Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Private Terror, Public Errors - To stop Al-Qaeda, anti-terrorist bureaucracies must be as adaptable.

Forgetting for a moment that the international effort to destroy Al-Qaeda is as close as one comes to a good versus evil confrontation, it also happens to be a valuable reminder of the ineptness of large bureaucracies.

A recent Washington Post article noted that Al-Qaeda had been better able to adapt to the U.S. military's tactics in Afghanistan than the other way around. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, was quoted as saying: "I think in a sense we've lost a little momentum there, to be frank. They've made lots of adaptations to our tactics and we've got to continue to think and try to out-think them and to be faster at it." He noted, in particular, that Al-Qaeda had adjusted its electronic communications to prevent intercepts, while also protecting the way it transferred money.

Myers didn't realize that he was making an implicit case for what can be called, somewhat inaccurately, private-sector warfare. He more or less admitted that in the context of the Afghan war, Al-Qaeda, like any good private enterprise, was much more flexible than his military units, which, like most state institutions, tend to be slow, awkward and unimaginative.

Oddly, Myers failed to draw the logical conclusion from his own critique. Having identified the malignancy, he offered an irrelevant cure: The U.S. must downplay military action, he proposed, and put more emphasis on rebuilding Afghanistan. A more prosperous and stable Afghan environment would place Al-Qaeda on the defensive. Where Myers erred was in assuming that the latter affirmation, which might very well be true, followed from, and therefore somehow affected, Al-Qaeda's adaptability.

In fact, nation-building on the model that Myers suggested would merely replace one cumbersome form of U.S. intervention with another. Instead of soldiers Washington would send bureaucrats, thousands of them, who might do wonders for the Afghans, spend billions of dollars as only bureaucrats can, and extend government patronage to unruly rural provinces, allowing tribal leaders to get fat at America's expense.

However, it is doubtful this would harm Al-Qaeda in any way. One thing it would do is create many more civilian targets among imported aid workers. It would also allow the U.S. military to disengage from a fight that successive setbacks have made it eager to abandon, meaning Al-Qaeda would have breathing space to enhance its Afghan presence. A third thing it would do is prove that when some officials, like Myers, are locked in statist mindsets, their proposed solutions tend to compound the problem.

Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda is doing what resourceful institutions do when under pressure: it is decentralizing decision-making and transferring operational power to shadowy and capable subordinates of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. According to press reports, authority has devolved to six commanders who can independently plan and conduct terrorist attacks, suggesting metastasizing parallel centers of power.

What chance does an anti-terrorist state bureaucracy have when facing such changes? In the long run a good chance, since its resources are immense. However, in the short term, when exploitation of these resources might be inefficient, valuable time can be lost. The lesson of Sept. 11 was less that the Bush administration was gulled by Al-Qaeda, than the fact that it misread, or failed to read, information indicating the possibility of air attacks. Al-Qaeda has repeatedly taken advantage of the gap between its enemies' means and ends. Until this is more rapidly closed, preventable attacks will continue.

Given these circumstances, it is easy to see why George W. Bush's intention to establish an Department of Homeland Security will likely do no more than add another layer of paper and hierarchy to an intelligence and security establishment that, to the contrary, needs reform and streamlining. If anything is to defeat Al-Qaeda, it is institutions that are as agile as it is.

Similarly, if anything is to triumph over Al-Qaeda, it is an anti-terrorist effort that embraces the litheness of the private sector, rather than the stolidity of public institutions. Profit will be measured in human lives saved.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Great Expectations - How can America resist the imperial temptation?

Walk a Levantine street these days and you will bump into a historical irony. As the Bush administration prepares to attack Iraq, Arabs say the U.S. is behaving like a classical imperial power that aims to reshape the Middle East. The only problem is that the system the Arabs want to safeguard was drawn up by European imperialists over eighty years ago.

This is a good time for grand schemes in Washington. Not since the late 1940s, when the Cold War began, have ideologues of global American power been so influential. At the end of the Cold War, the U.S. did not use its status as solitary superpower to engage in vast geopolitical engineering on the old European imperial model. That could soon change in the Middle East.

It wouldn't be the first time for the region. After the First World War, France and Britain carved up much of the Middle East between themselves according to what is known as the Sykes-Picot agreement. In demarcating the territories under their control, they also drew the borders of the modern Middle East. To this day boundary agreements are resolved by referring back to the maps and notes of now-forgotten imperial civil servants.

Although the push for a new American order in the Middle East has been given momentum by the September 11 attacks, some of the Bush administration's most commanding figures have been laying the groundwork for years. In May 1990, then secretary of defense Dick Cheney asked Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz, respectively chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and deputy defense secretary, to prepare separate papers on America's foreign policy role after the Cold War. Nicholas Lemann, who has written about the episode, notes that Cheney favored the Wolfowitz recommendations, where, essentially, "the Pentagon envisioned a future in which the United States could, and should, prevent any other nation or alliance from becoming a great power."

In its advocacy of American unilateralism and supremacy, the document sanctioned grand foreign policy scheming on a scale rarely contemplated in United States history. How significant is such a blueprint today? It reflects the worldview of two of the Bush administration's leading decision-makers, Cheney and Wolfowitz, as well as that of the defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, national security advisor Condoleeza Rice, and the numerous officials working under them who run the national security bureaucracy.

For a useful insight into administration thinking on the region, refer back to a 1996 paper entitled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," prepared for the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, an Israeli think-tank. The paper was written by a group that included Richard Perle, who now heads the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, and Douglas Feith, current under-secretary of policy at the Defense Department.

"Securing the Realm" focused on recommendations to the incoming government of Benjamin Netanyahu, but one theme running throughout the paper was the parallels in Israeli and U.S. interests in the Middle East. The authors called on Israel to "work closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll-back some of its most dangerous threats." Among the new measures Israel should adopt were "containing and even rolling back Syria", backing "the [Jordanian] Hashemites in their efforts to redefine Iraq", and cooperating "with the U.S. to counter real threats to the region and the West's security."

According to political commentator Brian Whitaker, administration hawks believe "that President Bush has already accepted their plan and made destabilization of 'despotic regimes' a central goal of his foreign policy." Though Whitaker expands on this thesis to claim that it is the pro-Israelis in the administration who are pushing hardest for war in Iraq, mainly to advance Israel's interests, this explanation is insufficient. Absent Bush's personal inclinations, the grand schemers would be left holding their position papers.

The Middle East buries grand regional ambitions. British and French imperialism, couched in a supposedly less venal Mandate system announced at the San Remo Conference in 1920, collapsed ignominiously after the Second World War. Its most enduring legacies were the region's present borders, anti-Western suspicion, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Arab nationalism, another grand scheme, fared no better. In striving for unity, the advocates of a common Arab destiny not only sought to alter a regional state system whose fractiousness, they felt, was provoked by European colonialism; they also sought to amass the political and military strength needed to reverse the defeat of the Palestinians. Today a shuffling phantom, Arab nationalism was mortally injured in the June 1967 war, when Israel defeated Jordan, Syria and Egypt, and occupied their land. Arab frailty, particularly on the Palestinian question, was exposed. By the 1980s, the vacuum left behind by Arab nationalism was being filled by diverse Islamisms, generating, for once, notable victories, whether against the U.S. in Iran or the USSR in Afghanistan.

