Democracy v. the Greedy Rich

As the rich get richer, the poor poorer and the middle class smaller, America’s most prominent “populist” movement, the Tea Party, demands more tax breaks for the rich and less help for the rest. Kevin Zeese says only a true populist movement demanding a democratized economy can save the Republic.

 By Kevin Zeese

The Roman philosopher and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero said “Freedom is participation in power.” By that standard Americans are not free. We do not participate in power.

We do not have power over our own economic lives; our elected “representatives” ignore us and instead listen to the moneyed interests that are sending the United States in the wrong direction on issue after issue.

The American people know better. A large majority consistently supports raising taxes on the rich and corporations; ending the wars; cutting military spending; protecting Social Security; expanding Medicare; stopping corporate welfare for big business; shifting to a clean-energy economy; creating more jobs; and getting money out of politics.

But to achieve this agenda, the American people need to participate in power.

When you dispassionately review the reality of the U.S. economy, it is a depressing state of affairs that screams out for Americans to get up, stand up and shout: “we can do better than the political and economic elites.” One opportunity to stand up is here: October2011.org.

This article focuses on the domestic policies that are destroying the most powerful economy in history, although war spending, which makes up more than half of discretionary federal spending, is one of the root causes of the economic collapse. 

Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz writes: “Today, America is focused on unemployment and the deficit. Both threats to America’s future can, in no small measure, be traced to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” He and Linda Bilmes calculated America’s war costs three years ago conservatively at $3 trillion to $5 trillion these costs have escalated since then.

Domestically the brutal failure of government is evident in the way working Americans are treated. The high levels of unemployment are not the only story; four decades of stagnant incomes and decreasing share of the gross domestic product going to workers are long-term trends; the fragility of peoples’ personal finances, record foreclosure, high student debt and the lack of control over our economic lives all show the need for an economic transformation to a new, democratized economy.

Unemployment is persistently high. Roughly 31 percent of U.S. workers experienced unemployment or underemployment at some point in 2009.  President Barack Obama has never put forth a real jobs program instead preferring to tinker with corporate tax breaks a proven non-solution now resulting in zero job growth

The official unemployment rate greatly underestimates unemployment because it has been used as a political tool and has been changed over the years, e.g. in 1994 the government stopped counting discouraged workers who have given up looking for employment.

At a time when an all-time high number of Americans are “not in the labor force” this manipulation of data has a dramatic impact. An apolitical analysis of unemployment, that counts the total number of people in need of employment, results in a current unemployment rate of 22.5 percent, an all-time record total of 34 million people are currently in need of work. [See Shadow Stats.]

There are many examples of high unemployment, underemployment and people dropping out of the labor market, but one that got my attention most recently was a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reporting that an astounding 51 percent of youth are unemployed:

“In July, the employment-population ratio for youth, the proportion of the 16- to 24-year old civilian noninstitutional population that was employed, was 48.8 percent, a record low for the series (The month of July typically is the summertime peak in youth employment.)”

Fifty-one percent of youth unemployed and even more underemployed is a very dangerous situation for the future workforce as it comes at a time when students are leaving school in greater debt than ever before.

A recent report by Moody’s Analytics found record borrowing by college students who are graduating without jobs. In an economy where people had power we would see free college education rather than cuts in Pell Grants and rapid tuition increases at state colleges.

In a Labor Day report, the Economic Policy Institute demonstrates that unemployment leaves long-term scars on families and communities. The pain caused by persistently high unemployment is not limited to workers who are currently unemployed but extends to the broader workforce and the country in general through lost wages, income and wealth, as well as higher poverty.

As one example of many, in California one in four families had trouble feeding their children, indeed 68.6 percent of students in schools in Fresno County and 65.6 percent in Los Angeles County were eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals in 2010.

Nationwide, the National Academy of Sciences released a report that concluded 52,765,000 Americans, 17.3 percent of the population, lived in poverty in 2009. And, for children, census data shows a total of 15.5 million American children lived in poverty in 2009 20 percent of all children.

According to a 2011 report from the Children’s Defense Fund, “every day in America 2,573 babies are born into poverty.” All of these levels of poverty have worsened in the last two years since the Census Report, so they are underestimates.

The economic collapse resulted in the average U.S. household wealth declining by 28 percent. This represents a loss of $27,000 per household in households that make less money today than they did back in 1971.

Currently, at least 62 million Americans, 20 percent of U.S. households, have zero or negative net worth. Indeed, a majority, or 64 percent, of Americans don’t have enough cash on hand to handle a $1,000 emergency expense, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.  

An August 2011 report by the National Employment Law Project concludes jobs created since the recession officially ended are reducing worker income: 73 percent of the jobs created since the supposed recovery began have been low-wage jobs, where workers make between $7.51 (the national minimum wage) and $13.52 an hour ($15,621 to $28,122 a year for full-time).

In contrast, 60 percent of the layoffs were in mid-wage jobs that made between $28,142 and $42,973 per year.

An important reflection on Labor Day is: are we seeing the death of the middle class? Are we in what Marx described as the self-destruction of finance-dominated advanced Capitalism? 

Labor’s share of the gross domestic product has shrunk while the profits for capital have risen. The investor class knows their wealth comes from reducing the cost of labor. 

JPMorgan recently told its investors: “US labor compensation is now at a 50-year low relative to both company sales and US GDP . . . reductions in wages and benefits explain the majority of the net improvement in margins.” Indeed, according to JPMorgan, 75 percent of the increase in profit margins directly correlates with the reduction in workers’ wages.

The desire for excessive short profits is creating an irreversible economic decline because labor can no longer consume enough or borrow enough to keep the economy afloat with its cash and credit-based consumption. As David Cay Johnston puts it “A weak foundation cannot properly support a massive superstructure.”

Further evidence of this advanced stage of finance-capital is on the other side of the equation, the concentration of wealth. The richest 400 people in the U.S. have as much wealth as 154 million Americans or 50 percent of the population.

The wealthiest 1 percent of the U.S. population now has a record 40 percent of all wealth more wealth than 90 percent of the population. According to an extensive study by auditing and financial advisory firm Deloitte, U.S. millionaire households now have $38.6 trillion in wealth in addition to an estimated $6.3 trillion hidden in offshore accounts.

Only 74 Americans are in this elite top bracket, people with annual income is $50 million or more. The average income within this category was $91.2 million in 2008. As astonishing as that is, in 2009 they averaged $518.8 million each, or about $10 million per week.

This means, in the depths of the economic collapse, the richest 74 Americans increased their income by more than five times in one year. These 74 people made more money than 19 million workers combined.

Indeed, during the recession the rich are getting richer while the rest of us are getting poorer. In 2009 alone, the pay of America’s highest earners quintupled, while more Americans found themselves on food stamps than ever before.

CEOs got a 23 percent raise last year and corporate profits are at record highs while the minimum wage has less buying power now than in 1956.

If we stay on the present course, the wealth amassed by millionaire households is set to increase by more than 100 percent over the next 9 years. From a total of $92 trillion held by the world’s richest in 2011, by 2020 the world’s millionaire households will possess $202 trillion, or roughly four times current global GDP.

If you think the wealth divide is bad now, unless significant changes are made, it is going to get much worse.

The rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is disappearing, not because the wealthy are smarter or work harder, but because of corrupt crony capitalism. The wealthy have worked to dominate government since the early 1970s. 

President Obama’s $1 billion re-election campaign exemplifies this. He is holding fundraisers where he charges $35,800 for admission that is more than the median income of American workers. 

The 12 members appointed to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction got nearly $64.5 million in donations from special interest groups over the past decade, with legal firms donating about $31.5 million and Wall Street firms donating about $11.2 million.

And since they were appointed to the commission, they have been seeking contributions from Wall Street.

As a result of this bribery disguised as campaign donations, policies are skewed for the wealthiest, some examples among many:

1,470 Americans earned over $1 million in 2009 and didn’t pay any taxes.

–Historically the U.S. had an excess profits tax on the super-rich in tough economic times, now politicians talk about lowering the rate on top tax brackets.

–The tax burden on the super-rich is unfairly low. IRS statistics released this May reflect that in 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the tax rate is 18.1 percent on the wealthiest 400 Americans, while someone who has net taxable income of $60,000 after deductions and exemptions pays 25 percent.

Warren Buffett describes paying only 17.4 percent income tax because of policies that coddle the rich, “If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine, most likely by a lot.”

–Many major corporations pay no taxes, indeed many receive huge tax refunds, despite record earnings.

Corporate taxes have dropped consistently since the 1950s, with more and more burden falling on small businesses.

–The Securities and Exchange Commission has been covering up the crimes of Wall Street by destroying evidence.

–The Federal Reserve loaned banks and other companies as much as $1.2 trillion of public money at very low interest rates.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The 1 percent wealthiest should not have more political power than 300 million people. The people have the answers if the views of Americans were followed the country would be on the right track on many critical issues.

We can democratize the economy and give people more control over their own lives and influence over the economy. But, it is the responsibility of the people to demand politicians listen to them. 

The traditional tools of elections and lobbying no longer work. Americans need to build an independent movement and independent media along with independent politics to challenge the deep corruption in American government caused by corporatism.

