Thursday, January 15, 2009

Future Shock at the Army Science Conference

Go to Original
By Nick Turse

Eco-Explosives, a Bleeding BEAR, and the Armani-Clad Super Soldier

[Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute.]

On paper, every session looked like gold to me. Technology and the Warfighter. Neuroscience and Its Potential Applications. Lethality Technologies. Autonomous/Unmanned Systems. (Robots!)

But when I got to the luxury hotel in sunny Orlando, Florida, for the 26th Army Science Conference, all that potentially glittered, it often seemed, was nowhere to be found -- except, perhaps, in the threads of the unlikeliest of military uniforms.

I expected to hear about nefarious new technologies. To see tomorrow's killing machines in a dazzling exhibit hall. To learn something about the Army's secret plans for the coming decades. To be awed -- or disgusted -- by a peek at the next 50 years of war-making.

What I stumbled into, however, seemed more like a cross between a dumbed-down academic conference and a weekend wealth expo, paired with an exhibit hall whose contents might not have rivaled those of a regional auto show. I came away knowing less about the next half century of lethal technologies than the last eight years of wheel-spinning, never-winning occupations of foreign lands.

If you didn't know that the Army held its science conference last month -- much less that they've been going on biennially since 1957 -- you can't be faulted. Only a handful of reporters were on the premises, most of them with small defense industry publications.

Officially, according to its own publicity handout, the conference was intended "to promote and strategically communicate that the Army is a high-tech force, enable the public to understand what the Army S&T [science and technology] community does to support the Soldier, and enable conference attendees to better appreciate the potential emerging technologies have to provide disruptive capabilities to our Soldiers in the future."

In reality, it was a junket for Army civilian personnel, enlisted troops, and officers, along with academic researchers from top universities, representatives of defense contractors, a handful of foreign military folks from across the globe, and, for one day, about 100 grade school children. It was a chance for the thousand or so attendees to schmooze and booze, compare notes, and trade business cards.

Don't get me wrong. The military does some striking science and, not surprisingly, some of the high-tech research presented was nothing short of mind-blowing. Who knew you could potentially grow a battery -- for a flashlight or a truck -- the way a clam grows a shell? Or that memories in mice can be selectively erased? But all too often the talks and panels were mind-numbing, leaving plenty of time for catered breaks, the downing of overpriced drinks, and a chance to wander through hallways filled with the military/scientific version of those posters you invariably see at high school science fairs, including the one that should have won all awards for pure indecipherability:

"Osteomyelitis Treatment with Nanometer-sized Hydroxyapatite Particles as a Delivery Vehicle for a Ciprofloxacin-bisphosphonate Conjugate; New Fluoroquinolone-bisphosphonate Derivatives Show Similar Binding Affinity to Hydroxyapatite and Improved Antibacterial Activity Against Drug-resistant Pathogens."

Then there was the exhibit hall.

A Disembodied Head, a Cobra, and a Bleeding BEAR

With a military budget approaching a trillion dollars, you'd think at least the exhibits would wow you. No such luck. At the entrance to the "Coquina Ballroom" was no futuristic space tank, but an old Canadian Cougar -- a 1970s-vintage general purpose armored vehicle loaned to the U.S. Army by America's northern neighbors for research purposes. The first time I passed it, I was heading for a press-only preview of the latest innovation produced by the Institute for Creative Technologies -- an Army-founded and funded center at the University of Southern California set up in 1999 "to build a partnership among the entertainment industry, army and academia with the goal of creating synthetic experiences so compelling that participants react as if they are real."

The only thing less impressive than the press corps on hand for that day's unveiling (two slightly rumpled "defense" reporters and me) was the unveiled itself: an interactive 360-degree, 3D holographic display. Sure, it sounds impressive, but if, back in 1977, you saw that fake Princess Leia hologram in Star Wars, then you're already, in your imagination, light years ahead of what the military has produced. In fact, if you caught CNN reporter Jessica Yellin appearing by hologram from Chicago in Wolf Blitzer's studio on election night (and you were me), you might have wondered whether you shouldn't have been attending the latest Cable News Science Conference rather than this one.

Basically, what I saw was a man sitting behind a curtain while his head was projected onto a nearby fast-spinning piece of polished metal. In other words, a black-and-white, three-dimensional, disembodied head right out of some campy 1950s sci-fi film "spoke" to us via a perfectly ordinary microphone and speaker set-up. When perfected, claimed ICT, the technology would be used for 3D visual communication, 3D gestures evidently being considered vastly superior to the 2D variant on or off the battlefield.

I walked away convinced that Dick Tracy could have done it a lot better. The only advantage of the current Army system is that it should be fairly cheap to reproduce -- now that they know how to do it -- since it uses relatively low-tech, off-the-shelf (if modded out) components. Why they need to do it in the first place isn't so clear.

But hope springs eternal… so I headed for the nearby robot exhibits where a pitchman was touting one upcoming battlefield model in a slightly defensive fashion: "It's not the T-1000, but we're workin' on it." He was referring, of course, to the morphing late-model Terminator that tried to take out Arnold Schwarzenegger (aka model T-101) in Terminator 2.

The sparse audience was noticeably underwhelmed, as his robot lacked anything approaching a liquid metal structure or even a Schwarzeneggerian android physique. It was, in fact, a little tracked vehicle resembling a slightly bulked up, if markedly slower, radio-controlled toy car. It certainly looked ready for the battlefield -- of my childhood playroom floor, where it could have taken on my Milton Bradley-made programmable, futuristic toy tank, Big Trak.

Another nearby 'bot was BEAR -- the Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot -- a four-foot-tall would-be rescue automaton with tank treads. Its claim to fame seems to be that it can rear up to six feet tall, with its tracks becoming legs, and walk. Of course, with its rudimentary teddy bear head, it's likely to crack up friend and foe alike on any futuristic battlescape.

I'd read about BEAR for years, but had never seen it in person (so to speak). Not only was it remarkably balky, but it bore a disappointing lack of resemblance to the renderings of it on the website of its maker, Vecna Robotics. One of its pitchmen spent a great deal of time kicking very specific objects into a very specific position so BEAR could actually lift them -- not exactly a battlefield likelihood -- while another gave an apologetic spiel explaining the robot's many drawbacks, including its low battery life. "Obviously, this couldn't go on a battlefield," he said. Soon after, red liquid began to pool on the floor just beneath the BEAR. "It bleeds like a human, too," one sarcastic conference-goer remarked as the robot hemorrhaged hydraulic fluid.

Strapped into a Cobra helicopter gunship simulator -- actually the cockpit of an old chopper best known for its service in Vietnam -- I was a BEAR-like bust myself. Pilots, I was assured, can pick up the system within 10 minutes and indeed the woman strapped in when I got there -- the self-proclaimed "world's worst video game player" -- had just done a serviceable job of "flying" the Cobra and knocking out three enemy vehicles on its surprisingly low-tech video game screen. Donning a wired-up flight vest that buzzes your body whenever your helicopter is drifting, I took a seat at the controls. My lower brain, the designer assured me, would take over and I'd steer intuitively.

Not a chance. A "virtual wind" caused the copter to drift and I fired way too wide at the enemy tank and the mobile missile launcher, even with the most generous blast-radius imaginable; then I missed an enemy copter too, which was just getting away when I launched a second rocket that exploded nowhere nearby but somehow caused it to erupt in a fireball anyway. My performance was all too pathetic, given that the simulator struck me as state-of-the-art -- circa 1997. Humbled by the chopped-up chopper with Nintendo 64-quality graphics, I wandered off.

On opening night, I found myself walking in the wake of a French General who seemed to be everywhere at the conference, with her aide de camp always in tow. She was drinking red wine (the aide, a Bud) and their path through a sea of pasta, pork, and turkey-gorging corporate suits, federally-funded professors, and military men and women taking advantage of the one-night-only buffet seemed hardly less aimless than mine.

Still, I pressed on, past a giant orb that looked like a gravitationally-challenged weather balloon -- actually, a DSCT or Deployable Satellite Communication Terminal portable satellite system -- until I stumbled upon the "Future Force Warrior," accompanied by Jean-Louis ("Dutch") DeGay, an Army veteran who serves as a civilian equipment specialist at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.

The Armani-Clad Super Soldier

Early in the decade, the Army began promoting the idea of the "Future Force Warrior" -- then known as the "Objective Force Warrior." It was touted as a robo-suit with on-board computers, advanced armor, and integrated weapons systems that, when introduced around 2020, would revolutionize land warfare. The jet-black suit was going to transform every soldier into an advanced exoskeleton-clad cyborg. The United States would instantly have an army of high-performance Darth Vaders, not pathetically human, ground-pounding grunts.

Today, the date for fielding the super-soldier suit has been pushed to 2030, while the old mock-up, after so many appearances, is starting to show its age. And it's not even black. The tacky-looking tan outfit proved a mix of glittery, gold-flecked clingy fabric and plastic armor pieces -- with a motocross-like helmet that encapsulates the whole head and hides the face behind a visor. It would have been laughed out of the nearest sci-fi convention.

Still, that didn't stop the Army from, once again, formally unveiling the Future Force Warrior during an afternoon panel discussion, and touting the project as a great leap forward, an "F-16 on legs concept." In a corridor behind the scenes, the costumed character was awaiting his moment to stride out in front of the audience. From far away, he might have looked almost ready to take on space aliens à la Master Chief from the Halo video games but, close up, he had a nasty case of static cling and needed an attendant to help keep the suit's stretchy, shimmery fabric from bunching up at the ankles.

