Randy's Corner Deli Library

16 October 2007

The ‘Good Germans’ Among Us

October 14, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
The ‘Good Germans’ Among Us

“BUSH lies” doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves.

Ten days ago The Times unearthed yet another round of secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture. President Bush gave his standard response: “This government does not torture people.” Of course, it all depends on what the meaning of “torture” is. The whole point of these memos is to repeatedly recalibrate the definition so Mr. Bush can keep pleading innocent.

By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques have a grotesque provenance: “Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.”

Still, the drill remains the same. The administration gives its alibi (Abu Ghraib was just a few bad apples). A few members of Congress squawk. The debate is labeled “politics.” We turn the page.

There has been scarcely more response to the similarly recurrent story of apparent war crimes committed by our contractors in Iraq. Call me cynical, but when Laura Bush spoke up last week about the human rights atrocities in Burma, it seemed less an act of selfless humanitarianism than another administration maneuver to change the subject from its own abuses.

As Mrs. Bush spoke, two women, both Armenian Christians, were gunned down in Baghdad by contractors underwritten by American taxpayers. On this matter, the White House has been silent. That incident followed the Sept. 16 massacre in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, where 17 Iraqis were killed by security forces from Blackwater USA, which had already been implicated in nearly 200 other shooting incidents since 2005. There has been no accountability. The State Department, Blackwater’s sugar daddy for most of its billion dollars in contracts, won’t even share its investigative findings with the United States military and the Iraqi government, both of which have deemed the killings criminal.

The gunmen who mowed down the two Christian women worked for a Dubai-based company managed by Australians, registered in Singapore and enlisted as a subcontractor by an American contractor headquartered in North Carolina. This is a plot out of “Syriana” by way of “Chinatown.” There will be no trial. We will never find out what happened. A new bill passed by the House to regulate contractor behavior will have little effect, even if it becomes law in its current form.

We can continue to blame the Bush administration for the horrors of Iraq — and should. Paul Bremer, our post-invasion viceroy and the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts, issued the order that allows contractors to elude Iraqi law, a folly second only to his disbanding of the Iraqi Army. But we must also examine our own responsibility for the hideous acts committed in our name in a war where we have now fought longer than we did in the one that put Verschärfte Vernehmung on the map.

I have always maintained that the American public was the least culpable of the players during the run-up to Iraq. The war was sold by a brilliant and fear-fueled White House propaganda campaign designed to stampede a nation still shellshocked by 9/11. Both Congress and the press — the powerful institutions that should have provided the checks, balances and due diligence of the administration’s case — failed to do their job. Had they done so, more Americans might have raised more objections. This perfect storm of democratic failure began at the top.

As the war has dragged on, it is hard to give Americans en masse a pass. We are too slow to notice, let alone protest, the calamities that have followed the original sin.

In April 2004, Stars and Stripes first reported that our troops were using makeshift vehicle armor fashioned out of sandbags, yet when a soldier complained to Donald Rumsfeld at a town meeting in Kuwait eight months later, he was successfully pilloried by the right. Proper armor procurement lagged for months more to come. Not until early this year, four years after the war’s first casualties, did a Washington Post investigation finally focus the country’s attention on the shoddy treatment of veterans, many of them victims of inadequate armor, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals.

We first learned of the use of contractors as mercenaries when four Blackwater employees were strung up in Falluja in March 2004, just weeks before the first torture photos emerged from Abu Ghraib. We asked few questions. When reports surfaced early this summer that our contractors in Iraq (180,000, of whom some 48,000 are believed to be security personnel) now outnumber our postsurge troop strength, we yawned. Contractor casualties and contractor-inflicted casualties are kept off the books.

It was always the White House’s plan to coax us into a blissful ignorance about the war. Part of this was achieved with the usual Bush-Cheney secretiveness, from the torture memos to the prohibition of photos of military coffins. But the administration also invited our passive complicity by requiring no shared sacrifice. A country that knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch was all too easily persuaded there could be a free war.

Instead of taxing us for Iraq, the White House bought us off with tax cuts. Instead of mobilizing the needed troops, it kept a draft off the table by quietly purchasing its auxiliary army of contractors to finesse the overstretched military’s holes. With the war’s entire weight falling on a small voluntary force, amounting to less than 1 percent of the population, the rest of us were free to look the other way at whatever went down in Iraq.

We ignored the contractor scandal to our own peril. Ever since Falluja this auxiliary army has been a leading indicator of every element of the war’s failure: not only our inadequate troop strength but also our alienation of Iraqi hearts and minds and our rampant outsourcing to contractors rife with Bush-Cheney cronies and campaign contributors. Contractors remain a bellwether of the war’s progress today. When Blackwater was briefly suspended after the Nisour Square catastrophe, American diplomats were flatly forbidden from leaving the fortified Green Zone. So much for the surge’s great “success” in bringing security to Baghdad.

Last week Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq war combat veteran who directs Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, sketched for me the apocalypse to come. Should Baghdad implode, our contractors, not having to answer to the military chain of command, can simply “drop their guns and go home.” Vulnerable American troops could be deserted by those “who deliver their bullets and beans.”

This potential scenario is just one example of why it’s in our national self-interest to attend to Iraq policy the White House counts on us to ignore. Our national character is on the line too. The extralegal contractors are both a slap at the sovereignty of the self-governing Iraq we supposedly support and an insult to those in uniform receiving as little as one-sixth the pay. Yet it took mass death in Nisour Square to fix even our fleeting attention on this long-metastasizing cancer in our battle plan.

Similarly, it took until December 2005, two and a half years after “Mission Accomplished,” for Mr. Bush to feel sufficient public pressure to acknowledge the large number of Iraqi casualties in the war. Even now, despite his repeated declaration that “America will not abandon the Iraqi people,” he has yet to address or intervene decisively in the tragedy of four million-plus Iraqi refugees, a disproportionate number of them children. He feels no pressure from the American public to do so, but hey, he pays lip service to Darfur.

Our moral trajectory over the Bush years could not be better dramatized than it was by a reunion of an elite group of two dozen World War II veterans in Washington this month. They were participants in a top-secret operation to interrogate some 4,000 Nazi prisoners of war. Until now, they have kept silent, but America’s recent record prompted them to talk to The Washington Post.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an M.I.T. physicist whose interrogation of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, took place over a chessboard. George Frenkel, 87, recalled that he “never laid hands on anyone” in his many interrogations, adding, “I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.”

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.

Proud atheists - America's Brainiest Jewish (Atheist) Couple Speak

Ultimately, I wonder how people as smart as this can ever be happy if they always look for proofs and rationality in everything that they do. And if, as they admit, scientists cannot explain everything, it is a little odd how they can so proudly and affirmatively state that "there is no God" as atheists must do. I wonder how the Jewish sages try to explain, if they do, the existence of God. While Pinker and Goldstein are certainly brilliant (I have several of their books) the question of whether there is or is not a God (and they are atheists, which means that they have decided that there is no God) is not something that is provable by logic or mathematics. We are interested in the attempts to prove or disprove God because we are interested in attempts to prove what we take as a matter of faith. These people can talk until they are blue in the face, but at some point, they run into the logical problem of reductio ad absurdum -- reducing something to its lowest, absurd point. How, for example, do you explain exactly how life was originally formed on earth? Scientists will tell you that there was a soupy broth that produced the first life-forms as we understand it. I accept that as a matter of scientific proof. But where and how did the soupy broth come from? There is no explaining that and it is an article of faith with me that it appeared in separate forms by God's hand, just as does the sun create a beautiful scene every morning and every night. I am afraid that brainiacs like Pinker and Goldstein are so busy trying to prove that what they see has a reason or must somehow, even theoretically, be observable they miss the unknowable beauty of the awesomeness of a sunset. One fundamental question arises for me: How do the Jewish sages or do current Jewish thinkers deal with the exactitude which scientific analysis has brought to bear on the issue of the origins of existence and life? While I have frankly accepted God as a matter of faith, I would like to know how Jews perceive and think about the ultimate source of our existence and meaning.

Randy Shiner

Proud atheists
Steven Pinker and Rebecca Goldstein, America's brainiest couple, confess that belonging to one of America's most reviled subcultures doesn't mean they believe scientists can explain everything.
By Steve Paulson

Oct. 15, 2007 | "I've always been obsessed with the mind-body problem," says philosopher Renee Feuer Himmel. "It's the essential problem of metaphysics, about both the world out there and the world in here."

Renee is the fictional alter ego of novelist and philosopher Rebecca Goldstein. In her 1983 novel, "The Mind-Body Problem," Goldstein laid out her own metaphysical concerns, which include the mystery of consciousness and the struggle between reason and emotion. As a novelist, she's drawn to the quirky lives of scientists and philosophers. She's also fascinated by history's great rationalist thinkers. She's written nonfiction accounts of the 17th-century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza and the 20th-century mathematician-philosopher Kurt Gödel.

Perhaps it's not surprising that Goldstein would end up living with Steven Pinker, a leading theorist of the mind. He's a cognitive psychologist at Harvard; she's a philosopher who's taught at several colleges. Although they come out of different disciplines, they mine much of the same territory: language, consciousness, and the tension between science and religion. If Boston is ground zero for intellectuals, then Pinker and Goldstein must rank as one of America's brainiest power couples.

With a series of bestselling books on language and human nature, including "How the Mind Works," Pinker has emerged as his generation's most influential cognitive theorist. His work on the evolution of language, and how humans possess an innate capacity for language, revolutionized linguistics. His writing about the nature/nurture debate helped shift prevailing thinking away from seeing human nature as a blank slate.

Pinker and Goldstein share a basic philosophical outlook, but I discovered that their views diverge somewhat when it comes to the "science and religion" debate. In a wide-ranging joint interview, we talked about animals and language, atheism and astrology, Iraq and faith, and their most recent books, Goldstein's "Betraying Spinoza" and Pinker's "The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature."

Steve, do you think language is what makes our species unique? Is this the defining trait of human beings?

PINKER: It's certainly one of the distinctive traits of Homo sapiens. But I don't think language could have evolved if it was the only distinctive trait. It goes hand in hand with our ability to develop tools and technologies, and also with the fact that we cooperate with nonrelatives. I think this triad -- language, social cooperation and technological know-how -- is what makes humans unusual. And they probably evolved in tandem, each of them multiplying the value of the other two.

You have a fascinating observation in your new book about causation. You say the way we construct sentences, particularly verbs, has a lot to do with how we understand cause and effect.

