Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Online at: http://politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/4768/1/238/

Some Reflections on Science and the Gayness Of Sheep
By Thomas Riggins

In 1961, the author William J. Lederer published his book A Nation of Sheep. One of its basic points was how the American people tended to follow and believe whatever the government and an uncritical press dished out to them. In Lederer's book the example given was how "Communists" were blamed for all the troubles in the world and how the fight against “Communism" was used to justify every aggressive or stupid turn of US foreign policy, much as in today's world the fight against "radical Islam" and "terrorism" is used to justify the policies of the Bush administration (or, even worse, the fight against "evil doers").

Recently, a small-scale example of "sheep thinking" occurred among many people in both the animal rights and gay communities, as a result of inaccurate news reports published in the world press, climaxing in The Sunday Times of London last month. This story should be a warning that even progressive communities can be carried away when they let emotion and rumor trump reason and fact.

The following tale comes from the article "Of Gay Sheep, Modern Science And the Perils of Bad Publicity" by John Schwartz, published in The New York Times of Thursday, January 25, 2007.

The protagonist of our story is one Dr. Charles Roselli, a scientist who works at the Oregon Health and Science University and who has devoted himself for the last five years to trying to discover what makes about eight percent of sheep (specifically rams) gay.

It seems that these rams never want to have sex with ewes but only with their fellow rams. Schwartz reports that Roselli's goal "is to understand the fundamental mechanisms of sexual orientation in sheep." This research, by the way, may be pertinent to the psychology of lonely Texas farmers, as well those interested in canine sexuality who want to know what motivates a certain percentage of wolves to desire to dress in sheep's clothing.

Unfortunately, the good doctor's research has stirred up a worldwide hornet's nest of denunciation initiated by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and joined by gay activists, other animal rights advocates, and regular people, all as a result of the bad press Dr. Roselli's research was given.

The erroneous report that came out in the London Sunday Times was guaranteed to cause trouble, as that paper reported Dr. Roselli had found a "cure" for his gay rams (based on fetal hormone treatments) and that this, as the London paper said, "could pave the way for breeding out homosexuality in humans." Fighting words to be sure if this were really Dr. Roselli's intention. What is really behind this is that the sheep industry really wants to have more procreative rams. One of our more noted biological scientists, Martina Navratilova, was quoted as saying that this sort of research "can only be surmised as an attempt to develop a prenatal treatment" to prevent gayness. She seems to be against scientific investigation itself. "The more we play God," she is quoted from an e-mail to the NY Times, "or try to improve on Mother Nature, the more damage we are doing with all kinds of experiments that either have already turned or will turn into nightmares. How in the world could straight or gay sheep help humanity?" Well, the sheep industry thinks an eight percent increase in ram fatherhood would lead to more lamb chops for a hungry world (and more profits for them).

Dr. Roselli has been trying to correct the record, with some success, the NY Times reports. Schwartz reports that Dr. Roselli "insists that he is as repulsed as his critics by the thought of sexual eugenics in humans. He said human sexuality was a complex phenomenon that could not be reduced to interactions of brain structure and hormones." The NY Times article did not mention information available in other sources, namely that hormone treatments had changed the sexual preferences of some gay rams. (Cf. the latest issue of "The Week.")

Despite Dr. Roselli's disclaimer, and I am not doubting his personal integrity, there seems to be evidence that his research could be used by others to not only detect "gayness" in fetuses but also to eliminate it as well (and vice versa.) Dr. Roselli is quoted from a 2004 press release as having said his research "has broader implications for understanding the development and control of sexual motivation and mate selection across mammalian species, including humans." What he has done is detect a difference in brain structure in fetal rams that turn out to be gay. Hormonal treatment of the fetus changes the brain structure and the ram is not born gay.

The word "control" is crucial in this context. Jim Newman, a publicist for the university, said the word "control" did not mean, according to Schwartz, "trying to control sexual orientation." What did it mean then? It meant "understanding the body's internal controls." This is just playing with words. The first step to controlling sexual orientation is to understand the body's internal control mechanisms. The issue isn't Dr. Roselli's motives but the motives of others who can use this research for reasons Dr. Roselli neither desires nor condones. But should Dr. Roselli be condemned for his research?

