Saturday, May 17, 2008

Peak Oil and Politicians

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By Kelpie Wilson

In 1956, M. King Hubbert, a petroleum geologist with Shell Oil, presented a paper to the American Petroleum Institute that predicted US oil production would peak in the early 1970s and then follow a declining curve, now known as Hubbert’s curve. But Hubbert almost didn’t get to give his paper. He got a call from his bosses at Shell, who asked him to "tone it down." His reply was that there was nothing to tone down. It was just straightforward analysis. He presented the paper, unedited. You can read the whole story here.

Since that time, the oil industry and its political supporters have done everything they can to tone down the message that oil is a finite resource and that we will run out of it some day. Why would they do that? To further the short-sighted, short-term pursuit of profit. In 2004, Shell finally got caught in a lie about the size of its oil reserves. The company had inflated the stated size of its oil reserves to keep stock share prices high because who wants to invest in a company - or an industry - that is going the way of the dinosaurs?

Since 1956, the world economy has proceeded under a sort of oil company spell that has woven the illusion all around us that oil depletion is so far into the future that we don’t need to worry about it. That belief was essential to support the aim of an endlessly growing economy.

There have been a few hitches in that strategy. In 1972, just as oil production in the United States reached its all-time peak, a group of computer modelers from MIT released a study called "The Limits to Growth." They predicted a steep decline in natural resources of all kinds. Because reserve numbers for many minerals, including oil, were not accurately known back then, they looked at different scenarios. Some showed us running out of oil before 2000 and some showed the peak occurring toward the middle of the 21st century.

The pro-growth faction reacted quickly and scathingly to the idea that there could be limits to growth. The MIT scientists were treated like Cassandras in academia and in the press.

This strategy of killing the messenger, the bearer of bad news, soon permeated American politics. Jimmy Carter tried to grapple with the energy crisis in the late 1970s with support for energy alternatives and conservation, but he was ridiculed by the media and American consumers were not able to hear the message. Ronald Reagan walked away with the presidency and promptly tore the solar panels off the roof of the White House.

Ever since then, it has somehow been "not polite" to talk about limits to growth. Today, despite skyrocketing oil prices, most politicians still avoid the term "peak oil." Most of the media still treat peak oil advocates with skepticism, using epithets like "fringe" and "so-called"to describe peak oil theory.

To be clear, peak oil is often misunderstood. The date that the world reaches peak oil is not the date we actually run out, but the date that we stop increasing production. This is followed by a "plateau" where oil production is flat. Eventually, oil production will decline.

Even a plateau is a big problem for a world economy that is based on growth. In a world where 850 million are still going hungry and 3 billion out of 6.5 billion live on less than $2 a day, stagnant oil production means an end to development models based on economic growth. The statistics show that oil production has been flat for more than two years now.

These facts are simple. As Hubbert said back in 1956: "Nothing sensational about it, just straightforward analysis." And yet the most powerful institutions in our society continue to do everything they can to avoid confronting the truth.

Fortunately, a vast network of independent citizens, academics and renegade oil company employees has kept probing at the truth and attempting to educate the public about peak oil. You can find their work online at sites like and These networks have not only exposed the real statistics about oil production constraints, but they have begun to grapple with how the world should respond to this unprecedented crisis.

Anyone who is interested in a firsthand encounter with the intrepid "peakists" might check out an upcoming conference. The International Conference on Peak Oil and Climate Change: Paths to Sustainability takes place from May 30 to June 1 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Michigan Congressman Vernon Ehler will launch the conference. Ehler is a member of the House Peak Oil Caucus, which was founded by another Republican, Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland. The Peak Oil Caucus is co-chaired by Democrat Tom Udall, but it has only 15 members in all. There is no similar group in the Senate and very few other politicians will use the term peak oil.

None of the current presidential candidates have made peak oil an issue. Bartlett’s press secretary, Lisa Wright, said that Bartlett has talked about peak oil with John McCain but not with Obama or Clinton. When I asked if McCain would take on the peak oil issue, Wright said, "I would not describe Senator McCain as being nearly as knowledgeable or committed as Representative Bartlett on the issue."

When speaking of energy issues, politicians will often use the euphemism of energy security, acknowledging that the US has only three percent of the world’s oil reserves and warning that most of the rest of it belongs to unfriendly or unstable governments. While there is truth to this type of statement, it sets up a framework for conflict by creating the perception that there is plenty of oil left but bad people are keeping it away from us.

Both Democrats and Republicans buy into this view. In this election season, some Democrats seem even more willing than Republicans to play the oil fear card and promote quick-fix measures that are ineffectual or downright ridiculous.

First there was the gas tax holiday proposed by John McCain and seconded by Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama distinguished himself by resisting the idea. The economics of it make no sense. It would at best save the average motorist about $30 over a summer of driving, and at worst the increased demand would drive up gas prices. Obama’s position shows he understands that oil supply is not meeting demand, even if he has not used the words "peak oil."

In the last two weeks, Congress has seen a slew of silly proposals from both sides. Democrats want President Bush to twist Saudi arms to get the kingdom to produce more oil. If that doesn’t work, they want to cut off their arms - weapons that is. Senator Reid plans to bring an expedited resolution to the Senate floor that would block $1.37 billion in arms sales to the Saudis unless they increase oil production by one million barrels a day. Peak oil educator Richard Heinberg warns where all this confrontation might lead: "[S]uppose we get tough with the Saudis and end up destabilizing the kingdom so that forces unfriendly to us take over. Then we will feel more or less forced to invade in order to maintain access to our national drug of choice. Where would it end? Does any of this help?"