PINKER: That's right. For example, if John grabs the doorknob and pulls the door open, we say, "John opened the door." If John opens the window and a breeze pushes the door open, we don't say, "John opened the door." We say something like, "What John did caused the door to open." We use that notion of causation in assigning responsibility. So all of those crazy court cases that happen in real life and are depicted on "Law and Order," where you have to figure out if the person who pulled the trigger was really responsible for the death of the victim, tap into the same model of causation.

I talk about the case of James Garfield, who was felled by an assassin's bullet, but lingered on his deathbed for three months and eventually succumbed to an infection because of the hare-brained practices of his inept doctors. At the trial of the murderer, the accused assassin said, "I just shot him. The doctors killed him." The jury disagreed and he went to the gallows. It's an excellent case of how the notion of direct causation is very much on our minds as we assign moral and legal responsibility.

Rebecca, you've written a great deal about competing philosophical theories of language. Do you think our mind can function apart from language? Or does language define our reality?

GOLDSTEIN: Obviously, much of our thinking is being filtered through language. But it's always seemed to me that there has to be an awful lot of thinking that's done prior to the acquisition of language. And I often have trouble translating my thoughts into language. I think about that a lot. It often seems to me that the thoughts are there and some words are flitting through my mind when I'm thinking. So there's something very separate between thinking and language. But that might vary from mind to mind.

As a novelist, this must be something you think about.

GOLDSTEIN: Very much so. My novels begin with a sense of the book, a sense of the place, and then I have to find the language that does justice to it. Strangely, I find that in my philosophical work as well. And in math; I've done a lot of math. I have the intuition, I'll see it, and then I have to translate it into language. So I've always had a keen sense that thought does not require language.

What do you make of the language studies of various animals -- for instance, the bonobo Kanzi, who's learned to piece together simple sentences by pressing lexigrams. Is that real language?

PINKER: It isn't a scientific question whether something is real language. That's really a question of how far you want to extend the word "language." I think the scientific question is: Are the chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas who are trained by humans doing something that's fundamentally the same as what children are doing when they first acquire language? I suspect they are quite different. You need experimenters hell-bent on training chimpanzees, whereas with children, you can't help but acquire a language if you're a child in a human community. Indeed, children thrown together in a community that doesn't have a language of its own will invent one in order to communicate with each other. And while it's impressive that chimps have been trained to learn a few dozen or even a couple hundred symbols or signs, the ability to combine them is quite rudimentary and forced.

You each dedicated your most recent books to each other, and I'm curious about how your relationship has influenced your work. You've both written about language and human nature, about religion and the power of reason. Do you talk about these things around the dinner table?

GOLDSTEIN: [Laughs.] Yes, there's no way around it. Our work spills over into our lives, and our lives spill over into our work.

PINKER: But that's not the only thing we talk about.

Would you say your common interests are partly what brought you together?

GOLDSTEIN: Oh yes, completely. Actually, we met through each other's work. I was a great fan of Steve's work. And then I discovered that he had cited me in one of his books. It was my unusual use of an irregular verb. So it was completely through our work and my tremendous interest in Steve's work that we first came to know each other. I don't know if I should say this, but when I first met Steve in the flesh, I said that the way he thinks had so completely changed the way I think -- particularly what I had learned from him about cognitive psychology and evolutionary psychology -- that I said, "I don't think I've had my mind so shaken up by any thinker since [18th-century philosopher] David Hume." And he very modestly said, "That can't be the case." But it was the case. So I can certainly say that Steve has profoundly influenced the way I think.

PINKER: I've certainly been influenced by Rebecca as well. Our connection isn't just that we met through an irregular verb, which sounds like the ultimate literary romance of two nerds finding each other. [Goldstein laughs.] Rebecca as a philosopher is a strong defender of realism -- the idea that there is a real world that we can come to know --which emboldened me to press that theme in my own writings, even though people often say that we just construct reality through language. And the topic of consciousness -- how the mind emerges from the body, and what makes the three-pound organ that we call the brain actually experience things subjectively -- is a theme that runs through both my nonfiction and Rebecca's fiction and her philosophical writings.

Do you show each other your articles and books as you're writing them?

GOLDSTEIN: Yes, we've each seen each other's work in early drafts and in the final work. But this is the first time I've ever shared my work with anybody while it's happening. I'm very private about my work. So this has been a very new experience for me. Now I'm wondering how I ever wrote any books without having Steve read them.

Are you very open in your criticisms and suggestions about each other's work?

PINKER: Very much. But we're not brutal.

GOLDSTEIN: We can be brutal. [Laughs.] Sweetly brutal.

PINKER: But yes, we each say, "This isn't working. This joke isn't funny. I don't think your readers are going to understand what you're trying to get at here."

Rebecca, the dedication in your Spinoza book reads, "For Steve, despite Spinoza." Can you explain that?

GOLDSTEIN: Spinoza wasn't a great fan of romantic love. He didn't think that the life of reason had any place for romantic love. And Spinoza's methodology is strictly reductive. He tries to prove everything, starting with definitions and axioms. And he has this rigorous proof that romantic love will always end badly.

Does that mean he did not experience romantic love himself?

GOLDSTEIN: He didn't, as far as we know. There are some rumors about his landlady's daughter, who went to another young man when he gave her a pearl necklace. But no, Spinoza's view about love is all directed toward love of truth and God and nature. It's not directed toward another person. To love another person is to want desperately for them to reciprocate. And that's not something we have complete control over. Therefore, it's irrational. He argues that romantic love just increases your fragility and vulnerability and therefore you ought not to do it.

In your book on Spinoza, you talk about your own religious education in an orthodox Jewish school, and how Spinoza was trotted out by one of your teachers as precisely the kind of heretical thinker that good Jewish girls should avoid. But this seemed to make you especially interested in him. Why do you still like Spinoza so much?

GOLDSTEIN: It's interesting. It's almost like there are two different Spinozas. And I really didn't bring them together until I wrote the book. At my very orthodox all-girls high school, Spinoza was presented to us as a kind of cautionary tale: This is what can go wrong if you ask the wrong questions. I was in a school that discouraged one from even going on to college. And philosophy was absolutely the worst thing you could study because it does ask you to question everything. Then there was the Spinoza I came in contact with when I was a professional philosopher. Spinoza is a metaphysician of a very extravagant sort. He wants to deduce everything through pure reason. And that was a kind of philosopher that I was also taught to dismiss and disdain. So both sides of my training -- the orthodox Jewish training, the analytic philosophy training -- pushed me to dismiss Spinoza.

I also like the grandeur of his ambition. He really does believe that we can save ourselves through being rational. And I believe in that. I believe that if we have any hope at all, it's through trying to be rigorously objective about ourselves and our place in the world. We have to do that. We have to submit ourselves to objectivity, to rationality. I think that's what it is about Spinoza. He's just such a rationalist.

Spinoza certainly dismissed the religion he'd been exposed to. Do both of you consider yourselves atheists?

[pause] GOLDSTEIN: Yes.


GOLDSTEIN: Proud atheists.

PINKER: There, we said it. [Laughs.]

So you have to hesitate for a moment before you use that dirty word?

PINKER: Atheists are the most reviled minority in the United States, so it's no small matter to come out and say it.

I find it puzzling how the recent atheist manifestos by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens have all turned into bestsellers in a country that's overwhelmingly religious. According to various polls, half of all Americans believe the Bible is the literal truth. A recent Newsweek poll found that 91 percent believe in God. How do you explain the enormous popularity of these books?

PINKER: Part of it is that the people who buy books -- at least that kind of highbrow trade book -- are not a random sample of the population. The opinions sampled by these polls are probably soft. When people are asked a question, they don't just turn a flashlight into their data bank of beliefs and read out what they see. When people say, "Yes, I believe in God and the Bible," they're kind of saying, "I'm a moral person. I have solidarity with the community of churchgoers that I was brought up in and that I currently belong to." I think that if you were to probe a lot of people's religious opinions, they would not be as religious as the numbers would suggest.

GOLDSTEIN: It would be fascinating, though, to see a poll of the people who are buying the new atheist books and see how they are answering these questions.

PINKER: Well, the question often arises whether these authors are preaching to the choir. Especially since these books make no concessions toward religious sensibilities. It's a full-throated intellectual assault on the concept of God. My sense is that the books are really not aimed at the 91 percent of the people you cited who believe in God, but rather at some minority of people who are wavering, who've been brought up in a religious way but now have some private doubts. They perhaps think that confessing to being an atheist is like confessing to being a child molester. So they're not willing to even think those thoughts. Then they come across a book that seems to vindicate all of their doubts. And that tortured minority of reflective, analytic people from a religious background -- perhaps like Rebecca from her religious background -- are who the books are aimed at. Julia Sweeney's one-woman show, "Letting Go of God," would be representative of the kind of person whose mind could be changed by a book like that.

Steve, you recently waded into the controversy over Harvard's proposal to require all undergraduates to take a course called "Reason and Faith." The plan was dropped after you and other critics strongly opposed it. But the people who supported it say that every college graduate should have a basic understanding of religion because it's such a powerful cultural and political force around the world. Don't they have a point?

PINKER: I think students should know something about religion as a historical phenomenon, in the same way that they should know something about socialism and humanism and the other great ideas that have shaped political philosophies and therefore the course of human events. I didn't like the idea of privileging religion above other ideologies that were also historically influential, like socialism and capitalism. I also didn't like the euphemism "faith." Nor did I like the juxtaposition of "faith" and "reason," as if they were just two alternative ways of knowing.

One of your critics in this controversy is Stephen Prothero, a religious studies professor at Boston University, who wrote the book "Religious Literacy." He said, "You can be a very smart person and be very dumb when it comes to religion. Professor Pinker just doesn't get it." Prothero says we have to understand religion to come to grips with hot-button issues like abortion, stem cell research and gay rights. And he says Iraq is such a mess right now because our leaders in Washington just didn't understand a basic fact about Islam before they launched the war -- that Sunnis and Shiites hate each other.

PINKER: I think religion is one of the things you have to understand. But the situation in Iraq is not primarily a theological one. There are just as fierce battles among the various tribes and militias, clans and nationalities. So it's not just a Shiite-Sunni dispute. The mistake was not being ignorant of religion. The mistake was being ignorant of all aspects of Iraqi society, including family structure, local history, the evolutionary psychology of kinship and how it reinforces ties of family and clan and kin in Iraq in a way that differs from countries that we're more familiar with. So religion should be part of it. But I don't see why, of all of the forces that go into history -- military, economic, sociological, evolutionary, psychological -- religion itself should be privileged.

