War: September 2003 Archives

I can't quite explain why this bothers me so much, but the latest column by the idiot known as Thomas L. Friedman really bothers me. I am so depressed to live in a country where the NY Times can print a columnist who writes such an intellectually dishonest and meretricious column.

It's time we Americans came to terms with something: France is not just our annoying ally. It is not just our jealous rival. France is becoming our enemy.

If you add up how France behaved in the run-up to the Iraq war (making it impossible for the Security Council to put a real ultimatum to Saddam Hussein that might have avoided a war), and if you look at how France behaved during the war (when its foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, refused to answer the question of whether he wanted Saddam or America to win in Iraq), and if you watch how France is behaving today (demanding some kind of loopy symbolic transfer of Iraqi sovereignty to some kind of hastily thrown together Iraqi provisional government, with the rest of Iraq's transition to democracy to be overseen more by a divided U.N. than by America), then there is only one conclusion one can draw: France wants America to fail in Iraq.


But then France has never been interested in promoting democracy in the modern Arab world, which is why its pose as the new protector of Iraqi representative government — after being so content with Saddam's one-man rule — is so patently cynical.

Ah, yes. America has been so anti-Saddam.


In the mid-1980s the Reagan administration sent current U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to meet with Saddam Hussein to improve relations between the U.S. and Iraq.

It is laughable for the country that overthrew a democratic government in Iran in 1953, which re-installed a male-only oligarchy in Kuwait after the 1991 Gulf War, and which props up the Saudi royal family, to protest much about democracy in the Middle East.

So Americans expect France to not act in its own interest, or to not tell us when we're being stupid? They're evil for not making it easy enough for us to give Saddam Hussein ultimatums? Ultimatums for what? Admitting to weapons that apparently don't exist?

James and I spent a lot of the last week hanging out with a couple of young artist/musicians from France. They were very upset when they saw t-shirts for sale in Times Square that said, "Iraq First, Then France." This country is really scaring me. Is it going to be "us" against the world?

An initial disclaimer: I know this post is a bit of a mess, but I can't figure out how to put everything I want to talk about today into a coherent essay.

The Chilean presidential palace in Santiago on Sept. 11, 1973, when President Salvador Allende was overthrown.

September 11 is an anniversary for more than people who experienced the one in 2001. Today is the 30th anniversary of the US-backed coup which overthrew the democratically-elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende. Of course, one is more likely to see coverage of this fact in foreign media than in our own. I grabbed the photo above from a rather dismissive article in yesterday's NY Times, which spends a great deal of time blaming Allende for trying to move too quickly to the left. The article fails to mention the US involvement in the coup.

I was reminded of the unfortunate coincidence by a death that occurred this week -- that of Leni Riefenstahl.

What do you mean by that?" she asked, clearly surprised. "Where is my guilt? I can regret. I can regret that I made the party film, 'Triumph of the Will,' in 1934. But I cannot regret that I lived in that time. No anti-Semitic word has ever crossed my lips. I was never anti-Semitic. I did not join the party. So where then is my guilt? You tell me. I have thrown no atomic bombs. I have never betrayed anyone. What am I guilty of?"

The quote comes from an amazing film I watched earlier this year, The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, when the film maker confronted her over whether she should feel guilty.

It is an interesting question. She has been vilified for making films for the Third Reich, but people like Henry Kissinger who planned the Chile coup, and used our tax dollars to help pay for it, happily attend charity functions, serve on corporate boards, and get mentioned in the gossip columns. Henry Kissinger is as much of a war criminal as anyone alive in America, but no one attacks him -- I mean verbally or with some red paint -- when he arrives for lunch at The Four Seasons. I worked in 2 WTC on the 100th floor when I first moved to NYC in 1989. I remember seeing Kissinger in the lobby of my building one afternoon and the horror I felt at being in the same (albeit large) space.

