Michael Pollan writes:
If you are what you eat, and especially if you eat industrial food, as 99 percent of Americans do, what you are is corn. During the last year I've been following a bushel of corn through the industrial food system. What I keep finding in case after case, if you follow the food back to the farm — if you follow the nutrients, if you follow the carbon — you end up in a corn field in Iowa, over and over and over again.
Take a typical fast food meal. Corn is the sweetener in the soda. It's in the corn-fed beef Big Mac patty, and in the high-fructose syrup in the bun, and in the secret sauce. Slim Jims are full of corn syrup, dextrose, cornstarch, and a great many additives. The “four different fuels” in a Lunchables meal, are all essentially corn-based. The chicken nugget—including feed for the chicken, fillers, binders, coating, and dipping sauce—is all corn. The french fries are made from potatoes, but odds are they're fried in corn oil, the source of 50 percent of their calories. Even the salads at McDonald's are full of high-fructose corn syrup and thickeners made from corn.
Corn is the keystone species of the industrial food system, along with its sidekick, soybeans, with which it shares a rotation on most of the farms in the Midwest. I'm really talking about cheap corn — overproduced, subsidized, industrial corn — the biggest legal cash crop in America. Eighty million acres — an area twice the size of New York State — is blanketed by a vast corn monoculture like a second great American lawn.
I believe very strongly that our overproduction of cheap grain in general, and corn in particular, has a lot to do with the fact that three-fifths of Americans are now overweight. The obesity crisis is complicated in some ways, but it's very simple in another way. Basically, Americans are on average eating 200 more calories a day than they were in the 1970s. If you do that and don't get correspondingly more exercise, you're going to get a lot fatter. Many demographers are predicting that this is the first generation of Americans whose life span may be shorter than their parents'. The reason for that is obesity, essentially, and diabetes specifically.
Where do those calories come from? Except for seafood, all our calories come from the farm. Compared with the mid-to-late 1970s, American farms are producing 500 more calories of food a day per American. We're managing to pack away 200 of them, which is pretty heroic on our part. A lot of the rest is being dumped overseas, or wasted, or burned in our cars. (That's really how we're trying to get rid of it now: in ethanol. The problem is that it takes almost as much, or even more, energy to make a gallon of ethanol than you get from that ethanol. People think it's a very green fuel, but the process for making it is not green at all.)
Overproduction sooner or later leads to overconsumption, because we’re very good at figuring out how to turn surpluses into inexpensive, portable new products. Our cheap, value-added, portable corn commodity is corn sweetener, specifically high-fructose corn syrup. But we also dispose of overproduction in corn-fed beef, pork, and chicken. And now we're even teaching salmon to eat corn, because there's so much of it to get rid of.
There is a powerful industrial logic at work here, the logic of processing. We discovered that corn is this big, fat packet of starch that can be broken down into almost any basic organic molecules and reassembled as sweeteners and many other food additives. Of the 37 ingredients in chicken nuggets, something like 30 are made, directly or indirectly, from corn.
Now, how do you get people to eat so much of this reengineered surplus corn? That took the ingenuity of American marketing. One example is supersizing. When I was a kid, Coke came in these lovely little eight-ounce glass containers. Today, a 20-ounce container is the standard size for soda. The idea that you could sell soda that way was an invention. It has a history, and you can find the individual responsible, an ingenious movie theater manager named David Wallerstein, who invented the idea of supersizing and sold it to Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's.
Before you go out and sue McDonald's over the size of your waistline, consider that overproduction of cheap corn is government policy. It's done in the name of the public interest, using our taxpayer dollars. American taxpayers subsidize every bushel of industrial corn produced in this country, at a cost of some four billion dollars a year (out of a total of 19 billion dollars in direct payments to farmers).
But before you blame subsidies for all these problems keep in mind that agricultural overproduction is an ancient problem that long predates subsidies. In any other business, when the price of the commodity you're selling falls, the smart thing to do is to curtail production until demand raises prices. But farmers don't do that, because there are so many of them, and because they all operate as individuals, without any coordination. So when prices fall farmers actually expand production, in order to keep their cash flow from falling. This economically and environmentally disastrous phenomenon has resulted in an increase in the American corn harvest from four billion to ten billion bushels since the 1970s.
How do we begin to change this system? First, we all need to begin to pay attention to the Farm Bill, working to develop farm programs that allow farmers to stay in business without falling into the trap of overproduction. Most city people don't realize the stake they have in it. They assume it's a parochial concern of members of Congress from farm states, but it's not. If it were called the Food Bill, I think we would all pay a lot more attention to it, and get a saner result. The Farm Bill sets out the rules of the game that everyone is playing in, whether you're an industrial or an organic farmer, whether you're eating industrially or not.
The other thing we can do is become responsible consumers. I’ve never liked the word "consumer." It sounds like a character who’s using up the world, rather than creating anything. I was at a gathering in Italy last October where Carlos Petrini, the founder and president of Slow Food International, offered a wonderful redefinition of the word. He called the consumer a “cocreator.” I think that’s exactly right, and we’ve seen why: with the organic movement, consumers and farmers have shown how they can work together as cocreators of an alternative food system. We need to join together now, to recruit a larger and larger army of cocreators, to rewrite the rules of the game — and “cocreate” a different kind of food system.
Friday, December 30, 2005
Michael Pollan writes:
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Although John Gilmore lives just five blocks from San Francisco's Department of Motor Vehicles, his driver's license is expired. On purpose.
The outspoken, techno-hippie, wealthy civil libertarian doesn't want to give his Social Security number to the DMV.
Neither will he show his driver's license at airports, or submit to routine security searches. This refusal to obey the rules led him to file suit against the Bush administration (Gilmore v. Gonzales) after being rebuffed at two different airports on July 4, 2002, when he tried to fly without showing identification. One airline offered to let Gilmore fly without showing ID, but only if he underwent more intensive security screening, which he declined.
On Thursday, Gilmore and his lawyers will get 20 minutes in front of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to make their argument against identification requirements and government secrecy, in a case that time and shifting public opinion has transformed from a quirky millionaire's indignant protest into a closely watched test of the limitations of executive branch power.
"The nexus of the case has always been the right to travel," Gilmore said. "Can the government prevent Americans from moving around in their own country by slapping any silly rules on them -- you have to show ID, you have to submit to searches, you have to wear a yarmulke?"
Gilmore has sunk thousands of dollars into fighting identification requirements, but he also personally committed to not traveling in the United States if he has to show identification.
So Gilmore has not taken a train, an intercity bus or a domestic flight since July 4, 2002. He still flies internationally.
Gilmore describes himself as being under "regional arrest," and said he would love to drive and fly again.
"I'm a millionaire," Gilmore said. "I can do whatever the fuck I want, right? Why should I run around without an ID? Because no one else was paying attention to that and letting our liberties slip down the drain. I figured it was worth some amount of money and some amount of personal sacrifice to keep a free society."
Gilmore has long been a prominent figure in the privacy and civil liberties communities -- he co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But many civil liberties advocates begged Gilmore not to file suit in 2002 because they were certain he would lose and set bad case law, according to Gilmore's lawyer, Jim Harrison.
Things might be different in late 2005.
"The same people that were telling John that you really should not do this while the country is inflamed are the same ones that filed friend-of-the-court briefs to the 9th Circuit," Harrison said.
Gilmore also thinks the mood of the country has changed. "It is now considered patriotic to criticize the president," Gilmore said.
While civil liberties groups now publicly back Gilmore's challenge to government secrecy, many privacy advocates still privately grumble that Gilmore's case is not the best vehicle for challenging identification requirements.
On Thursday, Gilmore will argue that the government's secret identification rules -- no federal law compels travelers to show ID -- and no-fly list infringe on his First Amendment rights, but don't make the country safer.
In addition, government lawyers long denied the existence of the rule -- which predates the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- even though there are signs in airports cautioning passengers that they are required to show identification.
The government recently switched tactics, acknowledging the rule exists but arguing that the identification requirement is a law-enforcement technique.
So far, the government has refused to show Gilmore the order compelling airlines to ask for identification, saying that the rule is "sensitive security information," a security designation that was greatly expanded by Congress in 2002, allowing the Transportation Security Administration wide latitude to withhold information from the public.
Gilmore argues that secrecy and the power of the "sensitive security information," or SSI, designation is to blame for the repeated privacy scandals at the TSA.
"TSA and DHS in general have set themselves up to be insulated from criticism, to have their inner workings be invisible, because they can pull this magic SSI shield over anything they do," Gilmore said. "And what you see are the natural consequences of that kind of secrecy, which is that incompetence is never detected and corrected."
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
Oil barons Charles and David Koch, two of the nation's worst environmental criminals, now control the country's largest privately held company
Media Transparency reports:
In a move that does not bode well for the nation's forests, last month the Koch brothers of Kansas engineered a $13.2 billion buyout of forest products producer Georgia Pacific Corporation, making Koch Industries the nation's largest privately held company. The purchase includes Koch's assumption of $7.8 billion in Georgia Pacific debt, making the total purchase price $21 billion.
The Kochs are smart, focused, and incredibly wealthy. For years they've been pushing both a libertarian and free-market agenda through tens of millions of dollars in contributions to conservative causes, candidates and organizations.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Congress investigated their company over allegations that they had stolen over $30 million worth of oil from Indian tribes in Oklahoma. In January 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency leveled "the largest civil fine ever imposed on a company under any federal environmental law to resolve claims related to more than 300 oil spills from its pipelines and oil facilities in six states," according to Justice Department press release; the fine was severely reduced after John Ashcroft became Attorney General.
One of the brothers was recently honored (scroll down for pix) for his generous support of the American Ballet Theatre's production of Raymonda. Who are these men with deep right-wing ties who own a company that will soon become the nation's largest privately held corporation? They're the Kochs from Kansas, and they control Koch Industries.
According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, Koch's purchase of Georgia Pacific would vault Koch past food producer Cargill Inc. as the largest privately held company in the United States, with $80-billion in revenue and 85,000 employees in 50 countries.
In a way, the Georgia Pacific acquisition "completes the circle" for Koch, Scott Silver told Media Transparency. "The ideologues running the land management agencies are the product of the think tanks created by, and funded by, the Koch family," Silver, the executive director of the environmental group Wild Wildnerness, pointed out. "Those ideologues are now in a position to permit Koch's newest acquisition, Georgia-Pacific, to further rape and pillage the public's lands. These think tanks promote the Free-Market ideal when it serves their interests to do so, but in reality, they are firmly committed to the ideal of enriching private interests at enormous direct cost to the American taxpayer."
The Koch (pronounced "coke") brothers, Charles, David, William and Frederick are sons of Kansas. Thirty-eight years ago, Charles took over the company from his father, company founder Fred Koch. According to a recent piece in Business Week, Charles, 70, and David, 65, now "own the bulk of the company after elbowing out their other brothers ... in 1983," buying out William and Frederick for $470 million and $320 million, respectively. In 1998, in a chilling display of family disunity, "the two sets of brothers walked silently past one another in court as William and Frederick lost a lawsuit to extract more money from Charles and David."
In 1940, Fred Koch founded the company as an oil refiner. A graduate of MIT, he was an original member of the anticommunist ultra-conservative John Birch Society, founded in 1958. The sons did not fall far from the tree: Both Charles and David graduated from MIT and have been deeply involved in conservative politics.
According to "Axis of Ideology," (PDF Executive Summary) a 2004 report by the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy, the two dominant Koch boys have "a combined net worth of approximately $4 billion, placing them among the top 50 wealthiest individuals in the country and among the top 100 wealthiest individuals in the world in 2003, according to Forbes."
Between 1999 and 2001, they gave more than $20 million to a host of conservative organizations; "most of their contributions go[ing] to support organizations and groups advancing libertarian theory, privatization, entrepreneurship and free enterprise," "Axis of Ideology" pointed out (click here to see aggregated grants from the three Koch foundations).
"David, who is executive vice-president and a board member, ran for Vice-President on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980 and both Charles and David are directors of the free-market advocating Cato Institute and Reason Foundation," Business Week recently pointed out. In an interview with National Journal, David Koch described his philosophy this way: "My overall concept is to minimize the role of government and to maximize the role of the private economy to maximize personal freedoms."
According to SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media & Democracy, the brothers are "leading contributors to the Koch family foundations, which supports a network of Conservative organizations and think tanks, including Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Manhattan Institute, the Heartland Institute, and the Democratic Leadership Council."
Charles Koch co-founded the Cato Institute in 1977, while David helped launch Citizens for a Sound Economy [http://www.mediatransparency.org/story.php?storyID=40" target="_blank"] in 1986. Over the years, they have given more than $12 million to each, according to the NCRP report. George Mason University is also a well-funded recipient of Koch largesse; receiving more than $23 million from the family's foundations between 1985 and 2002, according to the NCRP.
Charles and David Koch control several family foundations including the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the David H. Koch Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation. Koch money also flows through Triad Management Services, "an advisory service to conservative donors on groups and candidates to support." Put more precisely, SourceWatch notes that Triad "is a Tom Delay-affiliated organization that launders money from large corporations into congressional campaigns."