That starts on Oct. 6, 2011, when Americans come to Washington, DC and occupy Freedom Plaza to call for an end to corporatism and militarism.

The destruction of the economy for 98 percent of Americans has been a long-term trend that the people can turn around you can be sure the government will not do so. It is up to us.

As we pass Labor Day, Americans need to look honestly and deeply into the corruption of government by economic and political elites and demand that we participate in power.

Kevin Zeese co-directs Its Our Economy and is on the steering committee of October2011.org.




Jesus: Redistributionist-in-Chief

If Christian conservatives truly understood and accepted the teachings of Jesus, they would not be at the Tea Party barricades fighting to protect the money, power and privileges of the rich; they would be demanding what Jesus wanted, a radical redistribution of wealth and decent treatment of all, as the Rev. Howard Bess notes.

By the Rev. Howard Bess 

According to Luke’s gospel, the beginning of the ministry of Jesus as a reputational rabbi was marked by his public reading of a passage from the Isaiah scroll. His declaration was that a year special to God had arrived, a Jubilee Year that would redistribute wealth and end the economic persecution of the poor. 

A key part of the understanding of Jesus involves his understanding of this Year of Jubilee. According to Levitical Law, all land was owned by God. So, the people who controlled the land and farmed it were stewards/servants, but according to Leviticus, they never really owned the land. 

Land could be bought and sold but only for a limited time. Plus, the holders of land were under some strict rules. Every seventh year the land could not be farmed, meaning the land had a Sabbath year when it rested. 

At the end of the seventh seven-year cycle (i.e. 49 years), the Levitical Law required that all the people start over. Land was to be completely redistributed. This 50th year was called the Year of Jubilee. 

Other important things took place. All slaves were set free and all debts were canceled. The Levitical Law envisioned a new day for everyone.

Over the years the Israelites found ways of reinterpreting the law and avoided the keeping of the Year of Jubilee. People who had gained control of large land holdings were closely allied with the priests who ran the Jerusalem Temple. 

The prophet Isaiah (who lived in the Eighth Century BC) despised the rich and the powerful. A recurring theme in Isaiah is a call to celebrate the Year of Jubilee honestly. Many today would call him the ultimate socialist. As far as anyone can tell, the Year of Jubilee has never been celebrated.

Jesus lived at a time of a concentration of wealth when working farmers had completely lost control of their land, which was owned by very wealthy men who lived in large cities some miles away. Under the prevailing economic system, the farmers became poorer and poorer. 

Often, the farmers had to leave the farm and became day-laborers who worked at the mercy of absentee owners and their local enforcers. The greed of absentee land owners and the plight of poverty-stricken farmers form the backdrop of the entire ministry of Jesus.

When Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry as a reputational rabbi read the particular passage from Isaiah, his entire audience understood what he was saying. He was calling for the celebration of the Year of Jubilee. 

Jesus made his statement in a minor village to a group of people who had become powerless under the economic onslaught of the rich. Jesus was declaring that the new day had arrived. At last justice would be established. 

It was a brash statement partly because Jesus was not a trained rabbi. His position as rabbi would not have been accepted outside of a small area in northern Palestine.  According to the passage, he made his statement in the town (Nazareth) in which he grew up.

Jesus had spent his early manhood attending the local synagogue meetings as an active participant. A small village such as Nazareth had too few people to merit a trained rabbi, so the regular Sabbath meetings were led by lay people. 

At Sabbath meetings, the Scriptures (Old Testament) were read, discussed and argued. Jesus was the leader that emerged from the group. His reputation grew as he became their “reputational” rabbi. 

Jesus embraced the Isaiah writings, and the Isaiah perspective had become the eyes with which he read and understood the Law and will of God. 

(This understanding of Jesus’s radical message — challenging the power structure on behalf of the poor — puts into context his fateful decision to take his protests to Jerusalem where the scriptures describe him riding in on a humble donkey and confronting the money changers at the Temple. It also helps explain the determination of the religious and political elites of Jerusalem to have him crucified.)

Other Injustices

At this point readers are probably jumping to the conclusion that this column is about Labor Day. Not so. At least it is not specifically about Labor Day. It is about the arrival of new days as an intrinsic part of the Christian message. Jubilee is any and every day when justice triumphs.

And the message of justice is not restricted to issues of economic injustice or the excessive power of the rich. It also applies to social justice.

It has been nearly 42 years since the Stonewall riots started the revolution for gay acceptance in America. The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in New York City that was regularly raided by the police. On June 28, 1969, the men at the Stonewall Inn had had enough. The resulting riots lasted several days and inspired the emergence of gay rights organizations across the country. 

Within seven years, I felt it necessary to face the issue of gay acceptance in our churches, writing my first essay about acceptance of gay people in our congregation. I shared my call for acceptance with my congregation. A new day had arrived. It was a day that demanded justice for a persecuted and down-trodden group of people. The old ways were unacceptable.

I believed it was and is the calling of our churches to declare the arrival of the new day. But I have been sorrowed that so many Christian churches have chosen darkness rather than light. I am chagrinned by my fellow Christian clergy who have kept silent about justice for our gay friends when they should have been witnessing to the new day of Jubilee.

However, I am also pleased with the large number of churches and clergy who have been declaring the arrival of the new day of acceptance for gay people in the family of God. We have come a long way in the past 42 years. 

Jesus had the courage to apply Torah (the will of God) to the vicious economic injustice that had developed in his own day. He challenged injustice and declared a new day. Challenging injustice and claiming a new day for everyone are the calling of every person who calls Jesus “Lord.”

The Rev. Howard Bess is an American Baptist minister, who lives in retirement in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is hdbss@mtaonline.net.




Is Obama to Blame for America’s Mess?

Exclusive: With the 2009 stimulus money running dry and with businesses unnerved by Washington’s political gridlock and brinksmanship, America’s weak “recovery” has stalled, prompting more criticism of President Barack Obama. Robert Parry explores whether these complaints are fair.

By Robert Parry

Across the political spectrum, commentators are debating why President Barack Obama failed to achieve the lofty goals of his 2008 campaign when he promised “change we can believe in” and a “new tone” in Washington. Friday’s wretched jobs report showing no net increase in jobs in August and the acrimony around it underscore the point.

On the Right, the explanation is simple: socialist Obama relied on “big government” solutions, such as an early $787 billion stimulus package, when he should have slashed federal spending, eliminated regulations and trusted the “free market” to straighten things out. The answer is to elect someone like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who would also appeal for divine intervention.

On the Left, the argument is almost the polar opposite, faulting Obama for applying timid solutions to grave problems (like agreeing to water down his stimulus plan with tax cuts to get a couple of GOP votes). He also is disparaged for bending over backwards to Republicans in the unrealistic hope that they would reciprocate with some measure of bipartisanship.

These Left critics say Obama should have used his “bully pulpit” aggressively to fight for his positions, whether his larger stimulus plan or a “public option” in his health-care bill, and he should have held George W. Bush and his aides accountable for war-crimes, from torturing detainees in the “war on terror” to waging aggressive war against Iraq.

Facing this barrage of criticism from all sides, Obama’s shrinking army of defenders points to the unfairness of it all. America’s first black president inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and was burdened with a federal deficit of more than $1 trillion (while Bush started with a robust economy and a budget surplus).

Obama was stuck, too, with Bush’s two unresolved wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These defenders also note that Obama faced immediate and unrelenting Republican opposition in Congress with an unprecedented use of filibusters requiring 60 Senate votes to accomplish almost anything, despite the nation’s economic crisis. On vote after vote, Republicans stayed unified while conservative Democrats often peeled away.

The defenders says the refrain from many on the Left that Obama should have done more when he had a 60-vote Senate majority ignores the fact that Republicans contested Sen. Al Franken’s victory in Minnesota for months and that two key senators, Edward Kennedy and Robert Byrd, died and had to be replaced in special elections. The 60-vote majority was fleeting, they note.

While Obama’s defenders certainly have a point that the young President faced a near-impossible task and had very few good options they shy away from another explanation for his failures, perhaps because it suggests the true enormity of the problem: the overall U.S. political system has become dysfunctional,

The dysfunction is not simply the Republicans and the Democrats, as some centrist pundits like to pontificate. It is the entirety of the system, including the pundits themselves, the national news media and the think-tank structure. It is the Right’s splurging on what amounts to information warfare and the Left’s skimping when it comes to building a counter-media infrastructure.

It is also a population that is too lazy (or too distracted) to wade through all the half-truths and disinformation to find something approximating the truth on a wide variety of topics. Many Americans either believe falsehoods or are profoundly confused by all the noise.

Class War

Another remarkable part of the American dysfunction is that at a time when as billionaire Warren Buffett says the rich are winning the class war, the nation’s top “populist” movement is the Tea Party, which is fighting to give the rich more money and to grant their corporations more power.

Tea Party favorites, such as Rep. Michele Bachman, actually favor taxing the working class more (by making everyone pay some income taxes) so the top income tax rates on the rich can be lowered again.