Meanwhile, what Democrats would do to the Saudis, Republicans want to do to the polar bear and the caribou. Republicans are generally in favor of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) despite the fact that even at peak production it would meet only two percent of American’s oil demand.

But not all Republicans favor drilling in ANWR. Peak Oil Caucus Co-Chair Roscoe Bartlett thinks we should save the Arctic oil for a real emergency. Speaking in opposition to drilling, he said "I am having trouble understanding how it is in our national security interest to use up our little bit of oil as quickly as we can. If we could pump ANWR tomorrow, what would we do the day after tomorrow? "

Bartlett takes this position because he is operating with the knowledge that oil is finite and that the world is nearing or has surpassed peak production. If all members of Congress were operating within this framework, then we would see some very different policy proposals.

I asked Lisa Wright why Bartlett’s office thinks the peak oil issue has gotten so little traction in the media and with politicians. Wright blamed a human psychological condition known as cognitive dissonance, "the phenomenon that you only hear what you’re interested in hearing."

"Hard truths are hard to talk about as well as hard to absorb," she said. "It’s much easier to believe people who say that if we just have more American production then we wouldn’t have to worry about foreign imports, without explaining that we’re already pumping our minute portion of world reserves three or four times faster than the rest of the world. But we can’t drill our way to self-sufficiency because you can’t pump what’s not there."

When asked if she saw peak oil becoming an issue in the presidential campaign, Wright said, "It will become a campaign issue if candidates make it an issue and candidates will choose to make it an issue if it shows up as being a motivating issue for voters."

But, she said, "It’s a chicken and egg conundrum. To the extent that voters become informed and aware through media, you’ll find that candidates will follow. That’s generally the way American politics works."

After years of toning down the message of peak oil in public discourse, voters need to let candidates know that now is the time to tone it up.

US Planning Big New Prison in Afghanistan

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By Eric Schmitt and Tim Golden

Washington - The Pentagon is moving forward with plans to build a new, 40-acre detention complex on the main American military base in Afghanistan, officials said, in a stark acknowledgment that the United States is likely to continue to hold prisoners overseas for years to come.

The proposed detention center would replace the cavernous, makeshift American prison on the Bagram military base north of Kabul, which is now typically packed with about 630 prisoners, compared with the 270 held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Until now, the Bush administration had signaled that it intended to scale back American involvement in detention operations in Afghanistan. It had planned to transfer a large majority of the prisoners to Afghan custody, in an American-financed, high-security prison outside Kabul to be guarded by Afghan soldiers.

But American officials now concede that the new Afghan-run prison cannot absorb all the Afghans now detained by the United States, much less the waves of new prisoners from the escalating fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The proposal for a new American prison at Bagram underscores the daunting scope and persistence of the United States military's detention problem, at a time when Bush administration officials continue to say they want to close down the facility at Guantánamo Bay.

Military officials have long been aware of serious problems with the existing detention center in Afghanistan, the Bagram Theater Internment Facility. After the prison was set up in early 2002, it became a primary site for screening prisoners captured in the fighting. Harsh interrogation methods and sleep deprivation were used widely, and two Afghan detainees died there in December 2002, after being repeatedly struck by American soldiers.

Conditions and treatment have improved markedly since then, but hundreds of Afghans and other men are still held in wire-mesh pens surrounded by coils of razor wire. There are only minimal areas for the prisoners to exercise, and kitchen, shower and bathroom space is also inadequate.

Faced with that, American officials said they wanted to replace the Bagram prison, a converted aircraft hangar that still holds some of the decrepit aircraft-repair machinery left by the Soviet troops who occupied the country in the 1980s. In its place the United States will build what officials described as a more modern and humane detention center that would usually accommodate about 600 detainees - or as many as 1,100 in a surge - and cost more than $60 million.

"Our existing theater internment facility is deteriorating," said Sandra L. Hodgkinson, the senior Pentagon official for detention policy, in a telephone interview. "It was renovated to do a temporary mission. There is a sense that this is the right time to build a new facility."

American officials also acknowledged that there are serious health risks to detainees and American military personnel who work at the Bagram prison, because of their exposure to heavy metals from the aircraft-repair machinery and asbestos.

"It's just not suitable," another Pentagon official said. "At some point, you have to say, ‘That's it. This place was not made to keep people there indefinitely.' "

That point came about six months ago. It became clear to Pentagon officials that the original plan of releasing some Afghan prisoners outright and transferring other detainees to Afghan custody would not come close to emptying the existing detention center.

Although a special Afghan court has been established to prosecute detainees formerly held at Bagram and Guantánamo, American officials have been hesitant to turn over those prisoners they consider most dangerous. In late February the head of detainee operations in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, traveled to Bagram to assess conditions there.

In Iraq, General Stone has encouraged prison officials to build ties to tribal leaders, families and communities, said a Congressional official who has been briefed on the general's work. As a result, American officials are giving Iraqi detainees job training and engaging them in religious discussions to help prepare them to re-enter Iraqi society.

