The Emergence of the Homeland Security State

January 29, 2005

The Emergence of the Homeland Security State

by Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt
Tom Dispatch

Since ancient Rome, imperial republics have invariably felt a tension between cherished republican practices at home and distinctly unrepublican ones abroad; or put another way, if imperial practices spread far enough beyond the republic's borders and gain enough traction out there in the imperium, sooner or later they also make the reverse journey home, and then you have a crisis in – or simply the destruction of – the republic itself. The urge of the Bush administration to bring versions of the methods it's applying abroad back home is already palpable; the urge to free the President, as "commander-in-chief" in the "war on terror," from all the old fetters, those boring, restraining checks and balances, those inconvenient liberties won by Americans – so constraining, so troublesome to deal with – is equally palpable.

Back in the Watergate era, we had a would-be imperial president, Richard M. Nixon, who provoked a constitutional crisis. Actually, it amounted to a near constitutional coup d'état – and if you don't believe me, check out The Time of Illusion, Jonathan Schell's classic work on the subject. Now, it seems, we're in Watergate II, but without a Democratic Congress, a critical media, or a powerful antiwar movement (yet). All we have at the moment is the constitutional crisis part of the equation, various simmering scandals, a catastrophic war abroad, and an ever more powerful military-industrial-security complex at home. And we're not just talking urges here, we're talking acts. We're talking programs. We're talking the continual blurring of distinctions between the domestic and the foreign, the civilian and the military, between liberties at home and "securing the Homeland." The problem is, we can only guess at the extent of that "securing" process because so much is clearly happening just beyond our sight (or oversight).

Below, in the first of a two-part series, Nick Turse, who follows the military-corporate complex regularly for Tomdispatch, offers as solid a sense as we are likely to get right now of the outlines of the new Homeland Security State being created within the bounds of the old republic. Let's face it, this is frightening stuff, but too important not to read.

Bringing It All Back Home:
The Emergence of the Homeland Security State
By Nick Turse

Part I: The Military Half

If you're reading this on the Internet, the FBI may be spying on you at this very moment.

Under provisions of the USA Patriot Act, the Department of Justice has been collecting e-mail and IP (a computer's unique numeric identifier) addresses, without a warrant, using trap-and-trace surveillance devices ("pen-traps"). Now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Justice's principal investigative arm, may be monitoring the web-surfacing habits of Internet users – also without a search warrant – that is, spying on you with no probable cause whatsoever.

In the wake of September 11, 2001, with the announcement of a potentially never-ending "war on terror" and in the name of "national security," the Bush administration embarked on a global campaign that left in its wake two war-ravaged states (with up to one hundred thousand civilian dead in just one of them); an offshore "archipelago of injustice" replete with "ghost jails" and a seemingly endless series of cases of torture, abuse, and the cold-blooded murder of prisoners. That was abroad. In the U.S., too, things have changed as America became "the Homeland" and an already powerful and bloated national security state developed a civilian corollary fed by fear-mongering, partisan politics, and an insatiable desire for governmental power, turf, and budget.

A host of disturbing and mutually-reinforcing patterns have emerged in the resulting new Homeland Security State – among them: a virtually unopposed increase in the intrusion of military, intelligence, and "security" agencies into the civilian sector of American society; federal abridgment of basic rights; denials of civil liberties on flimsy or previously illegal premises; warrantless sneak-and-peak searches; the wholesale undermining of privacy safeguards (including government access to library circulation records, bank records, and records of internet activity); the greater empowerment of secret intelligence courts (like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court) that threaten civil liberties; and heavy-handed federal and local law enforcement tactics designed to chill, squelch, or silence dissent.

While it's true that most Americans have yet to feel the brunt of such policies, select groups, including Muslims, Arab immigrants, Arab-Americans, and antiwar protesters, have served as test subjects for a potential Homeland Security juggernaut that, if not stopped, will only expand.

The Military Brings It All Back Home

Over the past few years we've become familiar with General John Abizaid's Central Command (CENTCOM) whose "areas of responsibility" (AORs) stretch from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia, including, of course, the Iraq war zone. Like CENTCOM, the U.S. has other commands that blanket the rest of the world, including the Pacific Command (PACCOM, established in 1947) and the European Command (EURCOM, established in 1952). In 2002, however, the Pentagon broke new command ground by deciding, after a fashion, to bring war to the Homeland. It established the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) whose AOR is "America's homefront."

NORTHCOM is much more forthright about what it supposedly doesn't do than what it actually does. Its website repeatedly, in many forms, notes that NORTHCOM is not a police auxiliary and that the Reconstruction-era Posse Comitatus Act prevents the military from meddling much in domestic affairs. Despite this, NORTHCOM readily, if somewhat vaguely, admits to "a cooperative relationship with federal agencies" and "information-sharing" among organizations. NORTHCOM's commander General Ralph "Ed" Eberhart, who, the Wall Street Journal notes, is the "first general since the Civil War with operational authority exclusively over military forces within the U.S," was even more blunt when he told PBS's Newshour "[W]e are not going to be out there spying on people[, but] we get information from people who do."

Even putting NORTHCOM aside, the military has recently been creeping into civilian life in all sorts of ways. Back in 2003, for instance, Torch Concepts, an Army sub-contractor, was given JetBlue's entire 5.1 million passenger database, without the knowledge or consent of those on the list, for data-mining – a blatant breach of civilian privacy that the Army nonetheless judged not to violate the federal Privacy Act. Then, in 2004, Army intelligence agents were caught illegally investigating civilians at a conference on Islam at the University of Texas law school in Austin.

And just recently, on the very same day the Washington Post reported that "the Pentagon… [has] created a new espionage arm and is reinterpreting U.S. law to give Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld broad authority over clandestine operations abroad," the New York Times reported that, as part of the "extraordinary army of 13,000 troops, police officers and federal agents marshaled to secure the [Presidential] inauguration," the Pentagon had deployed "super-secret commandos… with state-of-the-art weaponry" in the nation's capitol. This was done under government directives that undercut the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. According to the Times, the black-ops cadre, based out at the ultra-secretive Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is operating under "a secret counterterrorism program code-named Power Geyser," a program just recently brought to light in Code Names, a new book by a former intelligence analyst for the Army, William M. Arkin, who says that the "special-mission units [are being used] in extra-legal missions…in the United States" on the authority of the Department of Defense's Joint Staff and with the support of the DoD's Special Operations Command and NORTHCOM.

Courtesy of the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, we've known for some time of the creation of "a secret unit that was given advance approval to kill or capture and interrogate 'high-value' suspects…" in the name of the War on Terror. Some of us may have even known that since 1989, in the name of the War on Drugs, there has been a multi-service command, (comprised of approximately 160 soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and Department of Defense operatives) known as Joint Task Force Six (JTF-6), providing "support to federal, regional, state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the continental United States." Now, we know as well that there are an unknown number of commando squads operating in the U.S. – in the name of the war at home. Just how many and exactly what they may up to we cannot know for sure since spokespersons for the relevant Army commands refuse to offer comment and Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman will only say that "At any given time, there are a number of classified programs across the government" and that Power Geyser "may or may not exist."

The emergence of an American Homeland Security State has allowed the Army to fundamentally alter its historic role, transforming what was once illegal and then exceptional – deploying Federal troops in support of (or acting as) civilian law enforcement agencies – into standard operating procedure. But the Army is not alone in its homefront meddling. While the Army was thwarted in its attempt to strong-arm University of Texas officials into releasing a videotape of their conference on Islam, the Navy used arm-twisting to greater effect on a domestic government agency. The Wall Street Journal reports that, in 2003, the Office of Naval Intelligence badgered the U.S. Customs Service to hand over its database on maritime trade. At first, the Customs Service resisted the Navy's efforts, but in the post-9/11 atmosphere, like other agencies on the civil side of the ledger, it soon caved to military pressure. In an ingenuous message sent to the Wall Street Journal, the commissioner of the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, Robert C. Bonner, excused handing over the civilian database by stating that he had received "Navy assurances that the information won't be abused."

While the Army, Navy, and NORTHCOM naturally profess to having no nefarious intent in their recent civil-side forays, history suggests wariness on the subject. After all, the pre-Homeland-Security military already had a long history of illegal activity and illegal domestic spying (much of which came to light in the late 1960s and early 1970s) – and never suffered social stigma, let alone effectual legal or institutional consequences for its repeated transgressions.

NORTHCOM now proudly claims that it has "a cooperative relationship with federal agencies working to prevent terrorism." So you might wonder: Just which other "federal agencies" does NORTHCOM – which shouldn't be sharing information about American civilians with anyone – share information with? The problem is, the range of choices in the world of American intelligence alone is staggering. If you've read (or read about) the 9/11 Commission Report, you may have seen the now almost iconic figure of 15 military and civilian intelligence agencies bandied about. That in itself may seem a startling total for the nation's intelligence operations, but, in addition to the CIA, DIA, NSA, FBI and others in the "big 15" of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), there exist a whole host of shadowy, half-known, and little understood, if well-acronymed, intelligence/military/security-related offices, agencies, advisory organizations, and committees such as the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO), the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) and the President's Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB); the Department of Defense's own domestic cop corps, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency (PFPA); and the Intelligence's Community's internal watchdog, the Defense Security Service (DSS).