Given this broad-based mess, it does seem unfair to expect that Barack Obama, as a novice president, would be able to fix this dysfunction in his first two years. And, then with some elements of the Left sitting out Election 2010 in disgust, the Republicans won in a landslide, reclaiming the House and coming close in the Senate.

That new reality guaranteed Obama would accomplish even less and the Republicans would be encouraged to step up their obstructionism. In a sense, the election enabled the Republicans to take the economy hostage (as was shown in the debt-limit fight) and keep torturing it until the American voters give the GOP full control of the government again in 2012. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Making the US Economy Scream.”]

Not that restored Republican rule would ease the pain of the American people. Indeed, it would likely make things much worse for many, especially if Republicans go through with their plans to privatize Medicare and end the “Ponzi scheme” that Perry calls Social Security.

But at least the Republican Party would be happy, and the Democrats wouldn’t raise too much of a fuss because they always want to be seen as the “reasonable” ones in the room. Remember how they and the U.S. news media responded to Bush’s seizure of the White House in Election 2000 by urging Americans to accept his “legitimacy.” [For details, see Neck Deep.]

So, if the American voters acquiesce to the GOP hostage-taking and give control of the White House back to the Republicans there likely would be a surface calm, at least among the politico/pundit class of Washington.

There also would be some derision directed at “loser” Obama, maybe some stories about his quirky personal behavior like those articles about Al Gore growing a beard after his “defeat” to Bush, all to reinforce how thankful Americans should be that another straight-shooter like Rick Perry is in the White House.

As with Bush’s presidency, Americans could expect an enforced public unity with dissidents being rhetorically tarred and feathered as “unpatriotic” or “treasonous.” From brandishing guns against Obama and waving “Don’t Tread on Me” banners, the Tea Party would redeploy itself as a paramilitary defense perimeter for President Perry.

The Washington press corps, which has grown accustomed to going “on bended knee” for Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan, would be comfortable in its subservient position again. Remember how the mainstream media bowed to Bush for at least the first six years of his presidency, including helping him make his false case for invading Iraq.

A Rick Perry Presidency

The real question about a Rick Perry presidency is how far could the American people be pushed before they collectively realize their backs are against the abyss. Surely, more scapegoats would be presented Muslims, socialists, atheists, Iran but what happens if millions of Americans catch on to Buffett’s insight about the rich winning the class war.

As their dreams are crushed, will Americans continue to embrace the “government is the problem” orthodoxy of Ronald Reagan and the “free market” fantasies of Ayn Rand? Will they accept their gradual reduction to economic serfdom (in the form of joblessness and homelessness) under the boot of all-powerful corporations?

The answer to those questions could play out painfully over the next few decades or they could be addressed right now with Americans acting both foresightedly and practically. There is still time to build a movement for rationality and common-sense solutions to problems.

And, while America’s political problem is indeed bigger than Barack Obama, he certainly could play an important role by finally engaging in that debate he keeps promising about what an effective government can do for the people.

Arguably, one of Obama’s early mistakes was in surrounding himself with advisers who were committed to making today’s broken-down system work, rather than undertaking a dramatic overhaul of the entire process.

Many top aides were recycled officials from the Clinton administration, including White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Some were longtime Republican operatives, like Defense Secretary Robert Gates, or bureaucrats closely tied to Wall Street, like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Together, their limited vision was confined to simply patching up the old system both domestically and globally achieving more “continuity” than “change” from the Bush administration. While that might have been understandable given the economic crisis and the two wars, their approach shut out any serious structural reform.

So, instead of subjecting the gambling banks to the shock of short-term nationalization and stringent new rules, Obama continued a policy of stabilizing them with taxpayers’ money. Instead of terminating the stalemated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he kept them going with promises of gradual withdrawals.

Instead of demonstrating that the United States really meant what it has said regarding international law and human rights, Obama let Bush and his subordinates off the hook on torture and other war crimes. He didn’t even authorize a serious public inquiry into these abuses.

Howling Protests

Granted, to have taken these actions would have risked a major disruption to the system as it now exists. You would have heard howling from the trading floors of Wall Street to the editorial-page offices of the Washington Post. Obama would have been called an angry black man, an out-of-the-closet socialist. Conservative Democrats and independents might have bolted.

It’s also not clear that a more aggressive strategy toward the immediate national problems would have worked. Indeed, such an approach might have made conditions worse.

If the “too-big-to-fail” banks rebelled, the economy might have toppled into a depression for which Obama would have gotten the blame. Powerful institutions, like the Pentagon and the CIA, might have turned their political guns on the new president. The mainstream media would have joined in the uprising against him. His public popularity likely would have sunk even faster than it has.

Plus, the Left is extremely weak in the United States. At times when I’ve noted the Left’s tendency to criticize but not do much, I’ve been told bluntly by progressives that “there is no American Left.” But whose fault is that? And how do people on the Left expect politicians to make these fights without a political movement behind them?

The bottom line is that whether Obama can summon up the nerve to make bold job proposals or not, they won’t happen unless the American people can demonstrate that they understand the lessons of the New Deal, that only effective action by a democratized federal government can counter the recklessness of Wall Street and reduce the suffering of the unemployed.

It’s hard to understand why supporters of Social Security and Medicare can’t be as potent a political force as the Tea Partiers who want to dismantle these government programs. There may be rich right-wingers, like the oilman Koch brothers and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, funding the Tea Party, but there are wealthy progressives, too.

This movement could make the reasonable argument that many of the fortunes of America’s super-rich were not simply the result of their own industriousness, but rather their ability to piggyback onto major advancements paid for by the taxpayers, from the Interstate Highway system to miniaturized computers built for the space program, from microbiology to the Internet.

Yet, instead of paying back the country generously for making their fortunes possible, the rich hire lobbyists and accountants to help them avoid reimbursing the taxpayers and starving the government so it can’t finance other technological breakthroughs that could help future generations of Americans.

If the responsible rich like Warren Buffett really do recognize how much the country has done for them and how they should reinvest more of their money in the country why can’t they build the sort of political/media infrastructure that the greedy rich have? Or why can’t middle-income progressives at least do more to support some worthy projects taking on these tasks?

It’s not enough simply to criticize President Obama for not making all the right moves. The problem is much bigger than Obama.

The mess in America recalls the famous line in the Pogo comic strip, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a two-book set for the discount price of only $19. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book,Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.




Real-World Motives for Libya War

The West has buffered the war in Libya with layers of propaganda, including Orwellian claims about “protecting civilians” even as NATO warplanes kill civilians. The obvious real goal was “regime change,” the removal of Muammar Gaddafi, but historian William Blum explores what else was afoot.

By William Blum

In a television address on April 30, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi asked, “Why are you attacking us? Why are you killing our children? Why are you destroying our infrastructure?”

A few hours later NATO hit a target in Tripoli, killing Gaddafi’s 29-year-old son Saif al-Arab, three of Gaddafi’s grandchildren, all under 12 years of age, and several friends and neighbors.

In his TV address, Gaddafi had appealed to the NATO nations for a cease-fire and negotiations after six weeks of bombings and cruise missile attacks against his country.

Well, let’s see if we can derive some understanding of the complex Libyan turmoil.

The Holy Triumvirate, the United States, NATO and the European Union, recognizes no higher power and believes, literally, that it can do whatever it wants in the world, to whomever it wants, for as long as it wants, and call it whatever it wants, like “humanitarian.”

If The Holy Triumvirate decides that it doesn’t want to overthrow the government in Syria or in Egypt or Tunisia or Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or Yemen or Jordan, no matter how cruel, oppressive, or religiously intolerant those governments are with their people, no matter how much they impoverish and torture their people, no matter how many protesters they shoot dead in their Freedom Square, the Triumvirate will simply not overthrow them.

If the Triumvirate decides that it wants to overthrow the government of Libya, though that government is secular and has used its oil wealth for the benefit of the people of Libya and Africa perhaps more than any government in all of Africa and the Middle East, but keeps insisting over the years on challenging the Triumvirate’s imperial ambitions in Africa and raising its demands on the Triumvirate’s oil companies, then the Triumvirate will simply overthrow the government of Libya.

If the Triumvirate wants to punish Gaddafi and his sons it will arrange with the Triumvirate’s friends at the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for them. If the Triumvirate doesn’t want to punish the leaders of Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Jordan it will simply not ask the ICC to issue arrest warrants for them.

Ever since the Court first formed in 1998, the United States has refused to ratify it and has done its best to denigrate it and throw barriers in its way because Washington is concerned that American officials might one day be indicted for their many war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Bill Richardson, as U.S. ambassador to the UN, said to the world in 1998 that the United States should be exempt from the court’s prosecution because it has “special global responsibilities.” But this doesn’t stop the United States from using the Court when it suits the purposes of American foreign policy.

If the Triumvirate wants to support a rebel military force to overthrow the government of Libya then it does not matter how fanatically religious, al-Qaeda-related, executing-beheading-torturing, monarchist, or factionally split various groups of that rebel force are at times, the Triumvirate will support it, as it did certain forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and hope that after victory the Libyan force will not turn out as jihadist as it did in Afghanistan, or as fratricidal as in Iraq.