About 8,000 detainees have been released in Iraq since last September. Fewer than 1 percent of them have been returned to the prison, said Lt. Cmdr. K. C. Marshall, General Stone's spokesman.

The new detention center at Bagram will incorporate some of the lessons learned by the United States in Iraq. Classrooms will be built for vocational training and religious discussion, and there will be more space for recreation and family visits, officials said. After years of entreaties by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United States recently began to allow relatives to speak with prisoners at Bagram through video hookups.

"The driving factor behind this is to ensure that in all instances we are giving the highest standards of treatment and care," said Ms. Hodgkinson, who has briefed Senate and House officials on the construction plans.

The Pentagon is planning to use $60 million in emergency construction funds this fiscal year to build a complex of 6 to 10 semi-permanent structures resembling Quonset huts, each the size of a football field, a Defense Department official said. The structures will have more natural light, and each will have its own recreation area. There will be a half-dozen other buildings for administration, medical care and other purposes, the official said.

The new Bagram compound is expected to be built away from the existing center of operations on the base, on the other side of a long airfield from the headquarters building that now sits almost directly adjacent to the detention center, one military official said.

It will have its own perimeter security wall, and its own perimeter security guards, a change that will increase the number of soldiers required to operate the detention center.

The military plans to request $24 million in fiscal year 2009 and $7.4 million in fiscal year 2010 to pay for educational programs, job training and other parts of what American officials call a reintegration plan. After that, the Pentagon plans to pay about $7 million a year in training and operational costs.

There has been mixed support for the project on Capitol Hill. Two prominent Senate Democrats, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Tim Johnson of South Dakota, have been briefed on the new American-run prison, and have praised the decision to make conditions there more humane.

But the senators, in a May 15 letter to the deputy defense secretary, Gordon England, demanded that the Pentagon explain its long-term plans for detention in Afghanistan and consult the Afghan government on the project.

The population at Bagram began to swell after administration officials halted the flow of prisoners to Guantánamo in September 2004, a cutoff that largely remains in effect. At the same time, the population of detainees at Bagram also began to rise with the resurgence of the Taliban.

Military personnel who know both Bagram and Guantánamo describe the Afghan site, 40 miles north of Kabul, as far more spartan. Bagram prisoners have fewer privileges, less ability to contest their detention and no access to lawyers.

Some detainees have been held without charge for more than five years, officials said. As of April, about 10 juveniles were being held at Bagram, according to a recent American report to a United Nations committee.

Judge Delays War-Crimes Trial for Supreme Court

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By Carol Rosenberg

A military commissions judge Friday delayed the scheduled trial of Osama bin Laden's driver until after the U.S. Supreme Court has decided another key detainee case.

Navy Capt. Keith Allred said delaying the start of Salim Hamdan's trial until July 21 "avoids the potential embarrassment, waste of resources and prejudice to the accused that would" result were the Bush administration to lose the Supreme Court case.

"Moreover, the accused has been in confinement for six years and another month wait will not prejudice any party to the case," Allred wrote.

The decision also provided a window for Hamdan to undergo a mental health evaluation.

Prosecutors had argued against such an evaluation. But Allred ordered it in response to defense lawyers' claims that Hamdan has descended into a deep depression resulting from conditions across six years at the prison camps in southeast Cuba, which make it impossible for him to assist in his defense.

A California psychiatrist, who treats U.S. veterans, evaluated the driver for about 100 hours and found he suffers post traumatic stress and is at risk of suicide because of his conditions of confinement.

Allred ordered that an independent panel of mental health experts examine Hamdan, 36. If they find he is not competent, Allred said they should decide whether "more recreation and transfer to a less isolative facility" might improve his mental health.

In contrast to years of neat grooming and attentiveness, Hamdan turned up disheveled at his April proceedings and said he would boycott his trial. He and Allred then chatted in court for about 40 minutes, and Allred found him ``witty, thoughtful, apologetic."

Still the judge wrote that he was ``uncertain about the actual state of the accused's mental health."

Prison camp commanders have unwaveringly maintained that suspected terrorists confined at the camps are treated humanely and that Hamdan is sane and hasn't suffered unduly in captivity.

Hamdan is held alone in a steel and concrete cell. His meals are delivered through a slot in the door. He can see other captives only through the open slot if they happen to be passing by on their way to recreation cells or showers.

Hamdan has been victorious in challenging the conditions of his captivity before.

A federal court judge suspended his earlier war crimes trial and ordered him moved to the general population, resulting in a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court showdown, which overturned the Bush administration's original plans for war-crimes tribunal.

Congress then established the current commissions system, the first U.S. war crimes tribunals since World War II.

But Hamdan's lawyers say his emotional health has deteriorated with each supposed victory, and that what look like victories from the outside feel like losses to him.

For example, his lawyers said, guards take away many items when there is a suggestion he might be suicidal and his tan prison camp uniform is replaced by a rough "suicide smock" made of thick, tear-proof polyester.

Meanwhile, military lawyers for five Guantánamo captives accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks filed a motion to have the charges dismissed, claiming Pentagon meddling in the decision to prosecute them.

The motion on behalf of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other captives who had been held by the CIA argues that the Air Force one-star general who oversees the military commissions process, Thomas Hartmann, had pressured prosecutors to bring the charges, a grave ethical violation under military law.