"Nobody's gonna want to take your picture without your helmet on," DeGay told the Army's lone costumed character as a woman approached with a digital camera. The poor staff sergeant inside the suit grimaced. He had already taken a day's punishment -- people constantly asking if the suit was too hot (it is!) or uncomfortable (it is!). "I love that everybody asks that. Everybody either asks him that or hits him. That's the two things that always happen," DeGay said with a laugh. "You were on the ground 20 minutes and somebody hit ya and it was a woman."

The super soldier dutifully donned the helmet for the photo. "I've gotten a lot of requests," said DeGay. "Is he available for parties, graduations, bar mitzvahs?" A slightly drunk attendee suddenly began to razz the super-soldier. "How do you feel about the glittery shirt? Does it make you feel tough?"

DeGay promptly interjected that the suit's sparkly fabric had an absurd backstory. "We were trying to find replacements. We did a fabric search and came to find out it's Armani. There were only four yards left. It's about $320 a yard… This is actually an end roll off Armani and we took the last five yards of it that exists. And because it's Armani, we heated it up and dyed it and changed the colors. It's kinda like taking a big poop on the hood of a Ferrari."

The picture taken, the Army's living plastic-clad prop shifted his weight and took off his helmet, while DeGay added a final quip. "At least," he told the sergeant, "you can say for once in your Army career you wore Armani."

Going Green

What explosives can do to a human body isn't pretty. After all, they can turn what once was a foot into an ankle with an unnatural fleshy stump on the end, or a working eye into a useless perpetual wink. When you've seen it all up close, it's hard not to shake your head on first hearing about green explosives, but that's what the Army's working on.

Don't get me wrong. On some level, there is merit in the work. While more people are aware of the deleterious health effects of the depleted uranium (DU) projectiles the U.S. military now regularly uses in its wars, there are many other types of munitions whose chemical components, in addition to their destructive purpose, are dangerous to human health and the environment. Typical would be RDX (Hexahydro-1, 3, 5-trinitro-1, 3, 5-triazine).

Dr. Betsy Rice, a slight scientist who's worked for the Army for about 20 years, explained with a twang, "We are tasked with trying to find replacements for RDX, a conventional explosive that's widely used. RDX is a neurotoxin and it's a major contaminant of training grounds, so there is a great need to replace this with something -- an environmentally friendly alternative." And to that end, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, where she's a research chemist in the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate, is striving to create the "most environmentally-friendly explosive product known to man."

The would-be green explosive, polynitrogen, is currently too unstable to be used, but her lab is hard at work solving that problem. If you want call it that. Rice doesn't. To her, it's "a really fun project." Fun and green! It was as if the polynitrogen project was going to yield clean, cheap energy, instead of maiming and killing people in an ecologically-friendly way. But nobody seemed to blink and the conference rolled along.

Top Grunt: We Can't Keep Up With al-Qaeda

Through the four days of the Army Science Conference, two obvious elephants -- or were they 800-pound gorillas? -- inhabited every room, corridor, and common area: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. People regularly talked about both wars without significantly addressing their impact in terms of science and technology, let alone larger issues.

Post-surge, it was certainly easier for the attendees to discuss the younger of the two conflicts in which many seemed to take pride, even though the ongoing, financially ruinous occupation had led to the deaths of huge numbers of Iraqis. That was, after all, about as close as the highest tech military on the planet could actually come to a success story. The formerly successful war in Afghanistan, now raging into its eighth year, was far more wince-worthy, even though attendees clearly preferred to look upon it as an upcoming challenge -- and, of course, testing ground for Army science and technology -- not as a longstanding catastrophe.

But as one panel discussion drew to a close, one of the top-ranking enlisted men in the Army, a highly decorated veteran of the Global War on Terror, made a startling admission. He was discussing the typical pack-laden, weapons-toting, up-armored U.S. soldier "goin' up and down the mountains of Afghanistan right now." As he pointed out, that grunt could not haul one more piece of gear. "Nor is there a soldier," he continued in a burst of candor, "that, currently configured, can keep up with al-Qaeda because we're chasing guys that are armed with AK-47s and tennis shoes."

I asked him later whether it made sense to spend close to $20,000, the average price today to kit up (as the British might say) a soldier who can't keep up with the insurgents he is meant to track down. Has anyone considered, I asked, going back to the $1,900 it cost to outfit a less encumbered grunt of the Vietnam War era who could, assuredly, have kept better pace with today's guerillas.

As I learned at this conference, however, questions like these go nowhere in a big hurry. Instead, he backpedaled quickly, declaring that, in Afghanistan, "we're gettin' it done." A colleague of the same rank, and fellow GWOT veteran, quickly jumped in, pointing out that today's bulky body armor has saved a lot of lives. As for today's insurgents, he said, "Yeah, I can't run the mountain with them, but I'll still get them -- eventually."

The big-picture lesson seemed to be that current Army technology has made American wars feasible, but interminable. Heavy body armor has helped keep U.S. combat deaths down to a level acceptable to the American public; but, of course, the same bulky gear helps ensure that fast-moving insurgents, who already know the land well, live to fight another day. And, since the enemy is unlikely to be caught on foot, U.S. troops become ever more reliant on air or artillery strikes that are likely to kill civilians in rural Afghanistan and so recruit more insurgents. The scenario suggested is one that's already in operation: an endless cycle of American failure and foreign carnage enabled, implemented, and exacerbated by recent technological innovations.

On paper, advances in Army science and technology research tended to sound scary and look impressive. In practice, as the 26th Army Science Conference showed, seeing is believing. I had expected everything to be big, bad, and bellicose; what I found fit better with what we already know about the realities of an over-bloated, over-stressed, over-strained Pentagon. While glossy brochures and programs were festooned with pictures of the black-clad Future Force Warrior, Army robots, and dazzling screen shots of video-game-like simulators, these gilded graphics couldn't obscure the disappointing realities and air of desperation lurking just below the surface of the conference.

So I left Orlando with more questions than answers when it comes to the future of the U.S. Army.

Is there any possibility that holography will really revolutionize Army communications early enough to matter? Or is this just an area where taxpayers are funding needlessly militarized science projects?

Will the mildly absurd dream of an environmentally-safe explosive be realized anytime soon? Will the Army's future consist of battalions of armed Terminators, as many fear, or will the next generation of robots cost a fortune and bleed out like BEAR?

What does it say about the U.S. Army when its prototype future super-soldier models haute couture from a high-priced, glittery foreign fashion house?

And since Armani's run out of the Army's favorite fabric, does Dolce & Gabbana have a shot?

'War on terror' was wrong

Go to Original
By David Miliband

The phrase gives a false idea of a unified global enemy, and encourages a primarily military reply

The terrorist attacks in Mumbai seven weeks ago sent shock waves around the world. Now all eyes are fixed on the Middle East, where Israel's response to Hamas's rockets, a ferocious military campaign, has already left a thousand Gazans dead.

Seven years on from 9/11 it is clear that we need to take a fundamental look at our efforts to prevent extremism and its terrible offspring, terrorist violence. Since 9/11, the notion of a "war on terror" has defined the terrain. The phrase had some merit: it captured the gravity of the threats, the need for solidarity, and the need to respond urgently - where necessary, with force. But ultimately, the notion is misleading and mistaken. The issue is not whether we need to attack the use of terror at its roots, with all the tools available. We must. The question is how.

The idea of a "war on terror" gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate. Lashkar-e-Taiba has roots in Pakistan and says its cause is Kashmir. Hezbollah says it stands for resistance to occupation of the Golan Heights. The Shia and Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq have myriad demands. They are as diverse as the 1970s European movements of the IRA, Baader-Meinhof, and Eta. All used terrorism and sometimes they supported each other, but their causes were not unified and their cooperation was opportunistic. So it is today.

The more we lump terrorist groups together and draw the battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common. Terrorist groups need to be tackled at root, interdicting flows of weapons and finance, exposing the shallowness of their claims, channelling their followers into democratic politics.

The "war on terror" also implied that the correct response was primarily military. But as General Petraeus said to me and others in Iraq, the coalition there could not kill its way out of the problems of insurgency and civil strife.

This is what divides supporters and opponents of the military action in Gaza. Similar issues are raised by the debate about the response to the Mumbai attacks. Those who were responsible must be brought to justice and the government of Pakistan must take urgent and effective action to break up terror networks on its soil. But on my visit to south Asia this week, I am arguing that the best antidote to the terrorist threat in the long term is cooperation. Although I understand the current difficulties, resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders.

We must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it, for it is the cornerstone of the democratic society. We must uphold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad. That is surely the lesson of Guantánamo and it is why we welcome President-elect Obama's commitment to close it.

The call for a "war on terror" was a call to arms, an attempt to build solidarity for a fight against a single shared enemy. But the foundation for solidarity between peoples and nations should be based not on who we are against, but on the idea of who we are and the values we share. Terrorists succeed when they render countries fearful and vindictive; when they sow division and animosity; when they force countries to respond with violence and repression. The best response is to refuse to be cowed.

U.S. rabbis urge Obama to push for immediate Gaza truce

Go to Original
By Natasha Mozgavaya

A group of rabbis and other religious leaders bought advertising space in the New York Times this week to call for U.S. president-elect Barack Obama to push for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

The ad, placed by the Network of Spiritual Progressives and claiming to represent more than 2,800 other religious, cultural and community leaders, urges Obama to convene an international Middle East peace conference to "facilitate a lasting and just settlement for all parties."

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, who convened the group, said the group had to buy the advertising space because the national newspapers would not make room for their perspective.

"They feel that AIPAC's choice is overwhelming, and there's no space left for empathy or objective coverage - the media, according to the group, simply ignored the voice of the Jewish opposition to war in Gaza," Rabbi Lerner said.

Eleven prominent British Jews, including Baroness Julia Neuberger, published a letter in The Observer newspaper last weekend expressing their "horror" at the Gaza conflict and calling on Israel to stop its military campaign.

