Bruce Larkin’s Blog


My Photo
Name: Bruce Larkin
Location: Co. Cork, Ireland

I’m Professor Emeritus of Politics at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where I’ve taught since 1965. Fall 2007 courses: “War”and “Security, Disarmament, and Nonproliferation.” I’m also Convenor of the Global Collaborative on Denuclearization Design. For more, see résumé at


Sunday, April 04, 2010

This blog has moved

This blog is now located at
You will be automatically redirected in 30 seconds, or you may click here.

For feed subscribers, please update your feed subscriptions to


Saturday, August 22, 2009

❄ Afghanistan: war of choice? necessity?

In an op-ed in the New York Times [Note 1] Richard N. Haass defines the current Afghan War as a ‘war of choice’, not a ‘war of necessity’, disagreeing with Barack Obama’s statement on 17 August that “We must never forget. This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity.” What’s odd about this op-ed is that Haass claims the US move to “oust the Taliban” after 9.11 was necessary, that today the Afghan War is war of choice, but that the United States should “proceed, for now, with Mr. Obama’s measured strategy.” How does he accomplish this sleight of hand?

Haass offers a doubtful definition of a ‘war of necessity’. “Wars of necessity,” he tells us, “must meet two tests. They involve, first, vital national interests and, second, a lack of viable alternatives to the use of military force to protect those interests.” ‘Involve’ is inordinately vague. The phrase ‘vital national interests’ does not identify objective facts, but rather claims made by advocates of force in a given circumstance. And whether there are ‘viable alternatives’ usually requires trying means short of war, before it’s even possible to conclude that those means will fail.

But he’s on the right track. Better criteria would be that [a] the country (including appurtances, such as shipping and military forces lawfully abroad) had been attacked, or was the known object of imminent attack, and [b] that methods of dissuasion or defence short of war had been tried and proven insufficient. A ‘war of necessity’ in this vein requires either having been attacked or its equivalent [that the precondition in international law for ‘preemptive war’, sure knowledge that an attack is imminent, is met]. Anything less is a ‘war of choice’ and is forbidden by the UN Charter and customary international law.

But Haass is not interested in the law. He centers his gaze on ‘interests’. He tells us “wars of choice are not inherently good or bad.” What then are the criteria by which to judge whether to launch a ‘war of choice’? “It depends on whether military involvement would probably accomplish more than it would cost and whether employing force is more promising than the alternatives.” In other words, war is just another instrument of realpolitik. Cost will be weighed against geopolitical profit. That is, foreseen cost will be weighed against imagined profit. Does war, for Haass, impose human costs on those ordered to fight and the people living where it is waged? War is rarely “promising” for the fighters or the men, women and children among whom it is fought, which is one reason why the strictures against launching a ‘war of choice’ are so severe.

Advocates and apologists of wars often argue that there was no other choice. “In the wake of 9/11, invading Afghanistan was a war of necessity. The United States needed to act in self-defense to oust the Taliban. There was no viable alternative.” So Haass asserts, but there are problems. The Taliban did not attack the United States and there is no evidence it intended to do so: so much for ‘self-defence’. [Note 2] It is often forgotten that the GW Bush Administration, immediately after 9.11, asked the Taliban to surrender bin Laden to the United States. [Note 3] The Taliban refused. Had the Taliban agreed, it could not have been pictured as a ‘terrorist’ enemy, part of ‘Al Qaeda and those who harbor it’. In my view, given the 9.11 attack the United States had a perfect right to pursue and suppress Al Qaeda by force of arms, and would have been correct to resist any effort by the Taliban to prevent it from doing so. But neither 9.11, nor prudence, justified more. What then happened? The White House failed to close on Al Qaeda’s high command, which apparently took refuge in Pakistan, as 9.11 reprisal was transformed into an eight-year-long anti-Taliban Afghan War. The claim that “there was no viable alternative” in Afghanistan was never canvassed on the ground.

To Haass’ credit, he writes that the United States “must undertake regular, rigorous assessments of whether these efforts are bearing fruit or are likely to. If it appears they are not, the president should roll back the combat role or withdraw militarily.” He calls Afghanistan today a ‘war of choice’ and adopts a position consistent with his general view of such wars which is, it seems, that war’s ok if you can gain something by it.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

❄ Boehner: “euthanasia”

An astonishing report in The New York Times quoted Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner as speaking of Democratic health care reform proposals and “government-encouraged euthanasia” in the same breath.

“A provision of the House bill would provide Medicare coverage for the work of doctors who advise patients on life-sustaining treatment and ‘end-of-life services,’ including hospice care.

“Conservative groups have seized on this provision as evidence that the bill could encourage the rationing of health care. The Family Research Council, for example, said the bill would ‘limit end-of-life care.’

“The House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, said, ‘This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia.’  ” [Note 1]

Did Boehner make the statement attributed to him? It seemed so far-fetched, so outlandish, that I went looking for a source. What I found was an official Republican statement, on the website of the “House Republican Leader,” that goes even further, incorporating reference to “physician-assisted suicide”. [Note 2]

The Republican ‘leadership’ in the US House of Representatives wants the American people to associate Congressional proposals for health care reform with “government-encouraged euthanasia” and “physician-assisted suicide”. That is the inescapable reading of an artfully-drafted statement by Republican Minority Leader John Boehner and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter. The text of their statement reads:

“Washington, Jul 23 - House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) today issued the following joint statement regarding a provision targeting seniors contained in Section 1233 of H.R. 3200:

“Section 1233 of the House-drafted legislation encourages health care providers to provide their Medicare patients with counseling on ‘the use of artificially administered nutrition and hydration’ and other end of life treatments, and may place seniors in situations where they feel pressured to sign end of life directives they would not otherwise sign. This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia if enacted into law. At a minimum this legislative language deserves a full and open public debate - the sort of debate that is impossible to have under the politically-driven deadlines Democratic leaders have arbitrarily set for enactment of a health care bill.

“This provision of the legislation is a throwback to 1977, when the old Department of Health Education and Welfare proposed federal promotion of living wills for cost-savings purposes described as ‘enormous.’ At that time, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago decried this effort by saying: ‘The message is clear: government can save money by encouraging old people to die a little sooner than they otherwise would. Instead of being regarded with reverence, and cherished, human life is subject in this view to a utilitarian cost-benefit calculus and can be sacrificed to serve fiscal policy and the sacred imperative of trimming a budget.’

“With three states having legalized physician-assisted suicide, this provision could create a slippery slope for a more permissive environment for euthanasia, mercy-killing and physician-assisted suicide because it does not clearly exclude counseling about the supposed benefits of killing oneself.

“Health care reform that fails to protect the sanctity and dignity of all human life is not reform at all.”

So: what have we here? Distortion. Fear-mongering. Intention. Innuendo. Callousness. Desperation. Vacuity. Sleaze. Propaganda. Moral corruption. An insult to the House, to their Oath, and to the American Public.

What should be done? Boehner and McCotter should resign from the House. They should withdraw their statement. And their Republican colleagues, each individually, in both the House and the Senate, should dissociate themselves from this statement and the methods of deceit and distortion it embodies. Disowning the Boehner-McCotter statement should be a condition of being admitted to ‘bipartisan negotiations’ with Democrats about the terms of national health care legislation.

Will they repudiate Boehner-McCotter? I doubt it. But remember: the implication of their statement is that health-care advocates favor euthanasia and promotion of suicide. They say—not a matter of interpretation or implication—that terms of HR3200 “target” seniors. Advocates of rational health-care reform, of whatever party or independent standing, should not allow such big lies to go unrebutted.


[1] Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn, “Democrats Push Health Care Plan While Issuing Assurances on Medicare,” The New York Times, 28 July 2009.

[2] Statement by House GOP Leaders Boehner and McCotter on End-of-Life Treatment Counseling in Democrats’ Health Care Legislation. 23 July 2009.

[Bruce Larkin’s Blog 2009.07.29. Post B03.]


Saturday, February 14, 2009

❄ Senators Up in 2010

Class III - Senators Whose Terms of Service Expire in 2011 [Note 1]

After the near-unanimous Republican refusal to support the White House’s stimulus package, Helen and I were wondering which Republican senators’ terms expire in 2010. Eighteen Republican Senators who voted against the stimulus package must either retire or stand for re-election in 2010.

