"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The Unamerican Century
Deborah Campbell

The Twentieth Century was the American Century, as Time publisher Henry Luce famously asserted in 1941. The son of a Presbyterian missionary, Luce called on Americans to spread their values throughout the world. As a student at Yale, he belonged to the same elite fraternity that later welcomed George W. Bush, whose fraudulent election in 2000 dealt a grave blow to the democratic process that was once the foundation of America’s powerful moral vision. It was an ominous beginning to a new century in which the United States has emerged as the world’s sole superpower with a view of itself as a “benevolent hegemon” free to enforce its will while spurning the international agreements and institutions it once helped create.

All has not worked as planned. An over-reliance on military force has seen American soft power, the cultural capital accumulated over the course of a century, melt away faster than the snows of Kilimanjaro. Like Kilimanjaro’s increasingly barren crags, what remains is an abundance of hard power – the US accounted for half of the record $1.12 trillion in global military expenditures for 2005 – and a dawning awareness that bombs are no match for ideas.

Such news should not have come as such a surprise to the current administration, defined as it was by ideologues – in particular the architects of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a Washington think tank dedicated to furthering global American dominance through military supremacy. Founded in 1997 by the same group of neoconservatives who seized the reigns of power in 2000, PNAC was “dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.” The latter two priorities were, unfortunately, sacrificed to a determination to “shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests.”

The signatories of PNAC advocated an aggressive new foreign policy that can only be described as revolutionary. In 1998, they wrote a letter to Bill Clinton urging him to attack Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. Though Clinton never heeded their words, it was not long until the neoconservatives themselves, as members and close advisors of the incoming Bush Administration, brought their revolution to the White House. Iraq would soon become a laboratory in which to put their ambitious ideas to the test.

The test has failed more disastrously than even the war’s most vocal critics predicted, with consequences that are only now becoming apparent. Not only has Iraq succumbed to a bloody civil war from which it may never fully recover, but world opinion of the United States, according to a recent international poll by the Pew Research Center, has dropped precipitously. The US is now viewed by most of the world as the number one threat to global security.

It would be tempting to dismiss external critics as merely resentful of US power or, as is often argued, “jealous of our freedoms,” were they not in such distinguished company. Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for American Progress recently compiled the views of more than a hundred leading American foreign policy experts – Democrats and Republicans – in the first comprehensive survey of how the United States is faring in its global war on terror. The survey aimed to derive “definitive conclusions about the war’s priorities, policies, and progress from the very people who have run America’s national security apparatus over the past half century.”

These former holders of key government security portfolios, retired military commanders, intelligence professionals, academics and journalists are even less optimistic than the American public, which holds an increasingly bleak view of the administration’s record in making the nation safer. According to the report, “A bipartisan majority (84 percent) of the index’s experts say the United States is not winning the war on terror. Eighty-six percent of the index’s experts see a world today that is growing more dangerous for Americans. . . . Eighty-one percent . . . believe the detention of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, negatively affects the war on terror.” In addition to criticizing the administration’s handling of relations with European allies and “rogue” and “failed” states, more than two thirds said that US policymakers must strengthen the United Nations and other multilateral institutions.

“We are losing the war on terror because we are treating the symptoms and not the cause,” said participant Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “[O]ur insistence that Islamic fundamentalist ideology has replaced communist ideology as the chief enemy of our time . . . feeds al Qaeda’s vision of the world.”

The most high-profile neoconservative to jump ship is Francis Fukuyama – a signatory to the original pnac document and another pnac letter dated the week after 9/11, which urged Bush to pursue regime change in Iraq “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack.”

In his very public attempt to distance himself from the failures of neoconservative policies he helped shape, he writes: “The most basic misjudgment was an overestimation of the threat facing the United States from radical Islamism.” While neocons like Richard Perle are trying to pin the blame for faulty intelligence on the CIA, Fukuyama writes that “the intelligence community never took nearly as alarmist a view of the terrorist/wmd threat as the war’s supporters did. Overestimation of this threat was then used to justify the elevation of preventive war to the centerpiece of a new security strategy, as well as a whole series of measures that infringed on civil liberties, from detention policy to domestic eavesdropping.”

He adds: “Now that the neoconservative moment appears to have passed, the United States needs to reconceptualize its foreign policy” to “demilitarize what we have been calling the global war on terrorism and shift to other types
of policy instruments.”

