Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Love Masochism? Vote BushCo

Could four more brutal years of the Dubya nightmare actually be *good* for America?
- By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, September 15, 2004

I have a good friend who believes, gloomily, bitterly, resignedly, that not only are we in for four more years of painful and cheerless BushCo-branded tyranny and misprision and aww-shucks dumb-guy shtick, but also that we are actually at the beginning of a long, brutal, fear-based Republican juggernaut that will last a good 16 more years, at least.

Because this is how long it will take for the current horrific conservative cycle to play itself out, and this would resemble a more typical and historically proven 20-year pendulum swing, in this case one toward neoconservative right-wing hate and homophobia and warmongering that will careen us toward heretofore unprecedented extremes of sadness and isolationism and far too many overweight white people with guns.

But here's the catch. Here's the argument: This dark era, this wicked 20-year dystopia America could now be facing, it might be a very good and necessary thing indeed.

Not, as you might dream, because four more years of BushCo and a dozen more of sneering Republican domination means there will likely be good times ahead. Not because we will enjoy an unprecedented era of peace and stability and generosity and environmental sustenance, humanitarian progress and U.N. cooperation and fiscal responsibility and a generally relaxed and open-minded attitude toward religion and multiculturalism and sex. I mean, don't be ridiculous. Besides, the Clinton era already happened.

But, rather, it will be necessary because the moral and spiritual and physical hemispheres of our existence will quickly become so dire and toxic and the nation's socioeconomic situation will become so extreme and desperate that maybe, just maybe, we will finally learn something.

This is the argument. It is bitter and defeatist and, maybe, if you let your inner devil's advocate speak, a little bit true.

Look at it this way: If Kerry wins now, the nation won't have suffered enough, won't have traveled far enough down the road of right-wing egotism and misogyny and homophobia and religious self-righteousness and deficit mauling and sanctimonious ideology and mangled grammar to really learn anything indelible, nothing that will affect a permanent sea change in our worldview, and we will just continue to limp along, never really healing and never really refocusing our intention and never fully understanding the depths of our dark side.

And, furthermore, if Kerry wins, history might not be as fully and inevitably antagonistic toward BushCo as his short, dreadful despotism deserves. Our national memory is frightfully short. Everyone will think, oh well, it's all over now and the damage has been done and it wasn't all that bad, really, was it?

I mean (they will say), sure Bush is widely regarded as the most politically inept and ethically dangerous and environmentally hostile president in American history, and sure women's rights were hammered and civil rights were shriveled and every single major ally we have in the world now either disrespects us or mistrusts us or openly abhors us like an Olsen twin shuns direct sunlight.

And sure Dubya's sanctimonious and violent warmongering actions in the Middle East have done far, far more to inflame anti-U.S. hatred and have amplified the threat of terrorism against us a thousandfold, but hey, the Texas schlub only lasted four years and now we can move on, right?

Wrong. Call it the fatalist maxim: The only way the national soul can really change is through serious crisis, through near-death apocalypse, through things getting so dire and tormented and swollen that something finally has to give, the psycho-spiritual levee at last has to break. And it won't be the slightest bit pretty. But it will be mandatory. And in the long (long, long) run, ultimately healthy. Sort of like finally purging a massive cancerous lump from your colon. Only not as much fun.

History and the culture, it would seem, bear this view out: We don't shun pollutive monster SUVs until gas prices hit five bucks a gallon. We don't quit smoking until we have a lung removed after coughing up enough blood and phlegm to gag a horse. We don't take care of our bodies until after that second heart attack and we don't ease up on the toxic garbage foods until we get so fat they have to haul us to the lipo appointment with a forklift.

We don't lift a finger to protect the environment until the hurricanes slam down and the heat waves crack the streets and vaporize your precious swimming pool and ruin the ski resorts. And even then we just sort of shrug and move somewhere else.

We ignore the Social Security nightmare until 70 million boomers retire and the infrastructure collapses. We don't touch the truly dire water-supply issue until the reservoirs dry up and the pipelines crack and Earth recoils. We glut on the planet's natural resources until the land is choked and billions go hungry and even then we seem to think, well, why the hell don't they get themselves a nice Costco?

