A Failing Strategy
For the soldiers on the ground, the crises in Iraq and Afghanistan are undeniable.
Curbing Corporate Speech?
Does Nike’s freedom of speech equal the freedom to lie? The Court says no, for now.
A Paperless Primary
Dean shines in the first online Democratic primary, and the future looks bright.
Last evening, admittedly a quiet Saturday when few viewers other than me were watching the prime-time news and every familiar anchor-figure had been replaced by someone from the second team — the lead story on all three networks was nonetheless American casualties in Iraq with much muttering about unfinished wars and guerrilla fighting. Americans are often riveted by the ritual of watching numbers rise, perhaps a spill-over from sports mania and the crush of statistics — you know, how many days X has been held hostage and the like.
Now, there’s now a new set of ever grimmer figures to follow. Yesterday, American dead since the war began just crested over 200. (Those hundreds could become important as 300, 400, 500 are hit.) Then there are figures on how many Americans have died since the war was declared “over” by this administration and all critics (including those in the military) were mocked for not predicting the shortness of the campaign (though many, in fact, had done just that). Those “post-war” dead are now subdivided into those who died in clashes or incidents with Iraqis and those who died by “accident.” In addition, the rate of American deaths has grown. “The number of deaths from hostile fire has more than doubled between May and June” reports the Los Angeles Times. (Note, as a reader of these dispatches pointed out to me, there seems to be no running tally of wounded, though it would undoubtedly be a larger and so more horrifying figure.)
Yesterday, the bodies of two Americans abducted from their Humvee were found. Last Wednesday, the first American was shot to death in the “safe” Shia south of Iraq in the holy city of Najaf. Incidents of sabotage of oil pipelines, power stations and the like are on the rise. Iraqi technicians working with Americans to restore services have been targeted for assassination recently. Last week as well, at least one American member of the Special Forces died and more were wounded in Afghanistan, the forgotten war, where Americans are far better protected than in Iraq, but where attacks are on the rise. What follows then is a round-up of building crises in the increasing number of hot-spots for which our leaders and leading dreamers have blithely taken responsibility.
In a recent long analysis of the global situation at the openDemocracy website, the reliable Paul Rogers has described what is now happening in a nutshell:
“The problem for the neo-conservative strategists, then, is that their belief that vigorous force will be followed by an immediate peace is wrong; tough military action in pursuit of its own security interests is much more likely to end up with the United States being directly involved on the ground, with its involvement extending to long-term counter-insurgency campaigns….
“A key implication of all this is that the real significance of what is happening in Iraq, and indeed Afghanistan, may relate to the very viability of the pre-emptive strategy of US neo-conservatives. The United States has formulated a military strategy designed to ‘keep the violent peace’ by the use of short sharp bursts of vigorous military force; but its likely result is to embroil US forces in dangerous, complicated and costly regional occupations — the very opposite of what was intended.”
Neo-con dreams of bringing democracy to the Middle East devolve into….:
You just didn’t know that what democracy really meant was those men on white horses (or were they camels?) According to William Booth and Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post:
“U.S. military commanders have ordered a halt to local elections and self-rule in provincial cities and towns across Iraq, choosing instead to install their own handpicked mayors and administrators, many of whom are former Iraqi military leaders….
‘They give us a general,’ said Bahith Sattar, a biology teacher and tribal leader in Samarra who was a candidate for mayor until that election was canceled last week. ‘What does that tell you, eh? First of all, an Iraqi general? They lost the last three wars! They’re not even good generals. And they know nothing about running a city.’…
L. Paul Bremer, the civil administrator of Iraq, said in an interview that there is ‘no blanket prohibition’ against self-rule. ‘I’m not opposed to it, but I want to do it a way that takes care of our concerns….’
But for now, [said Sgt. Jeff Butler of the U.S. Army’s 418th Civil Affairs Battalion from Kansas City, Mo., charged with running the city of Samarra, with a team of six civil affairs soldiers none of whom speak Arabic] the Iraqis need to be satisfied with ‘baby steps.'”