For the United States to succeed in reshaping a region where others have foundered, it must avoid a metastasizing conflict once troops are in Iraq. This is particularly pertinent with respect to Iran. Yet the logic of American intervention leads in the opposite direction. If possession of nuclear weapons is a reason for going after Saddam, then the same holds for Iran. Nor can the Bush administration disregard the fact that a weakened Iraq will mainly benefit Iran, which would find no major adversary in the Persian Gulf, unless the U.S. fills the gap.

This was the conclusion reached by the author Michael Ledeen, an influential supporter of regime change in the Middle East. He recently argued in the National Review that the administration, would "sooner or later, in one way or another...have to deal with Iran." He concluded by telling the administration: "Faster, please. What the hell are you waiting for?"

Widening the Middle East conflict would mean a long occupation of Iraq, if only as a base for continuing operations. The assumption that undemocratic regimes in Iran and Syria would collapse because of the proximity of U.S. forces seems fanciful. If anything, both regimes will likely be strengthened by the perceived threat from outside, and domestic dissenters will pipe down to avoid violent backlashes. Nor will traditional U.S. allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, support a long-term presence in Iraq—particularly when things begin going wrong—if this is seen as a way of imposing a new order that marginalizes them.

The U.S. might be able to buy time if it satisfies a third requirement, namely resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and other outstanding disputes between Israel and the Arab states. As in 1991, a Gulf conflict might lead to advances in regional negotiations. However, a problem the grand schemers will have to resolve is their deep contempt for the Oslo accords and their persistence in seeing the Palestinian problem merely as an Israeli security concern. Ironically, Oslo, in exchanging land for peace, provided the only possible outlet to Palestinians and Israelis. Neither the Israeli right nor American grand schemers have yet offered a viable alternative.

Finally, the U.S. will have to employ its most potent weapon in the region, its liberal ideal. In their appetite for power, the grand schemers have downplayed less martial mechanisms for change in the Middle East. This will be the ultimate U.S. challenge: to resist the temptation of hegemony when everything invites it, and to focus instead on seeking other ways to promote open societies in the region. That will mean, for starters, avoiding turning Iraq into a captive oil market, while also establishing a genuinely democratic yet stable government there. Afghanistan is proving a mouthful; Iraq may be an impossibility.

It would be absurd if the U.S., in order to transform the Middle East and rely less on the outdated despots it sustained for so long, resorts to an outdated imperialism that failed the European powers. Yet that seems to be the favored course of the Bush administration, or at least of the administration's most influential policymakers.

Emperors from Alexander to Julian headed eastwards, into the ancient Middle East and beyond, to fulfill their dreams of becoming Asian princes. They were swallowed up by the vastness ahead of them. The U.S. may want to heed that message as it embarks on its first imperial venture since the end of the Cold War.

Monday, July 1, 2002

A World in Peaces

War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton and the Generals, by David Halberstam, New York: Scribner, 543 pages, $28

"For a brief, glorious, almost Olympian moment it appeared that the presidency itself could serve as the campaign. Rarely had an American president seemed so sure of reelection." And rarely could such an Olympian phrase, describing, of all people, the nondescript George Herbert Walker Bush, be penned by anyone other than David Halberstam.

Halberstam, author of several lofty and influential tomes on modern American history, has returned, armed with a laudatory blurb from Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations. Gelb calls War in a Time of Peace "Halberstam's most important book, more ambitious and revealing than The Best and the Brightest, in what it tells of politics and decision making in America during the nineties....What Halberstam has written is nothing less than a War and Peace for our generation."

Such are the strophes exchanged between America's intellectual divinities. Gelb's absurd allusion to War and Peace must have come from languidly contracting Halberstam's own title. Written before the events of September 11, War in a Time of Peace is commendable, but it has none of the virtuosity of Halberstam's Vietnam epic and its only Tolstoyan quality lies in sporadic references to Boris Yeltsin.

What Halberstam has done here is to examine U.S. decision making in the Balkans, with brief forays into Somalia and Haiti, during the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations. He uses these episodes to illustrate America's inability, after the Cold War, to find an overarching foreign policy rationale to replace Soviet containment.

But Halberstam draws general lessons from too few cases. To truly understand America's foreign policy during the past 12 years, one must look at more than wars. America's most decisive international transactions after the Cold War were conducted peacefully. NATO enlargement, Bill Clinton's efforts to bring about Middle East peace, and U.S. policy toward China are all ignored by Halberstam. We are promised a profound investigation of America's post-Cold War behavior, written by an aficionado of the broad brushstroke. What we get are sketches that, however insightful, are limited in their overall relevance.

Halberstam is at his best chronicling ruinous predestination. Vietnam was America's Greek tragedy. It was a war the republic entered, and stayed in, because of hubris. At every step of the way the U.S. was provided with a prophecy and an opportunity to retreat, but it rejected the advice of the gods despite almost certain defeat. That was the message in The Best and the Brightest (1972), and in Halberstam's earlier, prescient The Making of a Quagmire (1965). But the story he tells in War in a Time of Peace provides little opportunity for him to exhibit his gift for chronicling grand tragedy. George Bush and Clinton made third-rate Agamemnons. Unlike John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, they were always likely to emerge from their overseas dilemmas unharmed -- such is the prerogative of a superpower without real adversaries. There was no epic quality in their foreign policy imbroglios.

In fact, both Bush's and Clinton's foreign policy aides spent much time looking for ways to avoid acting momentously. The Bush team longed for stasis even after the Berlin Wall fell. With the significant exception of the Gulf War, which was thrust upon the administration precisely because Secretary of State James Baker assumed that Saddam Hussein would avoid disrupting the equilibrium in the Gulf, Bush and his acolytes were devoted to constancy. The same could be said of Clinton, though his initial indifference to foreign affairs stemmed from yearning to reshape the domestic political and social landscape.

Yet the Balkans grabbed the U.S. by the lapels. During the waning months of the Bush administration, and again during the latter halves of Clinton's two terms, the U.S. would feel pressure to intervene in the Balkans. The results were mixed. Bush's point man on Yugoslavia -- Lawrence Eagleburger, who was briefly secretary of state -- succeeded in keeping the U.S. out of the country where he had once served as ambassador. Clinton had less luck: Both in Bosnia, after the appalling massacres of Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995, and again in Kosovo in 1999, the U.S. entered the fray, because the spectacle of killing fields in Europe did not permit further isolation.

Two people emerged as the most ardent supporters of U.S. involvement in the Balkans: Richard Holbrooke, who as assistant secretary of state for European affairs played a key role in negotiating an end to the war in Bosnia, and Gen. Wesley Clark, who as NATO commander moved the Clinton administration toward employing military force in Kosovo. It is no coincidence that Halberstam focuses on those men: In challenging their environments they satisfy Halberstam's interest in those who buck the system, who are institutional subversives. Valiant dissidence is a common trait shared by those who enter Halberstam's more memorable biographical pantheon, such as the civil rights activist John Lewis or John Paton Davies, a China specialist purged from the McCarthy-era State Department.

Holbrooke, who had almost single-handedly imposed the Dayton accords on the parties involved in the Bosnian conflict, was too much the brilliant individualist to reach the top. A natural for secretary of state, he was nevertheless mistrusted by Clinton when it came time to select a successor to the comatose Warren Christopher. The president did not want someone too assertive on foreign policy, and deep down probably feared a rival Washington prima donna. Instead, he chose Madeleine Albright, a onetime academic destined for humble achievement.

Halberstam's account of Clark's career is similar. Like Holbrooke he was too smart by half, earning him the distrust of the military hierarchy. Clark was an Arkansas Rhodes scholar and a military success story, yet he never became "one of the boys" at the Pentagon. The tension reached a breaking point when Clark made his case for action in Kosovo to civilians outside the Defense Department.

