Remember when World War III was envisioned as a nuclear Armageddon? That threat hung over the heads of my generation through our entire childhoods and into our adult lives. Then it vanished along with the Soviet Union. We may face it again someday, but for right now it's gone.
What isn't gone is the threat of another World War. And, thanks to George W. Bush and his Neoncon advisers we are on the brink of just that... a major war with international implications. And like almost every other world war, it has snuck up on us. To understand how that could be so you all you need to do is look back 93 years, to June 28, 1914.
At approximately 11:00 am on June 28, 1914, Prince Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria, and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The assassin was Gavrilo Princip, a member of a Bosnian separatist group. The event was the trigger of World War I, which began less than two months after Franz Ferdinand's death, with Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia. (More)
World War I, was a global military conflict that took place mostly in Europe between 1914 and 1918. It left millions dead and re-shaped the modern world. The Allied Powers, led by France, Russia, the British Empire, and later, Italy, defeated the Central Powers: Austria-Hungary, the German Empire, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. (More)
Ferdinand wasn't the reason all Europe and the near east were thrust into years of bloody conflict. His assassination was simply the spark that ignited a long simmering toxic stew of petty gripes, border disputes, rivalries, personal hatreds and ethnic tensions. The lid had been on for a long time, the pressure had built and all it took was one moron to come along and set the whole thing off.
Exactly those conditions existed in Middle East on March 19, 2003 when George W. Bush decided it was good time to take out Saddam Hussein.
Just look at the geopolitical conditions that were boiling at the time. To the west Sunni nations, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, had each forged strong political and economic ties with the Christian/Judeao west. These nations were modernizing along western lines and falling increasingly in line with western diplomatic wishes, including tolerating and even recognizing Israel.
To the east was the 900 pound gorilla, Shiite Iran. Iran was heading in the polar-opposite direction. Iran was determined to reclaim it;s Shia's mission as keeper of the pure Islamic flame and to reinstate Islamic religious rule throughout the region.
Stuck smack in the middle were Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Iraq, dominated by it's minority Sunnis. had fought Iran to a standstill 1980's, brutal war that killed millions on both sides. After failing to defeat Iran, Iraq attacked neighboring Kuwait, only to be thrown out by western forces a few months later.
Afghanistan, to Iran's immediate east, had been in the hands of a crackpot cult of militant Muslims, the Taliban, which the Iranian hated and feared.
Then there was Syria, a majority Sunni nation, caught between Iraq and a hard place. It had mutual enemy Israel on it's southern border and a democratic Lebanon on its western. Syria had supported Saddam's dictatorship through ties with their common Baath parties. But, having been defeated decades earlier by Israel, which still occupied captured Syrian territory, Syria had turned to Iran for help, which Iran happily provided through its proxy army, Hezbollah.
And that's where things stood on March 19, 2003 when George W. Bush assassinated his version of Archduck Ferdinand by launching a full-scale invasion of Iraq. He lit a match that ignited the highly flammable tensions that filled the region – Israel v. Palestinians, Palestinians v. Palestinians, Shia v. Sunnis, Shia v.Shia, Sunni v. Sunni, Christians v. Muslims, Muslims v. Modernity, Modernity v. Muslims, Oil consuming nations v. anyone who gets in the way of their oil supplies. If there was ever a region ready to blow, it was the Middle East on March 19, 2003.
Only a fool would strike a match anywhere near such a fuse.
Bush's reckless war tore the lid off a boiling cauldron that is now boiling over and threatens to engulf the entire region in what history will likely record as a full fledged war with worldwide implications.
The decisions Congress must make in the months ahead about what to do with our troops in that region will be shaped by how they see what's actually going on and where it's headed. Which is why they need to start framing it in terms much larger than “civil war.” Because it's no longer about just Iraq today, anymore than it was about Bosnia in 1914. It beyond that now. Way beyond that.
When this kind of war breaks out certain patterns are immediately recognizable. During World War I the world witnessed the same kind of things we are now seeing in Iraq, among which is ethnic cleansing. During WWI the Armenians were massacred by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. We can parse terms, was it a massacre or was it genocide, but whatever it was it looks a lot like what gearing up in Iraq right now. So far at least 180,000 Sunnis have be ethnically forced to out -- cleansed -- from Baghdad alone...right under the noses of US forces. Those who refuse to leave are killed.
