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*  An Orgy of Defense Spending: Bush's 'axis of evil' rhetoric fabricates a
need [A splendid article from the Los Angeles Times, summed up in the title
and in this sentence: ŒHis astonishing budget makes sense only if we are
planning to use our mighty military in a pseudo-religious quest to create a
super-dominant Pax Americana..¹]
*  'Once It's Quiet, We Can Reach a State of Nonbelligerency' [An interview
between evil William Safire and evil Ariel Sharon. The article is mostly
about the need to topple evil Yasser Arafat and install a puppet Palestinian
regime, but this extract looks at Sharon¹s anxieties over evil Iran]
*  Was the Clinton Administration Soft on Terror? [Short extract from
interview with evil Madeleine Albright. Less punchy than she was last week.]
*  Grateful Powell hails Australia's war role [Powell pats Australia on the
head. And if its VERY good, he might even give it a bone.]
*  Power, counter-power, Part 2: The fractal war [Pepe Escobar again,
writing in the Asia Times. Who is he? The article doesn¹t have a lot to say
about Iraq but its good stuff. This is the sort of writing we need. It is
prophetic. It says that the future can be seen in in Sao Paolo. And
incidentally makes the interesting point that we haven¹t seen any photos of
the wonderful hi-tech, surely very photogenic caves there are supposed to be
in Tora Bora.]
*  Arrogance and fear: an American paradox [An intelligent analysis from a
pro-American viewpoint. Kaletsky thinks the US should be basking in
complacent self congratulation not working itself up into a state of
paranoid, mouth-frothing terror: ŒBy identifying America primarily as a
military power, by asserting that it will pursue its perceived national
interests regardless of international laws, coalitions or treaties, by
emphasising its unchallengeable superiority over every other nation and
global institution, by claiming an unconditional moral hegemony over any
adversary he cares to identify, and by acting so blatantly in the interests
of the US business establishment, Mr Bush is weakening America and playing
into the hands of its opponents.¹]
*  Missile Conference Opens in Paris [France proposing an international
treaty to limit the proliferation of ballistic missiles.]
*  Moscow revitalizes its old priorities in Asia [The other side of Moscow¹s
apparent support for the ŒInternational Coalition against Terrorism¹]
*  Peremptory tendencies: France fires a warning shot at the US
*  Chavez says he's democrat not communist [This is supposed to be Chavez`
backing down under pressure from Powell. But he hasn¹t backed down all the
way: ŒNoting that his visit to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in
2000 had "irritated some people in the world," Chavez said: "What do we
care? Let them get irritated. ... We are defending the sacred interests of
the Venezuelan people."¹]
*  The quest for balance in Eurasia [Asia Times again, this time in
pro-American mode. But a cool, rational - ie non American - geopolitical
approach all the same. Only extracts given here.]
*  Eurasia: An axis of uncertainty [from part two of the same]

*  Questions About the Colossus
by Jim Hoagland
Washington, 7th February
Evil Jim Hoagland in awe of evil Bush¹s proposed military budget.

by Robert Scheer
Los Angeles Times, 5th February

Now we get to see just how cowardly the Democrats in Congress can be.
President Bush has proposed the most preposterous military buildup in human
history--annual spending of $451 billion by 2007--and nary a word of
criticism has been heard from the other side of the aisle. The president is
drunk with the popularity that his war on terrorism has brought, and those
sober Democrats and Republicans, who know better, are afraid to wrestle him
for the keys to the budget before he drives off a cliff.

The red ink that Bush wants us to bleed to line the pockets of the defense
industry, along with the tax cuts for the rich, will do more damage to our
country than any terrorist. The result will be an economically hobbled
United States, unable to solve its major domestic problems or support
meaningful foreign aid, its enormous wealth sacrificed at the altar of
military hardware that is largely without purpose.

Why the panic to throw billions more at the military when even the Pentagon
brass have told us it is not needed? Our military forces, much maligned as
inadequate by Bush during the election campaign, proved to be lacking in
nothing once the administration decided to stop playing footsie with the
Taliban and eliminate those monsters of our own creation. It was obviously
not a lack of hardware that made us vulnerable to the cruelty of Sept. 11
but rather a failure of will by President Clinton, and then Bush, to brand
the Taliban as terrorists and then to take out the well-marked camps of Al
Qaeda with the counterinsurgency machine we have been perfecting since the
Kennedy administration.

Clinton authorized the elimination of Osama bin Laden in 1998, but the spy
agencies simply failed to execute the order. Neither, apparently, were they
competent enough to track Al Qaeda agents from training camps in Afghanistan
to flight schools in Florida. All this even though these agencies possess
secret budgets of at least $70 billion a year, combined.

Despite the ability to read license plates from outer space and scan the
world's e-mail, our intelligence agencies lost the trail of terrorists who
easily found cover with lap dancers in strip joints.

The bottom line is that we need sharper agents, not more expensive
equipment. There is not an item in the Bush budget that will make us more
secure from the next terrorist attack.

That being obvious, Bush is now resorting to the tried and true "evil
empire" rhetorical strategy, grouping the disparate regimes of Iraq, Iran
and North Korea as an "axis of evil."

This alleged axis then becomes the rationale for a grossly expanded military
budget, the idea being that the United States must be prepared to fight a
conventional war on three fronts.

However, no such axis exists. North Korea is a tottering relic of a state
whose nuclear operation was about to be bought off under the skilled
leadership of the South Korean government when Bush jettisoned the deal.
Iraq and Iran have been implacable foes for 25 years, and both were despised
by the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, a key Muslim ally of the United States, Saudi Arabia, produced 15
of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers--and Bin Laden. Saudi Arabia is also where Al
Qaeda does its biggest fund-raising and yet, inexplicably, it is excluded
from the new enemies list.