Last week, Allred barred Hartmann from participating in Hamdan's trial because of similar claims against him.

The decision in the 9/11 cases will be made by a different military judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, who chief of the military commissions.

Lies of Aggression

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By Paul Craig Roberts

On May 15, the White House Moron, in a war-planning visit to Israel, justified the naked aggression he and Olmert are planning against Iran as the only alternative to “the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

But the White House Moron has the roles reversed. It is not Iran that is threatening war. It is Bush. It is not Bush who is appeasing. It is Iran.

Iran has not responded in kind to any of Bush’s warlike moves and provocations. Iran has not sunk a single one of our sitting duck ships and has not given the Iraqi insurgents any weapons that would easily turn the tide of war against the US.

It is Bush, not Iran, who sounds like Adolf Hitler blustering and threatening. It is Bush’s American Brownshirts, the neocons, who express the view: “what’s the good of nuclear weapons if you can’t use them.”

It is the US that is funding assassination teams inside Iran and using taxpayer dollars to fund dissident and violent organizations opposed to the Iranian government. Iran is doing no such thing here.

It is members of the Bush Regime and US generals who continue to lie through their teeth about Iranian support for insurgents, for which they can supply no evidence, and about Iranian nuclear weapons programs, for which the IAEA inspectors can find no sign.

It is the US print and TV media that serves the Bush Regime as propaganda ministry for its lies of aggression.

All the war crimes that are being planned are being planned by Bush and Olmert.

What would George Orwell make of the Bush Regime’s position that anything less than a direct act of naked aggression is appeasement?

The Chicago City Council has passed a resolution “opposing any US attack on Iran and urging the Bush Administration to pursue diplomatic engagement with that nation.” But the White House Moron says diplomacy is appeasement. He learned this false equivalence from the neocon Brownshirts whose control over his administration has made America despised throughout the world, with the exception of Israel.

After broadcasting false claims for weeks from US generals and Bush Regime spokespersons that the US has “definite proof” in the form of captured Iranian weapons that Iranians were “responsible for killing American troops,” the great free American media went silent when LA Times correspondent Tina Susman reported from Baghdad: “A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was cancelled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran.”

A people devoid of a media are sitting ducks for tyrannical government, which is what the US has.

What is the difference between Hitler’s concocted excuses for his acts of naked aggression and the Bush Regime’s plan to use a briefing by General Petraeus, with “captured Iranian weapons” as props, as proof of Iranian complicity in US deaths in Iraq as a means to break down public and congressional resistance to an attack on Iran?

Why has the Bush Regime suffered no consequences for this blatant attempt to orchestrate an excuse for another war?

Why have there been no consequences to the Regime for the blatant lies it told in order to attack Iraq?

Why has the Bush Regime suffered no consequences for its violation of US statutory laws against spying without warrants and against torture?

In the US criminal justice system, three strikes and you are out.

For the Bush Regime is there any limit on its lawless behavior?

How many strikes? A dozen? Thirty? Three hundred?

Is there a limit?

Olmert: U.S., Israel See Need For 'Tangible Action' On Iran Nukes

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By Barak Ravid and Shahar Ilan

The United States and Israel agree on the need for "tangible action" to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman said Friday, after a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush.

"We are on the same page. We both see the threat ... And we both understand that tangible action is required to prevent the Iranians from moving forward on a nuclear weapon," Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said.

Regev described diplomatic efforts so far to exert pressure on Iran as "positive", but added: "It is clearly not sufficient and it's clear that additional steps will have to be taken".
Asked about the option of using military force, Regev said: "Leaders of many countries have talked about many options being on the table and, of course, Israel agrees with that."

Senior officials in Jerusalem said Thursday that Israel is fully satisfied with the results of Bush's visit, including policy on Iran's nuclear program.

"In talks with the president of the United States during his visit it was made clear that Bush's statements on the subject of Iran's nuclear program are fully backed in practice," a senior official said.

The president's attitude on Iran was well known in Israel, and the expectation had been that he would use forceful language against Tehran, both during talks with Israeli officials and in his address to the Knesset, not only on the nuclear question but on Iran's role in the region.

During meetings with Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, more data was presented to back the desire for a reassessment of an American intelligence report which concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program.

One Israeli source said that it is hoped that the new information would influence the administration's stance on Iran's nuclear program.

The source said that Olmert would discuss the subject during his visit to Washington in two weeks.

President Bush ended his three-day visit to Israel on Friday and headed for Saudi Arabia.

The president and First Lady Laura Bush flew out of Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport after a morning at Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, where they viewed artifacts from the time of biblical writings and spoke with young Israelis about hopes for peace.

Bush: Masada shall never fall again

In his address to the Knesset on Thursday, Bush promised unflinching U.S. support. "Citizens of Israel, Masada shall never fall again, and America will always stand with you," he said.

Bush added that calls for negotiations with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are akin to the efforts to appease Hitler before World War II.

The president opened his speech by saying in Hebrew: "Happy Independence Day." His address focused on the alliance between the U.S. and Israel.

"Israel's population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because America stands with you," Bush said.

"You have raised a modern society in the Promised Land, a light unto the nations that preserves the legacy of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And you have built a mighty democracy that will endure forever and can always count on America to stand at its side."