Israel has been waging an offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip since December 27. The operation, launched in order to halt cross-border rocket fire, has come under heavy criticism for the high number of civilian casualties.

UN headquarters in Gaza hit by Israeli 'white phosphorus' shells

Go to Original
By Sheera Frenkel and Philippe Naughton

The main UN compound in Gaza was left in flames today after being struck by Israeli artillery fire, and a spokesman said that the building had been hit by shells containing the incendiary agent white phosphorus.

The attack on the headquarters of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) came as Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, arrived in Israel on a peace mission and plunged Israel's relations with the world body to a new low.

Mr Ban expressed his "strong protest and outrage" at the shelling and demanded an investigation, only to be told by apologetic Israeli leaders that their forces had been returning fire from within the UN compound.

"The Israeli forces were attacked from there and their response was severe," Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, told the UN chief, according to a statement released by his office.

"We do not want such incidents to take place and I am sorry for it but I don’t know if you know, but Hamas fired from the UNRWA site. This is a sad incident and I apologise for it."

UNWRA, which looks after around four million Palestinian refugees in the region, suspended its operations in Gaza after the attack, in which three of its employees were injured.

Chris Gunness, a UNRWA spokesman, said that the building had been used to shelter hundreds of people fleeing Israel’s 20-day offensive in Gaza. He said that pallets with supplies desperately needed by Palestinians in Gaza were on fire.

"What more stark symbolism do you need?" he said. "You can’t put out white phosphorus with traditional methods such as fire extinguishers. You need sand, we don’t have sand."

The Israeli military has denied using white phosphorus shells in the Gaza offensive, although an investigation by The Times has revealed that dozens of Palestinians in Gaza have sustained serious injuries from the substance, which burns at extremely high temperatures.

The Geneva Convention of 1980 proscribes the use of white phosphorus as a weapon of war in civilian areas, although it can be used to create a smokescreen. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said today that all weapons used in Gaza were "within the scope of international law".

The attack on the UN compound came as Israeli forces pushed deeper into Gaza City and unleashed their heaviest shelling on its crowded neighbourhoods in three weeks of war. At least 15 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli attacks, medical officials said, pushing the death toll up towards 1,100 — a level that Mr Ban described as "unbearable".

It was not clear whether the escalation signalled a new phase in the conflict. Israel has held back from all-out urban warfare in the narrow alleyways of Gaza's cities, where Hamas militants are more familiar with the lay of the land.

Black smoke billowed over Gaza City, terrifying civilians who said that they had "nowhere left to hide" from the relentless shelling.

"I am telling you that Gaza is on fire, everything is under attack. We cannot begin to answer all the calls for help, it is desperate. We cannot reach the people, everyone is trapped and we do not know how to help them," said Doctor Moussa El Haddad at Shifa Hospital.

Maha El-Sheiky, 36, said that she fled her home in the western suburbs of Gaza City two days ago, moving her family into a school in the centre of the city. "We thought it would be safer here. But now there is shelling everywhere. It is schools and mosques and hospitals. We don’t know what will be next," she said. "We are hiding, it is in God’s hands."

There were reports that the al-Quds hospital in the Tal El Hawa district, Gaza's second-largest, had been shelled, while more than 500 patients were being treated inside.

An explosion also blasted a tower block that houses the offices of Reuters and several other media organisations, injuring a journalist working for the Abu Dhabi television channel.

Reuters journalists working at the time said it appeared that the southern side of the 13th floor of the Al-Shurouq Tower in the city centre had been struck by an Israeli missile or shell. Reuters evacuated its bureau.

Several organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and Human Rights Watch, said that they were "certain" that Israel was using white phosphorus shells in Gaza. Human rights workers said that the use of phosphorus in the densely populated Gaza City could constitute a war crime.

Israel launched the offensive on December 27 in an effort to stop militant rocket fire from Gaza that has terrorised hundreds of thousands of Israelis. It says that it will press ahead until it receives guarantees of a complete halt to rocket fire and an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza from neighbouring Egypt.

The attack on the UN compound prompted international protests.

Lord Malloch-Brown, the Foreign Office Minister, said that there was "absolutely no excuse" for the shelling, which, he said, reminded him of a similar attack on a UN observation post during the Israeli offensive into Lebanon in 2006.

He told peers: "With over 1,000 people now dead in Gaza, many of them civilians and children, the urgent need for a diplomatic solution is clear. A robust and immediate ceasefire is the only way the current situation in Gaza can be addressed."

William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "The shelling of the UN Headquarters in Gaza is unacceptable. This undercuts efforts to bring relief to the people of Gaza and is against Israel’s own interests. The UNWRA provides food and aid to over a million Palestinian refugees in Gaza.

"The suspension of its operations will bring more misery to civilians. We desperately need a ceasefire by both sides, not further escalation. Both sides must meet their obligations to protect aid workers at all times."

The conflict was also discussed at talks between Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, in Berlin. Aides said that Mr Brown was expected to speak to Mr Ban later today.

Financial Coup d’Etat & Your 401(k)

Go to Original

In 1997, I had approximately $500,000 of assets sitting in a 401(k) at T. Rowe Price. The funds represented a portion of the money I saved while working on Wall Street. After I left the Bush Administration, I used these funds, along with the proceeds of the sale of my house, to start a company called the Hamilton Securities Group.

It was not long before Hamilton Securities was successful and repaid my 401(k) the funds that had given it life.

A few years later, the federal loan sale program for which Hamilton served as financial advisor was the target of a highly politicized “investigation” by the federal government. A new Housing Secretary was eager to assist the Federal Reserve and Treasury in engineering a housing bubble: honest people had to go.

After a year of beating back false allegations, the government put my 401(k) under audit. My company’s chief financial officer and I looked at each other and said, “Uh-oh.” Somebody was trying to prevent me from borrowing the money.

Sure enough, a few months later the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) created a pretext to withhold monies owed to Hamilton and demanded several hundred thousand dollars of contract close-outs. Our bank received anonymous tips which persuaded them to pull our credit line. Our insurance company breached its obligation to fund our attorneys. And (surprise, surprise) our auditors said that the audit meant I could not arrange a loan from my 401(k) to Hamilton Securities. We were to learn in time that the auditors were quite dirty in the affair.

Fearless by nature, I closed out my 401(k) without blinking an eye, paid $225,000 in taxes and penalties, and loaned the remaining money to Hamilton Securities for contract compliance and legal expenses. I hired an excellent attorney on contingency and sued the federal government for the monies owed.

And we eventually won.

The moral of the story was that if you stand in the way of the largest housing bubble and pump and dump in history, it pays to have a nest egg.

After winning the case, my accountant hoped that some or all of the settlement would repay Hamilton’s legal expenses. Thrilled at the possibility, she said, “The first thing we’ll do is set up a new 401(k).”

“No,” I said. “I will never have an IRA or 401(k) again.” To this day, I never have. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

I assumed that my situation was unique – I hold highly visible positions – and that most people had nothing to worry about. There are numerous benefits to building savings in a 401(k) or IRA, although many of these plans are restricted in their investment choices. With persistence, someone can usually make such investment vehicles work for them. So, I had never considered the possibility of overt or covert confiscation of IRAs and 401(k)s until I read one of Franklin Sanders‘ comments about gold confiscation:

“Finally, gold and silver today don’t represent the huge pool of wealth they represented in 1933. [Solari note: the US government confiscated gold in 1933.] Why risk wide-spread disobedience to steal such a tiny plum? If the government wants to steal a big pool of wealth, they’ll snatch your pension funds and IRAs, not your gold.”

In fact, if you look at the value of most 401(k)s and IRAs lately, a great deal has already been “confiscated.” The mainstream media has described these losses as part of the normal economic cycle, but this is a fallacy. These losses are the result of a financial coup d’etat, including fraudulent housing bubbles, pump and dump schemes, naked short selling, precious metals price suppression, and active intervention in the markets by the government and central bank. Which begs the question, where is all this going?

I began hearing questions about whether it was safe to leave money in 401(k)s and IRAs late last year. These questions were due, in part, to a report in the Carolina Journal that floated the idea of federally-managed retirement accounts. And there were other concerns: the ease with which financial interests have manipulated Congress, the passage of the highly unpopular bailout package in 2008, and the growing federal deficit. These issues have raised the possibility of greater financial losses in 2009, increased capital controls, and possible constraints on 401(k)s and IRAs.

Enter the Wall Street Journal. Last week, a front-page article in the Journal examined recent 401(k) losses: Big Slide in 401(k)s Spurs Calls for Change. Here’s an excerpt:

“About 50 million Americans have 401(k) plans, which have $2.5 trillion in total assets, estimates the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington. In the 12 months following the stock market’s peak in October 2007, more than $1 trillion worth of stock value held in 401(k)s and other “defined-contribution” plans was wiped out, according to the Boston College research center. If individual retirement accounts, which consist largely of money rolled over from 401(k)s, are taken into account, about $2 trillion of stock value evaporated.”

First of all, as I have pointed out many times, money does not simply disappear. It goes somewhere. The fact that $2 trillion has suddenly “evaporated” means that some corresponding value is now under new ownership. And, in this case, the owners are no longer ordinary investors. If you have doubts about this, see my definition of “pump and dump”.

The Journal article also raised the possibility of changes in the structure of 401(k) accounts:

“Congress has begun looking at ways to overhaul the 401(k) system … One such plan called for establishing accounts that would receive annual contributions from the federal government, and would offer a guaranteed, but relatively low, rate of return. Another proposed automatically investing contributions in an index fund that holds stocks and bonds, with the mix getting more conservative as workers approach retirement.”

So, the solution is that the victims cede even more power to the perpetrators. Who’s pushing these ideas? Why is the Wall Street Journal floating such a trial balloon on the front page?