This actually goes far beyond Dr. Roselli. If there are biological laws at work here scientists will ferret them out. That is the nature of science. You could destroy all of Dr. Roselli's research and other scientists would soon reconstruct it.

Schwartz also reports that "Dr. Roselli said that merely mentioning possible human implications of basic research was wildly different from intending to carry the work over to humans." Others, however, may want to carry that work over to humans. This is really a social and political problem, or an ethical and moral one, not a scientific one. Trying to prevent scientific research into the nature of reality is fruitless.

Speaking of ethical and moral considerations, I would like to draw a few implications of my own (not necessarily original by any means) from Dr. Roselli's research.

In the first place, it shows that homosexual activity is a naturally occurring behavior found in mammalian species (sheep are not the only mammals displaying this activity). The theologically inclined should note that this is how "God" made the world and, I hope, the preaching class will now stop all the fuss and bother about the immorality, and similar nonsense, of the gay life style. If you don't like the way the deity made the universe take it up with her, or it, and stop persecuting your fellow creatures.

In the second place, I have to take issue with the statements of Dr. Paul Root Wolpe, a senior fellow at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, reported in the New York Times article. Schwartz writes, "If the mechanisms underlying sexual orientation can be discovered and manipulated, Dr, Wolpe [said], then the argument that sexual orientation is based in biology and is immutable 'evaporates.'"

It by no means follows that the argument from biology "evaporates." A similar argument would be that since transgendered individuals can have sex change operations, therefore male or female sex differences are not based in biology. It is the word "immutable" that gums up Dr. Wolpe's argument. No one argues that biologically-based mechanisms are necessarily "immutable." There could be no such thing as gene therapy if that were the case.

Sexual orientation appears to be biologically (gene) based and a naturally occurring phenomenon. The fact that science can discover the biological mechanism and even manipulate it doesn't change that at all. It is absurd to claim that if you discover a biological mechanism, then the mechanism is no longer "based in biology."

Finally, lets all hope that scientific understanding of the world we live in will help us better understand and care for each other and not be used to divide and anathematize us.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Online at: http://politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/4731/1/236/

Neturei Karta and the Limits of Tolerance
By Thomas Riggins

"But if truth makes not her way into the understanding by her own light, she will be but the weaker for any borrowed force violence can add to her."-- John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration

There was an interesting article in the Metro Section of last Monday’s New York Times (1-15-07) named "Friends in Iran Make for Discord at Home" written by Fernanda Santos. The article is about Neturei Karta an anti-Zionist group of Orthodox Jews and the response of the pro-Zionist community to this organization.

Let me briefly sum up what the article says about what Neturei Karta believes. The name of the organization is "Guardians of the City" in Aramaic and it was founded in Palestine in the 1930s by Orthodox Jews whose religious views teach that "according to the Torah, Jews were exiled from Israel because they sinned and that God has forbidden the formation of a Jewish state until the Messiah arrives."

Since we have freedom of religion in the US there should be no problem for the few thousand or so members who live here. The group also has a presence on the West Bank, England and Canada "among other places."

As far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes, Neturei Karta favors a one-state solution, a Palestinian state, since the Messiah hasn’t shown up yet, they consider Israel illegitimate.

The plot thickens. This sect is stationed at Monsey, New York where the assistant director of the group, Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss lives. Rabbi Weiss and a few of his followers recently attended the "Holocaust Conference" in Iran and met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This did not sit well with many pro-Zionists.

The question is: Why did Rabbi Weiss go to Iran? His grandparents died in Auschwitz and he is not a Holocaust skeptic, as were many at the conference. He told Fernanda Santos that he agreed with the view "that the Holocaust has been exploited to justify the existence of Israel." In his own words he said, "We went to Iran because we had to let the world know, especially the Arab world and the Muslim world, that we are not their enemies."

This seems like a noble idea. With all the perceived anti-Semitism in the Islamic world it is helpful to remind everyone that Jew and Zionist are not synonymous and that Jews are not the enemies of the Arabs or Muslims [nor need Zionists be for that matter]. The distinction between being anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist should never be blurred. Even though the "Holocaust Conference" seems to have been a farce, it may have been helpful for some of the delegates to realize that not all Jews are Zionists and to hear from people that don’t deny and are not skeptical about the Holocaust.