He noted that Israel's Declaration of Independence "was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham, Moses, and David - a homeland for the chosen people in Eretz Yisrael."

The president also presented his vision of Israel in the next 60 years. "Israel will be celebrating its 120th anniversary as one of the world's great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people."

His address was interrupted no less than 14 times by loud applause.

"America stands with you in breaking up terrorist networks and denying the extremists sanctuary. And America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," the president said.

Bush accused Ahmadinejad of seeking to return the Middle East to the Middle Ages by calling for the destruction of Israel.

"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," he said. "We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is � the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

After the speech made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the Knesset in March, it was hard to expect a more pro-Zionist speech. But as a former Knesset speaker, MK Reuven Rivlin, put it Thursday, "I wish our leaders would make speeches like this." Rivlin described Bush as "manifesting the Zionist vision."

Contrary to the applause Bush received for his address, the speech by Prime Minister Olmert was less popular and stirred considerable controversy.

Olmert promised that when there is a peace agreement it "will be approved by a large majority in the Knesset and it will be supported by the vast majority of the Israeli public."

Two MKs from the National Union, Zvi Hendel and Uri Ariel, left the plenum in protest, complaining that the event was "used to promote a political agenda that is opposed by most of the Israeli public."

Hendel issued a statement calling on Olmert "to learn from the president of the United States what Zionism is."

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) called out during Olmert's speech, "in your dreams."

He later proposed that Bush should replace Olmert.

Throughout the exchanges amount the rival Israeli politicians, President Bush appeared to be enjoying himself. When Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik finished her speech, he offered his hand in a "give me five" kind of love.

Olmert diverged from his speech and said that "we will bring before the Knesset an agreement that is based on the vision of two states for two peoples. This agreement will be approved by a large majority in the Knesset and the entire nation."

On Iran, Olmert said that "the seriousness of the threat demands that no means be discounted." However, he made it clear that "a uniform international political and economic front against Iran is currently in place, and tougher and more effective sanctions are a necessary stage, even if it is not the final stage, on the right way to block the Iranian threat."

Bush's Iraq War Harms US Security

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By Charles V. Peña

More than five years after the decision to invade Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein and impose democracy, nearly 160,000 U.S. soldiers remain there.

Despite the war’s growing unpopularity with Americans, President Bush is adamant about not setting an “artificial deadline” for withdrawing troops.

Last month’s anniversary of the fall of Saigon, April 30, 1975, and the final U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, ending the longest war of the last century, prompts some historical reflection—for example, the poignant photograph of people being plucked off that famous Saigon rooftop in April 1975, juxtaposed against the completion in Baghdad of the largest U.S. embassy ever.

In January 1973, the Paris agreement on Vietnam was concluded, providing for the withdrawal of American troops, and soon a cease-fire agreement was signed. Although the war’s end was imminent—this is not clear today with Iraq—the CIA’s Air America operation continued, and actually had its greatest losses in the two years following the decision to terminate the company.

So, just how long will the U.S. remain in Iraq? The answer appears to be “indefinitely.” The declaration of principles signed by Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in November commits the U.S. to a “long-term relationship” with Iraq, including “security assurances and commitments.”
Iraqi officials foresee a continued presence of 50,000 U.S. troops as a security guarantee.

Before the invasion, the president had declared, “We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more.” He also asserted that “the United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq’s new government.”

But the declaration of principles means there is no end in sight on how long the U.S. will stay in Iraq.

Moreover, a primary reason for having U.S. troops in Iraq is essentially to determine its precise form of government, i.e., supporting the Republic of Iraq in defending its democratic system against internal and external threats.

Given Iraq’s security forces’ current capabilities, of course their government would want the U.S. to provide for Iraqi security. But stability and security in Iraq are not—and never were—prerequisites for U.S. security. An insecure Iraq may be unpleasant, but is not a threat per se.

Even an unfriendly Iraqi government would not represent a direct military threat (just as Saddam Hussein never did). While Islamic extremist terrorists might remain in Iraq (a presence that did not exist under Saddam and was enabled by the U.S. invasion), they would be a threat to the Iraqi government, but not to America. Iraqis—including Sunnis—have no great love for Osama bin Laden or al-Qaida, so Iraq wouldn’t likely become a sanctuary for al-Qaida as Afghanistan was under the Taliban.

Perhaps more important, U.S. military presence in Iraq actually compromises U.S. security.

We know that 5,000 U.S. troops’ presence in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War fomented bin Laden’s hatred of the U.S., and was a stated reason for attacking America on 9/11. Even former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (considered the architect of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy) admitted that U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia were “a huge recruiting device for al-Qaida.”

So is keeping 10 times that many U.S. troops in Iraq—a country of great cultural importance to the Arab world.

Indeed, an April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that “the war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat,” and that “the Iraq conflict has become the ‘cause célèbre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”

Ultimately, an endless occupation of Iraq will do more to embolden the enemy who did us harm on 9/11 and increase the risk of terrorism on U.S. soil by giving Muslims worldwide more reasons to hate America. U.S. security demands we do the opposite of staying.

Paradoxically, leaving Iraq is actually a prerequisite, if not to victory, at least to avoiding defeat.

