Former U.S. Asset Exposes Tony Blair’s Legacy of Deception and 911

January 26, 2011

Pakistan Daily

He’s got the smirking grin of a politician who knows that he got away with his crimes. He escaped responsibility for his political murders and the full brunt of moral outrage for the wasteful public sacrifice on his behalf.

I can see it in his eyes. They don’t know half the truth. They don’t know they’re asking the wrong questions. I’m scott free.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair got a second grilling in London last week over his decision to force Britain into the Iraq War, though U.N. weapons inspectors had uncovered no caches of illegal weapons to justify the invasion. Iraq was already broken by United Nations sanctions and had no capacity for self defense at all.

In the aftermath of sectarian strife and daily bombings, Blair’s delusion of nation-building has collapsed. Not so his preening moral rectitude to justify the War.

That smirk tells it all. Blair knows his legacy of public deception has prevailed.

Until now.

What the British people don’t realize is that up to this point, while Blair’s government fabricated nonsense stories of Pre-War Intelligence and phony moral arguments, intelligence Assets involved in Pre-War Iraq have been locked up in prison or otherwise silenced by phony indictments that functioned as a gag on political discourse. So much for the moral courage of Washington’s favorite puppy dog.

I myself covered the Iraqi Embassy at the United Nations in New York from August, 1996 until March, 2003. A few weeks after requesting to testify before Congress about a comprehensive peace framework that would have fulfilled all U.S. and British objectives without killing a single Iraqi child, I got indicted as an “Iraqi Agent” in “conspiracy with the Iraqi Intelligence Service.”

I got hit with all the bells and whistles of the Patriot Act- secret charges, secret evidence and secret grand jury testimony. My demands for a trial were blocked to protect the government. Instead, I “disappeared” into prison on Carswell Air Force Base in Texas for 11 months, where I faced threats of indefinite detention up to 10 years without a trial. Actually that proved to be the least of my worries. In prison, I had to fight off a Justice Department demand to forcibly drug me with Haldol-a rhinoceros tranquilizer that imitates the effects of Parkinson’s Disease-so that I could be “cured” of knowing the unhappy truth about the Iraqi Peace Option and Iraq’s substantial contributions to the 9/11 investigation.

Making matters worse, my team had delivered advance warnings about the 9/11 attack to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s private staff and the Office of Counter Terrorism in August, 2001. I was definitely persona non grata at the White House and 10 Downing Street.

My indictment continued five years. It ended five days before the inauguration of President Obama. Those five years gave pro-war leaders in Washington and London ample time and free rein to invent a totally fictitious story about Iraq and anti-terrorism that beefed up their personas in the corporate media.

I watched it all on prison television at Carswell Air Force Base. And I watched it again when Blair testified last week. In the absence of public knowledge, Blair has manipulated silence and secrecy to his own advantage. He has abused security classifications to obfuscate his weakness and policy mistakes. And Blair’s government has continued to promote policies that have caused grave harm to global security, and perhaps most ironically, the War on Terrorism.

Unhappily for Blair’s legacy of deception, today Assets are free from prison and false indictment. Now it is our day to defend the public’s right to disclosure and accountability.

And so I challenge the British Government to summon Blair back to face the Inquiry. Only this time the British people should ask Blair about the comprehensive peace framework negotiated by the CIA in the two years before the War.

Oh never fear. MI-6 tracked our back channel talks exhaustively, even appearing at restaurants in New York at lunches with senior diplomats on the Security Council. British Intelligence had full knowledge of the Peace Option. Blair’s top intelligence staff understood that every single objective demanded by Washington and London could be achieved through peaceful means.

That included major oil contracts for the United States, and a package of highly innovative democratic reforms proposed by Baghdad to guarantee the successful repatriation of Iraqi Exiles and international election monitoring. Iraq also offered major reconstruction contracts for U.S (and British) corporations in any post-sanctions period. Iraq promised massive engineering contracts, translating to thousands of jobs and billions in revenues for any U.S. (or British) corporation that helped rebuild Iraqi infrastructure after sanctions.

Everything the U.S and Britain wanted was free for the taking. No blood had to be spilt. And this was no last ditch appeal for peace. It was a rock solid framework, with careful attention to all potential flash points for future conflict identified by the CIA. The truth is not remotely similar to what the international community has been told.

Once the British people understand the right line of questions, let us start again- with the truth this time. For the sake of historical integrity, Tony Blair should face the people to answer questions that would have been asked if Assets like myself had not been locked in prison to protect pro-War leaders in Washington and London. If Tony Blair deceives the British people in this next round of questioning, let him face criminal prosecution for perjury and obstruction of justice, like any other British citizen who lies under oath.