The Saudis have taken notice and warned that if this continues they will have no choice but to begin arming and supporting Iraq's beleaguered Sunnis. Iran has countered that it would respond to that by making “trouble” for the Saudis – a thinly veiled threat to disrupt Saudi oil facilities and stir up opposition to the already fragile Saudi royal family.
Meanwhile Pakistan has been secretly rearming Afghan's defeated Taliban. Why? Because they simply do not want a US-dominated government on their border because they see the US as closer to Pakistan's mortal foe, India – a suspicion the US reinforced by singing a controversial nuclear deal with India earlier this year.
It's no coincidence that the Iran/Hezbollah./Syria axis decided now was the right moment to openly challenge the western-leaning democratic government in Lebanon. While Syria sees the destabilization of Lebanon as a bargaining chit in it's bid to reclaim the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and Hezbollah. sees it as the front line in its war against Israel, Iran sees Lebanon as the keystone in it's dream of establishing a Shia crescent running form Iran to the Mediterranean.
So what's everyone's next move? Iran knows the US can't sustain it's occupation of Iraq and is already taking an increasingly aggressive hand in shaping the new Iraq. That will mean growing Shiite control, and that will manifest itself in growing pressure on Iraq's Sunnis. The Saudis won't stand for it and will jump into the fray by backing Sunni insurgents with money and US weapons. If that doesn't turn the tide, the Saudis could provide Sunnis close air support with its formidable. modern US-supplied air force.
The Iranians don't have an air force to speak of, but they do have sophisticated long range missiles that can reach Saudi oil fields and refining facilities. One tit will be followed by one tat, then two, then three... then all hell breaks loose.
All this will force Syria to finally chose a side. Are they going to go with Iran, or throw their lot in with fellow Sunni nations. If Syria goes with Iran then Lebanon is toast and Israel will look to Jordon and Egypt to join with them in a joint defense of Lebanon against Syria and, if necessary Iran as well. Because for Israel, a Syria and Lebanon controlled by Iran would be unacceptable.
The Iranians clearly see that scenario as a real possibility, which why they are racing to get a working nuclear weapon – to make Israel think twice before taking a swing at them.
More clues emerged last week when King Hussein of Jordon announced that he'd like his country to begin its own “civilian” nuclear program – like Iran's. Why? Because he too sees something awful his way comes.
And let us not forget those Ottoman Turks of WW I. They are still around in todays Turkey. During WW I they tried to exterminate the Armenians. This time they will try to itch another scratch that's been bugging them for decades, the Kurds. Turkey would love to get rid of separatist Kurds once and for all.
The Turks caught the Armenians by surprise and with the upper hand in WW I. The Kurds will not go quietly or as easily. That fight will be particularly bloody. Turkey is a member of NATO, meaning some generals in Belgium are going to face some hard decisions. Internally Turkey itself will be torn to pieces by those who, on one side want to become part of Western Europe and those on the other side whose hearts are with their ancient Muslim roots. Turkey will not likely emerge from such a war as we know it today.
I have no idea how this would affect the Israeli/Palestinian mess, except to say that it would be supremely foolish of the Palestinians to see all the trouble around them as an opportunity to make trouble for Israel. There is no nation on earth with less of a sense of humor when cornered than Israel.
It all seems so obvious, certainly to leaders in the region who are clearly already moving on their own and in their own national interests. Only the US seems unable or unwilling to see what we've ignited over there. We got it wrong from day one, and we're still getting it wrong. First we were told the problem was the tyrant, Saddam. Then, when it got worse the problem was “dead enders,” and Saddam loyalists. When it got worse again, it was blamed on “insurgents and al Qaida.” Now that the whole country is coming apart, it's a “civil war.”
Yes. George, it's a civil war... and so much more. It's the beginning of a major regional war... call it what you want, World War III, or the Middle East War or Smack Down in the Desert. But its a more than just a civil war – a lot more. The events now unfolding may have been our doing, but their course from here on is out of our control.
Just as the first two world wars reshaped all of Europe and the near east, this war will reshape the Middle East. It will reshape the region in ways we cannot now predict or prevent. All we can do now is prepare. Act like it's an emergency, because it is:
- We should withdraw our troops from Iraq immediately.