Health Ministers to Debate Drug Patent Dispute

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By Laura MacInnis

Geneva - Health ministers from around the world will try next week to bridge differences over how to overhaul drug patent rules that developing countries say make life-saving medicines costly and inaccessible.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has struggled to find a way to encourage the development of effective, affordable medical treatments for parasites and tropical diseases that have long been overlooked by the pharmaceutical industry.

A draft WHO plan proposed two years ago was rejected by both the pharmaceutical sector and poor nations as inadequate, and failing to balance competing claims for lower prices and incentives for developing costly treatments.

An intergovernmental group convened to address those problems failed earlier this month to agree on alternatives to the prevailing patent system that gives companies the exclusive right to sell drugs they develop over a fixed period of time.

WHO spokesman Bill Kean said health ministers attending the United Nations agency's annual World Health Assembly would seek to iron out the disagreements that have impeded progress in the intellectual property field.

"Some of these (differences) we really do think will be sorted out during the WHA," he told a news briefing in Geneva.

Development activists also see the May 19-24 meetings as a critical moment for the drug access issue, which has also been taken up by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in an agreement that makes allowances for developing countries to create or buy copycat versions of patented drugs.

The WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or "TRIPS" accord has been criticized as too limited to cope with the problems poor countries face accessing medicines to fight HIV, malaria and other diseases that kill, blind and disable millions of people each year.

"It is now up to the World Health Assembly in May to translate bold ideas into concrete action," Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said in a statement. "What we need to see is a wider, more ambitious framework for R&D and political leadership, in particular from WHO."

New Medicines

The United States and other rich nations have resisted a wholesale reform of intellectual property rules, which offer companies a return on their large investments into developing new drugs, and help protect against counterfeits.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), whose members include Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Wyeth, Novartis, Merck, AstraZeneca and Sanofi-Aventis, has called patent protections key to health innovation.

Strong health care systems, efficient markets and adequate regulations are also needed to ensure people get the treatments they need, IFPMA Director Harvey Bale said in a statement.

"It is important to have a stable, enabling policy environment in each of these areas to ensure a sustained flow of new medicines for the benefit of patients worldwide," he said.

In addition to the patent question, delegates from the WHO's 193 member states will consider next week how the U.N. agency should proceed in its efforts to confront the threat of pandemic flu, eradicate polio and fight obesity and diabetes.

They will also examine the links between climate change and health, assess progress in achieving U.N. goals on reducing child mortality and malnutrition, and consider ways to work more effectively with other international agencies, Kean said.

The WHO leads the development of global public health policy, including issuing advisories on which vaccines people need for international travel and guidance for countries coping with disease outbreaks or other emergencies.

It also collaborates with financing bodies such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the GAVI Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help improve standards of health care, especially in poor parts of the world.

Israel’s crisis and the historic contradictions of Zionism

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By Bill Van Auken

Israel marked the 50th anniversary of its founding under conditions of mounting political and social crisis within the Zionist state and escalating tensions with the Palestinian people in the territories still occupied by Israeli forces, as well as with the surrounding Arab world.

None of the official commemorations organized in Israel itself, nor the glitzy and superficial celebrations staged by Israel’s friends in the U.S. and elsewhere, even touched upon the profound historical questions underlying the foundation of the Israeli state.

Within Israel’s birth and evolution are concentrated the great unresolved contradictions of the 20th century. Its essential origins lie in one of history’s greatest crimes against humanity, the Nazi Holocaust. The extermination of six million European Jews was, in turn, the terrible price paid for the crisis of the working class movement brought on by the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union and the Communist International. Stalinism’s crimes and its domination over the workers movement prevented the working class from putting an end to the crisis-ridden capitalist system, which found in fascism its last line of defense.

The defeats of the working class, the crimes of Stalinism and the horrors of the Holocaust created the historical conditions for Israel’s creation and the Zionist movement’s largely successful attempt, aided both by US imperialism and Stalinism, to equate Zionism with world Jewry. It was a movement and a state founded ultimately on discouragement and despair. Stalinism’s betrayals produced disillusionment in the socialist alternative that had exercised such a powerful appeal to Jewish working people all over the world. The crimes of German fascism were presented as the ultimate proof that it was impossible to vanquish anti-Semitism in Europe or anywhere else. Zionism’s answer was to get a state and an army and beat the historical oppressors of the Jewish people at their own game.

The tragic irony of this supposed solution is Israel’s association of the Jewish people—traditionally and historically connected with the struggle for tolerance and freedom—with the brutal suppression of another oppressed population.

David Ben-Gurion read out the declaration of Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948, the day before Britain’s mandate over Palestine was to expire. Within less than a year, Israeli military forces had succeeded in carving out the country’s present internationally-recognized borders, while over three-quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs were driven from their homes in a systematic campaign of terrorism and intimidation.

Ben Gurion described the realization of Israeli statehood as the “culmination of the Jewish revolution.” It represented the achievement of the central political aim of Zionism, the Jewish nationalist movement founded in the latter part of the 19th century. Before World War II, Zionism had remained a relatively isolated movement, drawing its support primarily from sections of the Jewish middle class. Even within Palestine, there existed among Jewish workers a powerful class sentiment for uniting Jewish and Arab workers in a common movement against capitalism.

While it took the Holocaust to turn Zionism into a state power, the real relations between the crimes carried out by Nazism against European Jewry and the Zionist movement have been the subject of systematic historical distortion. Israel is portrayed as the necessary haven for Jews fleeing the German death camps. Yet the attitude of Zionism toward the struggle to save Jews from extermination was not so simple.

