Copyrighted material


Analysis of under-reported news, updates on previous Monitor stories


[Editor's note: Before there were blogs, there were the Monitor "404 Reports," which began in 1997 as a forum to offer updates on previous Monitor stories and discuss items in today's news that deserved greater media attention. Significant additions or changes to the Albion Monitor site will also be announced here. Do not bookmark this page, as the 404 Reports address will change with each edition.]

Site updates

  + CHANGES TO THE ALBION MONITOR WEBSITE   The FAVORITES page has been completely redesigned, with graphic links added for several dozen Monitor features produced in the last 10+ years. Additional links will be added in coming weeks.

The Haiti archive, sweatshop index, and FAQ page have been updated and redesigned to match the new layout.   (February 28, 2006)

Reconstruction projects leave Iraqis powerless


Baghdad Down To Four Hours Of Electricity Daily

Iraq: The Devastation

Bush To Ask War Allies To Pay For Iraq Reconstruction

Iraqi Misery At New Highs

Iraq Reconstruction Plans In Shambles, Reports Find

Iraq Gas, Electricity Shortages Hit New Lows (2004)

  + REPORTING FROM THE BUBBLE     The American Right gripes endlessly that the U.S. press avoids telling the "good news" about the Iraq occupation, so Bush boosters must have cheered Feb. 19 when dozens of newspapers picked up the AP story about the Khor Az Zubayr power plant, now back on line and supplying enough electricity for 220,000 Iraqi homes. Completed six months ahead of schedule, the plant now provides electricity 12 hours a day.

All good news, indeed. Hindsight reveals that it's been the interminable blackouts since the invasion that have most alienated Iraqis. In a country where the temperatures can hit 140°, every minute spent without an air conditioner or fan is a minute to curse the Americans for making their existence even more miserable.

Good news is particularly welcome because it seems that every aspect of the Iraq misadventure closes with the same wearying tagline: "...and then everything went terribly wrong." We weren't welcomed as liberators with garlands and boquets; the WMD justification for our very invasion fell apart; our NATO allies didn't step up to volunteer money and troops once Saddam was overthrown; our efforts to make conditions better for Iraqis often made them worse instead.

A new book about the run-up to war and occupation, "The Assassin's Gate" by New Yorker writer George Packer, shows these woes can always be traced back to the same cause: From the White House on down, all of the Americans running the show have operated within a bubble, detached from reality. The neo-cons, influenced by out-of-touch Iraqi exiles, viewed Saddam as still being the strongman he was in the past. As a result, we prepared for a fearsome war to be followed by a great humanitarian crisis. In truth, Saddam was really an Ozymandias easy to topple, and we found ourselves too early in the dictator's palaces, wondering what the hell to do next. It wasn't long before it was the peace that became fearsome.

The bubble became embodied in the 4 square-mile "Green Zone" that the U.S. quickly established across the Tigris from Baghdad proper, keeping Iraqi anger and resentment safely at arm's reach. Visiting U.S. officials or administrators hunkered within the insulated compound, with trips outside carefully planned to avoid any real danger, and thus avoiding any contact with average Iraqis. Packer tells a revealing story of administrator Paul Bremer's visit to a maternity hospital a few weeks after taking control. After making a speech to assembled doctors and town officials congratulating the coalition for liberating Iraq, Bremer toured a hospital ward, followed by a contingent of aides carrying stuffed animals for him to hand out. It was quickly apparent that these weren't radiant new mothers with happy Gerber babies; the infants were dying, some withered and skeletal. "I don't like seeing this at all," Bremer said, ordering the photographer to stop taking pictures. To keep the media event on track, a Bremer aide began badgering the doctors with questions: Are you happy with Saddam gone? Are things better now? What's the best thing about Saddam being gone? Later, Packer discovered that the hospital''s power was turned on because of Bremer's visit -- the week before it had been off entirely, even though infant mortality could have been cut in half if the hospital had reliable electricity.

In those early days of the reconstruction phase, a reporter like Packer could still break off from the pack and talk to doctors privately about the hospital conditions; today, he would be a fool to go off on his own like that. Journalists covering Iraq are also trapped in the bubble, and few dare journey outside the U.S. compounds without military escort, which also means military handlers present to spin the news. As a result, news consumers should be skeptical that any reports from Iraq offer a full account of matters.