Even if the accepted goal were the overthrow of the three brutal regimes
targeted by President Bush, that would hardly requirean expansion of a war
machine built to humble the Soviet Union in its prime.

Is Bush the younger now telling us that his father failed to topple Saddam
Hussein because he lacked sufficient firepower? The road to Baghdad was wide
open after we obliterated the vaunted Iraqi tank army in a matter of weeks.
Or does Bush the younger have even more grandiose plans in mind?

His astonishing budget makes sense only if we are planning to use our mighty
military in a pseudo-religious quest to create a super-dominant Pax

Bizarre as that sounds, it may be the real framework for Bush's proposed
spending orgy. In any case, almost every non-American speaker at the World
Economic Forum in New York expressed fear at this specter.

Even our own Bill Gates was alarmed at the United States' apparent hubris:
"People who feel the world is tilted against them will spawn the kind of
hatred that is very dangerous for all of us."

Is it too much to ask that these billions, our billions, be spent to enhance
our security rather than further erode it?

Robert Scheer writes a syndicated column.

by William Safire
International Herald Tribune (from The New York Times), 5th February


Turning to Mr. Bush's threat to Iraq, Iran and North Korea, I recalled how
Mr. Sharon a decade ago criticized Israel's restraint under Iraqi missile
attack in the Gulf War. If Saddam Hussein, attacked by the United States,
lashed out again, would Israel hold back?

"We won't be able to sit by. One dangerous development is the increased
activity between Iran and Iraq. They are discussing the possibility of
Iranian planes flying over Iraq to Damascus, part of the airlift of weapons,
especially rockets, and then by truck through Syria to the Hezbollah
terrorists in Lebanon. If there is a reaction from Iraq from any direction,
we will be ready for that." As reported before the capture of the
Iranian-Palestinian terror ship with explosives intended to blow up Israeli
civilians, Mr. Sharon is most concerned about Iran. "Iranians are active
among a small number of Israeli Arabs, trying to recruit suicide bombers and
espionage agents, but most prefer a normal life. Iran calls for the
destruction of the state of Israel and elimination of the Jewish people.
That's why it was so important for President Bush to name them as sponsors
of terror last week." Can Mr. Sharon, in stepping in to personally conduct
cease-fire talks, steer between a band of army reservist refuseniks on the
left and Benjamin Netanyahu's call for toppling the Palestinian Authority on
the right?

"Too busy to worry about that," says the prime minister, eager to compare
notes with President Bush this week. "We have to solve our economic
problems, save Argentina's Jews, combat anti-Semitism in France, achieve a
cease-fire. But I'll be able to manage it.",2933,44812,00.html

Fox News, 5th February

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van
Susteren, February 4, 2002.


VAN SUSTEREN: There's no doubt in my mind that we all have the same go here,
to fight terrorism. But as you look back at what the Bush administration is
doing, are they doing something that's a fatal flaw, in terms of their
strategy, in dealing with these countries?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think we don't know whether it's a fatal flaw, because
there is no plan. I mean, all that happened is that President Bush coined
this term, axis of evil, and put these three countries together. He hasn't
laid out a plan.

And as far as I've been following the press, they have in fact walked it
back a little bit, and said that there is nothing imminent that's going to
happen, they do want to have some kind of talks with the North Koreans, and
they're not really threatening anything immediately. So it's very hard to
know exactly what they mean.

But what I think is that clearly, we have to be very tough wit Iraq and
choose our moment. We would have happily gotten rid of Saddam Hussein
earlier if we could have. I sure wish that the first President Bush had
actually finished the job when we had 500,000 forces on the ground. But on
Iran, it's a very complicated country. There are divisions in that country.
And to just see it as a monolithic, determined country that's against us,
and lump it with Iraq, a country it considers its enemy, is a mistake.

And North Korea, we wanted to have a verified agreement that would end the
export of missiles and missile technology. And the Bush administration
decided it didn't want to continue with that particular track at the time, I
think. So it's a question of timing, and we don't know what the plan is.


by Gay Alcorn
The Age (Australia), 7th February

The Bush administration has singled out Australia's "forward-leaning"
commitment to America's war against terror, as the White House tries to
strengthen its existing alliances and forge new ones.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, addressing the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, gave a sweeping picture of a transformed strategic outlook since
September 11 - particularly improved relations with Russia and China.

"We also reinvigorated our bilateral alliance with Japan, Korea and
Australia," Mr Powell said. "Let me say that our Australian friends, in
particular, have been forward-leaning in their efforts to support the war on
terrorism. Heavily committed in East Timor already, Australia nonetheless
offered its help immediately, and we have been grateful for that help."

Australia has been notable among America's allies for its rapid announcement
of support for military action in Afghanistan, its understanding of the
White House's decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile
Treaty with Russia in order to pursue missile defences, and its lack of
concern about America's treatment of suspected terrorists being held in
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Prime Minister John Howard has said he fully understands Mr Bush's labelling
of North Korea, Iran and Iraq as an "axis of evil", an expression criticised
by many European allies as ill-considered and inflammatory.

US political analyst with the Brookings Institution, Thomas Mann, said it
was "about time" the Bush administration publicly recognised Australia's
strong support for America's war.

"There's been so little mention (of Australia's commitment). The fact is
Australia has been remarkably prompt in its support for the US and has
actually made a significant contribution to the effort," said Mr Mann, who
closely follows Australian domestic and foreign affairs.

"Australia (has been ignored) because it is small and because Britain among
the allies tends to attract all the attention."

Mr Mann said Mr Bush's visit this month to Japan, South Korea and China
could be "very distressing" for the administration because of the region's
unease at his "axis of evil" remark, particularly concerning North Korea.