Originally and perhaps not surprisingly given their libertarian bent, the brothers were not aficionados of former Republican Kansas Senator Bob Dole. Some reports have it that they considered him more or less as just another spineless politician. In 1986, however, "the Kochs' disdain for Dole began to dissipate when Koch Industries sought financial advantage under 'technical corrections' to a tax revision act," veteran reporter Robert Parry wrote in an extensive investigative report for The Nation magazine. "The Washington Post," Parry noted, "reported that Koch Industries approached Dole and secured the Senator's aid in inserting an exemption from a new real-estate depreciation schedule, a change that was worth several million dollars to the company."
"As a Senate leader ... [Dole] appeared willing to trade his influence for the keys to the Koch political money vault," Parry pointed out in "D(OIL)E: What Wouldn't Bob Do For Koch Oil?" David Koch became "a national vice chairman of the Dole presidential campaign's finance committee ... [and] lin[ed] up deep-pocket contributors for his candidate and the G.O.P." Koch "also helped Dole achieve majority leader status through his checkbook, contributed mightily to a Dole foundation and even turned his Gatsbyish estate in Southampton, New York, into the site for celebrating Dole's 72nd birthday in July 1995, raising $150,000 for his campaign."
One of the strangest aspects of the Koch story is how little the general public knows about the brothers or the company. "Koch is a huge company -- bigger than Microsoft, but few people have heard of it," said Bob Williams, a project manager at the Center for Public Integrity, and the co-author of the report "Koch's Low Profile Belies Political Power: Private Oil Company Does Both Business and Politics With the Shades Drawn."
"Despite its size and political largesse, Koch is able to dodge the limelight because it is privately-held, meaning that nearly all of its business dealings are known primarily only by the company and the Internal Revenue Service," Williams and Kevin Bogardus, co-author of the report, wrote. The company "has spent nearly $4 million on direct lobbying on more than 50 pieces of legislation before Congress, helping shape the debate on everything from limiting class action lawsuits to repealing the estate tax," William and Bogardus pointed out.
In a November 15 News Release issued by the Institute for Public Accuracy, Williams pointed out that the company is "politically active, in campaign contributions, lobbying and, probably most importantly, founding and funding right-leaning libertarian think tanks." The acquisition could have profound effects since both the oil and lumber industries have significant environmental ramifications. "Koch is very solicitous of its many friends in Washington; and when it gets in an environmental bind, it is not shy about calling on those friends in Washington," Williams added.
Williams' 2004 "Koch's Low Profile Belies Political Power" noted that:
"Despite its size and political largess, Koch is able to dodge the limelight because it is privately held, meaning that nearly all of its business dealings are known primarily only by the company and the Internal Revenue Service."
"Although it is both a top campaign contributor and spends millions on direct lobbying, Koch's chief political influence tool is a web of interconnected, right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups funded by foundations controlled and supported by the two Koch brothers."
"Koch has had plenty of run-ins with government regulators and other legal problems in recent years. Through it all, the company has shown a remarkable knack for getting criminal charges dropped and huge potential penalties knocked down."
"Koch has also shown a remarkable ability to get rid of or modify environmental policies and other government rules it doesn't like."
"Amongst the most important, visible and powerful proponents of public lands privatization are the Cato Institute, the Property and Environment Research Center (formerly known as Political Economy Research Center) and the Reason Institute," said Scott Silver, the executive director of Wild Wilderness, a Bend, Oregon-based grassroots environmental organization. "Koch funds have played a major role in the operation of each of these organizations."
The Koch family "is amongst the most powerful and influential movers and shakers promoting privatization in America," Silver added. Over the past several decades, "their money created an extensive infrastructure of Libertarian and Free-Market think tanks from which President Bush has drawn to staff the highest rungs of the land management agencies."
The acquisition of Georgia-Pacific, which "does extensive logging on public lands" and "is a heavily subsidized form of corporate welfare," could accelerate the trend toward the privatization of our national forests Silver argued. "Logging companies such as Georgia-Pacific strip lands bare, destroy vast acreages and pay only a small fee to the federal government in proportion to what they take from the public. They do not operate in the Free-Market when they log public forests."
Over the years, Koch has been "a major polluter," SourceWatch reported. "During the 1990s, its faulty pipelines were responsible for more than 300 oil spills in five states, prompting a landmark penalty of $35 million from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In Minnesota, it was fined an additional $8 million for discharging oil into streams. During the months leading up to the 2000 presidential elections, the company faced even more liability, in the form of a 97-count federal indictment charging it with concealing illegal releases of 91 metric tons of benzene, a known carcinogen, from its refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas."
After Bush took office in 2000, the 97-count indictment was reduced by 88. The balance was then settled when, "two days before the trial" then- Attorney General John Ashcroft "settled for a plea bargain in which Koch pled guilty to falsifying documents. All major charges were dropped, and Koch and Ashcroft settled the lawsuit for a fraction" of the possible $350 million in fines. (According to SourceWatch, Koch had contributed $800,000 to the Bush election campaign and other Republican candidates.)
That did not stop the company from polluting: In 2003, Koch bought Invista, the world's largest fibers company (which owns brands such as Lycra and Teflon) from DuPont for more than $4 billion in cash. According to a November 11 report in The News Virginian -- serving Waynesboro, Staunton and Augusta County, Va. -- "the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality log[ed] 16 spills by the textiles plant this year [and] warned Invista in a Nov. 9 violation notice that 'civil charges' and 'corrective action' might be on the way."
A follow-up editorial two days later pointed out that Dupont, which previously owned the plant, used "the South River as a toilet for nearly 75 years," but when the operation "employed 4,000-plus locals in high-paying jobs, the powers-that-be here seemed to ignore the mercury the plant dumped into our river." Before the acquisition by Koch, the plant employed about 1,000 workers; now the workforce numbers about 700.
Monday, December 5, 2005
Where is the Iraq war headed next?
In the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh wrote:
In recent weeks, there has been widespread speculation that President George W. Bush confronted by diminishing approval ratings and dissent within his own party, will begin pulling American troops out of Iraq next year. The Administration’s best-case scenario is that the parliamentary election scheduled for December 15th will produce a coalition government that will join the Administration in calling for withdrawal to begin in the spring. By then, the White House hopes, the new government will be capable of handling the insurgency. In a speech on November 19th, Bush repeated the latest Administration catchphrase: “As Iraqis stand up we will stand down.” He added, “When our commanders on the ground tell me that Iraq forces can defend their freedom, our troops will come home with the honor they have earned. One sign of the political pressure on the Administration to prepare for withdrawal came last week, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News that the current level of American troops would not have to be maintained “for very much longer,” because the Iraqis were getting better at fighting the insurgency.
A high-level Pentagon war planner told me, however, that he has seen scant indication that the President would authorize a significant pullout of American troops if he believed that it would impede the war against the insurgency. There are several proposals currently under review by the White House and the Pentagon; the most ambitious calls for American combat forces to be reduced from a hundred and fifty-five thousand troops to fewer than eighty thousand by next fall, with all American forces officially designated “combat” to be pulled out of the area by the summer of 2008. In terms of implementation, the planner said, “the drawdown plans that I’m familiar with are condition-based, event-driven, and not in a specific time frame”—that is, they depend on the ability of a new Iraqi government to defeat the insurgency. (A Pentagon spokesman said that the Administration had not made any decisions and had “no plan to leave, only a plan to complete the mission.”)
A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President’s public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.
“We’re not planning to diminish the war,” Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. Clawson’s views often mirror the thinking of the men and women around Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting—Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower. The rule now is to commit Iraqi forces into combat only in places where they are sure to win. The pace of commitment, and withdrawal, depends on their success in the battlefield.”
He continued, “We want to draw down our forces, but the President is prepared to tough this one out. There is a very deep feeling on his part that the issue of Iraq was settled by the American people at the polling places in 2004.” The war against the insurgency “may end up being a nasty and murderous civil war in Iraq, but we and our allies would still win,” he said. “As long as the Kurds and the Shiites stay on our side, we’re set to go. There’s no sense that the world is caving in. We’re in the middle of a seven-year slog in Iraq, and eighty per cent of the Iraqis are receptive to our message.”
One Pentagon adviser told me, “There are always contingency plans, but why withdraw and take a chance? I don’t think the President will go for it”—until the insurgency is broken. “He’s not going to back off. This is bigger than domestic politics.”
Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.
Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that “God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that “he’s the man,” the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reëlection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.
The former senior official said that after the election he made a lengthy inspection visit to Iraq and reported his findings to Bush in the White House: “I said to the President, ‘We’re not winning the war.’ And he asked, ‘Are we losing?’ I said, ‘Not yet.’ ” The President, he said, “appeared displeased” with that answer.
“I tried to tell him,” the former senior official said. “And he couldn’t hear it.”
There are grave concerns within the military about the capability of the U.S. Army to sustain two or three more years of combat in Iraq. Michael O’Hanlon, a specialist on military issues at the Brookings Institution, told me, “The people in the institutional Army feel they don’t have the luxury of deciding troop levels, or even participating in the debate. They’re planning on staying the course until 2009. I can’t believe the Army thinks that it will happen, because there’s no sustained drive to increase the size of the regular Army.” O’Hanlon noted that “if the President decides to stay the present course in Iraq some troops would be compelled to serve fourth and fifth tours of combat by 2007 and 2008, which could have serious consequences for morale and competency levels.”
Many of the military’s most senior generals are deeply frustrated, but they say nothing in public, because they don’t want to jeopardize their careers. The Administration has “so terrified the generals that they know they won’t go public,” a former defense official said. A retired senior C.I.A. officer with knowledge of Iraq told me that one of his colleagues recently participated in a congressional tour there. The legislators were repeatedly told, in meetings with enlisted men, junior officers, and generals that “things were fucked up.” But in a subsequent teleconference with Rumsfeld, he said, the generals kept those criticisms to themselves.
One person with whom the Pentagon’s top commanders have shared their private views for decades is Representative John Murtha, of Pennsylvania, the senior Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. The President and his key aides were enraged when, on November 17th, Murtha gave a speech in the House calling for a withdrawal of troops within six months. The speech was filled with devastating information. For example, Murtha reported that the number of attacks in Iraq has increased from a hundred and fifty a week to more than seven hundred a week in the past year. He said that an estimated fifty thousand American soldiers will suffer “from what I call battle fatigue” in the war, and he said that the Americans were seen as “the common enemy” in Iraq. He also took issue with one of the White House’s claims—that foreign fighters were playing the major role in the insurgency. Murtha said that American soldiers “haven’t captured any in this latest activity”—the continuing battle in western Anbar province, near the border with Syria. “So this idea that they’re coming in from outside, we still think there’s only seven per cent.”
Murtha’s call for a speedy American pullout only seemed to strengthen the White House’s resolve. Administration officials “are beyond angry at him, because he is a serious threat to their policy—both on substance and politically,” the former defense official said. Speaking at the Osan Air Force base, in South Korea, two days after Murtha’s speech, Bush said, “The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. . . . If they’re not stopped, the terrorists will be able to advance their agenda to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, and to break our will and blackmail our government into isolation. I’m going to make you this commitment: this is not going to happen on my watch.”
“The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,” the former defense official said. “He doesn’t feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’ ” He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. “They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,” the former defense official said. Bush’s public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. “Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House,” the former official said, “but Bush has no idea.”
Within the military, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute fo American troops on the ground has caused great unease. For one thing Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis eventually will be responsible for target selection. “Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame someone else?” another senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon asked. “Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of Al Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?
“It’s a serious business,” retired Air Force General Charles Horner, who was in charge of allied bombing during the 1991 Gulf War, said. “The Air Force has always had concerns about people ordering air strikes who are not Air Force forward air controllers. We need people on active duty to think it out, and they will. There has to be training to be sure that somebody is not trying to get even with somebody else.” (Asked for a comment, the Pentagon spokesman said there were plans in place for such training. He also noted that Iraq had no offensive airpower of its own, and thus would have to rely on the United States for some time.)
The American air war inside Iraq today is perhaps the most significant—and underreported—aspect of the fight against the insurgency. The military authorities in Baghdad and Washington do not provide the press with a daily accounting of missions that Air Force, Navy, and Marine units fly or of the tonnage they drop, as was routinely done during the Vietnam War. One insight into the scope of the bombing in Iraq was supplied by the Marine Corps during the height of the siege of Falluja in the fall of 2004. “With a massive Marine air and ground offensive under way,” a Marine press release said, “Marine close air support continues to put high-tech steel on target. . . . Flying missions day and night for weeks, the fixed wing aircraft of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing are ensuring battlefield success on the front line.” Since the beginning of the war, the press release said, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing alone had dropped more than five hundred thousand tons of ordnance. “This number is likely to be much higher by the end of operations,” Major Mike Sexton said. In the battle for the city, more than seven hundred Americans were killed or wounded; U.S. officials did not release estimates of civilian dead, but press reports at the time told of women and children killed in the bombardments.