Since Rabbi Weiss and his followers have returned to the US they have been the objects of religious intolerance and the victims of bigotry directed at them by some elements within the Zionist community. The Times reports that 300 people protested at the headquarters of Neturei Karta in Monsey, New York on January 7th. The protesters had signs reading "Neturei Crackpots, Leave Monsey." Since there are no doubt crackpots in every city and town it seems a bit unfair to insist that Neturei Karta crackpots, if they are crackpots, should be singled out to have to move.

Some of the demonstrators don't even live in Monsey. Take for example Rabbi Herbert W. Bonner who is the president of the rabbinical board of Flatbush and teaches Talmudic law at Yeshiva University. He was there demonstrating, but had some second thoughts. "In some ways," he is quoted as saying, "I feel odd; this is about Jew against Jew, after all. But to join together and shake hands with the mad leader of Iran is unacceptable. If you shake hands with a Holocaust denier, you're on his team."

I'm not so sure one should be so upset about a crackpot shaking hands with a mad man. It is interesting how our perceived enemies always turn out to be somehow nuts. Chavez in Venezuela is regularly called crazy, as is Kim Jung-Il in North Korea. It is not even the case that Ahmadinejad is the leader of Iran, mad or otherwise. He has very little real power. Power rests with the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. By the way, we have pictures of Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein shaking hands back in the 80s around the time of the gassing of the Kurds-- does that mean Rumsfeld was on Saddam's team? (maybe so.)

Rabbi Bonner is not the only one who shows little tolerance for crackpots.

The Times also quotes the leader of the Jewish Defense Organization, Mordechai Levy, saying that the demonstration, and others to come, have as their objective "running Neturei Karta out of town and out of America."

Well, we don't expect the Jewish Defense Organization to be very tolerant but if Neturei Karta is Jewish why doesn't the JDO defend it?

Ed Devir, another demonstrator said, "I think they're crazy. Everyone knows that they're a joke." So why get so upset about crazy people. Why not just have a good laugh and leave them be? Because, "the bottom line is, they support groups that want to kill Jews." If it were only that simple.

Rabbi Weiss maintains, having spoken several times with President Ahmadinejad, that "He is extremely friendly and he understands the difference between the Zionists and the Jews who do not embrace the state of Israel." He also thinks "it is [a] dangerous deviation to pretend that the Iranian president is anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic."

Marxists, of course, have their own problems with the Iranian regime, having to do with the repression of democratic rights and of the working people, and unlike Rabbi Weiss, we support a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-- but the issue here is tolerance. Is the Rabbi's group advocating anything violent or illegal? Do anti-Zionist Jews have a right to live in America or should they be "driven out?"

How does Rabbi Weiss think one should deal with one's enemies? With respect to president Ahmadinejad, the Rabbi said, "We don't look at him as an enemy. But is he a potential enemy? Well, every person who continues to be incited is one, but even when we're dealing with an enemy, we're supposed to approach them with dialogue and try to placate them. Aggression is not going to be successful." Dialogue and the rejection of aggression! No wonder so many think the Rabbi is a crackpot!

And what does the Rabbi make of all the demonstrations, name calling, and threats to drive his organization into the sea (or at least out of America)? "We're constantly disparaged, belittled, but we're the ones trying to make peace with the Arabs. But we don't look at the Zionists with animosity. We just wished they would give us a chance."

In sum, it seems that Neturei Karta is a small subset of Orthodox Jews who, for sincerely held religious reasons, reject the Zionist state and wish to relate to Arabs and other Muslims in a non-hostile matter in order to combat anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish stereotypes. That so many other people, holding different views, want to persecute this small group for holding different ideas is a sad commentary on the limits of tolerance within some sections of the pro-Zionist community. Fortunately for the members of Neturei Karta they are protected by the same Bill of Rights that allows their antagonists to protest against them.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Online at: http://politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/4692/1/235/

Book Review: The Twilight of American Culture
By Thomas Riggins

The Twilight of American Culture
by Morris Berman
New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 2000.