- We should redirect the $8 billion a month we are wasting there by allocating half to rebuilding and repairing our own now exhausted military and national defenses
- We should direct the other $4 billion a month into a crash “Manhattan Project” to develop and deploy alternative energy as quickly as possible.
Good idea George, but not nearly enough. We need to go the rest of the way. A fierce storm is brewing. Now is the time to secure all loose gear and batten down our own hatches. Raise taxes, enact standby procedures for mandatory energy conservation. And no "duck and cover" BS. We need to start doing real things to prepare the kind of real shortages that will occur when oil supplies are disrupted.
It took two catastrophic world wars before Europeans got it all out of their system. Hopefully middle easterners can settle it with one. In any event, we can no longer pretend nothing has really changed. We can no longer tether our national security to the fragile threat of middle east oil. We should begin the disengagement now, in a rapid but orderly manner and prepare for the troubled days ahead.
Otherwise we risk being swept up in the maelstrom, unprepared and at the mercy of events now far beyond our control.
January 25, 2007
It's funny how something completely unrelated can inform us on the thought process driving Bush's decision to double down on his Iraq gamble. Twenty or so years ago I co-authored a book on the S&L crisis. It was back then, and in Texas, I learned something that explains everything about Bush's “New Way Forward” in Iraq.
Back in the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan deregulated the savings and loan industry, Texas became the nation's biggest cesspool of S&L crookery.
At the core of their thieving strategy was a little trick they described thusly:
Back in the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan deregulated the savings and loan industry, Texas became the nation's biggest cesspool of S&L crookery.
At the core of their thieving strategy was a little trick they described thusly:
“A rolling loan gathers no loss.”
These wily Texas coyotes had figured out a win/win situation. S&L operators could help their buddies “borrow” money from their S&Ls, not pay it back, and still allow the S&L to book loan fees and other profits, upon which the S&L executives based their salaries and bonuses.
Ah, you say, but wouldn't bank regulators notice that the loans were in default? No. Because each time a loan came due the S&L would “roll it over” -- renew it -- adding all interest due into the new loan and booking it as income. The loans got bigger and bigger, and never got paid off. The bankers got rich, the borrowers got rich, American taxpayers got the bill. A classic Texas “win/win” business deal.
The other rule of Texas high-rollers back then was to never place your own money into risky deals. Instead use what they called “OPM,” Other People's Money. In the case of the S&L debacle, the money stolen and squandered was taxpayer insured savings. .
That's precisely the kind of deal Bush has had going in Iraq, and wants to extend. He's not putting his own children's lives at risk, but OPK – Other People's Kids. And his rolling deployments gathers no loss. As long as he can keep feeding fresh troops into Iraq his project cannot be proven a failure. If Bush can just keep borrowing other people's kids to place at risk, and rolling over – renewing -- his Iraq policy for just two more years, he's home free. It's another Texas “win/win” in which the perp gets away and the American people pay the price.
There are other analogies with the Texas S&L debacle – because this really is almost uniquely a Texas mindset. For example, every single Texas S&L crook I interviewed after the feds closed their bankrupt thrift and/or foreclosed on their projects, made the same claim – almost word for word. It went like this:
“My S&L (or project) would not have failed if the feds had just let me complete my plan. If they had just funded it to completion it would not have failed. They caused the loss by stopping us from seeing the project through.”
And that's precisely what Bush will claim if can just roll over his Iraq loans for two more years. He will leave office and go back to Crawford. The new administration will be forced to declare his Iraq project in default, bite the bullet and withdraw US troops. The lid will come off the already simmering Sunni/Shia civil war and that's when we'll hear from George again. He's sidle out from this ranch house, cozy up to Fox News microphone and declare:
“See, I warned that's would happen. I didn't lose Iraq, the new administration and congress lost Iraq. Had they stuck with my plan and let it run to completion, my Iraq project would not have failed.”
I used to try and figure out if the S&L sociopaths that made that claim actually believed it, or were just trying to escape blame and/or stay out of jail. I never could figure it out, but did finally realized it didn't matter. Either they were delusion thieves or liars and thieves. Either way I didn't want them anywhere near a bank.