The final vote on the conference report took place on Thursday afternoon, February 13th. [Note 2] The parties had agreed that 60 votes were necessary to pass the legislation. [Note 3] The vote was held up, The New York Times reporting that a “peculiar 5-hour 17-minute process was required because Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, had to return to Washington from his home state after attending a funeral home visitation for his mother, who died Feb. 2.” to supply the required 60th vote. Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts, undergoing treatment for brain cancer, was not present. Three Republicans, Senators Snowe and Collins of Maine and Specter of Pennsylvania, voted ‘yea’. But of the 38 Republicans who voted ‘nay’ not one had the courtesy to extend an ‘aye’ as a gesture of respect to Senators Brown and Kennedy. That is the state of the Republican Party. Indecent.

Frank Rich writes in his New York Times column that:

“Republicans will also be judged by the voters. If they want to obstruct and filibuster while the economy is in free fall, the president should call their bluff and let them go at it. In the first four years after F.D.R. took over from Hoover, the already decimated ranks of Republicans in Congress fell from 36 to 16 in the Senate and from 117 to 88 in the House. The G.O.P. is so insistent that the New Deal was a mirage it may well have convinced itself that its own sorry record back then didn’t happen either.” [Note 4]

The new chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Robert Menendez (D-NJ), is optimistic about prospects for 2010, but Adam Nagourney’s caution that much can happen between now and then is well taken. [Note 5]


[1], seen 2009.02.14. Note that the list had not been updated to show Barack Obama’s election to the Presidency. The Senate posts lists of Senators by Class. It is Class III Senators whose terms expire in 2011. You can also find this list by Googling on [Senate 2011 expire], which is easy to remember.
[3] David M. Herszenhorn, “Recovery Bill Gets Final Approval.”, The New York Times, 2009.02.13.
[4] Frank Rich, “They Sure Showed Obama,” The New York Times, 14 February 2009.
[5] Adam Nagourney, “ON POLITICS A Leader in the Senate Sees Sunny Skies for Democrats,” New York Times, 2009.02.17.

[Bruce Larkin’s Blog 2009.02.14. Revision, adding Rich quote: 2009.02.15. Adding Nagourney cite: 2009.02.17. Post B02.]


Saturday, August 23, 2008

❄ Georgia

❄ Georgia

Are any US public figures or ‘mainstream’ media asking whether Georgia’s Saakashvili was given a green light by US officials, White House intermediaries, or McCain intimates to attack North Ossetia?

Is there any evidence? Granted that the record shows mutual appreciation between Saakashvili and the current White House, and granted that McCain’s principal foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, has been a paid lobbyist for Georgia, is there any evidence that the White House or McCain’s entourage [a] had prior knowledge of the forthcoming attack? [b] had an opportunity to counsel against it but did not do so? or [c] encouraged the attack? I have seen no such evidence. Let that be absolutely clear. But the question must be asked because responsible analysts are asserting, without adducing evidence, that there was either an explicit green light or an implicit wink & nod. Here are two examples from the Irish Times, a newspaper with serious European coverage and a high reputation for journalistic care.

Lara Marlowe:

“[Condoleezza] Rice visited Tbilisi exactly four weeks before the war started, when some western residents of the capital suspect she gave Saakashvili the go-ahead. The French investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchâiné quotes French military intelligence as saying US advisers helped target Georgian mulitiple rocket launchers.” [Note 1]

John Palmer:

“It is unclear who is deciding policy just now in Washington and Moscow. The US state department reportedly warned Georgian president Mikheil Saakasvilli against attacking South Ossetia, but that was not listened to. However, vice-president Dick Cheney and the hard-core Bush administration neo-conservatives spared no effort to encourage Saakashvili before hand . . .

“The majority of EU governments believe the Tbilisi government, foolishly influenced by American neo-cons, fell into a carefully prepared Russian trap by launching its military offensive in South Ossetia. . .” [Note 2]

These two quotes illustrate reliance on ‘suspicion’ and ‘belief’, and even incompatible claims about US Department of State representations. This is not evidence. However, if Palmer is correct in summarising opinion among ‘the majority of EU governments’ then it is important to establish, as best one can, what actually did or did not take place. To say ‘did not’ reminds us of the enormous difficulty of establishing negatives in complex episodes.

The Question

Do you have germane evidence?


On 5 September 2008 EU foreign ministers ordered an inquiry into the onset of the August strife in Georgia. Press report:

“British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and other EU foreign ministers said an inquiry was needed to determine who was guilty of triggering the fighting and whether there were any human rights abuses during the five-day conflict.” [Note 3]

Further Addendum [30 September 2009]

The New York Times reports [excerpts] that

“MOSCOW — A much-anticipated European Union inquiry into the August 2008 war in Georgia concludes that Georgia ignited the conflict by attacking separatists in South Ossetia, but that Russia had provoked violence in the enclave for years and exploited its consequences.

“The report finds no evidence that there was a Russian invasion under way on Aug. 7, when Georgia ordered the shelling of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. It says Georgia broke international law by using force against Russian peacekeepers stationed in the city, and that Russia’s army had legal grounds to defend the peacekeepers.

“But the report says Russia ‘went far beyond the reasonable limits of defense’ in undertaking a drive outside South Ossetia that violated international law and was ‘not even remotely commensurate with the threat to Russian peacekeepers.’   ” [Note 4]


[1] Lara Marlowe, “Events in Georgia show Nato powerless to confront Russia,” Irish Times, 22 August 2008.
[2] John Palmer, “EU needs to find a way to close divide with eastern neighbours,” Irish Times, 23 August 2008. Palmer’s is an op-ed piece; Palmer is not an Irish Times correspondent. He is, however, former European editor of the Guardian, now a visiting fellow at the Sussex European Institute, Sussex University.
[3] Associated Press. International Herald Tribune, 5 September 2008.
[4] Ellen Barry and James Kanter, “European Report on Georgia War Faults Both Sides.” The New York Times, 30 September 2009.

[Bruce Larkin’s Blog 2008.08.23 Post b01 Addendum: 2008.09.09. Further addendum: 2009.09.30.]


Monday, July 30, 2007

❄  Iraq: Not a Hard Problem  

The only ones for whom Iraq poses a hard problem are those who fear being held accountable for their recklessness and deceit. ‘Victory—anything we can call victory— at any price. Other people—US soldiers, Iraqis, US taxpayers—will pay that price. We will be glorified by history.’

There are four reasons why the United States must acknowledge its helplessness in Iraq. It is a step forward to define ‘the Iraq problem’ as a political problem. But US personnel, whether military, contactors, or civilian officials, cannot be effective participants in an internal Iraqi political arena. They suffer four handicaps. They do not speak or read the language. They are transients, without a permanent stake. They have brought desperate poverty to a country which was not poor. And they have brought chaos to a society which, however reprobate its practitioners of internal repression were, was not in chaos before they invaded.

Transients, who cannot carry on an ordinary conversation, and have imposed poverty, chaos, destruction, and death.

The correct thing at this juncture, as it was earlier, is to openly acknowledge the wretchedness of a partisan ambition, and promptly leave. In the United States there should be a thorough and open airing how it was that this disaster was wrought.

To move in this way we will need some orientations which will not come comfortably. We must, for example, reject outright the argument that since Iraq is such a mess the US military must remain there to fix it. Neither the US military, nor contractors nor civilian officials, are the right people, with the right skills, for that job.

We must reject the argument that we will be abandoning Iraqis who have worked for the United States and who will be vulnerable to revenge. Instead, we must accept those employees, and their families, who wish to come to the United States.

We must reject the argument that Iran, or Israel, requires that the United States maintain an armed presence in the Middle East coupled to governments on the ground. The United States must remain free to defend itself, and its genuine allies, but relying on means that are readily moved, advanced, and withdrawn. Israel, in this accounting, has not proven itself an ally which aligns its vital interests with those of the United States.

We must reject the argument that the United States ‘owes’ the Iraqi people the continued presence of its military. The United States has incurred deep moral and practical obligations. It can find other means to discharge these, such as putting money into neutral hands. If Washington wants to repair its shattered relations in the region, it could also pay compensation to Lebanon for the destruction and human toll taken there by Israel, in collusion with the United States, in 2006. [The Lebanon War is almost never mentioned in the United States when Iraq policy is discussed, unfortunate evidence of our ignorance and provincialism.]

We must reject the argument that withdrawing from Iraq will ‘embolden’ Al Qaeda and jihadists everywhere to yet more violence. It now is well-established that the prime recruiting agents for Al Qaeda and its look-alikes have been ‘Dick’ Cheney and George Bush. The needed strengthening of the Civic Script around the world requires that the substantial and elaborate capabilities of the United States be committed to projects which win the respect of serious people, and do not inflame those in search of a cause.