Regimes under pressure often resort to drastic measures that further compromise the ideals for which they claim to be fighting. Journalists, the watchdogs of that vaunted value, democracy, have fallen afoul of the current administration in cases where they have reported on the worrisome concentration of power within the presidential office and its willful disregard of the civil liberties on which America was founded. When the New York Times published an account of the government’s monitoring of financial transactions – building on reports of its surveillance of tens of millions of Americans (the vast majority, of course, in no way linked to terrorism – prominent journalists were reportedly also under surveillance) – a chorus of voices charged the paper with treason. A conservative pundit – one of the far-right radicals flourishing on TV and radio talk shows – went so far as to suggest that the paper’s editor be “sent to the gas chamber.” Such tactics should be interpreted as a naked attempt to instill fear in members of the press.

While the Supreme Court recently deemed military tribunals at the prison in Guantánamo (which allowed hearsay and evidence acquired under torture) unconstitutional and a violation of the Geneva Conventions, the court was strongly divided, with conservative members siding against the ruling. In other recent rulings, the Court has determined that free-speech rights do not protect government whistle-blowers – such as those who have leaked details of government surveillance activities – and refuted a centuries-old ruling that requires police to knock and announce their presence before entering a suspect’s home, essentially allowing police to conduct home invasions. The Supreme Court’s slide to the right coincides with the appointment of two new judges personally selected by George W. Bush.

The result is the weakening of an independent judicial body capable of reigning in executive abuses of power. The sun has set on the American Century and the ideals it once recognized as its best self, but the long night is far from over.
posted by R J Noriega at 10:57 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Gil Scott Heron - Black History
posted by R J Noriega at 11:36 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Smart Chip Passports
By: The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Despite ongoing privacy concerns and legal disputes involving companies bidding on the project, the U.S. State Department plans to begin issuing smart chip-embedded passports to Americans as planned Monday.

Not even the foiled terror plot that heightened security checks at airports nationwide threatens to delay the rollout, the agency said. Any hitches in getting the technology to work properly could add even longer waits to travelers already facing lengthy security lines at airports.

The new U.S. passports will include a chip that contains all the data contained in the paper version -- name, birth date, gender, for example -- and can be read by electronic scanners at equipped airports. The State Department says they will speed up going through customs and help enhance border security.

Privacy groups continue to raise concerns about the security of the electronic information and a German computer security expert earlier this month demonstrated in Las Vegas how personal information stored on the documents could be copied and transferred to another device.

But electronic cloning does not constitute a threat because the information on the chips, including the photograph, is encrypted and cannot be changed, according to the Smart Card Alliance, a New Jersey-based nonprofit group made up of government agencies and industry players.

"It's no different than someone stealing your passport and trying to use it," Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the alliance, said in a statement. "No one else can use it because your photo is on the chip and they're not you."

Yet the ability to clone the information on the chips may not be the sole threat, privacy advocates argue. A major concern is that hackers could pick up the electronic signal when the passport is being scanned, said Sherwin Siy, staff counsel at the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, a leading privacy group.

"Many of the advantages the industry is touting are eliminated by security concerns," Siy said.

After testing the passports in a pilot project over the past year, the government insists they're safe.

Numerous companies competed the last two years to provide the technology. One winner was San Jose, California-based Infineon Technologies North America, a subsidiary of Germany's Infineon AG. Another was French firm Gemalto, which earlier this month announced that it had received its first production order from the Government Printing Office. It is producing the passports for the State Department, using the Infineon technology.

Another company, On Track Innovations, was notified July 31 that it had been eliminated from consideration and is appealing the decision, a spokeswoman for the Fort Lee, New Jersey, company said this week. On Track previously had been eliminated but appealed that decision in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., which found in favor of the company and ordered it be reinstated.

Infineon has been approved for production-quantity orders but hasn't received any because of the unresolved legal dispute, said Veronica Meter, a spokeswoman for the Government Printing Office. The rollout that begins Monday will use technology built up during the pilot project.

Neville Pattinson, director of technology and government affairs for Gemalto in Austin, Texas, would not discuss financial terms of the contract. He acknowledged the economic potential is massive, noting that the State Department issued 10 million passports in 2005 and expects that to increase to 13 million this year.

Citizens who get new passports can expect to pay a lot more. New ones issued under this program will cost $97, which includes a $12 security surcharge added last year. Not all new passports will contain the technology until it's fully rolled out -- a process expected to take a year. Existing passports without the electronic chips will remain valid until their normal expiration date.