GOLDSTEIN: It depends on what you mean by understanding religion. Obviously, religion is a tremendously powerful influence in history. But I have to say -- and I think this is something that Steve and I disagree on -- I do worry whether some of the people who are writing the new atheist books understand what it feels like to be a religious person. Do they get what that feels like? I don't want to say that there's only one kind of religious impulse. There are so many different ways of responding to the world that could be called religious -- some of them very expansive and life-embracing, and some of them not. But I think one of the things that made Steve nervous was to pose these two things -- faith and reason, religion and science -- as alternative ways of pursuing truth. In terms of the pursuit of knowledge, faith is not an alternative mode to science and to reason.

PINKER: Exactly. I would be opposed to a requirement on astrology and astronomy, or alchemy and chemistry. Not because I don't think people should know about astrology. Astrology had an important role in the ancient world. You can't understand many things unless you know something about astrology -- the plays of Shakespeare and so on. What I'm opposed to is equating it with reason or science.

But can you really equate religion with astrology, or religion with alchemy? No serious scholar still takes astrology or alchemy seriously. But there's a lot of serious thinking about religion.

PINKER: I would put faith in that same category because faith is believing something without a good reason to believe it. I would put it in the same category as astrology and alchemy.

Those are fighting words!

GOLDSTEIN: [Laughs.] He said it, not me.

Rebecca, where do you come down on this? Obviously, you've moved away from the religious milieu you grew up in. But do you reject it out of hand, as Steve does?

GOLDSTEIN: I do, intellectually. We get into terrible trouble if we believe sloppily, if we let emotions -- and our own view of the way we want the world to be -- shape the way we think the world is. This accounts for a great deal of the madness in the world. So I am completely committed to trying to justify everything, and in that regard, I have very little use for faith. However, I know what it feels like to believe without justification. And we all do it. I mean, I believe my children are the most wonderful children ever born. Of course, most parents feel that way. It's a useful thing, perhaps. Could I justify it? Should I even go about justifying my love for them? There would be something wrong with that. So I have more sympathy toward an emotional reaction to the world and some of the more religious reactions.

Steve, you've written about the need for scholars to investigate what you call "dangerous ideas." For instance, do women have different abilities and emotions than men? Would society be better off if heroin and cocaine were legalized? Let me suggest a dangerous idea not on your list -- the idea that the mind is more than the physical mechanics of the brain, that there might be some aspect of consciousness that goes beyond an individual's brain. Is this a dangerous idea?

PINKER: No. It's an idea that probably the majority of the population believes. The more dangerous idea is what most biologists believe, which is that the mind is the information-processing ability of the brain. In the 19th century, the idea that there's something to consciousness beyond the functioning of the brain was a serious scientific hypothesis. Scientists as distinguished as Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of evolution, and William James, a hero of both Rebecca's and mine, were involved in kitschy, seance-like demonstrations trying to contact the souls of the dead. Those experiments failed. We don't seem to be able to communicate with the great beyond.

But there's some dispute on this history. Deborah Blum just wrote about this in her book "Ghost Hunters." James and other scientists searched for proof of the supernatural, and he discounted the vast majority of these psychics. He dismissed virtually all of them as frauds. But there were a few he couldn't explain away.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, his Mrs. Piper. He was very convinced by her. He did want desperately to believe in the afterlife. He had lost a young son, Herman. There's often that tremendous desire. I've lost a sister. I'd love to believe she still exists in the world. I know how powerful that desire is. But that's different from any kind of proof or evidence.

Virtually all religious believers think the mind cannot be reduced to the physical mechanics of the brain. Of course, many believe the mind is what communicates with God. Would you agree that the mind-brain question is one of the key issues in the "science and religion" debate?

PINKER: I think so. It's a very deep intuition that people are more than their bodies and their brains, that when someone dies, their consciousness doesn't go out of existence, that some part of us can be up and about in the world while our body stays in one place, that we can't just be a bunch of molecules in motion. It's one that naturally taps into religious beliefs. And the challenge to that deep-seated belief from neuroscience, evolutionary biology and cognitive science has put religion and science on the public stage. I think it's one of the reasons you have a renewed assault on religious beliefs from people like Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.

The neuroscientific worldview -- the idea that the mind is what the brain does -- has kicked away one of the intuitive supports of religion. So even if you accepted all of the previous scientific challenges to religion -- the earth revolving around the sun, animals evolving and so on -- the immaterial soul was always one last thing that you could keep as being in the province of religion. With the advance of neuroscience, that idea has been challenged.

Some prominent scholars of the mind have not adopted the strict materialist position. The atheist Sam Harris, who's a neuroscientist by training, says he's not at all sure that consciousness can be reduced to brain function. He told me he's had various uncanny -- what some would call telepathic -- experiences. And there's David Chalmers, the philosopher, who's also critical of the materialist view of the mind. He has argued that the physical laws of science will never explain consciousness.

GOLDSTEIN: It's interesting. Actually, my doctoral dissertation was on the irreducibility of the mind to the physical. We have not been able to derive what it's like to be a mind from the physical description of the brain. So if you were to look at my brain right now, I would have to tell you what it is that I'm experiencing. You can't simply get it out of the physical description. So where does that leave us? It might mean that we're not our brain. It might mean that we have an incomplete description of the brain. Our science is not sufficient to explain how this extraordinary thing happens -- that a lump of matter becomes an entire world. But the irreducibility doesn't in itself show immaterialism. And you can turn it around and say, look, all the neurophysiology that we have so far shows there is a correlation between certain physical states and mental states. And even a dualist like Descartes said there's a one-to-one correlation between the physical and the mental. So I'm not sure that we've settled this question once and for all.

PINKER: I'm also sympathetic to Chalmers' view. It might not be the actual stuff of the brain that makes us conscious so much as it is the information processing. I don't think Chalmers' view would give much support to a traditional religious view about the existence of a soul. He says that consciousness resides in information. So a computer could be conscious and a thermostat could have a teensy bit of consciousness as well. Still, the information content requires some kind of physical medium to support the distinctions that make up the information. And the Cartesian idea that there are two kinds of stuff in the universe -- mind and matter -- doesn't find a comfortable home in current views of consciousness, even those of Chalmers.

I know neither of you believes in paranormal experiences like telepathy or clairvoyant dreams or contact with the dead. But hypothetically, suppose even one of these experiences were proven beyond a doubt to be real. Would the materialist position on the mind-brain question collapse in a single stroke?


GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, if there was no other explanation. We'd need to have such clear evidence. I have to tell you, I've had some uncanny experiences. Once, in fact, I had a very strange experience where I seemed to be getting information from a dead person. I racked my brain trying to figure out how this could be happening. I did come up with an explanation for how I could reason this away. But it was a very powerful experience. If it could truly be demonstrated that there was more to a human being than the physical body, this would have tremendous implications.

Many stories of the paranormal turn on anecdotal, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. They fall outside the realm of what scientists can study because they are not repeatable. That raises the question, does science have certain limits to its explanatory power? Might there be other parts of reality that are beyond what science can tell us?

PINKER: It's theoretically possible. But if these are once-in-a-lifetime events, one has the simpler explanation that they're coincidences. Or fraud.

GOLDSTEIN: Or wishful thinking.

PINKER: Statisticians tell us that people underestimate the sheer number of coincidences that are bound to happen in a world governed by chance. That's why it would be essential to do the statistician-proof experiment or the Amazing Randi-proof experiment, showing that it isn't just stage magic. If that could be done, if you could show that someone could know something without it having to go through their sense organs -- that you could cut the optic nerve connecting the eyes to the brain and the person could still see. Then, yeah, everything that I've been saying would be refuted. The fact that we don't have reliable paranormal phenomena, the fact that all aspects of our experience do depend on details of the physiology of the brain, make it a persuasive case that our consciousness depends on the brain.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, but what you're saying could be very true. It could be in the nature of the phenomena that it's extremely difficult to reproduce it in controlled experiments. In which case, we'll never know. I think it's a kind of arrogance to say that our science is complete. It's an amazing thing that we can know as much about the physical world as we do know. Why assume that we know everything about the world that there is to know? We've developed through all sorts of happenstance a kind of methodology that allows us to know a tremendous amount. It's an extraordinary thing that we can test and probe nature. And it's yielded amazing secrets. But why assume that this methodology that we're just damn lucky to have been able to stumble upon is going to yield all secrets? Of course, there could be things beyond the reach of science. But could we have any good evidence for accepting it? As soon as you have good evidence, it becomes science. So can there be good evidence for non-scientific propositions? No. Because the minute there is good evidence, it becomes science.

I still have to wonder if the study of neurons, synapses and brain chemistry will ever be able to explain things like dreams or the creative process.

PINKER: That's a good example of something that's very difficult to study scientifically because it's rare and unpredictable. But it doesn't involve any kind of magic. When you throw together 100 billion neurons with 100 trillion connections, a lot of things are going to happen that are very hard to track down. And I suspect that creativity -- we don't call it creative unless it's rare -- means that it's going to be hard to study but not impossible. Historians who study creative individuals have uncovered a lot about the preconditions for creativity -- for instance, what goes into a Mozart or an Einstein.

They can understand that. But just by looking at the brain itself, will you ever be able to understand the creative mind?

PINKER: I suspect not. In fact, the reason I'm not a neurobiologist but a cognitive psychologist is that I think looking at brain tissue is often the wrong level of analysis. You have to look at a higher level of organization. For the same reason that a movie critic doesn't focus a magnifying glass on the little microscopic pits in a DVD, even though a movie is nothing but a pattern of pits in a DVD. I think there's a lot of insight that you'll gain about the human mind by looking at the whole human behaving, thinking and reporting on his own consciousness. And that might be true of creativity as well. It may be that the historian, the cognitive psychologist and the biographer working together will give us more insight than someone looking at neurons and brain chemistry.

-- By Steve Paulson

13 October 2007

Analysts Find Israel Struck a Nuclear Project Inside Syria

I'm just shocked! I thought it was vegetable fields that Israel bombed -- as the Syrians said. Imagine the deafening quiet from the Syrians for two weeks after the raid...on vegetable fields. Let no one in the US government criticize Israel for this step -- what would the US do if a hostile Mexican government started building a facility for weapons-grade plutonium in Tijuana? We'd turn Mexico into a sheet of glass. End of story. RS

October 14, 2007
Analysts Find Israel Struck a Nuclear Project Inside Syria
WASHINGTON, Oct. 13 — Israel’s air attack on Syria last month was directed against a site that Israeli and American intelligence analysts judged was a partly constructed nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel, according to American and foreign officials with access to the intelligence reports.

