakening councils," now totaling perhaps 90,000 members.

Killing has been reduced, but the decline is the result of what amounts to American intervention in the Iraqi civil war. This new strategy was apparently adopted on the fly by the American military; it is working for the moment but it has dangers of its own. The councils, also called "sons of Iraq," are overwhelmingly Sunni in character. At the beginning of the occupation a key goal of the Americans was to disband the militias. In creating the awakening councils, the United States has armed, paid, and in effect sponsored the largest Iraqi militia of them all. But control of the councils is tenuous and they are now reported to be increasingly impatient with the Shiite government’s refusal to enroll them in the army or national police as promised. The surge, therefore, has not so much ended the sectarian strife as it has set the stage for a renewal of civil war at a higher level of violence.


Iraq after the surge might be described as the same bomb, still waiting to explode, but with a longer fuse. What about Afghanistan? There the new president may find an even more intractable problem. In Iraq the United States is fighting an array of forces who live in the shadow of the Iranian sphere of influence, are mainly trying to kill each other, and are of two minds about American departure - some are reluctant to lose American protection, others want us to clear out so they can settle with local opponents once and for all. But in Afghanistan the United States and its reluctant NATO allies face a revived Taliban with the simplest of war aims - they want the foreigners to go. What is remarkable about the situation in Afghanistan - even astonishing - is that the Americans, after watching 100,000 Russians fight Afghans at great expense with no success for nine years, have signed on for a dose of the same. Lester Grau, a retired Army colonel, has edited three books on the Russian war using Russian materials, ranging from a general staff history of the war to small-unit combat reports.

The implication of these books is not ambiguous. After their invasion in December 1979, the Russians walked into Kabul with ease, as invaders of Afghanistan invariably do, but after that it was mounting trouble all the way. The Russians paid a substantial price for thinking they could "win" if they stuck to it - a still-hidden number of dead soldiers, probably exceeding 20,000, and perhaps five times that number of seriously wounded; loss of nearly 500 aircraft including 350 helicopters; huge quantities of other equipment destroyed; hundreds of thousands of disaffected soldiers returned to civilian life back home, not to mention the opprobrium of the world.

The CIA officer Anthony Arnold, who was stationed in Kabul before the Russian invasion, thinks the penalty of failure went beyond immediate losses and humiliation to include the actual collapse of the Soviet state itself. They were weaker than they knew, Arnold thinks, but the Russians did not give in easily: they killed more than a million Afghans, bombed villages to rubble, machine-gunned herds of sheep from the air, and drove as many as a fifth of all Afghans out of the country, across the border into the safe haven of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Nothing worked and the war ended when the last Russian troops and trucks drove back across the Friendship Bridge into Tajikistan in 1989. It is true that the mujahideen got plenty of material help from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, but it was the Afghans who fought the Russians to exhausted frustration, and have gone right on fighting among themselves ever since.

Shrugging off the lessons of history is the preface to disaster in Afghanistan. The Afghans seem so weak - an impoverished people living in mudbrick houses making a hardscrabble living; shepherds, farmers, and nomads answering to feudal lords ruling tiny villages connected by dirt tracks over rocky mountain passes. How tough can it be to defeat these skinny men in rags and occupy their country?

The Russians should not have been surprised by the answer. The British had already learned it the hard way before them - twice: in 1839-1842 and 1878-1880. Both efforts followed the standard pattern - easy occupation of Kabul at the outset, followed by rumbles from below and then open resistance leading to bitter fighting ending in disaster. It was the first of the British invasions that established just how bad a defeat in Afghanistan could be - an expeditionary force of 4,500, trying to escape Kabul, was attacked relentlessly on its way south to Jalalabad. Only one man survived - the Army surgeon William Brydon. It is such object lessons that were ignored by the Russians and are now being ignored by the Americans.

The American economy, not the war, is the big issue in the presidential campaign as I write. The candidates have issued position papers on the war - both wars - and have adopted policies that can be summed up in a sentence or two. McCain wants to soldier on in both theaters. "Those who argue that our goals in Iraq are unachievable are wrong, just as they were wrong a year ago when they declared the war in Iraq already lost," he said in Los Angeles on March 26. "Those who claim we should withdraw from Iraq in order to fight al-Qaeda more effectively elsewhere are making a dangerous mistake." There’s not a lot of detail here but there’s not much ambiguity either: it’s a tough fight but we can win it.