It was unclear for now how Australia's backing of the US would affect its
regional relationships. "The Howard government has cast its lot with the
Bush administration, it has jumped aboard and there's no sign of any light
appearing between the US and Australia," he said.

Mr Powell stressed to the committee that Iran, Iraq and North Korea were
"probably not the only ones we could have put into the club" of evil. Asked
why the President left out countries such as China, which the US also
accuses of developing and exporting weapons of mass destruction, Mr Powell
said the administration could deal "sensibly" with China - a remarkable
turnaround since September 11.

He stressed there had been no change in policy towards Iran, Iraq and North
Korea since Mr Bush's address.

President Bush "set the nation on a course", said Mr Powell. "He was trying
to make the point to our friends and allies, coalition partners and
like-minded people around the world that these are very dangerous regimes
and it isn't enough just to say they are dangerous regimes.

"That action is going to be required doesn't mean that a war is going to
start tomorrow or that we're going to invade anybody," he said.

Iran and Iraq made conciliatory gestures this week in an apparent attempt to
deflect America's wrath.

Iran's Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharazi, said any al Qaeda or Taliban members
who had fled across the border from Afghanistan would be deported.

by Pepe Escobar
Part 1: The Utopian dream

SAO PAULO - The New Afghan War is intimately linked to the power and
counter-power struggle represented these past few days by New York and Porto

The New Afghan War was the apex of the American strategy of "zero death"
plus operational liquidation. Tora Bora, allegedly the last - and only -
battle against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, was nothing but a staged B-52
showpiece. The mushroom clouds created by the B-52 bombs were an extremely
symbolic smokescreen. The American media regurgitated and swallowed the myth
perpetrated by obscure "intelligence sources" telling of giant James
Bond-style caves and Osama in hiding like a bearded version of Dr No - or
even Satan himself. The so-called "immense tunnel complex", a network with
its own water supply and electricity, mosques and lifts, has never been seen
by any independent source to this day.

Osama himself was invisible. Those of us in Afghanistan could not advance to
the main frontline because the mujahideen, now empowered with bulging
suitcases full of Central Intelligence Agency dollars, would not let us.
Otherwise we would report about the presence of American Special Forces. We
saw the Special Forces anyway, even though they assumed they were invisibile
under their scarves and shalwar-kameezes.

The three mujahideen groups around Tora Bora largely benefited from the
windfall - all the time issuing fake "victory communiques". Osama and the
al-Qaeda leadership, of course, were nowhere to be seen even before the
assault on Tora Bora. But subsequently there were a lot of bodies -
conveniently kept away from the TV cameras.

An unimpeachable witness told Asia Times Online he had seen "hundreds" of
bodies of minor al-Qaeda members, who had all surrendered. They were killed
in cold blood by mujahideen mostly loyal to commander Hazrat Ali, with the
complicity of US Special Forces. The source figures about 1,000 Arabs were
killed. Between the impotence of the media circus and the Pentagon obsession
with secrecy, truth was a certified victim in the affair. Nobody will ever
know how many were actually killed at Tora Bora. But it is absolutely
certain their number, plus the number of Afghan civilian victims of the
American bombing, is greater than the number of victims in the World Trade

The post-Afghan scenario looks increasingly murky. The United States'
treatment of the non prisoners-of-war - all of them minor players - in
Guantanamo continues to provoke revulsion around the world. Globetrotting
"Gucci Guerrilla" Hamid Karzai's main claim to fame so far is to have lifted
Afghanistan from the media war specials to the fashion spreads - he has been
proclaimed "most elegant man on the planet" by Gucci's Tom Ford.
Globetrotting Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah is now seen hobnobbing
with U2's Bono Vox on one of the panels at the World Economic Forum.

The US was spending US$2 billion a month in Afghanistan. It won't be so
generous rebuilding what it has bombed. The US pledged only $296 million
over three years for reconstruction of the country. The European Union, on
the other hand, pledged $487 million for 2002 alone, and Japan pledged $500
million for two-and-a-half years. Even Iran pledged $560 million over five
years. The United Nations estimates that Afghanistan will need $10 billion
over the next five years. It's impossible to ascertain whether and who in
Afghanistan will get the money, and how it will be distributed and spent
without further bloodshed between rival warlords. The fighting in Gardez
this week was just a prelude of further horrors to come. The country is in
fact balkanized, again, with fierce regional warlords controlling vast
pockets of territory and not sparing a thought about who's in charge in

And as far as September 11 is concerned, the American establishment still
doesn't get it.

The best analysis of September 11 so far is arguably by French thinker Jean
Baudrillard. In L'Esprit du terrorisme (Ed Galilee, Paris, 2002),
Baudrillard writes: "It's the system itself that created the objective
conditions of this brutal retorsion. By monopolizing all the cards to
itself, it forces The Other to change the rules of the game." Baudrillard
identifies the New Hot War not as a clash of civilizations, or a religious
clash, or even a clash between Islam and America: "It is a fundamental
antagonism that designates, through the specter of America [which is maybe
the epicenter but not the only incarnation of globalization], and through
the specter of Islam [which is not the incarnation of terrorism], triumphant
globalization fighting itself."

Baudrillard indeed recognizes we are engaged in a "world war". But it's not
the third; it's the fourth, "the only one that is really global, because it
involves globalization itself". The First World War, in Baudrillard's
reading, "ended the supremacy of Europe and the colonial era. The second
ended Nazism. The third - which already happened, under the form of Cold War
and dissuasion - ended communism." So we have been walking further and
further towards a single global order. Now, according to Baudrillard, we are
in a "fractal war of all the cells, of all the singularities that revolt in
the form of antibodies".

