News Notes from the Global War on Terrorism

[1] The “Global War on Terrorism” (GWOT) seemed to go away this week, as administration officials begin suddenly to deny that it was a war at all, but rather a “Strategy (or Struggle) against Violent Extremism”: GWOT was to be replaced with SAVE. In spite of presidential chief of staff Andrew Card’s famous remark anent the Iraq invasion, that you don’t roll out a new product in August, a major advertising change seemed to be underway, with the startling appearance of a front-page picture in the Financial Times (recently voted the world’s leading newspaper) of the president, for the first time ever, standing by the bedside of a wounded US soldier.

[2] It was hard not to see in the new campaign the dominating hand of Bush mentrix Karen Hughes, recently installed in a propaganda position in the State Department. But it didn’t seem to last long: the picture was not picked up by US newspapers, and the president himself aborted the charm offensive shortly after it began. Speaking to reporters at mid-week, he complained that no one had told him about the change and insisted that he wanted to be a war president. (I usually think that the poets get there first, but they seem to be late to this carnage party: the 59th Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s biggest arts festival, has opened with theme “War on Terror.”)

[3] In spite of the president’s cluelessness, it’s clear that the administration, with an eye on its plummeting poll numbers and the congressional elections 15 months away, is preparing to trumpet a withdrawal from Iraq for the 2006 election as it trumpeted the war for the 2002 election. (See Norman Solomon’s “Withdrawal Scam.”) There are two sorts of withdrawal, actually quite opposed to one another:

(a) withdrawal of half or more of US forces, which the US will probably try to do in the next year, as a flurry of recent leaks in the US and UK have suggested, with the maintenance of permanent bases in midst of the world’s greatest oil-producing region, which the original US war aim; or

(b) withdrawal of all US forces, mercenaries and corporations, along with abandonment of the permanent bases we’re building in Iraq — which this administration has no intention of doing. (Neither would a Democratic administration.) A similar ambiguity surrounds the use of the word “withdrawal” when it’s applied to the Sharon/Bush plan for Gaza, to be implemented this month: it’s clear than no withdrawal of the military occupation is planned.

[4] The administration’s problem — much more than the probably inconsequential Plame case (after all, we should all be outing CIA spies, especially now we know it’s not illegal) — is that public opinion is running against it. Less than 40% of Americans approve of Bush’s handling of the war, and — even more surprisingly — less than half of Americans think that George Bush is honest. In a special election in Ohio (yes, Ohio) for a solidly Republican seat, a Democratic challenger who was perceived as anti-war came close to winning. In fact he was anti-war only in a Kerry sense (“We can do it better”), but the vote in his favor has to be seen as an objection to administration policy.

[5] Still, in spite of the tide in public opinion, the Democrats remain to the *right* of the administration on the war, calling for more troops to be sent to Iraq, as Hillary Clinton says. The Democratic Leadership Conference (DLC) — the controlling big-business caucus within the Democratic party, who have produced everyone from the Clintons to Air America’s Al Franken — held a convention in Columbus, Ohio (yes, Ohio), last week in which they astonishingly failed to mention the war, except to support it.

[6] In the real war, as opposed to Washington propaganda, it was another terrible week. Twenty-two American marines were killed in an insurgent bombing of a troop transport and the ambush of two marine sniper teams on the upper Euphrates, along the Syrian border. In the south, US-backed police opened fire on citizens protesting the desperate state of public services, water, electricity, etc. On Sunday alone, according to Al-Jazeera, thirty-five people were reported killed in a series of attacks.

[7] The Washington Post this week described how US army interrogators tortured an Iraqi general to death, and how the the CIA employed an Iraqi death squad, of the sort that they have been establishing in Latin America for decades. In Australia (but not in the US) there was much comment about leaked emails (who leaked them?) that asserted that the military trials at Guantanamo would be rigged. The emails, written by two former US prosecutors, claim juries would be stacked to deliver guilty verdicts, prisoner abuse complaints were ignored and evidence against accused men, including Australian David Hicks, was marginal at best.

