The Neocon War on Peace and Freedom
The main problem with Bush’s war on terrorism is that he has not attacked enough foreign regimes and not sufficiently trampled the privacy of the American people. Such is the thesis of David Frum, former speechwriter for President Bush, and Richard Perle, currently on the Pentagon’s Defense Advisory Board, co-authors of the new book The End of Evil: How to Win the War on Terror.
According to Frum and Perle, “Terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation’s great cause.... There is no middle way for Americans; it is victory or holocaust.” The terrorist threat is largely equated with the Muslim threat. Protecting Americans from terrorists requires toppling numerous Arab and Muslim regimes and compelling the reformation of much of Islam: “We must discredit and defeat the extremist Islamic ideology that justifies and sustains terrorism.”
No one will accuse Frum and Perle of a shortage of contempt. After a breathless summary of daily life in the Arab world, the authors declare, “This fetid environment nourishes the most venomous vermin in the Middle Eastern swamp.” The tone of The End of Evil brings to mind historian Thomas Macaulay’s quip on British poet laureate Robert Southey: “What theologians call the spiritual sins are his cardinal virtues — hatred, pride, and the insatiable thirst for vengeance.” The book contains more invocations of the Nazis than a Mel Brooks movie.
The book jacket identifies Frum as the “most influential thinker in the foreign-policy apparatus of the Administration of George W. Bush” and hails Perle as “the intellectual guru of the hard-line neoconservative movement in foreign policy.” Inside the book, Frum and Perle reveal that people who say neoconservatives have vast influence are anti-Semitic. This is typical of the perverse double standard that pervades The End of Evil.
This book is impossible to understand without recognizing the neoconservative concept of government. The key to ending evil, from Frum’s and Perle’s perspective, is to greatly increase the power of the federal government both at home and abroad. Government becomes the ultimate force for the good — and distrust of government is the ultimate proof of a lack of sophistication.
We will consider Frum-Perle prescriptions for unleashing government at home, and then consider their recommendations for foreign wars.
No privacy, no problem
According to Frum and Perle, the evil of fundamental Islam requires the quashing of American privacy. They recommend a vast expansion of government surveillance, calling for the revival of Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System), which Congress forced the Bush administration to abandon. Frum and Perle declare, “To the astonishment of the administration, TIPS provoked an outburst of anger and mockery.”
Yet, on this subject, as on every other civil-liberties issue, Frum and Perle offer no explanation of why people opposed the government. The feds sought to sign up an army of people to report almost anything — no clear guidelines were ever issued on what could be considered “suspicious” and worthy of being entered into someone’s federal dossier.
Homeland Security director Tom Ridge said that observers “might pick up a break in the certain rhythm or pattern of a community.” The feds aimed to enlist as many as 10 million people to watch other people’s “rhythms.” Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) denounced TIPS as a “snitch system” and warned,
A formal program, organized, paid for and maintained by our own federal government to recruit Americans to spy on fellow Americans, smacks of the very type of fascist or Communist government we fought so hard to eradicate in other countries in decades past.
Frum and Perle liked Operation TIPS in part because they believe good Americans must always be ready to “drop a dime” on Muslim neighbors, co-workers, or suspected fellow travelers:
People who live next door to a storefront mosque in Brooklyn, New York, will almost certainly observe more things of interest to counterterrorism officials than will people who live next door to a Christian Science church in Brookline, Massachusetts. The software engineer who develops a sudden enthusiasm for Islam is more likely to be funding terror than the software engineer who develops a sudden enthusiasm for vintage cars.
The authors also advocate canceling the tax-exempt status of some American mosques and Muslim nonprofit groups.
Frum and Perle champion another surveillance monstrosity at least partially thwarted by Congress — a Total Information Awareness-type system to allow the government to compile dossiers on “an individual’s credit history, his recent movements, his immigration status and personal background, his age and sex, and a hundred other pieces of information.” Frum and Perle insist that the government can be trusted with such data because procedures could be developed to link the data to a specific name only if “probable cause” of criminal conduct exists. In other words, regardless of the vast temptation for political and bureaucratic abuse of such data, the authors blithely assume that government officials — at least in the future — will be angels.