We must expose those who are at work yet one more time to reset the goal posts. Remember: originally it was to find Saddam’s nuclear weapons, then it was to remove Saddam, and there was the fictional Iraq-Al Qaeda link, so the goal was to “fight the War on Terrorism”, a point Bush returns to even in 2007. Now we hear other goals: achieve ‘stability’; give the Iraqi government time; let the ‘surge’ be fully tried, into 2009 or later; and avoid harassment of the camion columns headed south to Kuwait. It will be a hard logistical problem to withdraw safely, but that’s what militaries should be able to do.

We must reject the argument that Iran is an implacable enemy of the United States, which must be resisted as a prime determinant of foreign and foreign military policy. If there is an Iran problem, it will be confronted with a clearer mind if the United States is not bogged down in Iraq.

We must reject the argument ‘let bygones be bygones’. We must not absolve Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, Rice, Wolfowitz and their coterie from close scrutiny, and examination under oath, in order to achieve an evidence-based account of this tragedy and the methods and mechanisms by which it was put into motion. This is a rational and necessary aim because the Congress was so systematically refused what it required to exercise oversight. Recall that Congress was tricked into giving an open-ended authorization of war against Iraq five months before war was actually begun, a period during which rational men and women could have found the means to prevent this war had reason not been shouldered aside by the White House. We also must attempt a reliable account of the role of Israel in influencing United States policy. We must acknowledge that there has been, and remains, an effort to undermine the Constitution, and document what was done so that firm lines can be drawn against future assaults. Later historians, with yet more access to memories and transactions, may alter this account, but we must begin with what we can. And there will be some specialists in politics who should ask, not to punish but to expose, how it was that the Republican majority in the House and Senate, and then as a minority, and many among the Democrats, failed to exercise their obligation to ‘protect and defend’ the Constitution. All of this should be done in the clear light of day.

So this is a straightforward argument. The United States is not suited to the tasks in Iraq. Its officers and enlisted men do not speak the language. Even if they rely on English-speaking Iraqis they cannot make the necessary careful judgments of what is said by the people they meet. And they are the agents on the ground of the Cheney-Bush team which is responsible for Iraq’s poverty and chaos.

I’m not going to make the routine apologetics about rejecting violence and its many agents and appearances in Iraq, nor do I think we need celebrate ‘the brave fighting men and women’ of the US military. But, except perhaps at the highest levels, it’s not their fault. I feel deep pain for them. The fault lies with Cheney-Bush et al. Nor will I launch into a geopolitical exegesis of relations among Middle Eastern states and the Cheney-Bush intoxication with oil. All such rhetorical excursions detract from the main point: the only sober policy is to get out as quickly as possible.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

❄  Lies? the White House?  

Reading the late Professor Wayne Booth of the University of Chicago leads me to wonder in just which White House the current crowd studied ‘political science’. Booth, as it happens, was George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor of English and a onetime president of the Modern Language Association.

“A society that encourages lying and depends on it for its functioning obviously cannot long endure without tyranny. The exchange of reasons among contending interests depends on maintaining some level of integrity and hence trust, so that reasons can be in reality exchanged. It seems obvious that if any society ever reaches a point at which everyone can always assume that in all likelihood everyone else is lying, the political process in our sense is dead, and the resulting inhuman chaos will soon be resolved by some tyrannical takeover. Thus what we call political corruption is a real corruption, a corruption of rhetoric. If it goes beyond a certain point, always hard to determine, we are doomed. One often wonders how close we are to that point in America. I doubt that public lying has ever been as profitable as it is today.” [Footnote] [Note 1]

In his footnote he writes:

“Written in 1980 or 1981, the statement seems, in May of 1988, like an understatement; we now have a presidential crew who have in effect proclaimed lying to be their chief tool. Ask yourself whether you will believe, without checking some other source, anything that anyone in the White House claims.” [Note 1]


[Note 1]: Wayne C. Booth. The Vocation of a Teacher: Rhetorical Occasions 1967-1988 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), pp. 39-40.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

❄  Who Dunnit?  

The New York Times—“All the News That’s Fit to Print”—introduced several years ago its peculiar system of phonetic rendering of names. Now it has taken another forward step, undertaking to explain English expressions for those of us who have continuing difficulty.

“On Jan. 26, a senior aide to Mr. Rove briefed general-services [sic] employees about which Democratic members of Congress the Republican Party hoped to unseat in 2008.

“Republicans tried to amend the motion seeking the subpoena to include records from the Democratic National Committee. In arguing that case, Mr. Davis offered a culinary aphorism, suggesting that the sauce that may be appropriate for serving with a goose could also be used in a meal with a gander.” [Note 1]

With a gander?


[Note 1]: Neil A. Lewis and Eric Lipton, “Flexing Majority Muscles, Democrats Issue 3 Subpoenas,” The New York Times, 26 April 2007.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

❄  Israel & the United States  

There is continuing discussion of Israel’s role in promoting the White House decision to invade Iraq, and controversy about the extent to which Israel exercises influence on—some say ‘control of’—US policy in the Middle East.

In recent days the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has been holding its annual meeting in Washington. Newspaper coverage makes scant mention of the charges against former officials of AIPAC that they obtained and passed classified information from the US Department of Defense to the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

Speeches and revelations in the last few days open windows on AIPAC’s role and relations between both major US political parties and the Israel lobby.

[1] ‘Dick’ Cheney spoke to the AIPAC Policy Conference, which took place 11-13 March 2007 in Washington. He used the opportunity to criticize those opposed to GW Bush’s Iraq policies. According to The New York Times he said that

“Democrats and others who would limit President Bush’s authority to spend money on the war were undermining the troops and ‘telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out.’  . . .

“Mr. Cheney went on to argue that withdrawing from Iraq could endanger Israel by emboldening Iran—an appeal aimed directly at an audience he knew contained many Democrats who oppose the Iraq war.” [Note 1]

[2] AIPAC’s web site features Chicago remarks of Senator Barack Obama, who told an AIPAC Foreign Policy Forum that “The world must work to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy.” [Note 2]

The curious reader will consider three questions. Question #1: Which country in the Middle East has developed and militarised nuclear weapons? [Hint: It is the only country in the Middle East which has a nuclear arsenal.] Question #2: Is that country a “radical theocracy”? Question #3: If it is, what should be US policy, and policy proposals before the UN Security Council, concerning that country’s nuclear systems?

Were Obama’s remarks a coded rebuke of Israel’s nuclear weapons program? Probably not.

[3] NPR on 13 March reported that the draft text of the House of Representative’s current military supplementary authorization bill had been altered by removing a requirement that the White House obtain Congressional approval before any attack on Iran. Some reports attributed this deletion to pro-Israel pressure on the Democratic Party leadership in the House.

On the same day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drew a “smattering of boos” from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee audience when she termed the Iraq war a failure. [Note 3]

[4] Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in a video message to the AIPAC Policy Conference, [as Reuters summarized it] “warned the United States against a quick departure from Iraq.” He also gave the White House its marching orders vis-à-vis Iran: “All of you who are concerned about the security and the future of the state of Israel understand the importance of strong American leadership addressing the Iranian threat ... ” [Note 4]

[5] Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an interview with The New York Times, stated that [Note 5]:

“I think we have remaining vital national security interests in Iraq, and I’ve spoken about that on many different occasions.

“I think it really does matter whether you have a failed province or a region that serves as a petri dish for insurgents and Al Qaeda. It is right in the heart of the oil region. It is directly in opposition to our interests, to the interests of regimes, to Israel’s interests.

“So I think we have a remaining military as well as political mission, trying to contain the extremists.”

One might agree, subject to insisting that the distinction between ‘interests’ and ‘vital interests’ be stringently understood. It’s in almost everyone’s interest to end violence and restore an effective, just, and responsive civil society. One might be skeptical of any claim that the US military can be an effective instrument to “contain the extremists” in Iraq.

But why, then, the appeal to Israel’s ‘interests’? To adduce Israeli interests, and place them in the balance-scale, requires asking just what are the interests of the Israeli people, and whether it is imaginable that the United States would adopt policies which the Israeli government of the moment said were not in Israel’s interests. For example, if an Israeli government said—hypothetically—that it was not in Israel’s interest to withdraw to the 1967 borders and submit the issue of Palestinian rights of return to binding international arbitration, would a President Clinton be bound to agree? Why—other than that Israeli governments have claimed that their interests require it—does the United States not insist, for example as a condition of continuing financial subsidies to Israel, that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza enjoy normal freedom of movement in those territories and between those territories and other states, both people and goods?


[Note 1]: The New York Times, 13 March 2007.

[Note 2]: Senator Barack Obama, AIPAC FOREIGN POLICY FORUM 2007, 2 March 2007. Obama speech.

[Note 3]: Washington Post, “Democrats Confident Iraq Plan Will Pass”, 13 March 2007.