[8] As of this week, writes William Rivers Pitt,

“More than two thousand soldiers, almost all of them young American boys and girls, have had the life blasted out of them because they were [ostensibly] sent by their commander in chief to find weapons of mass destruction that did not exist … The occupation of Iraq is almost a thousand days old now, and as the self-serving justifications for invasion wither in the desert sun, as the neo-conservative ‘Bush Doctrine’ collapses in a swelling flood of blood and total failure, as more and more people see impeachment as a moral necessity, as those who stand in opposition wonder what they can do to thwart a corrupt and crazed administration that exists entirely without checks and balances, there remains one act of defiance and strength and solidarity that cannot be ignored. On Saturday, September 24th, there will be a protest in Washington DC. This gathering could possibly dwarf all previous demonstrations against this administration.”

[9] This weekend in 60th anniversary of the US atomic attacks on a defeated Japan, crimes still defended in the US by the obvious lie that they saved the lives of many Americans and Japanese who would have been killed in an American invasion (which could not have been launched until the next year). In fact Japan was so prostrate that the US could openly firebomb Japan’s capital (considered a war crime by all before the war) without reprisal; an invasion in 1946 was seen to be necessary only because of the unjustifiable American demand for “unconditional surrender,” which no country could accept; and Japan feared attack from the USSR. Hiroshima — and even more Nagasaki — were deadly experiments on human subjects. (Hiroshima was not a military target; it was chosen because it was an undamaged city, so that the effects of the blast could be more precisely measured; Nagasaki, by no stretch of the imagination militarily useful, was a test of a different sort of bomb.) As diaries and memoirs reveal, the attacks’ primary political purpose was the intimidation of the USSR.

[10] The legacy today, writes Noam Chomsky, is that

“nuclear weapons may … fall into the hands of terrorist groups. The recent explosions and casualties in London are yet another reminder of how the cycle of attack and response could escalate, unpredictably, even to a point horrifically worse than Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The worlds reigning power accords itself the right to wage war at will, under a doctrine of ‘anticipatory self-defence’ that covers any contingency it chooses … There have been efforts to strengthen the thin thread on which survival hangs. The most important is the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which came into force in 1970 [during one of the most liberal administrations in US history –CGE] … The NPT has been facing collapse, primarily because of the failure of the nuclear states to live up their obligation … to eliminate nuclear weapons, [and so experts agree that] ‘there is a greater than 50 per cent probability of a nuclear strike on US targets within a decade’ … The Washington leadership has put aside non-proliferation programmes and devoted its energies and resources to driving the country to war by extraordinary deceit, then trying to manage the catastrophe it created in Iraq. The threat and use of violence is stimulating nuclear proliferation along with jihadi terrorism … ‘the president is right that Iraq is a main front in the war on terrorism, but this is a front we created’ … The probability of apocalypse soon cannot be realistically estimated, but it is surely too high for any sane person to contemplate with equanimity. While speculation is pointless, reaction to the threat of another Hiroshima is definitely not. On the contrary, it is urgent, particularly in the United States, because of Washington’s primary role in accelerating the race to destruction by extending its historically unique military dominance.”

[11] There was an hysterical outburst from the vice-president’s office this week, threatening a nuclear attack on Iran in the event of a new terrorist attack, even if Iran is not involved. But it was probably a sign of the weakness of the neocons in favor of the business-oriented wing of the party — like the nomination of a tool of big business, John Roberts, to the Supreme Court, rather than an ideologue. Furthermore, the indictment of two Israeli lobbyists on spying charges, and the quick departure of an Israeli spy from their embassy back to Israel, probably thwarts a neocon attempt to promote an Israeli attack on Iran, once the neocons decided that they couldn’t stampede the US into a war with Iran as they did with Iraq. Their plan was clear: “First Iraq, then Iran,” as the Israeli PM said to a British paper before the Iraq war.

[12] In the UK, PM Tony Blair went nuts this week, after the bombing of London transport 0n 7/7 and the copycat bombing demonstration two weeks later. In a 12-step program (sic), he called for the the ending of some civil liberties and the deportation of “militants,” even to countries with the death penalty. Unlike the American government, the British are at least open about the call for torture by “extraordinary rendition.” In contrast, dissident Labourite and mayor of London Ken Livingstone offered “Three ways to make us all safer” in the Guardian: “Support the police, treat Muslims with respect and pull out of Iraq.” We shouldn’t expect to hear such sense from American officials, mayors or otherwise.

C. G. Estabrook is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and proprietor of the weekly radio hour, “News from Neptune” on WEFT-Champaign, 90.1 FM He can be reached at:


















C. G. Estabrook conducts “News from Neptune” on Urbana (IL) Public Television.  He can be reached at