Baudrillard states that "the spirit of terrorism" is "never to attack the
system in terms of relation of forces" (that would be reverting to the old
revolutionary imagination), but instead to "displace the struggle to the
symbolic sphere". The struggle for a more just globalization process is
being fought in the symbolic sphere as well: in this sense, Porto Alegre is
the anti Davos (or anti-New York). That's why the American neoconservative
effort to demonize all the different and peaceful strands of the
anti-globalization movement is doomed to failure.

But the greatest danger, also identified by Baudrillard, is the fact that
"the idea of freedom is in the process of being obliterated". Washington now
is selling freedom as war. Glitterati now marvel at Vanity Fair magazine
splashing on its cover a power shot of the White House-Pentagon centerfold
warriors - as if they had won the invisible war: it is never enough to
remind them that the "enemy" - Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership -
is still armed, dangerous, and on the loose.

Baudrillard's judgment is gloomy, but realistic. He sees globalization being
implemented in reverse - as "police globalization, total control, security
terror": "Deregulation finishes in a maximum of constraints and
restrictions, equivalent to the ones imposed by a fundamentalist society."
Merchants are usually right when reading the signs of society. No wonder
it's now possible to buy T-shirts on the streets of Bangkok with bin Laden
and Bush depicted as "The Twin Terrors".

Is there a solution? Not really, says Baudrillard, "especially not war,
which offers nothing but a situation of deja-vu, with the same onslaught of
military forces, phantom information, pathetic discourses, technological
deployment and intoxication". For all of us who have been there - and for
everyone who watched the soap opera on TV - this is an extremely accurate
depiction of the New Afghan War: a non-event, just like the Gulf War.

A geopolitical realignment indeed took place - but not on a post-World War
II scale, as some commentators are suggesting. Onetime Evil Empires like
Russia and especially China now are US allies - but only in the very short
term. Pakistan indeed abandoned its client Taliban regime in Afghanistan,
but there are no assurances President General Pervez Musharraf and his
modernizing gang can contain the Islamist drive. Iran remained neutral
during the Afghan War - but now is demonized, at Israel's insistence, as
part of the "axis of evil": so the Iranians will try even harder to build an
alliance with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to counterbalance US interference.
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan offered bases for the US during the Afghan War,
but there's not much they can do without Russian consent.

Moscow sources tell Asia Times Online that what Russia really wants is to
rearrange the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into an East-meets-West
military-political organization. What the American unilateralist obsession
will make of all this in the uproar around "permanent revolution" is open to
discussion. One thing is certain: the "revolution" will be highly selective.
Strikes against "failed states" like Somalia, yes: strikes against Saudi
Arabia, a haven of disgruntled and vengeful wahhabis, unthinkable. All sorts
of operations to destabilize dictators like Satan Hussein, yes.
Intimidations against dictators like Uzbekistan's Karimov, unthinkable.

One does not have to be a Greek oracle - or a Tibetan oracle in Dharamsala -
to see Iraq in the next line of fire. America wants to repeat the Afghan
syndrome: a cheap (maximum $2 billion a month) and quick attack with a high
probability of toppling Satan Hussein. The European Union - apart from pit
bull Tony Blair - may not tag along, but in America under permanent
revolution, Europe simply does not matter. Iraq could break up, though, and
suddenly an independent Kurdistan could emerge on the world map - a
nightmare not only to neighbors Turkey and Syria. In this case - and
anathema to Washington - Iran would certainly have something to gain.

Still in the not-so-farfetched department, the US could protect its oil and
gas interests by moving deeper into Central Asia - where it has already
established a substantial presence - and at the same time withdrawing its
troops from Saudi Arabia in exchange for a non-Satan Hussein regime in
Baghdad, the whole proposition brokered by Russia, which is owed billions of
dollars by Iraq. But there's a little snag: Satan Hussein will never go down

So it's all about unfinished business. Myopic analysts are pitting a
"prosperous democratic West" against "Islamic extremists". But it's all much
more complex. They ought to read some Baudrillard.

The myopic analysts are now very fond of quoting conservative orientalist
Bernard Lewis, who cleverly shifts the blame in the current Apocalypse Now
scenario in Palestine to "the peoples of the Middle East" - indiscriminately
accused of "hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression". But
if "the suicide bomber will become a metaphor for the whole region" - as
Lewis suggests, and as is already the case - it's not due to a masochistic
impulse, but to a desperate human reaction to state terrorism, namely
Israel's. The World Economic Forum (WEF) was discussing whether poverty
breeds terrorism. The audience just had to book a flight to the Middle East.

Colin Powell rhetorically assured the WEF that the US will combat poverty to
eliminate terrorism. European Union foreign-policy supremo Javier Solana
went a step further: he said we simultaneously have to fight poverty and
regional conflicts - like Israel-Palestine. That's exactly what Noam Chomsky
has been saying all along - upping the ante when he associates the
proliferation of regional conflicts to the spread of globalization. The US
invests about $350 billion a year in its defense industry, but only $10
billion on aid to development: it's the lowest proportion of any
industrialized country.

Take an American Airlines jet - no suicide bombers included - to Sao Paulo,
a gigantic urban nebula of 18 million where civil war is a way of life. Even
the Sao Paulo middle class is subjected to daily terrorism. There were more
than 500 kidnappings in 2001, and 47 during this past January alone. They
are perpetrated by individuals, local organized gangs, and even cross-border
international gangs. They include kidnapping-light - an ordeal that lasts
only for a few hours while the victim is taken on a night cruise extracting
cash from scattered automated teller machines.