[Note 4:] Reuters, “Israel’s Omert warns against early Iraq exit,” 13 March 2007. Video link: 12 March 2007, remarks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

[Note 5]: Interview 13 March 2007, interviewers Michael Gordon and Patrick Healy. Transcript published online 14 March 2007. Corresponding article by Gordon and Healy, “Clinton Says Some G.I.’s in Iraq Would Stay if She Took Office,” The New York Times, 14 March 2007.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

❄  Beautiful White House  

Did GW Bush when asked about Iraq “Do you believe it’s a civil war, sir?” actually reply that

“. . . it’s hard for me, living in this beautiful White House, to give you an assessment, firsthand assessment. . . . There are others who think it is. It is, however, a dangerous situation, thereby requiring action on my part.

“Listen, I considered several options -- one, doing nothing, and that if you don’t believe the situation was acceptable, then you should do something. And I didn’t believe the situation was acceptable. . . . ” [Note 1]

Yes, it is true. As the ellipses above show, there was more to his remark, and it’s a fair observation that what’s quoted above is the least comprehensible of GW Bush’s reply to Martha Raddatz’ question.


[Note 1]: GW Bush, Press Conference, White House, Washington, D.C., 14 February 2007.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Who’s the Chief Decider? Here’s a glimpse into the White House, courtesy The New York Times:

“Mr. Bolton wanted very much to stay at the world body, administration officials said, and Vice President Dick Cheney backed exploration of some way to bypass the Senate. But that course was almost certain to inflame tensions between Congress and the White House, and in the end, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bolton gave up.

“Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cheney, said that Mr. Bolton came to Washington on Thursday and met with the vice president. At the meeting, the two men decided not to press the issue any further. On Friday, Mr. Bolton sent a resignation letter to President Bush.” [Note 1]


[Note 1]: Helene Cooper, “Votes in Doubt Bolton Resigns as Ambassador,” The New York Times, 5 December 2006.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Several sources on the Israeli war in Lebanon, with my observations or selected text:

   UN Security Council Resolution 1701, 11 August 2006. Passed unanimously by the Security Council.

Many have noted that paragraph 1[“1. Calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations;”] leaves open the possibility of Israel defining any operations it might choose to conduct as ‘defensive’.

Comment has dwelt on provisions of UNSC 1701, but not on three other issues which might have proven deal-breakers. Should Israel be banned from sending warplanes over Lebanon, as it did during the first half of 2006? Should Lebanon be guaranteed against blockade of its ports and airfields? And should Israel—rather than the ‘international community’—be required to pay for repair of the damage done to Lebanon?

   Seymour Hersh has published “Watching Lebanon: Washington’s Interests in Israel’s War,” in the current issue of The New Yorker. [Note 1] Excerpts follow. The Bush administration

“ ... was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground. ...”

“The United States and Israel have shared intelligence and enjoyed close military coöperation for decades, but early this spring, according to a former senior intelligence official, high-level planners from the U.S. Air Force—under pressure from the White House to develop a war plan for a decisive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities—began consulting with their counterparts in the Israeli Air Force.

“ ‘The big question for our Air Force was how to hit a series of hard targets in Iran successfully,’ the former senior intelligence official said. ‘Who is the closest ally of the U.S. Air Force in its planning? It’s not Congo—it’s Israel. Everybody knows that Iranian engineers have been advising Hezbollah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements. And so the Air Force went to the Israelis with some new tactics and said to them, ‘Let’s concentrate on the bombing and share what we have on Iran and what you have on Lebanon.’ ’ The discussions reached the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he said. ... ”

   Max Hastings is a long-time commentator on military and political affairs, from the vantage of London. He writes in The Guardian, “Bush’s belief in a worldwide Islamist conspiracy is foolish and dangerous”. [Note 2] Excerpts:

“In the United States a disturbingly large minority of people - polls suggest around 40% - remain willing to accept Bush’s assertions that Americans and their allies, which chiefly means the British, are faced with a single global conspiracy by Islamic fundamentalists to destroy our societies.

“In less credulous Britain one could nowadays fit into an old-fashioned telephone box those who believe anything Bush or Tony Blair says about foreign policy. Many of us are consumed with frustration. We know that we face a real threat from Muslim fundamentalists, and that we are unlikely to begin to defeat this until we see it for what it is: something infinitely more complex, diffuse and nuanced than the US president wishes to suppose. ...”

“The madness of Bush's policy is that he has made a wilful choice to amalgamate the grossly irrational, totalitarian and homicidal objectives of al-Qaida with the just claims of Palestinians and grievances of Iraqis. His remarks on Saturday invite Muslims who sympathise with Hamas or reject Iraq's occupation or merely aspire to grow opium in Afghanistan to make common cause with Bin Laden.
... ”

   Robert Fisk writes, surprisingly, that on the day the ceasefire went into effect he judged there were only small numbers of Israeli soldiers along the Lebanon-Israel border: [Note 3]

“In Srifa, I stood with Hizbollah men looking at the empty roads to the south and could see all the way to Israel and the settlement of Mizgav Am on the other side of the frontier. This is not the way the war was supposed to have ended for Israel. ...

“It is now clear that the 30,000-strong Israeli army reported to be racing north to the Litani river never existed. In fact, it is unlikely that there were yesterday more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers left in all of southern Lebanon ... ”

   Lara Marlowe, now based in Paris, lived for seven years in Beirut, and has paid close attention to the Levant as a respected correspondent for The Irish Times. Writing from Lebanon, she concludes an assessment of the effects of the 33-day war in today’s Irish Times as follows: [Note 4]

“If any other country did what Israel has done in Lebanon for the past 33 days, it would be labelled a terrorist state. Yet politicians, diplomats and media bosses so fear being called ‘anti-Semitic’ that they continue to chant the mantra that ‘Israel has the right to defend itself‘.

“What happened in Lebanon between July 12th and yesterday was not self-defence. It was mass murder.”

   In the interest of broad coverage, you might want to check out two interviews on today‘s RTE1 news [Irish public radio]. One is a report by Declan Walsh of the Guardian, and the other an interview with Caroline Glick, deputy editor of the Jerusalem Post. Links to the audio files are on the RTE page for the program Five Seven Live: [Note 5]

The Glick interview really has to be heard to be appreciated. Or consider this column by Caroline Glick from the Jerusalem Post, 8 August 2006: “Our World: Talkin’ about a revolution.” She calls for [Note 6]

“an Israeli and allied strike against Hizbullah’s state sponsors Syria and Iran, which promote Hizbullah’s wanton aggression against Israel as a central campaign in their global jihad aimed at annihilating the Jewish state and defeating Western civilization.”

I wonder which ‘allies’ she proposes join Israel in launching war against Syria and Iran?


[Note 1]: Seymour Hersh, “Watching Lebanon: Washington’s Interests in Israel’s War,”, The New Yorker, issue of 21 August 2006, posted on the New Yorker website on 14 August 2006.

[Note 2]: Max Hastings, “Bush’s belief in a worldwide Islamist conspiracy is foolish and dangerous,” The Guardian, 14 August 2006.,,1844195,00.html

[Note 3]: Robert Fisk, “Desert of trapped corpses testifies to Israel’s failure”, The Independent [London], 15 August 2006.

[Note 4]: Lara Marlowe, “Israel’s actions add up to mass murder”, The Irish Times, 15 August 2006. [If you subscribe or have institutional access, try the keywords Marlowe murder Lebanon.]

[Note 5]: Interview of Declan Walsh, and of Caroline Glick:, subtitle ‘Lebanon Truce Holds for Second Day’, on which you may select the Declan Walsh and Carolyn Glick interviews.

[Note 6]: Caroline Glick, “Our World: Talkin’ about a revolution.”

[Bruce Larkin’s Blog 2006.08.15. Additions 2006.08.16.]


Saturday, August 12, 2006


In the category ‘news to remember’:

   On 29 June 2006 Israel escalated its ongoing campaign against the elected Hamas government of the Palestinian Authority by arresting twenty members of the Palestinian parliament and eight cabinet members. [Note 1] This was thirteen days before the Hezbollah cross-border raid and capture of two Israeli soldiers typically cited as the ‘catalyst’ of the Israeli attack into Lebanon.

   The UNIFIL six-month report of activities issued on 21 July 2006 identified several very limited exchanges, in both directions across the Blue Line, in the period 21 January to 11 July 2006. [Note 2] It also called attention to “Persistent and provocative Israeli air incursions, occasionally reaching deep into Lebanese airspace and generating sonic booms over populated areas” which “remained a matter of serious concern.” Summarizing, the Secretary-General’s report states [Note 2]

The situation in the UNIFIL area of operation remained tense and volatile, although it was generally quiet during most of the reporting period. This situation completely changed on 12 July, when the current hostilities broke out and the area was plunged into the most serious conflict in decades.”

