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Bugging the United Nations

Let’s stop using the phrase “international community,” especially as it applies to the United Nations. One member of a civilized community does not tap the phones of other members. But the Bush Administration has thrown away the short book of rules that the United States once supposedly applied and has replaced it with a criminal, imperial approach to the United Nations; not with its bullying and intimidating rhetoric during UN Security Council debates over Iraq, but by playing very dirty tricks on delegates from other countries.

Since the end of January, the National Security Administration the super secret interceptors of worldwide communications — has tapped the office and home phones and emails of non permanent members of UN Security Council delegations in New York. According to an account by Martin Bright, Ed Vulliamy and Peter Beaumont in the March 2, 2003 Observer, this “dirty tricks” operation is part of Washington’s “battle to win votes in favor of war against Iraq.”

The Observer reporters refer to a January 31, 2003 memo “signed by Frank Koza, chief of staff in the ‘Regional Targets’ section of the NSA, which spies on countries that are viewed as strategically important for United States interests.”

The actual memo states that “the Agency is mounting a surge [an NSA/military term, usually referring to sudden combat or crisis related needs, but increasingly referring to the action items of the day] particularly directed at the UN Security Council (UNSC) members (minus US and GBR of course) for insights as to how the membership is reacting to the on-going debate RE: Iraq, plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/ negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/ dependencies, etc – the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises. In RT, that means a QRC (Quick Response Capability, referring to stepping out of routine management rules to get equipment or deploy personnel) surge effort to revive/ create efforts against UNSC members Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria and Guinea, as well as extra focus on Pakistan UN matters… whose votes are being fought over by the pro-war party, led by the US and Britain, and the party arguing for more time for UN inspections, led by France, China and Russia.”

Koza directs the staff “to step up its surveillance operations … to provide up-to-the-minute intelligence for Bush officials on the voting intentions of UN members regarding the issue of Iraq.”

The NSA staff is to glean from the illegal eavesdropping “information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises.”

Prior to this revelation, several UN delegates had reported that US officials have threatened their countries with cut off of aid and other penalties should they vote against the United States. But Observer reporters discovered that NSA Adviser Condoleezza Rice, fearful that a defeat at the UN Security Council would create serious domestic political problems in forcing a war against Iraq, decided to go all the way.

Hell, if you can win a US election with hanky panky, who cares if you use slimy tactics at the UN? Condy’s shenanigans reveal that the Administration has little concern with maintaining the current international order. So, let’s stop talking about international community, rules of the Republic or democracy for that matter.

After the Soviet Union collapsed more than a decade ago, the imperial planners in Washington went to work: how to plot an imperial strategy for the 21st Century?

Apparently, the consensus document adopted by the Bush (41) and Clinton regimes sustained most of the positions of the late Cold War years. The United States would continue to lead an “alliance” of junior partners in a “free trade” order: force third world nations to accept investment on investors’ terms. Militarily, the “new order” meant expand NATO — who will recall that this military alliance was forged solely to protect the West against Soviet aggression? while limiting the possibilities of “rogue states” to assert themselves regionally; also, force them to accept disarmament under treaties that the enforcing nations did not accept for themselves. It was, in short, an extension of historic Wilsonianism, an alliance of the strong “democracies” forged in 1918-20 in the League of Nations Treaty and extended by Franklin Roosevelt and his successors of both parties.

But two other imperial option papers emerged as well from the policy planners. Indeed, George W. Bush spouted from the “Pull Back Because We’re Overextended” strategy paper in his 2000 campaign. Just as the mainstream consensus strategy opted to keep the United States in its Wilson-Roosevelt mode of alliances, so did Bush revert to Henry Cabot Lodge, Wilson’s primary opponent in the 1919-1920 debate on the League of Nations. “The United States is the world’s best hope,” Lodge allowed in his November 6, 1919 critique of Wilson’s plan to form a world partnership, “but if you fetter her in the interest through quarrels of other nations, if you tangle her in the intrigues of Europe, you will destroy her powerful good, and endanger her very existence. Leave her to march freely through the centuries to come, as in the years that have gone. Strong, generous, and confident, she has nobly served mankind. Beware how you trifle with your marvelous inheritance–this great land of ordered liberty. For if we stumble and fall, freedom and civilization everywhere will go down in ruin.” Like the long-dead Lodge, W proposed running our own empire without tangling ourselves in European intrigues. He urged a US withdrawal from some of the costly and inefficient international obligations. Speaking like an old-fashioned Republican, W didn’t want to involve the country in areas and issues that did not directly pertain to US national interests. We could still call the shots when we had to, but wouldn’t waste our precious capital in what Lodge had once sneered at as “Balkan wars.” Once we became involved in such remote European messes, Lodge intoned, we would easily get out. W got out of several international “messes” (treaties and agreements) before the Iraq issue arose in its bellicose splendor. He bailed on the Kyoto environmental accords, without even informing his slavish junior partner Tony Blair of England. He ditched the 1972 ABM Treaty, causing much nervous head-shaking in high European and US circles. He ridiculed the International Criminal Court and scrapped even a veneer of objectivity on the Israeli-Palestinian miasma.