Dissect that widely-reprinted AP news item about the power plant and notice first that the three people quoted are all Americans associated with the project. There's nothing particularly suspicious about that, given the topic of the story, but a strange quote from the Army Corps of Engineers rep stands out: "I feel confident that the plant will be maintained when we leave." The article further notes that Iraqis were trained "to keep them from feeding turbines with the wrong fuel." As a result, a reader might easily jump to racist conclusions -- that the Iraqi engineers were too lazy and/or ignorant to keep the generators running properly. But if AP reporter Paul Garwood had spoken to someone outside the project, he may written an entirely different story: How the U.S. forces forced Iraqis to use American-made power plant components they can't possibly maintain.

A remarkable feature in the current issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine reveals that U.S. engineers have installed in Iraq power plants 40 combustion turbines such as the General Electric Frame 9 and LM6000 models -- basically Boeing 747 turbines mounted on heavy stands, as author Glenn Zorpette explains. Iraqi engineeers wanted the occupiers to instead upgrade their hydroelectric steam plants, but they were overruled by the provisional government and Americans; steam plants take up to five years to build, but a turbine can be installed fairly quickly. "The decisions were made based on expedience, not technical soundness," an engineer said.

Unfortunately, it wasn't until months later that anyone began thinking about what fuel these jet engines would need: highly-purified diesel fuel or natural gas, both of which are in short supply in Iraq. Diesel of that quality could only be purchased from Turkey and trucked in (at $85/barrel, with a fully-operating plant sucking down a tanker load every 45 minutes), and building new natural gas pipelines to supply the plants would require additional lengthy and expensive construction projects that were double the cost, or more. Plants that had no option but using the high-grade diesel also needed to treat the fuel with an additive called an inhibitor to prevent it from damaging the turbines. "Last summer," one engineer said, "we bought all the inhibitor on the shelf in the world for a four-month supply in Iraq. Let me put it in simple terms: nobody's dumb enough to do what we're doing." Speaking of another plant, a U.S. power-generation engineer who did a year-long tour in Iraq told Spectrum, "We installed a third of a billion dollars' worth of combustion turbines that can't be fueled."

Had the AP reporter interviewed other people in the field, he might have written that he was steered towards the Khor Az Zubayr power plant because it is one of the very few success stories; only seven of the combustion turbines we've installed in Iraq are running on natural gas, and this plant has two of them. As such, it was the final, crown-jewel project of the energy reconstruction efforts. Had he visited other plants, he would have found some of the turbines already idle and needing repair because of the poorer-quality diesel they were forced to use had already gummed up the engines. By ignoring this whole other side of the story, reporter Paul Garwood ended up writing a propaganda article, intentional or no.

Reading Packer's account of the early days of the reconstruction phase, it becomes depressingly clear that the occupation forces never learned much from their mistakes. At nearly every turn, opportunities to make meaningful changes in the situation were shunned; money was squandered; and like the disaster with the turbine-powered generators, the Americans have left the Iraqis doomed to inevitably fail, no matter what they do.   (February 25, 2006)

New book shows no post-war planning


Bush Planning To Appoint Arms Merchant As Viceroy Of Baghdad (Apr. 2003)

Iraq "Liberation" Looks More Like "Coup d'Etat" (Apr. 2003)

U.S. Rushes To Install Puppet Iraqi Government (Apr. 2003)

Who's In Charge Of Iraq Policy? (May 2003)

Ahmed Chalabi: We Misled You Into Invading Iraq (2004)

How the Press Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Rumsfeld (2004)

The Long Knives Come Out For Chalabi (2004)

  + THE GANG WHO COULDN'T PLAN STRAIGHT     Where the reconstruction of Iraq is (not) going is just part of the untold story; there's also suprisingly little media interest or political will in holding the Rumsfeld-Cheney cabal accountable for the utter lack of planning for post-war situations before the invasion. When Cheney appeared Feb. 8 on PBS NewHour, host Jim Lehrer asked why we didn't prepare to face an insurgency. "Well, you can't anticipate everything," was Cheney's glib comeback. There was no followup question.

Fortunately, a new book has appeared that shows the Bush administration's disinterest in planning for what happened after Saddam was ousted, with many dots connected for the first time: "The Assassin's Gate" by New Yorker writer George Packer reveals how the neo-cons met Iraqi exiles met the Cold Warriors and went to war. Some of the details are astonishing.

