by William Blum
The good news is that the Republicans lost.
The bad news is that the Democrats won.
The burning issue â€” US withdrawal from Iraq â€” remains as far from resolution as before.
A clear majority of Americans are opposed to the war and almost all of them would be very happy if the US military began the process of leaving Iraq tomorrow, if not today. The rest of the world would breathe a great sigh of relief and their long-running love affair with the storybook place called "America" could begin to come back to life.
A State Department poll conducted in Iraq this past summer dealt with the population's attitude toward the American occupation. Apart from the Kurds â€” who assisted the US military before, during, and after the invasion and occupation, and don't think of themselves as Iraqis â€” most people favored an immediate withdrawal, ranging from 56% to 80% depending on the area.
The State Department report added that majorities in all regions except Kurdish areas said that the departure of coalition forces would make them feel safer and decrease violence.
George W. is on record declaring that if the people of Iraq ask the United States to leave, the US will leave. He also has declared that the Iraqis are "not happy they're occupied. I wouldn't be happy if I were occupied either."
Yet, despite all this, and much more, the United States remains, with predictions from Pentagon officials that American forces will be in Iraq for years. Large US military bases are being constructed there; they're not designed as temporary structures. Remember that 61 years after the end of World War II the United States still has major bases in Germany. Fifty-three years after the end of the Korean War the US has tens of thousands of troops in South Korea.
Washington insists that it can't leave Iraq until it has completed
training and arming a police force and army which will keep order. Not
only does this inject thousands more armed men â€” often while in uniform
â€” into the raging daily atrocities, it implies that the United States
is concerned about the welfare and happiness of the Iraqi people, a
proposition rendered bizarre by almost four years of inflicting upon
those same people a thousand and one varieties of hell on earth,
literally destroying their ancient and modern civilization. We are
being asked to believe that the American military resists leaving
because some terrible thing will befall their beloved Iraqi brethren.
("We bomb you because we care about you" ... suitable to be inscribed
on the side of a cruise missile.) Even as I write this, on November 14,
I read: "An overnight US raid killed six people in mainly-Shia east
Baghdad, sparking angry anti-US protests. Thirty died in a US raid on
the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi, Iraqi officials said."
At the same time, the American occupation fuels hostility by the Sunnis toward Shiite "collaborators" with the occupation, and vice-versa. If the Americans left, both sides could negotiate and participate in the reconstruction of Iraq without fear of being branded traitors. The Iraqi government would lose its quisling stigma. And Iraq's security forces would no longer have the handicap of being seen to be working on behalf of foreign infidels against fellow Iraqis.
So why don't the Yanquis just go home? Is all this not rather odd? Three thousand of their own dead, tens of thousands critically maimed. And still they stay. Why, they absolutely refuse to even offer a timetable for withdrawal. No exit plan. No nothing.
No, it's not odd. It's oil.
Oil was not the only motivation for the American invasion and occupation, but the other goals have already been achieved â€” eliminating Saddam Hussein for Israel's sake, canceling the Iraqi use of the euro in place of the dollar for oil transactions, expansion of the empire in the middle east with new bases.
American oil companies have been busy under the occupation, and even before the US invasion, preparing for a major exploitation of Iraq's huge oil reserves. Chevron, ExxonMobil and others are all set to go. Four years of preparation are coming to a head now. Iraq's new national petroleum law â€” written in a place called Washington, DC â€” is about to be implemented. It will establish agreements with foreign oil companies, privatizing much of Iraq's oil reserves under exceedingly lucrative terms. Security will be the only problem, protecting the oil companies' investments in a lawless country. For that they need the American military close by.
What a mad raving dinosaur am I!
Democratic Party leaders think that the election validates their pursuing a centrist path. Arnold Schwarzenegger credits his re-election as California governor to his moving to the center (or at least pretending to do so). They and their colleagues would have us all believe that the American people have resolutely moved to the center, abandoning the "extremes". But is that really so? I maintain that most Americans are liberal, and many even further left. I think that this would be revealed if the public was asked questions along the following lines?
