Archive for September 17th, 2007

WASHINGTON (CNN) – The two leaders shared a border for six years, but former Mexico President Vicente Fox gives a tough assessment on President Bush in a new book out next month, according to U.S. News and World Report.

In “Revolution of Hope,” set to hit book stores October 4, Fox calls Bush “the cockiest guy I have ever met in my life,” and is sharply critical of the president’s Iraq policy and his immigration stance, according to the magazine.

Though he describes warm relations with Bush, Fox in the book also calls the president’s Spanish skills “grade-school” level and says, “I can’t honestly say that I had ever seen George W. Bush getting to the White House.”

In addition to Bush, Fox also sounds off on his “close but rocky relationships” with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Russian Presidnet Vladimir Putin and Venezuela President Hugo Chávez, according to the books Publisher, Penguin.

Fox served as Mexico’s president from 2000-2006.

The autobiography is co-written by Robert Allyn, a Texas-based political consultant who has advised both Fox and Bush.

From CNN.com

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For years Alan Greenspan, the most famous central banker in the history of the job, spoke in a careful code. His chosen means of communication was the oracular observation, hedged around by qualifying subclauses, parenthetical asides and carefully balanced counterfactuals, that could be understood only by those with a detailed knowledge of monetary policy and financial markets.

He once told an audience, in all seriousness: “I guess I should warn you. If I turn out to be particularly clear, you’ve probably misunderstood what I’ve said.”

But with the publication of his memoir, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, this week, it is as though the oracle has suddenly grabbed a microphone and started to gossip frantically about all the hopeless souls who had been consulting it all these years.

President Bush is portrayed as irresponsible and incurious (who knew?). The former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve says that Mr Bush presided over intolerable increases in government spending. “My biggest frustration remained the President’s unwillingness to wield his veto against out-of-control spending.”

He had hoped that his colleague from the Ford Administration, Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, would be a force for economic prudence and fiscal discipline. Instead, “I was soon to see my old friends veer off to unexpected directions”.

Republicans who controlled Congress for most of the past ten years “lost their way” and “swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither.”

By contrast, Mr Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, was a “risk-taker”, who had shown a “preference for dealing in facts”, and something of a soulmate for the data-obsessed Mr Greenspan.

“Here was a fellow information hound . . . We both read books and were curious and thoughtful about the world . . . I never ceased to be surprised by his fascination with economic detail: the effect of Canadian lumber on housing prices and inflation . . . He had an eye for the big picture, too.”

When it emerged that he also had an eye for something else – an intern by the name of Monica Lewinsky – Mr Greenspan was left feeling “disappointed and sad”.

The first President Bush gets short shrift for trying to strong-arm the central bank into an easier monetary policy so that he could get reelected in 1992. (He failed.) President Reagan’s tendency to formulate policy and ideology from anecdotes represented an “odd form of intelligence”.

The Iraq war, Mr Greenspan says, was “largely about oil”. The excitement that that seems to have caused in some sections of the media might be tempered by his somewhat testy acknowledgement earlier in the book that he was left out of the inner circle of policy advisers around President Bush.

For all the chatty observations about politicians and events he encountered in 19 years at the Fed, for today’s turbulent financial markets it is his account of monetary policy in the past few years that is of most interest. To the growing number of Greenspan critics, the former Fed Chairman, who once enjoyed godlike status on Wall Street, is largely to blame for the sub-prime mortgage crisis that is behind today’s turmoil. They say he allowed a bubble to develop in the housing market between 2001 and 2006, his last five years at the Fed, when he cut interest rates too far and kept them low for too long. Mr Greenspan acknowledges that he did not see the scale of the problems in the sub-prime housing sector. “I didn’t really get it until very late in 2005 and 2006,” he said last night in an interview on CBS News timed to coincide with the book launch.

But he insists that the Fed was right to cut interest rates – to an historic low of 1 per cent by 2003 and to keep them there for a year – because of the very real risk of deflation.