I live in an area with increasing tornado activity, but I am not planning on selling my home because of these risks. I know how to track storm warnings. I have a disaster preparedness kit and I know where the town’s storm cellar is located. With this in mind, I am not advising anyone to pull their money from a 401(k) or IRA. But, I do think we should understand the rules associated with this process. We should also make it clear to Congressional representatives that any tampering is not acceptable.

In this week’s Solari Report, I’ll be talking about why I’m going to be tracking proposals for increased restrictions on 401(k)s and IRAs in 2009. I’ll also touch on President-Elect Obama’s stimulus package followed by the plain-talking, ever lively Precious Metals Update with Franklin Sanders. You can learn more about The Solari Report and subscribe here.

I hope you’ll join us.

Israel Is Committing War Crimes

Go to Original

Hamas's violations are no justification for Israel's actions.

Israel's current assault on the Gaza Strip cannot be justified by self-defense. Rather, it involves serious violations of international law, including war crimes. Senior Israeli political and military leaders may bear personal liability for their offenses, and they could be prosecuted by an international tribunal, or by nations practicing universal jurisdiction over grave international crimes. Hamas fighters have also violated the laws of warfare, but their misdeeds do not justify Israel's acts.
The United Nations charter preserved the customary right of a state to retaliate against an "armed attack" from another state. The right has evolved to cover nonstate actors operating beyond the borders of the state claiming self-defense, and arguably would apply to Hamas. However, an armed attack involves serious violations of the peace. Minor border skirmishes are common, and if all were considered armed attacks, states could easily exploit them -- as surrounding facts are often murky and unverifiable -- to launch wars of aggression. That is exactly what Israel seems to be currently attempting.
The Opinion Journal Widget
Download Opinion Journal's widget and link to the most important editorials and op-eds of the day from your blog or Web page.
Israel had not suffered an "armed attack" immediately prior to its bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Since firing the first Kassam rocket into Israel in 2002, Hamas and other Palestinian groups have loosed thousands of rockets and mortar shells into Israel, causing about two dozen Israeli deaths and widespread fear. As indiscriminate attacks on civilians, these were war crimes. During roughly the same period, Israeli forces killed about 2,700 Palestinians in Gaza by targeted killings, aerial bombings, in raids, etc., according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.
But on June 19, 2008, Hamas and Israel commenced a six-month truce. Neither side complied perfectly. Israel refused to substantially ease the suffocating siege of Gaza imposed in June 2007. Hamas permitted sporadic rocket fire -- typically after Israel killed or seized Hamas members in the West Bank, where the truce did not apply. Either one or no Israelis were killed (reports differ) by rockets in the half year leading up to the current attack.
Israel then broke the truce on Nov. 4, raiding the Gaza Strip and killing a Palestinian. Hamas retaliated with rocket fire; Israel then killed five more Palestinians. In the following days, Hamas continued rocket fire -- yet still no Israelis died. Israel cannot claim self-defense against this escalation, because it was provoked by Israel's own violation.
An armed attack that is not justified by self-defense is a war of aggression. Under the Nuremberg Principles affirmed by U.N. Resolution 95, aggression is a crime against peace.
In Today's Opinion Journal

President Gulliver's LawyerMuslims Against HamasA Regulator With Promise – Really
Declarations: Mere Presidents
– Peggy NoonanPotomac Watch: A Tale of Two Would-Be Senators
– Kimberley A. Strassel
The Weekend Interview, With Haley Barbour
– Steve MooreLet's Give the CIA Its Due
– Charles McCarry'Libel Tourism' Threatens Free Speech
– David B. Rivkin Jr. and Bruce D. BrownCross Country: California's Gold Rush Has Been Reversed
– Devin NunesIsrael has also failed to adequately discriminate between military and nonmilitary targets. Israel's American-made F-16s and Apache helicopters have destroyed mosques, the education and justice ministries, a university, prisons, courts and police stations. These institutions were part of Gaza's civilian infrastructure. And when nonmilitary institutions are targeted, civilians die. Many killed in the last week were young police recruits with no military roles. Civilian employees in the Hamas-led government deserve the protections of international law like all others. Hamas's ideology -- which employees may or may not share -- is abhorrent, but civilized nations do not kill people merely for what they think.
Deliberate attacks on civilians that lack strict military necessity are war crimes. Israel's current violations of international law extend a long pattern of abuse of the rights of Gaza Palestinians. Eighty percent of Gaza's 1.5 million residents are Palestinian refugees who were forced from their homes or fled in fear of Jewish terrorist attacks in 1948. For 60 years, Israel has denied the internationally recognized rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes -- because they are not Jews.
Although Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005, it continues to tightly regulate Gaza's coast, airspace and borders. Thus, Israel remains an occupying power with a legal duty to protect Gaza's civilian population. But Israel's 18-month siege of the Gaza Strip preceding the current crisis violated this obligation egregiously. It brought economic activity to a near standstill, left children hungry and malnourished, and denied Palestinian students opportunities to study abroad.
Israel should be held accountable for its crimes, and the U.S. should stop abetting it with unconditional military and diplomatic support.

Don’t Give the Banks Another $350 Billion

Go to Original
By Matthew Rothschild

Why in the world should we be giving the banks another $350 billion?

They caused this financial crisis in the first place.

Then Bush and Paulson just threw billions of dollars at them.

Bush and Paulson didn’t demand a voting share of these banks.

And the banks weren’t required to lend to businesses, though that was the main rationale for the bailout.

Nor were the banks required to refinance mortgages and go easy on foreclosures, though this is what triggered the crisis.

Basically, the banks weren’t required to do anything accept open their wallets.

And afterward, they didn’t even have to tell us, the taxpayers, what they did with the money, which was essentially to hoard it.

Now they deserve $350 billion more?

You’ve got to be kidding.

But that’s what Bush is saying. And he formally asked Congress to OK this second disbursement.

The odd thing is that Obama urged Bush to do so.

Yeah, Obama says he’ll impose a lot more stringent requirements on what the banks do with that money, but if it’s not in the legislation, and the banks get the money anyway, what leverage will he have?

On top of that, we could use this $350 billion in much wiser and more progressive ways—by helping people stay in their homes, for instance.

“We all have a huge stake in stopping this heist,” as Naomi Klein told me a couple of months ago.

Congress shouldn’t be dispensing the $350 billion.

It should be saying, “Stop, thief!”

See Which Banks Got How Much from Hank Paulson and You, the Taxpayer

(Click image for full view)

Israel's War of Deceit, Lies and Propaganda

Go to Original
By Uri Avnery

Nearly 70 years ago, in the course of the Second World War, a heinous crime was committed in the city of Leningrad. For more than a thousand days, a gang of extremists called "the Red Army" held the millions of the town's inhabitants hostage and provoked retaliation from the German Wehrmacht from inside the population centres.

The Germans had no alternative but to bomb and shell the population and to impose a total blockade, which caused the death of hundreds of thousands.

Some time before that, a similar crime was committed in England. The Churchill gang hid among the population of London, misusing the millions of citizens as a human shield. The Germans were compelled to send their Luftwaffe and reluctantly reduce the city to ruins. They called it the Blitz.

This is the description that would now appear in the history books - if the Germans had won the war.

Absurd? No more than the daily descriptions in Israeli media, which are being repeated ad nauseam: the Hamas "terrorists" use the inhabitants of Gaza as "hostages" and exploit the women and children as "human shields", they leave Israel no alternative but to carry out massive bombardments, in which, to Israel's deep sorrow, thousands of women, children and unarmed men are killed and injured.

In this war, as in any modern war, propaganda plays a major role. Almost all the Western media initially repeated the official Israeli propaganda line. They almost entirely ignored the Palestinian side of the story, not to mention the daily demonstrations of the Israeli peace camp. The rationale of the Israeli government ("The state must defend its citizens against the Qassam rockets") has been accepted as the whole truth. The view from the other side, that the Qassams are a retaliation for the siege that starves the one and a half million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, was not mentioned at all.

Only when the horrible scenes from Gaza started to appear on Western TV screens, did world public opinion gradually begin to change.

War - every war - is the realm of lies. Whether called propaganda or psychological warfare, everybody accepts that it is right to lie for one's country. Anyone who speaks the truth runs the risk of being branded a traitor. The trouble is that propaganda is most convincing for the propagandist himself. And after you convince yourself that a lie is the truth and falsification reality, you can no longer make rational decisions.


An example of this process surrounds the most shocking atrocity of this war so far: the shelling of the UN Fakhura school in Jabaliya refugee camp.

Immediately after the incident became known throughout the world, the army "revealed" that Hamas fighters had been firing mortars from near the school entrance. As proof they released an aerial photo which indeed showed the school and the mortar. But within a short time the official army liar had to admit that the photo was more than a year old. In brief: a falsification.

Later the official liar claimed that "our soldiers were shot at from inside the school". Barely a day passed before the army had to admit to UN personnel that that was a lie, too. Nobody had shot from inside the school, no Hamas fighters were inside the school, which was full of terrified refugees.

But the admission made hardly any difference anymore. By that time, the Israeli public was completely convinced that "they shot from inside the school", and TV announcers stated this as a simple fact.

So it went with the other atrocities. Every baby metamorphosed, in the act of dying, into a Hamas "terrorist". Every bombed mosque instantly became a Hamas base, every apartment building an arms cache, every school a terror command post, every civilian government building a "symbol of Hamas rule". Thus the Israeli army retained its purity as the "most moral army in the world".

The truth is that the atrocities are a direct result of the war plan. This reflects the personality of Ehud Barak - a man whose way of thinking and actions are clear evidence of what is called "moral insanity", a sociopathic disorder.

The real aim (apart from gaining seats in the coming elections) is to terminate the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In the imagination of the planners, Hamas is an invader which has gained control of a foreign country. The reality is, of course, entirely different.