This angered Defense Secretary William Cohen and the Joint Chiefs, who opposed Balkan intervention. Clark won the day when the administration opted to fight, and he ultimately led a victorious campaign. His reward was to be stealthily fired by his superiors, most of whom did not even attend his retirement ceremony.

Halberstam's portraits of Holbrooke and Clark accentuate what Neil Sheehan has written: "[Halberstam] was a man who saw the world in light and dark colors with little shading in between." This makes him write so many of his biographical portraits in a heroic timbre. The characters Halberstam depicts cannot be commonplace; they are performers in the Sturm und Drang of history, rendered grand by the grand events that afflict them, so that their struggles become struggles with destiny itself.

This dramatic approach makes Halberstam an enjoyable writer. But this absence of shading, this incessant hunt for heroes and villains, can be a double-edged sword. In Halberstam's Vietnam books, it manifested itself in a sense of outrage at the way the war was eating up America's youth and its talented elite. The indignation was, naturally, directed against the administrations engaged in Vietnam, and more fundamentally at a government that often seemed to be criminally out of control.

Yet in War in a Time of Peace, Halberstam's skepticism toward government power is missing. While he has a weakness for subversives, he here exhibits a more dominant characteristic: a craving for order in U.S. foreign policy. But he can't easily make a case for order if he admits that those who should have imposed it -- Clinton and his team -- consistently abused their foreign responsibilities. How else can one describe Clinton's financial misconduct with China, his bombing of a medicine factory in Sudan, and his disastrous push for a premature Palestinian-Israeli settlement in order to pad his frayed legacy? What we have is a paradoxical book: one where the U.S. is revealed to have had little foreign policy direction in the 1990s, but where the unprincipled officials responsible for this condition get off surprisingly easily, since Halberstam cannot censure the agents of his desired order.

Halberstam is also taken in by the institution he once so effectively demolished: the U.S. military. In several passages, he exalts the American weaponry used in the Balkans, particularly the latest Air Force technology. Like a Pentagon procurement brochure, Halberstam goes into lengthy descriptions of JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or "smart bombs"), the F-117, and the B-2 (which both "resembled bats, but the B-2, with a wingspan of 172 feet, resembled a bat on a diet of steroids"), replete with such military-porn terms as "collateral damage," "radius of accuracy," and "striking power." He seems to believe that high-tech air power is enough to win wars, a question that still generates angry debate in the armed forces.

Halberstam describes an institution whose bureaucratic instincts commonly clashed with the optimal policies, but he never digs deep enough to determine if there was something fundamentally flawed in the armed forces during the period under consideration. And yet a military institution that so grudgingly engaged in combat in the 1990s was no less anomalous than the one that sought out war at any cost in Vietnam.

Halberstam would not necessarily have written a better book by mocking the armed forces. But he seems to be a creature of the Zeitgeist. When he previously wrote critically of the U.S. foreign policy powers-that-be, his suspicions of state power were more pervasively shared than similar suspicions would be today. The rebels of yesterday -- which for Halberstam means those, like he, who disputed U.S. policy in Vietnam -- became the establishment during the Clinton years.

These were the same people who, directly or indirectly, were once Halberstam's allies. So when he describes in his acknowledgments his love for writing "about serious subjects for serious citizens," one gets a disquieting sense that this conceited statement is partly directed at the acquaintances who are also the subjects of his book.

It might seem that War in a Time of Peace was rendered anachronistic by September 11, when the U.S. embarked on a secular crusade against myriad axes of evil, ending a decade and more of foreign policy floundering. Not entirely. Halberstam outlines a period when America's strategy overseas suffered from an absence of meaning. But what Bush and his entourage, and Halberstam for that matter, cannot quite grasp is that foreign policy meaninglessness is a splendid luxury, not something to be lamented.

For the U.S. establishment, the Cold War gave foreign policy pervasive significance. Where Halberstam describes the vacuum that followed the collapse of containment, George W. Bush has used the events of September 11 to fill this vacuum. But are Americans eager to follow? Most were happy to enjoy 10 years of peace, when foreign policy commitments only marginally disturbed their daily lives. What made September 11 traumatic was that it broke this tranquil, parochial lethargy -- a lethargy most Americans today doubtless crave, regardless of how the administration (and "national greatness" thinkers of all stripes) exploit September 11 to advance an agenda of intercontinental browbeating.

Though George W. Bush has been depicted as a man of popular tastes, his mood since the attacks has differed from that of many of his countrymen. The president has developed an appetite for world supremacy. Apparently, you can take the president out of the empire, but you can't take the empire out of the president. Bush and his administration seem firm in the belief that America has a mission to set the world straight. It is unfortunate that Halberstam, who wrote so luminously about the hazards of American overconfidence in Vietnam, should regret the loss of this particularly dangerous sense of mission.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Bush's Boundaries for Peace - Why Washington's "benevolence" is misguided.

George W. Bush's peace initiative issued on Monday was a triumph of misguided benevolence. It is possible that one day Bush may be recognized for being the first U.S. president to insist that an Arab people are capable of being democratic, tolerant, and free. But for the moment, his plan is disappointing evidence of the administration's bizarre sense of Middle East priorities.

Initially touted as a means of ending the violence between Palestinians and Israelis, Bush's proposal metamorphosed into a blueprint for getting rid of Yasser Arafat. This was Ariel Sharon's priority and Bush has made it his own; more than a half-century of Arab-Israeli antagonism has been reduced to one man.

More pressingly, the administration failed to address three questions raised by its own proposal: What incentive does Arafat now have to end the violence? What incentive does the Palestinian Authority have to implement reform when it has been accorded pariah status? And what incentive do the Palestinians have to accept a proposal that imposes on them a sequence of onerous conditions, with only vague promises of statehood in return?

In the end, Bush's proposal was the following: If the Palestinians change their leadership and work towards democracy-a tall order in a political system barely left standing-they will at most win U.S. recognition for a future Palestinian state and aspects of provisional sovereignty. According to U.S. officials, a possible time frame for this is 18 months.

Only then can the Palestinians and Israelis begin discussing, over a three-year period, final status issues, including borders, Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. Bush offered no commitments, abandoning more detailed proposals that the U.S. had offered in the past. On final boundaries Bush noted only that Israel's withdrawal would be to "secure and recognized borders," a term Sharon has used to defend retaining large swathes of occupied land.

On settlements too, Bush was elusive. While he did call on Israel to cease settlement activity, the president did not specify whether the practice of expanding existing settlements must end. If the U.S. is thinking in terms of an almost five-year time period, the question is crucial, since Israel can take advantage of the loophole to occupy much more land.

The assumption that the Palestinians will change their leadership and overhaul their political system to win U.S. recognition for provisional statehood is patently silly. The Bush proposal fails in every category that characterizes a serious mediation effort: It offers no incentives to the Palestinians; it fails to impose balanced concessions on the parties; and it seeks the ouster of one of the interlocutors.

One thing is clear: Sharon no longer sees an obstacle to exiling Arafat. That doesn't mean, however, he will soon send him packing. The Israelis now have much to gain by keeping Arafat around. The Palestinians have no intention of changing their leader, and Israel may just let him languish, an enduring obstacle to U.S. support of Palestinian statehood.

Bush's plan was notable for what it did not mention. It ignored the Saudi peace initiative approved by the Arab League summit, and the proposal of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. Though Mubarak and the Saudi foreign minister, Saud Al Faysal, recently met Bush in Washington, it was Sharon whom Bush listened to in the end. However, by sidestepping the Arab plans, Bush neutralized the Saudis and Egyptians as sponsors of his proposal.