Obama and Clinton want to wind down the war in Iraq but focus new attention on Afghanistan - an approach that allows both candidates to draw on popular dislike of the war in Iraq while escaping charges of being irresponsible on national security. "We did not finish the job against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan," said Obama last August. "The first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan." Clinton calls Afghan-istan "the forgotten front line." Recently she added ballast to her own "plan to win the war in Afghanistan" with a nine-point strategy of sensible steps to invite more help from NATO allies and international donors while helping the Afghans to help themselves.

To walk away from the Afghans seems unconscionable; the country, poor to begin with, has suffered dreadfully with little respite since the mid-1970s. The Americans helped the Afghans fight the Russians and then turned away after the Russians left. The best account of the long Afghan ordeal leading to the terrorist attacks of September 11 is to be found in Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars. The focus is narrow - how the CIA managed the American part of a long, semiclandestine war and political struggle - but it captures the breathtaking seesaw range of the American way of meddling - ready with hundreds of millions of dollars to fight to the last Afghan one day, counting pennies the next, washing our hands of the whole bloody mess on the third.

It’s not a pretty picture, but the CIA described by Coll was the one cold war presidents used instead of sending in the Marines; it made the same point, it was cheaper, and it could be called off without public humiliation. Now we’re back in Afghanistan with an army and strong words about unshakable resolution, while the Pentagon cites worrying statistics about the enemy of the kind used to take the temperature of military conflicts. It’s the usual stuff - a steady rise in small actions, ambushes, suicide bombers, attacks on convoys, clandestine traffic over the mountains into Pakistan.

The operative word is "more." The numbers are always inching up. NATO commanders have formally asked for three thousand additional troops. It’s a modest number and suggests that the problem is manageable. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has remarked - casual words, not an announcement - that some troops withdrawn from Iraq might be sent to the "under resourced" war in Afghanistan. The presidential candidates disagree significantly about Iraq, not about Afghanistan. Nobody is talking about bringing the troops home from Afghanistan. We’re committed.

George W. Bush is unique among presidents for his tin ear for trouble or danger. On his own he cannot distinguish between a notional or imaginary threat and one that is genuine, and his choice of advisers is no help. The big problem Bush saw on taking office was a threat by rogue nations to attack the United States with nuclear weapons delivered on missiles. His solution was to redouble efforts to develop and build an antiballistic missile system. Rumsfeld and Cheney shared this priority 100 percent. Distracted by this technological chimera, which has eluded success despite huge expense for twenty-five years, Bush failed to heed clear warnings about al-Qaeda terrorist attacks. Later he was unprepared for Hurricane Katrina ("You’re doing a great job, Brownie!"), for the immense challenges of climate change caused by greenhouse gases, and for the full-fledged financial crisis precipitated by the lending practices of a runaway, unregulated banking system.


But these dangers were all at least new in some sense, harder to see in prospect than retrospect. This cannot be said for the President’s decision to send American expeditionary armies to occupy two countries in the Greater Middle East. A better-read, more reflective man might have seen what was coming. Regretting adventures in the Middle East is one of the constants of history. The Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the French, the British, and the Russians all sent armies and were forced in the end to bring them home again.

Invading the Middle East is the kind of imperial overreach that breaks the spine of great powers. Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to warn Bush against the magnitude of the undertaking with reference to the homespun "Pottery Barn rule" - if you break it, you own it. Did anyone go further and attempt to explain that Iraq was a seething cockpit of warring religions, political movements, social classes, and ethnic groups, many influenced by Iran? Did the President worry about the difficulty of occupying and rebuilding a country of nearly 30 million people with ancient scores to settle?

It appears that he did not. Going to war in Afghanistan and then Iraq was what the President wanted to do and he let nothing stand in his way. Afghanistan was not a hard sell but Iraq took real resolution. The arguments for war were weak to begin with and got weaker with time. The UN inspectors found none of the Iraqi weapons cited to justify war and asked only for some months to verify disarmament; the Security Council refused to pass a resolution for war; only Britain among America’s most important allies joined the coalition of the willing to fight the war. But no setback cracked Bush’s resolution and he went ahead. John McCain is content with the wars he will inherit if fate touches him with its finger, but Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama do not like the situation as they expect to find it. The war in Iraq promises only expense and failure, and the mix includes other daunting troubles - a Turkish military hovering just across the border from Iraq’s quasi-autonomous Kurdish region, with one Turkish eye on the oil of Kirkuk; deepening connections between the Shiite government in Baghdad and Shiite Iran, which continues to ignore American threats of military action if it does not believably abandon its nuclear program; a safe haven for the Taliban in the Pakistani provinces bordering on Afghanistan; and loss of Pakistani support for Ameri-can desire to take the war into the tribal areas. That safe haven made it impossible for the Russians to win, and it will soon obsess the Americans as well.