Vietnam on the brain:
In “Iraq: Descending into the quagmire,” retired Colonel Dan Smith (at the Foreign Policy in Focus website) considers what counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq may involve long-term. I’ve included his full piece at the end of this dispatch, but he comments in part:
“Having splashed the President’s declaration over their electronic and newspaper front pages and magazine covers, the media are edging ever so gingerly toward serious questioning of what kind of ‘war’ U.S. and UK troops (the ‘Authority’) are fighting in Iraq. ‘Counterinsurgency,’ a 1960s buzzword, has already re-appeared in some reports. The dreaded ‘quagmire’ has also been voiced. The Pentagon denies it is doing ‘body counts’–although the media always seems to know the number of guerrilla dead. Can ‘free fire zones,’ ‘five o’clock follies’ (the daily official U.S. military briefings in Saigon), and ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ be far off?”
In fact, if Vietnam is engraved in any set of brains, first and foremost it’s in military brains — and comments coming out of Iraq already have a distinctly familiar ring to them. As Alissa J. Rubin of the Los Angeles Times writes:
“Although the term is rarely used at the Pentagon, from every description by military officials, what U.S. troops face on the ground in Iraq has all the markings of a guerrilla war — albeit one in which there are multiple opposition groups rather than a single movement…. For troops on the ground, there is a constant, uneasy sense that nothing and no one are what they seem. Civilians have approached checkpoints and lobbed grenades, and canvas-sided Humvees have become a liability.
‘You’re not sure who your enemy is,’ said Sgt. Gary Qualls, who is stationed at the U.S. military’s base in Ramadi, a town in the heart of the Sunni Muslim area north and west of Baghdad that is long loyal to Hussein. ‘You don’t know who to trust.'”
A headline from the lead Los Angeles Times editorial today tells it all: U.S. Credibility Under Fire. Nothing more obsessed American policy-makers in the Vietnam era than the thought that a defeat in Vietnam would lose that elusive currency, “U.S. credibility.” Incredible but true — credibility has returned and once again seems to be on the line. The editorial goes on to say in part:
“Commanders in chief can’t always offer unequivocal candor about military affairs. In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt quietly shipped destroyers to England; that act, history has decided, proved to be a blessing. But disaster followed when Lyndon Johnson exploited the Gulf of Tonkin incident to escalate the U.S. role in Vietnam.
Now President Bush and his administration march perilously close to crossing the line in giving Americans — and the world — questionable information on the U.S. involvement in Iraq.
The U.S. assault on a six-vehicle convoy earlier this month… illustrates the problem. U.S. officials relied on what they first said was sound intelligence indicating that Saddam Hussein and his sons were part of the convoy. Now they concede there’s no evidence they were. Instead, the world learned that U.S. troops wiped out a tiny village of Bedouins. U.S. military vehicles then sealed the area to prevent journalists from entering.”
Matt Bivens, who writes the Daily Outrage weblog for the Nation, suggests that for Iraqis an entirely different analogy might come to mind: resistance to the Russians in Chechnya. Considering a description of how American soldiers in Vietnam psyched themselves up for a “search” (if not yet “destroy”) mission using Wagner music from Apocalypse Now, he writes:
“That story goes like this: A superpower of Christian invaders arrives to bomb and kill and occupy, but a plucky underdog band of Muslims stands up for its land, honor and women, and against all odds throws back the invaders. The Muslim world is well acquainted with this particular take on Chechnya thanks to, yes, movies–videos, perhaps some even set to Wagner–of footage from the war zone against the Russians. The videos are circulated ‘from London to the Gulf,’ for recruitment purposes. …”
Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times in a pungently entitled piece, Hell Starts Now, suggests similar patterns developing in our two most recent triumphant “wars”:
“Iraq is a perfect replay of Afghanistan. In both cases there was no mass capitulation, but a sort of strategic retreat. The Taliban did not surrender: they retreated from Kandahar with most of their weapons intact. Saddam’s Ba’athist regime also did not surrender: it retreated from Baghdad with many of its best weapons intact.
…it is instructive to listen to Mohammed Hasan, an Afro-Arab specialist on the Middle East… ‘there are two governments in Iraq. One of them controls the country by day, by the occupation and the military and psychological terror it seeks to impose. But it does not know what is really happening.
[Hassan also comments on a ‘crucial class division’ … for officers in the air-conditioned comfort of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, everything may be under control. But for the young and poor sons of the working class hailing from Kansas, Texas or North Carolina, frying their brains under 45 degrees in the shade… this is hell: ‘In South Vietnam, the Americans had a supporter army of 1 million Vietnamese, a network of Vietnamese agents and policemen and a certain social base, limited but existant. In Iraq, there is no such base.'”
