Tomgram: Slaughter, Lies, and Video in Afghanistan

September 13, 2008

The Value of One, the Value of None

An Anatomy of Collateral Damage
in the Bush Era

By Tom Engelhardt

In a little noted passage in her bestselling book, The Dark Side, Jane Mayer offers us a vision, just post-9/11, of the value of one. In October 2001, shaken by a nerve-gas false alarm at the White House, Vice
President Dick Cheney, reports Mayer, went underground. He literally embunkered himself in “a secure, undisclosed location,” which she describes as “one of several Cold War-era nuclear-hardened subterranean bunkers built during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, the nearest of which were located
hundreds of feet below bedrock…” That bunker would be dubbed, perhaps only half-sardonically, “the Commander in Chief’s Suite.”

Oh, and in that period, if Cheney had to be in transit, “he was chauffeured in an armored motorcade that varied its route to foil possible attackers.” In the backseat of his car (just in case), adds Mayer, “rested a duffel bag stocked with a gas mask and a biochemical survival suit.” And lest danger rear its head,
“rarely did he travel without a medical doctor in tow.”

When it came to leadership in troubled times, this wasn’t exactly a profile in courage. Perhaps it was closer to a profile in paranoia, or simply in fear, but whatever else it might have been, it was also a strange kind of statement of self-worth. Has any wartime president — forget the vice-president — including Abraham Lincoln when southern armies might have marched on Washington, or Franklin D. Roosevelt at the height of World War II, ever been so bizarrely overprotected in the nation’s capital? Has any administration ever placed such value on the preservation of the life of a single official?

On the other hand, the well-armored Vice President and his aide David Addington played a leading role, as Mayer documents in grim detail, in loosing a Global War on Terror that was also a global war of terror on lands thousands of miles distant. In this new war, “the gloves came off,” “the shackles were removed” — images much loved within the administration and, in the case of those “shackles,” by George Tenet’s CIA. In the process, no price in human abasement or human life proved too high to pay — as long as it was paid
by someone else.

Recently, it was paid by up to 60 Afghan children.

The Value of None

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Tomgram: Finally, the Oil…

July 12, 2008

This excellent Tomgram by my friend Tom Engelhardt arrived from him in my inbox from a few weeks ago. That was when I had lots of problems with my computer and wasn’t online, hence missed posting it here until I found it among my huge backlog now:


Tomgram: Finally, the Oil…

[Note for TomDispatch readers: It’s worth mentioning that the missing Iraqi oil story — see below — wasn’t missing online, and certainly not at TomDispatch. This site’s newest book, The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, has a section labeled “The Petro-Industrial Complex and its Discontents,” including striking pieces by Michael Klare and Michael Schwartz on our gasoholic Pentagon and the prize of Iraqi oil. Again, I urge readers to consider supporting TomDispatch and its efforts by picking up a book that should, I think, be in any serious library of our mad age of Bush the Younger. Tom]

No Blood for… er… um…

The Oil Majors Take a Little Sip of the Ol’ Patrimony

By Tom Engelhardt

More than five years after the invasion of Iraq — just in case you were still waiting — the oil giants finally hit the front page…

Last Thursday, the New York Times led with this headline: “Deals with Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back.” (Subhead: “Rare No-bid Contracts, A Foothold for Western Companies Seeking Future Rewards.”) And who were these four giants? ExxonMobil, Shell, the French company Total and BP (formerly British Petroleum). What these firms got were mere “service contracts” — as in servicing Iraq’s oil fields — not the sort of “production sharing agreements” that President Bush’s representatives in Baghdad once dreamed of, and that would have left them in charge of those fields. Still, it was clearly a start. The Times reporter, Andrew E. Kramer, added this little detail: “[The contracts] include a provision that could allow the companies to reap large profits at today’s prices: the [Iraqi oil] ministry and companies are negotiating payment in oil rather than cash.” And here’s the curious thing, exactly these four giants “lost their concessions in Iraq” back in 1972 when that country’s oil was nationalized. Hmmm.

You’d think the Times might have slapped some kind of “we wuz wrong” label on the piece. I mean, remember when the mainstream media, the Times included, seconded the idea that Bush’s invasion, whatever it was about — weapons of mass destruction or terrorism or liberation or democracy or bad dictators or… well, no matter — you could be sure of one thing: it wasn’t about oil. “Oil” wasn’t a word worth included in serious reporting on the invasion and its aftermath, not even after it turned out that American troops entering Baghdad guarded only the Oil and Interior Ministries, while the rest of the city was looted. Even then — and ever after — the idea that the Bush administration might have the slightest urge to control Iraqi oil (or the flow of Middle Eastern oil via a well-garrisoned Iraq) wasn’t worth spending a few paragraphs of valuable newsprint on.