“We wanted to shut down the possibility of corrosive deflation,” he argues. “We were willing to chance that by cutting rates we thought might foster a bubble, an inflationary boom of some sort, which we would subsequently have to address . . . It was a decision done right.”

He says that the housing bubble was caused, in any case, by other factors – mainly the end of communism, which brought new countries into the global economy and pushed down wages, prices and long-term interest rates (to which most US mortgages are tied).

He also argues that it is always better and easier for a central bank to respond – aggressively, if necessary – to the damaging effects of economic or financial events by cutting interest rates. That, at least, ought to resonate with Ben Bernanke, Mr Greenspan’s successor at the Fed.

Mr Bernanke and his fellow US central bankers gather tomorrow for the most important meeting of his short tenure so far, where the debate seems to be not about whether, but by how much, to cut interest rates in response to the financial turmoil of the past two months.

From The Times UK

AMERICA’s elder statesman of finance, Alan Greenspan, has shaken the White House by declaring that the prime motive for the war in Iraq was oil.

In his long-awaited memoir, to be published tomorrow, Greenspan, a Republican whose 18-year tenure as head of the US Federal Reserve was widely admired, will also deliver a stinging critique of President George W Bush’s economic policies.

However, it is his view on the motive for the 2003 Iraq invasion that is likely to provoke the most controversy. “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil,” he says.

Greenspan, 81, is understood to believe that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the security of oil supplies in the Middle East.

Britain and America have always insisted the war had nothing to do with oil. Bush said the aim was to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and end Saddam’s support for terrorism.

From The Sunday UK Times

By Correlli Barnett

For George W Bush’s proclaimed “global war on terror”, this has been a week to remember – but also a week that should make us challenge the basic assumptions behind this so-called “war”.

Last Tuesday, the world commemorated the sixth anniversary of 9/11, when the ultimate totems of America’s capitalist pride, the 110-storey Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, were attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists using hijacked airliners as guided missiles, and then, with the world watching on TV, collapsed one by one like broken Lego.

It was this stunning event which goaded President Bush into declaring his “global war on terror”.

But the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, was nothing like Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, when the entire American battle fleet was sunk or crippled by a mass air attack by another great power, Japan.

No matter how sensational its impact, 9/11 still remains a terrorist outrage perpetrated by a mere 19 men armed with Stanley knives.

Nor had the attack been masterminded, like Pearl Harbour, by the government of a foreign state, but simply by an Islamist fanatic and a handful of co-conspirators.

So for Bush to declare “war” on Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda was actually to exaggerate their importance – and glorify their actions. Worse, it was his declaration of “war” that led in 2001 to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and, in 2003, to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

As it happens, this week has also been marked by Bush’s speech in which he said 5,700 US troops would be brought home from Iraq by the end of the year, followed by a gradual withdrawal up to next July.

There was also General David Petraeus’s report to Congress on how the “war” is going in Iraq four-and-a-half years after Bush’s own bragging announcement of “Mission Accomplished”.

Of course, Petraeus asserted that the new offensive against Iraqi insurgents (now all conveniently dubbed “Al Qaeda”) is going well, even if the insurgents may well have simply shifted out of the way of his 168,000 Darth Vader-style storm troops.

“Give me another six months,” says Petraeus, and the chance of one last military heave, and success would at last be won.

Success? While Petraeus was being subjected to sharp questioning this week by Republicans as well as Democrats, he could only offer the hope that by next summer – five years after “Mission Accomplished” – American forces in Iraq could be cut back to 130,000, the total before the current “surge”.

But let us recall that at the beginning of 2004 – repeat, 2004 – the Pentagon was proposing to reduce the 135,000 men then in Iraq to 105,000. In the bosoms of the American military and the Washington political hawks, hope certainly springs eternal.

The truth is that Petraeus has simply been using a temporary and doubtful tactical success in order to conceal long-term strategic failure.

In any case, whatever Petraeus achieves on the ground will be irrelevant because of the hopeless disarray, the utter impotence, of the Al-Maliki government in Baghdad. At the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Bush and Co expected to create a strong and stable democratic regime. Instead, they have brought about a failed state.