Would you like to have a government-run health care system, which put an end to the for-profit health care corporations and hospitals, and which covered all residents for all ailments at very affordable premiums?
Do you think that when corporations are faced with a choice between optimizing their revenue and doing what's best for the environment and public health, that they should always choose in favor of the environment?
Do you think that abortion is a question best left up to a woman and her doctor?
Do you think that the United States should officially be a totally secular nation or one based on religious beliefs?
Do you think that big corporations and their political action committees exercise too much political power?
Do you think that corporate executive salaries are highly excessive?
Do you think that the tax cuts for the super rich instituted by the Bush administration should be cancelled and their taxes then increased?
Do you think that the minimum wage should be increased to what is called a "living wage", which would be at least $10 per hour?
Do you think that all education, including medical school and law school, should be free, subsidized by the government?
Do you think that the government should take all measures necessary to guarantee that corporations have retirement plans for all workers and that the retirement funds are safeguarded?
Do you think that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a mistake?
Do you think that United States support of Israel is excessive?
Do you approve of the treatment of people captured by the United States as part of its so-called War on Terror â€” the complete loss of legal and human rights, and subjected to torture?
For those readers who think that I'm presuming too much about Americans' disenchantment with their economic system, I suggest they have a look at my essay: "The United States invades, bombs, and kills for it, but do Americans really believe in free enterprise?"
And for those readers who wonder where all the money would come from to pay for the education, medical care, etc., keep in mind that one year of the US military budget â€” that's one year â€” is equal to more than $30,000 per hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born.
The Great Decider
Earlier this month the US State Department dropped Vietnam from its blacklist of nations that it judges to be serious violators of religious freedom. This occurred just days before a visit to Vietnam by President Bush. The Department denied any connection between the two events. However, to quote George Bernard Shaw: "Not bloody likely."
In removing Vietnam from the list, the State Department was ignoring the US government's own Commission on International Religious Freedom, a congressionally mandated advisory body, which had called for Vietnam to be kept on the list. The Commission also called for Pakistan and Turkmenistan to be added. This, too, was ignored by the White House.
Foreign policy considerations routinely play a decisive role in determining who's included and who's not on various State Department lists. This is no small matter, for inclusion on one of the lists can lead to economic and other sanctions. It's thus another weapon Washington has available to bend the world to its will.
In addition to the report on religious freedom, the State Department self-righteously issues annual reports which rate the countries of the world on human rights, the war on drugs, trafficking in persons, and the war on terrorism, as well as maintaining a list of "terrorist" groups. The Department has placed Venezuela in the worst category on the trafficking-in-persons list, stating that "Venezuela is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor" and that "The Government of Venezuela does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so."
It's all rather arbitrary and most of what the State Department report says about Venezuela could be said as well about the United States and other developed countries. In Washington, DC, for many years, there have regularly been cases of foreign diplomats "enslaving" and sexually abusing young women whom they brought with them from abroad to work in their home. This keeps happening again and again and there does not appear to be a clear and tough policy of the State Department to make sure it doesn't happen again. The stories are reported each time a young woman, after years of "slavery" in a Washington suburb, escapes. "Slavery" is indeed the term used by the legal authorities.
Categorizing Venezuelan thusly is as arbitrary as including Cuba on the list of state supporters of terrorism because a few American Black Panthers hijacked planes to Cuba 25 or 30 years ago, and a Basque activist lives in Cuba, which Spain has no problem with, but which the US wants to make political capital of.
Caution: extremist statement ahead. (You may never see this in print again, so clip and save)
France is on the verge of approving legislation which makes it a crime to deny the Turkish genocide of Armenians at the time of the First World War.
Denying the German Holocaust of Jews is a crime in Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, and Israel.
In the United States it's not a crime to deny the American holocaust, although this particular historical phenomenon encompasses Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, North Korea, Guatemala, El Salvador, Grenada, Indonesia, Iraq, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Greece, East Timor, Angola, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yugoslavia, Colombia, and several other countries upon whom Washington has bestowed its precious gifts of freedom and democracy.