For example, regarding jihadist ties to the Libyan rebels, The Telegraph (London) reported on Aug. 30, 2011 that “Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader, has said jihadists who fought against allied troops in Iraq are on the front lines of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.” A plethora of other reports details the ties between the rebels and radical Islamist groups.

One potential source of conflict within the rebels, and within the country if ruled by them, is that a constitutional declaration made by the rebel council states that, while guaranteeing democracy and the rights of non-Muslims, “Islam is the religion of the state and the principle source of legislation in Islamic Jurisprudence.” [Washington Post, Aug. 31, 2011]

Adding to the list of the rebels’ charming qualities we have the Amnesty International report that the rebels have been conducting mass arrests of black people across the nation, terming all of them “foreign mercenaries” but with growing evidence that a large number were simply migrant workers.

Reported Reuters on Aug. 29: “On Saturday, reporters saw the putrefying bodies of 22 men of African origin on a Tripoli beach. Volunteers who had come to bury them said they were mercenaries whom rebels had shot dead.”

To complete this portrait of the West’s newest darlings we have this report from The Independent of London on Aug. 27: “The killings were pitiless. They had taken place at a makeshift hospital, in a tent marked clearly with the symbols of the Islamic crescent.

“Some of the dead were on stretchers, attached to intravenous drips. Some were on the back of an ambulance that had been shot at. A few were on the ground, seemingly attempting to crawl to safety when the bullets came.”

If the Triumvirate’s propaganda is clever enough and deceptive enough and paints a graphic picture of Gaddafi-initiated high tragedy in Libya, many American and European progressives will insist that though they never, ever support imperialism they’re making an exception this time because …

–The Libyan people are being saved from a “massacre,” both actual and potential. This massacre, however, seems to have been grossly exaggerated by the Triumvirate, al Jazeera TV, and that station’s owner, the government of Qatar.

Nothing approaching reputable evidence of a massacre has been offered, neither a mass grave nor anything else; the massacre stories appear to be on a par with the Viagra-rape stories spread by al Jazeera (the Fox News of the Libyan uprising). Qatar, it should be noted, has played an active military role in the civil war on the side of NATO.

It should be further noted that the main massacre in Libya has been six months of daily Triumvirate bombing, killing an unknown number of people and ruining much of the infrastructure.

Michigan U. Prof. Juan Cole, the quintessential true-believer in the good intentions of American foreign policy who nevertheless manages to have a regular voice in progressive media, recently wrote that “Qaddafi was not a man to compromise … his military machine would mow down the revolutionaries if it were allowed to.”

Is that clear, class? We all know of course that Sarkozy, Obama and Cameron made compromises without end in their devastation of Libya; they didn’t, for example, use any nuclear weapons.

–The United Nations gave its approval for military intervention; i.e., the leading members of the Triumvirate gave their approval, after Russia and China cowardly abstained instead of exercising their veto power; (perhaps hoping to receive the same courtesy from the U.S., UK and France when Russia or China is the aggressor nation).

–The people of Libya are being “liberated,” whatever in the world that means, now or in the future. Gaddafi is a “dictator,” they insist. That may indeed be the proper term to use for the man, but it must still be asked: Is he a relatively benevolent dictator or is he the other kind so favored by Washington?

It must also be asked: Since the United States has habitually supported dictators for the entire past century, why not this one?

The Triumvirate, and its fawning media, would have the world believe that what’s happened in Libya is just another example of the Arab Spring, a popular uprising by non-violent protestors against a dictator for the proverbial freedom and democracy, spreading spontaneously from Tunisia and Egypt, which sandwich Libya.

But there are several reasons to question this analysis in favor of seeing the Libyan rebels’ uprising as a planned and violent attempt to take power on behalf of their own political movement, however heterogeneous that movement might appear to be in its early stage. For example:

–They soon began flying the flag of the monarchy that Gaddafi had overthrown

–They were an armed and violent rebellion almost from the beginning; within a few days, we could read of “citizens armed with weapons seized from army bases” [McClatchy Newspapers, Feb. 20, 2011] and of “the policemen who had participated in the clash were caught and hanged by protesters.” [Wikipedia, Timeline of the 2011 Libyan civil war, Feb. 19, 2011]

–Their revolt took place not in the capital but in the heart of the country’s oil region; they then began oil production and declared that foreign countries would be rewarded oil-wise in relation to how much each country aided their cause

–They soon set up a Central Bank, a rather bizarre thing for a protest movement

–International support came quickly, even beforehand, from Qatar and al Jazeera to the CIA and French intelligence.

The notion that a leader does not have the right to put down an armed rebellion against the state is too absurd to discuss.

Not very long ago, Iraq and Libya were the two most modern and secular states in the Mideast/North Africa world with perhaps the highest standards of living in the region. Then the United States of America came along and saw fit to make a basket case of each one.

The desire to get rid of Gaddafi had been building for years; the Libyan leader had never been a reliable pawn; then the Arab Spring provided the excellent opportunity and cover. As to Why? Take your pick of the following:

–Gaddafi’s plans to conduct Libya’s trading in Africa in raw materials and oil in a new currency, the gold African dinar, a change that could have delivered a serious blow to the U.S.’s dominant position in the world economy. (In 2000, Saddam Hussein announced Iraqi oil would be traded in euros, not dollars; sanctions and an invasion followed.) [For further discussion see here.]

–A host-country site for Africom, the U.S. Africa Command, one of six regional commands the Pentagon has divided the world into. Many African countries approached to be the host have declined, at times in relatively strong terms. Africom at present is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany.

According to a State Department official: “We’ve got a big image problem down there. … Public opinion is really against getting into bed with the US. They just don’t trust the US.”5

–An American military base to replace the one closed down by Gaddafi after he took power in 1969. There’s only one such base in Africa, in Djibouti. Watch for one in Libya sometime after the dust has settled. It’ll perhaps be situated close to the American oil wells. Or perhaps the people of Libya will be given a choice, an American base or a NATO base.

–Another example of NATO desperate to find a raison d’être for its existence since the end of the Cold War and the Warsaw Pact.

–Gaddafi’s role in creating the African Union. The corporate bosses never like it when their wage slaves set up a union.

The Libyan leader has also supported a United States of Africa for he knows that an Africa of 54 independent states will continue to be picked off one by one and abused and exploited by the members of the Triumvirate. Gaddafi has moreover demanded greater power for smaller countries in the United Nations.

–The claim by Gaddafi’s son, Saif el Islam, that Libya had helped to fund Nicolas Sarkozy’s election campaign [The Guardian (London), March 16, 2011] could have humiliated the French president and explain his obsession and haste in wanting to be seen as playing the major role in implementing the “no fly zone” and other measures against Gaddafi.

A contributing factor may have been the fact that France has been weakened in its former colonies and neo-colonies in Africa and the Middle East, due in part to Gaddafi’s influence.

–Gaddafi has been an outstanding supporter of the Palestinian cause and critic of Israeli policies; and on occasion has taken other African and Arab countries, as well as the West, to task for their not matching his policies or rhetoric; one more reason for his lack of popularity amongst world leaders of all stripes.

–In January 2009, Gaddafi made known that he was considering nationalizing the foreign oil companies in Libya. [Reuters, Jan. 21, 2009]

He also has another bargaining chip: the prospect of utilizing Russian, Chinese and Indian oil companies. During the current period of hostilities, he invited these countries to make up for lost production. But such scenarios will now not take place.

The Triumvirate will instead seek to privatize the National Oil Corporation, transferring Libya’s oil wealth into foreign hands.

–The American Empire is troubled by any threat to its hegemony. In the present historical period the empire is concerned mainly with Russia and China. China has extensive energy investments and construction investments in Libya and elsewhere in Africa.

The average American neither knows nor cares about this. The average American imperialist cares greatly, if for no other reason than in this time of rising demands for cuts to the military budget it’s vital that powerful “enemies” be named and maintained.

–For yet more reasons, see the article “Why Regime Change in Libya?” by Ismael Hossein-zadeh, and the U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, Wikileaks reference 07TRIPOLI967 11-15-07 (includes a complaint about Libyan “resource nationalism”)

William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2; Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower; West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir; Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire. Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at www.killinghope.org. This article was originally published in Blum’s Anti-Empire Report.




Why Do All Hail Gen. Petraeus?

Exclusive: Iraq continues its drift toward a failed state, amid terror bombings, sectarian violence and a devastated infrastructure. Also, the strategic winner from George W. Bush’s invasion looks to be neighboring Iran. So, asks Robert Parry, why is Official Washington celebrating Gen. David Petraeus for his “successful surge”?

By Robert Parry

As Gen. David Petraeus retired from the Army on Wednesday, he received a 17-gun salute and was hailed across the U.S. news media as the strategic genius who organized the “successful surge” in Iraq and similarly achieved gains against the Taliban in Afghanistan. He is now off to run the CIA.

However, the less glorious truth about Petraeus’s much-heralded “surge” in Iraq was that it cost the lives of almost 1,000 more U.S. soldiers, inflicted more violence upon the people of Iraq and will likely only have achieved a delay in a U.S. military defeat of historic proportions. Much the same could be said for Petraeus’s “surge” in Afghanistan.