Despite a full year of war planning, the Pentagon had only sketchy plans for "Phase IV" that would follow a successful overthrow of Saddam. Not that plans hadn't existed; in 1999, CENTCOM commander General Zinni had developed a contingency plan for Iraq in case Saddam's regime collapsed. Zinni anticipated social turmoil and that the infrastructure must be protected. The ex-general contacted the Pentagon before the invasion and suggested they take a look at his plan -- only to learn that it had been thrown away because it assumptions were "too negative." Colin Powell's State Dept. also had a year-old "Future of Iraq Project" with working groups of Iraqi expatriates preparing reconstruction plans, but that work was thrown out as well because the Pentagon began working with a different group of exiles: Ahmad Chalabi and his "Iraqi National Congress." Zinni later told the New Yorker that Chalabi held out the promise of a blitzkreig victory: "He twisted the intelligence that they based it on, and provided a picture so rosy and unrealistic they thought it would be easy."

To assume temporary control over Iraq after the fall of Saddam, Bush had signed a Jan. 2003 Presidential Directive creating a unit called the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA). Headed by retired general Jay Garner and a tight clique of other ex-military folks with a penchant for calling each other "bubba," Garner had just seven weeks to prepare for what he expected would be a short-term humanitarian mission that would be over by August.

ORHA was doomed from the start. Garner hired the knowledgeable Tom Warrick from the State Department's Future of Iraq Project, only to be ordered by Cheney to fire him a week later. Many had no expertise on Iraq or even experience in public policy; head of the crucial civil administration group was Michael Mobbs, a lawyer whose only qualification was that he was a former law partner of Garner's Pentagon boss, Doug Feith. (Mobbs would later award Halliburton a no-bid $7 billion contract to restore Iraq's oil fields -- after first seeking approval from the Vice President's office. Feith would later be called "fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth" by commander Gen. Tommy Franks.)

But once the invasion began, the 169-member ORHA team found themselves irrelevant; the Pentagon was working now directly with Chalabi's group. Flown to Kuwait, Garner immediately disappeared to a villa with his bubbas for two days, leaving the rest of the frustrated team to watch the war on CNN from their Hilton hotel staterooms. As last-minute preparations, they drew up a list of important places in Baghdad to protect once the city fell by consulting a "Lonely Planet" guidebook.

When the ORHA team finally made it to Baghdad two weeks later, the city was in anarchy and important public structures were already in ruins. Undermanned and without orders to intervene, coalition troops had stood by as looters plundered everything in sight. The "Lonely Planet" list of key sites had been handed off to the military and lost. Chalabi's forces, wearing U.S. uniforms and flown in by the Pentagon, were among the worst of the looters, seizing prime Baghdad real estate, cars, and other property. In a key meeting, the ORHA member nominally in charge of Baghdad conferred with top businessmen and academics who begged her to proclaim martial law; during the session, Chalabi's thugs carjacked the host's car with the driver inside.

Garner was replaced a few weeks later by L. Paul Bremer, but by then, Iraq was already lost. It would be easy to blame this on a combination of incompetence and indifference -- that a better-managed ORHA might have restored order in those crucial first days, or even that the situation might not have fallen apart if the earlier reconstruction plans had not been trashed. The truth is the opposite: war architects Rumsfeld and Cheney indeed had solid "Phase IV" plans -- that Iraqis would warmly welcome the invasion followed by the puppet Chalabi regime. This may have been a foolhardy plan, but it was a plan nonetheless -- and it wasn't kept secret.

At no time did Rumsfeld show any interest in overseeing a post-invasion Iraq. In a little-noticed "Beyond Nation Building" speech almost exactly one month before the invasion, he expressed contempt for post-war reconstruction efforts in Kosovo, Haiti and elsewhere, which he said bred a "culture of dependence." Once Garner and the others in ORHA were in the Gulf region, they were shadowed by Rumsfeld aide Larry Di Rita, who made it clear that he had overriding control as the spokeman for the Secretary of Defense. "We don't owe the people of Iraq anything," he said at an early meeting, slamming his fist on the table. "We're giving them their freedom. That's enough." Di Rita also told an assembly of foreign service workers in Kuwait that "we're going to stand up an interim Iraqi government, hand over power to them, and get out of there in 3 to 4 months."

So blinded by unreasonable confidence was Rumsfeld that he even viewed the ensuing chaos as a healthy sign that Iraq was on the road to inevitable democracy. "Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," Rumsfeld famously said, shortly before Garner was dismissed. "They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here."