And the human cost of “Operation Iraqi Freedom”? The total number of American servicemen and women killed in action already amounts to 3,826, with 168 British forces having been killed. And between 500,000 and 600,000 Iraqi men, women and children have died. What’s more, since Saddam fell, four million Iraqis have become refugees, either inside Iraq or beyond.

Meanwhile this week, another two British soldiers have been killed by the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, bringing the total British losses since 2001 to 78.

The occupation of Afghanistan in November 2001 was the first bitter fruit of that “global war on terror” declared by Bush in the hour of America’s rage and fright after 9/11.

When the Taliban regime refused to surrender Osama Bin Laden or shut his Al Qaeda training camps, Bush and Co decided that the only answer was to topple the Taliban, take over the country and convert its tribes and warlords to democracy.

So six years on, we have North Atlantic – repeat, North Atlantic – Treaty Organisation forces attempting to defeat a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s a struggle which some soldiers estimate could last ten years or more.

And while in Iraq “democracy” has meant a government whose writ hardly runs beyond the Baghdad “Green Zone”, so in Afghanistan it has meant the government of Mohammed Karzai, whose writ hardly runs beyond Kabul.

This sixth anniversary of 9/11 has also been commemorated by Osama Bin Laden himself, popping up on a new video in order to praise the “martyrs” who carried out the attack, and to call on America and the West to convert to Islam.

No doubt as intended, the tape sharply reminds us that Al Qaeda has not been crushed by the loss of its Afghan bases.

The truth is that despite Bush’s “war on terror” and the American-led occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, Islamist terrorism has continued to seethe and bubble across the world – and sometimes explode, as in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005.

This summer, an attack on Glasgow Airport mercifully failed because of the terrorists’ own incompetence. And German counter-terrorism police foiled a plot (meant to mark the sixth anniversary of 9/11) which was aimed at truckbombing Frankfurt Airport and the US air base at Ramstein.

Yet the basic puzzle of 9/11 remains: exactly why did Osama Bin Laden decide to attack the World Trade Centre and other American targets?

It is clear enough that Bin Laden himself and Islamist militants everywhere are motivated by sheer hatred of America, her global hegemony and her materialist civilisation. This goes hand in hand with a passionate religious belief in the righteousness of the cause.

We’ve seen this in the videos of Bin Laden and of those young jihadists about to blow themselves up along with their fellow human beings.

But I have long thought that Bin Laden was also motivated by a specific strategic purpose in launching 9/11 – a wish to trap the United States into an ideological struggle with the Islamic world. He certainly succeeded in this – but only because Bush and his neo-con cronies have been all too willing to accept the challenge.

Why? Because just as much as Bin Laden and his fellow jihadists, they, too, see world affairs in simple terms of ideological conviction.

Remember, Bush and his vicepresident Dick Cheney are fundamentalist Christians, while Bush’s own political base lies in his fellow fundamentalists of the American ‘Bible belt’. And tragically for Britain, Tony Blair passionately shared Bush’s belief that world policy must be inspired by religious faith.

The grim truth is that when George W. Bush declared “a global war on terror”, he was really announcing a jihad of his own – a struggle to convert the whole world to American-style capitalist democracy.

Only a couple of weeks ago, Bush trumpeted to a tame audience of the American Legion that the U.S. was engaged in “the first ideological war of the 21st century”.

So we have two global jihads colliding head on. The collision has transformed world affairs from the cool-headed fixing of deals into an apocalyptic conflict between Good and Evil.

“We” are the righteous, while our chosen enemy is “the Axis of Evil” or “the Great Satan” (take your pick) with whom no compromise is possible, and against whom any violence is permissible.

Al Qaeda and its associated jihadists massacre the innocent to the cry of “Allah Akbar” (‘God is Great’). Meanwhile, President Bush launches “shock and awe” aerial onslaughts on Iraqi and Afghan villages and cities in the sure belief that Jesus Christ wants him to spread democracy around the world.