In recent months, the tempo of American bombing seems to have increased. Most of the targets appear to be in the hostile, predominantly Sunni provinces that surround Baghdad and along the Syrian border. As yet, neither Congress nor the public has engaged in a significant discussion or debate about the air war.
The insurgency operates mainly in crowded urban areas, and Air Force warplanes rely on sophisticated, laser-guided bombs to avoid civilian casualties. These bombs home in on targets that must be “painted,” or illuminated, by laser beams directed by ground units. “The pilot doesn’t identify the target as seen in the pre-brief”—the instructions provided before takeoff—a former high-level intelligence official told me. “The guy with the laser is the targeteer. Not the pilot. Often you get a ‘hot-read’ ”—from a military unit on the ground—“and you drop your bombs with no communication with the guys on the ground. You don’t want to break radio silence. The people on the ground are calling in targets that the pilots can’t verify.” He added, “And we’re going to turn this process over to the Iraqis?”
The second senior military planner told me that there are essentially two types of targeting now being used in Iraq: a deliberate site-selection process that works out of air-operations centers in the region, and “adaptive targeting”—supportive bombing by prepositioned or loitering warplanes that are suddenly alerted to firefights or targets of opportunity by military units on the ground. “The bulk of what we do today is adaptive,” the officer said, “and it’s divorced from any operational air planning. Airpower can be used as a tool of internal political coercion, and my attitude is that I can’t imagine that we will give that power to the Iraqis.”
This military planner added that even today, with Americans doing the targeting, “there is no sense of an air campaign, or a strategic vision. We are just whacking targets—it’s a reversion to the Stone Age. There’s no operational art. That’s what happens when you give targeting to the Army—they hit what the local commander wants to hit.”
One senior Pentagon consultant I spoke to said he was optimistic that “American air will immediately make the Iraqi Army that much better.” But he acknowledged that he, too, had concerns about Iraqi targeting. “We have the most expensive eyes in the sky right now,” the consultant said. “But a lot of Iraqis want to settle old scores. Who is going to have authority to call in air strikes? There’s got to be a behavior-based rule.”
General John Jumper, who retired last month after serving four years as the Air Force chief of staff, was “in favor of certification of those Iraqis who will be allowed to call in strikes,” the Pentagon consultant told me. “I don’t know if it will be approved. The regular Army generals were resisting it to the last breath, despite the fact that they would benefit the most from it.”
A Pentagon consultant with close ties to the officials in the Vice-President’s office and the Pentagon who advocated the war said that the Iraqi penchant for targeting tribal and personal enemies with artillery and mortar fire had created “impatience and resentment” inside the military. He believed that the Air Force’s problems with Iraqi targeting might be addressed by the formation of U.S.-Iraqi transition teams, whose American members would be drawn largely from Special Forces troops. This consultant said that there were plans to integrate between two hundred and three hundred Special Forces members into Iraqi units, which was seen as a compromise aimed at meeting the Air Force’s demand to vet Iraqis who were involved in targeting. But in practice, the consultant added, it meant that “the Special Ops people will soon allow Iraqis to begin calling in the targets.”
Robert Pape, a political-science professor at the University of Chicago, who has written widely on American airpower, and who taught for three years at the Air Force’s School of Advanced Airpower Studies, in Alabama, predicted that the air war “will get very ugly” if targeting is turned over to the Iraqis. This would be especially true, he said, if the Iraqis continued to operate as the U.S. Army and Marines have done—plowing through Sunni strongholds on search-and-destroy missions. “If we encourage the Iraqis to clear and hold their own areas, and use airpower to stop the insurgents from penetrating the cleared areas, it could be useful,” Pape said. “The risk is that we will encourage the Iraqis to do search-and-destroy, and they would be less judicious about using airpower—and the violence would go up. More civilians will be killed, which means more insurgents will be created.”
Even American bombing on behalf of an improved, well-trained Iraqi Army would not necessarily be any more successful against the insurgency. “It’s not going to work,” said Andrew Brookes, the former director of airpower studies at the Royal Air Force’s advanced staff college, who is now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in London. “Can you put a lid on the insurgency with bombing?” Brookes said. “No. You can concentrate in one area, but the guys will spring up in another town.” The inevitable reliance on Iraqi ground troops’ targeting would also create conflicts. “I don’t see your guys dancing to the tune of someone else,” Brookes said. He added that he and many other experts “don’t believe that airpower is a solution to the problems inside Iraq at all. Replacing boots on the ground with airpower didn’t work in Vietnam, did it?”
The Air Force’s worries have been subordinated, so far, to the political needs of the White House. The Administration’s immediate political goal after the December elections is to show that the day-to-day conduct of the war can be turned over to the newly trained and equipped Iraqi military. It has already planned heavily scripted change-of-command ceremonies, complete with the lowering of American flags at bases and the raising of Iraqi ones.
Some officials in the State Department, the C.I.A., and British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government have settled on their candidate of choice for the December elections—Iyad Allawi, the secular Shiite who served until this spring as Iraq’s interim Prime Minister. They believe that Allawi can gather enough votes in the election to emerge, after a round of political bargaining, as Prime Minister. A former senior British adviser told me that Blair was convinced that Allawi “is the best hope.” The fear is that a government dominated by religious Shiites, many of whom are close to Iran, would give Iran greater political and military influence inside Iraq. Allawi could counter Iran’s influence; also, he would be far more supportive and coöperative if the Bush Administration began a drawdown of American combat forces in the coming year.
Blair has assigned a small team of operatives to provide political help to Allawi, the former adviser told me. He also said that there was talk late this fall, with American concurrence, of urging Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite, to join forces in a coalition with Allawi during the post-election negotiations to form a government. Chalabi, who is notorious for his role in promoting flawed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction before the war, is now a deputy Prime Minister. He and Allawi were bitter rivals while in exile.
A senior United Nations diplomat told me that he was puzzled by the high American and British hopes for Allawi. “I know a lot of people want Allawi, but I think he’s been a terrific disappointment,” the diplomat said. “He doesn’t seem to be building a strong alliance, and at the moment it doesn’t look like he will do very well in the election.”
The second Pentagon consultant told me, “If Allawi becomes Prime Minister, we can say, ‘There’s a moderate, urban, educated leader now in power who does not want to deprive women of their rights.’ He would ask us to leave, but he would allow us to keep Special Forces operations inside Iraq—to keep an American presence the right way. Mission accomplished. A coup for Bush.”
A former high-level intelligence official cautioned that it was probably “too late” for any American withdrawal plan to work without further bloodshed. The constitution approved by Iraqi voters in October “will be interpreted by the Kurds and the Shiites to proceed with their plans for autonomy,” he said. “The Sunnis will continue to believe that if they can get rid of the Americans they can still win. And there still is no credible way to establish security for American troops.”
The fear is that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal would inevitably trigger a Sunni-Shiite civil war. In many areas, that war has, in a sense, already begun, and the United States military is being drawn into the sectarian violence. An American Army officer who took part in the assault on Tal Afar, in the north of Iraq, earlier this fall, said that an American infantry brigade was placed in the position of providing a cordon of security around the besieged city for Iraqi forces, most of them Shiites, who were “rounding up any Sunnis on the basis of whatever a Shiite said to them.” The officer went on, “They were killing Sunnis on behalf of the Shiites,” with the active participation of a militia unit led by a retired American Special Forces soldier. “People like me have gotten so downhearted,” the officer added.
Meanwhile, as the debate over troop reductions continues, the covert war in Iraq has expanded in recent months to Syria. A composite American Special Forces team, known as an S.M.U., for “special-mission unit,” has been ordered, under stringent cover, to target suspected supporters of the Iraqi insurgency across the border. (The Pentagon had no comment.) “It’s a powder keg,” the Pentagon consultant said of the tactic. “But, if we hit an insurgent network in Iraq without hitting the guys in Syria who are part of it, the guys in Syria would get away. When you’re fighting an insurgency, you have to strike everywhere—and at once.”
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Fears of Post-9/11 Terrorism Spur Proposals for New Powers
The Washington Post reports:
The Defense Department has expanded its programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, creating new agencies, adding personnel and seeking additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world.
The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts -- including protecting military facilities from attack -- to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.
The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
The proposals, and other Pentagon steps aimed at improving its ability to analyze counterterrorism intelligence collected inside the United States, have drawn complaints from civil liberties advocates and a few members of Congress, who say the Defense Department's push into domestic collection is proceeding with little scrutiny by the Congress or the public.
"We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a recent interview.
Wyden has since persuaded lawmakers to change the legislation, attached to the fiscal 2006 intelligence authorization bill, to address some of his concerns, but he still believes hearings should be held. Among the changes was the elimination of a provision to let Defense Intelligence Agency officers hide the fact that they work for the government when they approach people who are possible sources of intelligence in the United States.
Modifications also were made in the provision allowing the FBI to share information with the Pentagon and CIA, requiring the approval of the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, for that to occur, and requiring the Pentagon to make reports to Congress on the subject. Wyden said the legislation "now strikes a much fairer balance by protecting critical rights for our country's citizens and advancing intelligence operations to meet our security needs."
Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, said the data-sharing amendment would still give the Pentagon much greater access to the FBI's massive collection of data, including information on citizens not connected to terrorism or espionage.
The measure, she said, "removes one of the few existing privacy protections against the creation of secret dossiers on Americans by government intelligence agencies." She said the Pentagon's "intelligence agencies are quietly expanding their domestic presence without any public debate."
Lt. Col. Chris Conway, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said that the most senior Defense Department intelligence officials are aware of the sensitivities related to their expanded domestic activities. At the same time, he said, the Pentagon has to have the intelligence necessary to protect its facilities and personnel at home and abroad.
"In the age of terrorism," Conway said, "the U.S. military and its facilities are targets, and we have to be prepared within our authorities to defend them before something happens."
Among the steps already taken by the Pentagon that enhanced its domestic capabilities was the establishment after 9/11 of Northern Command, or Northcom, in Colorado Springs, to provide military forces to help in reacting to terrorist threats in the continental United States. Today, Northcom's intelligence centers in Colorado and Texas fuse reports from CIFA, the FBI and other U.S. agencies, and are staffed by 290 intelligence analysts. That is more than the roughly 200 analysts working for the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and far more than those at the Department of Homeland Security.
In addition, each of the military services has begun its own post-9/11 collection of domestic intelligence, primarily aimed at gathering data on potential terrorist threats to bases and other military facilities at home and abroad. For example, Eagle Eyes is a program set up by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, which "enlists the eyes and ears of Air Force members and citizens in the war on terror," according to the program's Web site.
The Marine Corps has expanded its domestic intelligence operations and developed internal policies in 2004 to govern oversight of the "collection, retention and dissemination of information concerning U.S. persons," according to a Marine Corps order approved on April 30, 2004.
The order recognizes that in the post-9/11 era, the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity will be "increasingly required to perform domestic missions," and as a result, "there will be increased instances whereby Marine intelligence activities may come across information regarding U.S. persons." Among domestic targets listed are people in the United States who it "is reasonably believed threaten the physical security of Defense Department employees, installations, operations or official visitors."
Perhaps the prime illustration of the Pentagon's intelligence growth is CIFA, which remains one of its least publicized intelligence agencies. Neither the size of its staff, said to be more than 1,000, nor its budget is public, said Conway, the Pentagon spokesman. The CIFA brochure says the agency's mission is to "transform" the way counterintelligence is done "fully utilizing 21st century tools and resources."
One CIFA activity, threat assessments, involves using "leading edge information technologies and data harvesting," according to a February 2004 Pentagon budget document. This involves "exploiting commercial data" with the help of outside contractors including White Oak Technologies Inc. of Silver Spring, and MZM Inc., a Washington-based research organization, according to the Pentagon document.
For CIFA, counterintelligence involves not just collecting data but also "conducting activities to protect DoD and the nation against espionage, other intelligence activities, sabotage, assassinations, and terrorist activities," its brochure states.
CIFA's abilities would increase considerably under the proposal being reviewed by the White House, which was made by a presidential commission on intelligence chaired by retired appellate court judge Laurence H. Silberman and former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.). The commission urged that CIFA be given authority to carry out domestic criminal investigations and clandestine operations against potential threats inside the United States.
The Silberman-Robb panel found that because the separate military services concentrated on investigations within their areas, "no entity views non-service-specific and department-wide investigations as its primary responsibility." A 2003 Defense Department directive kept CIFA from engaging in law enforcement activities such as "the investigation, apprehension, or detention of individuals suspected or convicted of criminal offenses against the laws of the United States."
The commission's proposal would change that, giving CIFA "new counterespionage and law enforcement authorities," covering treason, espionage, foreign or terrorist sabotage, and even economic espionage. That step, the panel said, could be taken by presidential order and Pentagon directive without congressional approval.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the CIFA expansion "is being studied at the DoD [Defense Department] level," adding that intelligence director Negroponte would have a say in the matter. A Pentagon spokesman said, "The [CIFA] matter is before the Hill committees."