According to the dust jacket this book is "brilliant", has "uncommon insight," is "trenchant" and in the words of one writer the author is "one of the most creative and original thinkers of our time." Having read the book, I can only shudder to think this collection of puerile nonsense and ignorant rambling could have been taken seriously by any publisher. That it was published at all is a sure sign that we are indeed in the twilight of our culture.

In this book Berman proposes to diagnose what is wrong with our culture (it is too commercial, people only care about money, and big corporations control everything) and to propose a solution by which our cultural heritage can be restored (intellectuals should become monks, stay out of mass movements to avoid "groupthink," and individually try to preserve cultural values so that in one or two hundred years when our current civilization collapses the monkish works of preservation will emerge back into the open).

It seems that all his ideas and inspiration come from reading science fiction. He is especially inspired by Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day.

I can’t fault Berman’s critique of modern American life. It has been taken over by the large corporations, it is a cultural waste land in which the poor get poorer and the rich richer (there are no "workers" in Berman’s critique--just "poor" and "rich" and a shrinking middle class) but his historical analysis and solutions are so off the wall as to be comical--as is his knowledge of Marxism. He confuses Marx’s views of history with Adam Smith's "invisible hand" and thinks Lenin had no ideas on how to replace capitalism. He is fond of using examples from Roman history to make comparisons with the US but doesn’t seem to have any real knowledge of the ancient world. He mistakenly thinks classical civilization was deliberately preserved in the monasteries of the middle ages without realizing that the monks destroyed the classics, washing them off parchments so that Bible stories and lives of the saints could be written over them.

In Berman’s own words--the current crises in American culture "began in Europe at the end of the Middle Ages, expanded during the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions and finally climaxed in our own times." This crisis is "corporate hegemony" which will break down "forty or fifty years down the road as of this writing" [good--just in time for the bicentennial of the Communist Manifesto--t.r., reviewer’s comments in brackets]. Berman informs us that "This type of breakdown, which is a recurrent historical phenomenon, is a long-range one [I should think so--we have been waiting since "the end of the Middle Ages"] and internal to the system." That is the extent of the social analysis and its a lot shorter than having to read Das Kapital.

Berman’s ignorance of his subject matter is so extreme as to defy belief. Here are some samples:

"Hegel...saw history as a kind of spiritual journey [New Agers listen up!] in which Geist ("spirit") moved around the globe, generating the Renaissance in fifteenth-century Florence, and sowing the seeds of decay when it subsequently departed." Spirit for Hegel is not a globe trotting phenomenon sowing seeds of decay--its a progressive activity that advances, it doesn’t decay, and its the German Reformation not the Renaissance that Hegel is particularly interested in. Later on he informs us that the "dialectics" of Aristotle and Hegel have much in common--seemingly unaware that Hegel’s dialectical logic is based on the opposite assumptions from those of Aristotle.

Berman on Marx: "’Men make their own history,’ he [Marx] wrote, ‘but they do not make it just as they please....’"[Marx means that they are constrained by historical circumstance]. But Berman thinks that Marx is Adam Smith because he, Berman, writes; "They each have individual intentions, he [Marx] says, but the final outcome is something that no particular person expected or planned." The individual calculus is perfectly Smithian--the "invisible hand" and has nothing to do with the class based analysis undertaken by Marx.

Berman on Lenin [I note that Lenin is not listed in the index, but Jay Leno is]: "What is to be done?" Berman is referring to the fact that capitalists are responsible for so much misery and environmental destruction. "Lenin’s answer to this question was to kill these jokers in tailored suits who are literally murdering our communities. As they build financial capital, they destroy cultural capital, human capital--the true assets of a nation [India thus has more assets than the US]. The problem--since the dilemma is structural--is that there are plenty of other such entrepreneurs in the wings, ready to replace them." [I can hear Lenin saying "Doh! Why didn’t I think of that?"] "No," says Berman, "something much more long-range is needed at this point." So Berman thinks Lenin had no other plans than just killing bad guys!

In another place Berman makes reference to the "fetishism of commodities" another idea from Marx--only Berman thinks it means a desire to accumulate goodies in a shopping mall thus completely missing Marx’s meaning. All this only shows that Berman hasn’t read or hasn’t understood Hegel [he might be forgiven this] or Marx or Lenin.