We are, ultimately, a species of stasis and lethargy. We are rarely sympathetically proactive, always violently reactive -- and only when the threat is immediate and overwhelming. We have a fetish for shortsightedness and instant gratification and damn the costs and the impending toll on our stunned mal-educated children. We move, in short, only when we have to.

So then. Maybe it has to happen. Maybe we need four more years of BushCo (though not, let us pray, 16 years of toxic Republicanism) just to see how bad it can get, to snap us out of this fearful lethargy, this ignorant numbness, this weird and tragic belief that it is only through sheer faux-macho posturing and pre-emptive bombings and through decimating foreign relationships and igniting holy wars and trying to prove that our angry acidic well-armed God is better than their angry acidic well-armed God, that we are actually safe and healthy and spiritually attuned.

If the past four years are any indication, four more years of BushCo would be just unimaginably dreadful for America, for the health of the planet, for human rights, for the poor and for women and minorities and gays and non-Christian religions. After all, no one could have predicted, four years ago, just how much damage this boot-lickin' puppet president could have wrought on the culture in such a short time. He seemed so harmless and bumbling and lost -- at first.

But, then again, no one anticipated that he would be handed the golden political grenade that was 9/11, and no one could have imagined the he and his snarling administration would so shamelessly, so heartlessly leverage our most horrific national tragedy for such brutal and oily gain, using it not only as a fear tactic and a justification for multiple wars and as a vicious excuse to quell dissenting voices, but also as an actual political slogan, a veritable trademarked brand for the Republican Party. BushCo '04: Vote for Us, or Die.

By the way, there is another option. The path of direness and cataclysm is certainly available and will almost definitely eventually result in significant change born of pain and war and dread.

But know this, too: The mystics and psychics and the energy workers, the healers and the deep astrologers and the ancient shamanistic texts, all tend to agree that a major shift is already under way on this planet, a massive spiritual/energetic transformation slowly sweeping all of humanity, right now and throughout the coming decade, affecting everyone and everything, ready or not, bringing the world's issues and conflicts and spiritual questions to a critical head.

Here's the bottom line: It is our choice. It is up to us whether this astounding and deeply profound change will be, as my friend's opinion suggests, bloody and violent and full of disease and death and flagrant corporate-sponsored abuse of the planet, or whether it will be, instead, full of light and generosity and awareness and a deep, abiding respect for those who share this pale blue dot with us. Both avenues, after all, will cure the cancer. The question then becomes, Do you want it sliced out with a hatchet, or with a feather?

One look at the cruel and arrogant BushCo agenda, and the answer seems evident: We are already making our choice.


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Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?

C.I.A. Unit on bin Laden is Understaffed,
a Senior Official Tells Lawmakers
By James Risen
The New York Times

Wednesday 15 September 2004

WASHINGTON - Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency has fewer experienced case officers assigned to its headquarters unit dealing with Osama bin Laden than it did at the time of the attacks, despite repeated pleas from the unit's leaders for reinforcements, a senior C.I.A. officer with extensive counterterrorism experience has told Congress.

The bin Laden unit is stretched so thin that it relies on inexperienced officers rotated in and out every 60 to 90 days, and they leave before they know enough to be able to perform any meaningful work, according to a letter the C.I.A. officer has written to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

"There has been no systematic effort to groom Al Qaeda expertise" among C.I.A. officers since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the letter, written by Michael F. Scheuer, the former chief of the agency's bin Laden unit and the author of a best-selling book that is critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war on terror.

Excerpts from Mr. Scheuer's letter were read publicly by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, on Tuesday at a Senate hearing on the confirmation of Porter J. Goss as director of central intelligence. Congressional officials later provided a copy of the letter to The New York Times.

A senior intelligence official who asked not to be identified strenuously disputed Mr. Scheuer's criticism about the resources assigned to the war against Al Qaeda. "The assertions are off the mark," the official said. "There are far more D.O. officers working against the Al Qaeda target both at C.I.A. headquarters and overseas than there were before Sept. 11," the official said, using the abbreviation for the Directorate of Operations, the C.I.A.'s clandestine arm. "Our knowledge of and substantive expertise on Al Qaeda has increased enormously since 9/11. The overall size of the counterterrorism center has more than doubled, and its analytic capabilities have increased dramatically."