The description of the target addresses one of the central mysteries surrounding the Sept. 6 attack, and suggests that Israel carried out the raid to demonstrate its determination to snuff out even a nascent nuclear project in a neighboring state. The Bush administration was divided at the time about the wisdom of Israel’s strike, American officials said, and some senior policy makers still regard the attack as premature.

The attack on the reactor project has echoes of an Israeli raid more than a quarter century ago, in 1981, when Israel destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq shortly before it was to have begun operating. That attack was officially condemned by the Reagan administration, though Israelis consider it among their military’s finest moments. In the weeks before the Iraq war, Bush administration officials said they believed that the attack set back Iraq’s nuclear ambitions by many years.

By contrast, the facility that the Israelis struck in Syria appears to have been much further from completion, the American and foreign officials said. They said it would have been years before the Syrians could have used the reactor to produce the spent nuclear fuel that could, through a series of additional steps, be reprocessed into bomb-grade plutonium.

Many details remain unclear, most notably how much progress the Syrians had made in construction before the Israelis struck, the role of any assistance provided by North Korea, and whether the Syrians could make a plausible case that the reactor was intended to produce electricity. In Washington and Israel, information about the raid has been wrapped in extraordinary secrecy and restricted to just a handful of officials, while the Israeli press has been prohibited from publishing information about the attack.

The New York Times reported this week that a debate had begun within the Bush administration about whether the information secretly cited by Israel to justify its attack should be interpreted by the United States as reason to toughen its approach to Syria and North Korea. In later interviews, officials made clear that the disagreements within the administration began this summer, as a debate about whether an Israeli attack on the incomplete reactor was warranted then.

The officials did not say that the administration had ultimately opposed the Israeli strike, but that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates were particularly concerned about the ramifications of a pre-emptive strike in the absence of an urgent threat.

“There wasn’t a lot of debate about the evidence,” said one American official familiar with the intense discussions over the summer between Washington and the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel. “There was a lot of debate about how to respond to it.”

Even though it has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Syria would not have been obligated to declare the existence of a reactor during the early phases of construction. It would have also had the legal right to complete construction of the reactor, as long as its purpose was to generate electricity.

In his only public comment on the raid, Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, acknowledged this month that Israeli jets dropped bombs on a building that he said was “related to the military” but which he insisted was “not used.”

A senior Israeli official, while declining to speak about the specific nature of the target, said the strike was intended to “re-establish the credibility of our deterrent power,” signaling that Israel meant to send a message to the Syrians that even the potential for a nuclear weapons program would not be permitted. But several American officials said the strike may also have been intended by Israel as a signal to Iran and its nuclear aspirations. Neither Iran nor any Arab government except for Syria has criticized the Israeli raid, suggesting that Israel is not the only country that would be disturbed by a nuclear Syria. North Korea did issue a protest.

The target of the Israeli raid and the American debate about the Syrian project were described by government officials and nongovernment experts interviewed in recent weeks in the United States and the Middle East. All insisted on anonymity because of rules that prohibit discussing classified information. The officials who described the target of the attack included some on each side of the debate about whether a partly constructed Syrian nuclear reactor should be seen as an urgent concern, as well as some who described themselves as neutral on the question.

The White House press secretary, Dana Perino, said Saturday that the administration would have no comment on the intelligence issues surrounding the Israeli strike. Israel has also refused to comment.

Nuclear reactors can be used for both peaceful and non-peaceful purposes. A reactor’s spent fuel can be reprocessed to extract plutonium, one of two paths to building a nuclear weapon. The other path — enriching uranium in centrifuges — is the method that Iran is accused of pursuing with an intent to build a weapon of its own.

Syria is known to have only one nuclear reactor, a small one built for research purposes. But in the past decade, Syria has several times sought unsuccessfully to buy one, first from Argentina, then from Russia. On those occasions, Israel reacted strongly but did not threaten military action. Earlier this year, Mr. Assad spoke publicly in general terms about Syria’s desire to develop nuclear power, but his government did not announce a plan to build a new reactor.

The Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of Persian Gulf states, has also called for an expansion of nuclear power in the Middle East for energy purposes, but many experts have interpreted that statement as a response to Iran’s nuclear program. They have warned that the region may be poised for a wave of proliferation. Israel is believed to be the only nuclear-armed nation in the region.

The partly constructed Syrian reactor was detected earlier this year by satellite photographs, according to American officials. They suggested that the facility had been brought to American attention by the Israelis, but would not discuss why American spy agencies seemed to have missed the early phases of construction.

North Korea has long provided assistance to Syria on a ballistic missile program, but any assistance toward the construction of the reactor would have been the first clear evidence of ties between the two countries on a nuclear program. North Korea has successfully used its five-megawatt reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex to reprocess nuclear fuel into bomb-grade material, a model that some American and Israeli officials believe Syria may have been trying to replicate.

The North conducted a partly successful test of a nuclear device a year ago, prompting renewed fears that the desperately poor country might seek to sell its nuclear technology. President Bush issued a specific warning to the North on Oct. 9, 2006, just hours after the test, noting that it was “leading proliferator of missile technology, including transfers to Iran and Syria.” He went on to warn that “the transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable.”

While Bush administration officials have made clear in recent weeks that the target of the Israeli raid was linked to North Korea in some way, Mr. Bush has not repeated his warning since the attack. In fact, the administration has said very little about the country’s suspected role in the Syria case, apparently for fear of upending negotiations now under way in which North Korea has pledged to begin disabling its nuclear facilities.

While the partly constructed Syrian reactor appears to be based on North Korea’s design, the American and foreign officials would not say whether they believed the North Koreans sold or gave the plans to the Syrians, or whether the North’s own experts were there at the time of the attack. It is possible, some officials said, that the transfer of the technology occurred several years ago.

According to two senior administration officials, the subject was raised when the United States, North Korea and four other nations met in Beijing earlier this month.

Behind closed doors, however, Vice President Dick Cheney and other hawkish members of the administration have made the case that the same intelligence that prompted Israel to attack should lead the United States to reconsider delicate negotiations with North Korea over ending its nuclear program, as well as America’s diplomatic strategy toward Syria, which has been invited to join Middle East peace talks in Annapolis, Md., next month.

Mr. Cheney in particular, officials say, has also cited the indications that North Korea aided Syria to question the Bush administration’s agreement to supply the North with large amounts of fuel oil. During Mr. Bush’s first term, Mr. Cheney was among the advocates of a strategy to squeeze the North Korean government in hopes that it would collapse, and the administration cut off oil shipments set up under an agreement between North Korea and the Clinton administration, saying the North had cheated on that accord.

The new shipments, agreed to last February, are linked to North Korea’s carrying through on its pledge to disable its nuclear facilities by the end of the year. Nonetheless, Mr. Bush has approved going ahead with that agreement, even after he was aware of the Syrian program.

Nuclear experts say that North Korea’s main reactor, while small by international standards, is big enough to produce roughly one bomb’s worth of plutonium a year.

In an interview, Dr. Siegfried S. Hecker of Stanford University, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said building a reactor based on North Korea’s design might take from three to six years.

Reporting was contributed by William J. Broad in New York, Helene Cooper in Washington and Steven Erlanger in Jerusalem.

Biden and Brownback unite to push antiwar plan

Biden and Brownback unite to push antiwar plan
October 13, 2007

DES MOINES - Presidential candidates from opposing parties, Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sam Brownback, took the unusual step yesterday of holding a joint event to tout their proposal for a political solution to the war in Iraq.

Biden, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been the most prominent advocate of a plan in Congress that would limit the power of Iraq's central government and give more control to three ethnically divided states.

Brownback and Biden sponsored a nonbinding resolution laying out the plan that won Senate approval last month on a 75-23 vote.

Brownback, a Kansas senator, said that reaching across party lines to find a solution in Iraq marks the first time in recent history that opposing parties campaigning for president shed their political labels and came together.


Clinton called flip-flopper
Hillary Clinton's Democratic rivals accused her yesterday of flip-flopping on negotiating with Iran, but her campaign said she has been consistent.

Clinton has called Senator Barack Obama of Illinois naive for saying that in his first year in office, he would personally negotiate with notorious world leaders including Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

So when Clinton, of New York, said in New Hampshire, "I would engage in negotiations with Iran, with no conditions because we don't really understand how Iran works," Obama and fellow Democratic contender John Edwards jumped.

"The American people deserve a president who will tell them the truth and offer straight answers, not flip-flops and political double-speak," Edwards communications director Chris Kofinis said in a statement.

However, Clinton's aides said she meant that her administration would negotiate with Iran, not that she would sit down with Ahmadinejad.

"Senator Clinton was clearly referring to diplomacy between nations as she has repeatedly and consistently done for months," communications director Howard Wolfson said in a statement.


Romney ad touts military
Mitt Romney returned yesterday to a call for a robust military in his newest TV ad, in a week when he has been on the defensive for saying he would consult lawyers on presidential authority to launch military attacks.

In the ad, which began airing in Iowa, the Republican presidential contender says the United States must confront radical Islamists, and he vows to strengthen US intelligence services, add 100,000 members to the military, and stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

"It's this century's nightmare, Jihadism - violent, radical Islamic fundamentalism," Romney says in the spot. "Their goal is to unite the world under a single Jihadist caliphate. To do that, they must collapse freedom-loving nations like us."

Romney has been criticized for saying during Tuesday's Republican presidential debate that he would seek counsel from lawyers about whether he would need congressional approval to attack Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.


10 October 2007

Sir Nicholas Winton and the Human Cost of "Peace for our Time"

Sir Nicholas Winton and the human cost of "Peace For Our Time".

By David Vaughan in Radio

Prague, Prague, Czech Republic,
September 28, 2007

It was 69 years ago this week, just after midnight on the night from
29th to 30th September 1938, that the British Prime Minister Neville
Chamberlain, his French counterpart, Edouard Daladier, Hitler and
Mussolini, signed the Munich Agreement. It is now remembered as the
most notorious symbol of Chamberlain's tragically flawed policy of
appeasement. The "piece of paper" which he waved on his return to
Heston Aerodrome, just west of London, was to be a guarantee of "peace
for our time", and Czechoslovakia was the price that was to be paid,
as the four most powerful men in Europe agreed to allow Nazi Germany
to annex a large part of the country. The next day, German troops
marched unopposed into the Sudetenland, the mainly German-speaking
border regions of Czechoslovakia.