For that matter, I am prepared to stand before Parliament myself-as one of the very few Assets covering Iraq before the War. I am ready to look the people in the eye, and raise my hand to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Assets are primary sources of intelligence, in direct contact with people and events after all. As it stands, for all the tens of thousands of pounds financing this inquiry, the British people don’t know anything. Why not ask those of us who do?

That would wipe the smirk off Tony Blair’s face. Because now Assets are free from prison and phony indictments. And Tony Blair’s legacy of deception is finished.

Susan Lindauer covered the Iraqi Embassy at the United Nations for seven years before the invasion.


How Bush and Blair plotted in secret to stop Brown

August 31, 2010

Tony Blair attempted to prolong his time as prime minister after he was warned that George W Bush’s US administration had “grave doubts” about Gordon Brown’s suitability to follow him into No10, well placed sources have revealed.

Patrick Hennessy and Andrew Alderson


Mr Blair was told that President Bush and those around him would have ‘big problems’ working with Mr Brown

The White House warnings, which were reiterated by other leading US-based figures, played a key role in Mr Blair’s attempt to cling on to power until at least 2008, and to groom David Miliband as his successor, The Sunday Telegraph has been told.

Mr Blair hatched his plot to stay on longer than planned after being told that President Bush and those around him would have “big problems” working with Mr Brown.

Senior officials in the US administration sounded the alert after a meeting between Mr Brown and Condoleezza Rice, Mr Bush’s secretary of state, in which Mr Brown “harangued” her over American policy on aid, development and Africa.

After the uncomfortable session, sources said she reported her misgivings to the White House, and they were sent on in turn to Mr Blair.

After taking the warnings on board, Mr Blair signalled his intention to stay on at No 10 until at least 2008, the year of the US election to choose a successor to Mr Bush.

However, he was forced to abandon this plan following a “coup” led by Mr Brown’s supporters. Mr Brown eventually became prime minister in June 2007 and pursued a foreign policy that was far more independent of America than Mr Blair’s had been.

The “understanding” between Mr Bush and Mr Blair was revealed to The Sunday Telegraph by well-placed Whitehall sources. However, the former prime minister’s spokesman last night denied that a “message” had been sent.

One source said: “This at last answers the question of why Tony Blair tried so hard to stay on: the Americans were far from happy about the imminent succession of Gordon Brown. They left him in no doubt about that.”

Mr Blair is to address this sequence of events in his keenly awaited memoir, A Journey, which will be published this week. However, ahead of publication, this newspaper has pieced together the central narrative of his final years in power.

The fact that Mr Blair acted on US warnings over his likely successor will dismay many in the Labour party who were deeply unhappy about Mr Blair’s readiness to back Mr Bush at all times, particularly over the decision to wage war with Iraq in 2003.

Following the meeting with Miss Rice, Mr Brown’s advisers were convinced that Mr Blair was starting to groom Mr Miliband, the then environment secretary, as his successor. They were particularly enraged when Mr Blair described Mr Miliband in an interview as “my Wayne Rooney”.

However, Mr Blair also played what Brown allies now see as a “double game”, warning the then chancellor that he needed to adopt a different attitude towards senior American politicians.

Mr Miliband, who failed to challenge Mr Brown for the top job in 2007, will this week step up his campaign to become Labour’s leader. He will tell a rally of 1,000 supporters in London tomorrow that under him the party would be a “living, breathing movement for change in every community”.

In the summer of 2006, Mr Blair’s trip to America was widely seen to be his US swansong. It included a meeting with Mr Bush in Washington. However, on his return his allies noticed a new-found determination to stay on at No 10. In the late summer he gave a notorious interview in which he denied any plan to leave office any time soon.

It was this, along with what was seen in Labour circles as an”unacceptable” refusal to condemn Israel for its attack on Lebanon, that sparked the coup that forced him to name his departure date.

A senior Labour source said: “After Condi Rice met Gordon for the first time she complained to the White House about the way he behaved. No 10 suddenly starting getting these messages from the White House that there were grave doubts about the desirability of Gordon taking over. It wasn’t just the White House either, it was other people based in the US, business leaders, people like that.”

Mr Blair is expected to use his book to launch a passionate justification of going to war with Iraq and to speak warmly of Mr Bush. He is likely also to spell out his regret that he did not move faster to reform public services in Britain, often in the face of opposition from Mr Brown.