What is the root cause of the recent wars waged by US Imperialism [not Berman’s term]? The answer is cultural "anomie"--"the culture no longer believes in itself, so it typically undertakes phony or misguided wars (Vietnam, or the Gulf War [forget oil] of 1991, for example)...." This is certainly "trenchant."

As for his "monastic option"--forget political struggle or labor unions--Berman thinks our cultural heritage must be saved by special individuals: "Today’s 'monk' is committed to a renewed sense of self, and to the avoidance of groupthink, including anticorporate or anti-consumer culture groupthink.... The more individual the activity is, and the more out of the public eye, the more effective it is likely to be in the long run" [that’s the long run in which we are all dead].

So Berman’s book is a capitulation to the very forces of decay and degeneration that he is ostensively combating. There is nothing our would be corporate masters would like better than for the opposition to go into its shell and be individually dedicated to cultural preservation while "globalization" recklessly indulges in "anomie" and wages its mistaken wars. The "groupthink" of the peace movement, civil rights movement or labor movement, to say nothing of the socialist movement, is the last thing it wants to confront.

And this may well be why mainstream publishing companies publish books like Berman’s.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Online at: http://politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/4643/1/234/

Reflections on the Murder of Saddam Hussein
By Thomas Riggins

Most people would agree, I think, that Saddam Hussein was not a role model of what a political leader should be. It is hard to have sympathy for a man who was responsible for the murders of thousands of people and who routinely resorted to force and violence in order to maintain himself in power. Even if it is argued that he was a product of his time and clime and that he should be judged by the mores of the culture he was conditioned by, it can still be asserted that there are international standards
that can be applied to any political leader by virtue of membership in the United Nations and the acceptance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other obligations which come with membership in international bodies.

Saddam was clearly guilty of crimes against humanity when he started an adventuristic and unnecessary war against Iran in the 1980s. But the Bush administration is also guilty of such crimes for its illegal war against Iraq, unilaterally launched against the wishes of the UN and in defiance of our obligations as a member of that organization. It seems to be a toss up as to which president, Saddam or Bush Jr., is responsible for the most murders of their fellow human beings as a result of their reckless and illegal (as well as immoral) exercise of power. Saddam’s murder by the US client government (with the connivance of the Bush administration) only reminds us of what history has long ago taught us, that "justice" is not meted out necessarily to the most guilty but rather to the less powerful.

"Murder" may seem like a strong word for what many are calling an "execution." Murder implies the unlawful taking of life. The reports of Saddam's killing in the New York Times indicate that this was indeed the case. The killing took place at the behest of the Shiite Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki who signed the death warrant. However, the constitution of Iraq, so recently touted as a major victory for democracy and a respect for law, requires three signatures before an execution. In addition to Maliki's, the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, was also supposed to sign. Talabani, a Kurd, a Sunni, and an opponent of capital punishment refused to do so. One other signature was also required, that of Tariq al-Hashemi a moderate Sunni. All three men are members of Iraq's presidential council and only the signatures of all three make an execution legal in Iraq.

Maliki argued that he could authorize the killing on his own due to the law that set up the special tribunal that carried out the kangaroo show trail of Saddam. However the chief judge of the Supreme Judicial Council, Midhat al-Mahmoud, refused to sign off on that interpretation. The killing, therefore, appears to have been an unconstitutional violation of Iraqi law. The US, by turning Saddam over to Maliki, became complicit in this act of Murder.

There is a major effort now to exculpate the US for any complicity in the killing of Saddam (It was an Iraqi affair), but the US had the physical custody of Saddam, knew of the constitutional problem, and nevertheless surrendered custody to Maliki's goons.

The killing itself has caused an international uproar due to unauthorized cell phone videos of the Shiite officials and guards mocking Saddam as he was being hanged. The consensus of human rights groups and independent legal scholars seems to be that, whatever Saddam's just deserts may have been, he did not get a fair trail and sectarian vengeance rather that any desire to arrive at justice was the motivating force behind his killing.

