In a departure from the usual Bush Lite approach to current events, a Democratic member of Congress stood up in public and openly fought the administration's war on Iraq. On Meet the Press, Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic congressman from Cleveland, gave it back to Richard Perle, an administration right-wing ideologue who can scarcely contain himself with excitement over going to war and "democratizing" the Middle East.
Nobody is going to want to vote Democratic unless the elections stop being look-alike contests, with little Bushies sprouting up all over, from pretty boy John Edwards or that quintessential opportunist, John Kerry, to master of equivocation Dick Gephardt. Kucinich could turn out to fill the role of a Jesse Jackson. He stood the party on its head in 1988 with a succession of primary victories in the South and Midwest, which finally required the dispatch to New York of Al Gore, who helped Ed Koch end Jackson's campaign by smearing him. And for what? So the Dems could nominate Michael Dukakis.
The press is currently swooning over former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who is running a campaign on what reporters call "ideas," i.e., such things as a national health care system and a balanced budget. He is not afraid to maintain taxes at their current levels to pay for social services. And he may gain political support by being a strong backer of Israel. He opposes the Iraq war. And he is a Washington outsider. Vermont is a small state, but it is next door to New Hampshire, where people know Dean and where the former governor can expect a reasonable following.
Kucinich is in part an old-fashioned labor candidate, hailing from the pivotal city of Cleveland in the traditionally key state of Ohio. As Cleveland mayor, he ordered the city to take over and run a private electric utility, a move that was later used by the political opposition to defeat him. In Congress he has been the floor leader in a backbench battle that ties liberal Democrats together with right-wing Republicans against NAFTA and other trade matters. His tactics are to cross party lines at will, forging coalitions with conservative Republicans. Kucinich and Dean could breathe a little life into the Democratic Party, if the powers that be leave them alone, an unlikely prospect given the money pouring into the other mainstream candidates' war chests.
On Sunday Perle said it was "scurrilous" to suggest the Iraq war will be about oil. But the facts reveal otherwise. Over the weekend new United Nations figures showed that American oil refineries had more than doubled their take of Iraqi crude to make up for losses due to the Venezuelan strikes. Such giants as ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco had been trying to cut back on buying Iraqi crude through middlemen because of charges that the companies were supporting Saddam Hussein through a skimming scheme. The Iraqi dictator had placed a surcharge on oil, driving up the price, and allowing him to skim the top. U.S. firms bought more than $1.6 billion of Iraqi oil over the last two monthsnearly two-thirds of that country's total exports. Iraq is the fifth largest supplier of oil to the U.S. But oil isn't the only item we have traded with Saddam. We helped him build an agribusiness industry, and we sold him arms and equipment for Iraq's war with Iran in hopes he could act as a U.S. surrogate to keep Muslim fundamentalists at bay. However, in our busy rewrite of history, all that never happened. Only parts of a 1998 Iraqi weapons declaration to the UN were released last December to non-permanent members of the Security Council. The missing data concerned details of the arms trade with Iraq by U.S. government agencies, research labs, and U.S. and foreign private companies. However, Die Tageszeitung, a German daily, published details that had been withheld, including a list of 24 U.S. companies it claims were listed as having supplied Saddam with construction materials for nuclear weapons and rocket programs and with anthrax.
The German paper reported that the document had been censored mostly at the urging of the U.S., which is a permanent member of the Security Council. The companies are a Who's Who of American industry, including DuPont, Honeywell, Eastman Kodak, Rockwell, Bechtel, and Sperry. Some of these companies have been substantial contributors to political campaigns. Honeywell ranks 12th in the list of defense industry firms making contributions, pouring $364,227 into the 2000 presidential election cycle, two-thirds of it to Republicans. Asked for comment, a company spokesperson said, "Honeywell does not engage in business with Iraq or any other entity that we suspect would divert our products to Iraq." Citing various government reports, The Progressive revealed in 1998, "From 1985 to 1990, the United States government approved 771 licenses for the export to Iraq of $1.5 billion worth of biological agents and high-tech equipment with military application." Only 39 applications were rejected. A Senate committee inquiring into American export policies toward Iraq heard testimony in 1992 that Commerce Department personnel "changed information on sixty-eight licenses, that references to military end uses were deleted, and the designation 'military truck' was changed. This was done on licenses having a total value of over $1 billion." In 1994 a group of veterans sued a group of firms, including American Type Culture Collection, for assisting Iraq in producing or obtaining biochemical agents that the vets said caused Gulf War syndrome. A 1994 Pentagon study found there was no link between the syndrome and chemical and biological agents, but the man who headed the study was a director of a company that produced and sold anthrax to Iraq, according to a Newsday investigation at the time. A suit is still pending against 56 companies; more than 5000 vets are seeking $1 billion in damages.
Last week's arrest of Sami Al-Arian, a former computer professor at University of South Florida, is the most visible sign of John Ashcroft's war on terror in full swing. The indictment accuses eight men of operating a criminal racketeering enterprise since 1984, supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and conspiring to kill and maim people abroad, among other charges, including extortion, visa fraud, and perjury. Each defendant could get life. Much, if not all, of the information in the indictment is old, and the idea that the professor is a threat seems at odds with the White House clearance he got not long ago to meet the president. But the case could easily set a precedent, allowing Ashcroft to use RICO and other laws to charge anyone contributing to any number of foreign causes as terrorists. The IRA, for example, obtained armsand money to buy armsthrough wide-scale fundraising drives in the U.S. during the 1990s. Those arms were placed in the hands of IRA units, which carried out bombings in central London and on one occasion even came close to killing then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Is Ashcroft going to prosecute all those who contributed to Irish Republicanism as terrorists?
Additional reporting: Phoebe St John, Rebecca Winsor, and Josh Saltzman
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.