   On 25 July 2006 Israel attacked a UN observer post in southern Lebanon, killing four unarmed United Nations observers. They were at the observation post at Khiam, a long-established and well-known post. In the hours leading up to the deaths, UN officials and the UN liaison officer in southern Lebanon had protested repeatedly to Israeli officials and the IDF that firing on and near the post endangered the UN personnel. [Note 3] [SEE previous post on this blog: UNIFIL DEATHS IN LEBANON]

   On 21 July 2006 The New York Times reported that the Bush administration was “rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week ...” . [Note 4] Two aircraft carrying these 5000 pound GBU-28 ‘bunker-buster’ munitions were later reported to have refueled at Prestwick, Scotland, without having obtained prior consent from the British government, leading to an angry response from the British Foreign Secretary. [Note 5] Note that although the ostensible purpose in Israel’s requesting these bombs was for use against Hezbollah tunnels and underground facilities, they could also enhance an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, should such an attack be undertaken. [SEE previous post on this blog: ISRAEL PUSHES WHITE HOUSE TO CONFRONT IRAN]

   On 10 August 2006 Israel dropped leaflets on sections of southern Beirut which, according to Robert Fisk, said that “the Israeli Defence Forces intend to expand their operations in Beirut.” Fisk comments that [Note 6]

“Yesterday’s air-dropped Israeli document ordered Shia Muslims in Beirut’s Hay al-Selloum, Bourj al-Barajneh and Shiyah districts to abandon their homes ‘immediately’. In other words, the Israeli army wishes to ‘cleanse’ every civilian out of the 12 square miles between Beirut airport and the old Christian civil war frontline at Galerie Semaan. This malicious documents ends with a sinister threat—which breaks all the relevant rules of the Geneva Conventions—that ‘each expansion of Hizbollah terrorist operations will lead to a harsh and powerful response and its painful response will not be confined to Hassan’s gan of criminals.’

“So what does ‘not be confined to’ mean? That it is civilians who will pay the price—this time in Beirut—as they have in the Israeli air force massacres of soutern Lebanon over the past three weeks?

“Well, stand by for more Hizbollah atrocities and more Israeli atrocities.”

   The New York Times reported on 11 August 2006 that Israel had sought from the United States anti-personnel cluster bomb munition, which the United States has otherwise resisted transferring to other militaries because of their effects on innocents. The Times report spelled out that [Note 7]

“Israel has long told American officials that it wanted M-26 rockets for use against conventional armies in case Israel was invaded, one of the American officials said. But after being pressed in recent days on what they intended to use the weapons for, Israeli officials disclosed that they planned to use them against rocket sites in Lebanon. It was this prospect that raised the intense concerns over civilian casualties.

“During much of the 1980’s, the United States maintained a moratorium on selling cluster munitions to Israel, following disclosures that civilians in Lebanon had been killed with the weapons during the 1982 Israeli invasion. But the moratorium was lifted late in the Reagan administration, and since then, the United States has sold Israel some types of cluster munitions, the senior official said.”

   The discussion of a ‘ceasefire’ or ‘cessation of hostilities’ resolution in the UN Security Council began immediately after the 12 July beginning of the war and lasted a month, during which extensive damage and the displacement of a million Lebanese was visited on Lebanon. The United Nations would certainly have been able to take effective action to achieve a ceasefire in Lebanon had it not been for US and UK objections in the Security Council. Those objections carried the implicit threat of a US veto against any terms which did not meet Israeli requirements, because the United States did veto the first resolution on the Israeli war in Lebanon when it came before the Security Council on 13 July. That resolution accused Israel of “disproportionate use of force”. Of that original resolution The New York Times reported that [Note 8]

“John R. Bolton, the American ambassador, exercised the veto after failing in an effort to deny the resolution the nine votes needed for adoption.

“The resolution drew 10 votes on the 15-member panel, with Britain, Denmark, Peru and Slovakia abstaining. The measure, drafted by Qatar, the Arab representative on the Council, demanded that Israel halt military operations, release Palestinian prisoners, restore fuel supplies and replace destroyed power plant equipment.

“In an effort to achieve balance, language was added condemning the abduction of an Israeli soldier and the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. Mr. Bolton said the resolution still ‘placed demands on one side in the Middle East conflict but not on the other.’ ”


[Note 1]: Greg Myre and Ian Fisher, “Israel Steps Up Confrontation in Gaza Strip”, The New York Times, 29 June 2006. “. . . on Thursday [29 June], Israeli forces broadened their efforts with a sweeping raid throughout the West Bank, detaining 87 Palestinians linked to militant groups, including 64 Hamas members, the military said. The Hamas members included eight cabinet ministers, one-third of the total, including Omar Abdel Razak, the finance minister. The Israelis also detained more than 20 Hamas members of the Palestinian Parliament in raids in Ramallah, Jenin, East Jerusalem and elsewhere.”

[Note 2]: Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (For the period from 21 January 2006 to 18 July 2006) (S/2006/560), 21 July 2006.

[Note 3]: Warren Hoge, “U.N. Says It Protested to Israel for 6 Hours During Attack That Killed 4 Observers in Lebanon”, The New York Times, 27 July 2006.

[Note 4]: David S. Cloud and Helene Cooper, “U.S. Speeds Up Bomb Delivery for the Israelis,”, The New York Times, 22 July 2006.

[Note 5]: Thomas Harding, “Beckett Attacks US Over Bomb Planes’ Stop-over”, Telegraph [London], 27 July 2006.

[Note 6]: Robert Fisk, “Hizbollah’s Iron Discipline Is Match for Military Machine,” The Independent [London], 11 August 2006.

[Note 7]: David S. Cloud, Israel Asks U.S. to Ship Rockets With Wide Blast”, The New York Times, 11 August 2006.

[Note 8]: “U.S. Vetoes Criticism of Israel”, The New York Times, 14 July 2006.


Friday, July 28, 2006


The following exchange between a reporter and GW Bush took place during today’s [28 July 2006] “press availability”:

Q “Thank you. Mr. President, and Prime Minister Blair, can I ask you both tonight what your messages are for the governments of Iran and Syria, given that you say this is the crisis of the 21st century?”

PRESIDENT BUSH: “Want me to start? My message is, give up your nuclear weapon and your nuclear weapon ambitions. That’s my message to Syria -- I mean, to Iran. And my message to Syria is, become an active participant in the neighborhood for peace.” [1]

The White House asserts that Iran intends to build nuclear weapons, but it has never asserted that Iran has a nuclear weapon. This is a White House transcript, not a Doonesbury strip. Will the White House issue a clarification? Or will it trust that prospects are better if the public imagines that Teheran has a nuclear weapon, or nuclear weapons? Or will it simply observe that everyone knows that Bush doesn’t talk straight so no one will pay any attention to it? But people have to wonder: does Bush think straight? Has he been led to believe that there is a possibility that Iran has a nuclear weapon? Has he been told about some Israelis’ having insisted that once Iranian specialists solved key problems in learning how to build a nuclear weapon the game was already lost? [Please look at my discussion of those Israeli assertions earlier on this blog: ISRAEL PUSHES WHITE HOUSE TO CONFRONT IRAN, 14 January 2006.]

[Note 1]:


Thursday, July 27, 2006


The deaths of four UNIFIL observers in southern Lebanon a few hours ago pose the question whether the deaths were ‘deliberate’ or merely ‘reckless’. Did Israel murder the United Nations observers, or were their deaths merely the result of Israeli recklessness?

An Irish former UNIFIL participant, Tom Clonan, was interviewed on the RTE radio program Morning Ireland today. He is familiar with the Observation Post which was attacked, and his account of the Observation Post and of Israeli practices seems to me to offer more for an understanding of this episode than I’ve seen in the press.

Dr. Clonan is Security Analyst of The Irish Times. His views, similar to those in the RTE interview, are published today in The Irish Times, “Israel Agenda May Be to Drive Out the UN.”:

[Article available by fee or institutional subscription, e.g. on LexisNexis.]

Another Irish view on the Lebanon affair, but written before the UN observers’ deaths, is that of Michael D. Higgins, president of the Irish Labour Party and its foreign affairs spokesman:  “The End of International Law?”. [1]

[Note 1]: A modified version was published in The Irish Times, 27 July 2006, under the title “Is This the Beginning of the End of International Law?: The European Union has handed the Midle East to the militarists.”


Saturday, May 06, 2006


General Michael V. Hayden has been identified by unnamed newspaper sources as a frontrunner to be named Director of Central Intelligence in place of Porter Goss, whose resignation was announced today.