And here, also in the Asia Times, is Syed Saleem Shahzad’s assessment of the American military in Afghanistan:
“Despite the best efforts of its military and intelligence apparatus and political manipulation in Pakistan, in the year and a half since the demise of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies have failed to break the Taliban and al-Qaeda in that country. Indeed, the resistance movement in Afghanistan has fully re-organized itself, even setting up offices, and official claims to the contrary, US forces are fighting in the dark…. The hard truth is that US intelligence simply does not really know what is going on in the Taliban and al-Qaeda camps. This is evidenced by the countless raids that have been launched in recent times, none of which have resulted in the capture of anyone in Afghanistan.”
Additional contributions from Tom Engelhardt can be found throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a weblog of The Nation Institute.
Curbing Corporate Speech?
Corporate America and its free-speech allies lost a significant battle on Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to dismiss an appeal from the Nike corporation.
At issue was whether Nike violated a California consumer-rights law with its attempts to counter an anti-sweatshop campaign. In a May 2002 decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that the corporation had run misleading ads touting the safety of working conditions in its foreign plants. In a ruling that differentiated “commercial speech” from an individual’s right to free speech, Justice Joyce Kennard wrote that companies must convey the truth about their products to consumers:
“Speech is commercial in its content if it is likely to influence consumers in their commercial decisions [ … ] For a significant segment of the buying public, labor practices do matter in making consumer choices.”
Activists cheered the decision, but Nike, the ACLU and even the AFL-CIO rallied to defend the corporation’s right to free speech. Nike appealed the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court. Last Thursday, though, the Court declined to throw the case out, finding that while it presented “novel constitutional questions,” the matter should be decided by lower courts.
In the 1990s, Nike became a target of several fair labor campaigns organized by labor and anti-sweatshop groups. Activists charged that Nike exploited workers in Asia by paying extremely low wages and forcing employees to work long hours in unsafe factories. In response to the campaign, Nike hired a consulting company, Goodworks International, to audit its factories to show how humane they were. Nike then used Goodworks’ findings to run full-page newspaper ads in an attempt to sharpen up the company’s tainted image. Critics, however, condemned the ad campaign as untruthful.
Many activists were obviously pleased by Thursday’s dismissal, which allows plaintiff Marc Kasky to sue Nike for false advertising in the lower courts. Jeff Milchen of ReclaimDemocracy.org praised the dismissal for not creating “a corporate right to lie.” Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich piped up in support of the measure, too.
“Today is a victory for consumer protection, corporate accountability, and the integrity of the US Constitution [ … ] We must continue to vigilantly protect against corporations that attempt to abuse fundamental Constitutional rights intended to protect the rights of real people, not corporations.”
Others, like the ACLU, see the decision as a means to stifle public debate on issues like product safety, racial discrimination, and environmental matters. The ACLU argues that if Kasky wins his suit Nike will be unable to discuss issues regarding working conditions in the public sphere. All discussion would then be limited to courtrooms, far from the earshot of the general public. Spokeswoman Ann Brick told OneWorld.net:
“It essentially shuts business speakers out of the public debate on any issue that affects them [ … ]That kind of analysis is antithetical to the basic First Amendment principle that we let the people, not the government, decide who’s right and who’s wrong on an issue of public dispute.”
For now, though, the case can proceed. But Thursday’s ruling doesn’t preclude a return trip to the Supreme Court, and another push to throw the suit out. To be sure, many in the corporate world have their fingers crossed.
Ultimately, as Jennifer Van Bergen of Truthout.org wisely points out, there needs to be a clear distinction between persons and corporations. She sees this question as the center of the case and an issue that the Supreme Court needs to address.
“As long as the notion of corporate personhood is not clearly raised and finally discredited, the question of state control is not likely to be fairly addressed and the Court’s decision will fall short of a democratic solution.”
Both the AFL-CIO and the ACLU insisted they were not overlooking Nike’s human rights violations, but both failed to address Van Bergen’s concerns. Where is the line drawn on speech rights for corporations? As Van Bergen notes, the answers may remain ambiguous until the Supreme Court finally chooses to take on this key issue.