But how long before the neo-Cons and the neo-Dems of America put their heads together and make it a crime to affirm the American holocaust? Politicians and media people carry around ten-foot poles to not touch this with.
The case that is still not closed
I have closely followed and often written about the case of PanAm Flight 103, blown out of the sky by a terrorist bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, taking the lives of 270 people. For well over a year afterward, the US and the UK insisted that Iran, Syria, and a Palestinian group had been behind the bombing, until the buildup to the Gulf War came along in 1990 and the support of Iran and Syria was desired for the operation. Suddenly, in October 1990, the US declared that it was Libya â€” the Arab state least supportive of the US build-up to the Gulf War and the sanctions imposed against Iraq â€” that was behind the bombing after all.
Eventually, in 2001, a Libyan, Abdelbaset al Megrahi, was sentenced to life in prison for the crime, although his Libyan co-defendant, charged with the same crime and with the same evidence, was acquitted. The trial was the proverbial travesty of justice, which I've discussed in detail elsewhere. ("I am absolutely astounded, astonished," said the Scottish law professor who was the architect of the trial. "I was extremely reluctant to believe that any Scottish judge would convict anyone, even a Libyan, on the basis of such evidence.") The prosecution's star witness, Libyan defector Abdul Majid Giaka, groomed and presented by the CIA, was a thoroughly dubious character who didn't know much or have access to much, and who pretended to be otherwise just to get more CIA payments. And the CIA knew it. The Agency refused to fully declassify documents about him, using their standard excuse â€” that it would reveal confidential sources and methods. It turned out they were reluctant because the documents showed that the CIA thought him unreliable.
Then, in 2005, we learned that a key piece of evidence linking Libya to the crime had been planted by the CIA. Just like in movie thrillers. Just like in conspiracy theories.
For anyone still in doubt about the farcical nature of the trial, now comes along Michael Scharf, an attorney who worked on the 103 case at the State Department and was the counsel to the counter-terrorism bureau when the two Libyans were indicted for the bombing. In the past year he trained judges and prosecutors in Iraq in the case that led to the conviction and death sentence of Saddam Hussein. Scharf recently stated that the Panam case "was largely based on this inside guy [Giaka]. It wasn't until the trial that I learned this guy was a nut-job and that the CIA had absolutely no confidence in him and that they knew he was a liar. It was a case that was so full of holes it was like Swiss cheese." He says that the case had a "diplomatic rather than a purely legal goal".
Victor Ostrovsky, formerly with the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, has written of Mossad what one could just as correctly say of the CIA: "This feeling that you can do anything you want to whomever you want for as long as you want because you have the power."
So, let's hope that Abdelbaset al Megrahi is really guilty. It would be a terrible shame if he spends the rest of his life in prison simply because back in 1990 Washington's hegemonic plans for the Middle East needed a convenient scapegoat, which just happened to be his country. However, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is to report in the coming months on whether it believes there was a miscarriage of justice in the case.
And by the way, my usual reminder, Libya has never confessed to having carried out the act. They've only taken "responsibility", in the hope of getting various sanctions against them lifted.
 Washington Post, September 27, 2006, p.22, article plus chart; also August 4, 2006, p.10 for Iraqis' desire for US to leave.
 Washington Post, April 14, 2004
 BBC, November 14, 2006
 Antonia Juhasz, "The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time", chapter 6;
Greg Muttitt, "Oil Pressure", Foreign Policy In Focus, August 28, 2006, www.fpif.org;
Joshua Holland, "Bush's Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq's Oil", AlterNet, October 16, 2006, www.alternet.org/story/43045
 Agence France Presse, Nov 13, 2006
 State Department report on Trafficking in persons, from the Department's website, accessed November 21, 2006
 The Herald (Glasgow), August 19, 2005; Scotland on Sunday (Glasgow) August 28, 2005
 Sunday Herald (Glasgow), November 12, 2006
 Victor Ostrovsky and Claire Hoy, "By Way of Deception" (1990), p.335