Sao Paulo lives daily an undeclared civil war. A few weeks ago, a helicopter
flew in and kidnapped two inmates inside a Sao Paulo maximum-security
prison: next time they will probably leave through the main gate. A famous
advertising executive was kidnapped from his bulletproof car in a fake
police blitz and held captive for almost two months in a cubicle in a
middle-class neighborhood.

In Sao Paulo, as in many developing countries, an oligarchy - under the
aegis of Market Utopia - has fomented the failure of the state. When the
state is minimal or absent, the corruption of bureaucracies in charge of
pacifying powers is total. Anybody who has any wealth in Sao Paulo pretends
to be living on New York's Park Avenue or Paris's Avenue Foch, while the
streets are an orgy of violence - from gross crimes by desperados to
instances of mass rebellion. Revolt and antisocial behavior proliferate due
to the absolute absence of the state.

Environics International research commissioned by the WEF in 25 countries
where 67 percent of the world population lives yielded some fascinating
results. Let's examine Brazil - one of the "Big Five" of the 21st century
according to the World Bank, alongside China, India, Russia and Indonesia.
Brazil is one of a handful of countries that attracted a lot of foreign
direct investment since the mid-'90s. It enjoyed the benefits of openness.
It's part of the so called low-income "globalizers", along with China, India
and Argentina.

Most Brazilians - 62 percent - believe globalization has positive effects.
But 52 percent believe workers' rights, work conditions and salaries
deteriorate with globalization. Fifty percent believe that the notion of
equality around the world is suffering due to globalization. Fifty-four
percent believe it is responsible for the increase of poverty and
homelessness. To sum it all up: 59 percent believe rich countries benefit
much more from globalization than poor countries. These figures are
practically the same in the other 24 countries surveyed. Even the majority
of people in the Group of Seven industrialized countries don't believe
people in poor countries will get as many benefits as they do from

One wonders whether the globalization elite at the WEF are listening. If
they aren't, the whole world will become a huge Sao Paulo: 24 hours a day of
undeclared civil war, a "fractal war of all the cells".

(Copyright 2002 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please
contact for information on our sales and syndication

by Anatole Kaletsky
The Times, 7th February

Is America about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? To judge by the
incoherent, paranoid mood of the World Economic Forum in New York, American
politicians, businessmen and media commentators appear to be on the brink of
a collective nervous breakdown.

Consider what America has achieved in the past six months. It has won a war
that was said to be unwinnable. It has coped with a human and social tragedy
on a scale not seen in the West since the Second World War, responding with
an admirable combination of dignity, restraint and courage. On the economic
front, a recession described by many experts as the greatest peril to face
the world economy since the 1930s has ended almost before it began. The
bursting of the Internet bubble ‹ widely described as the greatest financial
speculation in history ‹ has left some investors severely chastened, but has
done no permanent harm to the US economy or even to confidence on Wall

How have Americans responded to all this good news? Not since the early
1980s have I seen America¹s business elite so lacking in confidence, not
just about their immediate economic prospects, but about the long-term
outlook for capitalism and the world. The arrogance of American politicians
on the world stage is a natural reaction to this fundamental lack of
economic and social self-confidence, as it was in the early Reagan years.

Whether the wider American public shares this manic-depressive paranoia is
uncertain, but opinion polls suggest that it does. How else can one explain
the record approval ratings of a President who tells them that ‹ far from
celebrating their Afghanistan victory ‹ they should prepare for a third
world war that will last for decades and expose them to unprecedented
dangers? Objectively, Americans should now feel more secure than ever. The
Taleban have been overthrown with little loss of American lives. An
unprecedented global coalition has defended modern civilisation from a
perverted medieval fundamentalism. The round-up of terrorists has been
successfully extended to every corner of the world, helping to stabilise
pro-Western regimes from the Philippines to Peru.

Let me quote President Arroyo of the Philippines, who has far more reason to
fear Islamic terrorism than any American. Speaking at the forum she said:
³Victory is now at hand. When President Bush said he would go into
Afghanistan, everyone predicted that it would be a long drawn-out war, but
it took only a few weeks for the back of the terrorist movement to be

President Arroyo is clearly right. Hundreds of terrorists have been
arrested, their plans uncovered and their networks opened to infiltration.
Laws have been tightened around the world. New security measures have been
introduced making aircraft and public buildings far safer than before.
Technologies are being deployed to make terrorist attacks even more
difficult and a repeat of September¹s massacre literally impossible. An
anthrax attack on the US Congress has been dealt with and has turned out to
be much less lethal than expected.

Yet the Bush Administration¹s response to all these victories has been to
terrify the American public with bloodcurdling rhetoric about the infinitely
greater horrors of nuclear and biological terrorism that lie in wait.

There are many possible reasons why Mr Bush may prefer to whip up irrational
war hysteria rather than rest on his laurels.He may be genuinely convinced
that terrorists are about to acquire nuclear weapons from Iraq, North Korea
or Iran, but this seems unlikely, if only because there are more plausible
sources of supply in Russia and the former Soviet republics, not to mention
India and Pakistan.

Any pretext to topple President Saddam Hussein would obviously be attractive
to the White House. This would also be a great boon for the world and the
Middle East, if the job could be done by internal dissident forces and
accomplished with as little bloodshed as the overthrow of the Taleban.
Unfortunately, this is a very big if, since there is no military opposition
in Iraq comparable to the Northern Alliance and Saddam runs a modern police
state, very different from the ramshackle medieval theocracy of the Taleban.