Think of these various arms of intelligence and the military as the essential cast of characters in our bureaucratically proliferating Homeland Security State where everybody, it seems, is eager to get in on the act. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the operations center of the Department of Homeland Security. In its horse-shoe shaped war-room, the "FBI, the CIA, the Secret Service, and 33 other federal agencies each has its own workstation. And so do the police departments of New York, Los Angeles, Washington and six other major cities." In the operations center, large signs on walls and doors command: "Our Mission: To Share Information"; and, to facilitate this, in its offices local police officers sit just "a step or two away from the CIA and FBI operatives who are downloading the latest intelligence coming into those agencies." With all previous lines between domestic and foreign, local and federal spying, policing, and governmental oversight now blurring, this (according to outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge) is "the new model of federalism" in action.

From the military to local governments, from ostensibly civilian federal agencies to obscure counter-intelligence organizations, they're all on the make, creating interagency alliances, setting up new programs, expanding their powers, gearing up operations and/or creating "Big Brother" technologies to more effectively monitor civilians, chill dissent, and bring the war back home. Right now, nothing is closer to the heart of Homeland Security State officials (and to their budgetary plans) than that old standby of dictatorships and oppressive regimes worldwide, surveillance – by and of the Homeland population. In fact, almost every day, new examples of ever-hopeful surveillance programs pop up. Of course, as yet, we only have clues to the well-classified larger Homeland surveillance picture, but even what we do know of the growing public face of surveillance in America should cause some eyes to roll. Here's a brief overview of just a few of the less publicized, but mostly public, attempts to ramp up the eye-power of the Homeland Security State.

Saying NCIX

A little known member of the alphabet soup of federal agencies is the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive (more familiarly known by the unpronounceable acronym NCIX) – an organization whose main goal is "to improve the performance of the counterintelligence (CI) community in identifying, assessing, prioritizing and countering intelligence threats to the United States." To accomplish this task, NCIX now offers that ultimate necessity for Homeland security, downloadable "counterintelligence and security awareness posters." One features the text of the First Amendment to the Constitution ("…Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…") and the likeness of Thomas Jefferson, but with a new addendum which reads:

"American freedom includes a responsibility to protect U.S. security – leaking sensitive information erodes this freedom."

Another NCIX poster might come straight out of the old Soviet East Germany: "America's Security is Your Responsibility. Observe and Report." While NCIX is an obscure agency, its decision to improve on the First Amendment and a fundamental American freedom is indicative of where our Homeland Security State is heading; and the admonition to "Observe and Report" catches its spirit exactly.

Every Wo/Man a G-Man

Prior to the Republican National Convention in New York City, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent agents across the country in what was widely seen as a blatant attempt to harass, intimidate, and frighten potential protesters. The FBI, however, countered by professing that "we have always followed the rules, sensitive to Americans' constitutional rights to free speech and assembly, always drawing the line between lawfully protected speech and illegal activity."

By the fall of 2004, however, FBI spokespeople had moved on from such anodyne reassurances and, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, the bureau was launching its "October Plan." According to a CBS news report, this program consisted of "aggressive – even obvious – surveillance techniques to be used on… people suspected of being terrorist sympathizers, but who have not committed a crime" while "[o]ther 'persons of interest,' including their family members, m[ight] also be brought in for questioning…"

While harassing citizens at home, the FBI, which can't set up a successful internal computer system of its own (despite squandering at least $170 million on the project), began dabbling in overseas e-censorship, by confiscating servers in the United Kingdom from Indymedia, the activist media network website "with apparently no explanation." As Ward Harkavy reported in the Village Voice, "The network of activists has not been accused of breaking any laws. But all of the material actually on some of its key servers and hard disks was seized." More recently, the creator of an open-source tool designed to help internet security experts scan networks, services, and applications says he's been "pressured" by the FBI for copies of the web server log that hosts his website.

In addition to intimidation tactics and tech-centric activities, the FBI has apparently been using Joint Terrorism Task Forces (teams of state and local law enforcement officers, FBI and other federal agents) as well as local police to conduct "political surveillance" of environmental activists as well as anti-war and religious-based protest groups. The bureau is also eager to farm out such work to ordinary Americans and has been calling on the public to do some old-fashioned peeping through the blinds, just in case the neighbors are up to "certain kinds of activities [that] indicate terrorist plans that are in the works."

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Strange as it may seem, the Air Force has also gotten into the local surveillance act with an "Eagle Eyes" anti-terrorism initiative which "enlists" average citizens in the "war on terror." The Eagle Eyes' website tells viewers: "You and your family are encouraged to learn the categories of suspicious behavior" and it exhorts the public to drop a dime to "a network of local, 24-hour phone numbers… whenever a suspicious activity is observed." Just what, then, constitutes "suspicious activity"? Well, among activities worth alerting the flying eagles to, there's the use of cameras (either still or video), note taking of any sort, making annotations on maps, or using binoculars (birdwatchers beware!). And what other patterns of behavior does the Air Force think should send you running to the phone? A surefire indicator of terrorists afoot: "Suspicious persons out of place…. People who don't seem to belong in the workplace, neighborhood, business establishment, or anywhere else." Just ponder that one for a moment – and, if you ever get lost, be afraid, very afraid…

While the Air Force does grudgingly admit that "this category is hard to define," it offers a classic you-know-it-when-you-see-it definition for calling your local eagle: "The point is that people know what looks right and what doesn't look right in their neighborhoods, office spaces, commutes [sic], etc, and if a person just doesn't seem like he or she belongs…" An… ahem… urban looking youth in a suburban white community? Call it in! A crusty punk near Wall Street? Drop a dime! A woman near the White House wearing an anti-war t-shirt. Well, that's an out-of-category no-brainer!

And, in fact, much of this has already begun to come true. After all, "suspicious persons out of place" now do get arrested in the new Homeland Security State for such offenses as wearing anti-Bush t-shirts, carryinganti-Bush signs or just heckling the president. Today, even displaying an anti-Bush sticker is, in the words of the Secret Service, apparently "borderline terrorism." Holding a sign that reads, "This war is Bushit," warrants a citation from the cops and, as an eleven year old boy found out, the sheriff might come calling on you if you utter "anti-American" statements – while parents may be questioned by law enforcement officials to ascertain if they're teaching "anti-American values" at home.

[Tune in next week for Part II of this dispatch: the view from the civilian side of the Homeland Security State.]

Nick Turse is a doctoral candidate at the Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. He writes for the Village Voice and regularly for Tomdispatch on the military-corporate complex.

Copyright 2005 Nick Turse

Links referenced within this article

Tom Dispatch

the urge to free

The Time of Illusion

without a search warrant

"archipelago of injustice"

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court

"a cooperative relationship


Wall Street Journal


PBS's Newshour

Privacy Act,1283,64647,00.html

illegally investigating civilians


Washington Post



New York Times


Code Names

creation of "a secret unit,,1305741,00.html

Joint Task Force Six (JTF-6)

"At any given time,

Wall Street Journal


"a cooperative relationship

military and civilian intelligence agencies


the "FBI, the CIA, the Secret Service

which reads

"America's Security

harass, intimidate, and frighten

"we have always followed
CBS news report

$170 million on the project

"with apparently

Ward Harkavy reported in the

Village Voice

the creator of an open-source tool

"political surveillance"

"certain kinds of activities

"Eagle Eyes"

"Suspicious persons



anti-Bush signs

just heckling

"borderline terrorism."

"This war is Bushit,"

"anti-American values"

JAMAIL: On Pins and Needles in Baghdad

January 29, 2005

On Pins and Needles in Baghdad
by Dahr Jamail

Despite a continuing increase in the already draconian security measures imposed across Iraq, the bombs keep coming.

Today in the al-Dora district of Baghdad a primary school which had been a designated polling station was struck by a car bomb. Four Iraqi Police (IP) were killed.

A GMC packed with explosives rammed a checkpoint at the al-Dora power plant, killing several people, and as far south as Basra a policeman died when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb.

With Baquba experiencing its daily car bombing, at least 18 Iraqis have been killed in attacks on polling stations in the last 24 hours alone.

While IP's have been given pay raises for this weekend, they remain extremely tense and edgy, and not without due cause.

We are driving around Baghdad today attempting to take photos and conduct interviews, and the streets are nearly completely empty.

An oddity in Baghdad, where traffic jams often find people waiting for hours in places to creep their way through clogged streets. Over 90 streets in the capital city are barricaded, further increasing the horrendous congestion on "normal" days.

I take a photo as we drive past an IP praying behind a barricade which blocks an empty street. Almost immediately afterwards we hear yelling and I look back to see an IP aim his Kalshinkov over our car and hear the pop as he squeezes off a shot.

"They weren't even guarding anything. What was that all about," I ask Abu Talat who takes us down some side roads in case they decided to follow us.

"They are in terror of what is to come," replies Abu Talat, "So many of us are afraid of what is to come now."

We drive past the recently bombed SCIRI headquarters across the street from Baghdad University, then our circuitous route takes us past an area where men are lining the streets handing out bundles of posters and other election propaganda for the Royal Constitution Party, in hopes of luring some votes.

I'm on a mission to photograph the barricades that are springing up across the capital city, and one of Abu Talat's sons, Ahmed, is along with us doing some filming as well. Just after filming more of the abundance of concrete blocks and razor wire we are pulled over by an unmarked car of three IP's.