A Paperless Primary
More than 300,000 online voters rushed to the polls early last week, and with the click of a mouse voted in the season’s first online Democratic presidential primary election. While the online voters didn’t have a binding primary vote — meaning that, for now, no candidates will be endorsed by MoveOn.Org, the increasingly influential liberal advocacy group that organized the poll — last week’s virtual primary was a landmark event that may change the way Americans vote.
So who won?. Well, of the nine candidates, Vermont Governor Howard Dean was the top contender with roughly 44 percent, followed by Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio with 24 percent, and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts with 16 percent.
For this year’s democratic presidential primary election, MoveOn has raised an impressive $1.75 million — all of which would have gone to one of last week’s virtual Democratic presidential candidates had any of them received 50 percent of the vote.
Proponents of MoveOn say that it could be an integral part of the 2004 presidential election because it can offer the public a better sense of the democratic candidates — hopefully, by means of a national debate. Alternet’s executive editor, Don Hazen writes:
“As a big fan of MoveOn, I think it should have two goals over the next year: holding the Democratic candidates accountable on issues that will motivate the wide range of progressive voters and MoveOn members; and defeating Bush in 2004.
Furthermore, MoveOn should hold a national debate with the Democratic candidates. With more than 1.5 million members and growing fast, MoveOn has the clout to pull off a major debate to give us all a better sense of the candidates. For once there would be independent progressive journalists involved, and MoveOn members could ask questions.”
No candidate, so far, has benefitted more from the Internet’s power than Dean. Originally a long-shot candidate, he has become a front-runner. To get there, Dean has created a more internet-savvy image for himself. According to the Nation’s John Nichols, while campaigning on Friday in California, Dean said his campaign “was built on ‘mouse pads, shoe leather, and hope.'”
While Dean may not be a brilliant orator, thanks to MoveOn he may have a chance at becoming the Democratic 2004 nominee — much to the dismay of some Dems. The New York Post‘s Deborah Orin writes:
“Democrats are starting to realize upstart antiwar candidate Howard Dean could actually wind up as their 2004 nominee – thanks to the power of the Internet. That scares some of them silly.
The New York-born Dean hits a raw nerve among frustrated Dems with the message summed up by his in-your-face TV ads in the early test state of Iowa: ‘The only way to beat George Bush is to stand up to him.’ “
But trouble is already brewing among MoveOn’s virtual candidates. Some of the contenders are claiming that Dean, Kerry, and Kucinich received unfair endorsements from MoveOn. MoveOn’s CEO Carrie Olson, however, dismisses those charges, acording to the BerkeleyDaily Planet‘s Alexis Tonti.
“The direct line to membership for the top finishers, however, was part of the endorsement process outlined to the nine candidates before any agreed to participate. And all were invited to answer member-generated questions and write letters, which were then posted on the MoveOn Web site along with links to the candidates’ Web sites, said Olson.
‘We went out of our way to make sure all the candidates were equally represented on the site,’ said Olson. ‘To marginalize us and say we’re not honest is disrespectful. We represent our members. The sentiment comes from the bottom up. I am sure the election results will be representative of which candidates are best expressing what our folks feel is important.'”
So, what did the MoveOn virtual primary do for voters? According to MoveOn’s treasurer Wes Boyd, although none of the contenders are being endorsed right now, the future is looking less bleak, and MoveOn’s main goal has been met:
“‘This is only the beginning,’ continued Boyd. ‘Our most important objectives have been met: early Democratic grassroots involvement; increased contributions and volunteer support for each campaign; and mobilization of the Democratic base to defeat George Bush. We wanted people to have a seat at the table, and they have taken it.’
In Hazen’s article, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich sums it up nicely. No matter the winner of the virtual primaries, he points out, the main objective here is to get our gun-slingin’ cowboy of a president out of the White House — and MoveOn just may be the ticket.
“We’re all excited about MoveOn’s growth and impact on national politics. Let’s keep building and strengthening it, and not squander our influence too early. As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich writes, ‘Don’t get so emotionally invested in any particular candidate that you lose the psychological capacity to be enthusiastic about whoever emerges as the candidate nine months from now.
Remember, the overriding goal is to unseat W. When you hear a Democratic candidate criticize or demean a primary opponent, don’t just sit there; make a phone call and send an email to that candidate expressing outrage. Don’t sink too much of your time, energy and money into primary fights. Remember the real fight begins next Spring. It will take everything you have.'”