In January 2006 General Hayden advanced a remarkable theory to vitiate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution and justify unwarranted interception and use of communications to and from “U.S. persons,” principally US citizens. In a speech at the National Press Club [1] General Hayden said, in part:

“Inherent foreign intelligence value is one of the metrics we must use. Let me repeat that: Inherent foreign intelligence value is one of the metrics we must use to ensure that we conform to the Fourth Amendment’s reasonable standard when it comes to protecting the privacy of these kinds of people. ... [T]he standard of what was relevant and valuable, and therefore, what was reasonable, would understandably change, I think, as smoke billowed from two American cities and a Pennsylvania farm field. And we acted accordingly.”

The Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

After General Hayden had delivered his remarks the floor was opened for questions. The following exchange took place between Hayden and Jonathan Landay of Knight-Ridder:

QUESTION: Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder. I’d like to stay on the same issue, and that had to do with the standard by which you use to target your wiretaps. I’m no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American’s right against unlawful searches and seizures. Do you use —

GEN. HAYDEN: No, actually — the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But the —

GEN. HAYDEN: That’s what it says.

QUESTION: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

GEN. HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But does it not say probable —

GEN. HAYDEN: No. The amendment says —

QUESTION: The court standard, the legal standard —

GEN. HAYDEN: — unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: The legal standard is probable cause, General. You used the terms just a few minutes ago, “We reasonably believe.” And a FISA court, my understanding is, would not give you a warrant if you went before them and say “we reasonably believe”; you have to go to the FISA court, or the attorney general has to go to the FISA court and say, “we have probable cause.” And so what many people believe — and I’d like you to respond to this — is that what you’ve actually done is crafted a detour around the FISA court by creating a new standard of “reasonably believe” in place in probable cause because the FISA court will not give you a warrant based on reasonable belief, you have to show probable cause. Could you respond to that, please?

GEN. HAYDEN: Sure. I didn’t craft the authorization. I am responding to a lawful order. All right? The attorney general has averred to the lawfulness of the order. Just to be very clear — and believe me, if there’s any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it’s the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. And so what you’ve raised to me —and I’m not a lawyer, and don’t want to become one — what you’ve raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is “reasonable.” And we believe — I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we’re doing is reasonable.

From General Hayden’s reading of the Fourth Amendment it follows that the State must seek a search warrant only when it proposes an unreasonable search. Reductio ad absurdum.

Or we could ask how ‘reasonableness’ is established, and how the issue is resolved if the State’s claim to ‘reasonableness’ of a specific search—here a program of interceptions—is contested. General Hayden’s position is that he, as Director of NSA, determined ‘reasonableness’; that the program was and ought to have remained secret; and that therefore only those who were properly privy to the secret could have contested it, and then only within the limited circle of those entitled to the secret. Hence Congressional oversight or appeal to the Courts is precluded, unless someone who has learned about the secret intercept program goes public.

General Hayden’s position also neglects the fact that there is law—an Act of Congress—which expressly prohibits what he chose to do as Director of the NSA and defended in January as Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence.

USC Title 50 § 1802(a)(1) authorizes warrantless electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information, subject to some conditions, provided “there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of the communication to which a United States person is a party;” [This distinguishes “content” from facts that might be gathered about a transaction.] Note that one US person is enough. Title 18 § 2511 (2)(f) states in part that “the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 shall be the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance ... and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted.” One term, setting scope, is domestic. For domestic surveillance FISA provides the “exclusive means”. If domestic surveillance does not follow the terms of the FISA Act it is illegal. Of course, as everyone including the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee has said, we don’t know exactly what NSA did, because they won’t say. Secret.

We can, however, work General Hayden’s language a bit further. Not every person in the United States is a “United States person”, despite General Hayden’s attempt to convince his audience that any terrorist who stepped across the border would become protected from surveillance. In General Hayden’s words “And by the way, ‘U.S. person’ routinely includes anyone in the United States, citizen or not.” But 50 USC § 1801(i) defines a “United States person” as “a citizen of the United States, an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence (as defined in section 1101(a)(20) of Title 8)” and further defined associations and corporations. [3] “So, for example,” Hayden continues, “because they were in the United States—and we did not know anything more—Mohamed Atta and his fellow 18 hijackers would have been presumed to have been protected person, U.S. persons, by NSA prior to 9/11.” But not thereafter? What General Hayden does not put on the table is that the law does not ban intercepts but distinguishes those intercepts which may be made without warrant, with Executive approval from those which may only be undertaken pursuant to court-issued warrant, subject to the conditions stipulated in law. The plain meaning of General Hayden’s subsequent lines is that the communications of US persons are intercepted and judged, despite the law. “If the U.S. person information isn’t relevant, the data is suppressed.”

Whether General Hayden is actually nominated to succeed Porter Goss as CIA Director or not, the claim that the Executive can undertake warrantless interception whenever it says that doing so is ‘reasonable’ is pernicious and should be confronted head on. Hayden’s remaining as Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence after his January 23rd remarks is further evidence of problems which few Congressional Republicans, and no one in the White House, seems inclined or ready to address.

[Note 1]: Remarks by General Michael V. Hayden, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence and Former Director of the National Security Agency, Address to the National Press Club, “What American Intelligence & Especially the NSA Have Been Doing to Defend the Nation,” Natonal Press Club, Washington, D. C., January 23 2006.

[Note 2:]

[Note 3:] And the Congressional Research Service called attention to this definition in Elizabeth B. Basan, “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: An Overview of the Statutory Framework and Recent Judicial Decisions,” 22 September 2004, CRS Report RL30465, p. 11 note.


Saturday, January 14, 2006


In 2005 and 2006 Israeli officials have made claims about Iran reminiscent of Israeli statements in August 2002 which pressed the United States to attack Iraq. In 2002 urgence was attributed to an alleged Iraqi ‘program of weapons of mass destruction.’ In early 2005 the Israeli defense minister spoke of a ‘point of no return’, an invented ‘red line’ to describe the time at which Iran might have learned how to process uranium to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon. In late 2005 and early 2006 Israeli officials spoke openly of this ‘point of no return’. A New York Times headline states: “Israel Wants West to Deal More Urgently With Iran: Fears Early Nuclear ‘Point of No Return’ ”  [Note 1]  Since Iran is believed unable to make a nuclear weapon for several years—and then only if decisions and technical achievements all fell into place—the purpose of inventing an illusory ‘point of no return’ appears to be to advance the crisis into 2006, or at least into the remaining 36 months of GW Bush’s second term.

Recall first the August 2002 declarations.

Three Israeli officials were reported to have made statements to this effect in mid- August, though one—Foreign Minister Shimon Peres—hedged his call for action by insisting he was not urging the US to war. On 18 August the Israeli government sought to back away from its public agitation for war. The subject is delicate, and it is therefore useful to quote actual language of the reports.  [Note 2]

Ariel Sharon. 16 August 2002. AFP, citing Haaretz: “Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has urged the United States not to delay its threatened strike on Iraq any further. Postponing a military operation against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime ‘will not create a more convenient environment for action in the future,’ the Israeli daily Haaretz quoted Sharon as saying Friday [16 August 2002] in a message sent to the US administration.” [Note 3]

Simon Peres. 15 August 2002. CNN: “Attacking Iraq now would be ‘quite dangerous, but postponing it would be more dangerous,’ Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Thursday [15 August 2002]. ‘The problem today is not if but when,’ Peres said, ‘and if they think we wait, [Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein] will change, and if he will change, it ... will be for the worse; he will have more weapons.’ ”  [Note 4]

Ranaan Gissin. 16 August 2002. CBS: “Israel is urging U.S. officials not to delay a military strike against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Friday. ... ‘Any postponement of an attack on Iraq at this stage will serve no purpose,’ [Ranaan] Gissin said. ‘It will only give him (Saddam) more of an opportunity to accelerate his program of weapons of mass destruction.’ ”  [Note 5]

Backtrack! Sharon’s office denies he urged war. 18 August 2002. South African Broadcasting Company report, relying in part on AFP: “Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, has denied that Israel is urging the US to attack Iraq, a source from the prime minister’s office said. ‘We are not pressing the United States to bring forward an attack on Iraq,’ Sharon told today’s weekly cabinet meeting, according to this source.”  [Note 6]

Now let’s compare Israel’s 2005-2006 comments on Iran.