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a recent interview that CIFA has performed well in the past and today has no domestic intelligence collection activities. He was not aware of moves to enhance its authority.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has not had formal hearings on CIFA or other domestic intelligence programs, but its staff has been briefed on some of the steps the Pentagon has already taken. "If a member asks the chairman" -- Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) -- for hearings, "I am sure he would respond," said Bill Duhnke, the panel's staff director.
Friday, November 25, 2005
Jim Rogers, investment legend, talks to MoneyWeek about investing in commodities, the price of oil, the new Federal Reserve chairman - and the value of orange juice as a safe haven investment
Money Week Interviews Jim Rogers, "Investment Legend":
Harry Stourton: Let’s start with oil. You’ve been bullish on the price for some time, but now it has fallen from its peaks, what do you think will happen next?
Jim Rogers: Oil has fallen from $70 a barrel to $55. And I think it will go lower – it’s normal to have a correction in any kind of market. But this is a short-term thing. My view is that the next surprise is going to be how high the price of oil stays and how high it goes ultimately. There have been no big oil discoveries in the last 35 years and all the major oil fields are in decline. The UK has been one of the world’s great exporters for 25 years, but it is going to be importing oil within the decade. Malaysia will be importing oil within the decade; Indonesia is now importing oil and has been thrown out of Opec as a result. Mexican production is in decline; the oil fields in Alaska are in decline. Unless somebody finds a lot of accessible oil and finds it soon the price of oil is going to go much, much higher.
HS: What about Saudi? Doesn’t it have the capacity to increase production?
JR: In 1979, the last time Aramco (the Saudi state oil company) had its reserves independently audited, there were 245 billion barrels in reserve. We then didn’t hear from Saudi Arabia for a decade and in 1988 it announced it had 260 billion barrels of oil. Now, Saudi Arabia announces every time that it has 260 billion barrels of oil. It’s the goddamndest thing you ever saw – they’ve produced 63 million barrels of oil in the last 17 years, but their reserves never go up, never go down! Yet all the other fields in the world are in decline. I’m not a geologist, but I know something’s wrong.
HS: So oil companies should really be spending more on exploration?
JR: Yes. Exploring is expensive and they haven’t been doing enough of it because their budgets put the oil price at $28. Well, maybe oil is going to go to $28, but if it goes to $28, buy all that you can cause it ain’t gonna stay there very long! They should be raising their forecasts and hence the amount they spend on finding new oil. Instead, they’ve been spending money buying up other oil companies to increase their reserves, but that does not increase the world’s reserves. It’s great for the CEOs, but it doesn’t do much for the supply of oil in the world.
HS: Do you invest in oil exploration firms?
JR: Not really. Studies show that you make more money investing in commodities themselves than in the shares of companies that produce them. I own Woodside Petroleum, and in the commodities sector as a whole BHP and Rio Tinto, but I’ve owned these for a long time. I wouldn’t buy them now.
HS: What about refining companies?
JR: I don’t own any, but some of the refining firms are making a fortune. There have been no new refineries built in the US for 30 years.
HS: So do you think there is opportunity in the new energy technology sector?
JR: Oh yeah, it’s going to happen – no question, it’s going to happen. But someday, a long way away. Wind power is not all it’s cracked up to be – it’s not that easy. You’ve got to have the right wind and, even in the best places, wind is only effective, say, 40% of the time. Solar energy is not competitive at present prices – it only will be if oil goes to $150 a barrel. New energy firms will end up making money; that certainly will happen as the price of oil continues to go higher and as the availability of hydrocarbons declines. And that may be what brings the oil bull market to an end someday – perhaps in 2018, 2022, whenever this commodities bull market is going to end. Yeah, there’s certainly going to be effective alternative-energy sources, but you won’t be able to get them working competitively in the next decade, no matter how hard you try.
HS: Let’s move on to the metals. Copper is making all-time highs.
JR: Again, nobody is opening any major new copper mines. Phelps Dodge, which I think is the second-largest copper company in the world, says it is just going to continue to develop and maybe enlarge its present mines. Most copper companies have made that same decision; most base metals companies have made that decision. Like oil firms, the big mining concerns are just buying other mining companies to grow instead of spending money on new mines.
HS: So prices will keep going up. You’ve come out often as being bearish on the dollar. It has rallied a lot this year. What are your views on its prospects now?
JR: In 2003 and 2004, everyone was selling the US dollar. It was on the front page of The New York Times for about three days in December 2004. That kind of coverage is always a sure sign that whatever the subject is, it’s about to go the other way. That rally is continuing partly because US has given the multinational corporations these gigantic tax breaks to bring money back into the US this year, so that is what they are doing. I don’t know how much further the rally has to go, but I have a feeling that something may happen to cause the final spike. It could be that Bush is going to pull out of Iraq sooner than expected, or it could be bird flu decimating Europe, but not America. But whatever it is that causes the final spike, I urge you to sell. I am still extremely bearish on the US dollar fundamentally in the long term. I have not sold any dollars for a while, but I plan to sell a lot more when, and if, the final spike comes.
HS: In favour of which currencies?
JR: Maybe the Canadian dollar, the Singapore dollar, the New Zealand dollar. The yen has been very weak recently. I’m not thinking about it right now because the US dollar rally hasn’t finished yet.
HS: We are about to see a regime change at the federal reserve. Ben Bernanke will be taking over from Alan Greenspan. What does that mean for markets?
JR: Disaster. Bernanke will probably ensure the demise of the Federal Reserve. It won’t be completely his fault – Greenspan has laid the foundations – but the problem is that Bernanke doesn’t understand currency markets. He is the guy who said we control the printing presses and we will run them as fast as we have to. He’s the guy who says it doesn’t matter if the US has its biggest trade deficit ever. I’m not the only person who’s getting worried about it. The Iranians are going to start trading oil in non-US dollars next year and there are other people starting to try to figure out what in the hell to do about this situation. Bernanke does not understand that – on the contrary, he thinks there isn’t a problem. You know we’ve had two Central Banks in the US before, they both failed and this one looks like it’s going to fail too.
HS: The long-term issues with the dollar aside, how do you see things panning out for the US economy next year?
JR: The economy has been, and is, slowing and will continue to slow for a variety of reasons. We will probably have a recession next year, but whether it’s short and sweet or the beginning of the end, I don’t know.
HS: That won’t be good for commodity prices will it?
JR: Maybe, maybe not. In the 1970s we had some horrible recessions, hard times all over the world. The UK, despite being one of the five largest economies in the world at that time, went bankrupt. The IMF had to come in and bail it out. But we still had a very good bull market in commodities. That doesn’t mean the same thing will happen this time round, but on the other hand, agriculture commodities are priced so far below their all-time highs it’s hard to see them falling, and the Chinese are not going to suddenly stop eating if America has a recession. They are also not going to stop wanting and needing electricity, many hundreds of millions of Chinese don’t have electricity yet and they are going to get electricity whether the US is in recession or not.
HS: Are you concerned about the global real-estate bubble?
JR: I am certainly worried about the UK, Spain, Netherlands, Australia and some parts of the US. I am short home builders in the US, for example, but in the US there are many states where real estate has done virtually nothing. You can go to Akron, Ohio and they don’t know there’s a real-estate boom going on. On the East Coast and in Florida and California, yes, there has been a bubble, but it is slowing pretty quickly. It looks as if it may have peaked in July and prices are now going down in much of the US. But look back to Iowa or Oklahoma and it looks different. Prices haven’t moved yet, but they will. All those farmers and miners are all going to be making a lot of money in the next 15 years and so prices will go up. In parts of Canada, real estate will continue to rise. And probably the Middle East too. There’s a huge boom there, but in places like that where the next decade will be a prosperous one, real estate will do fine.
HS: You say prices are falling in many parts of the US. How serious a problem is that?
JR: It’s going to be one of the causes of next year’s recession. I know of a building in New York on Fifth Avenue across from the Metropolitan Museum where there are only 12 flats in the building and four of them are for sale and they are not moving. The price war hasn’t started in the building yet, but it will. Inventories are building up in many places and the sellers are starting to realise that it isn’t so easy to sell as it was. At the same time, buyers are thinking, “Hey, we don’t have to rush anymore.” So it’s started.
HS: What’s your current view on global stockmarkets?
JR: Europe has been doing better than the US, partly because a lot of people are afraid to put their money in the US and also because the ECB’s monetary policy is even looser than the Federal Reserve’s. But I suspect that if the US has problems next year, Europe will have problems too. Maybe not as bad as the US, but problems nonetheless. And if the oil price keeps moving down, say to $45 or $48 (this isn’t a prediction), then there’ll be less money coming out of the oil-producing states to shift into markets. Overall, I would rather own Japanese shares than US ones right now. And I would rather own European shares than US shares, too. Still, I’m not urging you to buy Japanese shares. I own Japanese shares and I am not selling a single one, but at the same time, I wouldn’t buy a single one right now.
HS: So you think Middle Eastern money has been supporting European markets?
JR: Some of it is going to Europe, which is another reason those markets have done better than those in the US. These days, if your name is Mohammed, even if you are a fourth-generation American who has never been to the Middle East and doesn’t know who the prophet was, you can very well suddenly find yourself having your assets being confiscated and being questioned by the police for no real reason at all. This keeps happening and so they are afraid to put their money in the US. It’s less likely to happen in Europe, it’s less likely to happen in Japan and so a lot of this money is going into Europe and Japan and Asia.
HS: And into Middle Eastern stockmarkets?
JR: Yes a lot of it has been going locally, in the Kuwait market, all the markets, andSaudi Arabia. Prices are going through the roof. Stockmarkets in the Middle East are in a wild bubble – there are local chemical companies in Saudi Arabia that are worth more than BP. This, as I say, is partly because many Middle Easterners are afraid to put their money in the US and some are even afraid to put it in Europe, and so all that money is staying home and going into stocks and property. As I said, some of the stocks are unbelievably overpriced. But, as in most bubbles, just because they’re unbelievably overpriced doesn’t mean they can’t get even more unbelievably overpriced, that’s what usually happens.
HS: You say you wouldn’t buy any Japanese stocks at all at the moment. Why is that?
JR: The Japanese market has doubled in two years. That doesn’t mean it can’t double in the next two years – it fell 85% more or less from its peak, so has come from a very low base, and even having doubled is still far, far below its all-time high. But the pace of its rise has started accelerating and anything that has doubled in two years and is starting to accelerate... well, it is not my ideal place to jump in.
HS: But you’re comfortable with the fundamentals in Japan?
JR: More comfortable than I am with those in the US and many other places. The Japanese have huge business interests in China and that makes it one of the best ways to play China. They also moved a lot of their manufacturing to southeast Asia to cut costs, so the profits of the Japanese companies are continuing to do well. Maybe the workers in Japan don’t like the fact that the factories are now in Indonesia or Vietnam, or somewhere, but as far as the Japanese companies are concerned, this kind of move enhances their profitability. They are also not as dependent on the US as they used to be. Thirty years ago, I think something like 45% of their trade was in the US, but that’s shifted. Now around 45% of Japan’s trade is with Asia. So there has been a dramatic change in the last 30 years.
HS: Are there other stockmarkets around the world that you think are interesting?
JR: Natural resource economies look good. Canada would be better than the US if you were going to invest in North America. Brazil will do a lot better in the next 15 years than it has in the past quarter of a century. Even Argentina will do better. Peru, Chile – these are natural resource-based economies that are reasonably well managed. I’m not suggesting that Argentina is well managed, I’m just saying that it is better managed than places such as The Congo, for instance, and it’s better managed than it has been in the past.
HS: Have you invested in Latin America yourself?
JR: I do have some investments in Latin America. It’s going to be a whole lot better than it has been in the past because they are natural-resource-based economies and that’s where the money is. So if you have the time and energy to look abroad, it’s likely you’ll do better with most South American markets than elsewhere. They are going to do a whole lot better in the next 15 years than in the past 15.
HS: I know you’re particularly keen on soft commodities, but they are not moving much yet are they?
JR: If I could only buy one sector in November of 2005 – be it metals, energy or agriculture – it would be agriculture. Sugar has done extremely well, but it is still 80% below its all-time high. Coffee has done pretty well, but it’s still 70%-75% below its all-time high.These commodities still have enormous potential.
HS: So what are your favourite commodities right now?
JR: If I tell you my favourite commodities, you’d better sell them. I am just not good at timing. But if you looked at, say, coffee, or cotton, or soya beans, or maize, you might find some opportunities.
HS: What about China itself? We know it’s driving the price rises in a lot of these commodity markets, but what about investing in China?
JR: When I say I’m bullish on China, which I am, I’m talking about being bullish on it as a nation, as an economy, but not necessarily as a market. I’m still not buying Chinese shares. I had thought there would be a correction in China and that, as a result, there would be better opportunities to buy Chinese shares, but it hasn’t happened. I own Chinese shares, but I bought them in 1999.