As for the looting? The killings in the streets? The very collapse of Iraq's infrastructure? "Stuff happens," he shrugged.   (February 17, 2006)

Iraq Reconstruction Funds Running Out


Iraq: The Devastation

Bush To Ask War Allies To Pay For Iraq Reconstruction

Iraq Reconstruction Plans In Shambles, Reports Find

Take Iraq "Nation Building" Off Back Burner, Task Force Warns

Life In Liberated Iraq A Nightmare - Joint UN/Iraq Report

  + LIGHTS OUT IN BAGHDAD     One of the most profound articles ever to appear in the MONITOR sprang from the simplest question: Mideast scholar Juan Cole asked, What If We Were Iraq? Imagine:
Violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll. [...] What if no one had electricity for much more than 10 hours a day, and often less? What if it went off at unpredictable times, causing factories to grind to a halt and air conditioning to fail in the middle of the summer in Houston and Miami? What if the Alaska pipeline were bombed and disabled at least monthly?
That essay appeared in September, 2004, roughly the half-way point between the invasion of Iraq and now (Feb. 2006). Much of that article appears positively nostalgic. Cole doesn't mention suicide bombers at all -- that trend didn't begin until a month later. Attacks on Iraqi pipelines, oil installations, and oil personnel have doubled in the sixteen months since; and in Baghdad today, electricity is available an average of only 3.7 hours daily. Add in the higher fuel costs to Iraqis now that gasoline price supports are gone, and that one-third fewer Iraqis have access to drinking water than in 2003, and all primary government services are functioning below pre-war standards. Commentators who say conditions are "spiraling downward" are too kind: conditions are plummeting, rock-like.

The worst of it, however, is the utter despair of the situation getting better. Imminent civil war aside, the only thing holding the country's patchwork infrastructure together is U.S. reconstruction spending, and that's due to run out by the end of the year. Bush is asking for another $771 million in the Y2007 budget, but that's chump change compared to the $18.4 billion the U.S. will have spent on reconstruction projects by that time. And even that massive sum is dwarfed by the $56 billion price tag projected by the World Bank and the UN at the start of the invasion -- an estimate that now appears to be far too low. On Feb. 8 Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that much more than that will be needed to fix Iraq. He wouldn't even offer a guesstimate of what astronomical final bill might be.

What happens next is in the air. Bush will undoubtedly try to pry oil dollars from the tight purses of other Gulf nations (about $10 billion pledged by countries toward Iraq reconstruction efforts at an October 2003 conference in Madrid was never paid) as well as other members of the "coalition of the willing" (Japan and the UK will probably kick in something, but don't expect much from the backwater bulk of the alliance -- nations like Palau, Rwanda, and Eritrea). With incredible good luck, Bush may be able to scrape together, say, half of what's needed for next year alone. But at some point in the very near future the game ends, and the lights of Baghdad probably go off for a very long time.

Intentional or no, the mainstream press is doing Bush a great favor by ignoring what looms shortly ahead. Yes, probably every journalist pulling a stint in Iraq has filed colorful stories of disgruntled Iraqis griping about power outages and water/sewage woes, but more than a reporter's microscopic view is needed. Although several papers picked up a NY Times story mentioning Bowen's description of the miserable conditions in Iraq, his testimony about a financial shortfall worth tens of billions of dollars was mentioned by only the Christian Science Monitor -- it didn't even merit an AP or Reuters item.   (February 12, 2006)

Who's Winning Friends, Making Enemies in Pakistan?


Outrage In Pakistan Over CIA Airstrike That Killed 18

U.S. Airstrikes On Pakistan Border Send Families Fleeing To Cities

The Ignored War For Hearts And Minds

Emergency Tents Failed Pakistan Quake Survivors

Pakistan Quake Victims Trying To Survive Freezing Conditions

Pakistan's Corrupt Army Controls Quake Cash

Gulf Arabs Leading Pakistan Quake Relief Funds

Extremists Earn Legitimacy Through Pakistan Quake Relief

Supporting Corrupt Pakistan The Main Reason For U.S. Quake Aid

Can UN Collect Money Promised For Pakistan Quake Victims?

INDEX to Oct. Earthquake coverage

  + THE FOG OF HUMANITARIAN WAR     In the award-winning 2003 documentary "The Fog of War," former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara lends the film its name with this comment:
We all make mistakes. We know we make mistakes. I don't know any military commander, who is honest, who would say he has not made a mistake. There's a wonderful phrase: 'the fog of war.' What "the fog of war" means is: war is so complex it's beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend all the variables. Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate. And we kill people unnecessarily.
His paraphrase wasn't quite right (19th century military analyst Clausewitz was specifically writing that battlefield commanders may have distorted ideas about the enemy because of incomplete data -- in other words, "Warning: Objects may be closer than they appear in the mirror"), but McNamara was absolutely right about saying that terrible mistakes are made during war that result in people dying without cause. And those deaths can set off a further set of unanticipated events that make matters even worse.