Neither did the president bring up the idea of an international conference. In this too he followed in the path set by Sharon, who floated the idea during Operation Defensive Shield, but then retreated when he realized it might be to his disadvantage. However, without a conference the Arabs are denied an institutional context to pledge eventual normalization with Israel, undermining another of Bush's stated aims.

The president failed to mention the thousands of Palestinian prisoners recently picked up in the West Bank. Well before the current Intifada, Israel provoked Palestinian rancor by disregarding signed agreements for prisoner releases. By not mentioning the latest arrests, Bush implied that those detained were guilty. Yet he will not convince Palestinians to adopt the rule of law while allowing Israel to impose occupation law.

Bush may have satisfied Sharon and Israel's supporters in his administration, but he may also have provided myriad reasons for the violence between Israelis and Palestinians to continue.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Passion Play - Soccer and the new world order

In June 1982, as Israeli forces invaded Lebanon, students at the American University of Beirut sat around a dormitory television watching a World Cup soccer match. At halftime they switched to the news to see how far the Israelis had advanced. When the game resumed, however, the channel was flipped back. A spectator, annoyed that his newscast had been even momentarily interrupted, pulled out a gun and fired into the set.

He would have been better off saving his bullet. The next day a new TV set appeared and Lebanon's ambient Armageddon was again relegated to secondary status. For weeks the bombardment of the Lebanese capital scarcely perturbed a public awaiting the outcome of a war that mattered more to them, one hosted that year in Spain, and waged several times daily between 22 players running after a ball for roughly 90 minutes.

Strange behavior has long been the norm among World Cup aficionados. Yet in the past decade soccer's appeal has multiplied immeasurably. FIFA, the international body governing the sport, estimated the combined audience for the 1998 tournament in France at 34 billion. The figure will surely rise during the World Cup contest presently being held in Japan and South Korea (the tournament is held, like the Olympics, every four years). Were a sport to represent globalization at its most essential, it would be soccer.

More meaningfully, soccer personifies the benefits of globalization, as well as its worst flaws. It is a blend of multinational administrative corruption, salutary free-market capitalism, and old-fashioned chauvinism.

If international sporting bodies could be banana republics, the model would be FIFA. On the eve of the World Cup, the organization's president, Joseph Blatter, was re-elected to a four-year term, despite accusations of corruption and mismanagement from within his own executive committee. Michel Zen-Ruffinen, his general-secretary and former protégé, prepared a long paper documenting Blatter's misdeeds.

Nothing came of it. Blatter won another mandate principally because he knew where to distribute FIFA patronage. He split the organization's African bloc, thus outmaneuvering his only rival, Issa Hayatou, who heads Africa's soccer confederation. When all was over, the previously squabbling delegates held hands and sang. Blatter, with Soviet-like panache, then purged Zen-Ruffinen and forced his other detractors to backtrack.

Ironically, Blatter merely exploited new power alignments in international soccer. All national federations in FIFA have one vote, regardless of their size, so that Blatter's favors to smaller Third World countries helped ease his victory. For all his many faults, the president truly maneuvered on a world stage, which is precisely what critics had argued the sport previously failed to do when it privileged soccer powerhouses in Europe and Latin America.

But Blatter's abuse of soccer's globalization will eventually consume him. The reason is the market. For over two decades a Brazilian rogue, Joao Havelange, ran FIFA. The stakes in the sport were smaller, so Havelange was able to administer the body like a farm, without transparency. As soccer became a massive commercial venture, FIFA could no longer evade the spotlight or prevent member states from demanding a larger cut of the sport's profits. Blatter's errors are today in full view. Unless he reforms FIFA, in particular its finances that he so liberally employed to garner support, Blatter will be ousted like any failed CEO.

Far away from FIFA's byzantine politics is love of the sport and soccer's knack for spawning intangible passions. As The Economist noted recently: "Football is not just a sport or a business. At the top level it is also closely intertwined with politics and national pride." While the rhetoric of globalization has focused on transnational harmony, international soccer has continued insolently to assert -- and prosper from -- national differences.

Though the worst manifestation of this trend is fan hooliganism, soccer is mostly a healthy bastion of the nation-state. It serves a valuable role as national unifier or, less obviously, amicable divider. Within the United Kingdom, for example, there are separate English, Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish federations, and FIFA's desire to merge the four will surely backfire. More fundamentally, soccer, the most ecumenical of sports, is a reminder of how hollow the language of global integration can sound in -- or on -- certain fields.

Saturday, June 1, 2002

The Devil and Daniel Ellsberg - From archetype to anachronism.

Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg, by Tom Wells, New York: Palgrave, 692 pages, $32.50

In 1973, as his world began falling apart, Richard Nixon demonstrated his rhetorical prowess to his press secretary, Ron Ziegler. The topic was a break-in at the office of Lewis Fielding, Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Ellsberg was a former consultant at the RAND Corporation who had leaked the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Defense Department history of the Vietnam War.

Nixon wanted dirt on Ellsberg, so his men dispatched a ham-fisted outfit to Los Angeles to see what Fielding had. When the White House came under suspicion, Nixon complained to Ziegler, "The president knows a hell of a lot of things, but does he know what the Christ some dumb assholes are going to do? -- .Goddamn to hell, I didn't tell them to go fuck up the goddamn Ellsberg place." As Tom Wells notes in Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg, the president not only knew about the Fielding break-in but was probably the one who ordered it in the first place.

It was arguably Ellsberg's greatest triumph: He had roused the self-destructive impulses of a president and an administration that he felt had betrayed the American people by allowing the war in Vietnam to continue. Some would nominate Ellsberg's role in exposing the Pentagon Papers as his finest moment, but despite the furor that their release provoked they largely disappeared into the sludge of post-Vietnam skepticism in the U.S. They were a valuable confirmation of the worst fears of those opposed to the war, but they were too bulky and intricate a collection of documents to affect most of the public. Indeed, the difficulty of Wells' book is that he describes a man and an event that, while interesting, have left virtually no enduring impact on American society.

What's more, he does so in a book that goes on forever. Wells strives to emulate the epic quality of other Vietnam-period biography-cum-Zeitgeist-accounts, such as Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie or David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest, but Wells has neither author's talent, nor does he much care for the man at the center of his research.

Besides, Ellsberg does not rate a 600-page book, particularly from an author who tends to confuse perspiration and inspiration: Wild Man is overloaded with other people's quotes, doggedly hunted down, so that one is never sure whether Wells' discomfort with Ellsberg springs from his own misgivings or from those of the myriad sources he cites.

There was a time when biography produced art, not phone books. Uncertainty was part of the bargain, so that the great biographers were -- are -- those tolerant of their subject's complexities and flaws. Wells is not, which leads him into a stifling form of deconstruction as he vainly hunts for clarity in Ellsberg through an unfiltered inventory of detail. To see how biography should be done, one might read René Grousset, the great French historian, whose description of Pompey in his Figures de Proue (1949) is both a tribute to brevity and a remarkably apt description of Daniel Ellsberg: "What was it his ambition to attain in the Republic? A sort of moral presidency to which, after the services he had rendered, he had some right? To rule, with or without a formal title? Especially to accumulate honors, many honors, which would have satisfied his vanity and his irresolution, but which his secret mediocrity would have prevented him from turning into something redoubtable?"