A top priority for the planners was the need to minimise casualties among the soldiers, knowing that the mood of a large part of the pro-war public would change if reports of such casualties came in. That is what happened in Lebanon Wars I and II.

This consideration played an especially important role because the entire war is a part of the election campaign. The planners thought that they could stop the world from seeing these images by forcibly preventing press coverage. But in a modern war, such a sterile manufactured view cannot completely exclude all others - the cameras are inside the strip, in the middle of the hell, and cannot be controlled. Al Jazeera broadcasts the pictures around the clock and reaches every home.

Hundreds of millions of Arabs from Mauritania to Iraq, more than a billion Muslims from Nigeria to Indonesia see the pictures and are horrified. This has a strong impact on the war. Many of the viewers see the rulers of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian National Authority as collaborators with Israel in carrying out these atrocities against their Palestinian brothers.

If the war ends with Hamas still standing, bloodied but unvanquished, in face of the mighty Israeli military machine, it will look like a fantastic victory, a victory of mind over matter.

What will be seared into the consciousness of the world will be the image of Israel as a blood-stained monster, ready at any moment to commit war crimes and not prepared to abide by any moral restraints. This will have severe consequences for our long-term future, our standing in the world, our chance of achieving peace and quiet.

In the end, this war is a crime against Israelis too, a crime against the State of Israel.

Obama's Pro-Israel Congressional Welcome

Go to Original
By Rami G. Khouri

If the Israeli attack on Gaza that started 18 days ago was designed partly to send a message to the incoming Barack Obama, the United States Congress in the past week seems to have joined the battle to handcuff the new president and lay down the law for him, even before he takes office.

Obama has tried to remain aloof and stay out of the political battle over the Gaza war by making no substantive statements about it. Israel and its supporters in Washington have different plans. Obama has stayed away from the war, but they brought the war to him - shoving it down his throat as his first pre-incumbency lesson in how American presidents must behave with respect to Israel's desires, if they wish to remain in power.

The House of Representatives voted last Friday by 390-5 for a resolution that backed Israel in its Gaza onslaught, affirming "Israel's right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza." A day earlier, the Senate overwhelmingly supported Israel and its right to defend itself against terrorism.

Such extraordinary one-sided support for Israel by Congress mirrors the same position taken by the administration. Both President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared on Monday that Hamas was to blame for the current war and for the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, and that any ceasefire had to guarantee that Hamas stopped attacking Israel. They seemed incomprehensibly blind to Israel's combined strangulation of and assault on Gaza.

This almost irrational absolute support for Israel in both the legislative and executive branches of the US government occurs amid a chorus of international condemnation of Israel for using excessive force. This includes calls by some United Nations officials and respectable non-governmental organizations to investigate whether Israel has committed war crimes.

Israel is using the two arsenals it is most comfortable with - military force to kill, injure, terrorize and displace thousands of Palestinian civilians; and the equivalent political overkill to bludgeon the American political establishment into total submission. After six decades of trying, Israel has been unable to turn Palestinians into vassals and subservient slaves - but it has succeeded in transforming an otherwise impressive American political governance system into a herd of castrated cattle who cower before the threats that Israel's Washington-based henchmen and hit men direct at them. Gaza will get its ceasefire soon, but will Washington ever find relief from the stranglehold of Israel's political thugs?

These Congressional votes in the past few days were not an unusual event, sadly, but rather a routine reaffirmation of the chokehold that Israel enjoys over the elected representatives of an otherwise healthy democracy. For example, two years ago, when Israel attacked Lebanon with similar ferocity, the House of Representatives voted 410-8 to support the Israeli onslaught and to condemn Hamas and Hizbullah for "unprovoked and reprehensible armed attacks against Israel." Two years before that, in 2004, the House voted 407-9 to support Bush's position that it was "unrealistic" for Israel to return completely to its pre-June 1967 borders in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

On no other foreign policy issue does Congress collectively stick its head in its back pocket, turn off its power of independent judgment, and disregard the impact of its decisions on how the US is perceived around the world. On no other issue does Congress vote according to the interests of a foreign country, rather than according to the US national interest. This kind of blind, wholehearted plunge into a maelstrom of pro-Israeli fanaticism and zealotry reflects precisely how strong the pro-Israeli lobby is in the United States, and how weak are the voices of reason, balance and justice as drivers of American foreign policy.

This is the distorted reality that Obama will inherit in one week's time, and what an ugly thing it is. It captures the worst of all worlds all rolled into one: the vicious force of the pro-Israel lobby in the US that buys and terrorizes politicians as easily as buying peanuts at a circus; the anemic, mindless and spineless Arab governments who stand naked before Israel and the US, and shameless before their own people; and the American political establishment that behaves on the Palestinian issue - with a handful of brave and decent exceptions - in a most un-American manner in the face of the pro-Israeli forces that decide if they live or die politically.

None of this is surprising or new. It only amazes me that Americans expect us to take them seriously and not to laugh - or throw up - when they preach to us about promoting democracy.

The Target is Iran: Israel's Latest Gamble May Backfire

Go to Original
By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

The aerial war against Gaza launched by Israel just after Christmas, and the ground offensive, with which it rang in the New Year, were shocking in their brutality, but should constitute no surprise, if viewed from the standpoint of long-term Israeli strategic aims. The Israelis have argued that the offensive was launched in response to eight years' of relentless attacks by Hamas rockets into Israel. But then, one asks: why now? Why should they wait eight years?

Perhaps the massive military onslaught, which has killed over 800 Palestinians and wounded thousands, has nothing to do with Kassam rockets. Perhaps it is not a tactical military operation by Israel, but a strategic decision on the part of Israel's Anglo-American backers, whose ultimate aim is war against Iran. Perhaps the military calculations in Tel Aviv are that continued massive pounding of Gaza by air and in house-to-house fighting, will take such a ghastly toll on the Palestinian civilian population, that Iran, touted as the backer of Hamas, will be forced to move into the conflict. Perhaps that is precisely the reaction Israel desires, in order to justify launching its war against the Islamic Republic, a war which has been on the drawing boards of the Israelis and their neocon sponsors for many years.

If that is the name of the game, it may well be that it will backfire totally. Not only will Iran not be drawn into the trap, but the continued genocidal campaign against the Palestinians may utterly discredit Israel politically and morally, and contribute to a shift in attitudes even in Europe and, most importantly, in the U.S. That, in turn, may open the way to redefining the conflict and therefore opening the way for real solutions.

The Clean Break Doctrine

What we have witnessed in Gaza since December 27 is the implementation of one crucial part of an Anglo-American strategic doctrine for redrawing the map of the Middle East (within a broader context), known as the "Clean Break." This doctrine had been cooked up by Dick Cheney's neocon task force in 1996 and served to then-aspiring PM Benjamin Netanyahu, on a silver platter. The policy had been fashioned by Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser and his wife Meyrav, among others, under the auspices of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in Jerusalem. The paper, which was one in a series of strategic policy papers from 1992 on, outlining how the Anglo-Americans could establish world hegemony in the post-Cold War world, derived its name from the idea that Israel must make a "clean break" with the historic 1993 Oslo Accords between it and the Palestinian Authority, and revert to "a peace process and strategy based on an entirely {new intellectual foundation} one that restores strategic initiative and provides the nation the room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism, the starting point of which must be economic reform". (

This new approach involved Israeli initiatives to secure its northern borders: "Syria challenges Israel on Lebanese soil. An effective approach, and one with which America can sympathize, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents in Lebanon..." This did not exclude attacks by proxy Israeli forces on Syria from Lebanon, targetting Syrian sites in Lebanon as well as in Syria proper.

The doctrine went on to develop the idea that Israel, "in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan" could shape the strategic environment "by weakening, containing and even rolling back Syria." "This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq," the paper specified. As for the Palestinian question, "Clean Break" was equally explicit: "Israel has a chance to forge a new relationship between itself and the Palestinians. First and foremost, Israel's efforts to secure its streets may require hot pursuit into Palestinian controlled areas, a justifiable practice with which Americans can sympathize..."

This 1996 policy paper was enthusiastically endorsed by Benjamin Netanyahu, who presented its basic tenets in a speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress days later, as "his" policy. However, before it could move accordingly, Israel would have to wait until the neocon establishment which had prepared the doctrine, regained power in Washington. This occurred promptly, in the wake of the dubious results of the 2000 U.S. presidential elections, and the events of September 11, 2001. It was 9-11 which made it possible for the "Clean Break" strategic doctrine to become U.S. military policy.

After the neocons had succeeded in their 2003 war against Iraq to actually depose Saddam Hussein, they followed up with "regime change by other means" in Lebanon (with the Hariri murder laid at Damascus's door). The Israeli 2008 bombing of a site in Syria alleged to be a nuclear installation, was the ultimate humiliation to Damascus. What remained on the Clean Break agenda were Iran and those militant Islamist Arab forces said to be allied to Tehran, to wit, Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon. It was widely acknowledged in the press and political realm that, were the Cheney faction to endorse an Israeli bid to attack Iran -- whether by bombing its presumed nuclear installations, and/or fomenting subversive processes within the country, -- then those elements which could engage in an effective asymmetric response against forces allied to the aggressors, must be taken out first. That was the rationale behind the 2006 Israeli war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, a war which, however, did not proceed according to Tel Aviv's script. Hezbollah prevailed militarily and politically, much to the chagrin of the Cheneyacs in the US/UK and Israel.

The Target is Iran

Throughout 2007 and 2008, the debate raged among concerned parties, including on the website, as to whether the war party would or could mount a military attack against Iran, using the pretext that questions regarding its nuclear program remained open, etc. Statements attributed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatening the existence of Israel, were hyped up, to justify a preemptive strike against Tehran. But certain military realities had to be taken into consideration, at least by those who knew something about warfare.