9/11 then set the stage for the adoption the third imperial plan. This “National Security” policy option called for the United States to assume “full spectral dominance.” W quickly forgot his previous predilection for less involvement and his begrudging accession to the necessity of some involvement, for a shot at the whole enchilada.

Along with an aggressive military thrust throughout the world, setting up bases in 62 countries and sending “advisers” (who really were fighting in places like Colombia) to other countries came the abandonment of the traditional decorum required to deal with both our junior partners and the non-essential states (third world buggers).

Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, currently Defense Policy Board Chair and Undersecretary of Defense respectively, helped craft this new National Security Plan, which calls for an end to even a facade of partnership in the vestigial alliances. The new policy shows muscle even nuclear muscle — in order to “preempt” all “potential global competitors,” which means don’t let anyone else especially those who might show disobedient tendencies acquire a nuclear weapon.

Another part of this doctrine, to which Perle contributed heavily, calls for Israel to assume an even more important place in the US orbit, raised from “we’ll give you the money and weapons you need” status to that of a regional partner to enforce our order in the midst of unruly Islam.

Even though W and company call themselves conservatives, they have in fact distanced themselves from even the arch conservative Pat Buchanan. In his 2/23/03 Los Angeles Times column, “Wages of Empire,” Buchanan worries about world opinion because “among Arabs and Turks, the opposition is visceral and well-nigh universal. We are as isolated as the Brits at the time of the Boer War. It is the height of hubris to believe America can indefinitely defy the whole world.” “Imperialism,” wrote Buchanan, “is an idea whose time has come and gone and, in any event, we Americans were lousy imperialists.”

Traditional conservatives look for “exit strategies.” Bush’s plan calls for permanent military commitment. Conservatives want to know how the government will pay for the Iraq war and those that might logically arise from its aftermath. W’s acolytes, like the Prez himself, take the “don’t bother me with trivial details” approach, which worries conservatives.

Domestically, even pro-war and pro-Bush columnist William Safire fears the domestic civil liberties consequences that ensure from wildly imperial policies. Under the new rules, writes Safire in a June 3, 2002 NY Times op-ed, the authorities don’t need “a scintilla of evidence that a crime is being committed.”

Conservatives remember history, both the world’s and the United States’. Even though the President might not have much knowledge of US foreign policy, the well-read Tories can date W’s Iraq policies and the radical expansion of US commitments abroad to the historic debate in the US Senate following Woodrow Wilson’s presentation to that body for ratification of the League of Nations treaty. While the Wilsonians foresaw a century long alliance of democratic states in subduing revolution (“outlawing war”) and gradually building a viable trading order, the Lodge Republicans opposed the alliance notion and wanted to build a US imperial order. A third and smaller group of Senators, led by William Borah of Idaho, took a third position. These Western state solons proclaimed incompatible the system of empire and the endurance of principles required to govern a republic. They held the swing votes and helped Lodge defeat the League treaty. Borah’s November 19, 1919 words were prescient.

He said that the League treaty imperils “the underlying, the very first principles of this Republic…..You can not yoke a government whose fundamental maxim is that of liberty to a government whose first law is that of force and hope to preserve the former. These things are in eternal war, and one must ultimately destroy the other. You may still keep for a time the outward form, you may still delude yourself …with appearances and symbols, but when you shall have committed this Republic to a scheme of world control based upon the combined military force of the …great nations of the world, you will have soon destroyed the atmosphere of freedom, of confidence in the self-governing capacity of the masses, in which alone a democracy may thrive. We may become one of the … dictators of the world, but we shall no longer be master of our own spirit. And what shall it profit us as a Nation if we shall go forth to the domination of the earth … and lose that fine sense of confidence in the people, the soul of democracy?”

Borah’s voice occasionally resonated in a Senate speech by Democrats Robert Byrd of West Virginia or Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. They too warn of the perilous consequences that will result from the imperial course on which W has embarked. But you cannot repeat too often what Borah and the other so-called isolationists said back in 1920: you cannot run an empire by republican rules. The President and his cohorts choose empire over republic with each daily decision, which brings us and the world closer to catastrophe.

SAUL LANDAU is the Director of Digital Media and International Outreach Programs for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. His new film, IRAQ: VOICES FROM THE STREETS, is available through The Cinema Guild. 1-800-723-5522. He can be reached at:


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SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

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