As well as political disclosures, the Royal family is waiting with great interest to see what the former prime minister writes about his relationship with the Queen, Prince Philip, the Prince of Wales and the late Diana, Princess of Wales. The Sunday Telegraph disclosed three years ago that, according to friends, the Queen had been left “exasperated and frustrated” at the legacy of Tony Blair’s decade in power.

The monarch had become “deeply concerned” by many of New Labour’s policies, in particular what she saw as Downing Street’s lack of understanding of countryside issues, her closest confidants reported.

However, Royal sources said this weekend that the Queen and Mr Blair had always had a good working relationship at their weekly private audiences and that he was always “charming” towards her.

Mr Blair will not be in Britain on Wednesday for the launch of his book, the proceeds of which are being donated to the Royal British Legion. Instead he will attend a high-level White House dinner hosted by Barack Obama and with a guest list including Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. Mr Blair will pre-record an interview with Andrew Marr, to be screened on the BBC on Wednesday.


Wanted: Tony Blair for war crimes. Arrest him and claim your reward

January 28, 2010

Chilcot and the courts won’t do it, so it is up to us to show that we won’t let an illegal act of mass murder go unpunished

George Monbiot

The only question that counts is the one that the Chilcot inquiry won’t address: was the war with Iraq illegal? If the answer is yes, everything changes. The war is no longer a political matter, but a criminal one, and those who commissioned it should be committed for trial for what the Nuremberg tribunal called “the supreme international crime”: the crime of aggression.

But there’s a problem with official inquiries in the United Kingdom: the government appoints their members and sets their terms of reference. It’s the equivalent of a criminal suspect being allowed to choose what the charges should be, who should judge his case and who should sit on the jury. As a senior judge told the Guardian in November: “Looking into the legality of the war is the last thing the government wants. And actually, it’s the last thing the opposition wants either because they voted for the war. There simply is not the political pressure to explore the question of legality – they have not asked because they don’t want the answer.”

Others have explored it, however. Two weeks ago a Dutch inquiry, led by a former supreme court judge, found that the invasion had “no sound mandate in international law”. Last month Lord Steyn, a former law lord, said that “in the absence of a second UN resolution authorising invasion, it was illegal“. In November Lord Bingham, the former lord chief justice, stated that, without the blessing of the UN, the Iraq war was “a serious violation of international law and the rule of law“.

Under the United Nations charter, two conditions must be met before a war can legally be waged. The parties to a dispute must first “seek a solution by negotiation” (article 33). They can take up arms without an explicit mandate from the UN security council only “if an armed attack occurs against [them]” (article 51). Neither of these conditions applied. The US and UK governments rejected Iraq’s attempts to negotiate. At one point the US state department even announced that it would “go into thwart mode” to prevent the Iraqis from resuming talks on weapons inspection (all references are on my website). Iraq had launched no armed attack against either nation.

We also know that the UK government was aware that the war it intended to launch was illegal. In March 2002, the Cabinet Office explained that “a legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to law officers’ advice, none currently exists.” In July 2002, Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, told the prime minister that there were only “three possible legal bases” for launching a war – “self-defence, ­humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [security council] authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case.” Bush and Blair later failed to obtain security council authorisation.

As the resignation letter on the eve of the war from Elizabeth Wilmshurst, then deputy legal adviser to the ­Foreign Office, revealed, her office had ­”consistently” advised that an ­invasion would be unlawful without a new UN resolution. She explained that “an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression”. Both Wilmshurst and her former boss, Sir Michael Wood, will testify before the Chilcot inquiry tomorrow. Expect fireworks.

Without legal justification, the war with Iraq was an act of mass murder: those who died were unlawfully killed by the people who commissioned it. Crimes of aggression (also known as crimes against peace) are defined by the Nuremberg principles as “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties”. They have been recognised in international law since 1945. The Rome statute, which established the international criminal court (ICC) and which was ratified by Blair’s government in 2001, provides for the court to “exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression”, once it has decided how the crime should be defined and prosecuted.

There are two problems. The first is that neither the government nor the opposition has any interest in pursuing these crimes, for the obvious reason that in doing so they would expose themselves to prosecution. The second is that the required legal mechanisms don’t yet exist. The governments that ratified the Rome statute have been filibustering furiously to delay the point at which the crime can be prosecuted by the ICC: after eight years of discussions, the necessary provision still has not been adopted.

Some countries, mostly in eastern Europe and central Asia, have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws, though it is not yet clear which of them would be willing to try a foreign national for acts committed abroad. In the UK, where it remains ­illegal to wear an offensive T-shirt, you cannot yet be prosecuted for mass ­murder commissioned overseas.