A fine example of these unintended consequences happened January 13, when U.S. Predator missles slammed into the remote Pakistan mountain village of Damadola. The airstrike was intended to kill bin Laden's buddy-in-exile, Zawahiri, as he celebrated the Islamic festival of Eid with his in-laws on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Instead, it killed over a dozen civilians, including women and children. (Pakistani officials think that 3 or 4 important al Qaeda figures were among the dead, but nothing's been proven, as of this writing.) What is certain is that the attack sparked anti-American, pro-al Qaeda demonstrations across Pakistan. Game point to Osama.

That attack on Damadola was hardly unique; for weeks, the U.S. had been conducting similar airstrikes in the area. Coordinated with Pakistan's army as part of a "hammer-and-anvil" campaign to root out or kill jihadist fighters, the effort has apparently done little, other than turning the mountains into a war zone and spreading terror through the civilian population. Hundreds of Pakistani families have fled their rural homes for the cities, and as reported in recent IPS coverage that appeared in the MONITOR, medical workers and other professionals are refusing assignments in the troubled region, further causing misery. While the Pentagon may yet luck out and drop a bomb on Zawahiri or bin Laden's head, all that's certain is that we are destabilizing an area already sympathetic to al Qaeda and the Taliban. But to the generals in Washington, that's not a bad thing to happen; one of the main lessons taught in military schools is that there's nothing wrong with terrorizing civilians friendly to the enemy (you can thank old Clausewitz for that bit of evil, too).

America's undeclared mini-war in the Pakistan wilds might have gone completely unnoticed in the Western press if it weren't for the deaths of Damadola and the subsequent protests. That's no surprise; as discussed at length in earlier 404 Reports, even historic events in Asia such as the 1999 genocide of E Timor and the 1998 overthrow of Suharto are given little coverage outside that hemisphere. The only significant U.S. media attention in recent years has been the result of great natural catastrophes: The 2004 tsunami, and last year's Himalayan earthquake. And even then, only a fraction of the story is usually told.

As discussed in our end-of-year report "The Uncovered News," the Oct. 8 earthquake left an estimated 3.5 million survivors fighting for their lives in harsh winter conditions. The Pakistan city of Balakot was turned to rubble, leaving its pre-disaster population of 300,000 to huddle around cookfires and shiver in UN-supplied tents. And they're the lucky ones; at least helicopters and supply trucks can reach them. Outside the camps, in the deep and remote Himalayan valleys blocked by snow, hundreds of thousands in families who refused to abandon their herds and flocks are spending the winter in Stone Age conditions.

The good news in this terrible situation is that relief organizations moved in quickly to setup tent cities, offer medical care at field hospitals, and deliver aid to those remaining in outlying areas. The bad news is that this successful effort was being run by militant Islamic groups, not the UN or any government.

The "jihadi elements" had a head start because the quake epicenter was in their backyard -- Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and Azad Kashmir (Pakistan-administered Kashmir), where the Taliban and other Islamic extremists seek refuge. Not only were they the first to reach disaster victims, they came in force: the government of Pakistan estimates that there are still about 20,000 aid workers from the groups, some of which are either banned by the government or tied to outlawed organizations. Pakistani media, particularly the Hindustan Times, have reported that the banned Hizb-ul-Mujahadeen were among the early responders, with their leaders openly directing operations. Over 3,000 came from Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JD) alone; the parent organization of the banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba (Soldiers of God), JD quickly began a massive reconstruction plan that included the building of 400 mosques, 17,000 homes and 121 schools. When survivors stumbled out of the Azad Kashmir mountains, the first thing they saw was the group's refugee camp, where they were warmly welcomed.

By contrast, the "official" relief operations were often chaotic, particularly in the early days. Pakistan's notoriously corrupt army placed itself in charge of the multibillion-dollar relief and reconstruction efforts, forming a new organization that, as Pakistan's opposition political party complained, is accountable to no one but itself (although one of its first acts was to preemptively grant immunity from prosecution to any uniformed officers working in the earthquake-hit areas). National and regional government were elbowed out, and the fast initial response slowed as generals quarrelled with experienced aid groups, even forcing workers out of some camps. As a result, some NGOs gave up and withdrew.