The Iraq surge’s primary accomplishment may have been to spare President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their neocon advisers the embarrassment of having invaded and occupied Iraq, only to see a bloodied U.S. army essentially kicked out by the Iraqis. The surge put off the forced withdrawal of the American military at least until President Barack Obama’s watch.

Washington’s still-influential neocons are now pressing for a revised “status of forces agreement” with Iraq that will allow some U.S. “advisers” to remain in Iraq after the end of the year. That way, the image of the last American troops racing to the Kuwaiti border in December 2011 much as Soviet troops retreated from Afghanistan in 1989 won’t be so stark.

But even the fig leaf of several thousand left-behind U.S. trainers won’t change the strategic reality of a major neocon-driven disaster.

Another measure of that American failure in Iraq could be found Thursday in a Washington Post op-ed by former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who paints his own bleak picture of what life is like in Iraq after the eight-year U.S occupation.

Allawi, who also heads the largest political bloc in Iraq’s legislature, frames his op-ed as an appeal for more economic and political support from the United States but does so in the context of describing a devastated nation. He writes:

“More than eight years after Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown, basic services are in a woeful state: Most of the country has only a few hours of electricity a day. Blackouts were increasingly common this summer.

“Oil exports, still Iraq’s only source of income, are barely more than they were when Hussein was toppled. The government has squandered the boon of high oil prices and failed to create real and sustainable job growth. Iraq’s economy has become an ever more dysfunctional mix of cronyism and mismanagement, with high unemployment and endemic corruption.

Transparency International ranks Iraq the world’s fourth-most-corrupt country and by far the worst in the Middle East. The promise of improved security has been empty, with sectarianism on the rise.”

False Promises

Allawi also cites the false promises of democracy:

“Despite failing to win the most seats in last year’s elections, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki clung to power through a combination of Iranian support and U.S. compliance. He now shows an alarming disregard for democratic principles and the rule of law.

“Vital independent institutions such as the election commission, the transparency commission and Iraq’s central bank have been ordered to report directly to the office of the prime minister. Meanwhile, Maliki refuses to appoint consensus candidates as defense and interior ministers, as per last year’s power-sharing agreement.

“The government is using blatant dictatorial tactics and intimidation to quell opposition, ignoring the most basic human rights. Human Rights Watch reported in February on secret torture prisons under Maliki’s authority.

“In June, it exposed the government’s use of hired thugs to beat, stab and even sexually assault peaceful demonstrators in Baghdad who were complaining about corruption and poor services. These horrors are reminiscent of autocratic responses to demonstrations by failing regimes elsewhere in the region, and a far cry from the freedom and democracy promised in the new Iraq.

“Is this really what the United States sacrificed more than 4,000 young men and women, and hundreds of billions of dollars, to build? The trend of failure is becoming irreversible.”

So what is going on here? How can the U.S. media hail Petraeus’s “successful surge” and write about “victory at last” in Iraq when it appears that the Bush-Cheney-neocon intervention has created what amounts to a failed state in Iraq?

The answer seems to be a political one. Since nearly everyone who was in a position of authority in Washington in 2003 supported the invasion of Iraq including most leading lights of the national press corps no one wants to face up to their responsibility for the death and defeat.

To do so would require painful self-reflection. Washington’s best-and-brightest would have to admit that they didn’t measure up to the moral and intellectual task of resisting the Bush-Cheney-neocon plans for aggressive war, what the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunals deemed the “supreme international crime.”

In an honorable world, there would be resignations in disgrace from the pro-war politicians and pundits. In a just world, there would be international tribunals enforcing accountability on the perpetrators and their accomplices, as the Nuremberg judges promised even for leaders of the victorious Allied nations if they committed aggressive war like the fascist Axis powers did.

Since neither exists not an honorable world nor a just one Washington political/media establishment simply keeps up a positive spin. Bush and Cheney get to live out their retirements in peace and comfort, Petraeus gets a 17-gun salute, and the neocons retain their influence and their lucrative think-tank jobs in the nation’s capital.

There even appears to be a good chance that the neocons will ride back into power in 2013 behind another tough-talking Texan, Gov. Rick Perry.

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a two-book set for the discount price of only $19. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost  History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.




Hariri Murder Sleuths Ignored al-Qaeda

From the start, the United Nations-sponsored inquiry into the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has looked more like an agit-prop campaign, first aimed at Syria and now Hezbollah, than an impartial investigation into the crime. Gareth Porter notes the inquiry’s curious blind eye toward an al-Qaeda confession.

By Gareth Porter

In focusing entirely on the alleged links between four Hezbollah activists and the 2005 bombing that killed Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the indictment issued by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has continued the practice of the U.N investigation before it of refusing to acknowledge the much stronger evidence that an Al-Qaeda cell was responsible for the assassination.

Several members of an Al-Qaeda cell confessed in 2006 to having carried out the crime, but later recanted their confessions, claiming they were tortured.

However, the transcript of one of the interrogations, which was published by a Beirut newspaper in 2007, shows that the testimony was being provided without coercion and that it suggested that Al-Qaeda had indeed ordered the assassination.

But the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) was determined to pin the crime either on Syria or its Lebanese ally Hezbollah and refused to pursue the Al-Qaeda angle.

Detlev Mehlis, the first head of UNIIIC, was convinced from the beginning that Syrian military intelligence and its Lebanese allies had carried out the bombing and went to extraordinary lengths to link Ahmed Abu Adas, who had appeared in a videotape claiming responsibility for the assassination for a previously unknown group, to Syrian intelligence.

Violating the general rule that investigators do not reveal specific witness testimony outside an actual courtroom, Mehlis described testimony from “a number of sources, confidential and otherwise,” which he said “pointed to Abu Adas being used by Syria and Lebanese authorities as scapegoat for the crimes.”

Mehlis cited one witness who claimed to have seen Adas in the hallway outside the office of the director of Syrian intelligence in December 2004, and another who said Adas had been forced by the head of Syrian military intelligence to record the video in Damascus 15 days before the assassination and was then put in a Syrian prison.

Mehlis quoted a third witness, Zouheir Saddiq, as saying that Adas had changed his mind about carrying out the assassination on behalf of Syrian intelligence “at the last minute” and had been killed by the Syrians and his body put in the vehicle carrying the bomb.

The Mehlis effort to fit the Adas video into his narrative of Syrian responsibility for the killing of Hariri began to fall apart when the four “false witnesses” who had implicated Syrian and Lebanese intelligence in the assassination, including Saddiq, were discredited as fabricators.

Meanwhile a major potential break in the case occurred when Lebanese authorities arrested 11 members of an Al-Qaeda terrorist cell in late December 2005 and early January 2006.

The members of the cell quickly confessed to interrogators that they had planned and carried out the assassination of Hariri, The Daily Star reported Jun. 6, 2008.

Obviously based in large part on the interrogation of the cell members, the Lebanese government wrote an internal report in 2006 saying that, at one point after the assassination, Ahmed Abu Adas had been living in the same apartment in Beirut as the “emir” of the Al- Qaeda cell, Sheik Rashid.

The full text of the report was leaked to Al Hayat, which published it April 7, 2007.

The report said Rashid, whose real name was Hassan Muhammad Nab’a, had pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1999 and later to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.

Rashid had also been involved in the “Dinniyeh Group” which launched an armed attempt to create an Islamic mini-state in northern Lebanon in 2000, only to be crushed by 13,000 Lebanese troops.

The members of the Al-Qaeda cell later retracted their confessions when they were tried by military courts in summer 2008 for “plotting to commit terrorist acts on Lebanese soil,” claiming that the confessions had been extracted under torture.

But the Al-Qaeda cell members were being held by the Ministry of Interior, whose top officials had a political interest in suppressing the information obtained from them. The full transcript of the interrogation of one of the members of the cell was leaked to the Beirut daily Al Akhbar in October 2007 by an official who was unhappy with the ministry’s opposition to doing anything with the confessions.

The transcript shows that the testimony of at least one of the members contained information that could only have been known by someone who had been informed of details of the plot.

The testimony came from Faisal Akhbar, a Syrian carrying a Saudi passport who freely admitted being part of the Al-Qaeda cell. He testified that Khaled Taha, a figure the U.N. commission later admitted was closely associated with Adas, had told him in early January 2005 that an order had been issued for the assassination of Hariri, and that he was to go to Syria to help Adas make a video on the group’s taking responsibility for the assassination.

Akhbar recalled that Sheikh Rashid had told him in Syria immediately after the assassination that it had been done because Hariri had signed the orders for the execution of Al-Qaeda militants in Lebanon in 2004. Akhbar also said he was told around Feb. 3, 2005, that a team of Lebanese Al-Qaeda had been carrying out surveillance of Hariri since mid-January.

Akhbar also told interrogators some details that were clearly untrue, including the assertion that Abu Adas had actually died in the suicide mission. That was the idea that the cell had promoted in a note attached to the videotape Adas made.

When challenged on that point, Akhbar immediately admitted that a youth from Saudi Arabia, who had been sent by Al-Qaeda, had been the suicide bomber. He acknowledged that Rashid had told him that, if detained, he was to inform the security services that he knew nothing about the subject of Abu Adas, and that he was to warn the other members of the cell to do likewise.