HS: Are you still concerned there may be a correction or crash of any kind coming in China?
JR: I expect a correction in real estate – I would have thought it would have happened by now, but it hasn’t. Or not dramatically anyway. They tell me it is happening slowly though. As it goes on, I would expect a lot of speculators in real estate to get wiped out – maybe in the next few weeks or months. I thought they would have been wiped out already. But this kind of thing will make no difference to the wider growth story. If you’re in agriculture, or if you’re in coal mining, electricity – you are having one of the greatest booms of your life and it’s going to last for another 15 years. You know, in some parts of the Chinese economy they won’t have a clue that a bunch of real-estate speculators got wiped out in Shanghai or someplace.
If real-estate speculation collapses and a lot of people get wiped out, it will have some ripple effects, but the guy out there building electricity plants won’t even know what’s happening because he’s too busy and he’s making too much money. It’s the same for the farmers – agriculture in China is just booming. Many parts of the Chinese economy are going to continue to grow over many years to come, regardless.
HS: What about India?
JR: As a nation, China still has a much better future than India. I own a few shares in India Hotels because of the tourism, but I’ve owned these for a long, long time. No, I wouldn’t buy any Indian shares right now.
HS: And Russia?
JR: It’s a disaster spiralling down into a catastrophe. It’s run up, because of oil and commodities, just as Saudi Arabia’s run up, but I’m as pessimistic about the future of Russia as I am about the future of Saudi Arabia. Russia continues to disintegrate. All the ex-Soviet Union states continue to disintegrate. Ukraine may be the next to split into two or three pieces – they are all going to split up.
HS: Now that they have joined the EU, do you invest in eastern European countries?
JR: No. They don’t have much to sell to the rest of the world.
HS: You have said that you are thinking of moving to China. Do you mean it?
JR: We spent several weeks this summer in Shanghai and Singapore just seeing how we felt. I think it is more likely we would move to Singapore, at least at first, because Singapore is easier to move to than Shanghai. We have more or less decided to move to Singapore, it’s just a question of winding down in the US and gearing up in Singapore. Asia is extremely exciting. It’s like moving to London in 1805, or New York in 1905. The future is Asia.
HS: Thanks for talking to us.
Jim Rogers on gold: orange juice is better
HS: You’ve never been a great gold bug have you?
JR: No. I own some gold, but I think you will make more money in other commodities – like sugar – than in gold.
HS: But there is an increasing supply deficit isn’t there?
JR: Not as much as in some other commodities. One of the reasons that I’m not as bullish on gold as I am on other things is that the amount of gold being mined kept going up, even during the bear market. Seventy-five per cent of the money spent looking for metals is spent looking for gold. Nobody is out there looking for zinc, nobody wants to find nickel or tin – they’re all out there looking for gold. And don’t forget the mutual funds and the central banks have gigantic amounts of gold that they want to sell – I don’t know if they’re right or wrong to want to do so – it doesn’t matter what I think. But they do want to sell, so supply and demand is not nearly as good for gold as it is for other things.
HS: But if the dollar declines sharply, won’t demand for gold as a safe haven rise?
JR: Sure, but then again, all commodities are safe havens right now. Orange juice is a better safe haven, coffee is a better safe haven. If the world looks like it is about to come to an end, people will grab for gold and it will sky rocket, but they will also grab for wheat and maize and a lot of other stuff if the world is about to come to an end, because we desperately need to eat. Certainly, the Chinese are getting more prosperous and want more gold, but they also want more sugar right now – they want more everything. I own gold. I’m not bearish, I just don’t think you are going to make as much money there as in other things.
HS: What about silver?
JR: I own some silver too, but again, it isn’t a favourite. Due to technology, the demand from photography is changing quickly and there are still inventories of silver around the world – nothing like as much as there is of gold, but there are a lot more inventories of silver around the world than there are zinc or lead, and that will continue to be the case.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
The Nation reports:
The mid-November revelation in the Washington Post that as early as February 2001 senior executives of at least four of the country's biggest oil companies met with aides to Vice President Cheney has reopened the debate over Big Oil's influence on the Bush Administration's energy policy. The immediate controversy concerns whether executives of ExxonMobil, Conoco, Shell and BP America misled the Senate Energy and Commerce committees when they denied knowledge of the meetings in testimony on November 9. The leaked documents confirm that these meetings in fact took place, but because Republican chair Ted Stevens declined to oblige the executives to testify under oath--which committee Democrats strongly protested at the time--they cannot be charged with perjury. (They could, however, be charged with making false or fraudulent statements to Congress.)
The executives' evasive answers have renewed questions about the functioning of the secretive White House Energy Task Force, especially its unwillingness to draft policies that transcend the interests of Big Oil. The focus on industry profits and prevarication, although it's important, misses a much more important reason for the Bush Administration's desperate attempts to keep documents related to the task force secret. In a word: Iraq.
Wednesday, November 2, 2005
Bush may be besieged by charges of cronyism, but they don’t seem to have affected his picks for a panel assessing intelligence matters.
Controversy continues to rage over spying failures and the mishandling of intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Last week it was the indictments in the CIA leak case. This week, it was the extraordinary secret session of the Senate, when Democrats pushed for a new round of inquiries into the misuse of intelligence on Saddam’s regime. So it’s all the more remarkable to see how the White House has just filled a committee overseeing intelligence issues.
President Bush last week appointed nine campaign contributors, including three longtime fund-raisers, to his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a 16-member panel of individuals from the private sector who advise the president on the quality and effectiveness of U.S. intelligence efforts. After watching the fate of Michael Brown as head of FEMA and Harriet Miers as Supreme Court nominee, you might think the president would be wary about the appearance of cronyism—especially with a critical national-security issue such as intelligence. Instead, Bush reappointed William DeWitt, an Ohio businessman who has raised more than $300,000 for the president’s campaigns, for a third two-year term on the panel. Originally appointed in 2001, just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, DeWitt, who was also a top fund-raiser for Bush’s 2004 Inaugural committee, was a partner with Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team.
Other appointees included former Commerce secretary Don Evans, a longtime Bush friend; Texas oilman Ray Hunt; Netscape founder Jim Barksdale, and former congressman and 9/11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton. Like DeWitt, Evans and Hunt have also been longtime Bush fund-raisers, raising more than $100,000 apiece for the president’s campaigns. Barksdale and five other appointees—incoming chairman Stephen Friedman, former Reagan adviser Arthur Culvahouse, retired admiral David Jeremiah, Martin Faga and John L. Morrison—were contributors to the president’s 2004 re-election effort. Friedman also served a year on the intelligence board under President Bill Clinton, who appointed chairmen with very different profiles from Bush's Pioneers: former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. William Crowe, former Defense secretary Les Aspin, former House speaker Tom Foley and former GOP senator Warren Rudman. (Clinton did also appoint two donors who gave $100,000 apiece to the Democratic National Committee: New York investment banker Stan Shuman and Texas real estate magnate Richard Bloch.)
According to the White House, the intelligence advisory board offers the president “objective, expert advice” on the conduct of foreign intelligence, as well as any deficiencies in its collection, analysis and reporting. Created during the Eisenhower administration, the board has played a role in determining the structure of the intelligence community. Indeed, its members have been considered important presidential advisers, receiving the highest level security clearance and issuing classified reports and advice to the president.
Yet, as with many federal panels, membership on the board has also been doled out to top campaign contributors and supporters of the president—a move the White House defends since panelists are not required to have significant intelligence experience.
Friedman, a former top economic adviser to Bush during his first term, replaced Jim Langdon, a Washington lobbyist and Bush Pioneer who had been board chairman since February. Langdon himself replaced Brent Scowcroft, a close adviser to Bush’s father who was not reappointed to the panel after he publicly criticized Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq.
Last summer, Langdon became embroiled in ethical questions after The Washington Post reported that he had helped Akin Gump, the law firm where he works as an energy lobbyist, secure a contract with a Chinese firm seeking to buy Unocal, the California energy company. It’s unclear if Langdon resigned or was simply replaced. A board spokeswoman declined comment, and calls to Langdon’s office were not returned. Last week, Bush named 12 members to the panel, leaving four slots on the committee unfilled. Carol Blair, an administrative officer at the board, tells NEWSWEEK that the positions may remain empty. “The size and scope of the board is really up to the president,” she said. “We don’t know what will happen.”
UPDATE - Editor's Note: In this article, we referred to Jim Langdon as an energy lobbyist who had been chairman of the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Prior to publication we tried to contact Langdon without success about his departure from the board. Langdon says he in fact works as an energy lawyer who specializes in business transactions and does not lobby governments. He also says he resigned from the board of his own accord, and was not replaced. He says he resigned after public criticism of his role as a lawyer for CNOOC, a Chinese company seeking to buy Unocal, the California energy company.
Monday, October 31, 2005
For the New Yorker, Jeffrey Goldberg writes:
At eight o’clock on the morning of Augus 2, 1990, President George H. W. Bus assembled his National Security Council in th Cabinet Room of the White House. Thirtee hours earlier, Saddam Hussein had sent his Arm into Kuwait, and the Administration wa searching for a response. Brent Scowcroft, th President’s national-security adviser, has a unhappy memory of that first meeting. The tone he says, was defeatist: “Much of the conversation in those early moments concerned the stability o the oil market. There was an air of resignatio about the invasion.
Shortly before the National Security Council meeting began, General Colin Powell, who was then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told General Norman Schwarzkopf, “I think we’d go to war over Saudi Arabia, but I doubt we’d go to war over Kuwait.” For the moment, at least, Powell’s assessment reflected the President’s mood. Minutes before the meeting, Bush had told reporters that he was not contemplating an armed response. Scowcroft had been listening to the President as he spoke to the press, and the comment immediately struck him as unwise. “Right at the beginning, I believed that it”—the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait—“was intolerable to the interests of the U.S.,” he told me recently.
At the time, Scowcroft, a retired Air Force general, was notably hawkish on the Iraq question, more so than the Secretary of State, James A. Baker III, and perhaps even more so than Dick Cheney, who was Bush’s Secretary of Defense. Scowcroft believed that if Saddam’s aggression was left unanswered it would undermine the international rule of law; it would also, he thought, compromise America’s standing in the world at a moment—the end of the Cold War—that was otherwise filled with promise.
Scowcroft is a protégé of Henry Kissinger—he was his deputy when Kissinger was Richard Nixon’s national-security adviser. Like Kissinger, he is a purveyor of a “realist” approach to foreign policy: the idea that America should be guided by strategic self-interest, and that moral considerations are secondary at best. But Bush and Scowcroft also spoke expansively about the possibilities for America in the Cold War world, about a New World Order built on benign but resolute American leadership and multilateral coöperation. The United States, Bush said in “A World Transformed,” a book that he later co-wrote with Scowcroft, had a “disproportionate responsibility” to use its power “in pursuit of a common good.” Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was a direct challenge to Bush’s understanding of America’s role in the world.
There were initial doubts among some of Bush’s advisers. Colin Powell, like many military men shaped by the experience of the Vietnam War, was disinclined to send American troops into battle, and he cautioned the National Security Council against imprudent action. “My first questions had to do with defending Saudi Arabia, and the importance of having a clear political understanding first of what we were doing,” Powell told me recently. “Brent immediately saw that the invasion had to be reversed. He was a little further forward on the need to do something.”
Scowcroft argued unyieldingly for intervention, and his view prevailed. Within days, Bush announced, “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait”—a burst of fortitude that commentators later attributed to a comment from Margaret Thatcher (“Don’t go all wobbly on us, George,” she reportedly told him). Scowcroft, whose modesty may be pronounced to the point of ostentation, loyally insists that the President arrived at his decision alone, but several of Scowcroft’s former colleagues said that it was Scowcroft’s firmness, along with Thatcher’s prodding, that strengthened Bush’s resolve to confront Saddam. Scowcroft is “not a blowhard,” the senior Bush told me in a recent e-mail. “He has a great propensity for friendship. By that I mean someone I can depend on to tell me what I need to know and not just what I want to hear, and at the same time he is someone on whom I know I always can rely and trust implicitly.”
In the six months leading to the war, Scowcroft became indispensable to Bush, subjecting war planners to sharp questioning, and debating those opposed to intervention. It is easy to forget, given the war’s stunning speed and its low casualty count on the U.S. side (a hundred and forty-eight American soldiers lost their lives in the fighting), that there was a great deal of domestic opposition to Bush’s plan, particularly among congressional Democrats.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sam Nunn, of Georgia, led the opposition. He conducted hearings in which many of the country’s most widely respected military and foreign-policy experts prophesied cataclysm: American casualties would be in the thousands, they said, in a war that was unnecessary. Sanctions, it was argued, would be sufficient to drive Saddam out of Kuwait. Some of Bush’s aides came to refer to Nunn as “Neville.”