They take Abu Talat and Ahmed's ID's, the registration papers for the car and tell us to follow them.

I'd been detained by mujahideen in Fallujah last May while conducting interviews inside the city, and Abu Talat and I were piled into a GMC with armed Iraqi National Guard (in Fallujah they were all muj), and taken in for questioning.

So this didn't feel like a kidnapping, since we had our car sans personal armed escorts. Nevertheless, it's safe to say I was a bit concerned.

"Should I escape? I could try to get a taxi," I say to Abu Talat. "No. We're fine. They will just verify we are press. Besides, you are American. You are the only thing keeping them from throwing me in jail."

From the back seat Ahmed says, "Me too!"

They pull over at a marked police vehicle and everything is sorted out. "I apologize, we just have to make sure you are press," says one of the policemen.

Before leaving them Abu Talat felt like having some fun and asked the policeman, "Why didn't you take the American's papers?"

"The Americans will fuck my mother if I do," he replied. They both burst into laughter.

Later in another area of the city we are on a sidewalk and see a large cargo truck with a tattered Iraqi flag on one of the antennae. A crowd of weary travelers are milling around the back of it holding large travel bags.

"They have just returned from their haj," comments Abu Talat as he looks at the weary travelers from Mecca. "Welcome to Iraq," he says while laughing.

From the backseat Ahmed says, "Welcome to hell."

We'd already pushed our luck, so after talking to a few folks we grab lunch and head back towards home. "Let's play a game and see how many photos we can take before we get pulled over or shot at again," I joke to them both.

They laugh, appreciating my acquired Iraqi humor – if you don't laugh at this situation, you lose your mind promptly. "Yeah, why not," replies Abu Talat as we speed down another mostly empty street.

Ahmed, 15 years old, tells me one of his friends was shot in the back by an Iraqi soldier because he drove by an unmarked checkpoint. "He's in the hospital now, but he's in too much pain to talk to me," he says.

These stories are everyday.

Going through the IP checkpoint at the hotel, one of the guards says, "I don't think much will happen this weekend. I think it's just a bunch of lies. Nothing will happen."

After watching his colleague speak, the other guard who is looking under our hood replies, "We're closing this checkpoint at 5pm today, so no more cars in or out of here. The coming days will be the worst we've ever seen. Attacks will spread across all of Baghdad."

Like the election and the aftermath, nobody knows for sure what will happen here. Baghdad is on pins and needles. Gunfire cracks in the distance as I finish this. Two distant explosions (the car bombs) rattled the hotel earlier this evening.

The curfews have been extended and all the security measures are now in place.

And, as usual, nobody knows what will happen next in occupied Iraq.

links included in above text also available here:

Dahr Jamail

streets are nearly completely empty


IP praying behind a barricade

recently bombed SCIRI headquarters

3000 homes destroyed... the Tsunami named Caterpillar

January 25, 2005

Israeli Trench Could Destroy 3,000 Palestinian Homes

by Jim Lobe

As Israeli and Palestinian leaders move to increase security cooperation in Gaza, a major U.S. human rights organization is urging the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to reject proposals to build an anti-smuggling trench along the Gaza-Egyptian border that could destroy up to 3,000 Palestinian homes.

Citing recent press reports, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned Sunday that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has presented three plans for constructing a trench along the so-called Philadelphi route that runs along the southern edge of Rafah, the town situated on the border. Such a trench would make it far more difficult for smugglers to build tunnels connecting Egyptian territory with Gaza without being detected, according to the Israelis.

The narrowest option put forward calls for the destruction of 200 homes, while the widest would result in the demolition of 3,000. As many as 20, or even 30, members of an extended family live in many homes in Gaza, including those along the border area.

In a letter sent to Israel's attorney-general, Menachem Mazuz, HRW, which last October issued a report that called Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in southern Gaza unjustifiable under international law, charged that the IDF had failed to seriously explore anti-smuggling techniques that, if applied, would make home demolitions unnecessary.

"Israel's security does not require the massive destruction of civilian homes that these trench proposals would entail," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director.

"Instead of employing methods to detect and destroy tunnels like those used along the Korean DMZ [demilitarized zone], the Israeli military is using smuggling as a pretext to demolish more Palestinian homes along the Rafah border," she added.

The new plans and HRW's appeal to reject them come amid growing optimism that the Palestine National Authority's (PNA) new president, Mahmoud Abbas, is making progress both in asserting control of the PNA's various security forces, preventing rocket attacks on a nearby Israeli town, and negotiating a cease-fire with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

"We are witness to the beginning of positive developments on the Palestinian side," Israel's hawkish military chief, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, said this weekend. Even his usually dour predecessor, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, suggested that "the year 2005 may be a turning point in which there will no longer be any soldiers," in Gaza or West Bank cities.

Sharon has vowed to "disengage" Israeli troops and settlements from Gaza by the end of this year, a pledge that has drawn angry threats from more-extremist settler groups and their supporters in Israel. Most analysts believe that a withdrawal will be considerably less contentious, however, if the Palestinians suspend their four-year-old Intifada and cooperate with the disengagement process.

In exchange, Abbas' administration wants Sharon to take a series of measures, including ending Israeli raids and selective assassinations in Gaza and the West Bank, releasing many of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, and easing travel restrictions on Palestinians, that would offer tangible benefits to the population.

Carrying out home demolitions would have the opposite effect and, according to the Palestinians, would tend to radicalize the population, undermining Abbas' position.

Over the past four years, IDF operations in Rafah rendered some 16,000 people – or 10 percent of its population – homeless, according to HRW.

Last September, the IDF destroyed some 70 Palestinian homes and partially destroyed 200 others, while last May, some 298 homes were destroyed in counterinsurgency operations by the IDF.

Under international law, Israel, as the occupying power, may destroy civilian property, but only when "rendered absolutely necessary by military operations." Destroying property to improve the occupying power's general security or as a broad precaution against imagined threats is prohibited under the Geneva Conventions.

In its October report, "Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip," HRW, which based its findings on interviews in Gaza, Israel, and Egypt, as well as satellite imagery, maps, graphs, and photographs, concluded that absolute military necessity has little, if anything, to do with Israel's recent operations in southern Gaza.

Widening the buffer zone, according to the IDF, has two major military-related aims: to close tunnels from Egypt that have been used by smugglers to bring arms and other contraband into Gaza, and to enhance the security of IDF troops along the border.

But, according to 135-page report, these general justifications don't stand up in practice. "On the contrary, the manner and pattern of destruction appears to be consistent with the plan to clear Palestinians from the border area, irrespective of specific threats," the report asserts.

While HRW concedes that Palestinian armed groups have used tunnels to smuggle weapons for use in attacks against Israeli targets, it found that "the IDF has consistently exaggerated and mischaracterized the threat from smuggling tunnels to justify the demolition of homes."

In particular, the IDF has never explained why it doesn't use nondestructive means – such as seismic sensors, electromagnetic induction, and ground-penetrating radar – for detecting and neutralizing tunnels, such as those used along the Mexican-U.S. border and in the Korean DMZ.

Instead, the existence of tunnels has been used as a "pretext" for destroying homes, according to the report. It notes, for example, that in some cases, the IDF destroyed houses in order to "close" tunnels that the Palestinian Authority had already sealed.

Moreover, the IDF claims to have discovered some 90 tunnels in Rafah since 2000, but, when pressed to back up these claims, it has admitted that the number refers to entrance shafts some of which connect to sealed tunnels and others of which connect "to nothing at all."

As to the three options presented by the IDF to the government, HRW said there was no military necessity, particularly given the technology available to the security forces.

"This proposal is consistent with the IDF's campaign to establish an ever widening buffer zone empty of Palestinians," Whitson said. "The IDF destroys homes to expand the zone, builds fortifications closer to inhabited areas, and then destroys more homes to protect these new positions."

"Before insisting on a trench, the IDF should show that these nonlethal and much less destructive alternatives have been tried and failed," she added.

(Inter Press Service)



“If apartheid ended, so can the occupation. But the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction.” -- Bishop Desmond Tutu

January 27, 2005


After years of diplomatic and political efforts aimed at inducing Israel to end its Occupation, while watching it grow ever stronger and more permanent, ICAHD supports a multi-tiered campaign of strategic, selective sanctions against Israel until the Occupation ends; i.e. a campaign targeting Israel’s Occupation rather than Israel per se. We believe that in most cases merely enforcing existing laws, international as well as domestic, would render the Occupation untenable and would pull Israel back into compliance with human rights covenants. We also favor selective divestment and boycott as tools of moral and economic pressure.

Since sanctions are a powerful, non-violent, popular means of resisting the Occupation, a campaign of sanctions seems to us the next logical step in international efforts to end the Occupation. While it will develop over time, ICAHD supports the following elements at this time:
• Sales or transfer of arms to Israel conditional upon their use in ways that do not perpetuate the Occupation or violate human rights and international humanitarian law, violations that would end if governments enforced existing laws and regulations regarding the use of weapons in contravention of human rights;

• Trade sanctions on Israel due to its violation of the “Association Agreements” it has signed with the European Union that prohibit the sale of settlement products under the “Made in Israel” label, as well as for violations of their human rights provisions;

• Divestment from companies that profit from involvement in the Occupation. In this vein ICAHD supports initiatives like that of the Presbyterian Church of the US which targets companies contributing materially to the Occupation and certainly the campaign against Caterpillar whose bulldozers demolish thousands of Palestinian homes;

• Boycott of settlement products and of companies that provide housing to the settlements or which play a major role in perpetuating the Occupation; and

• Holding individuals, be they policy-makers, military personnel carrying out orders or others, personally accountable for human rights violations, including trial before international courts and bans on travel to other countries.

