Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A phrase that usually conceals disagreement

U.S. news accounts yesterday and today were full of wishful thinking about Gordon Brown's purported backing of George Bush concerning Iraq and counter-terror operations.

Yet, in the words of the London Times, "Brown chose to describe their talks as full and frank, a phrase that usually conceals disagreement."

Despite press hyperbole, the fact remains that Brown announced a major counter-terror initiative that in truth challenges Bush's leadership in this arena.

That shift was made more evident in his UN appearance, when he underscored his desire for a global war on poverty via a commitment to the economic uplift of poor nations. Such a commitment is in line with Brown's desire to dilute the appeal of extremists to oppressed youths.

Another point that should not be underestimated: Brown announced that British troops would end combat operations in Iraq, being withdrawn to "overwatch" status. Such withdrawal from combat to fortified bases has a great appeal to those Democrats whom Bush regularly castigates for weakening national security. Does that sound like support for Bush?

In addition, Brown's Darfur (I guess I'll go with this spelling) initiative is important on several levels. He believes in the use of military force for humanitarian purposes and such deployment is in stark contrast to the fiasco in Iraq. He, unlike Bush, has the credibility to get such an initiative off the ground. In fact, the London Times reports that this initiative is almost a done deal.

Then there is global warming. Laborites have in the past denounced Bush's inattention on this matter as far more dangerous to international peace and prosperity than the menace of al Qaeda and the jihadists. Brown's Washington Post article indicates that his foreign policy is intended more or less as a seamless garment in contrast to Bush's Rube Goldberg arrangement.

Bush tried to make the best of the photo and broadcast ops at Camp David. But the real story is in what Brown did not say, such as a refusal to answer a question as to what he saw as the major mistakes of the Iraq war. And, though Brown's Washington Post article is unsuited for sound bite theatrics, diplomats everywhere see a new paradigm in London.

Why is so much of the media anxious to play up bogus solidarity? Perhaps there is a fear that the system of news controls is in danger of unraveling.

A chink in the system?
Of course, the idea that news controls might unravel is counterpointed by Rupert Murdoch's takeover of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal.

Yet it was Murdoch's London Times that highlighted the clash between Brown and Bush. Of course the Times has a restraining order in place to shield it from Murdoch's blandishments. And Dow Jones also is to be protected by such an order of restraint. Though such restraints are imperfect, they suffice to put in doubt the continuation of monolithic top-down news controls.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Brown's new counter-terror strategy

In what appears to be a major shift in emphasis, Gordon Brown is promoting a new, wide-ranging strategy to counteract the menace of Islamist terrorism, based on the Cold War model of deterrence. His article in the Washington Post used studied ambiguity with respect to the use of war to combat terrorism.

The prime minister emphasized that terrorism is a crime and urged the full resources of diplomacy (number 1 on the list), intelligence, police and military forces (last on list) be deployed against extremists. The phrase "war on terror" did not pass his lips.

Brown said that though the world owes America a debt for its leadership in the counter-terror struggle since 9/11, it is now time for a new approach: A major commitment to deterrence along Cold War lines, coupled with a cultural and ideological war (he did not use that phrase) as was done to counter Soviet propaganda.

Without saying so explicitly, Brown seems to be distancing himself from the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war based on suspicion or perceived national interest. His remarks on the Iraq and Afghanistan operations are opaque. In responses to reporter questions today, Brown seemed to setting a tone of general agreement on ultimate goals without being very specific about differences. An AP reporter's claim that there was no daylight between Bush and Brown views had little to substantiate it.

At the news session, Brown's commitment to a continuing military presence in Iraq was muted, despite his desire to appear cooperative with Washington. Brown held his cards close, saying further decisions would depend on assessments of military commanders.

In what may be a veiled rebuke to both Bush and Blair, Brown said that Britain and America share the ideal that "government should be open and accountable." Bush is known for his penchant for secrecy and lack of accountability, and Blair's government was embroiled in efforts to control media coverage of embarrassing leaks.

Brown urged international boots on the ground in Dharfur to address the humanitarian crisis there. Colin Powell, when he was secretary of state, accused the Sudanese government of genocide in Dharfur. Since then, it has been disclosed that the White House and CIA have been quietly working with the murderous regime to counteract Islamic fundamentalists.

Also, Brown said globalization shouldn't be seen "simply as a threat" but did not spell out what he had in mind. Globalized free trade is a major concern of Islamists, who fear the undermining of traditional values from foreign influences.

An unfettered free market has the systemic problem of cartelism, whereby those with the deepest pockets use lowball pricing to corner a market and then enter into a phase of low competition. This tendency is certainly an issue in Brown's Labor Party.

Though Brown did not address the issue of subversive elements triggering 9/11, he surely realized that his use of Cold War imagery obliquely raises the possibility. After all, the penetration of British intelligence by Soviet moles is a well-known sore point.

And, by emphasizing that terrorism is a crime, he leaves the door ajar for the possibility that the attacks of 9/11 are unsolved crimes.

The use of Cold War allusions is quite interesting in light of the darkened relations between Britain and Russia over the radiation terrorism used against a Putin critic living in London. Vladimir Putin and his ex-KGB comrades are well-versed in the arts of terrorism and subversion. As is well-known, prior to its collapse the Soviet Union was a chief sponsor of Arab terrorism (though the CIA also had a major hand in fomenting jihadist fervor in Afghanistan and Pakistan).

So one wonders whether a full-scale intelligence effort against extremism might imply a covert struggle against a resurgent Russia and its brand of pseudo-communism.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A slap at liberty

What is Bush up to? Or, that is, what is Cheney up to? They know the American people are fed up with their shenanigans, but they shamelessly continue. Where are they going?

An executive order signed this month by Bush should give you some pause. The idea is to seize the assets of persons who help promote violent persons or who might be violent persons. That is, it's up to the Treasury Dept. to seize assets -- with no warning -- of people, including American citizens, of people deemed to be lending support to violence. You thought something like that required a court order. Wrong again. At least when you're hit with a "slap" lawsuit designed to stifle dissent, you get your day in court.

This new edict, as Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, suggests, could easily spill over into non-judicial punishment of persons who are too effective in their criticisms of Bush and Cheney.

Why word the order so broadly unless the intention was intimidation of Americans? Keep your mouth shut, or we'll bankrupt you.

Now it becomes apparent that the methods used to isolate professionally and economically individual journalists and critics such as myself are to be deployed more widely as the subversive system faces more and more danger.

After all, it's not much of a step between public discussion of cooked prewar intelligence behind the Iraq fiasco and 9/11 subversion.

Is this paranoid thinking? Well, know them by their fruits. Bush's intelligence chief is aggressively pushing Congress for wider powers never mind the administration's bad record. Bush has at his disposal a martial law measure that overrides previous safeguards. Bush protects an attorney general who has backed abuses of power widely regarded by lawyers to be beyond the pale.

The TIPS program, where neighbors tell on their neighbors, is still going strong, though under another name. The old Soviet Union had a similar program in its early decades. After a rush of public input, the comrades would scrutinize the material and haul off hundreds of thousands of "counter-revolutionaries" to their doom. The helpful public generally had no idea how they were being deceived.

And of course Halliburton is building massive detention facilities -- called in another day "concentration camps" -- able to hold hundreds of thousands of people.

It's unfortunate the Congress lacks the political will to impeach these guys. They may pull off yet another power grab.