Bush did not let domestic opposition, or the views of Mikhail Gorbachev, who sought a negotiated solution, stand in the way of what he came to see as a moral cause of surpassing importance. On December 31, 1990, he wrote a letter to his five children: “How many lives might have been saved if appeasement had given way to force earlier in the late 30s or earliest 40s?” it read. “How many Jews might have been spared the gas chambers, or how many Polish patriots might be alive today? I look at today’s crisis as ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’—yes, it is that clear.” Scowcroft never engaged in this sort of rhetoric. A line had been crossed, and Iraq needed to be punished; he did not invoke the spectre of Hitler to make his point.
The war began on January 16, 1991. An air campaign that lasted five weeks greatly weakened Iraq’s military capabilities. On February 24th, General Schwarzkopf, the commander of American and allied forces, unleashed a ground attack that quickly turned into a rout; the Iraqi Army collapsed, and its soldiers fled Kuwait on foot. The road to Baghdad was clear, but, on Bush’s instruction, the Americans did not take it. Although Bush had publicly compared Saddam to Hitler, the goal was never to liberate Iraq from his rule. “Our military didn’t want any part of occupying that big Arab country, and the only way to get Saddam was to go all the way to Baghdad,” James Baker told me recently.
Afterward, Bush was criticized for the decision to end the ground war at its hundredth hour. Even some officials of the Administration were unhappy at what they saw as a premature end to the fighting. In “Rise of the Vulcans,” James Mann recounts that Paul Wolfowitz and I. Lewis Libby, who were then aides to Cheney, believed that a coup d’état might have occurred had the Bush Administration waited to announce that the war was over.
At the time, though, no one close to Bush expressed doubts about the ending of the war, much less about its strategic goal. “For a bunch of years, a lot of people who should know better have said that we had an alternative,” Powell told me. “We didn’t. The simple reason is we were operating under a U.N. mandate that did not provide for any such thing. We put together a strong coalition of Gulf states, and Egypt and Syria, and they signed up for a very specific issue—expelling Iraq from Kuwait. Nor did President Bush ever consider it.”
A principal reason that the Bush Administration gave no thought to unseating Saddam was that Brent Scowcroft gave no thought to it. An American occupation of Iraq would be politically and militarily untenable, Scowcroft told Bush. And though the President had employed the rhetoric of moral necessity to make the case for war, Scowcroft said, he would not let his feelings about good and evil dictate the advice he gave the President.
It would have been no problem for America’s military to reach Baghdad, he said. The problems would have arisen when the Army entered the Iraqi capital. “At the minimum, we’d be an occupier in a hostile land,” he said. “Our forces would be sniped at by guerrillas, and, once we were there, how would we get out? What would be the rationale for leaving? I don’t like the term ‘exit strategy’—but what do you do with Iraq once you own it?”
Scowcroft stopped for a moment. We were sitting in the offices of the Scowcroft Group, a consulting firm he heads, in downtown Washington. He appeared to be weighing the consequences of speaking his mind. His speech is generally calibrated not to give offense, especially to the senior Bush and the Bush family. He is eighty and, by most accounts, has been content to cede visibility to the larger personalities with whom he has worked. James Baker told me that he and Scowcroft got along well in part because Scowcroft let Baker speak for the Administration. I learned from people who know Scowcroft that he finds it painful to be seen as critical of his best friend’s son, but in the course of several interviews prudence several times gave way to impatience. “This is exactly where we are now,” he said of Iraq, with no apparent satisfaction. “We own it. And we can’t let go. We’re getting sniped at. Now, will we win? I think there’s a fair chance we’ll win. But look at the cost.”
The first Gulf War was a success, Scowcroft said, because the President knew better than to set unachievable goals. “I’m not a pacifist,” he said. “I believe in the use of force. But there has to be a good reason for using force. And you have to know when to stop using force.”
Scowcroft does not believe that the promotion of American-style democracy abroad is a sufficiently good reason to use force. “I thought we ought to make it our duty to help make the world friendlier for the growth of liberal regimes,” he said. “You encourage democracy over time, with assistance, and aid, the traditional way. Not how the neocons do it.”
The neoconservatives—the Republicans who argued most fervently for the second Gulf war—believe in the export of democracy, by violence if that is required, Scowcroft said. “How do the neocons bring democracy to Iraq? You invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize.” And now, Scowcroft said, America is suffering from the consequences of that brand of revolutionary utopianism. “This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism,” he said.
Scowcroft was Richard Nixon’s military assistant in the last years of the Vietnam War, and he says, “Vietnam was visceral in the American people. That was a really bitter period, and it turned us against foreign-policy adventures deeply, and it was not until the Gulf War that we were able to come out of that. This is not that deep.” But, he said, “we’re moving in that direction.”
In August of 2002, seven months before George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, Scowcroft upset the White House with an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. The headline read, “don’t attack saddam.” Scowcroft would have preferred something more nuanced, he told me, but the words accurately reflected his message. In the article, he argued that an invasion of Iraq would deflect American attention from the war on terrorism, and that it would do nothing to solve the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, which he has long believed is the primary source of unhappiness in the Middle East. Unlike the current Bush Administration, which is unambiguously pro-Israel, Scowcroft, James Baker, and others associated with the elder George Bush believe that Israel’s settlement policies arouse Arab anger, and that American foreign policy should reflect the fact that there are far more Arabs than Israelis in the world. “The obsession of the region . . . is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Scowcroft wrote in the Journal.
"If we were seen to be turning our back on that bitter conflict—which the region, rightly or wrongly, perceives to be clearly within our power to resolve—in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us.” Scowcroft went on to say that the United States was capable of defeating Saddam’s military. “But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive—with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy—and could as well be bloody. In fact, Saddam would be likely to conclude he had nothing left to lose, leading him to unleash whatever weapons of mass destruction he possesses.”Like nearly everyone else in Washington, Scowcroft believed that Saddam maintained stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, but he wrote that a strong inspections program would have kept him at bay. “There may have come a time when we would have needed to take Saddam out,” he told me. “But he wasn’t really a threat. His Army was weak, and the country hadn’t recovered from sanctions.”
Scowcroft’s colleagues told me that he would have preferred to deliver his analysis privately to the White House. But Scowcroft, the apotheosis of a Washington insider, was by then definitively on the outside, and there was no one in the White House who would listen to him. On the face of it, this is remarkable: Scowcroft’s best friend’s son is the President; his friend Dick Cheney is the Vice-President; Condoleezza Rice, who was the national-security adviser, and is now the Secretary of State, was once a Scowcroft protégée; and the current national-security adviser, Stephen Hadley, is another protégé and a former principal at the Scowcroft Group.
According to friends, Scowcroft was consulted more frequently by the Clinton White House than he has been by George W. Bush’s. Clinton’s national-security adviser, Samuel Berger, told me that he valued Scowcroft’s opinions: “He knows a great deal, and I always found it useful to speak to him.” Arnold Kanter, a former Under-Secretary of State in the first Bush Administration and now a principal in the Scowcroft Group, was the one who suggested that Scowcroft set down his thoughts on Iraq. “If Brent had an ongoing dialogue and ready access and felt his views were being heard, he might not have written the op-ed,” Kanter told me. “I hadn’t heard anyone put Iraq in the strategic perspective that included the Middle East peace process and terrorism, and I thought it was important to hear.”
By publicly critiquing the Administration’s strategic priorities, Scowcroft knew that he risked offending the White House, but clearly he was offended by its posture before the war. “All the neocons were saying, ‘Finish the job,’ ” he said. “In fact, the President said that. He said it before he launched the war.” Scowcroft fell silent. I asked him if he was bothered by those statements. He stayed silent, but he nodded.
Scowcroft suggested that the White House was taking the wrong advice, and listening to a severely limited circle. He singled out the Princeton Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, who was consulted by Vice-President Cheney and others after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Lewis, Scowcroft said, fed a feeling in the White House that the United States must assert itself. “It’s that idea that we’ve got to hit somebody hard,” Scowcroft said. “And Bernard Lewis says, ‘I believe that one of the things you’ve got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes with a big stick. They respect power.’ ” Cheney, in particular, Scowcroft thinks, accepted Lewis’s view of Middle East politics. “The real anomaly in the Administration is Cheney,” Scowcroft said. “I consider Cheney a good friend—I’ve known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore.”
He went on, “I don’t think Dick Cheney is a neocon, but allied to the core of neocons is that bunch who thought we made a mistake in the first Gulf War, that we should have finished the job. There was another bunch who were traumatized by 9/11, and who thought, ‘The world’s going to hell and we’ve got to show we’re not going to take this, and we’ve got to respond, and Afghanistan is O.K., but it’s not sufficient.’ ” Scowcroft supported the invasion of Afghanistan as a “direct response” to terrorism.
Colin Powell told me that he was not offended by Scowcroft’s public doubts. “The concern is cost—what are we getting ourselves into? That is not an unprincipled concern.” But the White House—in particular Rice—saw Scowcroft’s op-ed as a betrayal, and as a political problem: Scowcroft has a commanding voice on national-security matters. But there was another, more personal dimension. “What makes it even more awkward is the suspicion that he’s speaking not just for himself” but for the elder Bush as well, Robert Gates, who was Scowcroft’s deputy at the National Security Council, said.
The distancing of Brent Scowcroft dates nearly to the beginning of the second Bush Administration. Scowcroft was appointed chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in the first term, but he was not consulted on plans for Iraq. “He’s not the only person to be frozen out,” one colleague of Scowcroft’s from the first Bush Administration told me—a clear reference to James Baker and a number of other officials. “The only thing that is unusual is that Scowcroft was treated like everyone else.” His appointment to the advisory board was not renewed at the end of 2004.
A common criticism of the Administration of George W. Bush is that it ignores ideas that conflict with its aims. “We always made sure the President was hearing all the possibilities,” John Sununu, who served as chief of staff to George H. W. Bush, said. “That’s one of the differences between the first Bush Administration and this Bush Administration.” I asked Colin Powell if he thought, in retrospect, that the Administration should have paid attention to Scowcroft’s arguments about Iraq. Powell, who is widely believed to have been far less influential in policymaking than either Cheney or the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, said, pointedly, “I always listen to him. He’s a very analytic and thoughtful individual, he’s powerful in argument, and I’ve never worked with a better friend and colleague.” When, in an e-mail, I asked George H. W. Bush about Scowcroft’s most useful qualities as a national-security adviser, he replied that Scowcroft “was very good about making sure that we did not simply consider the ‘best case,’ but instead considered what it would mean if things went our way, and also if they did not.”
The friendship between Scowcroft and the first President Bush extends back more than thirty years; the two became close during the Ford Administration, when Scowcroft replaced Kissinger as national-security adviser and George H. W. Bush was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Their relationship, built on a shared view of the world, a clubby camaraderie, and genuine affection, was exceptionally strong. During his term, Bush established the “Scowcroft Award,” for the senior official who fell asleep most ostentatiously during meetings. Scowcroft “earned the award the old-fashioned way,” Bush wrote me. “He slept and slept in trying situations.”
One reason that Scowcroft was so effective as national-security adviser was that the entire Cabinet knew that hearing from him was akin to hearing from the President. David Rothkopf, the author of “Running the World,” a history of the National Security Council, said that Scowcroft mastered the bureaucracy while maintaining his position as perhaps the President’s closest adviser. He was “a true partner of the President,” Rothkopf said. “They knew each other extremely well, and were able to communicate at the level of equals, even if the President’s primacy was never in doubt.”
Even today, Scowcroft, who lives in Bethesda, Maryland, spends many weekends at a condominium he keeps in Kennebunkport, near the Bush family compound. According to friends of the elder Bush, the estrangement of his son and his best friend has been an abiding source of unhappiness, not only for Bush but for Barbara Bush as well. George Bush, the forty-first President, has tried several times to arrange meetings between his son, “Forty-three,” and his former national-security adviser—to no avail, according to people with knowledge of these intertwined relationships. “There have been occasions when Forty-one has engineered meetings in which Forty-three and Scowcroft are in the same place at the same time, but they were social settings that weren’t conducive to talking about substantive issues,” a Scowcroft confidant said.
Scowcroft would not talk to me about the father’s attempts at reconciliation, but he said that he hoped for a better relationship with the son. “Am I happy at not being closer to the White House? No. I would prefer to be closer. I like George Bush personally, and he is the son of a man I’m just crazy about.”
When I asked Scowcroft if the son was different from the father, he said, “I don’t want to go there,” but his dissatisfaction with the son’s agenda could not have been clearer. When I asked him to name issues on which he agrees with the younger Bush, he said, “Afghanistan.” He paused for twelve seconds. Finally, he said, “I think we’re doing well on Europe,” and left it at that.
The disintegrating relationship between Scowcroft and Condoleezza Rice has not escaped the notice of their colleagues from the first Bush Administration. She was a political-science professor at Stanford when, in 1989, Scowcroft hired her to serve as a Soviet expert on the National Security Council. Scowcroft found her bright—“brighter than I was”—and personable, and he brought her all the way inside, to the Bush family circle. When Scowcroft published his Wall Street Journal article, Rice telephoned him, according to several people with knowledge of the call. “She said, ‘How could you do this to us?’ ” a Scowcroft friend recalled. “What bothered Brent more than Condi yelling at him was the fact that here she is, the national-security adviser, and she’s not interested in hearing what a former national-security adviser had to say.”