There are other less creditable reasons for whipping up war hysteria. Mr
Bush wants to make sure that he cannot be blamed for a lack of vigilance in
the event of some totally unpredictable and random terrorist outrage, which
could occur, by the law of probabilities, regardless of whatever precautions
might be taken sometime in the next few years. The Pentagon has been looking
for an enemy ever since Mr Bush¹s election, to justify a vastly expanded
defence budget. Moreover, the interests of Israel have a commanding
influence on some of the key policymakers in Washington ‹ and Israel¹s
interests are unfortunately identified at present with the extreme Zionism
of Ariel Sharon. For Saudi Arabia, which is increasingly recognised in
America as the main wellspring of the fundamentalist poison seeping through
all Islamic countries, it is convenient if America¹s anger is deflected on
to Iraq and Iran.

America¹s new paranoia is also driven by a domestic political agenda. The
social conservatives on the Republican Right are praying (literally) that a
revival of the Cold War mentality of the 1950s might restore some of the
conservative moral values that were weakened by the counter-culture of the
1960s and 1970s, which were totally swept away by the Clinton
Administration. War fever has given Mr Bush an excuse to tear up his
promises about balanced budgets and to propose additional tax cuts that
would benefit America¹s biggest corporations and richest citizens. Last, but
not least, it is clearly in the Republicans¹ interest to sustain the war
fever until the crucial congressional elections on November 5.

All this is obvious enough ‹ and all of these themes were widely discussed
in the background of the New York forum, if only sotto voce. It is also
obvious that America¹s paranoia and arrogance will pose at least a temporary
danger to the global anti-terrorist coalition. What is less obvious, but may
prove more insidious and lasting, is the effect of the new paranoia on the
global victory of American capitalist values, which seemed so decisive in
the past decade.

By identifying America primarily as a military power, by asserting that it
will pursue its perceived national interests regardless of international
laws, coalitions or treaties, by emphasising its unchallengeable superiority
over every other nation and global institution, by claiming an unconditional
moral hegemony over any adversary he cares to identify, and by acting so
blatantly in the interests of the US business establishment, Mr Bush is
weakening America and playing into the hands of its opponents.

He is fostering the belief that America¹s wealth and power are illegitimate
and coercive when, in reality, America is powerful because people all over
the world volunteer to buy its products and absorb its values. But that is
not how the world perceives things. And the more America brandishes its
military power, the more it will be met with antagonism, revulsion and

Even US businessmen seem to be losing confidence in the legitimacy of the
system that made them rich. The millionaire corporate executives at the
World Economic Forum applauded enthusiastically whenever speakers mentioned
injustice, inequality and the need for more government, regulation and
income redistribution on a global scale. Every mention of the global triumph
of US capitalist values was greeted with embarrassed silence.

All this may be no bad thing. Perhaps global inequalities have become
intolerable. Perhaps the imbalance between materialism and spirituality does
need redressing. Perhaps Europe ‹ and especially Britain ‹ could benefit by
distancing themselves further from brash American values. But as Mr Bush
pushes America ever further towards the extremes of military unilateralism,
there is a growing danger of a repeat of the global ideological backlash of
the 1960s ‹ and a near certainty that US influence in the world will

The greatest danger to America¹s dominant position today is not Islamic
fundamentalism. It is the arrogance of American power.

The Associated Press, 7th February

PARIS: Representatives from 78 countries ‹ including nuclear rivals India
and Pakistan ‹ are meeting in Paris for two days to help produce a set of
international guidelines aimed at curbing the proliferation of ballistic

Gerard Errera, the French Foreign Ministry's deputy director of political
affairs, said in opening the conference Thursday that he hoped the
'International Code of Conduct against the Proliferation of Ballistic
Missiles' would become an important instrument in the quest for world
stability and peace.

``The fact that so many accepted our invitation is a reason for optimism,''
he said. ``This is a sign that the international community has assessed the
challenges that are tied to the development ‹ qualitative and quantitative ‹
of ballistic capabilities.''

The goal of the conference is to solicit feedback from participants on a
proposed code of conduct that would recognize the need to curb missile
proliferation and share information about missile testing. The code would
also call on nations to exercise ``maximum restraint'' in the development
and deployment of ballistic missiles.

The code was first proposed by French President Jacques Chirac in June 2000
and then drawn up by the Missile Technology Control Regime, an international
pact that tries to discourage the export of weapons of mass destruction.

According to the MTCR, a ballistic missile is one that is capable of
delivering a 1,102-pound payload to a target more than 186 miles away.
Ballistic missiles raise the specter of mass destruction because they can
carry nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

Conference participants include the five original nuclear powers ‹ the
United States, Russia, Britain, France and China ‹ and three nations that
have tested nuclear weapons or are believed to be capable of doing so:
India, Pakistan and Israel.

According to French diplomatic sources, only two countries refused
invitations: North Korea and Syria. Iraq, which is under U.N. sanctions for
failing to cooperate with U.N inspectors trying to verify that Baghdad has
dismantled its weapons of mass destruction, was not invited.

by Sergei Blagov
Asia Times, 7th February

MOSCOW - Russia has dismissed George W Bush's "axis of evil" claims, and
appears to be looking to strengthen its old Asian alliances, notably with
India and "evil" Iran, to counterbalance United States clout in Central

Moscow came up with an initially muted but subsequently critical response to
the US president's declaration that Iraq, North Korea and Iran were an "axis
of evil". Russia was not going to cut its military ties with Iran, Defense
Minister Sergei Ivanov stated in Rome on February 4. Russia sells
conventional arms to Iran - "it's a usual commercial practice and we won't
stop it", Ivanov said, adding, "I don't think that Iran, Iraq and North
Korea could be described as an 'axis of evil'."

Konstantin Kosachev, deputy head of the Fatherland-All Russia pro-Kremlin
faction in parliament, described the "axis of evil" claims as a mistake.
Moscow should go ahead with its military ties with Iran, he said. If Russia
sides with the US, it will mean ditching Russia's potential for striking
international partnership, he argued on Tuesday.