Sir Nicholas Winton

Despite the popularity of appeasement in Britain, seen as a way of
avoiding a repetition of the carnage of the First World War, there
were also many who were horrified by the decision to leave
Czechoslovakia to its fate. Among them was the young Nicholas Winton.
"Nobody that I knew at the time, who had thought that Hitler was a
menace, thought that the crisis was over. I think we were just

And when he came to Prague a few weeks later, Nicholas Winton found a
similar incredulity mixed with anger and bitterness. At the time he
was working at London's stock exchange, but he was firmly left wing,
and knew many leading members of the Labour Party. When Hitler marched
into the Czech borderlands, he made a decision that was to transform
his life. He decided to travel to Prague to help refugees who had fled
to the city after the Sudetenland had been swallowed up by the Reich.
The subsequent story of how he was to save nearly 700 Jewish children
in what came to be known as the Kindertransports, has become legendary.
At 98, Sir Nicholas Winton - he was knighted in 2002 in honour of his
service to humanity - still has the energy and sharpness of wit of
someone at least thirty years his junior. During the summer, I visited
him at his home near London, and over a pint of beer at the local pub,
we discussed politics, past and present. It was hard to believe that
at the time of Munich, Nicholas Winton was already nearly thirty years

The story of the refugee crisis that followed Munich and accelerated
in the months preceding the outbreak of World War Two has many modern
echoes. In this programme, through the memories of Sir Nicholas Winton
and some of the children whose lives he saved, we shall be telling
that story.

Hitler comes to power
Adolf Hitler

Events began to unfold in 1933, with Hitler's rise to power in
Germany. At the time Czechoslovakia seemed an island of stability, and
thousands of German opposition figures fled to the country. Among them
was the family of Susanne Medas, who was later to become one of the
children saved by Sir Nicholas Winton.

"My father was Richard Bernstein, and his job in Berlin was to be the
political editor of Vorwaerts, which was the party paper of the Social
Democrat Party. I believe that most of the editors of Vorwaerts came
to Prague at the time. Some of them went on to France, but a number of
them did come to Prague. In a way, as I was fortunate enough to flee
with my brother, my mother and my father, it didn't seem a very
drastic change, and all I do remember is that for the whole time we
lived in Prague, we encountered no anti-Semitism and no hostility

The German exiles included numerous very well known figures, such as
the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch and most famously of all, the
novelist, Thomas Mann, the author of The Magic Mountain and Death in
Venice. Czech Radio archives have a rare recording of Thomas Mann from
October 1936, in which he praises Czechoslovakia's continuing
commitment to democracy, while much of the region slips into

The Munich Agreement
Munich Agreement

But Prague was living on borrowed time. Hitler was breathing down
Czechoslovakia's neck, and with the Munich Agreement of September
1938, everything changed - not just in the Sudetenland, but even in
Prague itself, as Susanne Medas, who was attending Prague's German
grammar school at the time, remembers.

"I went to school one morning - this was in October 1938 - and was
just going up the staircase when the girls who were standing at the
top of the stairs shouted in German, 'Here comes the Jewish pig.' I
was very surprised, because prior to that there was not difference
between the Jewish and the non-Jewish children. When I came home and
told them this, my parents decided that I wasn't going to go back to
school. I found that on occupying the Sudetenland, the Germans had
also been able to change the teachers in our school in central Prague.
I couldn't understand why until a few years ago when I learned that it
was actually a private school, so that the Czechoslovak government had
no jurisdiction over it."

Prague became the focal point for tens of thousands of Czechs and
Germans - many of them Jewish - fleeing the Sudetenland. The result
was a refugee crisis on a huge scale.

Prague was left defenceless and the Sudetenland's new Nazi rulers were
barking that once they got hold of these refugees - who were cowering,
as they put it, under the protection of the Czech government - they
would show no mercy. If Chamberlain had expected Munich to bring calm
and stability to Central Europe, he could not have been more wrong.

Lenka Reinerova
The Prague writer, Lenka Reinerova, remembers.

"Because we had been a democratic republic and a neighbour of big
Germany, we had a very big anti-fascist emigration here. And now came
Munich, and many of these people were here. From one day to the next
they were in great danger, because nobody knew what would happen
during the next days. There were prominent people and unknown people,
and it was necessary at that moment to get them, as soon as possible,
out of the country."

Nicholas Winton comes to Prague
Nicholas Winton

News of the refugee crisis reached Britain thanks to the work of
several international refugee organizations active in Prague. Nicholas
Winton's involvement began more or less by chance, thanks to his
political engagement.

"My great friend, Martin Blake, who was a master at Westminster
School, was also very left wing, and we had followed very closely what
was going on on the continent. Every winter I used to take a number of
his pupils to winter sports. I did it because we got a free holiday.
Right at the last moment, we were going to winter sports in 1938, and
he rang me up and said, 'I've cancelled it. I'm going to Prague. I
think what I'm doing there will interest you. If you're interested,
come and follow me.'"

And so, what was he doing?

"I don't think he had an actual brief to do anything at that time, but
I think that if it really was a brief, it was to find out at first
hand what was going on. And I was just tagging along."

And Prague at that time was filled with refugees from Nazi Germany and
the Sudetenland, people who had fled for political or racial reasons...
"Yes. Some of the people who arrived in Prague at that time were
already two times refugees. They'd fled from Germany to the
Sudetenland as sanctuary. Then they'd fled again for sanctuary from
the Sudetenland to Prague, and those who did not have friends or
relatives were just put in Nissen huts. So things were pretty grim at
that time."

And the work you were doing was to try to get these people out of
Czechoslovakia. Was it clear to you and the people you spoke to in
Czechoslovakia that the 'peace for our time' after Munich was not
going to last?

"It was only clear insofar as that is what all my left wing colleagues
felt. When you map what Hitler did in marching through Europe up to
the time of the Sudetenland, and knowing what the position was at that
time, you couldn't really feel that it was going to stop. Why should
he stop there when everything was working in his favour. It was fairly
clear to us. And, of course, there were five committees in
Czechoslovakia looking after these displaced people. Now, all of them
had lists of children, where the parents had signed that they were
willing to let the children go. Now, all those people would not have
wanted to let their children go unless they thought that something
terrible was going to happen."

Yes, this was before Hitler had occupied Prague in March 1939.
Technically speaking, what remained of Czechoslovakia was still a free
and democratic country.

"Yes, it was before Hitler marched into Czechoslovakia."

Saving the children
Nicholas Winton

Nicholas Winton realized that it was the children who were most in
danger, and this became the focus of his work.

"I was told that although there was an organization which was trying
to get out the elder people, they had no permission from the British
government and no financial means to get out the children. So I merely
said that, if it were possible, I would do it. And in fact it wasn't
really difficult. It was a lot of hard work, but it wasn't difficult,
because the Home Office made no problems at all about granting visas.
The only problem was to get permits for the children to enter England
and to fulfil the condition laid down by the Home Office, which was
that I could only bring in a child if I had a family that would look
after them."

At this stage Nicholas Winton was not working in any official capacity.
"I was only in Prague on holiday from my work, and I was only there
for two weeks. After an awful row with my boss, I got it extended to
three weeks. But when I came back and started bringing the children
out, I was still working at my job on the stock exchange. I was never
free to give a hundred percent of my time to this."

The head of the British Committee for the Refugees from
Czechoslovakia, Doreen Warriner, had written to Nicholas Winton's
employer, a merchant bank in the City of London, asking for him to be
given more time off. His boss was not much impressed, writing with
some sarcasm: "I would sooner you were taking a rest here rather than
doing heroic work with thousands of poor devils who are suffering
through no fault of their own." So Nicholas Winton ended up working
for the refugees in his spare time - from his home in Hampstead, and
with the help of just one secretary. Britain's interior ministry, the
Home Office, was also not particularly helpful.

German troops enter Prague
March 1939

A few weeks later, events took a dramatic turn. On 15 March 1939,
German troops occupied what remained of Czechoslovakia, after Slovakia
had split away under Nazi pressure. Susanne Medas remembers.
"We were standing on Wenceslas Square when the German tanks rolled in.
People were given flags to wave, because we were supposed to be happy
to see the Germans coming. But there was no flag-waving. On the
contrary, people to the right and to the left of me were weeping. They
knew, of course, very well, what was in store for them."
With Prague under direct German rule, the Gestapo began rounding up
anyone considered politically unreliable, starting with those who had
fled previously from Germany. Anyone who was Jewish, whether they were
German or Czech, was in direct peril. A growing number of Jewish
families, realizing there was little chance for the adults to escape,
tried to get their children onto Nicholas Winton's lists.

At this stage Britain was not yet at war with Germany, and amazingly
the German authorities did nothing to stop Nicholas Winton continuing
his work.

"There was no opposition from the Nazis at all. There are pictures
which you can see, where the Gestapo were helping to put the children
onto the trains."

By train to England

The children were sent in a series of special trains to England. One
of them was Susanne Medas.

"We arrived in England at the beginning of July, and many of us have
very clear memories of Liverpool Street Station, which now looks quite
different. We were taken into a large waiting room or drill hall. We
had labels round our necks with a number, but also with our
destination, like a parcel. On my label it said Cambridge, because I
was destined to go to Cambridge.

"I remember that a young American student, who also spoke German, came
along, and she took myself and two other much younger children to the
train, and we went by train to Cambridge.

"I was nearly sixteen, I was very confident, but there was a little
girl of five who was anything but fearless. She could only speak
Czech, so she clung to me. When we arrived at Cambridge the idea was
that she should go straight to her foster family, a charming young
couple who were at the station to meet her. But she wouldn't let go of
my hand, so I was asked if I would mind if we first went to that
family. I didn't mind at all. We got to the house. The people were so
nice and the little girl was sweet, and they had prepared her room
with friezes and toys and everything else, but she wasn't letting go
of my hand. Eventually they had a teddy bear, and they showed it to
her, and she had to let go of my hand to hold this toy. Then the young
American girl motioned to me that perhaps it was time that we left.
"My new foster parents came to collect me and it was so embarrassing
for them as well as for myself, because they were a newly married
couple and they were kissing and cuddling, and there I was in the same
room with them. I didn't stay with this family very long, because I
knew that there was a refugees' committee. I went to the refugees'
committee, to a remarkable woman called Rita Burkhill, who found
another family for me."

Susanne Medas had originally come from Germany, but many of the other
children were from Czech Jewish families. Among them were Alice
Klimova and Ruth Rulcova, both of whom we have interviewed in the past
on Radio Prague.