The two worked closely in the first Bush Administration, although Rice tended to take a tougher line than Scowcroft on Soviet issues. Robert Gates, then Scowcroft’s deputy and Rice’s boss, recalled how he and Rice would argue with Scowcroft in 1990 and 1991, during the period when Boris Yeltsin, as the elected leader of the Russian republic, became a rival to the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. “Condi and I felt very strongly about reaching beyond Gorbachev,” he said. “Brent and Baker believed you could only deal with one President of the Soviet Union at a time.”
Rice’s conversion to the world view of George W. Bush is still a mystery, however. Privately, many of her ex-colleagues from the first President Bush’s National Security Council say that it is rooted in her Christian faith, which leads her to see the world in moralistic terms, much as the President does. Although she was tutored by a national-security adviser, Scowcroft, who thought it intemperate of Ronald Reagan to call the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” she now works comfortably for a President who speaks in terms of “evildoers” and the “axis of evil.”
Rice’s split with her former National Security Council colleagues was made evident at a dinner in early September of 2002, at 1789, a Georgetown restaurant. Scowcroft, Rice, and several people from the first Bush Administration were there. The conversation, turning to the current Administration’s impending plans for Iraq, became heated. Finally, Rice said, irritably, “The world is a messy place, and someone has to clean it up.” The remark stunned the other guests. Scowcroft, as he later told friends, was flummoxed by Rice’s “evangelical tone.”
Scowcroft told me that he still has a high regard for Rice. He did note, however, that her “expertise is in the former Soviet Union and Europe. Less on the Middle East.” Rice, through a spokesman, said, “Sure, we’ve had some differences, and that’s understandable. But he’s a good friend and is going to stay a good friend.”
Yet the two do not see each other much anymore. According to friends of Scowcroft, Rice has asked him to call her to set up a dinner, but he has not, apparently, pursued the invitation. The last time the two had dinner, nearly two years ago, it ended unhappily, Scowcroft acknowledged. “We were having dinner just when Sharon said he was going to pull out of Gaza,” at the end of 2003. “She said, ‘At least there’s some good news,’ and I said, ‘That’s terrible news.’ She said, ‘What do you mean?’ And I said that for Sharon this is not the first move, this is the last move. He’s getting out of Gaza because he can’t sustain eight thousand settlers with half his Army protecting them. Then, when he’s out, he will have an Israel that he can control and a Palestinian state atomized enough that it can’t be a problem.” Scowcroft added, “We had a terrible fight on that.”
They also argued about Iraq. “She says we’re going to democratize Iraq, and I said, ‘Condi, you’re not going to democratize Iraq,’ and she said, ‘You know, you’re just stuck in the old days,’ and she comes back to this thing that we’ve tolerated an autocratic Middle East for fifty years and so on and so forth,” he said. Then a barely perceptible note of satisfaction entered his voice, and he said, “But we’ve had fifty years of peace.”
For most of the past hundred years, American foreign policy has oscillate between two opposing impulses: to make the world more like America, o to deal with it as it is. Those who object to what they call “interference” in th affairs of others—today’s realists—often cite the words of John Quincy Adams who in 1821 said that America stands with those who seek freedom an independence, “but she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” B contrast, Woodrow Wilson, the unbounded moralist, said, in seeking declaration of war against Germany in 1917, that “the world must be made saf for democracy.” Wilson told Congress, “We are but one of the champions of th rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made a secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.
At different times, the isolationist impulse, which would have America withdraw entirely from the affairs of the world, has been felt strongly in Washington—for instance, in the America First movement before the Second World War. Today, few in the Republican Party, or even among liberal Democrats, believe that America has no military role to play in any hemisphere other than its own.
The desire to undermine or overthrow brutal regimes—to transform them into democracies—is irresistible for many Americans. The realists argue that these global Wilsonians have an unacceptably high tolerance for the kind of instability that the export of democracy can bring. “The United States . . . must temper its missionary spirit with a concept of the national interest and rely on its head as well as its heart in defining its duty to the world,” Henry Kissinger wrote in the third volume of his memoirs. By contrast, the current President, in his second inaugural address, set for America a breathtakingly large mission. “It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world,” Bush said.
For Brent Scowcroft, the rhetoric is not matched by reality. “I believe that you cannot with one sweep of the hand or the mind cast off thousands of years of history,” he says. “This notion that inside every human being is the burning desire for freedom and liberty, much less democracy, is probably not the case. I don’t think anyone knows what burns inside others. Food, shelter, security, stability. Have you read Erich Fromm, ‘Escape from Freedom’? I don’t agree with him, but some people don’t really want to be free.”
Scowcroft is unmoved by the stirrings of democracy movements in the Middle East. He does not believe, for instance, that the signs of a democratic awakening in Lebanon are related to the Iraq war. He sees the recent evacuation of the Syrian Army from Lebanon not as a victory for self-government but as a foreshadowing of civil war. “I think it’s something we have to worry about—the sectarian emotions that were there when the Syrians went in aren’t gone.”
Scowcroft and those who share his views believe that the reality of life in Iraq at the moment is undermining the neoconservative agenda. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as Colin Powell’s chief policy planner during the first Bush Administration (and who was Scowcroft’s Middle East expert on the National Security Council during the first Gulf War) said that the days of armed idealism are over. “We’ve seen the ideological high-water mark,” he said. “I mean wars of choice, and unilateralism, and by that I mean an emphasis, almost to the point of exclusion of everything else, on regime change as opposed to diplomacy aimed at policy change.”
William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, has been a determined advocate of the Iraq war and an equally persistent critic of foreign-policy realism. “I think it’s a pseudo-springtime for realism,” Kristol said. “When things go bad, realists look good, until things look really bad. Have the mistakes of the last century been ones of too much intervention or not enough? Was it good that we waited to be attacked on December 7, 1941? I would say the same about the Balkans and about terrorism.” When I mentioned Scowcroft’s assertion that Middle East stability brought America fifty years of peace, Kristol laughed, and asked, “Are we really going to go into the twenty-first century trying to prop up the House of Saud? Is that the goal of American foreign policy? Is that reasonable or realistic?” Kristol noted that fifteen of the nineteen hijackers of September 11, 2001, were citizens of Saudi Arabia, whose government is autocratic and pro-American; the leader of the hijacking cell, Mohamed Atta, was an Egyptian, whose government each year receives roughly two billion dollars in American aid.
The President’s foreign policy, which the political scientist John Mearsheimer calls “Wilsonianism with teeth,” is a rejection of his father’s approach. It is certainly a rejection of Scowcroft’s sentiment-free pragmatism. “I’ve been accused of tolerating autocracies in the Middle East, and there’s some validity in that,” Scowcroft said. “It’s easy in the name of stability to be comfortable with the status quo.”
The status quo has been good for Scowcroft’s livelihood, as it has been for Henry Kissinger’s; Scowcroft, along with Lawrence Eagleburger, a former Secretary of State, was a founder of Kissinger Associates, which placed in the service of multinational companies the expertise and contacts of its principals. The Scowcroft Group today has a client list of roughly thirty large corporations, many of which pay a six-figure annual retainer. Scowcroft said that he does no business in Saudi Arabia, but has strong friendships there, as he has in Beijing and Ankara and other capitals that benefitted from good relations with the first Bush Administration. Scowcroft became prickly when I asked him if he works as a “door-opener” for American businesses in these capitals. “We give strategic advice,” he said. “No one should come to us with that expectation.”
The status quo, Scowcroft said, is not necessarily a good thing, but it might be better than what follows. “My kind of realism would look at what are the most likely consequences of pushing out a government. What will replace it?” What will replace autocratic but stable governments, neoconservative thinkers say, is whatever the people of the Middle East decide will replace them. Robert Kagan, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a Kristol ally, has written critically of the Bush Administration’s incomplete adherence to its own anti-tyranny doctrine. Referring to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Kagan wrote, “Perhaps there is concern that too much pressure on Mubarak might produce a victory by the Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular Egyptian opposition party, which has been outlawed by the government. That’s a risk, of course, but if the Bush Administration isn’t willing to let Islamists, even radical Islamists, win votes in a fair election, then Bush officials should stop talking so much about democracy and go back to supporting the old dictatorships.”
Scowcroft believes that the Administration has already gone too far in Kagan’s direction. “Let’s suppose Mubarak disappears and we have an election,” he said. “The good guys are not going to win that election. The bad guys are going to win that election. The bad guys are always better organized. Always. The most ruthless, the tough ones, are the ones who are going to rise to the top in a chaotic society. That’s my fear.”
The Bush Administration does not, as a rule, concede that democratization in the Middle East could lead to a series of Islamist states. One day, I mentioned to Scowcroft an interview I had had with Paul Wolfowitz, when he was Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy. Wolfowitz was the leading neoconservative thinker in the senior ranks of the current Bush Administration. (He is now the president of the World Bank.) I asked him what he would think if previously autocratic Arab countries held free elections and then proceeded to vote Islamists into power. Wolfowitz answered, “Look, fifty per cent of the Arab world are women. Most of those women do not want to live in a theocratic state. The other fifty per cent are men. I know a lot of them. I don’t think they want to live in a theocratic state.”
Scowcroft said of Wolfowitz, “He’s got a utopia out there. We’re going to transform the Middle East, and then there won’t be war anymore. He can make them democratic. He is a tough-minded idealist, but where he is truly an idealist is that he brushes away questions, says, ‘It won’t happen,’ whereas I would say, ‘It’s likely to happen and therefore you can’t take the chance.’ Paul’s idealism sweeps away doubts.” Wolfowitz, for his part, said to me, “It’s absurdly unrealistic, demonstrably unrealistic, to ignore how strong the desire for freedom is.”
Scowcroft said that he is equally concerned about Wolfowitz’s unwillingness to contemplate bad outcomes and Kagan’s willingness to embrace them on principle. “What the realist fears is the consequences of idealism,” he said. “The reason I part with the neocons is that I don’t think in any reasonable time frame the objective of democratizing the Middle East can be successful. If you can do it, fine, but I don’t you think you can, and in the process of trying to do it you can make the Middle East a lot worse.” He added, “I’m a realist in the sense that I’m a cynic about human nature.”
Scowcroft learned his cynicism by absorbing the ideas of the master of cold-eyed realism, the political theorist Hans Morgenthau, who argued that it is in the nature of states to seek power above all. Morgenthau was suspicious of foreign entanglements (he opposed the Vietnam War), and had seen democracy’s failings—he, like Henry Kissinger, was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, and he watched his Gentile neighbors vote Hitler into power. “Morgenthau was brand-new when I went to graduate school, and I just devoured it,” Scowcroft said. Today, he calls himself an “enlightened realist” or, alternatively, a “cynical idealist,” but in his early days he was deeply attached to Morgenthau’s world view.
Scowcroft’s path to realism began, in a sense, with a life-threatening accident. It had been his dream, he said, from the age of twelve, to attend West Point. As a child in Ogden, Utah, where he was reared in a Mormon family, he had read a book called “West Point Today” and, he said, “it just captured me.” He was still a cadet when the Second World War ended. “I assumed when I went in that I would fight,” he said. “I remember when the war ended and we were on cadet maneuvers in upstate New York, and I was manning a mortar, thinking, What the hell am I doing here? The war is over. There aren’t going to be any more wars.”
He graduated from West Point in 1947, in the top quarter of his class, and joined the Army Air Corps, because “all my friends were joining.” The accident that altered the course of his life occurred during a dogfighting exercise over northern New England: “I had just taken off, and one of my companions jumped on me and sort of attacked me right off. So I advanced my power to go after him, and the engine governor malfunctioned and the propeller overspun. I didn’t know it, but it had broken a piston rod and I was losing my coolant. My power was steadily going down. I was at about fifteen hundred feet, still strapped in. This was New Hampshire, forested, and I looked around—there was a little clearing. The last thing I remember was looking under my wing at the tips of the last trees just under me.”
Scowcroft’s back was broken in the crash, and he spent two years in Army hospitals. When he came out, doctors told him that he wouldn’t fly again. He was asked by West Point to teach.
In 1959, he was posted to Belgrade, to serve as the assistant U.S. Air Force attaché at the embassy there. In Belgrade, Scowcroft learned something about the power of nationalism. “I don’t remember ever hearing people call themselves Yugoslavs,” he said. “They always called themselves Serbs, Croats, Slovenians.” Realists, he noted, tend to believe in the abiding relevance of national feeling, especially when compared with such abstractions as Communist ideology.