In point of fact, the ineptitude and brutality of a televised sectarian killing dressed up as an "execution" and as "justice" has, as the New York Times reports, changed the image of Saddam from that of brutal dictator to hero and martyr for many throughout the Arab world (NYT 1-6-2007). President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is quoted as saying, "No one will ever forget the way in which Saddam was executed. They turned him into a martyr." In Libya Saddam is getting a new statue! Banners are appearing in Beirut which read "God damn America and its spies. Our condolences to the nation for the assassination of Saddam, and victory to the Iraqi resistance."

The Bush administration has a knack for making everything worse for itself that it tries to accomplish in the Middle East. Instead of going down in history as the tyrant he actually was, there is now a danger that Saddam will be remembered in the popular imagination as a hero and patriot and great champion of the Arab cause. The Times quotes Ayman Safadi, editor of Al Ghad (an independent newspaper in Jordan), "In the public's perception Saddam was terrible, but those people were worse. That final act has really jeopardized the future of Iraq immensely. And we all know this is a blow to the moderate camp in the Arab world." So, once again, the Bushites have strengthened rather that weakened terrorism.

Perhaps the impact of the killings was best summed up by an American lawyer working with the Iraqi judicial system: "We had thought the court would be a beacon of light in a very dark landscape. But the way it has come out with the hanging, we've substituted one dictatorship for another" (NYT, 1-7-07).

The problem is that there is no way you can have the state, or any government, deliberately kill someone. Capital punishment is a remnant of a barbaric and cruel past which humanity should have left behind. There is no way the US and its client state can engage in barbaric and uncivilized practices and expect the world to applaud their behavior. By imitating the practices of Saddam, they become Saddam. Saddam, as all people charged with crimes against humanity, should have been tried at the Hague in front of the international court of justice set up by the UN. Life in prison to reflect upon his crimes should have been the outcome for Saddam had he been found guilty there.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Online at: http://politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/4595/1/230/

The Iraq Study Group Report: A Flawed Approach
By Thomas Riggins

Now that we can see that the much ballyhooed ISGR prepared by James Baker and Lee Hamilton has fallen still born from the press, we must ask ourselves why. Two reasons come to mind. First, and most obvious, is that Bush has repudiated the report and most of its recommendations since to acknowledge the report’s validity would be to admit that he mismanaged the war in Iraq and is an incompetent leader. While both these assessments are true, the president can hardly be expected to go along with them.

The second reason is internal to the report itself (and would be even more displeasing to Bush). The report is divided into two parts, an assessment followed by recommendations (“The Way Forward”). I will show, hopefully, that the ISGR report’s assessments are not correctly understood by the ISG itself. Since the ISG fails to appreciate the logical conclusions to be drawn from its own assessment of the situation in Iraq, its recommendations, and there are seventy nine of them, do not really follow. This means the report is deeply flawed. I will maintain that based on its own assessment the group should have concluded that the only proper action for the US is to follow one recommendation: Withdraw the troops immediately.

In the “Letter from the co-chairs”, which serves as a preface, we are told what the purpose of this report is. It is to protect American [i.e., transnational US monopoly capitalism’s] interests in the region. Or as the co-chairs put it “give Iraq an opportunity for a better future, combat terrorism, stabilize a critical region of the world, and protect America’s credibility, interests, and values.” The co-chairs also want to create a “broad sustained consensus” within the US as without this our policy in the Middle East “is doomed to failure.” In this article I will show that our policy is already doomed and the only “broad consensus” to be created is one for immediate withdrawal-- the slogan should be “Out Now!”

Before turning to the assessment, I want to make a few observations concerning the “Executive Summary” which functions as an introduction.

Here we are told that the report's main aim is to make recommendations that “will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly” [ "responsibly" is a weasel word which could be interpreted to mean we have to stay as long as we are needed] as well as to undertake new diplomatic moves in the region. We are also told that in Iraq: “Violence is increasing in scope and lethality.” However we are not given the right reasons for this increase-- i.e.,, the American occupation and the presence of US troops (more on this later).

On a positive note, the group thinks Iran and Syria should be dealt with by means of constructive (diplomatic) engagement. Something Bush presently rejects. The group also thinks that the US should actively push for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict along the lines of the two-state solution. This is also a good idea. But Bush’s open bias towards Israel (in keeping with long standing American policies) makes this unlikely.