We should begin by registering White House attention—at least in ‘Dick’ Cheney’s office—to Israel’s policies on Iran. Cheney said, on the day he began his second term as US vice-president, that Israel could strike pre-emptively against Iranian nuclear facilities, though he said “everybody would be best suited or best treated and dealt with if we could deal with it diplomatically.” [Note 7]

Only a week later the Israeli defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, was in London, where he spoke of the ‘point of no return’ and said that “None of the western countries can live with Iran having a nuclear capability.” The Guardian reports:

“Gen Mofaz, who was born in Iran but left for Israel while a child, said: ‘Iran is very close to the point of no return, which means the enrichment of uranium, and we believe that the leadership of the US, together with the European countries, should stop as soon as possible this military nuclear programme in Iran.’ 

“He added that this point of no return would be reached ‘in less than a year’ and that it would only be ‘a matter of years’ after that that it would assemble the bomb.” [Note 8]

Then on 11 December 2005 the Sunday Times [London], citing unidentified military sources, reported that “Israel’s armed forces have been ordered by Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, to be ready by the end of March [2006] for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran.” [Note 9] And further:

“Defence sources in Israel believe the end of March to be the ‘point of no return’ after which Iran will have the technical expertise to enrich uranium in sufficient quantities to build a nuclear warhead in two to four years.” [Note 9]

The New York Times reports remarks of Israeli Major General Aharon Zeev-Farkash, who retired as director of Israeli military intelligence on 5 January 2006. Excerpts from their report, on the ‘point of no return’:

“[General Zeev-Farkash] . . . said Israel believed that the moment was no more than a year away, although estimates differ among governments, based on different views of how advanced Iranian technology has become. Once Iran starts enriching uranium, the general said, it will need just six months to a year to achieve the ability to produce fissile materials. . .

“General Farkash [said] . . . that within another two and half to three years, Iran will have enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, if it is able to construct and run 2,000 to 4,000 centrifuges . . .

“ ‘We have a crucial six months to a year to do something,’ he said, adding that ‘unfortunately when I say this to our friends and allies, they like to focus on the third step,’ the production of the bomb, ‘rather than the first step.’

“ ‘The first step is the most crucial, when Iran will achieve independent research and development capacity to enrich uranium—we all agree,’ the general said. ‘Then it’s not an intelligence problem, but a political decision.’  ” [Note 1]

On 3 January 2006, in his last interview before his major stroke, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke of Iran in a way which echoes his August 2002 comments about Iraq: “In any event, time is not working in favor of anyone who wants to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear. [Israel] is not the spearhead, but we are working together when it comes to intelligence and evaluation with the United States, together with European countries.” [Note 1]

Of course, concern about Iran’s nuclear intentions is not confined to Israel. Iran alone has the ability to convince others that its intentions are confined, as it insists, to uranium enrichment for reactor fuel, and that it will not enrich to the higher concentrations of 235U required for a nuclear weapon. But it could convince others, if it chose to do so.

[Note 1]: Steven Erlanger, “Israel Wants West to Deal More Urgently With Iran: Fears Early Nuclear ‘Point of No Return’, The New York Times, 13 January 2006.

[Note 2]: The discussion of August 2002 is taken from my paper “Iraq: Go to War? and the Nuclear Question”:

[Note 3]: Agence France Presse,,10846,267538,00.html

[Note 4]: CNN

[Note 5]: CBS News,

[Note 6]: South African Broadcasting Company,1009,41059,00.html

[Note 7]: David Sanger, “Cheney Says Israel Might ‘Act First’ on Iran,” The New York Times, 21 January 2005.

[Note 8]: Ewen MacAskill, “Iran Nears Nuclear ‘Point of No Return’ ”The Guardian, 27 January 2005.,12858,1399378,00.html

[Note 9]: Uzi Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter, “Israel Readies Forces for Stike on Nuclear Iran,” Sunday Times [London], 11 December 2005.,,2089-1920074,00.html


Friday, December 30, 2005


I’m pleased that the story of Administration ‘black site’ prisons abroad and prisoner ‘renditions’ was broken by a Washington Post reporter who is a graduate of the Politics department in which I have taught most of the last 40 years. [See Note 1]

Now the scene shifts to The New York Times, which has exposed National Security Agency surveillance practices many consider illegal. [See Note 2] The ACLU has issued a concise statement summarizing why the NSA’s practices matter [See Note 3]:

ACLU.  “NSA Spying on Americans is Illegal”  29 December 2005.

[Note 1]: Dana Priest, “CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons”, The Washington Post, 2 November 2005.

[Note 2]: James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts”, The New York Times, 16 December 2005.

[Note 3]: American Civil Liberties Union, “NSA Spying on Americans is Illegal”, 29 December 2005.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005


In November 2005 the GW Bush White House, mired in Iraq, scarred by declining approval ratings, and facing newly intense charges from Democratic critics that it had misled America into the Iraq War, resolved to launch a counter-campaign charging its critics with dishonesty and worse. In salvo after salvo, its cannoneers insisted that the critics themselves were ‘dishonest’, ‘reprehensible’, trading in ‘lies’. The breadth and recurrence of the Administration’s charges remind us of GW Bush’s declaration, in May 2005, that “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” [Note 1] But it is unlikely mere repetition can rescue this White House from the record.

‘Dick’ Cheney offered a refined version of GW Bush’s Veterans’ Day charge that “Some democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war.” [Note 2] Cheney told the American Enterprise Institute on 21 November 2005 that

'What is not legitimate, and what I will again say is dishonest and reprehensible, is the suggestion by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence. . . .

“ . . . any suggestion that prewar information was distorted, hyped, or fabricated by the leader of the nation is utterly false.” [Note 3]

This is not a casual phrasing.

Note how narrowly drawn is his denial: ‘purposely misled’ [inserting an issue of intent, which only the suspected liar can know for sure], but even more importantly ‘on prewar intelligence’.

Cheney and Bush misled on many factual matters: WMD, Iraq-Al Qaeda connection, quality of IAEA and UNMOVIC inspections, and the necessity to go to war.

Moreover, it is a reasonable inference that they ‘purposely misled’ the American people about both their intent to war against Iraq and their reasons for doing so.

They ‘misled’ by suggesting they wanted authorization to war only as a last resort, when it is a reasonable reading of their actions that they were bent on war no matter what. And that deceit was ‘on purpose’. [Remember: they could not persuade the UN Security Council of the need for war, and they deliberately disrupted the ongoing IAEA and UNMOVIC inspections, which were not finished.] They ‘misled’ by failing to explain clearly the broader geostrategic objectives which they sought, including long-term US military basing and development of a client Iraqi government. They have not explained a connection many suspect: the intimate parallels between their choices and the objectives of Israel’s Likud.

They ‘misled’ by repeatedly talking of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ as if their claims were about nuclear weapons (‘mushroom cloud’), when on the most generous understanding they might have referred to chemical and biological weapons, nasty and dangerous but not strategically significant. They could have made that distinction clear, as many specialists have: they did not do so.

On other reasons to go to war, the White House certainly ‘purposely misled’ about the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection: there was never any information, nor any ‘intelligence’, to show a significant connection. It was pure fear-mongering. Cheney was foremost in that, and so he ‘purposely misled’. And there are the reasons never, or rarely, acknowledged. Recall Paul Wolfowitz saying that WMD was brought forward as the reason because it was the one thing agencies within the US Government could agree on: that is, no agency representative was prepared to take the burden for saying there was no WMD threat, lest the agency be proven wrong.

But the most compelling deceit, and the most incontestable, was their deliberate concealment of ignorance. They ‘purposely misled’ the American people by never telling them—not the public, not the Congress—that they did not have positive, corroborated, convincing intelligence from proven sources to support their contentions about WMD and Iraqi intentions. No agency—not the DIA, not the CIA, not the NSA—claimed to have ‘intelligence’ which met that standard. But that’s the minimum standard which must be met to go to war. Cheney and Bush knew—knew—that they had no such evidence. And yet they claimed the need to launch a war. They ‘purposely misled’ the public and the Congress about what they did not know.

So we might paraphrase ‘Dick’ Cheney’s denial. It would run something like this. “We may have inadvertently misled the American people. But we didn’t mean to. Anyway, only we know what was in our minds, so if we say it wasn’t ‘on purpose’ you just have to accept that. But this is really about ‘prewar intelligence.’ The intelligence reports which we made public were authored by the agencies; we said so; we simply told the American people what we’d been told; we never lied about that.” Does that help explain why his denial is so narrowly drawn?

[Note 1]: GW Bush, remarks on social security at the Greece Athena Middle and High School, Greece, New York, 24 May 2005, cited by Frank Rich, The New York Times, 19 June 2005.

[Note 2]: GW Bush, remarks on Veterans' Day, Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, 11 November 2005.

[Note 3]: Vice President ‘Dick’ Cheney, Speech to the American Enterprise Institute, 21 November 2005.


Saturday, November 12, 2005

❄ Context is All!   