Apart from Iran, Russia has long been nurturing ties with Iraq and North
Korea. Some Russian officials and lawmakers argue that Bush had been too
harsh in his State of the Union address and that Russia should pursue its
policies regardless US warnings.

Russia was interested in economic and political cooperation with Iraq,
Ramazan Abdulatipov, head of a Russian parliamentary delegation, stated in
Baghdad, also on Tuesday. The Iraqi leadership "is ready to become
Russia-oriented", claimed Abdulatipov after meeting up with Iraqi's Deputy
Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

Russia is owed a huge debt by Iraq, estimated at nearly US$10 billion. At
the same time, Russian oil companies, both private and state-run, want to
tap into Iraq's lucrative oil resources. Not surprisingly, Russian
politicians are weary of the threat of US air strikes against Iraq. Dmitry
Rogozin, head of the parliament's international affairs committee, said that
US preventive strikes against Iraq, without UN approval, could destabilize
the international situation.

It is understood that Russia dismisses "axis of evil" rhetoric because the
Kremlin is unhappy about increasing US influence in Central Asia. The US
military presence there causes "agitation if not a scandal among Russia's
politicians", Russia's official RIA news agency commented earlier this
month. Now Moscow does not believe US promises and most Russians view the US
military bases in Central Asia as a "tragic event, signifying the demise of
the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] and end of centuries-long
Russian influence in Central Asia".

Moreover, the American "seizure" of Central Asia has a strategic dimension,
since a possible deployment of US anti-missile systems at Khanabad base in
Uzbekistan could affect Russian strategic facilities throughout vast areas,
RIA commented. Although Russian officials are yet to come up with harsh
criticism on the record, the comments of the Kremlin's official mouthpiece
are indicative of what is to come.


The Guardian, 7th February

France's foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, has become the latest European
politician to voice alarm at what might be termed the peremptory tendency
increasingly evident in US dealings with the world at large. The primary
trigger was George Bush's state of the union address a week ago.

The US president's bellicose, go-it-alone tone and his specific threat of
military action against the so-called "axis of evil" - Iraq, Iran and North
Korea - continues to make waves as friends and foes ponder America's true
intentions. Foreign secretary Jack Straw reckoned much of this was mere
mid-term electioneering. But the White House's Condoleezza Rice quickly
slapped him down, insisting Mr Bush meant what he said.

This appears to be Mr Vedrine's view, too. "We are threatened today by a new
simplism which consists in reducing everything to the war on terrorism," he
complained yesterday. It was necessary instead to tackle the root causes of
conflicts, including terrorism, such as poverty, inequality, ignorance and
injustice, Mr Vedrine suggested. This was well said. What a pity that no
British minister has the courage and honesty to speak in such terms. Mr
Bush's new hero is said to be Theodore Roosevelt. The comparison is flawed
in many respects, not least because Mr Bush, far from speaking softly, backs
up his big stick with much loud, noisome and foolhardy verbiage.

When the likes of Paul Wolfowitz follow up by warning that pre-emptive
strikes aimed "at prevention, not merely punishment" await those who oppose
America's will or offend its sense of se curity, the spreading waves of
unease swell and surge. The EU's Javier Solana warns of the dangers of US
"global unilateralism"; Nato's George Robertson warns of an alliance split
between "military pygmies" and an over-fed military giant; and Donald
Rumsfeld, unrepentant champion of Camp X-Ray, renews his haughty demands
that European nations spend more on ancillary forces to clean up after the
American juggernaut.

In Afghanistan, meanwhile, Hamid Karzai, beset by strife, pleads in vain for
US troops to join the British-led stabilisation force. And in the Middle
East, as Mr Vedrine points out, Ariel Sharon's block-by-block deconstruction
of patient years of peace-building continues to proceed unchecked by any US
censure or the most insincere mediation. That the EU and the Arab world
agree that the Israeli leader's vengeful diplomatic and physical ostracism
of Yasser Arafat is counter-productive, to say the least, seems to count for
nothing in far-off Washington.

The peremptory tendency in US policy has many other manifestations, all
unfortunate. Perhaps it is a passing phase, the unlovely product of rhetoric
and deep, hidden indecision over how the "war against terrorism" can now, in
reality, be prosecuted. But its effects are corrosive and damaging. And it
sounds a premature death knell for the September 11 global consensus. How
quickly, Teddy Roosevelt might have reflected, has America's current warrior
president simply squandered the opportunity presented by that rare moment of
human unity and sense of shared purpose.

CNN, 7th February

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, facing a
crisis of confidence at home amid U.S. criticism of his leftist government,
has said he believes in democracy, is not a communist, and does not back

In an uncharacteristically conciliatory speech late on Wednesday, the former
paratrooper even extended an olive branch to his domestic opponents, asking
them to help him "sheathe his sword" and end confrontation over contested
economic reforms.

"I am not a communist. ... I am very clear about which direction my country
is going," the 47 year-old president, who is known for his abrasive,
outspoken leadership style, said in the city of Maracay after swearing in a
new trade minister.

In an indirect response to critical comments made on Tuesday by U.S.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, Chavez firmly defended his government's
right to follow the policies it chose "because this is a sovereign and
independent nation."

Chavez, a firebrand populist who won a 1998 election six years after
attempting a coup, spoke a day after Powell criticized his ideas on
democracy, his fraternizing with U.S. enemies and his questioning of the war
on terrorism.

Powell's remarks dealt a further blow to already-falling investor confidence
in Venezuela, the world's No. 4 oil exporter and a leading supplier of crude
to the United States.

The Venezuelan economy, the fourth-largest in Latin America, is coming under
pressure from sliding oil prices and fears about increasing political
confrontation between Chavez and opponents over his self-proclaimed leftist

In his speech, Chavez did not directly mention Powell's criticism but left
no doubt that he was responding to it.