All those who believe in justice should campaign for their governments to stop messing about and allow the international criminal court to start prosecuting the crime of aggression. We should also press for its adoption into national law. But I believe that the people of this nation, who re-elected a government that had launched an illegal war, have a duty to do more than that. We must show that we have not, as Blair requested, “moved on” from Iraq, that we are not prepared to allow his crime to remain unpunished, or to allow future leaders to believe that they can safely repeat it.

But how? As I found when I tried to apprehend John Bolton, one of the architects of the war in George Bush’s government, at the Hay festival in 2008, and as Peter Tatchell found when he tried to detain Robert Mugabe, nothing focuses attention on these issues more than an attempted citizen’s arrest. In October I mooted the idea of a bounty to which the public could contribute, ­payable to anyone who tried to arrest Tony Blair if he became president of the European Union. He didn’t of course, but I asked those who had pledged money whether we should go ahead anyway. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

So today I am launching a website – www.arrestblair.org – whose purpose is to raise money as a reward for people attempting a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former prime minister. I have put up the first £100, and I encourage you to match it. Anyone meeting the rules I’ve laid down will be entitled to one quarter of the total pot: the bounties will remain available until Blair faces a court of law. The higher the ­reward, the greater the number of ­people who are likely to try.

At this stage the arrests will be largely symbolic, though they are likely to have great political resonance. But I hope that as pressure builds up and the crime of aggression is adopted by the courts, these attempts will help to press ­governments to prosecute. There must be no hiding place for those who have committed crimes against peace. No ­civilised country can allow mass ­murderers to move on.


Probe reveals lead-up to Iraq war

November 25, 2009

by Alice Ritchie Alice Ritchie

LONDON (AFP) – The first full-scale inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq war opened Tuesday with testimony suggesting Washington was gearing up for possible conflict two years before Tony Blair led London to war.


A protestor wearing a Tony Blair mask covers his hands with fake blood as he demonstrates outside the venue for the public inquiry into the Iraq war. The first full-scale inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq war has opened with families of soldiers killed in combat desperate to hear Tony Blair justify the decision to join the US-led invasion.

More than six years after the US-led invasion, inquiry chairman John Chilcot said no-one was “on trial” in the year-long probe but promised not to shy away from criticism as he seeks to learn lessons from the conflict.

Chilcot profile

The highlight of the public inquiry will be an appearance by then prime minister Blair , who is due to give evidence in January.

The first day of hearings was dominated by testimony from top civil servants who told how some in the US administration were already considering toppling Saddam Hussein ‘s Iraqi regime two years before the 2003 invasion.

However, they said Britain distanced itself from these “voices” and said they remained sidelined even within the United States until after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington.

“No-one is on trial here. We cannot determine guilt or innocence. Only a court can do that,” Chilcot said in his opening remarks .

“But I make a commitment here that once we get to our final report, we will not shy away from making criticisms, either of institutions or processes or individuals, where they are truly warranted.”

Chilcot’s five-member inquiry committee has already met with families of the 179 British troops who died in Iraq, some of whom attended Tuesday’s session.

“I just want the truth,” Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon died in Iraq in 2004, told AFP afterwards, adding: “I’ve never had any answers. I’ve never been told anything. Why we went in, whether it was legal.”

Timeline: Britain’s role in Iraq

Gentle, who wears a picture of her son in a gold heart around her neck, said she would return when Blair gives evidence. “If mistakes were made, he’s the one that’s got to live with it,” she said.

A small group of protesters gathered outside the inquiry venue in central London, wearing masks of Blair, former US president George W. Bush and current British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and with fake blood on their hands.

Anti-war campaigners want a ruling on the legality of the conflict, which took place without explicit approval from the UN Security Council.

Inside, there seemed to be little public interest. In contrast to the one million people who marched against the invasion on one day in 2003 — only about half of the seats in the public gallery were filled.

They heard senior civil servants outline how Iraq was considered a threat in 2001 because of a “clear impression” that it intended to “acquire WMD (weapons of mass destruction) capability.”

Iraq’s suspected possession of such weapons was the main justification for the invasion in March 2003, but they were never found.

The officials described “voices” in Washington talking about deposing Hussein as early as 2001, but insisted US and British policy was focused on containing the Iraqi leader’s ambitions through sanctions and a no-fly zone.

William Patey, head of the Middle East department at the Foreign Office in 2001, said he ordered a memo in late 2001 detailing “all the options” for Iraq. It included regime change, but he said this was quickly dismissed.