The following text was constructed by selecting observations from an otherwise lacklustre public speech. Most of the original has been omitted, leaving this residue as a biting critique of the policies and practices of the White House. By the way, who was this trenchant critic of the current Administration? The text, with omissions marked ... , and some added highlighting:

Thank you all very much. ... We know the vision of the radicals because they have openly stated it ... [They are] utterly committed. ... [T]he civilized world knows very well that other fanatics in history ... consumed whole nations in war and genocide before leaving the stage of history. Evil men, obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience, must be taken very seriously—and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply. ...

The radicals exploit local conflicts to build a culture of victimization, in which someone else is always to blame and violence is always the solution. ...

... they have endless ambitions of imperial domination,—and they wish to make everyone powerless, except themselves. ... By fearing freedom—by distrusting human creativity and punishing change and limiting the contributions of half a population—this ideology undermines the very qualities that make human progress possible, and human societies successful. ... The rest of their grim vision is defined by a warped image of the past—a declaration of war on the idea of progress itself. ... Those who despise freedom and progress have condemned themselves to isolation and decline and collapse. Because free peoples believe in the future, free peoples will own the future. ...

[O]ur debate at home must also be fair-minded. One of the hallmarks of a free society and what makes our country strong is that our political leaders can discuss their differences openly, even in times of war. ...

Throughout history, tyrants and would-be tyrants have always claimed that murder is justified to serve their grand vision—and they end up alienating decent people across the globe. ...

[W]e do know the love of freedom is the mightiest force of history, and we do know the cause of freedom will once again prevail.

[Source: GW Bush, remarks at Tobyhanna Army Depot, Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, 11 November 2005.]


Friday, November 11, 2005

❄ “We’re an Empire Now ... ”  

I don’t want to lose track of Ron Suskind’s report of a summer 2002 conversation with a “senior adviser to Bush”. It’s reported by Suskind in a 17 October 2004 New York Times Magazine article titled “Without a Doubt” [highlighting added]:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’  ”

[Source: The New York Times, 17 October 2004.]


Sunday, November 06, 2005


“Truth of the matter is,” GW Bush told reporters while visiting Argentina, “there’s people who disagree with the decisions I’ve made all over the world.”

[Source: The New York Times, 5 November 2005.]


Sunday, July 31, 2005


The International Herald Tribune sells classified ads. They are often accompanied by a disclaimer, titled “Reader Warning”. The disclaimer was not included with the ads published 25 July 2005, so I thought it would be helpful to show two ads published that day with the disclaimer alongside.

Readers might also wish to juxtapose one of these ads with reports of the controversy about GW Bush’s proposal to provide aid to selected parties and individuals in the ‘free’ January 2005 Iraqi elections. Cf. Douglas Jehl and David E. Sanger, “Plan Called for Covert Aid in Iraq Vote”, The New York Times, 17 July 2005.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

❄ BUSH ON GUANTANAMO: “There’s total transparency.”

GW Bush claims [6 July 2005, during a press conference with the Danish Prime Minister at Lyngby, Denmark] that “there’s total transparency” at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That’s a simple, astounding lie, since the public does not know, and is not permitted to find out, who is held there, much less the details of what takes place. We do know that interrogation practices are used which seek to break detainees physically and mentally: I call that torture, even if Alberto Gonzales and George Bush do not.

This is what Bush said:

“We had a great discussion today. We talked about the upcoming G8 meeting. We talked about Africa and climate change. As well, we talked about Guantanamo. The Prime Minister is concerned about what the situation on Guantanamo says about America and our view of liberty. Let me tell you what I told him. I said, first, the prisoners are well-treated in Guantanamo. There’s total transparency. The International Red Cross can inspect any time, any day. And you’re welcome to go. The press, of course, is welcome to go down to Guantanamo.

“Secondly, we have sent many home. These people were picked up on the battlefield. They didn’t wear uniforms, they weren’t associated with a government, but they were on the battlefield. And so we put them in Guantanamo. We wanted to find out as much as we could about what they knew about this war on terror in order to protect our citizens. Many, it turned out, were sent home.

“Thirdly, I assured the Prime Minister there’s got to be a way forward for people held in Guantanamo, and there will be. The reason why you haven.t seen any adjudication of individuals is because our court system is determining where best to try people, whether it be in a military tribunal where a person would have all -- lawyers and rights, or whether it be in the civilian courts. And once the judicial branch of our government makes its decision, then we’ll proceed forward with giving people fair and open trials.

“I just want you to remember we are in a war against these terrorists. My most solemn obligation is to protect the American people from further attack. These people are being treated humanely. There’s very few prison systems around the world that have seen such scrutiny as this one. And for those of you here on the continent of Europe who have doubt, I’d suggest buying an airplane ticket and going down and look -- take a look for yourself.”


Wouldn’t you like to know what scrambling took place at Guantanamo at the prospect of correspondents from Le Monde and The Independent and twenty other papers arriving at the gates, asking for a namelist of prisoners and untrammeled interviews? Which correspondent will get there first?

Of course, we don’t know where the Guantanamo detainees were “picked up”. We do know something, however, of access by the International Committee of the Red Cross and its continuing concerns. GW Bush said that “The International Red Cross can inspect any time, any day.” Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Bush Administration pays any attention to what they say. The ICRC considers its language carefully, and that prudence is evident in its reports. Typically the ICRC reports its concerns to the detaining government; only in exceptional circumstances does it go public. The ICRC publishes the following material [excerpt] on its website:

“Releases or transfers of detainees

“The ICRC insists on interviewing in private any detainee about to be transferred out of Guantanamo Bay before his departure to allow him the opportunity to raise any possible fears of persecution should he be sent home or to a third country. The ICRC then relays the detainee's comments to the detaining authorities and makes appropriate recommendations as to how to proceed. This procedure is designed to ensure respect for the internationally recognised principle of non-refoulement which prohibits the transfer or return of a person to a country where he or she has reason to fear for his or her life, physical or mental integrity, or might be subject to other serious human rights violations.

“The ICRC follows up on all cases of detainees transferred from Guantanamo Bay to third countries, particularly if they are subsequently rearrested and deprived of their liberty. The ICRC aims to visit these detainees in their new place of detention to ensure that their treatment and the conditions of detention are in conformity with international legal requirements.

“The ICRC has regularly provided support to detainees released from Guantanamo Bay. Whenever needed, ICRC delegates are present during these releases and provide clothes and transport fares to enable the freed detainees to return to their families.

“ICRC concerns

“For the ICRC, the question of the legal status of the persons detained by the US at Bagram, Guantanamo Bay or at so-called undisclosed locations, as well as the legal framework applicable to them remains unresolved (see IHL and terrorism: questions and answers).

“For many detainees at Guantanamo Bay more than two and a half years have passed since their arrest. The ICRC has always maintained that those detainees remaining in Guantanamo Bay should either be charged and tried, released, or be placed within a legal framework that governs their continued detention. On 28 June 2004, the United States Supreme Court ruled that 14 Guantanamo Bay detainees could file for writs of habeas corpus – that is, challenges to the legality of their detention – in US federal courts. This decision has opened the door for other detainees at Guantanamo Bay to challenge the legality of their detention in US courts. The ICRC is closely following developments in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.

“The ICRC believes that the uncertainty about their fate has been a contributing factor to the mental and emotional health problems among the detainees at Guantanamo Bay observed by its delegates and reported by other sources.

“The ICRC has had regular access to the persons detained at Bagram, but not immediately after their arrest. Initially detainees were only held for limited periods of time before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay or released. However, since mid-2003 many persons have been detained for longer periods at Bagram, in some cases for more than a year. Therefore, the ICRC is increasingly concerned by the fact that the US authorities have not resolved the questions of their legal status and of the applicable legal framework.

“The ICRC’s observations regarding certain aspects of the conditions of detention and treatment of detainees in Bagram and Guantanamo have not yet been adequately addressed.

“The US authorities state that the detainees in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay are of important intelligence value. The Geneva Conventions do not preclude the interrogation of persons deprived of liberty. However, since the detainees, particularly in Guantanamo Bay, have been subjected to unusually long periods of interrogation, the ICRC closely monitors the impact this has on them. Any interrogation has to be conducted in accordance with basic humanitarian standards.

“Beyond Bagram, Kandahar and Guantanamo Bay, the ICRC is increasingly concerned about the fate of an unknown number of people captured as part of the so-called global war on terror and held in undisclosed locations. For the ICRC, obtaining information on these detainees and access to them is an important humanitarian priority and a logical continuation of its current detention work in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Dialogue continues with the US authorities to resolve this issue.”


This page is powered
by Blogger. Isn't yours?