"I believe, as president of Venezuela, that the government in Washington
must know very well that what is currently underway in Venezuela is not a
terrorist plan," he said.

Suggesting U.S. officials might be suffering "confusion," Chavez dismissed
as "lies, lies" accusations by opponents that he supported Marxist rebels in
neighboring Colombia. The United States considers the Colombian guerrillas
to be terrorists.

The president also defended his three-year-old rule in Venezuela as "a
democratic plan that defends and respects human rights and seeks a much
better life for our people."

Chavez's opponents, who in recent months have staged widely supported street
protests against him, have accused him of trying to impose a Cuban-style
leftist, authoritarian regime.

But Chavez said he supported a "mixed" economy, combining the state with "a
dynamic and enterprising private sector."

Powell had repeated U.S. criticism of the Venezuelan leader's foreign
policy, referring to his visits to Iraq and Cuba and his public questioning
last year of President George W. Bush's war on terrorism in Afghanistan.

Chavez said his government's policies "are the business of no one else in
the world except Venezuelans."

Noting that his visit to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 2000
had "irritated some people in the world," Chavez said: "What do we care? Let
them get irritated. ... We are defending the sacred interests of the
Venezuelan people."

Four Venezuelan journalists last week presented a video showing Venezuelan
military officers meeting Colombian FARC guerrillas in July 2000. They said
this showed that the Chavez administration was collaborating with the
Colombian rebels.

Chavez said he personally called Colombian President Andres Pastrana to
explain that the operation was a humanitarian mission to rescue a Venezuelan
national held by the rebels.

He added, however, that the Venezuelan officers had "made a mistake" by not
informing higher authorities about the mission, which took place without the
assent of Colombia's government.

In an apparent peace gesture to business opponents, Chavez described
Venezuela's 1999 Constitution as "imperfect" and said disputed reforms
passed under it were open for modification.

He previously had rejected all opposition calls to revoke the reforms, which
include laws redistributing rural estates to the poor and tightening state
control over the oil industry. Critics say these laws will destroy jobs and

by Francesco Sisci
Asia Times, 7th February


Western troops forced the Afghans into submission and implanted a new
government. This strategy was militarily very efficient, because it avoided
the mire of a prolonged war on the ground and allowed the US to declare
victory quickly. But it leaves the US largely unable to control the
territory, where large swaths of land may still be in the hands of
pro-Taliban forces. The geopolitical black hole of Afghanistan is no longer,
but the situation is like a Swiss cheese, full of smaller black holes where
the infantry has not set foot and where nobody is very clear about what is
happening. A colonial police force is not an option: history has taught the
West about the dangers of a colonial predicament. Therefore the risks, and
opportunities, of Afghanistan are in the new political accommodation that
the US must seek with neighboring countries.


by Francesco Sisci
Asia Times, 8th February


In this light one could see Iraq as a true avenger for the West. Baghdad
first attacked the anti-western Shi'ite regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini in Iran in the 1980s, and then it threatened the anti-Western Sunni
regime in Saudi Arabia. One could also argue that a large secular Arab state
based in Baghdad could have been a bastion of stability in the region,
helping to keep in check Islamist fundamentalism. The problem, however, was
that Baghdad's rulers were totally unpredictable and with huge ambitions.
Had the Iraqis conquered the Arabian Peninsula they would have been sitting
on huge oil reserves, which could have been defended with nuclear weapons, a
mix sure to put the world on the brink of war.

The Middle East predicament reveals the deep division among Arab countries,
which are not easily labeled and where secularism is no guarantee of
reliability. In fact, there are only two things that keep these governments
together: their oil and their more or less latent opposition to Israel.

The power of oil is waning. The world has more than it can consume, a trend
that will continue. The history of the bankruptcy of Enron is also the
history of oil dependency. If oil were as important as 20 years back, a
giant like Enron would have endured much worse failings in accountancy.
While the price of oil drops in real terms year after year, energy
conservation and such innovations as fuel-cell cars could within 20 years
spell diminishing political returns for the Middle East.

Under that scenario, the importance of the Israeli-Arab conflict subsides as
the influence of Arab countries diminishes as compared with that of Israel.
The former, if they do not undergo a technological transformation, are bound
to matter less than technologically innovative Israel. The economic
relations between Israel and the surrounding Arab countries could be turned
even more in Israel's favor, deepening the existing divisions between Arabs
and Persians, Sunnis and Shi'ites. In such a situation, the only thing that
could bring together the many different geopolitical realities would the
universalist push of fundamentalist Islam and the new religious tinge taken
by the Palestinian cause.

The United States, therefore, needs to keep a strong political initiative,
which might include covert operations, but it must be aware that direct
military initiatives could have many drawbacks. Saudi Arabia may be the
ideal example. Although suspected of having provided aid to bin Laden, it
owes its existence to the US. It is protected by a foreign mercenary force
and is held together by foreign technicians, leaving itself open to US
influence against those within the kingdom who might protect America's

Iran is a different kettle of fish. Well-armed and still militantly
pro-Palestinian, it owes little or nothing to the US, which thus has limited
means to pressure Tehran. The consequences of a war with Iran would be
uncertain, as it would redraw the map of the region and possibly even
strengthen the cause of the Kurds, something that would hurt the interests
of Turkey, the West's strongest ally in the region.

Yet recent Iranian initiatives toward Pakistan betray Tehran's isolation and
weakness and open the door for US pressure on the country. The tables could
be turned on Iran, which seeks accommodation with Pakistan in order to
guarantee its historical interests in Afghanistan, in turn opening Iran to
the West. And improved relations between the US and China also strengthen
the American case with Iran.


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