The concern raised by competent military professionals, including those inside the U.S., was that, were Iran to be attacked (by the U.S. and/or Israel), the asymmetric response on the part of pro-Iranian factors in the region would unleash regional conflict with an immediate potential to become global. This was the thinking which led U.S. officials to tell Israel point blank that they would not endorse a military attack on Iran. Now, further confirming this report, the New York Times has released a timely article detailing Israel's bid and Washington rejection of permission to bomb Iran's plant at Natanz.


In the article by David E. Sanger, it is reported that it was following the late 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which said Iran had no nuclear weapons program, that Israel asked the U.S. for bunker busters, permission to fly over Iraqi air space, and refueling equipment. President Bush, according to the article, "was convinced by top administration officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, that any overt attack on Iran would probably prove ineffective, lead to the expulsion of international inspectors and drive Iran's nuclear effort further out of view." Bush et al reportedly also "discussed the possibility that an airstrike could ignite a broad Middle East war" which would draw in U.S. forces in Iraq. The article further quotes a spokesman of Gates, saying the Defense Secretary stated a week earlier that he believed "a potential strike on the Iranian facilities is not something that we or anyone else should be pursuing at this time."

Among those factors catalogued as pro-Iran, which might be activated in the event of an attack against Iran, were Shi'ite communities as well as armed militias in Bahrein, Saudi Arabia, Kuweit etc., and of course Iraq. Hezbollah remained the leading danger in Lebanon. In addition, the Palestinian Hamas movement, though not Shi'ite, was considered a serious threat. Thus, if any serious Israeli move against Iran were to be considered, one would have to figure out how to deal with Hamas first; not because it were such a powerful military force, comparable, say to Hezbollah, but because its self-conceived role as leading opposition to belligerent Israeli intentions would ensure its immediate mobilization in case of an Israeli move, a mobilization which would not be generically political, but pointedly military, and aimed at any Israeli vulnerabilities.

Thus the move against Hamas. Contrary to Israeli and other propaganda, the onslaught against Hamas in late 2008 had {nothing} to do with that Palestinian faction's alleged violation of the ceasefire, since it was Israel's continuing blockade of Gaza which was in violation. Rather, the Israeli military assault constituted a repetition of the strategy tried in 2006 against Hezbollah: to wipe out a potential nuisance, while proceeding to target Iran. The outgoing U.S. administration's military had signalled its rejection of a new war against Iran, but would obviously not object to Israeli aggression against Hamas, if presented as a thing-in-itself.

The neocon faction, led by outgoing Vice President Cheney, is viewing the Gaza war as a preparation for aggression against Iran, and the spark that ignites regional conflict. John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and one of the most outspoken among the neocon war party, announced on December 31, that the Gaza war was the first step towards an attack against Iran, which he deemed necessary. "I don't think there's anything at this point standing between Iran and nuclear weapons other than the possibility of the use of military force possibly by the United States, possibly by Israel," he was quoted by Fox News. "So while our focus obviously is on Gaza now," he went on, "this could turn out to be a much larger conflict. We're looking at potentially a multi-front war." And, as Daniel Luban summarized in a January 10 piece for, the general consensus among the neocons was that the Gaza war was a proxy war against Iran.

Israel chose the timing of its Gaza war most carefully, with these considerations in mind: the lame duck, lame-brained U.S. President could be counted on to assert publicly that Israel had every right to defend itself from Hamas's deadly rocket attacks. President-elect Barack Obama would not venture to denounce the Bush administration's policy as long as it were still officially in power. Any initiatives launched by the European Union would be rebuffed by Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Livni and Prime Minister Olmert, in fact, ignored any and all calls for a cease-fire on grounds that Israel alone would decide if and when any such a cease-fire could be organized. Israel's demands have been that the international community (in whatever form -- UN peacekeeping troops or whatever) would have one and only one task: to ensure that Hamas could no longer fire rockets on Israel, and that no weapons could be delivered to Gaza through the Egyptian border. The power of the Israeli establishment to blackmail any European or other attempts at mediation, -- on utterly unspoken, totally implicit, but universally understood grounds that any criticism of Israeli policy can be misconstrued as anti-semitic, -- has been demonstrated. The attempt of the EU troika to plea for a ceasefire, like the moves by the Russians too, have been ineffective.

Israel may be seriously miscalculating the total situation. It is to be mooted that the Israelis thought, -- and perhaps still think -- that, if they continue with their inhumane aggression in Gaza, killing women and children and obliterating anything that has to do with civil life in Gaza, then the other side will give up. This will not occur. Anyone who knows how the militant Hamas leaders think, realizes that their resistance even with their relatively modest missiles, will continue to be launched, up to the last man. For militant Hamas members, there is no fear of dying in struggle; on the contrary, a fighter killed in the battle for liberation is a martyr.

By the same token, if the Israelis believe that their escalation of the war will provoke Hezbollah, but more importanly, Iran, to enter the fray, they may be as badly mistaken. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivered a major speech on December 30, denouncing the Israeli aggression and calling for the defense of Palestinians. Significantly, he explicitly compared the Gaza war to the Israeli war on Hezbollah (Lebanon) in 2006. "What is happening today in Gaza is not similar but identical to what happened in July of 2006" ( He charged that the same international forces, and certain Arab states, "are asking Israel to eliminate Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the rest of the resistance factions...." The marching orders that Nasrallah issued were {not} that others should join the armed struggle. Rather, he called on Arabs to "take to the streets by the thousands, by the tens and hundreds of thousands, and demand from these [Arab] governments to act responsibly." This included emphatically the demand that Egypt open the Rafah border to Gaza, but, he added, "I am not calling for a coup in Egypt....". Days later, on January 7, Nasrallah warned Israel against expanding the hostilities to Lebanon, but that was it. The rocket reportedly fired from southern Lebanon against Israel, was not the work of Hezbollah, the group declared.

As for Iran, its leadership's response has been most cautious. Immediately after the aggression, demonstrations took place in Iran unhindered, but the leadership explicitly warned demonstrators not to attack or occupy diplomatic missions of foreign nations, for example, the British Embassy, which some protestors had targetted. When, on January 5, it was reported that 70,000 Iranian students had declared their readiness to go to Israel as suicide bombers, the regime responded unequivocably that that was {not} the answer. Supreme Leader of the Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted on January 10, saying, "I thank the pious and devoted youth who have asked to go to Gaza ... but it must be noted that our hands are tied in this arena." Iran criticized the inaction of Arab governments, but that was it. Iranian Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani had met in Damascus with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on January 7 to discuss the crisis.

Although some commentators have tried to cast these events in Iran as part of a domestic political faction fight between Ahmadinejad, seen as the militant, and Khamenei, seen as the elder statesman, the issue transcends any such internal political controversy. The issue is strategic, and the Iranians know it.

In short, it appears that both Hezbollah and the Iranian leadership have realized what kind of a trap was being laid for them, and have wisely refrained from taking any irrational step that might entrap them. It is to be expected that they will continue to lie low, and bide their time, in hopes that the Palestinians can hold out until the regime change in Washington is completed.

The Change in Washington

The leading political power which could effect a major shift in the crisis, force Israel to pull back from its genocidal war, and impose serious negotiations aimed at an end to the bloodletting and a just peace, is the United States. History has shown, from Eisenhower's intervention in the Suez crisis, to later U.S. moves for Middle East peace, by Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, et al, that, if the power of the U.S. presidency is brought to bear on the issue, something can be done. The hope is that incoming President Barack Obama will make good on his campaign promises to introduce a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy, engage in dialogue with perceived adversaries (Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Syria), in the pursuit of viable solutions to the regional crises involved.

Although nothing will be certain until Obama delivers his inaugural speech on January 20, there are signs that he may make good on his campaign pledges. First, he has announced a number of encouraging appointments. His naming Leon Panetta as head of the CIA, was a courageous step; although Panetta has no intelligence experience, he has gone on record as principally opposed to any kind of torture, and can be expected to help implement Obama's pledge to shut down the infamous Guantanamo prison, and to reverse the Bush administration's anti-constitutional policy and practices. Obama's Vice President Joe Biden has been a relatively rational voice in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Several other appointees, from the economic policy team, to those in the justice area, like Dawn Johnsen, Elena Kagan and Tom Perelli, come from the Bill Clinton administration.

As for his foreign policy team involved in the Middle East directly, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is obviously central. Many in the region will recall that Mrs. Clinton made an unfortunate reverse conversion on the road to Damascus, some years back. Although she had made headlines, and friends, after having engaged politically and personally with Suha Arafat, the wife of Palestinian Authority president Yassir Arafat in 1999, she soon thereafter made a U-turn, in the course of her first campaign for a seat in the Senate from the state of New York, where the pro-Zionist vote is significant. That said, Mrs. Clinton is the wife of former President Bill Clinton, who strove to forge a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians, at Camp David, until his bid was sabotaged by Ehud Barak. During the presidential campaign, Mrs. Clinton uttered carelessly formulated statements on Iran, -- which she later rectified -- and of course stood by Israel and its "right to self-defense," etc., as is expected of any U.S. political figure. It is to be hoped that what she will represent in her new position, will more depend on what the general policy of the Obama presidency will be, than her personal views.

As for Obama, he repeatedly asserted in the campaign that he would meet with perceived adversaries, including the leaderships of Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc., on grounds that diplomatic progress can be made with enemies, not just with friends. He recently repeated this, saying he thought Iran constituted a threat, but should be dealt with through diplomacy. Since the outbreak of the Gaza war, reports have been leaked, and then perfunctorily denied, that the Obama tream would be willing to establish contacts with Hamas. The London Guardian reported on January 9 that three people close to the Obama camp had said, on conditions of confidentiality, that Obama would be open to low-level contacts with Hamas


Although this was denied, it sounds plausible.