The same goes with our current crop of Texas (and Texas-like) Neo-cons running US foreign policy. I don't care if they actually believe their own nonsense or are up to no-good on purpose. Either way they are writing checks in blood on our accounts for a cause not worthy of us and for behavior we used to denounce in others.
I also recall reading the text of lecture given at the height of the S&L crisis by a Texas developer. This guy had borrowed, and defaulted on tens of millions in real estate loans from thrifts that later failed. In his seminar he shared his secret of “success.”
“If you borrow a few thousand dollars from a bank, the bank controls you. But if you borrow a few million dollars from a bank, you control the bank.”
He went on to explain that a small borrower is at the mercy of the lender since the lender can foreclose if the loan is not repaid. But, he explained, if you borrow millions of dollars from a bank, the situation reverses. Because, the last thing a banker wants on his institution's books is a multi-million dollar “REO” (Real Estate Owned.) Bank regulators often force banks to write all or part of the defaulted loans off as a loss. Have too much REO on your books and regulators will the bank.
So, the Texas developer explained, he would borrow as much as could from a bank, then stop making payments. When the banker threatened to foreclose he would sit the banker down for a little, “go-ahead-make-my-day, ” reality chat. It would go something like this:
“Do you really want to have a $40 million, uncompleted condo development on the bank's books? If you foreclose, it's no skin off my ass, because I don't have a cent of my own money in it. So go ahead, foreclose and then you can finish it and try to sell the condos yourself. Or, you could roll the loan over for, say two additional years, build in a nice interest reserve so I don't have to make payments for two years so we don't have to have another situation like this. Oh, and one more thing. I've been crunching the numbers and I don't think I can make of go of this project with a $40 million loan hanging over my head. So let's say you write off $10 million.”
He said it worked every time. And, from the evidence I saw, he wasn't lying... at least that time.
I only mention this because, once again, it provides window into the workings of Bush's Texas brain. When he tells us “we cannot afford to lose in Iraq,” he is saying the same thing as the Texas real estate crook. He's sitting us down for the same kind of little chat in which, what he's really saying is:
“Look, you've made a huge investment in this deal already. You've authorized me to borrow over $400 billion and I've already cashed in over 3000 US lives as well. Do you really want to have that kind of a loss on your books (consciences?)”
That's what's at the bottom of Bush's argument for his “New Way Forward” in Iraq. He's demanding we roll over his already defaulted loans -- demanding we make him additional loans in US lives, treasure and reputation and, though he has established a nearly unbroken record of a deadbeat borrower, he wants us to accept that his new plan is a good one. We must, Texas George says, provide what he says he needs to complete his plan. And, if we refuse, he warns ominously, the resulting failure will be entirely our fault.
It's another Texas “heads I win, tails we someone else loses,” deal. I know one when I see one, because I saw so many before. But at least when the S&L industry reached a point of collapse, Congress stepped up and took action. They passed new laws, staunched the hemorrhage and turned the feds loose on the perps. Back then as well it took Congress too way long to act, because many of those S&L perps were valued campaign contributors. But act they eventually did – and not with some meaningless, non-binding BS resolution calling on the crooks to stop looting taxpayer-insured thrifts.
Bush is way over-extended and in default on every one of his previous Iraq loans. Now he's back at the lending window with a mouth-full of “give-me” and hands full of nothing.
What Congress needs to do this time is to slam that window shut – right on his knuckles.
My Fractured SOTU Tale
Remember the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show? One of my favorite features was “Fractured Fairy Tales.” Which I guess is why as I listened to President Bush's State of the Union speech last night, my brain registered something completely different. I know what he actually said, but here's what I heard last night:
Thank you, Madam Speaker. (Looking around the room...) And may I just say, I love what you've done with the place! Did you bring a covey of interior decorators in from your home town, San Francisco? Heh, heh, heh.... (Snarky smile, head bobbing.)
And thank you, members of the House and Senate, for that warm welcome. You know, I don't hear a lot of applause or cheering these days. The thing I like best about these annual addresses is that it forces Democrats to applaud me on camera – heh, heh, heh. (Pointing to Ted Kennedy gives him a thumbs up...snarky smirk.)