In his letter, Mr. Scheuer also described instances in the years before the Sept. 11 attacks in which he said the agency's leadership failed to act decisively in order to target Al Qaeda. "The pattern of decision making I have witnessed," he wrote, "seems to indicate a want of moral courage, an overwhelming concern for career advancement, or an abject inability to distinguish right from wrong."

The intelligence official said Mr. Scheuer had made many of the same claims to independent investigators who had reviewed the C.I.A.'s performance before Sept. 11.

In his letter, Mr. Scheuer the United States had many more opportunities to kill or capture Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks than have ever been made public.

From May 1998 to May 1999, Mr. Scheuer's wrote, "The C.I.A. officers working bin Laden at headquarters and in the field gave the U.S. government about 10 chances to capture bin Laden or kill him with military means. In all instances, the decision was made that the 'intelligence was not good enough.' "

Mr. Scheuer, a 22-year veteran of the C.I.A., served as the first chief of the agency's bin Laden unit from 1996 until 1999.

This year, with the publication of his book, "Imperial Hubris," which he wrote under the name Anonymous, Mr. Scheuer has become the C.I.A.'s leading in-house critic. After he granted news media interviews following the book's publication, the C.I.A. curbed his access to the press. He initially wrote the latest letter in May as an op-ed article. The C.I.A. refused to clear it for publication, but allowed him to send it as a letter to the Congressional oversight committees.

In the letter, Mr. Scheuer provides a number of new details about the history of the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism operations before Sept. 11. For example, he said that the C.I.A.'s bin Laden unit was ordered to be disbanded in the spring of 1998, and that its operations were about to be folded into a small branch office when the C.I.A. director, George J. Tenet, found out about the proposed move. Mr. Tenet reversed the decision just before the August 1998 attacks on two American embassies in East Africa by Al Qaeda. Mr. Scheuer also said that in 1996, the C.I.A.'s bin Laden unit obtained detailed information about Al Qaeda's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. He said that an intelligence report on the matter was initially suppressed within the C.I.A., and was later distributed in an abbreviated form.

"Three officers of the agency's bin Laden cadre protested this decision in writing, and forced an internal review," Mr. Scheuer wrote. "It was only after this review that this report was provided in full to community leaders, analysts and policy makers."


Jump to TO Features for Thursday September 16, 2004


September 12, 2004
1 Cottage + 1 Cottage = 1 Home

HOW a house becomes a home and how that home shapes a life — these are the stories told by Kate Whouley's cottages. There are two of them, joined up like dominos, alike but not the same — married, as Ms. Whouley says — tucked among the evergreens above the edge of a cranberry bog near Barnstable, Mass., on Cape Cod.

Their history is the subject of Ms. Whouley's gentle memoir, "Cottage for Sale, Must Be Moved: A Woman Moves a House to Make a Home," published this month by Commonwealth Editions. In it, Ms. Whouley, 45, deftly explores the themes of independence, pride of place and loss and shows how the achievement of owning a home can be bittersweet for a single woman.

"On the one hand, to have achieved this on your own, that's quite something," she said the other day, falling upon raspberry jam scones on the sunburned deck that joins cottage No. 1 to cottage No. 2. Ms. Whouley, who is a design consultant to the book industry, has loose, shoulder-length hair, an engaging grin and the preternatural youthfulness of her generation. "Yet as you continue to live in the space alone," she continued, "there is this sense of loss, of wondering if something's missing, as full as your life may be."

Nevertheless, a curious byproduct of home ownership can often be agency — providing the potent idea of accepting one's life as it is, rather than as it might be.

Ms. Whouley fell for the first cottage when she was 28 and working for a chain of book and music stores on Cape Cod. "You need some good debt," her young, entrepreneurial boss urged — and then signaled his diminishing interest in his book business by moving its offices to his concrete plant just as Ms. Whouley was moving in to her new house. The move made the office an inhospitable place to work, she said, so she left the job.