He added: “We were aware of these drum beats from Washington and internally we discussed it. Our policy was to stay away from that end of the spectrum.”

Peter Ricketts, who chaired Britain’s top intelligence committee in 2000-2001, said: “I was certainly not aware of anyone in the British government promoting or supporting active measures for regime change.”

Thinking in Washington shifted after the September 11 attacks, said Simon Webb, then policy director at the Ministry of Defence, “to say that we cannot afford to wait for these threats to materialise.”

Britain also changed the way it viewed WMD proliferation and counter-terrorism but Ricketts said: “We still had our focus on the weapons inspector route and the sanctions-type route.”

The inquiry, the third official probe into the war, is looking at all elements of British involvement in Iraq between 2001 and 2009 when nearly all its troops withdrew.


Critics of Afghanistan need to look in mirror

November 24, 2009

By ERIC MARGOLIS

PARIS — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton swept into Kabul last Thursday to rain on Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s second-term inauguration parade.

Clinton commanded Karzai reduce rampant corruption in Afghanistan so Washington could justify sending more troops. She is the former first lady of Arkansas, a state acclaimed for high ethics and good governance.

Perhaps she brought election monitors from Chicago, where the dead rise to vote for the Democratic machine. From Ohio, where funny voting machines helped George Bush win re-election or from those bastions of Athenian democracy, New Jersey and Florida. They have so much to teach delinquent Afghans.

Afghanistan is corrupt, like all third world nations, but compared to his western critics, poor Hamid Karzai is a mere beggar in the Kabul bazaar.

Take Britain’s prime minister, Gordon Brown, who thundered at Karzai to root out corruption. It was Britain that gave rise to the delightful synonym for bribery, “the white man’s handshake.”

Three years ago, Brown and former boss Tony Blair quashed Britain’s biggest ever criminal investigation by its Serious Fraud Office into accusations the arms firm EADS paid some $3.5 billion in secret kickbacks to high Saudi officials. The EU rebuked Britain for its “tolerance of corruption.”

France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, also blasted Karzai over corruption. This right after Sarko quashed a judicial investigation of three thieving but useful African dictators who had stashed away billions of swag in France.

Next, Transparency International, a respected NGO monitoring state corruption, published its annual honesty survey.

New Zealand was named the world’s least corrupt nation. Canada was ranked eighth most honest and least corrupt nation in the western hemisphere. Hats off to Canada.

Embarrassingly, the United States ranked a miserable 19th. The report noted, “the U.S. Congress is most affected by corruption.” Mark Twain called Congress, “America’s native criminal class.”

Western Europe and Japan were way ahead of the U.S. America’s ally Israel ranked a sorry 32nd. Other U.S.-Mideast allies had awful scores, the Gulf emirates excepted.

An important Los Angeles Times investigation reports hundreds of millions of dollars, a full third of the CIA’s foreign budget, goes to payoffs to Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, and politicians.

American “black” programs deliver more tens of millions to Pakistan’s ruling Peoples Party and leader, Asif Zardari, known to all Pakistanis as “Mr. 10%.”

Zardari has been dogged for decades by corruption charges. He denies them and claims they are all politically motivated.

The U.S. has given Pakistan more than $15 billion over the past eight years to support the Afghan War, not counting huge bounties for capturing or killing suspected enemies.

Some estimates say $10 billion delivered to Iraq’s U.S.-installed regime are missing. American “contractors” and large corporations in Iraq are accused of gargantuan fraud. Pallets of U.S. $100-dollar bills vanished into thin air. And on it goes.

Ironically, across the Muslim world, the same western powers scourging Karzai are seen as major sources of corruption, keeping a repressive regime in power by buying dictators, generals and politicians.

Many Afghans support the Taliban because it is seen as an enemy of corruption and an enforcer of justice, however harsh.

The Transparency International report finds, to no surprise, that places like Somalia, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the world’s most corrupt nations. But it must be remembered that citizens of these benighted nations pay no income taxes. So each government official levies his own little personal taxes. What we call corruption is inevitable.

President Karzai will of course establish an anti-corruption commission. Some big turbans will be prosecuted to please Washington. But this charade will fool no one but U.S. voters.

Most Afghans see Karzai as a U.S. puppet. But maybe the exasperated puppet will turn on his string-pullers, open peace talks with the Taliban and demand the U.S. pull its occupation army out of Afghanistan. India is said to be waiting to take over the care and feeding of the Karzai regime.

eric.margolis@sunmedia.ca


The rise of the right

November 11, 2009

By Fareed Zakaria

The bottom line on last week’s elections: The Republicans did well. Yes, these were a grab-bag collection of races with local particularities and low turnout. But notice that independents, who had shunned the GOP over the past few years, voted for Republican candidates in large numbers. And the overall results are consistent with a surprising trend across the Western world — the rise of the right.