With the skilled. non-military groups packing up, rumors spread among panicked surviors that the outside world might be deserting them, which led to hoarding of food and supplies. UN-provided tents proved useless because they weren't weatherized, forcing many to build small, cave-like shelters from stone, rubble and salvaged plastic sheets. In this sustained misery, it's no surprise that dozens of villagers forced their way onto two UN relief helicopters Jan. 6 and demanded the crew airlift them out of the damn place.

Into this crisis stepped the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Ryan C. Crocker. Did America's representitive demand accountability from the army's relief org? Plead for better cooperation between the military and international civil aid groups? Nope; Crocker denounced the jihadi relief efforts because it provided legitimacy to the outfits, and suggested that Pakistan should block them from providing help. A White House spokesman repeated this message a few days later when Vice President Dick Cheney visited Pakistan on Dec. 20, about the same time that Crocker also claimed that conditions were no longer so bad, after all.

Crocker was lambasted by Pakistan's media for his insensitive remarks. The Pakistan newspaper The News editorialized on Dec. 15:

Perhaps because his is strictly a "war-on-terror" apprehension, Mr. Crocker has taken a one-sided view of the situation. For one thing, what should the government have done when the jihadis emerged from their lairs to "help" after the earthquake: let the victims die in the absence of other aid? U.S. and NATO help took a while in arriving, after all. For another, should the government now round them up and imprison them, and thereby make them popular in the areas where they saved lives and treated the injured? [...] There's really no easy solution, with Pakistan still short of resources to deal with the calamity and in dire need of any form of assistance. Clapping the jihadis in prison is definitely not one, if that is what Mr. Crocker has in mind.

For suggesting that Pakistan should use its limited resources in stopping relief efforts, we nominate ambassador Crocker for the "Heckuva Job Brownie Prize" -- at least FEMA manager Michael Brown didn't call for the National Guard to arrest Hurricane Katrina volunteer relief workers. But except for a single Newsday story, the U.S. media ignored the ambassador's outrageous proposal.

Newsday's December 28 article was also one of the very few pieces in the American press describing the Islamist role in the relief efforts or even mentioning non-Western humanitarian aid. Except for coverage of drop-in visits by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and George HW Bush, most post-quake articles in the U.S. media have parroted self-congratulatory White House and Pentagon PR -- the number of troops assigned, tons of U.S. food dropped by U.S. helicopters, and particularly, that Bush pledged $510 million for relief. Rarely mentioned, however, is that total includes $110 million for in-kind military aid and another $100 million the White House hopes to raise from the private sector. Subtract those figures and the Bush offering come in a distant third, between contributions from the Islamic Development Bank and Iran. The Saudis lead in fund-raising, with $573 million committed -- another angle not often mentioned in the U.S. press, found only in a single AP story and NY Times article.

This week the U.S. military patted itself on the back and announced the relief mission would wind up March 31, with the army leaving behind its last MASH unit to aid in continuing medical care. (Predictably, U.S. newspapers gave more coverage to the MASH unit and its history -- including, of course, the TV sitcom -- than the withdrawl announcement.) But with the U.S. and NATO gone, relief efforts will be overwhelmingly provided by Islamic organisations, which now have banners along the roadside advertising their presence. "Jihadist organisations... have achieved a new legitimacy and strength in the earthquake areas," Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy told the Pakistan Daily Times Feb. 3. "They freely use Pakistan Army vehicles and facilities, display huge banners, and flaunt their weapons." It is apparent that those banners are actually campaign posters, and that the groups are positioning themselves to run for regional posts in the general elections to be held next year.

In sum: The once hated, once feared, outlawed Islamist groups are winning new friends while the U.S. is making enemies with bungled bombing raids. If these religious extremists end up winning control of the province, it would result in a Taliban-style government on the Afghanistan border. And judging by their (in)actions, decision-makers in Washington appear clueless as to the long-term implications of any of this.

Also in "The Fog of War," McNamara provides a list of eleven "lessons." His choice for lesson #1: "Empathize with your enemy." The Islamists are demonstrating their empathy with the suffering Pakistanis by digging in to provide long-term assistance, just as the West is turning its back on them. Who do you think will win this battle for hearts and minds? Who will the U.S. president in the year 2016 blame as the next wave of jihadists emerges from these mountains, their minds poisoned with hatred for the West?   (February 5, 2006)

PREVIOUS 404 Report

2005 Wayward Press Awards: The Uncovered News

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor Issue 143 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.