"My motive for being self-employed was that I loved the little house," she said. "It was a crossroads, a natural time to move to Boston or New York. I decided to stay." Just three rooms and 750 square feet, this cottage was a sea-coast icon, with white cedar shingles and painted shutters, window boxes and a white picket fence. Ms. Whouley had bought it for $102,500.

Its foundation couldn't support a second story, and in any case Ms. Whouley couldn't fathom disrupting her new landscape and its citizens, the cardinals and catbirds, turtles, woodchucks and quail. Instead, she squeezed her new life, and her new business, into three rooms. The business — advising the book industry on how to design its stores — went into her bedroom, though some of it, like the fax machine, spilled out onto the kitchen counters.

"I always had different schemes for expanding," she said. "At one point I'd had an architect draw plans for a series of pods going up the hill." Instead, her home, like her life, expanded inward, becoming rich in interior detail, fleshed out by personality, experience and necessity. It's a book-lover's house with a squashy couch to plunk down on, and rows of titles set against the unpainted planked walls.

Two old friends from Boston were her Mr. Fix-Its. The friends, Harry, a musician, and Tony, working on his Ph.D in social science, called themselves the Bog Boys and were happy for extra cash, toothsome political debates and "a Cape escape." They built bookshelves, spice racks and even a shelf outside her bedroom window for her cat, Egypt, to spring up upon and bang his head on the glass. In 11 years, Egypt's spring diminished, and the Bog Boys built another shelf below the first.

Cottage No. 2 had its own ad, late in 1999 in the Pennysaver Ms. Whouley reads in lieu of a daily paper — its stories are better, she says. The cottage was part of a cottage community in nearby Harwich that was about to be razed by a developer; the ad's come-on is the basis for the book's title: "Cottage for Sale, $3,000. Must be moved."

For the turn of the millennium, Ms. Whouley threw a party with a theme: each guest drew another's name from a hat, and had to divine the other's deepest wish. Musing on what her own wishes might be, Ms. Whouley writes in her book of her desire at the time to finish the novel she had been working on for five years, and move the cottage she has just met but with which she has fallen "deeply, irretrievably, in love."

"In some ways, the other wishes come with the cottage," she writes. "A place to write, the space for a man to share. As I wish for a successful cottage moving, I am aware I am wishing for much more."

A house move and resettlement makes great copy, with an eccentric cast of characters that cartwheel in and out of the set. (Living single doesn't mean living alone; Ms. Whouley writes of the "concentric circles of community" the cottages created.)

There's Hayden, the laconic mover of houses — his bumper sticker, "Save a Tree, Move a House," is now stuck on the bottom of Ms. Whouley's computer monitor; Vito, the (married) stone mason/fireman with soulful eyes; Ed and John and Peter, the firemen/builders who marry the cottages; and a handful of minor players from a state conservation agency, from the Department of Building, and from a crane company.

A house move gets a police escort, and its own street sign, which thrilled Ms. Whouley. In Yarmouth, on Route 28, she took its picture: "May 24. House Moving Today. Expect Delays."

She and two friends followed her new charge along Route 28, marveling at how Hayden used an enormous trident to lift sagging power lines, at how fast the cottage moved — 35 miles per hour. At home that afternoon, with the new cottage resting at the bottom of her driveway, awaiting the crane that will hoist it into place, Ms. Whouley was giddy and exultant. "I think I had more fun today than I have had in my entire life," she wrote. Harry looked at her quizzically, not sure if she's serious, and then said gently, "It was an awfully good time."

The cottage's ride cost $3,000; it cost more than $15,000 to make its foundation, connect the two cottages with a wide, skylighted hall, onto which the windows of her old bedroom and the windows of what used to the second cottage's kitchen look out, and paint it in the rich, saturated colors that Ms. Whouley uses in her work. The new hall is a deep curry called India Trade, from California Paints; her new office, which takes up most of the new cottage, is a dark turquoise Beacon Blue from Ralph Lauren. The cottage's tiny bedroom is Buttercup, a sunny yellow made by Crayola.

Ms. Whouley's trophy home is the anti-McMansion, a refutation of the granite-and-stainless set. She is living large by living small, and there's now a magazine for her. Cottage Living, a new title that hit the stands this month from Southern Progress, a subsidiary of Time Inc., is aiming squarely "for the woman who isn't as materialistic or aggressive" as the readers of the new shopping titles or the old shelter magazines, explained Eleanor Griffin, the magazine's editor in chief.