I am happy to report tonight that the state of our union is strong. (Long pause...looking around room waiting for applause but no one claps.)
Hey, tough crowd.. heh, heh, heh. Didn't you guys get advance copies of this speech with the applause lines in yellow marker? You better have or there'll be no fruit cup for Karl tonight... heh, heh, heh.
I know many of you want me talk about Iraq. Well, what do you expect me say? The damn place is mess -- as though that's my fault or something. No, it's not. It's their fault, the Iraqis – the little ingrates. God – the real one – told me to free the Iraqis from that tyrant, Saddam. And I did.
Then what did they do with their new freedom but to stir up a religious war – and not the good kind, either.
This is an Islamic war -- Sunni v. Shia. I read up on whole con---trooo--ver-- seeee. Read about it last weekend at Camp David. See when the false prophet, Mohammad, died, the cult he began split between those who wanted one of his decendants to replace him and those who wanted some unrelated guy.
So right there anyone can see that both sides in that fight were dead wrong. I mean when the real prophet, Jesus Christ, died did anyone to replace him? No way. Jesus was the real deal, the son of God ... a hard act to follow -- unlike that poser, Mohammad.
It all started in 692 AD, and the Sunni and Shia have been at one another's throats ever since. So, how can the mess in Iraq be my fault? I tried to help them and they turned on me like a pagan horde.
That's why I decided to give the Iraqis one more chance by sending 22,000 more other American's sons and daughters over there. And, if they kill too many of them, well, I just might not send any more.
But those who say we failed in Iraq are wrong. We succeeded. We gave the Iraqis democracy. Remember those purple fingers? Tried to fix them up with Diebold machines, but the programmers refused to go to Iraq. So we went with the purple-finger thing instead. Turned out it was better photo-op anyway. That was a good decision. Because, you see, people un.....deeeeer...stand when I remind them about those pictures of ordinary Iraqis holding up their purple fingers after voting. Sure many of them are dead now. But they died free, and we should be proud of that.
Now I want to talk about domestic policy, because I have a couple of ideas that will, hopefully, get your minds off Iraq.
I keep hearing about the 47 million Americans that can't afford health insurance. Well, I have a plan for that too.We could just give them health insurance, but that would be wrong. Like the old saying goes; you can give a man a fish and feed him for a day, or you can teach him how to shop. I prefer to teach them the uninsured how to shop. Under my plan, if a working person or family is too poor to afford health insurance I'm going to give them a tax break for buying health insurance anyway.
I know a lot of you out there – (shooting a glance at Democrats) believe what the uninsured really need is affordable health insurance. But, I have to think of everyone, not just the uninsured. There's an entire financial food-chain out there that depends on the ability to milk Americans dry on all things medical. Those people have rights too, you know. Their entire business model is built on their ability to tell Americans in need of medical care, “your money or your life.” There's the health insurance companies, pharmaceutical firms, HMO's and their executives to consider as well. They have mansion payments too, after all.
All I am proposing is to give the working poor the same thing I gave the wealthy earlier in my administration – tax cuts. Under my plan a working individual would get a tax credit up to $7500 for buying their own health insurance. A person earning $32,500 a year could save as much as $1150 in taxes each year under my plan.
Of course the naysayers – and they are always with us – (glaring down at the Democrats) – will belittle my plan. They will point out that it's unlikely a person earning so little could shell out nearly a third of their gross income to some health insurance company in return for a paltry $1150 tax cut.
I say that it's precisely such negative thinking – coupled with the growing demand for a universal health care system -- that makes health care companies and their shareholders nervous. It injects uncertainty into health care markets. And that's bad for our health care industries, bad for Wall Street and bad for America. (Republicans -- all covered by federally provided health care -- jump to their feet and applaud.)
My plan is also a way to inject balance in my tax policies. Earlier I gave the wealthiest Americans nearly $2 trillion in tax breaks, which has greatly enhanced their financial health. Now I want to give America's working poor their own tax break. This tax break, unlike those I granted the wealthy which required they do nothing, will required the working poor to pay hefty health care premiums – ironically to the same companies and CEO's who already enjoying tax relief. They will then enjoy even more tax relief, while the working poor get to enjoy the feeling of ahving a medical insurance card in their wallets. So, you see, my health reform plan is a win/win. Because, if this administration stands for anything it's for winners and against losers. (Glaring at Democrats)
Okay, so that's that on the insurance thing. Now I have another important idea to announce, this one on domestic energy policy.