The group also wants an increase of US combat troops "imbedded in and supporting Iraqi Army units." They want to do this because the "primary mission" of US troops should be to get the Iraqi army to be responsible for most of the fighting. Nevertheless, with respect to security, the US will have to help out the Iraqi government "for some time to come." Even so, we must state that we have no open-ended "commitment" to keep our forces in Iraq. That's to let the Iraqi government know if they don't follow our advice, they could be left in the lurch.

Obey or die!

Finally, the report maintains that all seventy nine recommendations should be carried out: "They should not be separated or carried out in isolation."

As we shall soon see, many of them are flawed as the premises they rest upon don't reflect reality on the ground. What is ironic is that the assessments made by the group itself undermine its own conclusions. Please note assessment A1 [my label] that "the Iraqi people have a democratic elected government that is broadly representative of Iraqi's population." This is a major error on the part of ISG because, on their own evidence, A! is manifestly false. A broadly representative democratically elected government would not only represent the best interests of all the Iraqi people [within the limits possible under the conditions of bourgeois democracy and a class society] but would work to unify and strengthen the nation as a whole and support the equal rights of all of its citizens. People would freely vote for candidates they thought would best bring about the above described reality. The majority would respect the rights of the minority. The truth is however that people voted along sectarian lines and the government operates in a manner that is thoroughly corrupt, unrepresentative, and non democratic.

A1 is false because; "The composition of the Iraqi government is basically sectarian, and key players within the government too often act in their sectarian interest "(ISGR. p. 12). The majority Shia population [circa 60% of the population] is grouped in the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shia groups. A1 is false because : "Within the the coalition as a whole, there is a reluctance to reach a political accommodation with the Sunnis or to disarm Shiite militias."

What's more, a major faction within the government wants to break up the unity of the country by creating an autonomous Shiite region in the south of the country. This is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. It runs its own militia which attacks the Sunni civilian population (the Badr Brigade). Aziz al-Hakim was recently a guest of President Bush in the White House!

The Shia are not alone in maintaining militias and engaging in both sectarian and separatist actions. The Sunni Arabs and the Kurds both do likewise. Another blow to the validity of A! is the observation that "many of Iraq's most powerful and well positioned leaders are not working toward a united Iraq." A fine representative democracy this is!

What else does this democratic broadly representative government do? Not much. A1 is false because: "The Iraqi government is not effectively providing its people with basic services: electricity, drinking water, sewage, [security], health care, and education." If you are getting the impression that there is no such thing as "the Iraqi government" you are not far off the mark. There are a bunch of political factions and their militias hold up in the Green Zone playing at being a government, fighting each other, and both protected by, and resentful of the militia controlled by President Bush. Bush in fact has the largest militia in Iraq and he constitutes the de facto "government of Iraq."

Who is doing the fighting in Iraq? The Bush militia is the largest functioning force. It is aided by a small British militia loyal to Tony Blair. Then there is Al Qaeda, which the report says "is responsible for a small portion of the violence in Iraq." It gets a disproportionate amount of US media attention so that the American public will remain as confused as possible about what the fighting in Iraq is all about.[Its about getting the US occupation out.]

There are many different Shia and Sunni militias. The Sunnis are loosely confederated into "the insurgency" fighting the US occupation and the so called "Iraqi government." Two major Shia militias, which are both part of the "government" and fighting against it, are the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, a major anti-occupation Shia cleric and member of the "government" and the prime backer of the prime minister Nouri al-Maliki (who has no militia of his own and depends on Bush's and the Mahdi Army), and the Badr Brigade (mentioned above) associated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq run by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Bush's recent White House guest and friend of Iran.

The "broadly representative" Iraqi government is also conducive to wide spread criminal activity which "makes daily life unbearable for many Iraqis. Robberies, kidnappings, and murder are commonplace in much of the country." The country is rife with violence. So much for A1, now lets look at another assessment, A2 which states that : "Confronting this violence are the Multi-National Forces-- Iraq under U.S. command, working in concert with Iraq's security forces." We shall see that A2 is just as wrong as A1. The US and its allies are really the major source of the violence and there are no significantly functioning Iraqi security forces to work "in concert with."