"We wanted to create a magazine for the way people really live," Ms. Griffin said. "We discovered that the power of the word `cottage' is very strong. Like `beach' or `chocolate,' it has very positive and magical connotations. And we're expanding it to mean not just a look but a whole lifestyle: informal, personal and romantic."

The union of Ms. Whouley's cottages is complete; her novel, nearly so. Her bedroom is finally just a bedroom. Her new office is light, airy and grownup. There's a long to-do list — paint the trim of the old cottage to match the new, build a set of outdoor stairs for the door at the end of the new hall, reshingle the old cottage in the same red cedar shingles as the new.

"The challenge becomes balancing your devotion to your home, which develops over time," Ms. Whouley said, "with your desire for another kind of job or another person, which takes you away from this place that you have become committed to."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company | H

House Moving....Fun Slide Show

Remember the WMD? Powell Doesn't

Powell: Unlikely WMD Stocks Will Be Found in Iraq
By Arshad Mohammed

Monday 13 September 2004

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Colin Powell, who made the case to the world that pre-war Iraq had stocks of chemical and biological weapons, said on Monday he now thought these will probably never be found.

"I think it's unlikely that we will find any stockpiles," Powell told lawmakers when asked about the intelligence behind his Feb. 5, 2003, U.N. Security Council speech laying out U.S. arguments for the war with Iraq that began six weeks later.

Powell's latest comments appeared to be his most explicit to date suggesting that the central argument for President Bush's decision to invade Iraq - the belief it possessed weapons of mass destruction - was flawed.

As early as January Powell said it was an "open question" whether or not such arms would be found and he conceded the possibility Iraq might not have had any when the war began.

Bush himself had often said that even if no such weapons are found he did the right thing in invading Iraq in March 2003 and toppling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, arguing that the country has been liberated from brutal dictatorship.

U.S. officials have also said that whether or not it had stockpiles in 2003, Iraq was a threat because it had possessed and used chemical weapons in the past, notably to kill 5,000 Iraqi Kurds in the town of Halabja in 1988.

The war in Iraq, in which more than 1,000 U.S. troops have died, and the violent insurgency that has developed since the U.S. invasion are a major issues in Bush's reelection battle against Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Powell made his comments as Charles Duelfer, the CIA-named leader of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is working on a report about his findings that was expected to be completed in the next few weeks.

Duelfer's predecessor, David Kay, said as he left the post in January that he believed there were no large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction when Washington went to war.

While he had reservations about the state of Iraq's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons when he spoke before the U.N. Security Council in February 2003, Powell insisted at that time that it had stocks of both biological and chemical weapons.

"There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more," Powell said then, at one point holding up a vial of simulated biological agent - an image broadcast around the world.

"Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent," he said at the time.


Paul Krugman

Taking On the Myth
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Wednesday 14 September 2004

On Sunday, a celebrating crowd gathered around a burning U.S. armored vehicle. Then a helicopter opened fire; a child and a journalist for an Arabic TV news channel were among those killed. Later, the channel repeatedly showed the journalist doubling over and screaming, "I'm dying; I'm dying."

Such scenes, which enlarge the ranks of our enemies by making America look both weak and brutal, are inevitable in the guerrilla war President Bush got us into. Osama bin Laden must be smiling.

U.S. news organizations are under constant pressure to report good news from Iraq. In fact, as a Newsweek headline puts it, "It's worse than you think." Attacks on coalition forces are intensifying and getting more effective; no-go zones, which the military prefers to call "insurgent enclaves," are spreading - even in Baghdad. We're losing ground.

And the losses aren't only in Iraq. Al Qaeda has regrouped. The invasion of Iraq, intended to demonstrate American power, has done just the opposite: nasty regimes around the world feel empowered now that our forces are bogged down. When a Times reporter asked Mr. Bush about North Korea's ongoing nuclear program, "he opened his palms and shrugged."

Yet many voters still believe that Mr. Bush is doing a good job protecting America.