Frum and Perle also call for a National ID card, including “biometric data, like fingerprints or retinal scans or DNA.” Again, they shrug off any concerns about how such a system could be used to sabotage people’s lives and privacy, asserting, “The victims of executive branch abuse will be able to sue the wrongdoers and collect damages; the victims of a mass terrorist attack will have no such recourse.” This would be hilarious except for the possibility that people who watch Fox News might actually believe such a remedy exists.
The book’s discussion of the USA PATRIOT Act appears to rely heavily on a list of Justice Department talking points. Regarding wiretaps of email, the talking points assert that the PATRIOT Act sets “exactly the same standard that governs the wiretapping of telephones.” Email wiretaps are now carried out with a surveillance system created by the FBI, lovingly named Carnivore. Carnivore is contained in a black box that the FBI compels Internet service providers (ISPs) to attach to their operating system. Though a Carnivore tap might be imposed to target a single person, Carnivore can automatically impound the email of all the customers using that ISP. The ACLU’s Barry Steinhardt observed,
Carnivore is roughly equivalent to a wiretap capable of accessing the contents of the conversations of all of the phone company’s customers, with the “assurance” that the FBI will record only conversations of the specified target.
The PATRIOT Act puts email wiretaps on automatic pilot. An FBI agent or government lawyer need only certify to a judge on the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the information sought is “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation” to get permission to install Carnivore.
Judges have no discretion: they must approve wiretaps based on government agents’ unsubstantiated assertions. And, if past is prologue, there will be little or no oversight of how the FBI is using its new email vacuum.
Frum and Perle pooh-pooh concerns about the new intrusions: “The privacy of the American home is many millions of times more likely to be invaded by an e-mail spammer or a telemarketer than a federal agent.” But telemarketers do not conduct no-knock raids that leave innocent people dead, and spammers do not conduct mass secret arrests (followed by prison beatings), as did the feds after 9/11.
Perhaps most chillingly, Frum and Perle call for creation of a “domestic intelligence agency” to keep watch on people in America. At the time the CIA was created in the late 1940s, the agency was specifically prohibited from engaging in domestic surveillance because the example of the Gestapo was fresh in people’s minds. Now, half a century later, we are supposed to pretend that the government only goes after bad guys.
Terrorism and omnipotent government
Because of the way the book was slapped together (written in “high speed in high summer,” as Frum notes in the acknowledgments), it is sometimes difficult to understand how far the authors want the government to go. On pages 228–29, they write,
The United States is proud to call itself a nation ruled by laws. But even a nation of laws must understand the limits of legalism. Between 1861 and 1865, the government of the United States took tens of thousands of American citizens prisoner and detained them for years without letting any one of them see a lawyer.
This appears to be a blanket endorsement of everything Lincoln did in the North during the Civil War — shutting down newspapers, suspending habeas corpus, arresting congressmen, effectively declaring martial law for the duration. When Frum and I recently debated on a San Francisco public radio station, he insisted that this passage referred to Confederate soldiers and enemy combatants. Yet there was nothing anywhere near this passage in the book dealing with either such category. Tom DiLorenzo, author of The Real Lincoln, notes that the most credible estimates of the total number of Northerners Lincoln jailed or imprisoned range from 13,000 to 38,000.
It is difficult to tell whether some of the book’s comments on law enforcement are simply naive or are preying on readers’ ignorance. The authors sanguinely declare, “The FBI is essentially a police force, and like all good police forces it goes to great lengths to respect the constitutional rights of the suspects it investigates.” From the 1992 unconstitutional “shoot to kill” orders that spurred an FBI sniper to slay a mother holding a baby in a cabin door at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, to the 1993 tank-and-gas assault on civilians at Waco, to the FBI’s illegal delivery of hundreds of confidential files on Republicans to the Clinton White House, to the 1994 FBI sting operations that sought to destroy the daughter of Malcom X, to the FBI’s framing of an innocent security guard for a pipebomb explosion during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, to recent revelations that the FBI protected murderers who were informants in the Boston Irish Mafia and was complicit in sending four innocent men to prison for life on murder charges, the FBI has too often oppressed Americans and obstructed justice. But, in the post–9/11 world, good citizens are obliged to have bad memories.