That the Iraqi army is a joke follows from the ISG's own report. Here is what they say. There are supposed to be 10 Divisions operating by the end of 2006. The even numbered divisions are made up of soldiers who only agreed to serve in a particular region. These soldiers don't like to be redeployed and have refused to carry out assigned missions as a result.

It would be nice if the New York National Guard could refuse to be deployed outside of New York! We are also informed that there are serious questions whether army units will act for the good of the nation or only to further sectarian goals. This is a dysfunctional and untrustworthy army.

There are four other characteristics to be noted about this army, according to the report. The army lacks leadership, equipment, personnel, and logistics and support. There are no penalties for being AWOL, soldiers get one week off every month, and "unit readiness" often runs about 50 percent. That mean's only, with respect to numbers, five divisions not ten at any one time, but what it actually means is no really functioning army. This is why George Bush's militia has to do most of the work in Iraq.

Are the Iraqi police any better? They are an even bigger joke. "The state of the Iraqi police," the report says, "is substantially worse than that of the Iraqi army." The police don't know how to, nor do they have the authority to, "conduct criminal investigations." They are too powerless "to take on organized crime, insurgents, or militias." Even better, they "cannot control crime, and they routinely engage in sectarian violence, including the unnecessary detention, torture, and targeted execution of Sunni Arab civilians." In other words, there are no really functioning police in Iraq.

But here is some good news, from the New York Times of Thursday December 21, 2006. On the 20th of December Najaf became the first province in Iraq to be turned over to the Iraqi army by the US forces. Najaf is a Shia province so that turning it over to the basically Shia government and its army does not really pose a threat, especially since, as the Times says, "security in the sacred [Shia] city of Najaf was already under Iraqi control."

It is not comforting to read that during the handing over ceremony the Iraqi commando units as a "demonstration of their courage" pulled out live frogs from their pockets and bit their heads off! "They threw the squirming legs to the ground as the group's leader held aloft a live rabbit." Bug's belly was ripped open and they all "feasted on the still beating heart" and what ever else was in the gash. This tops Fear Factor as a demonstration of courage, but the army commandos should be informed that the insurgency is not made up of frogs and bunny rabbits.

Even the symbolism may be amiss. The same news report states that Saddam's old Sunni controlled Fedayeen militia, many of whom are now, no doubt, in the insurgency, had a similar ceremony using live snakes and wolves. Hmmm. Don't snakes eat frogs and wolves rabbits?

At any rate, the assessments of the ISGR paint a bleak picture of a dysfunctional and disintegrating society. They conclude, falsely I think, that "the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq" is not the US occupation and its brutality, but "the absence of national reconciliation." They do not see that the occupation, which is tilting towards the Shia, threatens the Sunni minority because the Shia have not renounced plans to monopolize the oil wealth which the Sunni's feel will leave them high and dry. The occupation forces also keep the Shia in power and because of this they do not feel the need to compromise with the Sunnis. This is the major reason for "the absence of national reconciliation" in my opinion.

The second half of the ISGR contains seventy nine recommendations to remedy the situation in Iraq and which will allow us to "achieve our goals", i.e., the goals of US imperialism. They are pragmatic suggestions for the most part, more diplomacy, cooperation with the international community, engagement with Iran and Syria, troop reduction as training of the Iraqi (non)army allows it to take over combat operations, etc.

It would take a separate article to analyze this section of the ISGR. My intention was only to show that, since the group's own assessment is to be understood much differently than they claim, these recommendations get off on a false footing. President Bush is pretty much ignoring the report in any event. His actions will no doubt plunge Iraq into a deeper crisis and further entangle the US military in a hopelessly lost cause.

The only recommendation I will comment on is number 63 which proposes that Iraq's oil sector br opened up to investment "by the international community and by international energy companies." This oil privatization, is I think, the whole hidden agenda behind Bush's attack on Iraq and the ISGR's attempt to give him a way out which he is too foolish to consider. I conclude, therefore, that the US should immediately begin to withdraw from Iraq, end its occupation and propose that the United Nations act as an intermediary to reconcile the opposing groups in Iraq so that a fair and just resolution of the differences between the Iraqi factions can be attained.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs can can be reached at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net