Considerable attention has been given to the policy orientation of several of Obama's advisors and other appointees. It has been mooted that Richard Haas will be an important Mideast envoy. Haas was the co-author of a recent CFR study, "Restoring the Balance," (, with other individuals who might be Obama advisors, which argues that a "new U.S. strategy" in the Mideast is required, that "a comprehensive diplomatic initiative" towards Iran is on the agenda, that "Arab-Israeli peacemaking needs to become a priority" and so forth. Other members of the Obama team have been involved in the Iraq Study Group, which called for talks with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran, to solve the Iraq mess. Among them is Defense Secretary Gates, who is to stay on.

The intervention of former President Jimmy Carter, has also been most useful. Carter, who oversaw the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, is the author of an insightful book, Peace not Apartheid. In the context of the raging Gaza war, Carter presented an OpEd in the Washington Post on January 8, entitled "An Unnecessary War," in which he argued, from the standpoint of his experience in the region, that "the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided."

The Boomerang

As the war continues and Israel threatens a further escalation of the conflict, reports of atrocities multiply, and the response of international public opinion is affected. Thus far, we have been informed that a UN school, designated as a refuge for civilans, was bombed; that a UN convoy of humanitarian aid was attacked, killing a driver and injuring others; that a house in which Israeli military had told 110 Palestians to seek safety, was shortly thereafter bombed, and 30 killed; that a UN building outfitted for refugees, was bombed.

Although the Israelis have systematically either denied the facts or pleaded ignorance, there are enough eyewitnesses, especially among Red Cross and UN personnel, to set the record straight. What emerges from the overall picture, is that the Israelis are doing in Gaza what the Anglo-Americans did in Iraq, only in a much shorter time frame and with more devastating consequences. Compare events in Gaza to the drama of Iraq: between 1990, after the invasion of Kuweit, and 2003, when the U.S. declared victory in its war against Saddam Hussein, Iraq had been subjected to a genocidal embargo, which deprived its 18 million citizens of food, medicines and other vital goods. The embargo continued even after Desert Storm had totally destroyed the country's infrastructure (energy, water, tranportation, health, etc.), and in the interim period, the U.S. and U.K. air forces systematically bombarded Iraq's anti-aircraft defenses, under the rubric of the "no-fly-zones."

What the Israelis have done in Gaza, is remarkably similar: through their closure of Gaza, sealing the borders from Israel and Egypt, they put the Palestinian people in the situation of a "concentration camp," as Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino of the Vatican Justitia et Pax recently stated. The population has been cut off from normal imports of food, medicine and energy, and then subjected to aerial bombardments and artillery attacks by a vastly superior force. The only result can be genocidal.

After the Israeli war against Hezbollah in summer 2006, Israeli senior analyst Dr. Martin van Krefeld told a seminar in Germany, that in that event, the response of the Israelis had been that of "a mad dog!" He described the utterly disproportionate Israeli response as showing that the Israelis were "mad dogs." Certainly, his characterization would apply today to the Gaza war in spades. But instead of producing awe, such mad dog violence is provoking justified outrage.

Statements by Israeli leaders, featured in news reports in Europe, have contributed to the outrage. Fopreign Minister Livni, for example, stated early on in the war, that the great disparity in casulaties between Palestinians and Israelis, was inconsequential. If hundreds of Palestinians were killed by the air bombardments, as compared to less than ten, from Hamas-fired rockets, no matter; it's not the numbers, she said, but that fact that Hamas was targetting civilians. Israeli President Shimon Peres made an even more offensive statement. When asked about the high number of Palestinian children killed, he said, yes, that's true, there are many palestinain children and very few Israeli children casualtieies, but that is because "we take care of our children."

The psychological control exerted on large parts of the population in Western countries, in Europe and the U.S., as a result of the horrendous crimes perpetrated by the Nazis in World War II against the Jews, has been massive. But, now, in light of the atrocities committed against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, that control is being broken. Tens of thousands of Germans have taken to the streets since the New Year, to protest the war in Gaza, political figures have spoken out, and letters to the editors of leading German dailies have documented the fact that the psychological blackmail no longer works.

The most eloquent response in Germany to the ongoing Gaza catastrophe has been provided by musician and director Daniel Barenboim, who, prevented by the hostilities from performing as scheduled in Qatar, quickly reorganized his concert program, to bring his historic Arab-Israeli orchestra to Berlin on January 12, and then to Moscow, Milan and Vienna. Barenboim's commitment has been to define a completely new, higher level, from which standpoint this insane conflict, manipulated over decades by geopolitical forces, can be overcome. The fact that his concert was sold out in 24 hours, and a second concert in Berlin had to be added to accomodate the demand, testifies to the desire among many Germans, to seek solutions to conflict through the medium of the universal ideas of great music.

Prelude to an Inaugural

Go to Original
By Tom Engelhardt

How to Turn Over a New Inaugural Leaf

We consider ours a singular age of individual psychology and self-awareness. Isn't it strange then that our recent presidents have had nothing either modest or insightful to say about themselves in their first inaugural addresses, while our earliest presidents in their earliest moments spoke openly of their failings, limitations, and deficiencies.

In fact, the very first inaugural address -- George Washington's in New York City on April 30, 1789 -- began with a personal apology. In a fashion inconceivable in a country no longer known for acknowledging its faults, our first president, in his very first words, apologized to Congress for his own unworthiness to assume the highest office in the new country he had helped to found. "On the other hand," he said, "the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with despondence one who (inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpracticed in the duties of civil administration) ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies."

Inferior endowments… unpracticed in the duties of civil administration… his own deficiencies. Remind me when you last heard words like those from an American president.

This was, of course, the "father of our country," the former commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, who had steadfastly seen the American revolution through to victory. And yet, having a strong sense of the limits of what one man could do as the head of a still modest-sized country, he began his presidency by raising doubts about himself. Imagine that.

And don't think Washington's words were a fluke. When, 12 years later, Thomas Jefferson gave his inaugural address from the unfinished Capitol building in a Washington still under construction, he took up similar themes. The principal author of the Declaration of Independence, the former governor of Virginia, the former secretary of state, and the former vice president professed "a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents, and that I approach it with those anxious and awful presentiments which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire."

Eight years later, James Madison, too, acknowledged his "deficiencies," as did James Monroe eight years after that, insisting that, "[c]onscious of my own deficiency, I cannot enter on these duties without great anxiety for the result."

How curious and archaic such sentiments seem today, highlighting as they did humility, denigrating ability. Nor do these comments feel like meaningless stylistic tics of that distant moment. Even from Washington and Jefferson who, assumedly, knew that they had accomplished something Earth-shaking, the protestations -- read today -- do not ring hollow.

What recent president would have considered saying, as Jefferson did, of the task ahead, "I shrink from the contemplation, and humble myself before the magnitude of the undertaking."

Today, all this would stink of weakness, and so be taboo. To lead this country to ultimate "security" and, of course, eternal greatness, our presidents must -- so goes the common wisdom -- be ever strong and confident. They must, in fact, sing hymns to our strength, as well as to our unquestioned "mission" or "calling" in the world. In the first moments of a presidency, they must summon Americans to do great things, as befits a great power, not just on the national, but on the planetary stage.

By the time John F. Kennedy came along, there was no more talk of shrinking from contemplation. "In the long history of the world," he said in his inaugural address, "only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it." He then sounded a "trumpet" to call on Americans to engage in "a long twilight struggle… against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself," not to speak of Soviet Communism.

Ever since, presidents have regularly preached strength beyond compare, threatened potential enemies, and hit the call notes of an ever more imperial presidency. Underneath the often dull words of modern inaugurals lies a distinct hubris, an emphasis on the potential limitlessness of American power, which would reach its zenith (and apogee) in the commander-in-chief presidency of George W. Bush.

In his second inaugural address, after raising the warning flag of "our vulnerability" and our need for security beyond compare, Bush pledged Americans to a program of strength involving bringing "freedom" to nothing less than the whole planet. He identified this as "the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time… with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Limitlessness indeed.

Only one president in recent memory offered a shred of the modesty that the first presidents exhibited. Jimmy Carter's 1976 inaugural address, coming in the wake of Watergate, the Nixon presidency, and the disaster of defeat in Vietnam, called Americans to "a new spirit," a new way of thinking about the country, which was to include a recognition of "our recent mistakes" and a realization that "even our great Nation has its recognized limits, and that we can neither answer all questions nor solve all problems."

This would be a theme of his presidency, most famously in his "malaise" address to the nation in July 1979 in which he called on Americans to face their "intolerable dependence on foreign oil" and to recognize the limits of their "worship" of "self-indulgence and consumption." Only he, of all our modern presidents -- or their speechwriters -- who assumedly reread the earliest inaugural addresses, picked up on the theme of personal limits. "Your strength," he told Americans that January day in 1976, "can compensate for my weakness, and your wisdom can help to minimize my mistakes."

Little good that, or his later infamous confession of "lust… in his heart" and adultery in his dreams, did him. He was, after one term, soundly thumped by a candidate who imagined a very different kind of "morning in America," involving a nation without global limits.

Looked at another way, Washington and Jefferson had an advantage over recent presidents. The country they were to lead was still an experiment that its creators knew could go wrong; it had, in fact, done just that with the Articles of Confederation, which hadn't worked out well.

So our earliest presidents had the modesty of uncertain beginnings to guide them, just as we now have the immodesty of a government that garrisons much of the planet to guide us. They were called on to lead a new nation which was still militarily weak, whose capital, only 13 years after Jefferson doubted himself in public, would be sacked and burned by British troops. They were under oath to a country whose existence, only recently wrested from the great imperial power of its day, was still a kind of fragile miracle.

