Almost as soon as President Bush took office, he decided to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government. This according to former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill who was a member of Bush’s cabinet at the time. O’Neill said “From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was all about finding a way to do it.” O’Neill, who was fired last year as Treasury Secretary, has come public this week with stinging criticism of President Bush and his handling of Iraq and the economy. In cabinet meetings, O’Neill said, the President acted “like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people.” Bush usually had nothing to say and allowed others to fix the agenda. O’Neill said this forced top officials to act “on little more than hunches about what the president might think.” O’Neill described his first meeting with Bush like this: “I went in with a long list of things to talk about, and I thought to engage on… I was surprised that it turned out to be me talking, and the president just listening … As I recall, it was mostly a monologue.” O’Neill is the main source for The Price of Loyalty, a new book written by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind. In addition he spoke this week with 60 Minutes and Time Magazine. O’Neill, who also served as a member of the National Security Council, says the administration never had evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
In Iraq U.S. officials now believe Iraqi forces were responsible for shooting down a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter last week. Nine U.S. soldiers died in the attack near Fallujah.
In Armarah, British and Iraqi troops opened fire on a group of protesters killing six civilians. The Iraqis had stormed the mayor’s office and home protesting the high level of unemployment. According to Agence France Press, the jobless rate in Iraq may be as high as 50 percent.
On Sunday Iraq’s most senior Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, warned of increased political tensions and violence if direct elections are not held within months. Sistani has refused to back the U.S. plan to use indirect elections to form a transitional Iraq assembly that would then form an interim government.
On Friday the Pentagon announced Saddam Hussein was officially a prisoner of war. This dictates how he will be treated and awards him access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Pentagon’s move was met by skepticism in Iraq because it may block Iraqi plans to try the former dictator. The Geneva agreement say POWs can be tried for crimes against humanity only by an international tribunal or the occupying power, which in Iraq is the United States.
In Tokyo Sunday, the BBC reports nearly 2,000 people gathered to protest Japan’s plans to send forces to Iraq. Simultaneous rallies were held in 21 other cities.
A new report from the U.S. Army War College is calling for the Bush administration to greatly scale back the scope of its so-called war on terror because the Army is near a breaking point. According to the Washington Post, the study likens the scale of U.S. ambitions in the war on terrorism to Adolf Hitler’s overreach in World War II. The report reads “A cardinal rule of strategy is to keep your enemies to a manageable number. The Germans were defeated in two world wars … because their strategic ends outran their available means.” The report charges the invasion of Iraq was unnecessary since Saddam Hussein did not pose an immediate threat. The director of the War College said the report does not necessarily represent the views of the Army or the Pentagon but he said “The article really, really needs to be considered.”
Meanwhile the Associated Press is reporting a team of U.S. forces have been sent to the West African nations of Mauritania and Senegal. The State Department claimed the U.S. sent the troops after learning of threats against American interests in the region. The troops will reportedly help increase security along the nations borders.
In Iran reformist legislators mounted protests Sunday after dozens of them were barred from seeking reelection next month. The hard-line Guardian Council banned at least 80 incumbent deputies and thousands of other candidates in a move criticized by President Mohammad Khatami, who was voted into office in 1997 on a reform platform. The Guardian Council screens all candidates for national office. The Council is made up of 12 members, including six clerics. The entire Council is appointed either directly or indirectly by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Iran’s supreme leader.
On the campaign front most of the Democratic candidates spent the weekend in Iowa. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin endorsed Howard Dean. The state’s largest newspaper the Des Moines Register backed Senator John Edwards. Three others papers backed Senator John Kerry.
The Palestine News Network is reporting that the Israeli government is now barring foreigners into the West Bank without written permission. A similar measure was put in place for the Gaza Strip last year.
The Washington Post is reporting that the government is moving a highly controversial screening program at the nation’s airports known as CAPPS2. Under the system, airlines would be forced to hand over detailed passenger information to the government. Then federal airport screeners would do extensive background checks on each passenger. Each passenger will be scored with a number and a color that ranks their perceived threat to the aircraft. According to the Post, a “red” rating means a passenger will be prohibited from boarding. “Yellow” indicates that a passenger will receive additional scrutiny at the checkpoint and a “green” rating paves the way for a standard trip through security. The system may be put in place as early as next month. Last year Delta Airlines began testing a pilot program but dropped out after privacy advocates mounted anti-Delta protests.
Meanwhile the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department have asked the Federal Communications Commission to give the government the ability to eavesdrop on all voice conversations carried across the Internet. The FCC is being asked to order Internet companies to rewrite their networks to allow for the surveillance.
Jesse Jackson Launches Wall Street Campaign
The Rev. Jesse Jackson called on Sunday for major corporations to begin investing at least 5 percent of its assets in minority-owned investment firms. Speaking in Harlem, Jackson noted how none of IBM’s $66 billion pension fund or General Motors $100 billion pension fund is managed by African-American money managers. Jackson said “We fought a few years ago to get corporations to divest and disinvest to end South African apartheid. We must now fight to get them to invest to end American apartheid.”