I will admit I have never seen Olympia, but I recently watched Triumph of the Will. The latter is horribly brilliant. Seventy years later, one can be horrified by the regime it glorifies while at the same time being moved by the artistry of it. Also, this being 1934, the war had not begun, and seeing the faces of young men you knew would be dead within 10 years, or cities that were bombed to rubble when they still were masterpieces of centuries-old architecture, is chilling. As someone who cares deeply about art, it is... searching for words here... disturbing to see how art can make a vile regime appear heroic and virtuous.

Leni Riefenstahl was an artist, and in the 1930s she used her art for invidious purposes. Let's remember she did so in a regime that killed its opponents. Dachau, which I have visited, was built as soon as the Nazis achieved power, and was used to imprison political prisoners. Americans today say they don't understand how something like Nazi Germany could happen, but they can't even be bothered to pay enough attention to know that Iraq wasn't involved in 9/11, or to read newspapers, or to vote. I am no longer interested in hearing from Americans how the Germans didn't do enough to resist Hitler and the Nazis. No, they didn't do enough, but we as a people are in no position to talk about resistance to a regime that betrays the will of the people and commits atrocities in their name. The Bush regime doesn't have to put people in camps -- the "opposition" party runs screaming away as soon as their patriotism is questioned -- and the media rarely challenges any of its statements.

Being an artist doesn't absolve her of any responsibility, but I suspect that as a woman she took a chance to have the kind of money and opportunities that would have been quite rare for someone like her in the 1930s. Can someone explain to me what the mitigating circumstances might be for the likes of Nixon and Kissinger? What ends justified the means? Why we had to kill 55,000 Americans and millions of Viet Namese? Why we supported the people that killed an opponent of Pinochet with a car bomb in central Washington DC?

Someone asked me today if I felt sad about the anniversary. No, I don't. I am pissed off! Where is the independent investigation into 9/11? Where is the investigation into the anthrax mailings? Who is going to explain to us why we had to attack Iraq when Saudi Arabia provided the support and money for the 9/11 hijackers? There are questions that need to be answered if we're going to be anything other than a banana republic with the world's largest military.

Are Americans suckers? Is all they care about a chance to sit at home and watch another stupid reality show?

I think the majority of Americans have the government and the leaders they deserve, but those of us with some brains, a little common sense, and a sense of decency do not deserve to live under this regime.

Last night President Flight Suit said we're going to ask the rest of the world for money and bodies to help us clean up the mess we created in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last week, Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman had this diplomatic thing to say about "Old Europe":

"Mr. Boucher," a reporter asked at the daily briefing, "do you have anything on the proposal for the creation of a European Union military headquarters in Brussels independent of NATO, something that has angered the United States, according to reports?"

"I'm not quite sure what proposal that is," Boucher said, according to a transcript. "You mean the one from the four countries [Belgium, Germany, France and Luxembourg] that got together and had a little . . . had a little bitty summit . . . ."

"That's exactly it," the reporter said, "and Belgium insisting to . . . "

"Yeah, the chocolate makers," Boucher quipped and reporters laughed. "Sorry. No, I . . . I think they've been referred to that way in the press; I shouldn't repeat things I see in the press."

I think now is a good time to revisit the first paragraph of an op-ed by Richard Perle in The Guardian, published as the attack on Iraq began.

Saddam Hussein's reign of terror is about to end. He will go quickly, but not alone: in a parting irony, he will take the UN down with him. Well, not the whole UN. The "good works" part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions.


Updated: I had put George rather than Richard as Perle's first name. Funny -- the former is a composer who wrote several books on my shelf about Berg's operas. Thanks to idols of the marketplace for the correction.

Apparently the Bush regime feels the opposite approach makes sense.