If Senator John Kerry really has advisers telling him not to attack Mr. Bush on national security, he should dump them. When Dick Cheney is saying vote Bush or die, responding with speeches about jobs and health care doesn't cut it.

Mr. Kerry should counterattack by saying that Mr. Bush is endangering the nation by subordinating national security to politics.

In early 2002 the Bush administration, already focused on Iraq, ignored pleas to commit more forces to Afghanistan. As a result, the Taliban is resurgent, and Osama is still out there.

In the buildup to the Iraq war, commanders wanted a bigger invasion force to help secure the country. But civilian officials, eager to prove that wars can be fought on the cheap, refused. And that's one main reason our soldiers are still dying in Iraq.

This past April, U.S. forces, surely acting on White House orders after American television showed gruesome images of dead contractors, attacked Falluja. Lt. Gen. James Conway, the Marine commander on the scene, opposed "attacking out of revenge" but was overruled - and he was overruled again with an equally disastrous decision to call off the attack after it had begun. "Once you commit," General Conway said, "you got to stay committed." But Mr. Bush, faced with the prospect of a casualty toll that would have hurt his approval rating, didn't.

Can Mr. Kerry, who voted to authorize the Iraq war, criticize it? Yes, by pointing out that he voted only to give Mr. Bush a big stick. Once that stick had forced Saddam to let W.M.D. inspectors back in, there was no need to invade. And Mr. Kerry should keep pounding Mr. Cheney, who is trying to cover for the absence of W.M.D. by lying, yet again, about Saddam's ties to Al Qaeda.

Some pundits are demanding that Mr. Kerry produce a specific plan for Iraq:

A demand they never make of Mr. Bush. Mr. Kerry should turn the tables, and demand to know what - aside from pretending that things are going fine;
Mr. Bush intends to do about the spiraling disaster. And Mr. Kerry can ask why anyone should trust a leader who refuses to replace the people who created that disaster because he thinks it's bad politics to admit a mistake.
Mr. Kerry can argue that he wouldn't have overruled the commanders who had wanted to keep the pressure on Al Qaeda, or dismissed warnings from former Gen. Eric Shinseki, then the Army's chief of staff, that peacekeeping would require a large force. He wouldn't have ignored General Conway's warnings about the dangers of storming into Fallujah, or overruled his protests about calling off that assault halfway through.

On the other hand, he can argue that he would have fired Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary who ridiculed General Shinseki. And he would definitely have fired Donald Rumsfeld for the failure to go in with enough troops, the atrocities at Abu Ghraib and more.

The truth is that Mr. Bush, by politicizing the "war on terror," is putting America at risk. And Mr. Kerry has to say that.


William Rivers Pitt on the history of Terrorism

When the Rabbits Get a Gun
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Wednesday 15 September 2004

This is the comforting fiction: Osama bin Laden is a monster who sprang whole from the fetid mire. He had no childhood, no influences, no education, no experiences to form his view of the world. He did not exist, and then he did, a vessel into which the universe poured the essence of evil. It is a simple, straightforward story of a man who hates freedom and kills for the pure joy of feeling innocent blood drip from his fingers.

This is the fairy tale by which children are put to bed at night. As frightening and terrifying as bin Laden may be, it is a comfort to imagine him as having been chiseled from the dust. The fiction of his existence, absent of detail, makes him unique, a singular entity not to be replicated. Osama bin Laden becomes truly scary only when the actual context of his life is made clear, where he is from, what he has seen, and why those things motivated him to do what he does.

Osama bin Laden becomes truly scary when the realization comes that he is not unique, not singular, not an invention of the universe. He becomes truly scary when the realization comes that there are millions of people who have seen what he has seen, who feel what he feels, and why. He becomes truly scary when the realization comes that he is a creation of the last fifty years of American foreign and economic policy, and that he has an army behind him created by the same influences. Simply, Osama bin Laden becomes truly scary when the realization comes that he can be, and has been, and continues to be, replicated.

Osama bin Laden, after being educated at Oxford University, learned how to kill effectively while working as an agent of American Cold War policy in Afghanistan. He was a helpful American ally throughout the 1980s as a ruthless and wealthy warrior against the Soviet Union. It was the desire of the American government to deliver to the Soviets their own Vietnam, to arrange a hopeless military situation which would demoralize the Soviet military and bleed that nation dry.

