WASHINGTON, D.C.—A week before the $40 million inauguration, right-wingers are tearing themselves to pieces. A dispute simmering since last summer between Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Arizona senator John McCain has turned into an open and bitter fight. Republican pols think it’s bad enough to hurt upcoming election chances. Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation, the prominent right-wing think tank, likened Bush to Clinton, suggesting that the current president was just another big-spending liberal.
McCain rankled the administration by stating he had “no confidence” in Rumsfeld, prompting right-wingers to start calling McCain an “anti-Republican Republican.” Then Rumsfeld sent McCain over the wall when he told the Arizona senator he was hindering the war effort by using his rights as a senator to stall congressional approval of Rumsfeld nominees for top Defense posts. In addition, McCain has attacked Rumsfeld’s plans to give a non-competitive contract to Boeing for leasing air tankers at a cost that could reach $30 billion. When McCain sought to investigate the deal, the Pentagon and the White House balked, insulting him by restricting documents and insisting he could read some papers but not copy them. Eventually the Pentagon relented, and McCain went on the Senate floor to read e-mails from then air force secretary James Roche that browbeat members of Congress into supporting the tanker deal. McCain said the proposed tanker leasing was “a case of either systemic failure in procurement oversight, willful blindness, or rank corruption.”
The Heritage Foundation in this year’s Mandate for Leadership, a well-accepted planning document for incoming Republican administrations since Reagan’s, rakes Bush over the coals. Edwin J. Feulner, Heritage president and heretofore regarded as a strong Bush man, chastised the president, noting, “Sadly, commitment to principle has been missing in Washington’s politics for quite some time.” The document paints Bush as a big spender, adding to entitlements with his Medicare drug plan and loading the economy with regulations. Echoing criticism of Reaganites, Stuart Butler and Larry Wortzel, Heritage veeps for domestic and international studies, respec- tively, write, “Public diplomacy has been weak, and sound foreign policy initiatives have failed to win support from our allies because they were not accompanied by well-planned public diplomacy efforts. Observers can therefore be forgiven for concluding that Bill Clinton’s declaration that ‘the era of big government is over’ now seems rather premature.”
Prepping for Bush’s prom
Cops, dogs, choppers sniff for germs, bullets, weird signals
Next Thursday’s inauguration promises to be an extravaganza, with rich Bushies nibbling on rattlesnake nachos and slurping down Tito’s vodka. The government will put 4,600 officers along Pennsylvania Avenue to guard the parade. There will be the usual retinue of sharpshooters atop buildings lining the route, dozens of plainclothes cops in the crowds, and Secret Service agents in buildings along the avenue. Twenty bomb-sniffing dogs will be on hand. The feds will jam cell phones to render harmless any attempted signals aimed at setting off bombs. The military will deploy germ and biological warfare units around the city, along with units specializing in rescuing people from bomb-blasted buildings.
Sensors have been placed around the city. “If we had a release of sarin gas on the Mall, not only will the sensors on the Mall pick it up, we will know the height and density, its direction, and how far it has spread,” one federal official told The Washington Post. “We did not have this in place before 9-11.”
Overhead, air combat patrols will race across the sky. Planes that wander off course and into restricted airspace will be intercepted by fighter jets. Small aircraft are to be banned within 50 miles of the Washington Monument. There are surveillance cameras throughout the city, and choppers will be overhead all day, taking pictures and relaying images back to a headquarters in Virginia.
There is more than humanitarian rescue behind Bush’s dispatch of an armada to Aceh province at the northern tip of Sumatra, the worst hit area of the tsunami. Portrayed as a desperately poor, isolated region at the northwestern tip of Indonesia, the now devastated Aceh is strategically positioned at one end of the Straits of Malacca, a shipping lane of growing importance.
Thousands of tankers carrying oil from the Middle East cross the Indian Ocean, turn and go around Aceh before entering the narrow straits for the run between Indonesia and Malaysia to the enormous refinery center in Singapore. From Singapore, oil and gas are carried to China, now the world’s second-biggest energy market, as well as to Japan, which has scarce energy resources of its own.
Should Al Qaeda or others desire to seriously damage the world economy, they could blow up a liquefied natural gas tanker in the narrow straits. Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb, speculated many years ago that an explosion on an LNG tanker would come close to equaling that of a nuclear bomb.
Who controls the straits is an important question. As Asia and the Middle East are drawn closer together through their oil and gas dealings, and the tanker traffic multiplies in leaps and bounds, the tip of Sumatra achieves the status of a Gibraltar, Suez Canal, or Panama Canal during the past century.
Aceh is especially important to Indonesia because it is headquarters for Exxon Mobil’s large LNG plant, which provides gas to Asian markets. The gas is highly prized because it is cleaner than oil, and in the case of smog-choked and oil-sodden China, is being imported in larger quantities to ease the pollution.
And Aceh is key to Indonesia because taxes from energy sales go to the central government, as well as to the local government. Rebels have been waging armed struggle for independence since the 1970s. And it has been reported that under the guise of tsunami relief, the Indonesian army in fact has been blocking aid shipments and tightening the martial law that governs the area.
No defense for security guards
Families of four Americans who were lynched last year in Falluja while escorting a convoy through the city are suing Blackwater Security Consulting, the North Carolina-based contractor that employed them, for wrongful death, claiming that the company did not give the men armored vehicles and other equipment. The amount of damages sought is not specified.
The suit alleges that the company promised that the men would be working in six-man teams in armored vehicles equipped with heavy machine guns. The company’s “motivation was basically greed,” says Dan Callahan, attorney for the families of Scott Helvenston, Mike Teague, Jerry Zovko, and Wesley Batalona. “They saved $1.5 million by not buying those [armored] vehicles.”
There are thought to be upward of 6,000 civilians from Western countries doing armed security work similar to what the four lynched men had been doing.
“If these allegations are true, Blackwater is guilty of the most egregious conduct. But I’m sure they are not the worst security contractor operating in Iraq,” David Isenberg, author of a report on military contractors, told UPI. “My intuition is there are a great many more stories like this out there, and there is a good likelihood more cases will follow if this one makes any progress.”
The insurgency has pushed reconstruction onto the back burner. “In mid-July, U.S. officials admitted that fewer than 140 of the 2,300 reconstruction projects funded by the U.S. were under way,” according to a report by the Center for Corporate Policy.
Last summer, Ambassador John Negroponte announced more than $3 billion of $18 billion in funds for Iraq had to be used for security, and not reconstruction, as was originally intended. But the increase in security personnel didn’t do the trick. In December, Contrack International, lead partner in a $320 million transportation contract, quit because of high security costs.
Additional reporting: David Botti