We have just lived through a commander-in-chief presidency whose oppressive power and overwhelming hubris would undoubtedly have left those early presidents in shock, if not armed revolt. They would have seen George Bush's world -- in which strength was the byword of power and weakness an anathema -- as the scion of European autocracy. These were, after all, men wary of armies and military power, who had sacrificed the very idea of executive strength to a tripartite form of government that would, they hoped, have the advantages of resiliency and responsibility. They understood -- and embraced -- certain limits that Americans may only be waking up to now.

Prelude to an Inaugural

It's in this light that I've been thinking about Barack Obama's inaugural address, only days away. For a president who wants to set us on a new path amid global disaster, what better time to remember the experimental modesty with which our first presidents anxiously embarked on their journeys?

I also have to confess: I've had an urge to write a draft of that address. Of course, like every president since Herbert Hoover, Barack Obama already has a speechwriter, 28-year-old Jonathan Favreau, who gained his 15 seconds of fame recently for photos, briefly posted on Facebook, that showed him groping, then dancing with, a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton. He has described his speechwriting partnership with Obama this way: "He gives me lines that he wants to use, phrases, ideas -- he sends me e-mails with chunks of outlines and speeches -- so it's a real collaborative effort. It's very much a two-way street. It's a little bit like being Tom Brady's quarterback coach."

Admittedly, I'm no quarterback coach, but like a lot of Americans I have some thoughts on how I'd like to see my government proceed. Inaugural addresses are all about tone, which matters, and, given the last eight years -- Have we ever had a president who told more countries what they "must" do? -- I'd like to hear our next president speaking more like one of us and less like the ruler of the universe, more like the president of these imperiled United States and less like the autocrat of the planet.

Of course, Americans, especially younger ones, have long been alienated from their government -- aka "the bureaucracy" -- and a national capital that projects the oppressive look of a Green Zone. That's where an eloquent black president, an improbable crosser of all sorts of boundaries, standing before us next Tuesday to express his --- and our -- dreams and fears, offers an immediate ray of hope. In his very words that first day, he can potentially begin airing out the most secretive (and inefficient) government in national memory. He can remind us of our better selves and let the sun shine in.

His campaign/transition team has admirably set up an on-line suggestion box where we can even send his new administration our ideas and experiences and it has evidently been busy indeed. But really, that's too polite. After all, the government isn't his or his campaign's; it is -- or should be -- ours. The fact is we don't need a website. We should be able to shout our thoughts, ideas, criticisms from the rooftops, if we care to.

Of course, given these last years of a government gone dark and ominous, it's not surprising that we generally don't. Facing the imperial, never-apologize, don't-listen-to-a-word-you-say, Caesarian, unitary-executive, commander-in-chief years of disarray, we Americans have -- despite some online liveliness -- largely suffered a failure of the imagination.

If we want to have a government we care about, we had better start exercising those imaginative powers fast. After all, if you don't use it, you lose it. Voting isn't faintly enough. Supporting Barack Obama isn't faintly enough. Either we start acting like we, the people, can set a few agendas of our own, write a few speeches of our own, or we might as well forget it.

In that spirit, and as an older American looking on with some dismay at our strange and disturbing world, I thought I might briefly step into Favreau's shoes. Barack Obama hasn't, of course, emailed a single phrase or idea my way, but, lacking in obvious qualifications as I may be, I continue to believe that we shouldn't wait for that presidential call to participate in our government.

So, below, you'll find my draft of Obama's inaugural speech, one emphasizing the strength that lies in modesty, in not playing the over-armed bully. Admittedly, this may be an address which no American president would care to give, centering as it does on an apology. If, however, we want to take a genuine shot at starting anew, these last terrible years have to be acknowledged, which means, first and foremost, apologizing for the damage the Bush administration did to our country, to the world, and undoubtedly to the future. We need to apologize, among many other things, for having thought so much about our own immediate "safety" and "security" (as well as gain), and so little about the world our children and grandchildren will inherit.

I remain convinced that the Vietnam War has dogged this country for endless decades largely because most Americans and their leaders were never willing to come to grips with what we had done, and so never offered a word of apology or any restitution for the damage caused. What is not reckoned with, not acknowledged, not atoned for, haunts us.

After the 2004 election, a website, Sorry Everybody, was set up that contained a photo album of young Americans holding signs apologizing for the election of George W. Bush. How right they were in every sense. Once the damage is done, saying you're sorry is never enough. But it is a start, which is what an inaugural moment should be.

It's now well past time to leave behind the imperial fantasies of the Bush era and join a world in trouble -- and there's no better day to begin than on January 20, 2009.

In a Dark Valley

Barack Obama's Inaugural Address

In my lifetime, presidents have regularly come before you, the American people, proclaiming new dawns or hailing this country as a shining city upon a hill, an example to the rest of the world. But on this cold, wintry day, I hardly need tell you that we seem to have joined much of the rest of the world in an increasingly shadowy, sunless valley.

We -- not just we Americans but all of us -- are living in a world in peril, one in which we have far more to fear than fear itself. And don't imagine, having just taken the oath of office on the Bible Abraham Lincoln laid his hand on in an earlier moment of national crisis, that I don't have my own fears about the task ahead. I can't help but worry whether my abilities are up to challenges, which would surely have been daunting even to a Washington, a Lincoln, or a Roosevelt.

Nonetheless, you elected me. You have, I know, invested your hopes in me in these trying times. And fortunately, I sense that you are at my side now and will, I hope, remain there, encouraging and criticizing, praising or chiding as you see fit, through the worst and, with luck, the best of times. I'm thankful for that. Without your support, your wisdom, what could I hope to accomplish? We -- and in this presidency, when I use that word, I will mean you and me, not the royal "we" to which American presidents have become far too attached -- we can, I think, hope to accomplish much, but only if we're honest with ourselves.

This nation was founded in the immodest modesty of experimentation by men who hoped for much but were aware that they did not always know what might work. They were ready to falter, to fall on their faces, to fail, and yet not to quit. We -- you and I -- must be willing to do the same. In this difficult moment, we must be willing to acknowledge our limits, to admit our mistakes, and to welcome all others who care to join us, or want us to join them, on the path of experimentation in a needy world.

Let me, then, start -- not simply as your new president but as a human being, a proud American, and the father of two children who deserve a better future, not a thoroughly degraded world -- with two simple words: I'm sorry.

In the last eight years, we Americans have in no way lived up to our better natures. Our country has, in fact, repeatedly caused grievous damage to others and to ourselves. The mistakes, the misguided policies, have been legion. We -- you and I -- must do our best to correct them and make amends. For Americans, at home and abroad, there must be a better way.

The kidnapping of people off the streets of global cities, the disappearing of suspects who have no chance to face judge or jury, the torture, abuse, and killing of prisoners, these are wounds inflicted on the world and on ourselves. There must be a better way.

Shock-and-awe assaults on other nations, whether by ourselves or allies we've green-lighted, lead -- it should be clear enough by now -- to horrors beyond measure visited on civilians. There must be a better way.

The repeated firing of missiles at, and the bombing of, villages halfway across the globe, the repeated killing of innocent farm families while on missions to protect ourselves, constitutes a global war for terror, not against it. There must be a better way.

The twisting of our Constitution into whatever shape a president (and his lawyers) find useful or power-enhancing constitutes a body blow to this nation. There must be a better way.

The offering of vast bailouts, without strings or oversight, to the most profligate and greediest among us, while ignoring the daily suffering of ordinary Americans inflicts grievous harm on our society. There must be a better way.

The turning of our government -- your government -- into a surveillance state, a spy society, meant to eternally watch you cannot represent the fulfillment of the dreams of Washington or Jefferson. There must be a better way.

Transforming the heavens into a storage depot for greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels is like passing a death sentence on humanity. There must be a better way.

Considering war and military action the solution of first, not last, resort whenever a difficult or painful problem arises represents a disastrous path. There must be a better way.

Of all times, this is no time to be at war. For our recent wars, all of us have paid a heavy price, not just in lives that should never have been lost, but in distraction from what truly matters.

We were once proudly a can do nation. For the last eight years, we have been a can't do nation, incapable of rebuilding great cities or small towns, replacing failing bridges or shoring up our systems of levees. And yet we've had the presumption to believe that we, who had lost the knack for rebuilding at home, had a special ability to rebuild other societies far from home. All of this has to end now. We need to do better.

Everywhere on this shaky planet people feel insecure and unsafe -- and we have only sharpened such feelings in these last years. To feel secure and safe should be the most basic of rights. It is, however, far past time for us to give the very idea of security new meaning. Yes, we must protect ourselves. Any country must do that for its citizens, but you, the American people, must also hear a truth that has not been said in these last eight years. It is a fantasy to believe that, in the long run, we can make ourselves secure to the detriment of everyone else. On that path lies only insecurity for all. We need to do better.

In policy terms, tomorrow is the day to roll up our sleeves and begin, but today I want to say to you: Don't despair. Yes, the news is grim. Yes, as Americans and as citizens of this world we should know our limits and the increasingly apparent limits of our small planet, but we should also dream, and struggle, and plan, and innovate.

I repeated one phrase many times during the long presidential campaign, and I emphatically repeat it today: Yes, we can!

And when we do, we have to reach out to the world with our discoveries and ideas, but without the sense that those discoveries, those ideas, are the be-all and end-all. We have to learn how to listen as well as teach.

Our planet will either be an ark, which will carry us, and our children and grandchildren, through time and space, or it will be our grave. This is a stark choice that seems no choice at all. But believe me, to choose the ark, not the grave, is the hardest thing of all. Nonetheless, may that be the choice to which we Americans consecrate ourselves on this day and in all the days to come.

Thank you and God bless us all.