This is more or less the Ellsberg of Wild Man. Wells describes someone who is an egotist and a megalomaniac, with writer's block and a taste for sex. But that description fits many people. What makes Ellsberg relevant is that he is an archetype of a particular era -- the late 1960s -- whose values have aged badly in America's collective memory. The motives that led to the release of the Pentagon Papers would be ridiculed in this post-September 11 climate, where compliant loyalty to the state is commonly regarded as an obligation.

Daniel Ellsberg was born in Chicago in 1931, to Jewish parents with a passion for Christian Science. The young Daniel was acknowledged as brilliant, a quality his mother, Adele, sought to exploit by channeling the boy into piano playing. Harry, the father, was an aloof engineer, disliked by Adele's family and apparently indifferent to the piano. Wells follows a hackneyed route in recording the psychological influences on Ellsberg: an ambitious mother who "was not, it seems, a nurturing sort," and a detached father who would interrupt this convenient Freudian tableau by having a car accident that killed Adele and their daughter. Afterward, the young Daniel, no longer manacled to the keyboard, would feel a sense of release. Though he plainly loved his mother, he later said that he never cried at her death.

Ellsberg's reserve showed, if nothing else, that he was policy analyst material. In 1958 he was invited to join the RAND Corporation, the private, nonprofit research institution in Southern California founded after World War II by the Air Force to advise the government on military issues. This came after a dazzling romp through Harvard, where Ellsberg was invited to join the university's select Society of Fellows. He later earned a doctorate on the subject of decision making under uncertainty, at a time when game theory was all the rage. Revealingly, Ellsberg had earlier enlisted in the Marine Corps, a move that would raise eyebrows from acquaintances in academe. He would describe himself as being "a liberal on domestic matters and, on foreign policy, a tough guy."

At RAND, Ellsberg tasted the malicious nectar of high secrecy. He rubbed elbows with the institution's nuclear strategy gurus -- Herman Kahn, Albert Wohlstetter, Bernard Brodie -- and gained access to confidential U.S. war plans in order to study nuclear command and control issues. Ellsberg found the plans dangerously rigid, though Wells goes to some length to prove that Ellsberg overstated his importance in formulating an alternative policy. Wells cannot abide Ellsberg's hyperbole, but throughout the Kennedy and Johnson years this self-promoter was involved in very important government projects, always propelled by friendly patrons and a reputation for being a genius. His Washington career began in 1964, when Ellsberg landed at Robert McNamara's Pentagon as special assistant to John McNaughton, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. There he would start working on Vietnam.

Vietnam would come to inhabit Ellsberg, transforming him completely. Ellsberg left the Pentagon for Saigon to join a team led by Gen. Edward Lansdale, who had become a counterinsurgency sage after defeating the Huk rebellion in the Philippines in the 1950s. Ellsberg's exposure to the conflict -- in particular, his forays into distant districts where few

Americans traveled -- convinced him that the U.S. pacification campaign was failing. It would take time for him to turn against the war -- too much time, some argue -- but at least he did so, in contrast to, say, his more experienced friend John Paul Vann, a former Army officer who acted as a U.S. adviser during the war and who until the very end believed the conflict to be winnable.

After returning to RAND, Ellsberg began copying the Pentagon Papers, hoping that their exposure of a decade of official dissembling on how the war in Vietnam was conducted would force the government to pull out of the conflict. As Wells persuasively argues, Ellsberg's delay in leaking the papers was motivated by an enduring desire to be part of the Establishment. Harvard men such as McGeorge Bundy and Henry Kissinger pursued the kinds of careers that Ellsberg thought should be his by right, although they had a ruthless discipline he lacked. By the time the papers were published, Ellsberg had largely undermined his chances of becoming a senior policy official. The reason was that his recognized brilliance was overtaken by a reputation for being inefficient and unable to write -- a fatal liability in a world where power is measured by one's aptitude to generate timely papers and memoranda.

Though Ellsberg copied and privately circulated the Pentagon Papers, his involvement in their publication by The New York Times in June 1971 was less simple than is often believed. He had initially tried to leak the papers through members of Congress, whose immunity would have allowed Ellsberg to protect himself legally, but he was rebuffed. He also allowed scholars at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) to copy part of his set. Finally, after much dithering, Ellsberg met with Neil Sheehan of the Times. After reneging on a publication agreement with Sheehan, he allowed him to see some of the documents but told him not to copy them. Sheehan ignored the request, combined his duplicates with those he had received from the IPS, and published them, giving the Times an exceptional scoop.

The Nixon administration took the matter personally. This may seem odd, since the papers described the duplicity of the previous Democratic administrations. But at the time, Nixon and Kissinger were attempting to secure an "honorable peace" to cover a U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, which meant that the war had to drag on. The Pentagon Papers created an uncomfortable context for this strategy by highlighting the fact that the lies about Vietnam were continuing under the Republicans.

Small wonder, then, that Nixon personally targeted Ellsberg. The president's plan was to do to the leaker what he had done to Alger Hiss: to gather information that would sully him in the public eye.

Henry Kissinger was especially discomfited. In 1968 he had hired Ellsberg to help prepare National Security Study Memorandum 1, which outlined options for withdrawing from Vietnam. Kissinger's bureaucratic instincts told him he should be among the shrillest of Ellsberg's detractors. Soon he was spreading word that Ellsberg had shot at peasants from helicopters in Vietnam, a peculiar -- and false -- accusation from someone whose widening of the war led to the deaths of almost 1 million Cambodians and Laotians.

When that was not enough, Kissinger accused Ellsberg, again falsely, of being homosexual. One is reminded of the spiteful, throwaway remark Kissinger directed at Christopher Hitchens recently, when he accused the journalist of being a Holocaust denier, words he was subsequently made to eat.

The criminal charges against Ellsberg for releasing the Pentagon Papers were dismissed because of government tampering with the evidence against him, and his star began waning almost immediately afterward. Ellsberg tried to expand on the moral presidency he had been led to believe was his, but his secret mediocrity got the better of him. His historical purpose served, he became an afterthought. Though he continued to play a part on the '70s protest circuit, particularly against nuclear proliferation, by 1981, when a conservative Republican returned to the White House, Ellsberg had become a vague memory. Under Ronald Reagan, illegal concealment would again be fashionable, and there were no Ellsbergs to give the game away. Instead, the person best personifying the spirit of the day was Oliver North.

Yet it was not Reagan but Bill Clinton who would symbolically inter what Ellsberg (who still hits the lecture circuit) represented. The first baby boomer president had all the generational ambiguities that Ellsberg once had (though he was considerably younger), but he cast them aside for the sake of power. Clinton's jovial abandonment of principle, and America's willingness to play along, created a setting where someone like Ellsberg, though no moral paragon himself, appeared obsolete. The line of confrontation in the 1990s was no longer between a potentially corrupt state and a civil society defending its liberties. What Ellsberg lost in the process the republic did, too, and to its detriment.

Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Second-front Sideshow - Is Syria turning Lebanon into a battle zone again?

When Syria's late president, Hafiz al-Asad, died in June 2000, Syrian officials circulated the story that he had expired while on the phone to his Lebanese counterpart, Emile Lahoud, as the two men discussed what they would bequeath their children's generation.

The story was bogus, but also symbolic: Even in death, it implied, Asad maintained a grip on Lebanon, one that stretched on into an indistinct future. The message was fundamental enough to Syria's interests that the country's apparatchiks had to edit Lahoud into Asad's passion play.

In the past week a more pernicious aspect of the Syrian-Lebanese bond -- Syria's use of Lebanon in its conflict against Israel -- has threatened to amplify the war in the Middle East. As the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to the region, he risked finding himself breaking up not one but two fights, one of them along the southern Lebanese border.