Alice Klimova: "My sister was too old. She was already sixteen, so I
went instead of her. This is how I got onto that children's transport.
By pure coincidence my sister managed to get onto the next transport,
so we were able to be there both. She was more than a sister. She was
a mother to me. I was very fortunate to have her there because
absolutely nobody from the family survived."

Ruth Rulcova: "I was seven at the time. I don't remember much about
the journey. It was a train journey and then on the boat. I do
remember standing on the platform at - probably - Victoria Station
with a big label on a piece of string round my neck with my name. And
then somebody claimed me, this strange couple, elderly people, with a
grown-up daughter and... a strange thing... we never have tea with
milk here. I never drank tea with milk, and they took me for a cup of
tea. They offered me a cup of tea and I said 'Yes'. I didn't want
milk. And then it was this strange black thick stuff. It was horrible
and I couldn't put enough sugar in it. And it still tasted terrible.
So that was my first experience of English tea."

A tragic fate
Nicholas Winton and Susanne Medas

Back in Prague the children's parents faced a grim future. Susanne Medas:
"I got to England at the beginning of July, and war didn't break out
until 3rd September, so there was the whole of July and August. During
that time I received some postcards and letters from my parents in
Prague. That stopped, of course, as soon as the war broke out and to
my great surprise, in January 1940, I received a postcard from my
father in Oslo in Norway. I couldn't understand what my parents were
doing in Norway, but I found out again many years later that the
Czechoslovak Red Cross had managed to get out of Czechoslovakia some
of these German anti-Nazis who were most threatened, who had been
refugees from Germany already. So my parents were in Oslo, but,
unfortunately, when the Germans occupied Norway my parents were taken
to Auschwitz, where they died."

Like Susanne Medas, Alice Klimova, did not find out about the fate of
her parents until after the war.

"It didn't sink in, actually, what happened. Absolutely nobody
survived. Only slowly, after I had my first child, I realized what it
means to have parents, grandparents for my children, somebody to lean
on, to have a background, and that's why I said, my sister was always
such a help."

It is a story that we hear again and again. Sir Nicholas Winton:
"I don't think any of the parents survived - perhaps an occasional one
or two. As far as I'm concerned it's a tragedy. On the other hand, it
does prove that we took the right children out."

The story of the children's transports has another tragic twist. All
through the summer of 1939 the transports continued, but on 1st
September, Germany invaded Poland. Two days later, Britain declared
war on Germany.

"My work stopped the day war broke out. We had 250 children on Wilson
Station in Prague on 3rd September, which was our biggest transport.
War broke out and it was all over, nothing more could be done. I was
told that none of those children survived. I occasionally hear stories
of one or two, who they say had been on that train and did survive,
but I don't know."

In the transports that did get out 669 children were saved. Many are
still alive today, now in their 70s and 80s. When I joined a group of
the children at a reunion in Prague in 2002, I found it deeply moving.
Many have gone on to become high achievers, like the journalist Joe
Schlesinger, the writer Vera Gissing, or the filmmaker Karel Reisz,
who died five years ago. But what is perhaps still more moving is to
think that Nicholas Winton's children today have their own children
and grandchildren - several thousand in total - all of whom are alive
today in defiance of the insane logic of the Holocaust.

04 October 2007

Don't protest, Disinvest

Don't protest, disinvest
Or how to hit the Ahmadinejads of this world where it hurts.
Laura Goldman 24 Sep 07 15:57

If you watched Iranian President Muhammed Ahmadinejad be given a platform on top-rated news magazine “60 Minutes” for his Holocaust denying, Israel destroying, nuclear bomb making views, and know that Columbia University is giving him the same platform and respect that it accords all world leaders, you may well feel that, to paraphrase Howard Beal, you are "mad as hell and do not want to take it anymore.”
Besides the futile protest of throwing the remote at the television and complaining to Columbia University, there is a meaningful way of voicing disgust with Ahadinejad that will eventually hurt him where it hurts most -- in the pocketbook.

I have called before for divestment from companies that do business with countries that sponsor terrorism such as North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and Iran. Now seems an appropriate time for renewing that call. You can choose to protest with your investment dollars, and divest from the stocks of companies such as Bank BNP Paribas, oil producers Total, Repsol, Statoil, and Royal Dutch, car manufacturer Hyundai, Coca Cola, Siemens and Sinopec.

Missouri State Treasurer Sarah Steelman said, "I made the decision to divest after learning that the State of Missouri was doing business with BNP Paribas which lent $1 billion dollars to Iran. We kicked them off our broker-dealer list and put in place policies that said we won't do business with companies that do business in Iran.”

California Assemblyman Joel Anderson said, “When you're looking at the war on terrorists, this is one of the best weapons we have -- just defunding them.''
As I have pointed out before, An individual can participate in terror free investment by purchasing the world’s only certified terror free mutual fund, Roosevelt Anti Terror Multi Cap fund. This macroeconomic fund has a five-star rating, and is considered low risk by Morningstar. Despite the recent market turmoil, this fund incredibly has returned over 20% for the year ending August 31, 2007. The average annual return for the last three years is 17.82%.

There is another reason to avoid companies that does business with Iran. The market could be underestimating the global security risk of these companies. The SEC is already on the case.

The SEC asked Ford in a July 5 letter “If its share value and reputation were not being compromised by its activities in Syria, Iran and Sudan.” Marathon oil was also questioned.

Exercise your shareholder rights and vote stocks with terror links off your investment island. There is something that you can do to stop terrorism from the comfort of your home.

Laura Goldman worked on Wall Street for over twenty years for such firms as Merrill Lynch and UBS Warburg. She now runs her own investment advisory, LSG capital, from Tel Aviv. She is an independent commentator, and her views do not necessarily represent those of "Globes".
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on September 24, 2007
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2007 Used by permission of the author.

01 October 2007

"The War: An Intimate History, 1941-45" A Book Review by Randy Shiner

The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945
Knopf, 480pp $50.00 ($29.99 at Amazon.com)

"The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945" is the companion to the Ken Burns documentary of the same name shown on PBS.

The book seamlessly weaves the experiences at home with the blood and gore of the battlefield. It is a book that could stand on its own without the film. The book is built around poeple from four towns in America and the experiences of individuals in them: Mobile, Alabama, Sacramento, California, Waterbury, Connecticut and Luverne, Minnesota, some of whom went to war and some of whom stayed. It studies the war from the perspective of those who stayed behind as assiduously as those who were in combat, whether on the ground, air or sea.

What is most noticeable, assuming that I have you convinced that this book is a monumental achievement in World War II history, is the gnawing sense, made ever clear by the telling, that the book's purpose is beyond a history lesson, although it is excellent as that.

It is a crystal-perfect mirror of ourselves on a very macro level. It shows a country that was, despite glaring faults, united after Pearl Harbor, in the joint effort to win against Hitler and Tojo. The book gives sends us back to a time when the entire country was affected by the fighting of the war. Every family was connected with the death, and the uncertainty of brothers, sons, husbands wounded or missing in action or wasting away in brutal Japanese prison camps.

Ward is not afraid to show us the general unity against well-defined enemies throughout the country despite florid racism that caused 110,000 American citizens of Japanese descent to be packed off to internment camps because of the notion that they were security risks after Pearl Harbor. And then, when the latter became evident, were told that they were good enough to enter the military and then fed into the meat grinder of combat in the Italian campaign in 1942-43, slogging up and down the hills of Italy, decimated under constant German attack and then sent to impossible places, a meat grinder, like the Hurtgen Forest in the Vosges Mountains between France and Germany the battle for which brought out the best -- and the worst -- in everyone involved.

Ward shows the country united despite institutionalized racism in the armed forces that made black soldiers acceptable for the military, but only as support crews for white combat personnel, except in very unusual circumstances like the Tuskeegee Airmen who, as bomber escorts for the 8th Air Force, never lost a bomber while they were in escort positions or segregated units that toward the latter half of the war, were allowed to gain a little glory for themselves on the battlefield, even in death, for a country that relegated them to second-class status. Ward describes the racial tension in the country which resulted in race riots all over the country, in places like Mobile, Alabama where blood was shed when blacks tried to advance to supervisory positons, a shocking proposition for the Jim Crow south.

He shows us auto industries which were converted en masse from manufacturing cars to tanks and military aircraft. There was rationing. There was sacrifice. And it is exactly sacrifice which is lacking in the America of 2007, when I write this: President Bush calls the "War on Terror" World War III, and an existential battle against the forces of Islamic Fundamentalism. But where is the sense of urgency here? If it were truly important, truly an existential battle, wouldn't the American public mobilize against it? Wouldn't President Bush be able to tell GM to stop making Cadillacs and start producing Armored Humvees so that our boys aren't blown up by IEDs? It would not have been an issue for President Roosevelt, the Congress and the American public: for all would be convinced of "our righteous wrath" against Islamic fundamentalists -- those who supported, planned and committed the attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and who killed the brave people on United Flight 93, which crashed in Shankstown, PA. And most of all, there would be a draft. And the children of our members of Congress and the Bush twins would face the prospect of going to fight. This is not the case now, for the caluclus of exactly what is worth going to shed blood and spend money over -- the national interests of the United States -- would be so much more carefully weighed and wars of choice or ego or whatever would be lessened accordingly.

"The War" was called a "good war" a "just war" and a "necessary war". Whatever you want to call it, it was war: and this book shows it for the hell it was on the battlefield as well as here at home during the years of World War II and exactly why the decision to go to war in the first place needs to be made not as a first or a second option, but the last option. This is a book which belongs in the hands of every thoughtful American and every kid able to understand it.

Shifting Targets: The Administration's Plan for Iran By Seymour Hersh

Annals of National Security
Shifting Targets
The Administration’s plan for Iran.
by Seymour M. Hersh
October 8, 2007 Text Size:

In a series of public statements in recent months, President Bush and members of his Administration have redefined the war in Iraq, to an increasing degree, as a strategic battle between the United States and Iran. “Shia extremists, backed by Iran, are training Iraqis to carry out attacks on our forces and the Iraqi people,” Bush told the national convention of the American Legion in August. “The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased. . . . The Iranian regime must halt these actions. And, until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops.” He then concluded, to applause, “I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities.”

The President’s position, and its corollary—that, if many of America’s problems in Iraq are the responsibility of Tehran, then the solution to them is to confront the Iranians—have taken firm hold in the Administration. This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with targets including Iran’s known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on “surgical” strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq. What had been presented primarily as a counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism.