ICAHD calls on the international community – governments, trade unions, university communities, faith-based organizations as well as the broad civil society – to do all that is possible to hold Israel accountable for its Occupation policies and actions, thereby hastening the end of this tragedy. While we also call on the Palestinian Authority to adhere to human rights conventions, our support for selective sanctions against Israel's Occupation policies focuses properly on Israel which alone has the power to end the Occupation and is alone the violator of international law regarding the responsibilities of an Occupying Power.


You can’t have it both ways. You can’t complain about violence on the part of the Palestinians and yet reject effective non-violent measures against the Occupation that support their right to self-determination, such as economic sanctions. You can’t condemn the victims of Occupation for employing terrorism while, by opposing divestment, thereby sheltering the Occupying Power that employs State Terror. You can’t end the isolation and suffering of people living under Occupation while permitting the Occupying Power to carry on its life among the nations unencumbered and normally, by withholding a boycott of its economic and cultural products.

The Case For Sanctions

Sanctions, divestment and boycotts are absolutely legitimate means at everyone’s disposal for effectively opposing injustice. As penalties, protest, pressure and resistance to policies that violate fundamental human rights, international law and UN resolutions, they are directed at ending a situation of intolerable conflict, suffering and moral wrong-doing, not against a particular people or country. When the injustice ends, the sanctions end.

Sanctions, divestment and boycotts represent powerful international responses that arise not only from opposition to an intolerable situation, but also to the complicity of every person in the international civil society that does nothing to resolve it. Because they are rooted in human rights, international law and the will of the international community, and because they are supremely non-violent responses to injustice, sanctions carry a potent moral force. A campaign of sanctions, even if it proves impossible to actually implement them, mobilizes what has been called “the politics of shame.” No country wants to be cast as a major violator of human rights. Precisely because it is so difficult to enforce international humanitarian law, holding up its oppressive policy for all to see is often the only way of pressuring it to cease its oppressive policies. The moral and political condemnation conveyed by a campaign for sanctions and the international isolation it threatens sends a powerful, unmistakable message to the perpetrator: cease your unjust policies or suffer the consequences.

Rather than punishment, a campaign of sanctions rests upon the notion of accountability. A country threatened by sanctions stands in violation of the very principles underlying the international community as articulated in human rights covenants, international humanitarian law and UN resolutions. If we go by Amnesty’s annual report, virtually every country could be “called on the carpet” for their human rights violations. A campaign of sanctions constitutes an extraordinary step, however. It is invoked when injustice and suffering have become so routinized, so institutionalized, so pervasive, so resistant to normal international diplomacy or pressures, that their very continuation compromises the very validity of the international system and the moral standing of its members, countries, corporations and citizens alike. And it targets the strong parties. The very basis of a call for sanctions is that the targeted country has the ability to end the intolerable situation. A campaign of sanctions embodies a fundamental principle of the international system: that each country must be held accountable for its policies and actions in light of accepted international norms. The message to all countries must be: Participation in the international community depends upon conformity to the “rules of the game.”

Campaigns of sanctions are in essence educative, and that is part of their power. Since the reasons for taking such drastic action must be explicit, weighty and compelling, it forces those calling for sanctions to make a strong case for them. The very act of initiating such a campaign, then, raises awareness not only of the injustice itself, but of the principles it violates, thus strengthening the understanding of the international system itself. And since a campaign of sanctions must be accepted by the international community in order to succeed, it necessitates discussion and dialogue. The considerations behind the demand for sanctions are made transparent, and the targeted country given an opportunity to present its case. The likelihood, then, is that a campaign of sanctions initiated by civil society will express broad-based international consensus if it is to take hold.

Again, at issue is a serious violation of international law and norms. Just as in a case of an individual caught breaking the law, what is in question is what acts have been done, not who the country or the individual is. To paraphrase Jefferson, who spoke of “a government of laws, not men,” here we are speaking of “an international system of laws and not only countries that do whatever they want.” Thus, when the violations end, the sanctions cease and the country in question rejoins the international community.

The Case for Sanctions Against Israel

In line with the principles just discussed, economic sanctions against Israel are not invoked against Israel per se, but against Israel until the Occupation ends. With this proviso it is Israel’s policy of occupation that is targeted, its status as an Occupying Power, not Israel itself. When South Africa ended its system of apartheid, sanctions ceased and it fully rejoined the international community. When apartheid ended, so did the boycott of its sports teams, one of the most potent measures employed to impress on the South African government its international isolation. The divestment campaign currently directed against Caterpillar has gained considerable momentum among the international public, effectively educating people about Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes. It has generated calls for other sanctions, such as the Presbyterian Church’s initiative to divest from companies profiting from the Occupation. The European Parliament has also called for trade sanctions on Israel given Israel’s violation of the “Association Agreements” that prohibit the sale of settlement products under the “Made in Israel” label. The American Congress should take similar steps, since Israel’s use of American weapons against civilian populations violates the human rights provisions of the Arms Control Exports Act. The boycott of California grapes in the 1960s played a key role in gaining employment rights for migrant workers. The current boycott of settlement products is intended to express moral opposition to the very presence of settlements while making it economically and politically difficult for Israel to maintain them.

Once it builds momentum, there is probably no more effective means for civil society to effectively pursue justice than a campaign of sanctions. Its power derives less from its economic impact – although, with time, that too can be decisive – than from the moral outrage that impels it. Sanctions themselves seriously affected the South African economy. Following massive protests inside South Africa and escalating international pressure in mid-1984, some 200 US companies and more than 60 British ones withdrew from the country and international lenders cut off Pretoria’s access to foreign capital. US Congressional pressure played a crucial role as well, an element totally lacking vis-à-vis the Israel-Palestine conflict, which makes the possibility of actually imposing sanctions on Israel that more difficult. In 1986 Congress – with a Republican-controlled Senate – passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act over the Reagan’s veto. The Act banned new US investment in South Africa, sales to the police and military and new bank loans.

Although the Act was not strictly enforced by the Reagan and Bush Administrations, although European governments found ways of quietly doing business with Pretoria (while Israel, by the way, was helping South African businesses by-pass sanctions by peddling their products in the US and Europe under a “Made in Israel” label, as well as by continued involvement in military development in South Africa, including nuclear; Hunter 1986), it did generate a climate – moral and economic – that made it increasingly difficult to maintain business-as-usual with the apartheid regime. The moral dimension led to a delegitimization of the very apartheid system that left no room for “reform.” Carried over to Israel’s Occupation, the moral element in a larger political condemnation of Israel’s policies could delegitimize the Occupation to the point where only its complete end is acceptable. A campaign of sanctions which highlights the moral unacceptability of Israel’s Occupation could have a great impact, eventually impelling governments to impose economic sanctions while creating a climate difficult for businesses (beginning with Caterpillar) to continue function.

It is not only the political unacceptability of Israel’s Occupation which makes the call for sanction urgent and obligatory, it is the massive violations of Palestinian human rights, of international law and of numerous UN resolutions that the Occupation entails. If Israel as the Occupying Power is not held accountable for the intolerable situation within its ability, indeed, within its responsibility to end, the entire international system of justice is rendered meaningless and empty. And that is what makes the Occupation an international issue. If Israel succeeds in defying the Fourth Geneva Convention and making its Occupation permanent, if an entire population is literally locked behind walls and its right of self-determination trampled, then the ability of human rights to win out over an international order founded on power politics and militarism is jeopardized. We all have a stake in ending the Occupation; the implications of occupation actually prevailing and a new apartheid regime emerging are chilling. Since the Palestinians do not have the power to shake off the Occupation on their own and the Israelis will not, only international pressure will effectively achieve a just peace. A campaign of sanctions represents one of the most efficacious measures.

ICAHD’S Position on Sanctions

In principle ICAHD supports the use of sanctions against countries engaged in egregious violations of human rights and international law, including the use of moral and economic pressures to end Israel’s Occupation. An effective approach to sanctions operates on different levels, however, and requires a number of strategic considerations as to its scope and focus.

First, the generic term “sanctions” actually includes three main types of economic and moral pressure:
(1) Sanctions, defined overall as “penalties, specified or in the form of moral pressure, applied against a country guilty of egregious violations of human rights, international law and UN resolutions, intended to bring that country back into compliance with international norms.” Since they must be imposed by governments, regional associations (such as the EU or SEAC) or the UN, the power to actually apply sanctions falls outside of civil society. Nevertheless, governments can be prodded in that direction – and the “prodding” itself constitutes an important form of conscious-raising and moral pressure.

(2) Divestment, the withdrawal of investments in companies doing business with the offending country or directly involved in violating human rights and international law;

(3) Boycott, the voluntary refraining from purchasing the products of the offending country or allowing its companies, institutions, representatives or even professionals from participating in international intercourse.