But set Afghanistan aside. Iraq is the big war. Getting out of Iraq will require just as much resolution as it took to get in - and the same kind of resolution: a willingness to ignore the consequences. The consequence hardest to ignore will be the growing power and influence of Iran, which Bush has described as one of the two great security threats to the US. Israel shares this view of Iran. No new president will want to run the risk of being thought soft on Iran. This is where the military error exacts a terrible price. A political conflict transformed into a military conflict requires a military resolution, and those, famously, come in two forms - victory or defeat. Getting out means admitting defeat.

Is it possible that the new president will have that kind of resolution? I think not; to my ear Clinton and Obama don’t sound drained of hope or bright ideas, determined to cut losses and end the agony. Why should they? They’re coming in fresh from the sidelines. Getting out, giving up, admitting defeat are not what we expect from the psychology of newly elected presidents who have just overcome all odds and battled through to personal victory. They’ve managed the impossible once; why not again? Planning for withdrawals might begin on Day One, but the plans will be hostage to events.

At first, perhaps, all runs smoothly. Then things begin to happen. The situation on the first day has altered by the tenth. Some faction of Iraqis joins or drops out of the fight. A troublesome law is passed, or left standing. A helicopter goes down with casualties in two digits. The Green Zone is hit by a new wave of rockets or mortars from Sadr City in Baghdad. The US Army protests that the rockets or mortars were provided by Iran. The new president warns Iran to stay out of the fight. The government in Tehran dismisses the warning. This is already a long-established pattern. Why should we expect it to change? So it goes. At an unmarked moment somewhere between the third and the sixth month a sea change occurs: Bush’s war becomes the new president’s war, and getting out means failure, means defeat, means rising opposition at home, means no second term. It’s not hard to see where this is going.

We are committed in Afghanistan. We are not ready to leave Iraq. In both countries our friends are in trouble. The pride of American arms is at stake. The world is watching. To me the logic of events seems inescapable. Unless something quite unexpected happens, four years from now the presidential candidates will be arguing about two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one going into its ninth year, the other into its eleventh. The choice will be the one Americans hate most - get out or fight on.

The World at 350

Go to Original
By Bill McKibben

A Last Chance for Civilization

Even for Americans, constitutionally convinced that there will always be a second act, and a third, and a do-over after that, and, if necessary, a little public repentance and forgiveness and a Brand New Start -- even for us, the world looks a little Terminal right now.

It’s not just the economy. We’ve gone through swoons before. It’s that gas at $4 a gallon means we’re running out, at least of the cheap stuff that built our sprawling society. It’s that when we try to turn corn into gas, it sends the price of a loaf of bread shooting upwards and starts food riots on three continents. It’s that everything is so inextricably tied together. It’s that, all of a sudden, those grim Club of Rome types who, way back in the 1970s, went on and on about the "limits to growth" suddenly seem… how best to put it, right.

All of a sudden it isn’t morning in America, it’s dusk on planet Earth.

There’s a number -- a new number -- that makes this point most powerfully. It may now be the most important number on Earth: 350. As in parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A few weeks ago, our foremost climatologist, NASA’s Jim Hansen, submitted a paper to Science magazine with several co-authors. The abstract attached to it argued -- and I have never read stronger language in a scientific paper -- "if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm." Hansen cites six irreversible tipping points -- massive sea level rise and huge changes in rainfall patterns, among them -- that we’ll pass if we don’t get back down to 350 soon; and the first of them, judging by last summer’s insane melt of Arctic ice, may already be behind us.

So it’s a tough diagnosis. It’s like the doctor telling you that your cholesterol is way too high and, if you don’t bring it down right away, you’re going to have a stroke. So you take the pill, you swear off the cheese, and, if you’re lucky, you get back into the safety zone before the coronary. It’s like watching the tachometer edge into the red zone and knowing that you need to take your foot off the gas before you hear that clunk up front.

In this case, though, it’s worse than that because we’re not taking the pill and we are stomping on the gas -- hard. Instead of slowing down, we’re pouring on the coal, quite literally. Two weeks ago came the news that atmospheric carbon dioxide had jumped 2.4 parts per million last year -- two decades ago, it was going up barely half that fast.