Osama bin Laden played the part of the Viet Cong, and he was good at it. With the help of the American government, he was able to create an army of true believers in Afghanistan. Our government believed that if one bin Laden was good, a hundred would be better, and a thousand better again, in the fight against the Soviets. So strong was this group America helped to create that it became known as 'The Base.' Translated into the local dialect, 'The Base' is known as al Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden learned something else besides the art of killing while he was working as an ally of the United States. He learned that given enough time, enough money, enough violence, enough perseverance, and enough fellow warriors, a superpower can be brought to its knees and erased from the book of history.

Bin Laden was at the center of one of the most important events of the 20th century: The fall of the Soviet Union. Political pundits like to credit Reagan and the senior Bush for the collapse of that regime, but out in front of them, in the mountains of Afghanistan, was Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, the sharp end of our sword, who did their job very well. Today, the United States faces this group and its leader, armed with their well-learned and America-taught lessons: How to kill massively and how to annihilate a superpower.

Osama bin Laden learned a few other things before he became the monster under our collective bed. When Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein began to make his move against Kuwait, bin Laden was outraged. Hussein was a despised name on the lips of bin Laden and his followers; here was an unbelieving heretic who spoke the words of Allah, a self-styled Socialist who pretended piety, a ruthless dictator who killed every Islamic fundamentalist he could get his hands on.

Osama bin Laden went to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, home of the holiest sites of Islam. The royal family was not to be found anywhere on bin Laden's list of friends at the time. A shrewd observer of local politics, bin Laden knew that the Saudi government enjoyed having the Palestinians living in squalor, bereft of homeland and hope, because it distracted the fundamentalists within Saudi Arabia from focusing on the inequities within their own country. With the crooking of a single oil-rich finger, the Saudi royals could solve the Palestinian problem. Their refusal to do so fed bin Laden's rage, for in his mind, they were aiding and abetting what he saw as an intolerable Israeli apartheid.

Bin Laden asked Fahd to help him resurrect the army that fought with him against the Soviets so that he could fight Saddam Hussein. Here again is an irony of the times: As in the 1980s, Osama bin Laden was spoiling for a fight against an enemy of the United States - for his own purposes, to be sure, but it is difficult to avoid a shake of the head when considering all of the recent rhetoric about a Saddam/Osama alliance.

Fahd turned bin Laden down, and allowed the American military to set up bases in Saudi Arabia for use in what became known as Operation Desert Storm. According to the version of Islam practiced by bin Laden, it is rank heresy to allow soldiers from an infidel army to occupy the land of Mecca and Medina. Bin Laden learned from this that regimes in the Middle East which claim fealty to Islam, but which in fact act at the behest of the Unites States, were not to be trusted. The royal family of Saudi Arabia joined the list of bin Laden's enemies, along with the United States, Saddam Hussein, and Israel.

It was Israel, proxy of the Unites States, which taught Osama bin Laden what could be considered the final, irrevocable lesson of his life. In April of 1996, Israel began a military action against Beirut and southern Lebanon called Operation Grapes of Wrath. "It is quite obvious," wrote Israeli writer Israel Shahak at the time, "that the first and most important Israeli aim to be established in the 'Grapes of Wrath' is to establish its sovereignty over Lebanon - to be exercised in a comparable manner to its control over the Gaza Strip."

On April 13, an ambulance driver named Abbas Jiha was rushing patients to a hospital in Sidon. Civilians caught in the crossfire of 'Grapes of Wrath' begged him to take them to Sidon, and so he squeezed his wife, his four children and ten others into his ambulance. An Israeli helicopter targeted his ambulance and fired two missiles. The ambulance was blasted sixty feet into the air, and Jiha was thrown clear. When he made it back to the remains of his rig, he found his nine year old daughter, his wife, and four others dead within the flaming wreckage.

On April 18, the small village of Qana was flooded with some 800 refugees from the fighting who were seeking protection from UN forces there. At about two in the afternoon, the village came under bombardment by Israeli 'proximity shells' - antipersonnel weapons which explode several meters above the ground and shower anyone below with razor-sharp shrapnel. The result was a massacre, a blood-drenched scene of shredded humanity.