The shift in targeting reflects three developments. First, the President and his senior advisers have concluded that their campaign to convince the American public that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed (unlike a similar campaign before the Iraq war), and that as a result there is not enough popular support for a major bombing campaign. The second development is that the White House has come to terms, in private, with the general consensus of the American intelligence community that Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a bomb. And, finally, there has been a growing recognition in Washington and throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging as the geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq.

During a secure videoconference that took place early this summer, the President told Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, that he was thinking of hitting Iranian targets across the border and that the British “were on board.” At that point, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice interjected that there was a need to proceed carefully, because of the ongoing diplomatic track. Bush ended by instructing Crocker to tell Iran to stop interfering in Iraq or it would face American retribution.

At a White House meeting with Cheney this summer, according to a former senior intelligence official, it was agreed that, if limited strikes on Iran were carried out, the Administration could fend off criticism by arguing that they were a defensive action to save soldiers in Iraq. If Democrats objected, the Administration could say, “Bill Clinton did the same thing; he conducted limited strikes in Afghanistan, the Sudan, and in Baghdad to protect American lives.” The former intelligence official added, “There is a desperate effort by Cheney et al. to bring military action to Iran as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the politicians are saying, ‘You can’t do it, because every Republican is going to be defeated, and we’re only one fact from going over the cliff in Iraq.’ But Cheney doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the Republican worries, and neither does the President.”

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said, “The President has made it clear that the United States government remains committed to a diplomatic solution with respect to Iran. The State Department is working diligently along with the international community to address our broad range of concerns.” (The White House declined to comment.)

I was repeatedly cautioned, in interviews, that the President has yet to issue the “execute order” that would be required for a military operation inside Iran, and such an order may never be issued. But there has been a significant increase in the tempo of attack planning. In mid-August, senior officials told reporters that the Administration intended to declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization. And two former senior officials of the C.I.A. told me that, by late summer, the agency had increased the size and the authority of the Iranian Operations Group. (A spokesman for the agency said, “The C.I.A. does not, as a rule, publicly discuss the relative size of its operational components.”)

“They’re moving everybody to the Iran desk,” one recently retired C.I.A. official said. “They’re dragging in a lot of analysts and ramping up everything. It’s just like the fall of 2002”—the months before the invasion of Iraq, when the Iraqi Operations Group became the most important in the agency. He added, “The guys now running the Iranian program have limited direct experience with Iran. In the event of an attack, how will the Iranians react? They will react, and the Administration has not thought it all the way through.”

That theme was echoed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national-security adviser, who said that he had heard discussions of the White House’s more limited bombing plans for Iran. Brzezinski said that Iran would likely react to an American attack “by intensifying the conflict in Iraq and also in Afghanistan, their neighbors, and that could draw in Pakistan. We will be stuck in a regional war for twenty years.”

In a speech at the United Nations last week, Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was defiant. He referred to America as an “aggressor” state, and said, “How can the incompetents who cannot even manage and control themselves rule humanity and arrange its affairs? Unfortunately, they have put themselves in the position of God.” (The day before, at Columbia, he suggested that the facts of the Holocaust still needed to be determined.)

“A lot depends on how stupid the Iranians will be,” Brzezinski told me. “Will they cool off Ahmadinejad and tone down their language?” The Bush Administration, by charging that Iran was interfering in Iraq, was aiming “to paint it as ‘We’re responding to what is an intolerable situation,’ ” Brzezinski said. “This time, unlike the attack in Iraq, we’re going to play the victim. The name of our game seems to be to get the Iranians to overplay their hand.”

General David Petraeus, the commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, in his report to Congress in September, buttressed the Administration’s case against Iran. “None of us, earlier this year, appreciated the extent of Iranian involvement in Iraq, something about which we and Iraq’s leaders all now have greater concern,” he said. Iran, Petraeus said, was fighting “a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.”

Iran has had a presence in Iraq for decades; the extent and the purpose of its current activities there are in dispute, however. During Saddam Hussein’s rule, when the Sunni-dominated Baath Party brutally oppressed the majority Shiites, Iran supported them. Many in the present Iraqi Shiite leadership, including prominent members of the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, spent years in exile in Iran; last week, at the Council on Foreign Relations, Maliki said, according to the Washington Post, that Iraq’s relations with the Iranians had “improved to the point that they are not interfering in our internal affairs.” Iran is so entrenched in Iraqi Shiite circles that any “proxy war” could be as much through the Iraqi state as against it. The crux of the Bush Administration’s strategic dilemma is that its decision to back a Shiite-led government after the fall of Saddam has empowered Iran, and made it impossible to exclude Iran from the Iraqi political scene.

Vali Nasr, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, who is an expert on Iran and Shiism, told me, “Between 2003 and 2006, the Iranians thought they were closest to the United States on the issue of Iraq.” The Iraqi Shia religious leadership encouraged Shiites to avoid confrontation with American soldiers and to participate in elections—believing that a one-man, one-vote election process could only result in a Shia-dominated government. Initially, the insurgency was mainly Sunni, especially Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Nasr told me that Iran’s policy since 2003 has been to provide funding, arms, and aid to several Shiite factions—including some in Maliki’s coalition. The problem, Nasr said, is that “once you put the arms on the ground you cannot control how they’re used later.”

In the Shiite view, the White House “only looks at Iran’s ties to Iraq in terms of security,” Nasr said. “Last year, over one million Iranians travelled to Iraq on pilgrimages, and there is more than a billion dollars a year in trading between the two countries. But the Americans act as if every Iranian inside Iraq were there to import weapons.”

Many of those who support the President’s policy argue that Iran poses an imminent threat. In a recent essay in Commentary, Norman Podhoretz depicted President Ahmadinejad as a revolutionary, “like Hitler . . . whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it . . . with a new order dominated by Iran. . . . [T]he plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force.” Podhoretz concluded, “I pray with all my heart” that President Bush “will find it possible to take the only action that can stop Iran from following through on its evil intentions both toward us and toward Israel.” Podhoretz recently told politico.com that he had met with the President for about forty-five minutes to urge him to take military action against Iran, and believed that “Bush is going to hit” Iran before leaving office. (Podhoretz, one of the founders of neoconservatism, is a strong backer of Rudolph Giuliani’s Presidential campaign, and his son-in-law, Elliott Abrams, is a senior adviser to President Bush on national security.)

In early August, Army Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, told the Times about an increase in attacks involving explosively formed penetrators, a type of lethal bomb that discharges a semi-molten copper slug that can rip through the armor of Humvees. The Times reported that U.S. intelligence and technical analyses indicated that Shiite militias had obtained the bombs from Iran. Odierno said that Iranians had been “surging support” over the past three or four months.

Questions remain, however, about the provenance of weapons in Iraq, especially given the rampant black market in arms. David Kay, a former C.I.A. adviser and the chief weapons inspector in Iraq for the United Nations, told me that his inspection team was astonished, in the aftermath of both Iraq wars, by “the huge amounts of arms” it found circulating among civilians and military personnel throughout the country. He recalled seeing stockpiles of explosively formed penetrators, as well as charges that had been recovered from unexploded American cluster bombs. Arms had also been supplied years ago by the Iranians to their Shiite allies in southern Iraq who had been persecuted by the Baath Party.

“I thought Petraeus went way beyond what Iran is doing inside Iraq today,” Kay said. “When the White House started its anti-Iran campaign, six months ago, I thought it was all craziness. Now it does look like there is some selective smuggling by Iran, but much of it has been in response to American pressure and American threats—more a ‘shot across the bow’ sort of thing, to let Washington know that it was not going to get away with its threats so freely. Iran is not giving the Iraqis the good stuff—the anti-aircraft missiles that can shoot down American planes and its advanced anti-tank weapons.”

Another element of the Administration’s case against Iran is the presence of Iranian agents in Iraq. General Petraeus, testifying before Congress, said that a commando faction of the Revolutionary Guards was seeking to turn its allies inside Iraq into a “Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests.” In August, Army Major General Rick Lynch, the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, told reporters in Baghdad that his troops were tracking some fifty Iranian men sent by the Revolutionary Guards who were training Shiite insurgents south of Baghdad. “We know they’re here and we target them as well,” he said.

Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me that “there are a lot of Iranians at any time inside Iraq, including those doing intelligence work and those doing humanitarian missions. It would be prudent for the Administration to produce more evidence of direct military training—or produce fighters captured in Iraq who had been trained in Iran.” He added, “It will be important for the Iraqi government to be able to state that they were unaware of this activity”; otherwise, given the intense relationship between the Iraqi Shiite leadership and Tehran, the Iranians could say that “they had been asked by the Iraqi government to train these people.” (In late August, American troops raided a Baghdad hotel and arrested a group of Iranians. They were a delegation from Iran’s energy ministry, and had been invited to Iraq by the Maliki government; they were later released.)

“If you want to attack, you have to prepare the groundwork, and you have to be prepared to show the evidence,” Clawson said. Adding to the complexity, he said, is a question that seems almost counterintuitive: “What is the attitude of Iraq going to be if we hit Iran? Such an attack could put a strain on the Iraqi government.”

A senior European diplomat, who works closely with American intelligence, told me that there is evidence that Iran has been making extensive preparation for an American bombing attack. “We know that the Iranians are strengthening their air-defense capabilities,” he said, “and we believe they will react asymmetrically—hitting targets in Europe and in Latin America.” There is also specific intelligence suggesting that Iran will be aided in these attacks by Hezbollah. “Hezbollah is capable, and they can do it,” the diplomat said.

In interviews with current and former officials, there were repeated complaints about the paucity of reliable information. A former high-level C.I.A. official said that the intelligence about who is doing what inside Iran “is so thin that nobody even wants his name on it. This is the problem.”

The difficulty of determining who is responsible for the chaos in Iraq can be seen in Basra, in the Shiite south, where British forces had earlier presided over a relatively secure area. Over the course of this year, however, the region became increasingly ungovernable, and by fall the British had retreated to fixed bases. A European official who has access to current intelligence told me that “there is a firm belief inside the American and U.K. intelligence community that Iran is supporting many of the groups in southern Iraq that are responsible for the deaths of British and American soldiers. Weapons and money are getting in from Iran. They have been able to penetrate many groups”—primarily the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias.

A June, 2007, report by the International Crisis Group found, however, that Basra’s renewed instability was mainly the result of “the systematic abuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias.” The report added that leading Iraqi politicians and officials “routinely invoke the threat of outside interference”—from bordering Iran—“to justify their behavior or evade responsibility for their failures.”