Now sanctions, divestment and boycott can be applied either totally or selectively, the decision involving a strategic mix of efficacy and moral stance. In the most successful case of sanctions, apartheid South Africa, the call was for total sanctions, since the entire system was considered illegitimate. In the case of Israel and the Occupation, it is the Occupation which is considered illegitimate, illegal and immoral, not Israel per se. Although there are those who would argue that a Zionist Israel whose ongoing policy is to displace Palestinians from the country or confine them to reservations is, indeed, as illegitimate as apartheid, this is a position from which it would be difficult to generate mass support. Most advocates of a just peace – including the Israeli peace movement, ICAHD included – support Israel’s right as a recognized member state in the UN to rejoin the international community when the Occupation truly ends and a just peace is attained. Since governments must be induced to impose sanctions, on a purely pragmatic level it is difficult to imagine the international community, with the US at its head, actually agreeing to blanket sanctions.

More do-able would be a campaign for selective sanctions. This could be no less principled and focused than a call for total sanctions, but it targets Israel’s Occupation rather than Israel itself. A campaign of selective sanctions can be effective if the choice of targets is strategic: refusing to sell arms to Israel that would be used to perpetuate the Occupation, especially in attacks on civilian populations, for example, or banning Israeli sports teams from competing in international tournaments, especially potent in the South African case. (Israel is currently the European basketball champion and is scheduled to play in the World Cup of football/soccer). These and other selected measures could have a great impact upon Israel, as well as the ability to mobilize international opposition to the Occupation. Yet, with strong civil society advocacy, they also have a reasonable chance, over time, of being adopted.

ICAHD, then, supports in principle a multi-tiered campaign of sanctions against Israel until the Occupation ends. We believe that a selective campaign is most effective and we would incorporate into that campaigns that other organizations have already launched. At this stage, ICAHD supports:
• Sanctions: Sales or transfer of arms to Israel conditional upon their use in ways that do not perpetuate the Occupation or violate human rights and international humanitarian law, violations that would end if governments enforced existing laws and regulations regarding the use of weapons in contravention of human rights. Rather than adopting new policies of sanctions, ICAHD calls on the governments of North America, Europe and Asia to stop selling arms to Israel that are used in perpetuating the Occupation in accordance with their own laws prohibiting sales of weapons to countries engaged in serious human rights violations. No new policy of sanctions has to be adopted; the existing laws prohibiting such sales must simply be enforced. In addition existing international law must be applied against Israel for using its weapons illegally: against civilian populations, for example, or in campaigns of extra-judicial executions, to name but two. Sanctions that comprise implementation of international and domestic laws should include a ban on purchasing Israeli weapons as well.
ICAHD is currently investigating Israel’s involvement in the world’s arms trade, including weapons development, joint production and coordinated sales with other countries. We believe this is a hidden element that underlies the broad support Israeli receives from governments, including those outwardly critical of its occupation policies. We hope that advocates for a just peace will use our information to expose their own country’s complicity in policies that perpetuate the Occupation. We also call on activist groups to investigate and publicize the forms of aid their country – and especially the US – is giving Israel. Components of that aid that support occupation or settlement, whether military, technological or economic, should be opposed. We also call on Jewish communities to oppose the use of their donations to Israel – to the Jewish National Fund, for instance, or to the United Jewish Appeal, Israel Bonds and other channels of funding – in the Occupied Territories.
• Trade sanctions on Israel due to its violation of the “Association Agreements” it has signed with the European Union that prohibit the sale of settlement products under the “Made in Israel” label, as well as for violations of their human rights provisions.

• Divestment in companies that profit from involvement in the Occupation. Here ICAHD supports the initiative of the Presbyterian Church of the US to divest in “multinational corporations that provide products or services to…the Israeli police or military to support and maintain the occupation,…that have established facilities or operations on occupied land,…that provide services or products for the establishment, expansion or maintenance of Israeli settlements,…that provide products or services to Israeli or Palestinian organizations/groups that support or facilitate violent acts against innocent civilians,…that provide products or services that support or facilitate the construction of the Separation Barrier.” We certainly support the campaign against Caterpillar whose bulldozers demolish thousands of Palestinian homes.

We join with the Jewish Voice for Peace in the US whose statement in support of the Presbyterians says in part:

“At JVP, we fully support selective divestment from companies that profit from Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. This includes American companies like Caterpillar who profit from the wholesale destruction of Palestinian homes and orchards. It also includes Israeli companies who depend on settlements for materials or labor or who produce military equipment used to violate Palestinian human rights.”

We believe that general divestment from Israel is an unwise strategy at this time. We believe that economic measures targeted specifically at the occupation and the Israeli military complex that sustains it are much more likely to produce results. However, we absolutely reject the accusation that general divestment or boycott campaigns are inherently anti-Semitic. The Israeli government is a government like any other, and condemning its abuse of state power, as many of its own citizens do quite vigorously, is in no way the same as attacking the Jewish people. Further, it is crucial not only to criticize the immoral and illegal acts of the Israeli government, but to back up that criticism with action.

We also note with satisfaction the many Jewish and Israeli organizations who support the idea of selective sanctions on Israel: European Jews for a Just Peace (a coalition of 16 Jewish groups from eight European countries); Not in My Name (US); Matzpun (Israel/International); Jews Against the Occupation (NYC Chapter); the petition of South African government minister Ronnie Kasrils and legislator Max Ozinsky, which has gathered more than 500 signatories from South African Jews; Jewish Voices Against the Occupation (US); Jewish Women for Justice in Israel and Palestine (US); Gush Shalom (Israel); Jews for Global Justice (US); and Visions of Peace With Justice (US), among others.

• Boycott of settlement products and of companies that provide housing to the settlements or which play a major role in perpetuating the Occupation, a campaign initiated several years ago by Gush Shalom.

These campaigns, it seems to us, build on existing initiatives. They are capable of garnering broad international support, are focused, raise public consciousness over the economic aspects of the Occupation and expose the complicity of the international community in it. They bring significant moral pressure to bear on Israel, while moving towards effective forms of economic sanctions designed to end the Occupation.

We believe that Israel as a powerful state occupying the territory of another people should be held accountable for its policies and actions. We would therefore add to the list of sanctions the following element:
• Holding individuals, be they policy-makers, military personnel carrying out orders or others, personally accountable for human rights violations, including trial before international courts and bans on travel to other countries.

Since sanctions are a powerful non-violent means of resisting the Occupation, ICAHD supports this burgeoning movement and calls on the international community – civil society as well as governments – to do all that is possible to bring a swift end to Israel’s terrible Occupation so that all the peoples of the region, and especially Israelis and Palestinians, can enjoy the benefits of a just and lasting peace for the generations to come. The time has come; sanctions seem the next logical step in a global campaign to end the Occupation.


ICAHD is a non-violent, direct-action group originally established to oppose and resist Israeli demolition of Palestinian houses in the Occupied Territories.

As our activists gained direct knowledge of the brutalities of the Occupation, we expanded our resistance activities to other areas - land expropriation, settlement expansion, by-pass road construction, policies of "closure" and "separation," the wholesale uprooting of fruit and olive trees and more. The fierce repression of Palestinian efforts to "shake off" the Occupation following the latest Intifada has only added urgency to our efforts.

As a direct-action group, ICAHD is comprised of members of many Israeli peace and human rights organizations. All of our work in the Occupied Territories is closely co-ordinated with local Palestinian organizations.

Electing to cut and run

24 January 2005

Electing to cut and run

For coalition officials, the Iraqi election on Sunday is another opportunity to wash their hands of the mess their war createdAmong those sceptical about the Iraq war, there seem to be two, conflicting views of the forthcoming elections, due to take place on Sunday 30 January.

The first, held by those of a decidedly anti-war persuasion, says the Iraqi elections are little more than a stunt orchestrated by the coalition to consolidate its rule. The election will, according to one left-wing commentator, 'be conducted under a military occupier that controls a puppet government' (1). The aim, apparently, is to 'make Iraq a client state', as 'control of Iraq's oil is a strategic and economic prize that would be impossible for the oil-dominated Bush administration to walk away from' (2).

The second view, held by those on the sceptical-about-war side of things, is that the election will, or at least ought to, bring about the right conditions for a withdrawal of the coalition. Some of the New York Times' top op-ed writers suggested asking Iraqis in a referendum six weeks after the election if they think foreign troops should withdraw (before adding, 'Tell them we'll hold the referendum every nine months until they vote us out or we determine it's time to leave') (3). Some reports say British officials are browbeating the Bushies into using the opportunity of the election to 'announce a timetable for withdrawing coalition troops' (4).

What both of these camps fail to appreciate is that, to all intents and purposes, the coalition has already left Iraq. Its forces may still be there - with 150,000 Americans holed up in Baghdad's tightly secured Green Zone or in Saddam's former palaces around the country, and 9,000 Brits in southern Iraq - but politically and emotionally the coalition absented itself long ago.

The election is not an attempt by America to imprint itself, imperial-style, on to Iraq; the election may, as others predict, lead to an eventual physical withdrawal, though that remains to be seen. What can be said is that the election is the latest in the coalition's attempts to disavow political responsibility for Iraq, and wash its hands of the mess its war created.

On 30 January, Iraq's estimated 14million voters will vote for 275 members of a new Transitional National Assembly (TNA). This TNA will take over from interim prime minister Ayad Allawi's transitional government and serve as a national legislature while drawing up a more permanent constitution for future elections. There will also be elections to 18 provincial assemblies and to the autonomous Kurdish parliament in northern Iraq. Around 120 parties have so far been authorised to put forward candidates for the assembly - with each party presenting a list of at least 12 candidates where every third name must be a woman's, to ensure that 25 per cent of the seats in the assembly are taken by women (5).