This is one of many subjects which Israeli historians have begun to examine. Known as the “new historians,” the “post-Zionist” or “revisionist” school, the emergence of this critical attitude toward Israel’s history is one of the most profound signs of the growing crisis of Zionism as an ideology and of Israel as a society.

Among these new historians is Zeev Sternhell, the author of The Founding Myths of Israel, recently published in English. Sternhell’s book debunks some of Zionism’s most powerful myths, principally that those Zionist leaders who founded Israel were attempting to establish a new type of society based upon egalitarian principles and even socialism.

This historian establishes that Zionism was by no mean unique. It arose as a peculiar expression of the trend of eastern European nationalism of the 19th century; one based not on universal democratic principles, but rather on exclusivist conceptions of racial, religious and linguistic hegemony. Ironically, a movement that claimed to stand for the liberation of Jews found substantial common ground with anti-Semites and right-wing nationalist precursors of German fascism.

Zionism, he writes, “was from the beginning the preoccupation of a minority, which understood the Jewish problem not in terms of physical existence and the provision of economic security, but as an enterprise for rescuing the nation from the danger of collective annihilation.” It perceived the greatest danger of annihilation as coming from the assimilation of Jews into modern society, particularly through the attraction of growing numbers of Jewish workers to the socialist movement.

To the extent that the founders of the Zionist state attempted to identify Zionism with the labor movement, equality and socialism it was, Sternhell writes, a “mobilizing myth,” designed to win working-class Jews to the cause of nationalism. He makes the case that this use of socialist phraseology had much in common with other “national socialist” movements seeking nationalist revival in Europe, ultimately giving rise to Nazism.

Certainly the case can be made that many other nationalist movements in the course of the 20th century, including Arab nationalism, which has represented itself as socialist and egalitarian, have utilized such a “mobilizing myth.” In every case, such ideologies have the purpose of covering up the interests of the national bourgeoisie and suppressing the independent struggle of the working class.

As for Israel’s justification as the sole possible haven for Jews fleeing Nazi oppression, Sternhell, as well as other historians—Tom Segev, author of The Seventh Million, the Israelis and the Holocaust, for example—have presented ample evidence that the rescue of European Jewry was never a primary concern for Zionism as a movement, and that Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders reacted with indifference.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, with Nazism’s threat to the Jews of Europe becoming ever clearer, Ben-Gurion spelled out the principle which was to guide the Zionist movement’s attitude throughout the Holocaust: “Zionist considerations take precedence over Jewish sentiments...we should act according to Zionist considerations and not merely Jewish considerations, for a Jew is not automatically a Zionist.” Throughout the war he argued successfully against those who suggested that the Jewish Agency in Palestine turn its attention from the building of “Eretz Israel” to the rescue of Jews from Nazism.

At the same time the Zionists lost no time in making use of the catastrophe in Europe for their own ends. Their efforts were successful, as Europe’s stateless and homeless surviving Jewish population was directed to Palestine for very definite geopolitical reasons. Washington, which had closed US borders to Jews fleeing Nazi oppression, saw the emergence of the Jewish state in the Middle East as an instrument for asserting its own hegemony in the region at the expense of the old colonial powers, Britain and France.

Founded in the struggle to wrest control of the land from its Arab inhabitants, Israel was from its origins a militarized state, with the army serving as the central pillar of society. Surrounded by hostile Arab states and posturing as a new form of society, founded upon equality and vaguely socialist principles, the new state was widely perceived as an underdog, deserving of popular sympathy.

Both realities and perceptions underwent change, however, with the growth of Israel into the undisputed military force and sole nuclear power in the region. First came the 1956 Suez war, in which Israel briefly seized the Sinai Peninsula. The 1967 war redrew the map of the Middle East once again, setting the parameters of the current conflict. With US backing, Israel invaded Egypt, Syria and Jordan, laying hold of the West Bank of the Jordan River, the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip, which it occupies to this day. Zionism and the state of Israel emerged as a force of aggression and expansionism. Israel has fought further wars in Lebanon, where it continues to occupy a “security zone” in the south.

Israel’s initial military expansion was made possible by a massive and continuous infusion of US economic and military aid. Underlying the $3 billion in annual aid, Washington’s “special relation” with Israel has nothing to do with shared principles or sympathy for the historic oppression of the Jewish people. Rather, it backs Israel as a garrison state which serves to suppress the revolutionary strivings of the masses of the Middle East, while providing a means of extending US influence in this strategically vital oil-producing region.

Israeli militarism went hand in hand with the growth of reactionary political and social tendencies within Israel itself. Israel’s occupation and administration of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, exercising a political dictatorship over roughly a million Palestinians, not only exposed the oppressive character of the Israeli state, but brought to the surface all of the contradictions embedded in Zionism as a movement.

In 1968 Zionist settlements were begun in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, on the theory that these paramilitary outposts would serve as a line of defense against attacks by Palestinian guerrillas on Israel proper. While the Labor Party government initially presented the settlements as no more than a defensive parameter, which would not preclude the handing back of the territories to Jordan and Egypt, the issue of the status of the West Bank and Gaza quickly became the focal point of Israeli politics.