Two key developments occurred locally after the recent Arab League summit in Beirut in late March. As Israel pursued its onslaught against Palestinian towns in the West Bank and Gaza, successive attacks were mounted against Israel from Lebanese territory. By yesterday, the attacks had escalated from individual actions into the rocketing of northern Israeli towns.

Meanwhile, Syria announced last week it would redeploy its forces from Beirut and its surrounding areas to Lebanon's Biqaa Valley, thus implementing clauses of the 1989 Taif agreement that ended Lebanon's civil war. Ironically, the Syrians spent years undermining Taif by ignoring calls for a redeployment.

To put this all into context one must return to May 2000, when Israeli forces withdrew from south Lebanon after a 22-year occupation. The UN drew a boundary between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria that it called the "blue line." The Lebanese government recognized the line, except in an area of southeast Lebanon known as the Shebaa Farms. It argued the land was Lebanese, and that Israeli must vacate it. The UN replied the land was actually Syrian and that Lebanon had no claim to it.

There was a simple reason for the Lebanese assertion: It satisfied Syria's need for a motive to pursue armed conflict by proxy in the Shebaa Farms, in order to maintain military leverage over Israel during future negotiations over the Golan Heights. (Israel seized the Golan from Syria in 1967.) Syria and Lebanon gave Hizbullah a green light to harass Israeli forces in the farms area, defending this as legitimate resistance.

Cut to the latest attacks (which in targeting Israeli territory were different from Hizbullah's operations in the occupied Shebaa Farms). These were the work of Damascus-based Palestinian groups. The Lebanese government declared it opposed military action against northern Israel and arrested several Palestinian militants. However, the attacks continued, mainly because Syria wanted them to. Coupled with the Hizbullah raids in the farms area, these attacks threaten to provoke a spiraling conflict.

What is going on? Simply, the Syrian president, Bashar al-Asad, is using Palestinian groups to respond to the Arab League's recent adoption of the Saudi peace initiative. The plan offered Israel normal relations with the Arab states in return for a withdrawal from occupied Arab lands, recognition of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as capital, and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.

The Israeli government, led by Ariel Sharon, rejected the plan. Ironically, Syria could not stomach it either: It promised Israel normal relations, which the Syrians had refused to do before Israel accepted a full withdrawal from the Golan. Syria's security-oriented regime cannot easily manage relations with a detested enemy. And Asad fears that once Arab states normalize relations, he will have no leverage over Israel if it reneges on a Golan withdrawal agreement.

So, the Syrians are using cross-border violence in Lebanon to derail the Arab initiative. They hope that a conflict will delay progress indefinitely. The Syrian troop movements inside Lebanon were designed to prepare for a possible Israeli backlash. They allowed the Syrians to regroup their forces, but also to claim that whatever happens henceforth in Lebanon is not their responsibility.

That is, of course, patently false. Israel has seen through the Syrian game, while the U.S. has expressed distaste for Syrian policy. Last Thursday George W. Bush noted: "It's time...for Syria to decide which side of the war against terror it is on." And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld remarked earlier: "States like Iran, Iraq and Syria are inspiring and financing a culture of political murder and suicide bombing."

Despite its criticism of Syria, however, the U.S. has always tolerated paramount Syrian influence in Lebanon: Washington believes that Syria alone can bring Hizbullah to heel. But if Syria is accepted as an agent of stability, then the Bush administration might want to clarify what has become of this quid pro quo in south Lebanon.

If Colin Powell is to make headway in the Middle East, he will have to revive the Arab initiative. It provides the only realistic long-term political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, whether Asad and Sharon approve of it or not. Indeed, the fact that both men are trying to scuttle the proposal suggests it has genuine merit.

Friday, March 29, 2002

Saudi Summitry - Will the U.S. run with the Arab League's peace proposal?

Beirut -- As Israel reeled from a suicide attack in a Netanya hotel on Wednesday, George W. Bush declared, "I condemn it in the most strongest of terms."

The president's double superlative may have emphasized his outrage, but as the retaliatory Israeli offensive against the Palestinian town of Ramallah underscored, much more than outrage will be expected of Bush in the coming months if Palestinians and Israelis are to make peace.

That is because the Netanya bomb went off just as one of the more interesting Arab League summits in recent memory stumbled towards an acrimonious end to its first day at a different hotel, Beirut's Phoenicia Inter-Continental.

On the table was a Saudi initiative, first floated by Crown Prince Abdullah to Thomas Friedman of The New York Times. It offered Israel normal relations and security in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from all Arab lands occupied in June 1967, recognition of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as capital, and a "just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem."

The acrimony in Beirut was provoked by Lebanon's president, Emile Lahoud. As summit chairman his job was to call on Arab representatives to address the chamber. The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, confined in Ramallah, waited for his turn to speak by satellite link-up. Astonishingly, Lahoud ignored him. The Palestinian delegation walked out in protest. Others followed, and the summit looked set to collapse.

Saudi mediation soon turned things around and the conference was saved. However, what had occurred was a bold effort by Lebanon, no doubt at Syria's behest, to undermine the Saudi initiative by breaking up the summit. The Syrians oppose normal relations with Israel, fearing this will destabilize their unyielding, security-crazed political system.

The Bush administration will have to bear this in mind as it devises a response to the Saudi proposal, which the Arab League formally adopted yesterday. Whether the plan has been superceded by Israel's subsequent military actions in the West Bank remains to be seen. Even so, the plan's approval showed the Saudis could deliver a valuable offer from otherwise divided states that rarely miss an opportunity to disappoint. This should help paper over post-September 11 animosities between Washington and Riyadh.

Since it took office the Bush administration has been at sea over what to do in the Middle East. One problem is that it has based its indecisiveness on a sound premise: The Palestinians and Israelis are so far apart in their aspirations that diplomatic intervention is impossible. Consequently, the U.S. is better off containing the conflict until the parties are ripe for a deal.

However, the administration also insists that it alone can eventually breathe life into a regional settlement. As Vice President Dick Cheney told NBC news last week: "The fact of the matter is, there isn't anybody but us. Left to their own devices, the Israelis and the Palestinians have been unable to resolve [their] differences."

What Cheney did not mention is that the U.S. has nothing to offer, either. For months the administration has backed a two-step strategy that no one actually believes in: movement towards a ceasefire plan named for CIA director George Tenet, to be followed by an exchange of short-term confidence-building measures known as the Mitchell plan.

Neither plan addresses, nor was intended to address, a fundamental question: the kind of Palestinian state that will emerge. The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, wants at most to offer the Palestinians a small state in parts of the West Bank and Gaza at some ill-defined point in the future, with few if any concessions on Jerusalem and refugees.

The Palestinians, in turn, are beyond interim deals like the Tenet and Mitchell plans. They perceive their fight against Israel as a war of national liberation, with their minimal objectives the conditions outlined in the Saudi plan. Arafat refuses to crack down on his militants because he has been offered no ultimate political horizon. Without the contours of a final solution, Arafat believes that halting the Intifada will only benefit Israel.

He is not altogether wrong. When Bush took office he erred by accepting Bill Clinton's edict before his departure that the failure of two rounds of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations -- at Camp David in July 2000 and at Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 -- compelled him to declare null all agreements reached in both locations. The U.S. thus threw out the baby with the bathwater, abandoning even Palestinian and Israeli points of convergence.