Yet belief in the righteousness of the cause is only the vehicle for something deeper and even more alarming. And that something is sheer emotion. We see it in jihadist books and preaching. We see it in Bush’s inflamed rhetoric. We saw it in the preachings of Tony Blair.

Such emotion is terrifyingly dangerous. The great German philosopher on war, Carl von Clausewitz, pointed out that the intensity of a conflict is determined by the importance of the political object at stake.

If the war is about some limited issue like ownership of a province or control of an economic asset, then the war itself will be limited in violence, extent and duration.

But wars have no such limits if they are fuelled by mutual hatred, or inspired by rival political or religious faiths, or fought for national survival. Instead, they will escalate to extremes.

All three of these factors were true of the titanic struggle to the death between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1941-45.

Now we see a comparable mutual hatred and fear – comparable fanatical beliefs – fuelling the current struggle between the two jihads of Bush and Bin Laden.

Here lies the peril for the future. For how can “the Axis of Evil” and “the Great Satan” negotiate a businesslike compromise on the basis of live-and-let-live?

Today, Iran has become the prime target of Bush’s ideological mission. He recently trumpeted: “We will confront this danger before it is too late. Either the forces of extremism succeed or the forces of freedom succeed. Either our enemies advance their interests in Iraq, or we advance our interests.”

In this inflamed rhetoric, echoing his rants in 2002 and 2003 about Saddam Hussein and his alleged development of weapons of mass destruction, we can hear the louder and louder beat of war drums.

It therefore seems that the disastrous consequences of American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught Bush nothing.

Nor has he learned the harsh lesson from history that launching a war in order to achieve an ideological objective can lead to horribly unintended consequences.

Hitler expected a sixweek walkover when he invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, only for the war to end four years later with his suicide in the ruins of his own capital, Berlin.

The lesson here – the lesson of all military history – is that war, no matter how passionate the belief in the righteousness of the cause, is inherently uncontrollable, its outcome quite unpredictable.

Now, during the present honeymoon of Gordon Brown’s premiership, is therefore surely the moment for Britain to revert from ideology to strategy as the guide to her own approach to world affairs. For example, we should stop regarding the Iranian regime as yet another “monster” to be confronted and, instead, negotiate with those more moderate ayatollahs.

In 1820, that outstandingly able Tory statesman, Lord Castlereagh, refused to join other European states in meddling in “the domestic upsets” (his words) of certain countries then in revolutionary turmoil.

He told the great powers that Britain “would not charge itself as a member of the Alliance with the moral responsibility of administering a general European police”.

For ‘European’ in 1820, substitute “global” today, and Castlereagh’s dictum still makes admirable good sense.

Very similar advice was given to the young United States in 1821 by John Quincy Adams: “We are friends of liberty everywhere, but we go not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

If only George W. Bush would abandon his paranoid search for ideological monsters, we could all sleep more peacefully in our beds.

The true answer to Islamist jihad does not lie in Bush’s ideological counter-jihad, but in cool political heads and painstaking work by police forces and intelligence services across the world.

• CORRELLI BARNETT is the author of The Deport Generals (Phoenix Paperback, £8.99).

From The Daily Mail

By BASSEM MROUE

BAGHDAD (AP) – The Iraqi government said Monday that it was revoking the license of an American security firm accused of involvement in the deaths of eight civilians in a firefight that followed a car bomb explosion near a State Department motorcade.

The Interior Ministry said it would prosecute any foreign contractors found to have used excessive force in the Sunday shooting. It was latest accusation against the U.S.-contracted firms that operate with little or no supervision and are widely disliked by Iraqis who resent their speeding motorcades and forceful behavior.

Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf said eight civilians were killed and 13 were wounded when contractors believed to be working for Blackwater USA opened fire in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood of western Baghdad.

“We have canceled the license of Blackwater and prevented them from working all over Iraqi territory. We will also refer those involved to Iraqi judicial authorities,” Khalaf said.

The spokesman said witness reports pointed to Blackwater involvement but said the shooting was still under investigation. It was not immediately clear if the measure against Blackwater was intended to be temporary or permanent.

Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., provides security for many U.S. civilian operations in the country.