But the interrogator employed a trick question to establish whether Akhbar had actual knowledge of the assassination plot or not. He gave the Al-Qaeda cadre a list of 11 phone numbers, four of which were fake numbers, and asked him if he remembered which ones were used in the preparations for the assassination.

Akhbar immediately corrected the interrogator, saying there had only been seven numbers used in the preparations for the assassination, including the five members of the surveillance team. That response corresponded with the information the investigation had already obtained, and which had not been reported in the news media.

The response of UNIIIC, under its new chief, Belgian Serge Brammertz, to the unfolding of an entirely different narrative surrounding the assassination was to shift the focus away from the question of who were the actual perpetrators of the bombing.

In his March 2006 report, Brammertz said the “priority” of UNIIIC “is being given not to the team that carried out the assassination but to those who ‘enabled’ the crime.”

And Brammertz had still not abandoned the story originally planted by the false witnesses in 2005 that the role of Adas in making the videotape had been manipulated by Syrian intelligence.

In his June 2006 report, Brammertz said the Commission continued to “entertain the idea” that whoever detonated the bomb may have been “coerced into doing so”. And in the September 2006 report, he suggested that Adas may have been coerced into delivering the videotape, just as Mehlis had suggested in 2005.

Despite the official Lebanese government report confirming it, Brammertz never publicly acknowledged that Adas was deeply involved with an Al-Qaeda cell, much less that its members had confessed to the killing of Hariri.

Daniel Bellemare, the prosecutor for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, similarly chose not to pursue that evidence, which directly contradicts the assertion in his indictment that it was a Hezbollah operative – not Al-Qaeda – who had convinced Adas to make the videotape.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006. (This story first appeared at Inter Press Service.)




In Libya, a Bloodbath Looms

Exclusive: The Orwellian hypocrisy of NATO’s mission “to protect civilians” in Libya has now been encapsulated in a vow from a NATO-backed Libyan rebel who announced plans to crush the few towns still loyal to Muammar Gaddafi with the words, “sometimes to avoid bloodshed you must shed blood,” as Robert Parry reports.

By Robert Parry

NATO’s war in Libya, which began with high-minded declarations about “protecting civilians,” now appears likely to end with a bloodbath that will claim the lives of many civilians, albeit pro-Gaddafi civilians, not the earlier threatened anti-Gaddafi civilians.

Ali Tarhouni, a senior official of the NATO-backed Libyan rebels, summed up this Orwellian reality with a phrase reminiscent of the famous Vietnam War quote that “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.” 

Tarhouni was quoted by the Associated Press as saying “Sometimes to avoid bloodshed you must shed blood and the faster we do this the less blood will be shed.”

So, NATO’s rebels set a four-day deadline for Muammar Gaddafi’s remaining tribal strongholds, including his native Surte, to surrender or face a final crushing military strike, which the rebels presumably will mount as NATO aircraft pound Surte’s defenses.

NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie explained that NATO still considered Gaddafi as a threat and thus NATO’s warplanes were still attacking his forces, especially on “a corridor to the eastern edge of Surte.”

In other words, even though Gaddafi’s loyalists have retreated to a few towns where he appears to retain strong popular support, NATO is paving the way for the rebels to overrun these communities. The mission “to protect civilians” has evolved into an operation designed to open pro-Gaddafi civilians to a hostile conquest.

New evidence also has surfaced showing that Gaddafi’s earlier claims that the rebel forces were permeated by Islamist extremists with terrorist affiliations were not just words, that he had reason and evidence to believe it.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that “documents unearthed from the archives of Libya’s security service show the former government deeply worried about an Islamist threat to the regime, concerns that reverberated this week as veteran jihadists claimed credit for leading last week’s rebel takeover of Tripoli.”

In an article by Thomas Erdbrink and Joby Warrick, the Post said it had obtained documents revealing that Gaddafi had assigned his Interior Security Agency to monitor the actions of Islamic extremists, including some who had fought against the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“In the records, Libyan security officials elaborately map the movements of suspected al-Qaeda fighters and regularly share information on Islamist cells with foreign intelligence agencies,” the Post reported, noting that some of these jihadists have now emerged as key fighters in ousting Gaddafi from power.

“The regime fell to rebel fighters led in part by a self-proclaimed former Islamist, Abdelkarim Belhadj,” the Post wrote. “He has declared himself the leader of the ‘Tripoli Brigade’ that spearheaded the defeat of Gaddafi loyalists in the capital.”

Belhadj was previously the commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which has been associated with al-Qaeda in the past, maintained training bases in Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks, and was listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

Though Belhadj and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group deny current allegiance to al-Qaeda, Belhadj was arrested in Afghanistan in 2004 and was briefly interrogated by the CIA in Thailand at a “black site” prison before being handed over to Libyan authorities, the Post reported.

Jihadist Warnings

Concerns about violent jihadists in the ranks of NATO’s Libyan rebels are not entirely new. In March, as NATO was ramping up its aerial campaign against Gaddafi’s government, there were warnings both from Gaddafi and from independent terrorism experts about this infiltration. However, amid the excitement about overthrowing Gaddafi, those concerns were suppressed.

For all his eccentric behavior and past links to terrorism, Gaddafi had become a staunch enemy of radical Islamists, explaining why his regime was embraced by President George W. Bush last decade. Both leaders had mutual enemies.

Similarly, Syria’s embattled dictator Bashar al-Assad has been another bulwark against Islamic extremism inside his country’s borders, in part, because Islamic fundamentalists despise Assad’s Alawite religion, considering it a form of apostasy that must be stamped out.

As analysts Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman wrote in a report for West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, “the Syrian and Libyan governments share the United States’ concerns about violent salafi‐jihadi ideology and the violence perpetrated by its adherents.”

In their report entitled “Al-Qaeda’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq,” Felter and Fishman analyzed al-Qaeda documents captured in 2007 showing personnel records of militants who flocked to Iraq for the war. The documents revealed that eastern Libya (the base of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion) was a hotbed for suicide bombers traveling to Iraq to kill American troops.

Felter and Fishman wrote that these so-called Sinjar Records disclosed that while Saudis comprised the largest number of foreign fighters in Iraq, Libyans represented the largest per-capita contingent by far. Those Libyans came overwhelmingly from towns and cities in the east.

“The vast majority of Libyan fighters that included their hometown in the Sinjar Records resided in the country’s Northeast, particularly the coastal cities of Darnah 60.2% (53) and Benghazi 23.9% (21),” Felter and Fishman wrote, adding:

“Both Darnah and Benghazi have long been associated with Islamic militancy in Libya, in particular for an uprising by Islamist organizations in the mid‐1990s. … One group, the Libyan Fighting Group , claimed to have Afghan veterans in its ranks,” a reference to mujahedeen who took part in the CIA-backed anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, as did al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, a Saudi.

“The Libyan uprisings [in the 1990s] became extraordinarily violent,” Felter and Fishman wrote. “Qadhafi used helicopter gunships in Benghazi, cut telephone, electricity, and water supplies to Darnah and famously claimed that the militants ‘deserve to die without trial, like dogs,’”

The authors added that Abu Layth al‐Libi, Emir of Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), “reinforced Benghazi and Darnah’s importance to Libyan jihadis in his announcement that LIFG had joined al‐Qa’ida.

“‘It is with the grace of God that we were hoisting the banner of jihad against this apostate [Gaddafi] regime under the leadership of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which sacrificed the elite of its sons and commanders in combating this regime whose blood was spilled on the mountains of Darnah, the streets of Benghazi, the outskirts of Tripoli, the desert of Sabha, and the sands of the beach.’”

Libyans with al-Qaeda

Some important al-Qaeda leaders operating in Pakistan’s tribal regions also are believed to have come from Libya. For instance, “Atiyah,” who was guiding the anti-U.S. war strategy in Iraq (and was recently reported killed by a U.S. drone strike), was identified as a Libyan named Atiyah Abd al-Rahman.

It was Atiyah who urged a strategy of creating a quagmire for U.S. forces in Iraq, buying time for al-Qaeda headquarters to rebuild its strength in Pakistan. “Prolonging the war [in Iraq] is in our interest,” Atiyah said in a letter that upbraided Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for his hasty and reckless actions in Iraq.

As in the anti-Islamist crackdown of the 1990s, Gaddafi used harsh rhetoric in vowing to crush the Benghazi-based rebellion when it began earlier this year. Those threats were cited by President Barack Obama and other Western leaders as a key reason for securing a United Nations resolution and establishing a no-fly zone over Libya “to protect civilians” in eastern Libya.

In a personal letter to Obama, Gaddafi cited the role of terrorists in this new uprising.

“We are confronting al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, nothing more,” Gaddafi wrote. “What would you do if you found them controlling American cities with the power of weapons? Tell me how would you behave so that I could follow your example?” (Obama did not respond.)

Today, however, the tables have been turned on Gaddafi. After months of U.S.-guided NATO airstrikes incinerating his troops and battering his defenses in Tripoli, he has been driven from power by the rebels. His remaining loyalists have fled to Surte and a few other Gaddafi strongholds.