The irony is that both gatherings pushed Israelis and Palestinians closer to a final peace deal than they had ever been before. By discarding points of agreement, Clinton and Bush deleted the memory of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating track. This also prevented the U.S. from defining what a mutually acceptable peace settlement might look like, with the details to be filled in by the parties themselves.

Thanks to the Saudis a political horizon now exists. What emerged from the Beirut conclave was an inventive offer that defied the tide of anger in the region aroused by the Intifada. Pointedly, it was directed at Israeli public opinion and came accompanied by a most amiable Saudi interpretation of the type of "normal relations" the Arabs promised Israel.

In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, noted: "We envision a relationship between the Arab countries and Israel that is exactly like the relationship between the Arab countries and any other state." He defended Israel's right to live within its 1967 borders in "serenity".

By welcoming the proposal, the Bush administration may have found an endgame to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Nothing in the Saudi (now Arab) proposal was new, yet everything has changed. The Arabs are bluntly offering Israel what it has always demanded. If Israel refuses, its quarrel may no longer be merely with its neighbors, but also with the U.S.

Friday, March 1, 2002

Spy Watch - Behind closed doors at the National Security Agency

Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency From the Cold War Through the Dawn of a New Century, by James Bamford, New York: Doubleday, 721 pages, $29.95

Osama bin Laden is a dutiful stepson. This mundane bit of information took on particular importance following the September 11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As James Bamford reminds us in Body of Secrets, his latest book on the shadowy National Security Agency (NSA), officials at the organization would routinely play intercepted telephone conversations between bin Laden and his stepmother to congressmen in order to acquire more funds for eavesdropping activities.

As Bamford could not have known when he wrote his book, the passage highlights what is both right and wrong in America's reliance on communications intelligence. One such call, taped in early September, allegedly constitutes part of the evidence that bin Laden was involved in the mass homicides in Washington and New York. At the same time, the United States, despite its ability to listen in on its arch foe, was unable to prevent the attacks from taking place, underscoring the chasm between the NSA's technological prowess and the intelligence community's capacity to absorb, analyze, and act on information gleaned.

The NSA was formally established on October 24, 1952, to replace the shaky and ineffective Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA). The United States had begun collecting signals intelligence (or Sigint) before World War II, but had avoided creating a single authority to handle it all. Instead, the armed forces services collected Sigint separately, and even when the AFSA was set up to combine these efforts, the services maintained control over their specific code breaking and intercept activities. This fragmentation proved catastrophic during the Korean War -- the North Korean invasion took the U.S. completely by surprise -- and led to the NSA's urgent creation. Though the agency reports to the secretary of defense, it became early on a semi-sovereign entity.

The NSA is the largest of the U.S. intelligence agencies, with a staff of some 38,000 people, an additional 25,000 non-staff personnel in listening posts, and an annual budget estimated at $7.3 billion. It is headquartered in an enormous complex known by some agency employees as Crypto City, located off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway near Annapolis Junction in Maryland. The atmosphere there is reminiscent of the Polish science fiction novelist Stanislaw Lem's outlandish The Building in his Memoirs Found in a Bathtub (1971), where spies search for secret meanings in Shakespeare and one character exclaims, "A cracked code remains a code. An expert can peel away layer after layer. It's inexhaustible. One digs ever deeper into more and more inaccessible strata. That journey has no end."

To Bamford's credit, he single-handedly has done a considerable share of excavation into the NSA's inaccessible strata. He first did so in his much-acclaimed The Puzzle Palace (1982). The numerous government documents he managed to obtain for Body of Secrets confirm the earlier book's underlying premise: The NSA is both a remarkable and disquieting embodiment of the awesome power of the American government. While Bamford never draws explicit political conclusions from this observation, he is acutely sensitive to the illegal behavior an institution like the NSA can help generate. Granted partial access to NSA officials, he is also rarely taken in by his subject or sources, constantly playing off inconsistencies in quotes by some agency members against those from others. This is laudable when one has been provided unique information, as Bamford was, on an ultra-secretive organization -- one increasingly conscious, however, of the advantages of partial transparency after decades of stony silence.

One of Bamford's most damning accusations is that the NSA failed to do what it was mainly designed to do: break high-level Soviet ciphers. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the U.S. Sigint effort had some sterling successes. A team of experts, known collectively by the codename TICOM, was able to get hold of the USSR's "Fish" cipher machine, one of which had been captured by the Germans, and therefore read Soviet communications. The system worked until 1948 when, overnight, the USSR's encrypted lines went dead. (An AFSA linguist, William Weisband, was suspected of having warned Moscow, but he was never convicted.)

The array of the NSA's duties is vast and complex. Though high-level Russian codes remained unbroken, the NSA had greater success penetrating and unscrambling Soviet communications traffic (Comint, in the professional jargon). It also gathered much vital electronic intelligence, or Elint, meaning those signals put out by radar, missiles, and other devices. When the Cold War ended, the NSA shifted its focus away from the former Soviet Union. Though the NSA eavesdropped on most countries from the moment it began operating, the agency's principal mission had changed by the mid-1990s and it spent most of its time listening in on friendly states and allies.

Some allies would prove to be more equal than others. One of the peculiar byproducts of the NSA's activities was the formation of an Anglo-Saxon fraternity of snoops, UKUSA, named for a communications intelligence agreement originally signed between the NSA and its British counterpart. The grouping, which now includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, is sometimes inaccurately known as Echelon, for the software program integrating the Sigint capabilities of the member states.

As Bamford writes, the idea behind Echelon was that "agencies would be able to submit targets to one another's listening posts and, likewise, everyone would be allowed to share in the take -- to dip their electronic ladles into the vast cauldron of intercepts and select what they liked."

Bamford doesn't take kindly to this invasion of the privacy of others, whether the others are foreign states or individuals. He discerns threatening patterns that can, in extreme cases, have a nefarious impact on domestic American life. The NSA is legally barred from spying within the continental United States, or even, in most cases, on American citizens. Nevertheless, it has on numerous occasions engaged in domestic surveillance, leading in one noted case in the late 1990s to the arrest of Nasser Ahmad, an Egyptian immigrant, and his detention in solitary confinement for three years. Only when Ahmad was finally allowed to see a portion of the secret evidence against him was he able to gain his release.

Such misuse of power has always lurked in the NSA's past, even as elected officials have tried to expand its legal range of activities. Richard Nixon, for instance, tried to empower the NSA to spy inside the U.S. (The effort was derailed by, of all people, J. Edgar Hoover, who didn't want anyone competing with the FBI.) Yet one of the most infamous examples of political manipulation by a branch of the U.S. government did not directly involve the NSA. Bamford wisely includes a discussion of the benignly named Operation Northwoods. He suggests that the political system that could spawn the NSA was also one that could take the mania with communism to the repulsive extremes revealed by that scheme.

Northwoods was a secret and illegal plan drawn up by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chaired by Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer, during the Kennedy administration. Bamford succeeds in showing that all those '60s and '70s films about generals with a screw loose and a taste for Armageddon weren't entirely fictional. The idea was to provoke violent incidents inside the United States, including murders, bombings, and hijackings, that could then be pinned on Cuba, thus justifying military action to overthrow Fidel Castro. Northwoods was ultimately rejected by Kennedy's defense secretary, Robert McNamara, but the fact that the plan could have reached the upper echelons of the administration reveals that Kennedy's top brass felt the president could stomach considerable misconduct.