Earlier this year, before the surge in U.S. troops, the American command in Baghdad changed what had been a confrontational policy in western Iraq, the Sunni heartland (and the base of the Baathist regime), and began working with the Sunni tribes, including some tied to the insurgency. Tribal leaders are now getting combat support as well as money, intelligence, and arms, ostensibly to fight Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Empowering Sunni forces may undermine efforts toward national reconciliation, however. Already, tens of thousands of Shiites have fled Anbar Province, many to Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, while Sunnis have been forced from their homes in Shiite communities. Vali Nasr, of Tufts, called the internal displacement of communities in Iraq a form of “ethnic cleansing.”

“The American policy of supporting the Sunnis in western Iraq is making the Shia leadership very nervous,” Nasr said. “The White House makes it seem as if the Shia were afraid only of Al Qaeda—but they are afraid of the Sunni tribesmen we are arming. The Shia attitude is ‘So what if you’re getting rid of Al Qaeda?’ The problem of Sunni resistance is still there. The Americans believe they can distinguish between good and bad insurgents, but the Shia don’t share that distinction. For the Shia, they are all one adversary.”

Nasr went on, “The United States is trying to fight on all sides—Sunni and Shia—and be friends with all sides.” In the Shiite view, “It’s clear that the United States cannot bring security to Iraq, because it is not doing everything necessary to bring stability. If they did, they would talk to anybody to achieve it—even Iran and Syria,” Nasr said. (Such engagement was a major recommendation of the Iraq Study Group.) “America cannot bring stability in Iraq by fighting Iran in Iraq.”

The revised bombing plan for a possible attack, with its tightened focus on counterterrorism, is gathering support among generals and admirals in the Pentagon. The strategy calls for the use of sea-launched cruise missiles and more precisely targeted ground attacks and bombing strikes, including plans to destroy the most important Revolutionary Guard training camps, supply depots, and command and control facilities.

“Cheney’s option is now for a fast in and out—for surgical strikes,” the former senior American intelligence official told me. The Joint Chiefs have turned to the Navy, he said, which had been chafing over its role in the Air Force-dominated air war in Iraq. “The Navy’s planes, ships, and cruise missiles are in place in the Gulf and operating daily. They’ve got everything they need—even AWACS are in place and the targets in Iran have been programmed. The Navy is flying FA-18 missions every day in the Gulf.” There are also plans to hit Iran’s anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile sites. “We’ve got to get a path in and a path out,” the former official said.

A Pentagon consultant on counterterrorism told me that, if the bombing campaign took place, it would be accompanied by a series of what he called “short, sharp incursions” by American Special Forces units into suspected Iranian training sites. He said, “Cheney is devoted to this, no question.”

A limited bombing attack of this sort “only makes sense if the intelligence is good,” the consultant said. If the targets are not clearly defined, the bombing “will start as limited, but then there will be an ‘escalation special.’ Planners will say that we have to deal with Hezbollah here and Syria there. The goal will be to hit the cue ball one time and have all the balls go in the pocket. But add-ons are always there in strike planning.”

The surgical-strike plan has been shared with some of America’s allies, who have had mixed reactions to it. Israel’s military and political leaders were alarmed, believing, the consultant said, that it didn’t sufficiently target Iran’s nuclear facilities. The White House has been reassuring the Israeli government, the former senior official told me, that the more limited target list would still serve the goal of counter-proliferation by decapitating the leadership of the Revolutionary Guards, who are believed to have direct control over the nuclear-research program. “Our theory is that if we do the attacks as planned it will accomplish two things,” the former senior official said.

An Israeli official said, “Our main focus has been the Iranian nuclear facilities, not because other things aren’t important. We’ve worked on missile technology and terrorism, but we see the Iranian nuclear issue as one that cuts across everything.” Iran, he added, does not need to develop an actual warhead to be a threat. “Our problems begin when they learn and master the nuclear fuel cycle and when they have the nuclear materials,” he said. There was, for example, the possibility of a “dirty bomb,” or of Iran’s passing materials to terrorist groups. “There is still time for diplomacy to have an impact, but not a lot,” the Israeli official said. “We believe the technological timetable is moving faster than the diplomatic timetable. And if diplomacy doesn’t work, as they say, all options are on the table.”

The bombing plan has had its most positive reception from the newly elected government of Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. A senior European official told me, “The British perception is that the Iranians are not making the progress they want to see in their nuclear-enrichment processing. All the intelligence community agree that Iran is providing critical assistance, training, and technology to a surprising number of terrorist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, through Hezbollah, in Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine, too.”

There were four possible responses to this Iranian activity, the European official said: to do nothing (“There would be no retaliation to the Iranians for their attacks; this would be sending the wrong signal”); to publicize the Iranian actions (“There is one great difficulty with this option—the widespread lack of faith in American intelligence assessments”); to attack the Iranians operating inside Iraq (“We’ve been taking action since last December, and it does have an effect”); or, finally, to attack inside Iran.

The European official continued, “A major air strike against Iran could well lead to a rallying around the flag there, but a very careful targeting of terrorist training camps might not.” His view, he said, was that “once the Iranians get a bloody nose they rethink things.” For example, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and Ali Larijani, two of Iran’s most influential political figures, “might go to the Supreme Leader and say, ‘The hard-line policies have got us into this mess. We must change our approach for the sake of the regime.’ ”

A retired American four-star general with close ties to the British military told me that there was another reason for Britain’s interest—shame over the failure of the Royal Navy to protect the sailors and Royal Marines who were seized by Iran on March 23rd, in the Persian Gulf. “The professional guys are saying that British honor is at stake, and if there’s another event like that in the water off Iran the British will hit back,” he said.

The revised bombing plan “could work—if it’s in response to an Iranian attack,” the retired four-star general said. “The British may want to do it to get even, but the more reasonable people are saying, ‘Let’s do it if the Iranians stage a cross-border attack inside Iraq.’ It’s got to be ten dead American soldiers and four burned trucks.” There is, he added, “a widespread belief in London that Tony Blair’s government was sold a bill of goods by the White House in the buildup to the war against Iraq. So if somebody comes into Gordon Brown’s office and says, ‘We have this intelligence from America,’ Brown will ask, ‘Where did it come from? Have we verified it?’ The burden of proof is high.”

The French government shares the Administration’s sense of urgency about Iran’s nuclear program, and believes that Iran will be able to produce a warhead within two years. France’s newly elected President, Nicolas Sarkozy, created a stir in late August when he warned that Iran could be attacked if it did not halt is nuclear program. Nonetheless, France has indicated to the White House that it has doubts about a limited strike, the former senior intelligence official told me. Many in the French government have concluded that the Bush Administration has exaggerated the extent of Iranian meddling inside Iraq; they believe, according to a European diplomat, that “the American problems in Iraq are due to their own mistakes, and now the Americans are trying to show some teeth. An American bombing will show only that the Bush Administration has its own agenda toward Iran.”

A European intelligence official made a similar point. “If you attack Iran,” he told me, “and do not label it as being against Iran’s nuclear facilities, it will strengthen the regime, and help to make the Islamic air in the Middle East thicker.”

Ahmadinejad, in his speech at the United Nations, said that Iran considered the dispute over its nuclear program “closed.” Iran would deal with it only through the International Atomic Energy Agency, he said, and had decided to “disregard unlawful and political impositions of the arrogant powers.” He added, in a press conference after the speech, “the decisions of the United States and France are not important.”

The director general of the I.A.E.A., Mohamed ElBaradei, has for years been in an often bitter public dispute with the Bush Administration; the agency’s most recent report found that Iran was far less proficient in enriching uranium than expected. A diplomat in Vienna, where the I.A.E.A. is based, said, “The Iranians are years away from making a bomb, as ElBaradei has said all along. Running three thousand centrifuges does not make a bomb.” The diplomat added, referring to hawks in the Bush Administration, “They don’t like ElBaradei, because they are in a state of denial. And now their negotiating policy has failed, and Iran is still enriching uranium and still making progress.”

The diplomat expressed the bitterness that has marked the I.A.E.A.’s dealings with the Bush Administration since the buildup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “The White House’s claims were all a pack of lies, and Mohamed is dismissive of those lies,” the diplomat said.

Hans Blix, a former head of the I.A.E.A., questioned the Bush Administration’s commitment to diplomacy. “There are important cards that Washington could play; instead, they have three aircraft carriers sitting in the Persian Gulf,” he said. Speaking of Iran’s role in Iraq, Blix added, “My impression is that the United States has been trying to push up the accusations against Iran as a basis for a possible attack—as an excuse for jumping on them.”

The Iranian leadership is feeling the pressure. In the press conference after his U.N. speech, Ahmadinejad was asked about a possible attack. “They want to hurt us,” he said, “but, with the will of God, they won’t be able to do it.” According to a former State Department adviser on Iran, the Iranians complained, in diplomatic meetings in Baghdad with Ambassador Crocker, about a refusal by the Bush Administration to take advantage of their knowledge of the Iraqi political scene. The former adviser said, “They’ve been trying to convey to the United States that ‘We can help you in Iraq. Nobody knows Iraq better than us.’ ” Instead, the Iranians are preparing for an American attack.

The adviser said that he had heard from a source in Iran that the Revolutionary Guards have been telling religious leaders that they can stand up to an American attack. “The Guards are claiming that they can infiltrate American security,” the adviser said. “They are bragging that they have spray-painted an American warship—to signal the Americans that they can get close to them.” (I was told by the former senior intelligence official that there was an unexplained incident, this spring, in which an American warship was spray-painted with a bull’s-eye while docked in Qatar, which may have been the source of the boasts.)

“Do you think those crazies in Tehran are going to say, ‘Uncle Sam is here! We’d better stand down’? ” the former senior intelligence official said. “The reality is an attack will make things ten times warmer.”

Another recent incident, in Afghanistan, reflects the tension over intelligence. In July, the London Telegraph reported that what appeared to be an SA-7 shoulder-launched missile was fired at an American C-130 Hercules aircraft. The missile missed its mark. Months earlier, British commandos had intercepted a few truckloads of weapons, including one containing a working SA-7 missile, coming across the Iranian border. But there was no way of determining whether the missile fired at the C-130 had come from Iran—especially since SA-7s are available through black-market arms dealers.

Vincent Cannistraro, a retired C.I.A. officer who has worked closely with his counterparts in Britain, added to the story: “The Brits told me that they were afraid at first to tell us about the incident—in fear that Cheney would use it as a reason to attack Iran.” The intelligence subsequently was forwarded, he said.

The retired four-star general confirmed that British intelligence “was worried” about passing the information along. “The Brits don’t trust the Iranians,” the retired general said, “but they also don’t trust Bush and Cheney.” ♦