If these loyalists don’t surrender to the rebels, Belhadj and other jihadists are likely to spearhead the final assaults again backed by NATO airstrikes. The troops and civilians still loyal to Gaddafi don’t expect much mercy.

Or, in the words of rebel leader Tarhouni, “sometimes to avoid bloodshed you must shed blood.”

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a two-book set for the discount price of only $19. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book,Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.




The Clash Over Dr. King’s Legacy

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is fittingly located between the monuments to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. But historian William Loren Katz asks which version of the martyred civil rights leader will be remembered, the gentle advocate for racial tolerance or the fierce activist for peace and justice.

 By William Loren Katz

It has taken a hurricane to postpone the dedication of the long-awaited monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington — the first monument on the Mall for an individual who is not a president, not a white man and not a war leader.

King repeatedly proved he was not frightened by forces packing the power of hurricanes. He calmly faced many human storms before he was assassinated in April 1968.

However, since major corporations contributed to the monument, how will Dr. King’s message and courage be presented to the American public and remembered by children?

In 1964 when Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, frightened by King’s popularity since his 1963 March on Washington, called him “the most notorious liar in the country” and ordered the FBI to increase its surveillance and of the man and his movement. 

A more recent assessment of King was offered this Jan. 13 when the Pentagon commemorated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with an address by the Defense Department’s general counsel, PenJeh C. Johnson, who insisted that King would understand why the United States was at war today.

Speaking to Defense Department officials, Johnson frankly acknowledged that King, in the final year of his life, became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. But Johnson hastily added that today’s wars are not out of line with the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s teachings. 

“I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack.”

 Really?

According to civil rights veteran and noted feminist scholar and author Jo Freeman, who worked for King’s SCLC beginning in 1965, King repeatedly opposed U.S. intervention in Vietnam before small gatherings, and only reluctantly and temporarily stopped when he warned that President Lyndon Johnson might withdraw the “war on poverty” if King continued.

But King’s conscience, and Johnson’s escalation of the war, drove him into a full-blown, highly public denunciation of the war in 1967. On April 4 at the Riverside Church in New York City, Dr. King delivered his speech, “Declaration of Independence from the War In Vietnam.”

It was not only eloquent and passionate but also carefully reasoned and as unambiguous in its message as its title. 

Dr. King’s call for U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam was also hard to ignore. That spring, he and Stokley Carmichael led a massive peace march to the United Nations building.

King’s war opposition also brought challenges from his enemies both to his leadership and to his moral purpose. There were more death threats and less government protection when he needed it most. He expected all that.

In 1967, King was denounced by the New York Times and the Washington Post and other parts of the liberal and the mainstream media. He was even challenged by some civil rights allies.

King had dared to speak at a time when U.S. officials from the president on down, warned that communism’s triumph in Vietnam would lead to victories across Asia and beyond. They used this “domino theory” to make Americans as fearful of communism as they are of today’s Middle Eastern terrorists.

But King was resolute and unmoved. “A time comes when silence is betrayal,” King said. He minced few words, referring to “my own government” as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”  

Has much changed today when the U.S. boasts the largest military budget in history, one larger than all other countries combined? The United States has untold bases across the globe, and its armed forces have been kept in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than in World War II.

Weekly we hear of the drone strikes in Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere and how the U.S. government is contemplating air strikes against Iran’s nuclear building sites. U.S. casualties are rising in the Middle East, and there seems no end in sight for U.S. occupation and war.

Would Dr. King have called for withdrawal from Vietnam and, had he lived, not called for a withdrawal from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya? Would he have failed to see parallels that are as obvious as they are frightening?

In his Riverside address, Dr. King pointed out that “our leaders refused to tell us the truth” about the war in Vietnam. Can we ever forget that the U.S. attack on Iraq was initiated to destroy weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist, and retaliate against a Saddam Hussein and Iraq that had no part in the 9/11 attacks on the United States? 

In the name of “Iraqi freedom,” American leaders ordered the torture of prisoners, even sending some to other countries or U.S.-run “black sites” for torture; to assure “democracy,” the U.S. supported corrupt leaders who lacked popular support. 

The people of Vietnam, King said, “must see Americans as strange liberators.”

In Afghanistan today those who suffer from drone attacks directed from afar, and from deadly night ground searches for terrorists, do not see Americans as liberators. They see a distant, imperial power occupying their country, killing innocent civilians, and as doomed to fail as earlier invaders of Afghanistan.

“The madness of Vietnam,” Dr. King said in 1967, will “totally” poison “America’s soul.” He told how U.S. involvement in Vietnam “eviscerated” its war on poverty begun by President Johnson, and instead had its “funds and energies” and “men and skills” drawn into a war “like some demonic, destructive suction tube.” 

What happens to “America’s soul” as the U.S. fights three Middle Eastern wars, its budget spins out of control, and joblessness and hopelessness reach proportions known only during the Great Depression?

Dr. King emphasized how the Vietnam War was “devastating the hopes of the poor at home” and “sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight in extraordinarily high proportion relative to the rest of the population.”

In 2011, a volunteer army draws even more heavily on the poor, those without jobs, men and women losing hope of finding meaningful work. Dr. King said then “I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”

Would the man who organized a Poor People’s March on Washington before his assassination be silent now?

Toward the end of his address at the Riverside Church, Dr. King said:

“Somehow this madness must cease. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam and the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam ….

“The great initiative in the war is ours. The initiative to stop must be ours.”

Was not Martin Luther King, Jr. reaching beyond Vietnam when he warned of “approaching spiritual death” and called for “a significant and profound change in American life and policy” and insisted “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.”  

Was he only speaking of Vietnam when he said, “War is not the answer?”

We the people have to make sure it is neither the J. Edgar Hoover spin or the Pentagon version, but the real legacy of Dr. King that is acknowledged and celebrated. We owe that to future generations.

William Loren Katz, author of 40 books on American history including Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage, is a visiting scholar at New York University, his university affiliation since 1973. His website is williamlkatz.com. For Dr. King’s entire Riverside Church speech, click here.




The FBI Goes Rogue

One neoconservative argument against American Muslims is that there is a correlation between mosques and FBI terror investigations. But that may be circular logic since the FBI targets mosques with paid informants trying to detect potential “lone wolves” and lure them into terrorist acts, as Lawrence Davidson observes.

By Lawrence Davidson

Here is an important question: What single organization is responsible for more terror plots in the USA than any other?

Possible answers: Al Qaida. That would no doubt be the popular answer but it would be wrong. The KKK. Way past their prime, so that is not it. The Jewish Defense League. Good guess, but still not it. So what is the correct answer?

It is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, AKA the FBI. Don’t believe me? Well, just read Trevor Aaronson’s expose entitled “The Informants” published in the September/October 2011 issue of Mother Jones.
 
Aaronson looked at over 500 terrorism-related cases taken up by the FBI and found that over half of them involved the Bureau’s stable of 15,000 informants. Many of these are ex-felons and con men who are often paid well if their efforts result in an arrest and conviction.

So what, you might say. Using informants to obtain information about criminal activity is an old and legitimate tactic. Yes, however, that approach to information gathering is not exactly how the FBI uses all of its informants.

Indeed, the Bureau has a program, misnamed “prevention” which encourages its agents to get creative in the use of informants. How creative? Well, if they can’t find any terrorist activity going on, they have their informants instigate some. Where are they doing this? Mainly in our country’s Muslim communities.
 
According to the Mother Jones story, the FBI has concluded that Al-Qaeda as an organization is no longer a major threat to the US. The threat now comes from the “lone wolf,” the person who is angry at or frustrated by their life situation and open to the influence of terrorist rhetoric.

Allegedly, the American Muslim community is full of these “lone wolves” just sitting out there fuming, aching to vent their anger on a myriad array of significant and insignificant targets.

As the FBI’s logic goes, sooner or later a lot of these people will find the courage to act. So, the role of the informant is to find these folks and nab them before they blow up a Christmas tree in Portland, Oregon. Here is a typical scenario:
 
First, FBI informant A is assigned, in Aaronson’s words, to “troll the mosques” of some American Muslim community. They might work this area for months looking for those angry, frustrated types.

Gadeir Abbas, Staff Attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), says they may hit upon some fellows living “on the fringes of society.” These people are often poor and unsettled, with only a rudimentary knowledge if Islam, and usually quite gullible.
 
Second, having spotted a candidate B, informant A befriends him and encourages B to vent his anger and dissatisfaction. At one point informant A might suggest to B that Allah put him on this earth for better things and what would he like to do about all that anger and frustration?
 
Third, now we are at the seminal moment. What if B has no idea what he would like to do?

At this point informant A (carefully turning off his hidden recording device) transforms himself into an agent provocateur (remember he has a financial incentive to entrap this guy) and comes up with a suggestion. Why don’t we go blow up an army recruitment center?

In other words, A is a confidence artist, a con-man (one of these informants boasted that he could con the kernels off a cob of corn) and is using his “talent” to maneuver his victim, who as yet has done nothing illegal, into an incriminating situation.
 