Unlike some enthusiasts of Bush’s wars, Frum and Perle do not talk about temporary abridgments of privacy; instead, the new Über-Surveillance State will presumably be with us forever. In the middle of their parade of proposed new intrusions, the authors remind readers, “Americans are fighting to defend their liberty.” Since we are fighting for liberty, we should cheerfully abandon safeguards developed over hundreds of year to protect citizens from their rulers.
Endless war to purify religion
Frum and Perle’s domestic recommendations seem almost mellow compared with their foreign-policy prescriptions. They call for a war to the finish with “militant Islam” — which is sometimes identified as “fundamentalist Islam” and sometimes as “extremist Islam.” The terms are never lucidly defined, though it is a sure bet that there is plenty of evil in Islam.
Frum and Perle adore “street tough” lingo: “When it is in our power and our interest, we should toss dictators aside with no more compunction than a police sharpshooter feels when he downs a hostage-taker.” The authors confidently declare, “We must destroy regimes implicated in anti-American terrorism.” “Implicated” presumably includes simply saying nasty things about a government. As long as the United States can find some disgruntled exiles to tell lies about their former government (as happened in the case of some of the Iraqi exiles), then the United States automatically has the right to kill as many foreigners as necessary to topple the regime. As Frum and Perle make stark in their comments on Iraq, even false accusations against a foreign government are sufficient to justify an American invasion.
Paranoia is now the highest statecraft. “When in doubt, drop more bombs” seems to be the Frum-Perle rule of thumb. The illustrious authors declare, “Where intelligence is uncertain, prudent leaders will inevitably minimize risk by erring on the side of the worst plausible assumption. And rightly so.” In other words, if there is any doubt that a foreign nation might pose a threat to the United States, it would be irresponsible not to bomb that country into submission.
Frum and Perle were fiery advocates of going to war with Iraq. Perle famously predicted that the invasion would be a “cake-walk” for American soldiers — no fuss, no muss. There is not even a hint of remorse in this book for the fact that far more Americans have died in attempting to conquer Iraq than Perle promised. The book recounts a number of predictions by opponents of the war of events that did not come to pass — as if that somehow vindicates Perle’s false prediction. The swagger of the book’s portrayal of the Iraq issue is bizarre — since the book did not go to press until at least September 2003, at a time when the initial postwar euphoria had long since been replaced by widespread fears of a quagmire.
Frum and Perle scoff at those who doubt the transcendent benefits of the Iraq War:
By clutching Saddam Hussein’s regime by the throat and throwing it against the wall, the United States demonstrated that bin Laden’s boasts were false — that the US was overwhelmingly strong....
Perhaps, since neither Perle nor Frum has any combat experience, they naturally think of war in terms of a child’s tantrum in a toy room. This is a peculiar phrase to characterize a campaign that has made hundreds of American widows and left more hundreds of American children fatherless. It wasn’t a “regime” that was thrown up against the wall: it was an army and a people and a government that were bombed and assaulted into submission.
Frum and Perle sound as if the physical impact of the Iraq war was almost as transient as the flicker of a TV screen: “A visitor who walked through Baghdad in June would scarcely know that the city had been bombed in March.” Hundreds of buildings had been destroyed and at least one residential neighborhood was bombed to smithereens (on the basis of a false tip that Saddam was there). The Los Angeles Times surveyed hospitals in and around the capital and concluded in mid May 2003 that between 1,700 and 2,700 Iraqi civilians were killed in the battle of Baghdad; more than 8,000 Iraqi civilians were wounded.