Imagine you had been told five years ago that a huge economic crisis would erupt, prominently featuring irresponsible financiers, and that governments would come to the rescue of firms and families. You probably would have predicted that, politically, the right (the party of bankers) would do badly and the left (the party of bureaucrats) would do well. But you would have been wrong.

It’s not just the Republicans who are coming out ahead. In late September a conservative coalition swept into power in Germany. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy’s party has considerable public support. In Britain, conservatives are poised to win their first national election in 17 years. Even in Denmark and Sweden, where social democrats usually win, the right is in power. Across continental Europe, only one major country, Spain, has a left-wing ruling party.

Part of the reason is that despite the economic turmoil, this is not a systemic crisis of capitalism. Few people seriously believe the answer to our troubles is a turn to socialism. But it is worth looking at the conservative parties that are thriving. Britain’s Tory leader, David Cameron, calls himself a “progressive conservative.” Sarkozy argues passionately for tight regulation of the financial industry, with pay caps on executive bonuses and more. Angela Merkel staunchly defends the German social market system. In Europe, the right is firmly at the center.

The United States has always been one step to the right of Europe, but even here the center held. The Republicans who won did so by emphasizing mainstream issues and traditional GOP criticisms of Obama — on spending and taxes. They did not espouse radical economic ideas or highlight their conservatism on social issues. When they did, it alienated voters, as in Upstate New York.

The post-Cold War political landscape was best mapped out by two politicians early in the 1990s. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair saw that the collapse of communism created a new reality. The dramatic left-right divide had given way to a mushier middle, with people converging on the idea of a market-based economy but with a substantial safety net. The electorate wanted not ideological clarion calls but competence. Clinton persuaded Americans to trust Democrats as stewards of public finances by empowering smart technocrats such as Robert Rubin rather than left-wing politicians.

Barack Obama’s handling of the financial crisis has mostly been marked by such intelligent centrism. He eschewed calls from the left to nationalize banks, ignored criticism from scholars that the stimulus was too small and has largely avoided business bashing. In all these areas, the left wing of his party is dissatisfied, but the right has been defanged.

On health care, however, the story looks different. There are two great health-care crises in America — one involving coverage, the other involving cost. The Democratic plan appears likely to tackle the first but not the second. This is bad economics and bad politics: The crisis of cost affects 85 percent of Americans, while the crisis of coverage affects about 15 percent. Obama’s message to the country appears to be, “We have a dysfunctional health-care system with out-of-control costs, and let’s add 45 million people to it.”

Americans see a health-care bill that has been produced by the old Democratic machine rather than the new Democratic technocrats — more Lyndon Johnson than Larry Summers. It might be the only way to get a law passed, and it might please the party’s base, but it will dismay independents. If costs skyrocket over the next few years, the Democrats will have squandered a hard-won reputation for economic competence.

When Clinton and Blair moved their parties to the center in the 1990s, conservatives were initially paralyzed, then responded by shifting even farther right to distinguish themselves from the opposition. In Europe the left has similarly been paralyzed or drifted toward radicalism. Things are still in flux here. But over the next few years, if the Republican Party moves decisively to the center, Obama would face the most serious challenge of his presidency.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and the author of “The Post-American World.” His e-mail address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.


Karzai: Revealed, Reviled, Orphaned, and at Bay

April 13, 2009
by Bahlol Lohdi

R ecently, the international media has begun to report opinions about Karzai that are at odds with past flattering articles published in Western media. It appears that Karzai has lost the beauteous Teflon coating that was applied to him by his foreign backers, when he was plucked from obscurity, groomed as the future savior of the Afghan people, and dubbed the “George Washington of Afghanistan.” Given recent revelations about Karzai and his views, the George Washington simile must seem equal in absurdity to the description of the Nicaraguan Contras as “the moral equivalent of [U.S.] Founding Fathers.”

This media-manipulated transformation of Karzai into someone of consequence struck the people who actually knew him as ridiculous: a State Department official tartly remarked that “to us he will always be just Hamid.” At the time, even Professor Fred Starr of Johns Hopkins University opined on CNN that “Karzai not only lacks support amongst the Afghan population but is also not supported by his fellow Pashtuns.”