Phone messages left early Monday at the company’s office in North Carolina and with a spokeswoman were not immediately returned.

The U.S. Embassy said a State Department motorcade came under small-arms fire that disabled one of the vehicles, which had to be towed from the scene near Nisoor Square in the Mansour district.

“There was a convoy of State Department personnel and a car bomb went off in proximity to them and there was an exchange of fire as the personnel were returning to the International Zone,” embassy spokesman Johann Schmonsees said, referring to the heavily fortified U.S.-protected area in central Baghdad also known as the Green Zone.

Officials provided no information about Iraqi casualties but said no State Department personnel were wounded or killed.

The embassy also refused to answer any questions on Blackwater’s status or legal issues, saying it was seeking clarification on the issue as part of the investigation, which was being carried out by the State Department’s diplomatic security service and law enforcement officials working with the Iraqi government and the U.S. military.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki late Sunday condemned the shooting by a “foreign security company” and called it a “crime.”

The decision to pull the license was likely to face a challenge, as it would be a major blow to a company that was at the forefront of one of the main turning points in the war.

The 2004 battle of Fallujah – an unsuccessful military assault in which an estimated 27 U.S. Marines were killed, along with an unknown number of civilians – was retaliation for the killing, maiming and burning of four Blackwater guards in that city by a mob of insurgents.

Tens of thousands of foreign private security contractors work in Iraq – some with automatic weapons, body armor, helicopters and bulletproof vehicles – to provide protection for Westerners and dignitaries in Iraq as the country has plummeted toward anarchy and civil war.

Monday’s action against Blackwater was likely to give the unpopular government a boost, given Iraqis’ dislike of the contractors.

Many of the contractors have been accused of indiscriminately firing at American and Iraqi troops, and of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens who got too close to their heavily armed convoys, but none has faced charges or prosecution.

“There have been so many innocent people they’ve killed over there, and they just keep doing it,” said Katy Helvenston, the mother of late Blackwater contractor Steve Helvenston, who died in 2004 during the ambush in Fallujah. “They have just a callous disregard for life.”

Helvenston is now part of a lawsuit that accuses Blackwater of cutting corners that ultimately led to the death of her son and three others.

The question of whether they could face prosecution is legally murky. Unlike soldiers, the contrators are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Under a special provision secured by American-occupying forces, they are exempt from prosecution by Iraqis for crimes committed there.

Khalaf, however, denied that the exemption applied to private security companies.

Iraqi police said the contractors were in a convoy of six sport utility vehicles and left after the shooting.

“We saw a convoy of SUVs passing in the street nearby. One minute later, we heard the sound of a bomb explosion followed by gunfire that lasted for 20 minutes between gunmen and the convoy people who were foreigners and dressed in civilian clothes. Everybody in the street started to flee immediately,” said Hussein Abdul-Abbas, who owns a mobile phone store in the area.

The wartime numbers of private guards are unprecedented – as are their duties, many of which have traditionally been done by soldiers. They protect U.S. military operations and diplomats and have guarded high-ranking officials including Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Baghdad.

They also protect journalists, visiting foreign officials and thousands of construction projects.

Blackwater has an estimated 1,000 employees in Iraq, and at least $800 million in government contracts. It is one of the most high-profile security firms in Iraq, with its fleet of “Little Bird” helicopters and armed door gunners swarming Baghdad and beyond.

The secretive company, run by a former Navy SEAL, is based at a massive, swampland complex. Until the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, it had few security contracts.

Since then, Blackwater profits have soared. And it has become the focus of numerous controversies in Iraq, including the May 30 shooting death of an Iraqi deemed to be driving too close to a Blackwater security detail.

In violence Monday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car near a busy market in Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 10 in an attack that apparently targeted a police patrol, said a police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to release the information.

Hamid Ghassan, a 20-year-old juice vendor, who described hearing the blast, said he was dismayed that al-Maliki’s government is “sitting safe, making agreements and lying to people while masses … are being killed.”

From The Guardian

Google “Blackwater” for some interesting information.