And suddenly, the news arrives that the amount of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, accumulating in the atmosphere, has unexpectedly begun to soar as well. Apparently, we’ve managed to warm the far north enough to start melting huge patches of permafrost and massive quantities of methane trapped beneath it have begun to bubble forth.

And don’t forget: China is building more power plants; India is pioneering the $2,500 car, and Americans are converting to TVs the size of windshields which suck juice ever faster.

Here’s the thing. Hansen didn’t just say that, if we didn’t act, there was trouble coming; or, if we didn’t yet know what was best for us, we’d certainly be better off below 350 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. His phrase was: "…if we wish to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed." A planet with billions of people living near those oh-so-floodable coastlines. A planet with ever more vulnerable forests. (A beetle, encouraged by warmer temperatures, has already managed to kill 10 times more trees than in any previous infestation across the northern reaches of Canada this year. This means far more carbon heading for the atmosphere and apparently dooms Canada’s efforts to comply with the Kyoto Protocol, already in doubt because of its decision to start producing oil for the U.S. from Alberta’s tar sands.)

We’re the ones who kicked the warming off; now, the planet is starting to take over the job. Melt all that Arctic ice, for instance, and suddenly the nice white shield that reflected 80% of incoming solar radiation back into space has turned to blue water that absorbs 80% of the sun’s heat. Such feedbacks are beyond history, though not in the sense that Francis Fukuyama had in mind.

And we have, at best, a few years to short-circuit them -- to reverse course. Here’s the Indian scientist and economist Rajendra Pachauri, who accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year (and, by the way, got his job when the Bush administration, at the behest of Exxon Mobil, forced out his predecessor): "If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment."

In the next two or three years, the nations of the world are supposed to be negotiating a successor treaty to the Kyoto Accord. When December 2009 rolls around, heads of state are supposed to converge on Copenhagen to sign a treaty -- a treaty that would go into effect at the last plausible moment to heed the most basic and crucial of limits on atmospheric CO2.

If we did everything right, says Hansen, we could see carbon emissions start to fall fairly rapidly and the oceans begin to pull some of that CO2 out of the atmosphere. Before the century was out we might even be on track back to 350. We might stop just short of some of those tipping points, like the Road Runner screeching to a halt at the very edge of the cliff.

More likely, though, we’re the Coyote -- because "doing everything right" means that political systems around the world would have to take enormous and painful steps right away. It means no more new coal-fired power plants anywhere, and plans to quickly close the ones already in operation. (Coal-fired power plants operating the way they’re supposed to are, in global warming terms, as dangerous as nuclear plants melting down.) It means making car factories turn out efficient hybrids next year, just the way we made them turn out tanks in six months at the start of World War II. It means making trains an absolute priority and planes a taboo.

It means making every decision wisely because we have so little time and so little money, at least relative to the task at hand. And hardest of all, it means the rich countries of the world sharing resources and technology freely with the poorest ones, so that they can develop dignified lives without burning their cheap coal.

That’s possible -- we launched a Marshall Plan once, and we could do it again, this time in relation to carbon. But in a month when the President has, once more, urged us to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, that seems unlikely. In a month when the alluring phrase "gas tax holiday" has danced into our vocabulary, it’s hard to see (though it was encouraging to see that Clinton’s gambit didn’t sway many voters). And if it’s hard to imagine sacrifice here, imagine China, where people produce a quarter as much carbon apiece as we do.

Still, as long as it’s not impossible, we’ve got a duty to try. In fact, it’s about the most obvious duty humans have ever faced.

A few of us have just launched a new campaign, Its only goal is to spread this number around the world in the next 18 months, via art and music and ruckuses of all kinds, in the hope that it will push those post-Kyoto negotiations in the direction of reality.

After all, those talks are our last chance; you just can’t do this one light bulb at a time. And if this campaign is a Hail Mary pass, well, sometimes those passes get caught.

We do have one thing going for us: This new tool, the Web which, at least, allows you to imagine something like a grassroots global effort. If the Internet was built for anything, it was built for sharing this number, for making people understand that "350" stands for a kind of safety, a kind of possibility, a kind of future.

Hansen’s words were well-chosen: "a planet similar to that on which civilization developed." People will doubtless survive on a non-350 planet, but those who do will be so preoccupied, coping with the endless unintended consequences of an overheated planet, that civilization may not.

Civilization is what grows up in the margins of leisure and security provided by a workable relationship with the natural world. That margin won’t exist, at least not for long, this side of 350. That’s the limit we face.

Bill McKibben is a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College and co-founder of His most recent book is The Bill McKibben Reader.