Nevertheless, Karzai’s foreign handlers prevailed in portraying the sow’s ear as a silk purse, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the corporate media. Consequently, a media circus descended on Kabul to enthuse about bringing ‘democracy’ to the Afghan people, courtesy of daisy cutters, thermobaric bombs, and a couple of former Unocal-employed “advisers” – Karzai and Khalilzad, one self-transformed into a Hollywood caricature of an Eastern-dressed potentate, the other looking and acting like a Mafia don straight out of central casting, tinted shades and all.

These two characters were supported by a cast of sundry cutthroats calling themselves mujahedin, and opportunistic minor expatriate figures, who returned and were suddenly elevated from some of the lowest ranks of Western society to some of the highest offices of the new Afghan state – for example, a worthy fellow who was a petrol-pump attendant in New Jersey was appointed governor of an Afghan province.

Meanwhile, the best and the brightest of the Afghan expatriates wisely refused to join in the construction of the new Afghan paradigm; paraphrasing Groucho Marx, they decided that any club that had Hamid Karzai as its member, let alone leader, was not worth joining, no matter what the material inducements and privileges.

In the past, when marveling at the possibility of upward mobility, it used to be said: “Only in America….” The new aphorism should be “Only in Afghanistan….” However, whereas in America a rise in station has usually been associated with the laudable attributes of character and ability, in Afghanistan it appears to be the reverse, and success has in recent years depended only on an enthusiasm for recruitment by, and subservience to, the alphabet soup of international intelligence services.

Over a period of four years, a series of “traditional” Afghan meetings were held and manipulated to produce bogus agreements on a constitution, a system of government, and elections to bring about that system. Needless to say, each step toward the allegedly free and fair elections of a president and a parliament were just as flawed as the “traditional Afghan meetings” that preceded them.

But who cared? Certainly not the self-pampering UN bureaucrats who, in the words of David Rieff, “lack the capacity for self-interrogation,” or, as he could have added, lack any principle other than that of self-interest. And certainly not the governments with thinly disguised, self-serving interests in Afghanistan, all of whom proudly proclaimed that they were involved in the altruistic grand project of “nation-building” for the benefit of the Afghan people – as recent reports reveal, this turned out to be a cruel practical joke at the expense of the hapless Afghan masses, particularly the three and a half million refugees who believed these statements and left the relative miseries of camps in Pakistan, only to find themselves suffering the absolute miseries of life in camps surrounding Karzai’s Kabul. These were the people the UN and others trumpeted proudly as “voting with their feet” in favor of Karzai’s promised land. However, the fact that most of them are now starving and want to leave but are unable to do so remains unmentioned, except in a few press reports.

The reassessment of Karzai began last year when The Economist magazine, in an article in its Sept. 15 issue, wondered how a low-ranking member of one of the minor “Peshawar Seven” resistance parties, formed under Pakistani auspices to lead the fight against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, was chosen to lead the country once the Taliban regime was brought down by the might of American air power. The Economist was making an obvious point, for even the Afghan “leaders,” assembled in Peshawar by the late unlamented Zia-ul-Haq, were not known for their probity or intellectual prowess – a CIA station chief who dealt with them described them as “jackasses who couldn’t find their own arses using both hands, and totally corrupt.” Therefore, what hope was there that Karzai, the gofer for one of the minor leaders, all habituated to trading in Afghan lives for personal gain, would have the intellectual and moral ability to lead a country notoriously difficult to tame and rule?

Since The Economist article, there has been a steady and increasing series of critical articles about Karzai in the Western press, cataloguing his bizarre behavior and nonsensical outbursts. Even Ahmed Rashid, an ardent supporter of Karzai and the Northern Alliance, has been forced to admit that he’s baffled by Karzai’s strange pronouncements and actions since he was (s)elected president in 2004, courtesy of Presidents Bush and Musharraf.

In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Kim Barker reports that domestic critics believe Karzai “behaves at times like a weather vane, a leader who tilts toward the last opinion he hears, incapable of making a decision and sticking to it. Some Afghans call him ‘the Actor,’ for his ability to play to different crowds.” Earlier in the article, Barker quotes an analyst with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission as saying, “Hamid Karzai’s future is not hopeful, because he has lost the trust people had. The reason he is still in power is [because] there is no other choice” – or so Karzai and his supporters fervently hope, and his detractors unhappily think.

Even the fledgling independent Afghan press, the only useful byproduct of the Potemkin democracy set up in Kabul at great expense by “Allied Forces,” has also been steadily more scathing about Karzai and his foreign supporters. Payame Mujahid last week ran a piece questioning Karzai’s mental health, and cataloguing his strange hand gestures, inappropriate facial expressions, and sometimes endless repetition of meaningless phrases. Other articles point to the dire state of security in Afghanistan, and the “inappropriate and brutal” behavior of “Allied Forces” toward the Afghan civilian population.

