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.”