Fourth, if B takes the bait, then A leads him on, concocting a plot, perhaps informing B that he A is an agent (not of the FBI of course) of some Pakistani terrorist organization come to the US to wage Jihad. He can supply B with weapons, explosives, vehicles and money.

In other words, all the things that B could never have reasonably procured on his own (such as the necessary money or appropriate vehicles). All the things that B has no knowledge how to construct (like a bomb).
 
Fifth, eventually B is led to enact the crime, usually using a fake bomb. Then, of course, he gets arrested. Typically, he is sent to jail for decades. A gets paid up to $100,000 by the FBI. Voila, another terrorist plot foiled.
 
Criminal Cops
 
There has always been a fine line between the behavior of the criminal and that of the policeman. The police know this to be true and that is why major state and local police departments have internal affairs sections which look out for “criminal cops.”

I do not know if the FBI has such an internal operation, but they certainly should. There are laws against what the FBI is doing. Their informants, at the Bureau’s direction, are not just rooting out criminals, they are inciting the crimes and organizing their commission.
 
This interpretation of the situation has been raised with Attorney General Eric Holder. His reply is that those who make these accusations “do not have their facts straight or do not have a full understanding of the law.”

This is not a very satisfactory response. The FBI will not give us all the facts and in many cases has carefully made sure some of the facts go unrecorded. And, as for the crime of incitement, if you look this topic up using Wikipedia, here is part of what you get:

“The plan to commit crime may exist only in the mind of one person until others are incited to join in, at which point the social danger becomes more real. The offence overlaps the offences of counseling or procuring as an accessory.”

This is exactly what the FBI informants are doing: counseling, procuring and inciting.
 
One can go on and read in the Wikipedia piece that incitement exists as a crime because if you wait for the actual crime to be committed, “it is too late to avert the harm. Thus the offence of incitement has been preserved to allow the police to intervene at an earlier time and so avert the threatened harm.”

This is probably the part of the law Holder feels is not understood. Yet in the FBI’s “prevention” campaign there is often no evidence of prior intent on the part of those eventually arrested.

That is, without the intervention of the informant, without his incitement, there is no evidence that any of these entrapped “criminals” would have done anything wrong. That being the case, it appears that in these incidents, the FBI is inciting others to criminal acts. This is illegal and an egregious abuse of power.
  
If one thinks this through, it becomes clear that the FBI policymakers have confused thought and action. This is a very Judeo-Christian thing to do. Is the sin in the thought or the action?

According to the Old Testament thought will do. You do not have to seduce your neighbor’s wife to break one of the Ten Commandments. All you have to do is “covet” her.

To pursue the metaphor a bit further, who is it in the Bible stories who goes around and encourages sin, first in the mind and then in action? Adam and Eve might have occasionally thought about eating that apple, but who incited them to do so?

Now we have the FBI reenacting this ancient storyline. They know that there are all these people with the sin of terrorism in their hearts. And, they have taken it upon themselves to play the role of the tempter and move these people from thought to action.

It seems to me that there must be a daring cartoonist out there who would like to lampoon Robert Mueller, current Director of the FBI, by drawing him with little horns and a pointed tail.
 
Peter Ahearn, a retired FBI agent who has directed some of these entrapment operations, would get upset at such a cartoon. He is one of the strongest defenders of “prevention.”

According to Mr. Ahearn it is important to understand who the FBI is dealing with. These are not “real people.” How so? Ahearn explains that “real people don’t say ‘Yeah, let’s go bomb that place.’ Real people call the cops.”

Alas, calling the cops has been tried. When one of the FBI’s more aggressive informants was “trolling” the mosques in the Los Angeles area representatives of the Muslim community called the FBI to report him as a potential terrorist. Nothing happened.

The FBI did not act as a “real cop” should and arrest this fellow. The community’s lawyers could not find anyone to arrest him and had to go to court to get a restraining order to get him out of the community. Tell me Peter Ahearn, how many “real cops” do you have in the FBI anti-terrorism unit?
 
Finally, there is a good chance that “prevention” is making us all less safe. This is because the program will likely make any “real” lone wolf act truly as a loner.

If there is anyone out there with actual terrorist designs they are by now forewarned not to share their intentions with anyone for fear of potential informants. They will act alone. In such a way is the road to hell paved with (alleged) good intentions.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




Pitfalls Ahead in NATO’s Libya Victory

 Washington pundits from neoconservatives through progressives are celebrating the NATO-backed ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi as a worthy use of the West’s military capabilities. But the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland sees dangerous pitfalls ahead, both in Libya and elsewhere.

By Ivan Eland 

The conventional wisdom is that U.S.-led NATO vanquished the ruthless and despotic Muammar Gaddafi. And that is largely what happened.

Gaddafi had one of the worst human rights records on the planet, was autocratic, and was even downright bizarre at times. Moreover, although the U.S. pretended to play only a limited, background role in NATO’s effort in Libya, its initial suppression of Libyan air defenses and its surveillance and communication technology played a key role in bringing down the Gaddafi regime.

In fact, the Libyan conflict demonstrates that the U.S. is perfecting the technique of using ragtag local ground forces to fix enemy regime forces in place so that its air power can pummel them into sawdust.

Previously, the United States had demonstrated this capability using the Kosovo Liberation Army to wrest Kosovo from Serbia in 1999 and using the Northern Alliance to take over Afghanistan after 9/11.

The successful invasion of Iraq also was conducted using smaller quantities of forces on the ground, this time U.S. forces, in combination with the employment of massive U.S. air power. This model seems to promise winning brushfire wars without much cost in either blood or treasure (at least American).

Of course, the quagmires that Afghanistan and Iraq have become should indicate that, in many cases, this model is flawed. Taking over the country is one thing and ruling it is quite another.

As with those two conflicts, if guerrilla war, tribal civil war, or general chaos results in Libya, the world will look to NATO to solve the problem. Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn Rule”, “if you break it, you’ve bought it”, is a truism in foreign policy circles but is nevertheless regularly ignored.

In Libya, another way to put it is: What has NATO won?

Progressive administration apologists, making a not-so-odd alliance with neoconservatives, have taken to the airwaves touting the many Libyan lives saved and the brutal dictator toppled.

Of course, the former was just theoretical, Gaddafi had made bombastic threats before that were never carried out, and was a fig leaf for the not-so-hidden real purpose all along: taking advantage of an internal Libyan uprising against Gaddafi to get rid of the tyrant while the getting was good.

Gaddafi was demonized by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s (even though Reagan started the long dustup by purposefully provoking Gaddafi in 1981 with U.S. naval power off the Libyan coast), much as Saddam Hussein was by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Once such dictators have been upgraded into the “evil incarnate” caricature (the equally despotic Saudi regime has not transitioned into this category because it is the world’s most important oil producer), pressure builds among American officials, the media and the pundits for regime change.

Also, those progressive and neoconservative pundits have crowed about how cheap the Libyan intervention was in casualties and money. So far, compared to the quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, I guess they have a point.

But as the famous baseball player and coach Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” And these brushfire conflicts never seem to be over.

Now that the U.S. and NATO have taken such a big stake in Libya’s outcome, money and even casualties could be required for any needed ground force to prevent chaos or civil war or just to keep the country stable.

Even if no ground force is needed, money will be needed to help rebuild the country and ensure its future stability.

With the U.S. in dire economic and fiscal straits, record federal budget deficits and more than $14 trillion in national debt, and two other costly wars still ongoing, America cannot even afford a cheap war. If you are broke, you shouldn’t just eat at TGI Friday’s instead of an expensive restaurant; you need to eat at home.

Worst of all, we don’t really know what will come next in Libya. In retrospect, Gaddafi may look much better if radical anti-U.S. Islamists eventually take over the country.

The U.S. has seemed to be so worried about this outcome in Syria that, up until recently, it was reluctant to call for the ouster of the equally brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The same worry should have applied to Libya.

The problem with wars, even ones with laudable goals, is that the unintended consequences are usually severe. Recalling that U.S. support of Islamist rebels in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union morphed into the worst foreign threat to American soil since the War of 1812 should have given the United States some pause in getting involved in the Libyan conflict. It didn’t.

Yet the Libyan conflict could produce equally nasty outcomes. Gaddafi was reported to have stockpiled 20,000 man-portable anti-aircraft weapons, which could be used by terrorists to shoot down commercial airliners. Many of these weapons have gone missing in Libya, with their wooden cases empty.

Andrew J. Shapiro, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, has said that these unsecured missiles in Libya are “one of the things that keep me up at night.”

The president of Chad and officials in Algeria, whose countries neighbor Libya, have said that some of those missiles have traveled over their borders to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which calls North Africa home.

Finally, during the years before his downfall, Gaddafi had settled his differences with the West, giving up his nuclear weapons program and paying victims of Libyan-sponsored terror attacks in the 1980s.

Like the lesson that nuclear aspirants (for example, Iran) learned from the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, countries on the outs with the U.S. without nuclear arms don’t get any respect from the American superpower, the toppling of a nuclear-disarmed Gaddafi gives them little incentive to give up such weapons programs and every incentive to accelerate them.

So perhaps the removal of Gaddafi in Libya is not as much of a triumph as it first appears.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.