From an op-ed piece by Donald Hepburg in yesterday's NY Times:

So, how much is this experiment in nation-building going to cost the American taxpayer? First, let's consider what has already been spent. According to the Pentagon, the cost of preparation, aid to noncombatant allies and the invasion itself amounted to $45 billion. Then there is the much-bandied "billion dollars a week" phrase, which seems an accurate estimate of military expenses since the end of serious fighting in May. Assuming a five-year occupation, that's some $300 billion.

But these familiar figures are only part of the story. First, as these are borrowed funds, they are already incurring interest charges. More important, according to material released by American officials, the United States must meet an estimated $5 billion in initial humanitarian aid and $8 billion in Iraqi government salaries, as well as about $7 billion for repairs to public utilities and to restore vital services over the next two years.


It will also most likely cost $3 billion to re-settle nearly one million Iraqi refugees who are returning from exile (there are also an estimated 1.5 million Iraqis who were displaced within the country and will need aid to rebuild their communities). Ordinarily, assistance could be expected to come through United Nations and nongovernmental groups, but in this case the diplomatic difficulties surrounding the invasion leave the situation unsettled.

Still, the biggest problem facing Iraq is that after decades of corruption, economic stagnation and declining productivity, it faces at least a decade's worth of reconstruction and improvements. This will include rebuilding ports, farms, roads, telecommunications systems, power plants, hospitals and water systems, as well as introducing a medical benefit plan, a national pension scheme, and new laws for foreign investment and intellectual property rights. The country needs a revised criminal code and judiciary system, a new tax code and collection system, and an electoral voting system with appropriate technology. Using postwar American and United Nations estimates for these and many other tasks, the total bill is likely to be at least $200 billion over a decade.

Clearly, such a program cannot be financed entirely by Iraq's oil reserves. Those who accused the Bush administration of instigating a "war for oil" certainly hadn't done the math. Before the war the hope was that Iraq's annual production could relatively quickly rise to $15 billion to $20 billion per year. However, the system is far more decrepit than such estimates assumed, and combined with the near-daily sabotage of facilities and pipelines, it appears that oil revenues will rise only slowly over the next three years, from approximately $10 billion in 2004 to $20 billion in 2006.

Major international oil companies are expected to invest $40 billion in joint ventures with Iraq's state oil company, but this will be for exploration and new development, not to rehabilitate the existing facilities. By 2010, even in the best case, production would increase at most to six million barrels a day, bringing total revenues to about $40 billion a year.

I did not include the section about Iraq's $350 billion in foreign debt. Do we think the countries we derided as chocolate makers and Old Europe are just going to forgive the debts? Do we think anyone is going to loan money to a new U.S.-approved government without a plan to repay the current debts?

Also in the news yesterday were the results of a new study from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gives the state of U.S. infrastructure a grade of D-:

The report blamed the deteriorating infrastructure on a weak economy, limited federal programs, population growth and the threat of terrorism, which diverted money to security.

“Americans’ concerns about security threats are real, but so are the threats posed by crumbling infrastructure,” Thomas Jackson, ASCE president, said in a statement. “It doesn’t matter if the dam fails because cracks have never been repaired or if it fails at the hands of a terrorist. The towns below the dam will still be devastated.”

There was no progress for schools, which received the worst grade - D-minus - from the engineers in 2001. The report said three out of four school buildings are inadequate. They estimate it will cost more than $127 billion to build new classrooms and modernize outdated schools.

Energy transmission earned a D-plus two years ago, and the engineers said the trend is getting worse. Investment in transmission fell by $115 million annually, to $2 billion a year in 2000 from $5 billion in 1975. Actual capacity increased by only 7,000 megawatts a year, 30 percent less than needed to keep up with power demand.

Roads didn’t fare much better. “The nation is failing to even maintain the substandard conditions we currently have,” the report said, adding that the average rush hour grew by more than 18 minutes between 1997 and 2000.

The engineers’ report also saw no improvement on bridges, noting that 27.5 percent of U.S. bridges were structurally deficient or obsolete in 2000.

This page is an archive of entries in the War category from September 2003.

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