No doubt many Iraqis will be pleased to vote in an election where the choice is not only between Saddam and Saddam. But this election is taking place in far-from-ideal conditions. Iraq's borders will be shut during the election process. A senior US commander recently predicted that insurgent attacks would escalate ahead of the election and warned, ominously, that American soldiers could 'not guarantee that every person who wants to vote can do [so] safely' (which could be because American forces are carrying out fewer and fewer patrols, and seem to spend much of their time back at barracks) (6).

The mechanics of the election suggest this is not exactly an Iraqi-driven affair. Because of a tight timetable there was no time to conduct a proper census of Iraq's eligible voters, so instead electoral rolls will be based on the United Nations' 'Oil for Food' lists, drawn up over five years ago. Even the ballot papers are not Iraqi; they were printed in Switzerland to avoid counterfeiting (7).

But while the election is not a paragon of democracy, nor is it part of a secret mission by the USA and its allies to transform Iraq into a client state. The impetus for this election comes not from the Iraqi people, however keen they may be to regain control of their destiny, but from a coalition seeking to ditch responsibility for Iraq's destiny.

Some critics talk of the coalition as a puppeteer to the election, controlling things from behind the scenes; in fact, it is striking how hands-off American and British rulers have been. The US State Department insists that the election planning and execution are being done 'by Iraqis for Iraqis', assuring us that America's role is 'limited, and consists primarily of providing financial support for the costs of the mechanics of the election'. Indeed, US officials have taken to referring queries about the elections to the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, an Iraqi group set up by Allawi's government, pointing out that this body has 'exclusive jurisdiction of the oversight, organisation and conduct of the election' (8).

Far from being the usual doublespeak employed by Western officials during post-occupation handovers of power, America's stand-back approach to the Iraqi election corresponds with its actions over the past 18 months. Its election-talk follows a pattern, where coalition leaders have increasingly sought to distance themselves from political authority over Iraq.

After the end of the war in May 2003, the coalition outlawed the flying of American and British flags and redesigned the new Iraqi currency following concerns that it looked too much like the American dollar. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which governed Iraq from May 2003 until the end of June 2004, insisted it wasn't an occupying force: it was headed by Paul Bremer, an 'administrator' rather than a High Representative, who was guarded by private security guards rather than US soldiers, and described itself as 'the temporary governing body which has been designated by the UN as the lawful government of Iraq until such time as Iraq is politically and socially stable enough to assume its sovereignty'.

Bremer's main role seemed to be to abolish himself at the earliest opportunity; the CPA website came complete with a 'Countdown to Sovereignty' ticker, which anticipated, by the second, the day when postwar Iraq would become Iraqis' permanent responsibility rather than the CPA's temporary responsibility.

When Bremer signed political control over Iraq to interim prime minister Allawi in June 2004, the coalition again took a step back from the proceedings. President Bush denied that he played any role in selecting Allawi: 'I had no role. I mean, occasionally somebody said, "This person may be interested, or that person", but I had no role in picking. Zero.' (9) Before leaving Iraq, Bremer gave Allawi a letter from Bush asking for diplomatic ties with the new regime - a highly unusual thing for an occupying power to do. The aim was to present the new Iraq and America as two distinct entities, tied merely by diplomatic niceties rather than shared military, political or economic interests, or, for that matter, the war that had occurred only a year earlier.

The election looks to be part of this same process. That is one reason why coalition officials are so desperate for it to take place, even though Iraqi officials (including Allawi himself at one stage) have questioned whether this is wise. Some predict that there will be low voter turnout (there has certainly been low turnout among Iraqi citizens outside of Iraq, who are eligible to vote; the registration deadline for Iraqis living abroad has been extended by two days, after only about one in eight of those eligible signed up during the initial phase) (10).

Still, the election must go ahead, say US officials. One told the Washington Post: 'I would really encourage people not to focus on numbers, which in themselves don't have any meaning' - and to prove the point, he 'highlighted the low voter turnout in US elections as evidence that polling numbers are not essential to legitimacy' (11). Of course there's more to elections than numbers, but coalition officials seem equally unconcerned about who or what Iraqis vote for - just so long as the election happens.

Even Abu al-Zarqawi's declaration yesterday of a 'fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology' didn't put coalition leaders off (12). US officials usually give far too much credence to Zarqawi's sporadic statements; as one US agent in Iraq admitted at the end of last year, officials have helped to transform Zarqawi from a man into a myth. Yet this time even Zarqawi was brushed aside, with US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice telling reporters yesterday that: 'The Iraqis will be just fine. They're starting a process and this [election] is an important step.' (13)

It is striking that the Americans and British, who are normally so picky about the conduct of foreign elections, are not especially concerned that this Iraqi election might be unsafe or fail to win a large turnout. Their concern is simply that it takes place, in the hope that it might magically bestow some legitimacy and stability on to postwar Iraq, and more importantly move the coalition a step further from being responsible for this disastrous state of its own making. The coalition will still have a vast military presence in Iraq, but, after the election, it will have well and truly left in spirit.

What Iraqis are likely to be left with is not an old-style puppet regime that represents great power interests, or a regime that has its origins in the hopes and desires of the Iraqi people, but a flimsy administration born of the coalition's desire to cut and run. That, at least, is the coalition's wish - though leaving its Iraqi mess behind might yet prove to be wishful thinking.

Read on:

spiked-issue: War on Iraq

(1) The press unites in ignorance, David Edwards, New Statesman, 24 January 2005

(2) Reframing the Iraq election, Frank Brodhead, Znet, 21 January 2005

(3) Should we stay or should we go?, Fredrick Barton, Bathsheba Crocker and Craig Cohen,
New York Times, 19 January 2005

(4) Britain urges USA to set exit timetable,The Age, 21 January 2005

(5) Iraq election at a glance, BBC News, 23 November 2004

(6) Bush says four Iraqi areas pose vote challenge, Reuters, 7 January 2005

(7) Iraq election at a glance, BBC News, 23 November 2004

(8) Iraq elections: a vote for democracy,
on the US Department of State Bureau of International Information Programs website

(9) Taking Questions, PBS, 1 June 2004

(10) Low turnout for Iraqi exile vote, CBS News, 21 January 2005

(11) Once again, no regrets, Dan Froomkin: Washington Post, 13 January 2005

(12) Al-Zarqawi declares war on democracy Sydney Morning Herald, 24 January 2005

(13) Al-Zarqawi declares war on democracy Sydney Morning Herald, 24 January 2005

© Spiked

Christopher Hitchens interviewed

Atlantic Unbound | January 18, 2005


The Contrarian in Combat

Christopher Hitchens, the controversial author of Love, Poverty, and War, talks about Iraq, Mother Teresa, and his efforts to inconvenience Henry Kissinger


book cover

Love, Poverty, and War : Journeys and Essays
[Click the title
to buy this book]

by Christopher Hitchens
Thunder's Mouth, Nation Books
432 pages, $16.95

T he hostility toward Christopher Hitchens from certain members of the political left is presently immeasurable. The writer and activist Tariq Ali has called him a "vile replica" of his former self. Alexander Cockburn, a columnist for The Nation—a position Hitchens himself held until he quit in 2002—has accused him of "frothing crudity." The writer Dennis Perrin has published an "obituary" of his former mentor in radical politics. And the leftist critic George Scialabba has written that Hitchens has been making an "egregious ass of himself."

What has made Hitchens—the journalist, critic, lecturer, and self-proclaimed "contrarian"—into the object of such vociferous scorn is his muscular support for the war in Iraq. Soon after September 11, with the Pentagon (not far from his Washington home) in ruins, Hitchens became arguably the most prominent American journalistic opponent of Saddam's regime. And since that time he has focused the bulk of his famously voluminous energy on making the legal, moral, and political case for war. Coming from a mainstay of the radical press, this turn has been perceived by some as apostasy and by others as symbolic of the ideological differences that currently divide the American left—and gallons of ink have therefore been spilled in an attempt to analyze the political "defection" of Christopher Hitchens.

In one sense, the Hitchens-watchers see a great deal more discontinuity than actually exists. In 1989, when the Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced Hitchens's close friend Salman Rushdie to death, Hitchens became finely attuned to, and repulsed by, Islamic fundamentalism. He was a supporter of the American bombing of Serbia, in 1999, when many on the left opposed it, and of the idea that the United States military could be a force for positive change. Most fundamentally, Hitchens has had a long-stated and intense hatred for organized religion—and for unorganized religion as well—an aspect of his personality that many commentators miss, but one that plays a central part in his political worldview. September 11 gave focus to these already present convictions.

In another sense, however, there has been an obvious shift in the nature of Hitchens's discourse. Though his work remains as biting, as committed to Enlightenment ideals, and as elegant as ever, it has also become decidedly and self-consciously single-minded. During the run-up to the 2004 election, Hitchens proudly declared himself a "one-issue" voter. That issue was Iraq, and his obvious scorn for those who opposed military intervention. Very little has seeped through this new scrim—not critiques of economic globalization, nor of American imperialism, nor of the Bush Administration's evasiveness and mendacity. And these conspicuous absences have lent critics of Hitchens's work a great deal of fuel, and their criticisms a noticeable, often condescending, anger.