Karzai’s response to such critical articles was to have a list of “recommendations” issued to all publishers and broadcasters, banning criticism of himself, his government, and the “Allied Forces.” This moved Alastair Leithead of the BBC to remark that the “list could have been taken straight from a Soviet handbook of press manipulation.” But the “recommendations” should not have surprised Leithead, since the government, for which Karzai is only a convenient front, is populated in the main by the same gallimaufry of incompetents and cutthroats that even invading Soviet forces were unable to keep in power, and who were subsequently almost expunged from Afghan political scene. But U.S. air power in 2001, and a “neat idea,” enabled them to come back for a reprise of their past performance on the Afghan stage – erstwhile Soviet generals and strategists must be quietly chuckling in Moscow at this ironic turn of events.

And, just as these people were quite content for the Soviet Union to pay in blood and treasure for their continued hold on power under the banner of socialism, they now expect the United States to make similar sacrifices to continue imposing them on the Afghan nation, this time under the convenient banners of capitalism and liberal democracy, so they can continue plundering the coffers of foreign aid and pouring drug-generated funds into their bank accounts in the Gulf Emirates.

Meanwhile, hundreds of mothers in the U.S., and countless thousands of mothers in Afghanistan, will mourn the early passing of souls they brought into this world, and wonder why.

The process whereby Karzai’s domestic position was undermined began with the appointment of “King Zal” Khalilzad as U.S. ambassador to Kabul. For, Khalilzad’s aggressive and crude manipulation of Afghan affairs reinforced the people’s existing perception that Karzai was no more than an American puppet. Moreover, Khalilzad, whose intellect is greatly overrated, added to his own and Karzai’s problems with his inept efforts to intimidate opponents of his political maneuvers by threatening to leave his post in Kabul, saying “if I leave, then American financial and military support leave with me.” Consequently, when it was announced that Khalilzad was to be replaced as the U.S. ambassador, Karzai’s power inevitably began to decline, and people started to position themselves for the day when American bayonets would no longer be there to keep Karzai in power.

The first overt sign of the changed circumstances in Afghanistan became apparent when Cheney visited Kabul to participate in the inauguration of Afghanistan’s “first freely elected parliament.” As Cheney’s motorcade approached the parliament compound, the guards allowed his car to pass but firmly closed the gates in the face of the rest of his entourage. All of Cheney’s staff members, men and women, were forced to disembark, made to face the wall, and enthusiastically body-searched. The situation turned more tense and ugly when the guards insisted on rummaging through the military aide’s brief case, which contained the codes for unleashing a nuclear war. Fortunately, after a brief tussle, the Afghan security detail relented and Cheney’s staff was allowed to enter the bastion of Afghan democracy. Surprisingly, the American media ignored this unprecedented and grossly insulting behavior toward the vice president of the United States.

A further sign that something was seriously amiss in the relationship between Karzai and Washington was provided by Karzai himself during a press conference after his last, ill-fated visit to Pakistan earlier this year. In a rambling and highly emotional outburst, he warned the “United States, Pakistan, and others” that he “would not become a refugee again,” and that he would remain in the country come what may. This astounding pronouncement elicited no comment from official circles in Washington, or the American press, although the clear implication was that Karzai was accusing Washington and Pakistan of plots to remove him from office.

For many years, Sir Hamid Karzai and the Northern Alliance’s unwavering supporters have been the British. However, absent American commitment to, and support for, Britain’s neo-imperial pretensions, the British lion, even fitted with NATO dentures, will be unable to chew and swallow the Pashtun resistance against foreign occupation; Karzai and his erstwhile Northern Alliance supporters know this. Consequently, Karzai’s recent forlorn hope is to win support among Pashtuns – hence his recent statements about the unacceptability of allied bombing campaigns, and the assertion that “the Taliban are sons of this land too.” The Northern Alliance, for their part, have been reorienting themselves again toward Moscow, as the barely veiled anti-American statements of their leader Mullah Rabbani, made during his recent visit to Tajikistan, clearly show.

Roy Jenkins, the Labor Party’s elder statesman and Tony Blair’s erstwhile mentor, was quoted in a Sunday Times article as saying that Tony Blair is “a first-class politician, with a second-rate mind, and moderately corrupt.” Using the same format, Afghan history will judge Hamid Karzai to have been an incompetent foreign puppet of no intellect, and totally corrupt.


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