I always thought that, if Iraq’s main product had been video games, sometime in the last five years the Times (and other major papers) would have had really tough, thoughtful pieces, asking really tough, thoughtful questions, about the effects of the invasion and ensuing chaos on our children’s lives and the like. But oil, well… After all, with global demand for energy on the rise, why would anybody want to invade, conquer, occupy, and garrison a country that, as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz once observed, “floats on a sea of oil”?

And let’s be fair. At the time of the impending invasion, reasonable people couldn’t possibly have imagined that it had anything to do with oil, not while George W. Bush was politely ignoring the subject, except when referring obliquely to Iraq’s “patrimony” of “natural resources.” Forget that our President had had an 11-year career in the energy business (and had been Arbusto-ed); or that his Vice President had been the CEO of a giant energy services corporation, Halliburton — retiring during the presidential campaign of 2000 with a $34 million severance package; or that, back in those distant years, he had not hesitated to talk about the necessity of getting a tad more oil into the international pipeline. (As he told an oil industry crowd back in 1999, “By some estimates there will be an average of two percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead along with conservatively a three percent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from?” Where indeed? He then answered his own question: “While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.”)

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Tomgram: Why Cheney Won’t Take Down Iran

July 9, 2008

Reality Bites Back

Why the U.S. Won’t Attack Iran


By Tom Engelhardt

It’s been on the minds of antiwar activists and war critics since 2003. And little wonder. If you don’t remember the pre-invasion of Iraq neocon quip, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran…” — then take notice. Even before American troops entered Iraq, knocking off Iran was already “Regime Change: The Sequel.” It was always on the Bush agenda and, for a faction of the administration led by Vice President Cheney, it evidently still is.

Add to that a series of provocative statements by President Bush, the Vice President, and other top U.S. officials and former officials. Take Cheney’s daughter Elizabeth, who recently sent this verbal message to the Iranians: “[D]espite what you may be hearing from Congress, despite what you may be hearing from others in the administration who might be saying force isn’t on the table… we’re serious.” Asked about an Israeli strike on Iran, she said: “I certainly don’t think that we should do anything but support them.” Similarly, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton suggested that the Bush administration might launch an Iranian air assault in its last, post-election weeks in office.

Consider as well the evident relish with which the President and other top administration officials regularly refuse to take “all options” off that proverbial “table” (at which no one bothers to sit down to talk). Throw into the mix semi-official threats, warnings, and hair-raising leaks from Israeli officials and intelligence types about Iran’s progress in producing a nuclear weapon and what Israel might do about it. Then there were those recent reports on a “major” Israeli “military exercise” in the Mediterranean that seemed to prefigure a future air assault on Iran. (“Several American officials said the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the military’s capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iran’s nuclear program.”)

From the other side of the American political aisle comes a language hardly less hair-raising, including Hillary Clinton’s infamous comment about how the U.S. could “totally obliterate” Iran (in response to a hypothetical Iranian nuclear attack on Israel). Congressman Ron Paul recently reported that fellow representatives “have openly voiced support for a pre-emptive nuclear strike” on Iran, while the resolution soon to come before the House (H.J. Res. 362), supported by Democrats as well as Republicans, urges the imposition of the kind of sanctions and a naval blockade on Iran that would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

Stir in a string of new military bases the U.S. has been building within miles of the Iranian border, the repeated crescendos of U.S. military charges about Iranian-supplied weapons killing American soldiers in Iraq, and the revelation by Seymour Hersh, our premier investigative reporter, that, late last year, the Bush administration launched — with the support of the Democratic leadership in Congress — a $400 million covert program “designed to destabilize [Iran’s] religious leadership,” including cross-border activities by U.S. Special Operations Forces and a low-level war of terror through surrogates in regions where Baluchi and Ahwazi Arab minorities are strongest. (Precedents for this terror campaign include previous CIA-run campaigns in Afghanistan in the 1980s, using car bombs and even camel bombs against the Russians, and in Iraq in the 1990s, using car bombs and other explosives in an attempt to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s regime.)

Add to this combustible mix the unwillingness of the Iranians to suspend their nuclear enrichment activities, even for a matter of weeks, while negotiating with the Europeans over their nuclear program. Throw in as well various threats from Iranian officials in response to the possibility of a U.S. or Israeli attack on their nuclear facilities, and any number of other alarums, semi-official predictions (“A senior defense official told ABC News there is an ‘increasing likelihood’ that Israel will carry out such an attack…”), reports, rumors, and warnings — and it’s hardly surprising that the political Internet has been filled with alarming (as well as alarmist) pieces claiming that an assault on Iran may be imminent.

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