American Depository Shares of Infineon fell 12 cents to $10.65 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.
posted by R J Noriega at 9:22 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
The Anniversary of a Neo-Imperial Moment
By Jim Lobe, AlterNet

When excerpts of the document first appeared in the New York Times in the spring of 1992, it created quite a stir. Sen. Joe Biden, now chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was particularly outraged, calling it a prescription for "literally a Pax Americana," an American empire.

The details contained in the draft of the Defense Planning Guidance(DPG) were indeed startling.

The document argued that the core assumption guiding U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century should be the need to establish permanent U.S. dominance over virtually all of Eurasia.

It envisioned a world in which U.S. military intervention would become "a constant fixture" of the geo-political landscape. "While the U.S. cannot become the world's 'policeman' by assuming responsibility for righting every wrong, we will retain the preeminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends," wrote the authors, Paul Wolfowitz and I. Lewis Libby –- who at the time were two relatively obscure political appointees in the Pentagon's policy office.

The strategies put forward to achieve this goal included "deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role," and taking pre-emptive action against states suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction.

The draft, leaked apparently by a high-ranking source in the military, sparked an intense but fleeting uproar. At the insistence of then-National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State James Baker, the final DPG document was toned down beyond recognition.

But through the nineties, the two authors and their boss, then-Pentagon chief Dick Cheney, continued to wait for the right opportunity to fulfill their imperial dreams.

Their long wait came to an end on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when two hijacked commercial airliners slammed into the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan and a third into the Pentagon outside Washington.

And the timing could not have been more ideal. Dick Cheney had already become the most powerful vice president in U.S. history, while the draft's two authors, Wolfowitz and Libby, were now Deputy Defense Secretary and Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser, respectively.

In the year since, these three men, along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and like-minded officials strategically located elsewhere in the administration, have engineered what former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke recently described as a "radical break with 55 years of bipartisan tradition" in U.S. foreign policy.

U.S. foreign policy after World War II was based on two broad strategies: a realist policy organized around containment and deterrence to U.S. power; and a more liberal, internationalist policy based on the construction of a set of multilateral institutions and alliances to promote open market-based economies and democratic values.

While Republican administrations leaned more towards the realist agenda and Democratic administrations toward the internationalist perspective, neither deviated very far from the core assumptions.

But now, "[f]or the first time since the dawn of the Cold War, a new grand strategy is taking shape in Washington," says Georgetown University professor G. John Ikenberry. In his article 'America's Imperial Ambition' published in the current edition of "Foreign Affairs," he argues that the Bush administration's foreign policy since Sept. 11 is driven by the desire for global dominance rather than the threat of terrorism.

"According to this new paradigm, America is to be less bound to its partners and to global rules and institutions while it steps forward to play a more unilateral and anticipatory role in attacking terrorist threats and confronting rogue states seeking WMD (weapons of mass destruction)," Ikenberry writes. "The United States will use its unrivaled military power to manage the global order."

Advocates of the new paradigm are part of a coalition of three major political forces, which include right-wing Machtpolitikers, like Rumsfeld and Cheney, mainly Jewish neo-conservatives closely tied to the Likud Party in Israel, and leaders of the Christian and Catholic Right.

The events of Sept. 11 effectively empowered this coalition within the Bush administration at the expense of the more-traditional realists led by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who, significantly, has received strong support from veterans of the first Bush administration, most prominently Brent Scowcroft and James Baker.

Aside from a strong belief in U.S. military power, these men share a number of key attitudes that shape their foreign policy prescriptives. These include a contempt for multilateralism which necessarily denies the "exceptional" nature of the United States; a similar disdain and distrust for Europeans, especially the French; and a conviction that "fundamentalist" Islam poses a major threat to the United States and the West. They also consider China a long-term strategic threat that should be confronted sooner rather than later.

And these views have shaped the White House's policy decisions, including its strong support of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and its attack on various multilateral institutions, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), and key arms-control accords, like the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, not to mention its push for a war on Iraq and "regime change" in a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia.

In other words, U.S. foreign policy today looks and sounds remarkably like the DPG draft leaked nearly ten years ago.

On this anniversary of Sept. 11, it is increasingly clear that Cheney and his proteges have used the tragedy to validate their dangerous delusions of grandeur. The so-called War on Terror was always just an expedient reason for the unilateral use of military power to achieve global dominance.
posted by R J Noriega at 10:05 AM | Permalink | 0 comments

free hit counters
Best Buy Coupon