Scowcroft returned from Belgrade to take a teaching post at the Air Force Academy. The Air Force, which was separated from the Army in 1947, was trying to cultivate its own strategic thinkers, and it sent some of its best young officers to graduate school. Scowcroft attended Columbia, where he received a Ph.D. He went on to a series of strategic-planning posts in the Pentagon. Scowcroft rose steadily in the Air Force, and, soon after he earned his first general’s star, he was appointed Nixon’s senior military assistant. He was put in charge of many quotidian but indispensable things, including the White House’s limousines. This was when he came to the attention of Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was watching one day as H. R. Haldeman, the White House chief of staff, dressed down Scowcroft for some minor sin of administration. “We were flying on Air Force One,” Kissinger told me. “I saw Scowcroft disagreeing with Haldeman, and Haldeman very imperiously tried to insist on his point of view, but Scowcroft disagreed with him, and he was a terrier who had got hold of someone’s leg and wouldn’t let it go. In his polite and mild manner, he insisted on his view, which was correct. It was some procedural matter, but he was challenging Haldeman at the height of Haldeman’s power.”
At the time, Kissinger was searching for a deputy national-security adviser. “I was looking for someone with character,” he said. “I knew a lot of people with intelligence. But I needed a strong person as my deputy, who would be willing to stand up to me if necessary—not every day—but to stand up for what he thought was right.” Scowcroft remembered his selection differently. “I heard he wanted me because I was a Mormon,” he said. “Mormons were supposed to be loyal and faithful.”
In the nineteen-seventies, as now, the role of morality in the conduct of foreign policy was the subject of considerable debate. During the Nixon and Ford years, the late Washington senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson, a Democrat (many of the leading neoconservatives, such as Wolfowitz, were once Democrats), and one of the fathers of neoconservatism, was battling Kissinger, the advocate of détente, over his approach to the Soviet Union. Jackson, among others, wanted to punish the Soviet Union for its Jewish-emigration policy, and for its persecution of dissidents like Andrei Sakharov; his criticism intensified when Ford and Kissinger, worried about antagonizing the Soviets, snubbed Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Ronald Reagan took on these causes when he won the Presidency in 1980, and many dissidents, including Natan Sharansky, who went on to become an Israeli politician, were grateful for his condemnation of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” Kissinger believed that such confrontations were dangerous to the smooth management of America’s relationship with the Soviets.
Scowcroft, who served as President Ford’s national-security adviser when Kissinger was Secretary of State, recalled the 1976 primary fight between Reagan and Ford: “It got so bad in the campaign that Ford said he wouldn’t use the word ‘détente’ anymore. The Reagan people excoriated Kissinger—they cast the Soviet Union into outer darkness. Now, I was not fond of the Soviet Union, but I didn’t think that calling the Soviet Union the ‘evil empire’ got anybody anywhere.”
This Reagan-era fight was in some ways a dress rehearsal for the fight today between neoconservatives and realists: only the enemy has changed.
During one of our conversations, Scowcroft repeated a saying of Morgenthau’s that concerned the overriding importance of “weighing the consequences of alternative political actions.” The first Bush Administration, in its four years, weighed these consequences, as it faced several major challenges, and in each instance Bush and Scowcroft chose to apply the lessons of realism, with differing results.
In the case of Iraq, Scowcroft was incensed by Saddam’s violation of an international border; he did not believe that Saddam’s treatment of his own citizens merited military intervention. A month into the war, Bush, in public comments, encouraged Iraq’s defeated military, and also its civilian population, to “take matters into [their] own hands” and to rise up against Saddam. “Here’s where we fell down,” Robert Gates said recently. “It was our hope that the magnitude of the defeat would lead the Iraqi generals to throw Saddam out, but we didn’t anticipate those uprisings. When the Kurds and the Shiites rose up, Saddam won back his generals. We speculated that Saddam ‘warned’ his generals that, without him, they could not control the uprising, and the country would disintegrate.” Gates, who went on to serve as director of the C.I.A. from 1991 to 1993, argued that the President never intended to provoke a popular rebellion. “When the President talked about the Iraqis solving the problem, he was absolutely not urging the Kurds and the Shiites to do it. He was talking about the generals taking him out.” In the book that Scowcroft wrote with the elder Bush, a passage about the uprising said, “It is true that we hoped Saddam would be toppled. But we never thought that could be done by anyone outside the military and never tried to incite the general population. It is stretching the point to imagine that a routine speech in Washington would have gotten to the Iraqi malcontents and have been the motivation for the subsequent actions of the Shiites and Kurds.” In Wolfowitz’s view, Scowcroft, “by overestimating the risk of supporting the rebellions that the U.S. had encouraged, bequeathed to George W. Bush a much more complicated situation ten years later.”
The treatment of dissidents was at the root of Scowcroft’s most controversial moment as national-security adviser, during a trip to Beijing six months after the massacre of Chinese students near Tiananmen Square. Like much of the world, the Bush Administration was angered by the Chinese government’s actions, but it also cautioned prudence. Bush dispatched Scowcroft to carry a message. “After Tiananmen, we were the first ones to crack down, we cracked down hard on anything to do with the military,” Scowcroft said, referring to a suspension of weapons sales announced within days of the massacre.
Scowcroft communicated Bush’s concerns to the Chinese leadership: “I knew Deng, and I had a wonderful, frank discussion with him, and he said, ‘What happened in Tiananmen Square is none of your business—it’s a domestic issue, and we do whatever we want,’ and I said, ‘You’re right. It is none of our business. But the consequences of what you did in the world and to our relations are our business. And that’s what I’m here to talk about.’ ”
The trip attracted more notice when Scowcroft was filmed at a banquet toasting the Chinese. “We’re having the dinner, and the standard part of every formal Chinese dinner is you have a toast at the end,” he said. “Just before the toast, in comes the camera crew. So I’ve got a choice. Do I turn my back on them and walk out and destroy the purpose of the visit, or do I look like a fool, toasting with the Chinese? And I chose that. I knew how it would look. Our interests and the reason I was there were more important than how it made me look.” In 1992, Bill Clinton made the Bush Administration’s China policy a campaign issue; by 1994, Clinton had put trade, not human rights, at the center of his China policy—a triumph for realism.
In August of 1991, when the Baltic states were about to break free from Moscow’s control and the Soviet Union itself seemed close to dissolution, Bush visited Ukraine. He used the occasion, however, to warn his Kiev audience about the dangers of “suicidal nationalism.” He was ridiculed for this speech—it was labelled the “Chicken Kiev” speech—and it did nothing to slow the Soviet republics’ momentum toward independence.
Natan Sharansky is now allied with the neoconservative camp, and he cites the Chicken Kiev speech as a typical instance of realist policymaking. A book that he wrote last year, “The Case for Democracy,” came to national attention when George W. Bush told the Washington Times, “If you want a glimpse of how I think about foreign policy, read Natan Sharansky’s book ‘The Case for Democracy.’ . . . It’s a great book.”
Sharansky argues that the United States would best serve its own interests by choosing as allies only countries that grant their citizens broad freedoms, because only democracies are capable of living peacefully in the world. In Kiev, “America had missed a golden opportunity,” Sharansky wrote in a chapter criticizing the President’s father. George H. W. Bush’s Administration, he said, “was not the first nor will it be the last to try to stifle democracy for the sake of ‘stability.’ Stability is perhaps the most important word in the diplomat’s dictionary. In its name, autocrats are embraced, dictators are coddled and tyrants are courted.”
In September, Sharansky was in Washington at the invitation of Condoleezza Rice; he gave the closing speech at a State Department conference on democratization. “Can you believe it?” he said to me just before the session. “Rice gave the opening speech and I give the closing?” Of his complicated relations with the Bush family, he said, “A few days after my book comes out, I get a call from the White House. ‘The President wants to see you.’ So I go to the White House and I see my book on his desk. It is open to page 210. He is really reading it. And we talk about democracy. This President is very great on democracy. At the end of the conversation, I say, ‘Say hello to your mother and father.’ And he said, ‘My father?’ He looked very surprised I would say this.” Sharansky went on, “So I say to the President, ‘I like your father. He is very good to my wife when I am in prison.’ And President Bush says, ‘But what about Chicken Kiev?’ ” Sharansky smiled as he recounted this story. “The President looked around the room and said, ‘Who is responsible for that Chicken Kiev speech? Find out who wrote it. Who is responsible?’ Everyone laughed.” Sharansky paused, and looked at me intently. He had a broad grin. “I know who wrote Chicken Kiev speech,” he said. “It was Scowcroft!”
Scowcroft may have had a hand in the speech, but when I asked George H. W. Bush about it he answered as if it had been his own idea. “I got hammered on the Kiev speech by the right wing and some in the press, but in retrospect I think the Baltic countries understood that we were being cautious vis-à-vis the Soviet Union,” Bush said. “And their freedoms were established without a shot being fired.”
One day, I asked Scowcroft if he placed too much value on inaction. I ha in mind the first Bush Administration’s record on Bosnia. Toward the en of Bush’s term, Yugoslavia was beginning to disintegrate. The Bush team wa hesitant to intervene, or even to lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims who were being murdered by Serbs. Lawrence Eagleburger, the acting Secretar of State, said at the time, “This tragedy is not something that can be settle from the outside, and it’s about damn well time that everybody understood that Until the Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats decide to stop killing each other, there i nothing the outside world can do about it.
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Scowcroft addressed the question with more delicacy than Eagleburger, but he didn’t disagree: there was only so much that the United States could do, he said. “I didn’t think it would break up,” he went on. “I didn’t think the hatred was so deep; I didn’t want to stir it up. I would have proposed that we go to the Yugoslavs and say, ‘It makes no sense for you to break up. Economically, you’re small as it is, but, if you’re going to break up, here are the rules. Here are the rules, and we’re going to insist on those rules.” The Bush Administration, in an echo of Chicken Kiev, was hoping, Scowcroft said, for Yugoslavia to stay together.
Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated the Bosnian peace accords on behalf of President Clinton, saw the Administration’s reluctance to take effective action in Yugoslavia as a failure of realism. “When the Cold War ended, the Bush people concluded that our strategic interests were not involved,” Holbrooke said. “And they turned their back on Yugoslavia just as it fell to its death. They said they determined that it had no strategic value, but, as it turns out, the Balkans still had strategic value and an overpowering humanitarian case as well.” A good foreign policy, Holbrooke believes, ought to “marry idealism and realism, effective American leadership and, if necessary, the use of force.”
The first Bush Administration did engage in one act of humanitarian interventionism, in Somalia, when it sent American troops to help feed starving civilians in Mogadishu. When I mentioned Somalia to Scowcroft as an example of idealism over national self-interest, he demurred, as if it were an accusation: a true realist does not employ the military for selfless humanitarian operations. The action in Somalia, Scowcroft said—at least in his view—was in America’s self-interest. “About four months before we went in, the President and I had a meeting with the U.N. Secretary-General, and he was saying that most of the world believes that the U.N. has become the instrument of Western powers. Here’s a chance to set that record straight. Here’s an underdeveloped state, a Muslim state, a black state, and here’s a chance to show the world that we are not acting in our self-interest.” In other words, the United States acted selflessly out of self-interest.
For Scowcroft, the principle is clear: by pragmatic standards, a humanitarian intervention without a strategic rationale is a mistake. And the experience in Somalia was a reminder that an intervention—even with the noblest motives—may end in humiliating failure. In part because of what happened in Somalia, the Clinton Administration did not intervene in Rwanda during a genocide in which an estimated eight hundred thousand people died. “A terrible situation—just tragic,” Scowcroft said of Rwanda. “But, before you intervene, you have to ask yourself, ‘If I go in, how do I get out?’ And you have to ask questions about the national interest.” Interventions have consequences, he argues, and Iraq is a case in point. “There are a lot of places in the world where injustice is taking place, and we can’t run around and fix all of them.”
Democrats like Holbrooke take issue with Republican realists. “Support for American values is part of our national-security interests, and it is realistic to support humanitarian and human-rights interventions,” Holbrooke said. Such Democrats differ from the Bush-style interventionists as well, particularly on the value of treaties and the importance of multilateral cooperation, although Holbrooke and Paul Wolfowitz have sounded very much alike at times; Wolfowitz, for instance, strongly supported a military option in Bosnia. “It’s important to realize how much can go wrong by doing nothing,” he said.
The experience in Iraq seems to have tempered the Administration’s impatience with coalition-building. There is more coöperation with America’s traditional allies and more willingness to work with other nations—with Europe in countering the nuclear ambitions of Iran, and with China in countering those of North Korea. The Administration, though, remains committed to the export of democracy, and is publicly optimistic about the future in Iraq. Wolfowitz, a leading proponent of the Iraq war, recently said, “Wilson thought you could take a map of Europe and say, ‘This is the way things are going to be.’ That was unrealistic, but the world has changed a lot in a hundred years. The fact is that people can look around and see the overwhelming success of representative government.”
For Scowcroft, the second Gulf war is a reminder of the unwelcome consequences of radical intervention, especially when it is attempted without sufficient understanding of America’s limitations or of the history of a region. “I believe in the fallibility of human nature,” Scowcroft told me. “We continually step on our best aspirations. We’re humans. Given a chance to screw up, we will.”