Robert Fisk, the most decorated and reputable journalist in Britain, was there. "It was a massacre," he wrote. "Israel's slaughter of civilians in this 10-day offensive - 206 by last night - has been so cavalier, so ferocious, that not a Lebanese will forgive this massacre. There had been the ambulance attacked on Saturday, the sisters killed in Yohmor the day before, the 2-year-old girl decapitated by an Israeli missile four days ago. And earlier yesterday, the Israelis had slaughtered a family of 12 - the youngest was a four-day-old baby - when Israeli helicopter pilots fired missiles into their home."

These stories barely made a dent in the American press in 1996, but were widely reported at length by both European and Middle Eastern media outlets. Photographs of headless babies and slaughtered civilians reached far and wide, inflaming a region already filled with rage against Israel and America. From this time on, Osama bin Laden used Qana as a rallying cry against what he called the Israeli-United States alliance. The rest, as they say, is history.

Osama bin Laden is a damned murderer of innocents, with thousands of notches in his belt. His actions are indefensible by any measure. Yet to dismiss him as something other than the creation of his experiences, to categorize him as some unique freak whose motivations are beyond comprehension, is to deny the most important dilemma that faces our world. Monsters are not born. They are made.

On Sunday, September 12, 2004, a large crowd of Iraqi civilians came under fire from U.S. attack helicopters on Haifa Street in Baghdad. An American Bradley Fighting Vehicle had been attacked and destroyed by 'insurgents' fighting the ongoing occupation of their country, and the civilians - after more than a year of deprivation and violence which came on the heels of a decade of deprivation and violence - were dancing on top of and beside the vehicle. 13 of them were killed and dozens more wounded. A reporter from the UK Guardian named Ghaith Abdul-Ahad was there, and was wounded in the attack.

"One of the three men piled together," wrote Abdul-Ahad, "raised his head and looked around the empty streets with a look of astonishment on his face. He then looked at the boy in front of him, turned to the back and looked at the horizon again. Then he slowly started moving his head to the ground, rested his head on his arms and stretched his hands towards something that he could see. It was the guy who had been beating his chest earlier, trying to help his brother. He wanted help but no one helped. He was just there dying in front of me. Time didn't exist. The streets were empty and silent and the men lay there dying together. He slid down to the ground, and after five minutes was flat on the street."

The survivors of this attack, like the survivors of Qana, were probably not terrorists before the fire came raining down. It is a safe bet they are now, after seeing what they have seen, willing to trade their lives to see Americans die. They have seen the massacre of civilians, and so believe that civilians are fair game in this dirtiest of wars. They are monsters now, not born, but made.

The story of the 20th century Middle East is one of American action. We created Saddam Hussein, and then twice attacked him, leaving nearly two million civilians dead in the process. We created the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and bent our policies towards defending that house of cards and its precious oil. We created the Shah of Iran, then lost him, and propped up Hussein to checkmate our failure. We created Israel, a nation that has become our front line against the hostilities we manufactured in the region through our relentless military and economic meddling, and supported them militarily and financially as they committed acts of barbarism. We have paid great lip service to the plight of the Palestinians, but have always deferred to Israel.

More recently, we invaded Iraq on the pretext of destroying weapons of mass destruction which, according to recent comments by Secretary of State Powell, do not actually exist. We accused Saddam Hussein of collaborating with bin Laden, and of being involved in 9/11, despite the fact that bin Laden has wanted Hussein dead for years. We killed over 10,000 Iraqi civilians. We raped and tortured Iraqi men, women and children in the dungeons of Abu Ghraib. All of our poor history in the region has been distilled into that one nation, a place that now manufactures bin Laden allies by the truckload.

We created Osama bin Laden. We taught him to kill, we showed him how to destroy a superpower, and we gave him a face-first lesson in American interventionism in his back yard. Whatever predispositions towards violence and murder existed in him when he was born became honed, refined and perfected as he watched our government storm the policies, rulers and innocent people of the Middle East like so many rabbits. We have created millions more like him.

We are learning now that the game isn't much fun when the rabbits get a gun.