Earlier in my administration we passed an energy policy that rewarded oil companies for doing what they would have done anyway -- drill, pump, refine and gouge. That policy has succeed. America's energy companies are stronger today and their profits are at record levels. Of course energy prices have gone up as well, but whose fault is that? Oil companies? No, no it's not. Oil companies have done their part. But we have not done our part. (Glaring down at Democrats again.) We refused to let them pump that lake of oil just sitting there under frozen wasteland up in Alaska. And why? Because sooommme of you (looking down at Democrats) believe polar bears and caribou have more rights than SUV-moms.
But okay, that's oil under the bridge. Tonight I am prepared to reach across the aisle in a bipartisan way. As you all know, I have my doubts about all this Al Gore-stirred up "global warming,” stuff. But, now that grandstanding Al's movie has gotten so many American voters all misty-eyed over drowning polar bears and fretting over rising oceans, I'm ready to give a little, though I still have my doubts. After all, where in the Bible can you find any reference to global warming? Nowhere, that's where. (His head bobs up and down as he looks around the room.) If global warming is such a threat to God's creation, don't you think He would have had something to say about it?
Nevertheless, I'm President of all the people, even the stupid ones. So I have to respond, not so much to save polar bears, but to save Republicans up for re-election in two years. Because, you see, America is a de---mock--ra-seeeeee. And in a de—mock-ra-seeee.... (pause).. people have the right to be wrong.
So I am proposing we say we are going to try to cut our use of gasoline by 20% over the next ten years.
I know that some among you – (looking towards Democrats) – will say that we could have done that, and a lot more, years ago had I just supported higher milage standards on cars and trucks and SUVs. And they will complain that we would be far further along the road to energy independence had I not cut $100 million from alternative energy research and development, after saying I supported the program. Well I was for it .. until I was against it.
But I understand. In this town everyone's a critic, heh, heh, heh. Still, I'm the President. In other words I'm the deeee---ciiii-- der. And I've decided now is the right time to say I'm for cutting gasoline consumption by 20% over ten years.
The way we're going to do that is not to impose much higher mileage standards because tauto companies don't like it when we do that. No, instead of burning Middle East oil we will burn more American grown fiber, particularly corn, by turning the stuff into ethanol. America's energy companies are already teaming up with America's agri-business to figure out how to create another win/win situation.
I was going to call this my “Food for Fuel” program, but Karl reminded me that sounded too much like that UN's crooked “Food for Oil” program. He also said it would give Democrats an opening to complain that burning food in our cars and trucks would only hurt the poor by raising the price of food, like corn tortillas, milk, cheese and meat. More neg---aaaah--tivity.
I come here tonight brimming over with bipartisan spirit. I am reaching across the aisle. But it's just that kind of negative thinking by the opposition party that has made it so difficult for me to solve America's growing energy crisis.
What those critics don't seem to understand is there is a method here... a long range plan that requires we stay the course. Here's how it will play out, if they give it the time it needs to succeed. When food is plentiful people, particularly poor people, have more children. Those children grow up to drive cars that burn fuel. By taking some of America's food out of circulation by burning it our cars and trucks, we slow population growth and in turn lower future energy demand. Another win/win for America.
I would like close tonight by introducing three genuine American heroes. While their acts of heroism had nothing whatsoever to do with my policies, I would like to shine by association. So, whata we have tonight?
First we have a grossly over-paid basketball player, who used some of his money to build a hospital in his home village in Africa. Stand up there my man and take a bow. Whoa! Look at the size of that guy.! Someone's getting more than his share of corn. Heh, heh, heh.
And we have a woman who got rich selling her start-up to a bigger company for millions. Just ask that little lady how she feels about my tax cut policies! Heh, heh, heh.
Finally we have the guy who threw himself under a train to save a guy he didn't even know. Boy, could I use a guy like you on my staff right now!.Heh, heh, heh.
That's it. I've only got two more years and one more of these damn speeches to give before I can go back to not giving a shit.
Until then, thank you and God help America.