Like all bureaucracies, the NSA is in perpetual search of more funding to generate ever-larger amounts of information with less and less practical use. To be fair, it is not the NSA's brief to analyze what it accumulates -- that is the role of the CIA and various government departments, and their respective intelligence arms. In the past, notably during the Vietnam War, the agency's fine intelligence was simply ignored by those to whom it was directed, most prominently Gen. William Westmoreland. (The NSA warned, for example, of the 1968 Tet Offensive.) The problem is that the volume of information gathered by the NSA today far outreaches the intelligence community's capability to process it. As former CIA director Robert Gates put it: "Sometimes I think we just collect intelligence for the thrill of collecting it....We have the capacity to collect mountains of data that we can never analyze. We just stack it up."

Despite the NSA's colossal budget and its tendency toward information overkill, the agency's deputy director for services, Terry Thompson, could complain in 1999: "One of the reasons we don't get more support on the Hill for the budget is that we don't have a strong lobby in the defense industry....We spend our money on four hundred or four thousand different contracts and it's hard to get a critical mass of people who want to go down and wave the flag for NSA when budget deliberations are going on." Thompson was speaking in the wake of successive budget cuts at the NSA, so perhaps he had a point. But then one gets a distinct sense that he would consider any amount of money for the NSA to be somehow too little.

Whatever its faults, the NSA has suffered a fair share of casualties in its relatively short history. The most costly episode, which Bamford describes in detail, was the Israeli attack against the NSA spy ship, USS Liberty, off the Sinai Peninsula during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The Liberty incident led to the death of 35 crew members, but was long ago swept under the rug of U.S.-Israeli relations. Bamford tears down the official explanation, that it was all an accident.

He writes that NSA officials with access to secret intercepts from the episode "were virtually unanimous in their belief that the attack was deliberate." Liberty crew members noted that during the attack, the Israelis first went after the ship's communications apparatus, which required knowledge of its makeup. According to intercepted radio traffic, the Israelis positively identified the Liberty and the markings painted on the ship's side. In contrast, the attacking airplanes were unmarked, undermining the Israeli claim that their pilots confused the Liberty with an Egyptian vessel, one that they, incidentally, knew to be much slower than the moving U.S. ship. Bamford's hypothesis is that the Liberty recorded radio communications between Israeli units discussing the extensive execution of Egyptian prisoners-of-war. He believes the Israelis sought to destroy the ship to cover up their war crimes.

Some have questioned Bamford's allegation. For example, New York Times reviewer James Finder disingenuously wrote that the Egyptian POW theory was based on slender evidence, and mentioned a single Israeli journalist as Bamford's source. In fact Bamford cites three sources, all Israelis. One of them was a participant in the attack and another was an eyewitness. The third, an Israeli military historian, concluded (on the basis of interviews with dozens of soldiers who themselves had killed prisoners) that as many as 1,000 Egyptians were shot. Bamford's argument is surely plausible, as anyone who has surveyed a half-century of Israel's wartime behavior will admit. The only part of Bamford's theory that is dubious -- and here Finder's protest is in order -- is that it would have been foolish for Israel to cover up one massacre by another. Yet where Finder sees this as evidence of Israeli blamelessness, readers will conclude that an explanation for the undeniably deliberate assault must lie elsewhere.

The last two chapters of Body of Secrets are devoted to detailed descriptions of Crypto City, of life at the NSA, and of past progress in the organization's successive supercomputer programs. Those parts don't make for particularly compelling reading, but they represent a major accomplishment, since Bamford is the first reporter to ferret out such details, which have been secret for decades. Published in a year when the U.S. Congress sought -- and then postponed -- passage of an official secrets act that would have criminalized the unauthorized disclosure of any type of classified information by federal employees, Body of Secrets is a valuable reminder of the enduring siren song of concealment, the enemy of all true democracies.

Thursday, February 7, 2002

Bill of Benevolence - Maybe the U.S. should apply its "non-negotiable demands" to Israel and Arafat.

BEIRUT--Sitting in his Ramallah confinement, Yasser Arafat might contemplate just how much the U.S. has overlooked its stated principles in backing his authoritarian rule over the Palestinians.

He might even pull out George W. Bush's State of the Union address and entertain himself by reading the following passage: "America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice and religious tolerance."

No U.S. administration would say otherwise. Yet in dealing with the actors in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the U.S. has long ignored Bush's bill of benevolence.

After Oslo, the U.S. encouraged Arafat to arrest anybody who failed to support peace talks with Israel. This not only included Islamist militants, who were denied equality under the law, but also secular nationalists, including moderate intellectuals. The American message was that the Palestinian people merited no better than a regime of thugs.

The U.S. also promoted a stifling Palestinian Authority, undermining the notion of limited state power. Arafat expanded his influence by conscripting tens of thousands of people into his police force and administration, as a means of dispensing patronage. Meanwhile, the corruption in his entourage exacerbated the poverty and indignities suffered by Palestinians, eroding Arafat's legitimacy and compelling him to become more aggressive in the interest of his own power.

The U.S. has been as indifferent to Bush's demands when addressing Israel. Since 1967 Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza, and in support of this occupation has turned well over a million Palestinians into a subject people. It has also routinely denied them equal justice, suppressed their free speech, and violated their property rights.

The Oslo process returned some territory to the Palestinians, leaving the definitive contours of a Palestinian entity up to bilateral negotiations. At Camp David in 2000 Israel made a generous, though never formalized, offer to Arafat on final statehood. The Palestinian leader rejected it, and has been criticized to this day for doing so. However, the best that Israel offered still included retaining swathes of occupied land and leaving unresolved the fate of a vast majority of Palestinian refugees.

The U.S. has always condemned the illegalities in Israel's occupation, while also defending Israel against those demanding an immediate withdrawal from occupied areas. This contradiction took root during the Cold War, when Israel was a valued U.S. ally. But times have changed, even if the bonds between Israelis and Americans endure.

So what can the U.S. do now? Certainly something different from what the administration has done in the past year. In this period, its policy has blended apathy and uninspired replication: apathy towards a conflict that neither Palestinians nor Israelis seem eager to end by compromise and uninspired replication in the administration's insistence on a roadmap for a resolution that none of the parties really believes in.

Bush did change course, momentarily, after September 11. He was persuaded by Secretary of State Colin Powell to advocate Palestinian statehood, and did so publicly twice last year, at the White House and before the U.N. General Assembly. He also sent an envoy to the region, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, who was greeted with a Palestinian suicide attack on his first visit to Israel. Zinni's mission has virtually collapsed amid the ambient violence.

However, something more fundamental is required. Reassessment of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is an option, even if the U.S. sees no immediate advantage in backing a new diplomatic initiative. The Middle East is a graveyard of righteous disputation, yet in the absence of an imaginative policy to end the conflict, the U.S. might best stick to principles. Why not the ones Bush listed in his address?

For ideas on how to proceed, Bush might learn from Israel's "new historians," an amorphous group of scholars, including Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Tom Segev, and Ilan Pappe, who in the mid-1980s began challenging Israel's founding myths. They did so by basing their arguments on a powerful premise: that Israel's behavior often contradicted the humanist principles they believed their state should epitomize.

The jury is still out on some of the conclusions of the "new historians." However, few can deny that the group has helped bring about a fundamental change in Israeli attitudes; the country's school curriculum was recently changed to provide new perspectives on Israel's recent past. This transformation was not only a tribute to the dynamism of intellectual subversiveness, it underlined that cultural principles often carry more weight than the diktats of practical policy.

Bush should remember this as he weighs U.S. policy towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and his country's natural take on such a confrontation. The president alleges that his principles are non-negotiable. In that case he should throw them into the Middle East arena so that all can determine whether he's true to his word.