If the Hitchens backlash and Hitchens's own combativeness are in part emblematic of the riven state of leftist politics, they have also served to drown out a great deal of Hitchens's other work. Though he is first and foremost a political writer—well-known for his polemics on Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, and Mother Teresa—Hitchens is also an accomplished literary critic (he is a reviewer for this magazine, among other publications). It is a role the eclipse of which he sometimes laments. But not too loudly. With Hitchens there are always more pressing things to shout about, and very little into which politics does not enter.

I spoke with Hitchens by phone on December 20 on the occasion of the publication of his latest book, a collection of essays and reviews titled Love, Poverty, and War.

Daniel Smith

Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens

I have several subjects I want to ask you about—for example, Mayor Bloomberg, politics, God. But first I want to ask you about Mayor Bloomberg playing God. In a Vanity Fair essay that's reprinted in this volume, you call New York a "nanny state." More pointedly you call Bloomberg a "picknose control freak." Are your complaints regarding New York politics rooted in the city's recent smoking ban, or are they based on a broader complaint about mayoral policies?

In the essay you're talking about I accuse Bloomberg of "penis envy" for Rudy Giuliani and the former New York police chief William Bratton, both of whom made a point about zero tolerance in the matter of crime and delinquency. Bloomberg hoping, I think, to gain some reputation, applied that attitude to behaviors that are not really antisocial—old people feeding pigeons, for example, or people sitting on milk crates on the sidewalk, or standing outside their own place of employment. Those policies demonstrate a mentality of insecurity and ambition and pseudo-zeal. But undoubtedly you're right. The thing that more than symbolizes Bloomberg for me is the ban on smoking. It's moved a sensible aim—namely, the protection of nonsmokers from smoke—into behavior modification.

At one point, for instance, Bloomberg actually sent police around to the Vanity Fair offices, on what must have been a tip-off from someone in the building, to stop [Editor-in-chief] Graydon Carter and I from having a cigarette. At a later time they came when Graydon was on vacation because on his unoccupied desk, in his empty office, was a receptacle that might have been usable for an ashtray. Now, this is the sort of thing one laughs about. But if they'd had cops to spare for this sort of thing, and if they're going to rely on anonymous informers and do this to people who aren't even present, then it doesn't take much alteration to that anecdote to make it sound rather nasty. You tip things just a little further and you're living in a very unpleasant country.

A lesser objection I have is simply that it makes bar owners and bartenders and waiters into de facto enforcers of the law. The law inverts the relationship between host and guest. It's a small thing, but it has kind of spoiled New York for me. I went out to a restaurant recently in Union Square—it was a very cold day, but my friends and I decided we would sit outside anyway so that we could have a smoke and not bother anybody. They said, "You can't do that." Why not? "Because you're underneath an awning. We have a table that's completely unprotected from the weather, just outside the awning. You can sit there if you like." And this all occurred before they told us what the specials were! Now, if you can't put up a shingle that says, "This is McShane's Old Irish Lodge, and if you don't like cigarette smoke you can stay the fuck out of my bar," then something essential about the whole idea of New York is gone.

But wasn't it Mayor Giuliani who introduced that authoritarian atmosphere into the city?

Yes, but he had the justification of law and order. Or at least what he did had an aura of defensibility. Bloomberg's is simply state-enforced behavior modification. I'm appalled by that. The whole point of moving to New York used to be that there wasn't anyone saying, "Don't wear this," or "Don't smoke that." It was nobody's business.

In general I've found that over the past few years what you might call libertarian issues mean more to me. Something has gone wrong with the liberal mentality. What used to be diversity, or could claim to be, has mutated into conformism in a rather sinister way.

The way you're speaking about the New York smoking ban as government-sponsored behavior modification seems very much in line with your writings about totalitarian states. But I'm tempted first to ask whether you think the Bush Administration has anything to do with a wider undercutting of libertarian concerns.

The Republican coalition appears to have created a new political constituency that's made up of quite a number of free-market libertarian types. Many of those people were anti-authoritarian types in the sixties, and they now make up part of the new right. Another part of the new right is made up of moralists, and another—as always—is made up of law-and-order types. (Some members of that third category have been attracted to it as a result of jihadism.) But there the problem is the willingness of people to surrender their rights rather than the state's eagerness to take them away.

So you don't put any stock in the contention that the Bush Administration has watered down civil rights in the name of protecting America?

The antiwar left made a huge thing about saying that Bush ignored too many warnings before September 11. But from the way they've reacted since, one would presume that they would have protested if he had taken the steps necessary to forestall the problem. I think what everyone ought to do at the basic minimum here is admit that there are contradictions in their position.

I recently wrote a review in The New York Times of professor Geoffrey Stone's book, Perilous Times, about free speech in wartime. His book shows, among other things, that a lot of the liberal panic is just that, because wartime incursions into free speech never last very long. Very often they are repealed in such a way that one has more freedoms than one had before, not less. There hasn't been a speech prosecution in a time of war in the U.S. for a very long time now, and not one since September 11. The precedents that were established in the sixties with the antiwar movement would be very, very hard to overturn. The presumption now is that you can say whatever you like in wartime. That was not the case at all, for example, in the thirties.

But there is no foreseeable end to this particular war.

Once it's defined as terrorism that's true. But I'm against defining it as a war on terrorism. And I also insist that the most oppressive piece of legislation, the one under which most of the more arbitrary prosecutions have occurred, is the Clinton Administration's so-called Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which, among other things, put capital punishment on the fast track so as to shorten the appeals procedure. It led to a terrible speedup of executions. That very oppressive piece of legislation was done merely in response to the Oklahoma City bombing. So what I said in my review of the Stone book is that it ought to be a principle that no legislation should be passed within six months of any atrocity.

Staying with Iraq and your support of the war there, what about other regimes that clearly pose a risk to the United States? North Korea, for one. How do you apply the logic of regime change in Iraq to the rest of the world?

North Korea has threatened the invasion of South Korea; it's starving its own people to death; it's repeatedly caught sponsoring international terrorism; and it's obviously violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But North Korea has us in a stranglehold that Saddam didn't. We've let things get to the point where North Korea can—and might, given what we know of the nature of its regime—destroy the capital city of South Korea if we make a move against it. If we were an imperialist state we wouldn't give a shit about that. We'd just say, It's in our interest if the North Korean regime ceases to exist—too bad if South Korea ends up getting blown up. But we can't do that.

So essentially it's a military calculation?

Yes. The calculation made by the Administration—in my opinion, quite rightly—was that we're not going to let Saddam Hussein get to the point where he could say, like Kim Jong Il, "Come and get me if you'd like, but look what I've got." Of course, Saddam was continually trying to get into that position.

Does your belief in the validity of the military effort in Iraq pose any problem to your belief in the importance of the military effort in Afghanistan? Do you think, as many people argue, that the war in Iraq has distracted from the military effort in Afghanistan?

I've simply never heard anyone say that the job in Afghanistan needs more people. And it doesn't look as if it does. I mean, the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan are totally negligible militarily. It's a police operation. Afghanistan is now run by NATO. It's the strongest military alliance in the history of the world. That's the first thing. The second is that it would have been very unwise to say in advance that, "Given our engagement in Afghanistan, alas we are unable to do anything about Iraq." I don't think that's exactly what one should have been telling Saddam Hussein. Many people seem to think now that there was no threat of weaponry or terrorism from that quarter. I regard that belief as utterly fantastic. Because I'm an old left-sectarian street fighter, I happen to remember that most of the people who are saying this are the same people who were not in favor of invading Afghanistan either. They said it would be a quagmire like Vietnam and a graveyard of ambition as it was for Russia and Britain. I remember thinking that was nonsense at the time. Everyone now says that of course they thought all along that military action in Afghanistan would be great. No, they didn't! They hope that people will forget. They hope in vain in my case. I will never let them forget what they said.

I know you won't. But setting aside whatever one believes about the military rectitude of the war in Iraq, what about the argument, which seems well-founded, that it has increased opportunities for terrorism in Iraq?

Well, that's based on the assumption that al-Qaeda is in itself a response to the sins of omission or commission by the West. That's not true. The Administration had to find a legal and international justification for kicking out a keystone regime in the Middle East in order to alter the balance of power in the Muslim world. It needed to be done. But one couldn't just say, "Well, after an attack like September 11 we're going to have to alter the balance of power in the region." I wouldn't have minded if they had said that, but if you're going to go to the UN, you have to phrase it as if you're talking about something else. But let's just recognize, without being too Straussian or Machiavellian, that all politics is a bit like that. I do not believe, for example, that the First World War was declared because of the British belief that Belgian neutrality should be guaranteed. I don't think so.

But my question was about the success of the occupation, about the so-called liberation of Iraq. In recent weeks, the attacks on the Administration have been growing in this regard. Do you think the occupation is working?

The forces are in a position where they could withdraw if they wished, which is an unusual position for an occupier. They could say to the Iraqis and their neighbors, "We don't have to be here if we don't want to. It's not absolutely essential to us. We can leave. Do you really want this to happen? If you unanimously say that you do, and you want it to happen now, we could accommodate you. Are you sure that's what you want?" I think the same should be said to those who characterize this as a debacle. I think they should be forced to ask themselves very carefully, Do we in any way secretly hope that the occupation fails? Are we aware of what that would mean?