The right-wing opposition under the leadership of Menachem Begin demanded that the territories be brought under Israeli sovereignty on the grounds that they were the Biblical lands of Samaria and Judea, promised by God to the Jewish people. Thirty years later the issue has yet to be resolved, despite the much-heralded Middle East peace brokered by the Clinton administration and signed by both Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. One hundred and forty four settlements are scattered throughout the territories, inhabited by 160,000 settlers, many of them extreme nationalists and religious zealots who are heavily armed.

The settlements continue to grow at the rate of 9 percent a year, despite the agreement signed with the PLO. The Israeli government insists that its forces must control the access roads to these enclaves and their connection to Israel itself. This alone exposes the largely token character of any “independent” Palestinian state that might emerge from this process. The Palestinian Authority is left to police small patches of land, mostly impoverished cities, while it remains surrounded and cut off by Israeli troops. As the stalemate in the US-brokered talks makes clear, the Israeli state is not prepared to make any fundamental alterations in the present situation.

Israel’s motivation for signing the Middle East accord was, in the first place, to forestall a revolutionary uprising by the Palestinian masses in the occupied territories, which had taken embryonic form in the intifada which began in 1987. Despite sustained and brutal repression, Israel proved incapable of putting down this rebellion without seeking the direct collaboration of the PLO.

At the same time, the Israeli ruling class was anxious to escape the punishing economic and social costs associated with the occupation, both in terms of military expenditures and the pariah status which Israel acquired throughout the Arab world and elsewhere.

But as the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 and the subsequent return to power by the Israeli right under Benjamin Netanyahu have shown, it is not so easy to escape the historical contradictions of Zionism. The settlement policy begun by the Labor Party spawned a right-wing nationalist, semi-fascist layer, which produced the assassin that claimed Rabin’s life. Increasingly, the debate over the future of the settlements, as well as the associated question of the increasingly bitter conflict between religious and secular Israeli Jews, is spoken of in terms of a “civil war.”

Wielding disproportionate power in the government, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox political parties have increasingly imposed the dictates of Jewish religious law in areas previously deemed secular. All administrative control over births, marriages and burial arrangements has been placed in the hands of the Orthodox rabbinate, much to the consternation of Conservative, Reform and secular Jews. Orthodox members of the Knesset, who play a pivotal role in cobbling together coalition governments, are demanding laws that would close down roads and force an end to flights by El Al, the national airline, on Saturdays. Many communities have become bitterly divided between Orthodox and secular Jews, reaching the point of physical confrontation.

No less deep are the social chasms that have emerged in Israel. In a country that once claimed to need every Jewish immigrant for the labor of national construction, 8.2 percent of the population is unemployed, according to the official figures. The ranks of the jobless are concentrated in impoverished “development towns,” like Ofkim in the Negev. Rioting broke out there six months ago after the town’s unemployment rate reached 14.3 percent.

Ethiopian Jews also rioted last year over their treatment as second-class citizens. The resentment of Sephardic Jews, those originating in the Arab world, against the Ashkenazic, or European Jewish, establishment, has emerged as a volatile and pivotal factor in Israeli politics. Menachem Begin was able to manipulate this resentment in a rightward direction, to no small degree because of the glaring contradiction between the socialist pretensions of Israel’s Zionist founders and the immense social polarization which exists in Israeli society today.

An essential economic contradiction continues to undermine both the Zionist project and the conception underlying the Middle East peace accord of a new economic partnership between the Israeli bourgeoisie and its Arab counterparts. The fastest growing sector within Israel is the high-technology industry, which produces neither for the national nor the regional market. Fully 96 percent of Israel’s exports and 93 percent of its imports are conducted with areas outside the region.

While the impasse over the occupied territories has largely frozen the growth of Arab-Israeli economic ties, the development of such relations would ultimately take place at the expense of the masses of working people, Arab and Jewish alike. The Arab world offers the Israeli capitalist the prospect of new reserves of cheap labor to further depress the living standards of workers in Israel itself.

Within the areas administered by the PLO in Gaza and the West Bank, meanwhile, the Palestinian workers are finding that their conditions of social oppression have only continued to worsen, while a small layer of government bureaucrats and businessmen with political connections are seeking their fortunes.

Fifty years after Israel’s founding, the reactionary Zionist utopia of a national state in which the Jews of the world could find sanctuary, unity and equality has been realized in the form of a capitalist state created through the dispossession of another people and maintained through war, repression and social inequality at home. As the assassination of Rabin and other violent acts by the extreme right-wing forces cultivated by the Zionist state have shown, there is a danger that Israel itself will reproduce the conditions of dictatorship and civil war from which an earlier generation of European Jews fled.

The dead-end of Zionism is a peculiar expression of the failure of all movements that have based themselves on the perspective of nationalism to resolve any of the fundamental questions confronting the masses of working people. This is no less true for the Arab countries, where ruling cliques have manipulated nationalist sentiments and bitter resentment of Israel in order to divert the social struggles of the working class.

There is only way out of the malignant contradictions of Israeli society. That is to unite Arab and Jewish workers in a common struggle against capitalism and for the building of a socialist society, which would tear down the artificial borders which divide the peoples and economies of the region. Only in this way can the region liberate itself from war and oppression, fueled by the profit drive of foreign capitalists and the native ruling classes.