One thing we definitely know is what would happen to Iraq if the coalition withdrew or were defeated. I don't believe I would get any argument from anyone about that. And it would not just be a defeat for Bush and Cheney. It would not just be a defeat for the neoconservatives. I think it should be taken a lot more seriously than it is.

You're referring to the possibility of defeat?

Yes, and the wish on the part of many people who claim to be antiwar—and who therefore presumably are also humanitarians—that the occupation fail.

I was quite shocked by the number of people in mainstream Democratic politics who said to me, "I don't mind what happens in Iraq so long as Bush is defeated" without any ambivalence. I find that very objectionable. I spend a good deal of my life at the moment fighting that mentality. It's very common here—it's extremely common in Europe.

I suppose we should move on to other issues. A lot of the book—

I can see we haven't gotten past the "War" section yet.

No, I had a feeling that was going to happen. I probably shouldn't have started with "War."

I'm used to it, but it makes me slightly sad.

What does?

That most of my interviewers want to do this, though I realize I can't really complain. I have advertised a certain view of the situation, and banged on about it a lot.

I'd hoped to avoid that trap. This book, after all, is only partially about Iraq.

Well, what I hope I was telling you was not what I thought, but how I thought, which is more important.

Well, that's a good segue into one of the big subjects of this collection, which is religion. You've been trying to argue against the dangers of religious belief for many years. But reading this book, it strikes me that your critique of religion is based much more on the hypocrisy of its adherents—and perhaps on a sort of Enlightenment desire for evidence—than on the experience of faith. Do you have any respect for the individual who professes a more personal faith based on, say, the "oceanic feeling"?

Well, first off, I'm not, as people sometimes claim me to be, an atheist. I'm an anti-theist. I think the influence of religious belief is horrible. Take Garry Wills, for example. I have read him with great profit on many subjects (and have learned from reading him and from disagreeing with him on quite a number of topics). But when he gets into writing about, say, the spirituality of St. Augustine, it becomes white noise. All his standards completely collapse. He's not scholarly about it, and he's not even expected to be. How could he know about St. Augustine's spirituality? But there he is writing about it, as though it were something we all agreed about. And what's true of him is true of our species in general—we are only partly rational. We do have the reasoning faculty, but when we abandon it for a second, the result is something like Garry Wills's driveling on about St. Augustine.

Your basic objection to religion, however, seems less experiential than it is political. You object in this book not to individual belief, but to the politicization of belief.

Listen, if a child tells me he's seen a ghost, I'll say, "Well, I'm sure you did, but I don't think I'll be able to see it myself, and I don't think it's really there, though I do think you must have a very vivid imagination." However, if a grown-up says "I've just a heard a voice telling me what to do," what they really mean is "I can now tell you what to do." That's what I don't like. What I noticed when I was a kid wasn't just that what the headmaster was preaching at sermon time was rubbish (which was easy to see), it was also that it seemed very important that the headmaster be able to invest his otherwise rather feeble authority with religious authority. In other words, I could see already when I was eight that religion is used to say, "You better listen to what I say. My power is not just of this world. I have divine right." That's where you have to say, "Say that again and I'll burn your church." That's fascism. I loathe it. And I tend to loathe the people who believe it, because they are making a claim on me.

This is how I explained your so-called defection from the left to a friend recently—that in order to understand your political views one has to understand your views of religion.

Actually, it makes my day to hear you say that. The thought that someone else was there to say it for me cheers me up. It means that I haven't wasted my time completely. I don't see how anyone who reads me could miss that. But they do.

It seems hard to miss. You refer in the introduction to this book, for example, to your "cold, steely hatred" for religion.

It's the root of my whole existence as a writer—to destroy the illusions that arise from faith. And only some of those illusions are religious, which means that I'll never be out of business. There'll always be work to do.

And yet, in an exchange with Jim Fallows elsewhere on this Web site you complain about being called an "attack dog." Is that an epithet that continues to bother you?

I guess I shouldn't really complain, because at least it means I have a reputation for something. It must be the same if you're a politician—you make one remark and it ends up being the thing that people remember about you. I suppose Dan Quayle must have to force himself to laugh along with all those people who make potato jokes. When people introduce me by saying something like, "This is the guy who said Mother Teresa is no good," I just have to suppress a sigh.

I just thought one day, after I'd run into Mother Teresa in Calcutta, Has anyone ever taken a second look at this woman? Is it possible that what we believe about her isn't in fact true? And then it was just too easy. I couldn't believe that people had left this field to me.

My book about Clinton was another case. I was writing strictly as a left polemicist, trying to point out to liberals, If you think this guy is your friend, you're setting yourself up for a terrible beating. I wrote that book essentially as an appeal to the left to see that this guy is a reactionary and a thug and that in the end he would do immense, lasting damage to what was left of the American liberal and democratic constituency. And I think I will be vindicated on that if I haven't been already.

And Henry Kissinger ... I mean, good grief! The idea of his tolerability has long been—intolerable. It was right when I finally decided to write a book about him that I found out by accident that he was afraid of being prosecuted in the course of the Pinochet investigation. And I thought, Well, now I know how I can write it—as a trial document.

Any closer to prosecutorial success?

Oh, yes, all the time. I can say this for myself: I know that I have slightly inconvenienced Henry Kissinger and caused some changes in his schedule. And I think I may also have changed how his obituary will be written. He will die realizing that the obits he was once certain of will not be written in that way anymore. Judge Le Loire, the magistrate who summoned him to Paris in 2001, did so as a result of my book being translated into French. The authorities decided to try to get a hold of him for questioning, and he had to run for it. And I know further that he was very upset when I sued him.

For calling you an anti-Semite.

Yes. He actually apologized with amazing alacrity on that. It was a very grudging apology, but it was enough. He was made to retract his statement. First, through his lawyer, he said, "Okay, I promise never to say it again." And I said, "That's not good enough; you have to say you shouldn't have said it the first time."


Well, I published the correspondence. It's on my Web site. I didn't put an ad in The New York Times. Maybe I should have. The truth was that I was hoping he wouldn't apologize, that he'd say, "I'll see you in court." Because in court I could have produced witnesses from Cambodia and Cyprus and Chile and asked, "Well isn't it true that you're a habitual liar, a falsifier of documents, and so on?" I've actually been to Chile to testify in front of the judge who has just lifted the immunity of General Pinochet: Judge Guzman, who's a heroic magistrate—an ultra conservative, by the way; a member of the hard right in Chile, but an absolutely honest gentleman. He's lifted the immunity of Pinochet now and he's on the trail of the Condor cases and I think he also has jurisdiction in the case of the murder of Charles Horman. [Operation Condor was a campaign of political assassinations sponsored by South American governments in the 1970s; Horman was an American journalist murdered by the Chilean regime in 1973.] He knows very well that this will lead—can lead, should lead, appears to lead—into an inquiry into Mr. Kissinger. I've testified before this judge, and it's a very proud moment of my life. The second proudest was appearing at the request of the Vatican against the sainthood of Teresa.

You describe that in the book. How remarkable an experience was it?

It could have been more remarkable, if for example they had invited me to Rome and had me testify in some wonderful old building. They made it as banal and as grudging as they could, but they did know that they had to do it and that they had to listen to me. And I thought, Well, okay, it means that I haven't been completely wasting my time. I have lived to be taken seriously. These were not just balloon-puncturing, publicity-seeking operations, which is what's implied in the idea that I'm an attack dog. They were fairly well-organized reconsiderations of what these people have really been responsible for—such that it has forced several quite important review bodies to seek my testimony. That's not a bad thing. And I'm hoping I have a few more such opportunities. It would be nice to be able to go to the trials of Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, too.

Do you find yourself channeling your energies into less polemical work at all as the years move on? I'm thinking especially of your review work for The Atlantic.

"The Accutest Ear in Paris" (January 2004)
To be so perceptive and yet so innocent—that, in a phrase, is the achievement of Proust. By Christopher Hitchens

From Atlantic Unbound:

Interviews: "The Power of Facing" (October 23, 2002)
Christopher Hitchens, the author of Why Orwell Matters, depicts George Orwell as a nonconformist who resolutely faced up to unpleasant truths.

Well, after the Clinton book, I realized that I'd failed to persuade the majority of the left. And I thought, If you argue on their terms and they say, "No, we don't agree," maybe you're wrong in assuming that you do share a point of view. I'd wondered even before that whether maybe I belonged in the libertarian camp. Then I did the Kissinger thing, which obviously a lot of people on the left liked—though a lot of conservatives liked it as well. And then I went off to write the Orwell book, which I had been wanting to do all my life and was finally asked to do for the centennial. When that was over I sort of sat down and felt very tired. Politics was losing its flavor for me. I decided I would take on a reading project—pick up something serious to read. So I decided that it was really time I read Marcel Proust properly. I made that my work for the whole of 2001. I finished it in September, wishing it had been longer. I had a vague idea of writing a reply to Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life—as if to take him up on it and say, "Here's how it has changed mine." But then my wife woke me up one morning—I was on the West Coast and she was in Washington—and told me to turn on the TV. And of course I saw what everyone else saw. And I realized that politics was back in my life. It was stupid to think I could avoid it. I had always been telling people you can't get out of politics—it will come and find you, and here's the absolute proof. And I've been doing that ever since.

But the rest of the time I'd far rather be writing about Joyce.

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