In their book The End of Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, David Frum and Richard Perle’s attitude towards civilian casualties shines through in their brief discussion of the UN sanctions imposed on Iraq from 1990 to 2003. During the first Gulf War, the United States intentionally destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure. A 1995 analysis in a U.S. Air Force magazine approvingly noted that as a result of U.S. bombing and the subsequent shutdown of water-purification and sewage-treatment plants, “epidemics of gastroenteritis, cholera, and typhoid broke out, leading to perhaps as many as 100,000 civilian deaths and a doubling of the infant mortality rate.”
By the end of the 1990s, the infant-morality rate in Iraq was triple prewar levels. Denis Halliday, the UN administrator of the oil-for-food program, resigned in 1998 and denounced the sanctions as “nothing less than genocide.” Seventy members of Congress sent a letter to President Clinton in early 2000 condemning the Iraq sanctions as “infanticide masquerading as policy.” Columbia University Professor Richard Garfield, an epidemiologist and an expert on the effects of sanctions, estimated in 2003 that the sanctions had resulted in 343,900 to 529,000 infant and young-child fatalities.
Frum and Perle are far more incensed by the profits that French bankers earned from administering oil revenues under UN control than by a half-million dead Arab kids. They remark that the sanctions “operated well enough to squeeze Saddam’s ability to purchase costly weapons.” The authors seek to dump all the blame for the dead babies on Saddam’s head — even though the UN completely barred Iraqi oil exports for five years after the war (thereby preventing almost all Iraq imports of food and medicine during that period), even though the U.S. government routinely vetoed the imports into Iraq of billions of dollars of humanitarian goods that Iraqi oil exports had already paid for, and even though the U.S. government knew for many years that the sanctions policies were scourging civilians without undermining Saddam.
The omissions are perhaps the most glaring thing about this book.
The End of Evil contains a lengthier discussion of ancient CIA disputes over the calculation of the Soviet Gross National Product in the 1970s and 1980s than it does of Israeli policies in the occupied territories. The authors’ brief passing references to Israeli policies are like the cop on South Park who is always telling people, “There’s nothing to see here folks, just move along.... Nothing to see here....” Throughout the book, Israel is the supremely virtuous innocent bystander. Yet it is impossible to understand the supposed “need” for the United States to launch wars to reform Islam without examining the Middle East conflict.
Frum and Perle effectively declare that Israeli military and occupation policies are irrelevant to Arab and Muslim rage:
The greatest — indeed, the sole — obstacle to peace is the feeling among many people in the Arab and Muslim world that anything that was once theirs can never legitimately be anybody else’s.
Israelis on the front line of terrorist attacks take a profoundly different view. Nahum Barnea, chief columnist of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest circulation newspaper, observes,
Anyone who says that there is no connection between our presence, settlement-wise and militarily, in the territories and the insane dimensions to which Palestinian hatred has grown, is lying to his people.
Since the start of the second Intifada in September 2000, Palestinians have killed more than 700 Israelis while Israelis have killed more than 2,000 Palestinians. Frum and Perle exonerate the Israeli government for any and all killings of Palestinian civilians: “Palestinian terrorists — aware of the unusual global interest in their cause — have specialized in maximizing the exposure of civilians to Israeli retaliation.” That throwaway line is supposed to deter any inquiries about Israeli curfew policies that have resulted in the killings of many Palestinians guilty of nothing more than leaving their homes at the wrong time; about the Israeli Air Force “assassination bombings” that have intentionally killed scores of innocent Palestinians in order to try to take down Hamas functionaries; about the killings that have occurred in home demolitions (the Israeli government has destroyed the homes of more than 12,000 Palestinians in the last three years), et cetera. Frum and Perle implicitly rely on the theory of “collective guilt” to justify all such policies: Because some Palestinians have carried out murderous suicide bombings against Israelis, all Palestinians become fair game for Israeli retaliation.
A Palestianian state
Frum and Perle save their greatest contempt for proposals to create an independent Palestinian state. The authors ask, “Why should the United States do that? What’s in it for Americans?” That is a superb standard — one that should be used to evaluate the entire U.S. Middle Eastern policy. Since 1973, the United States has given Israel $240 billion in aid (in 2001 dollars), according to an analysis prepared for the U.S. Army War College by economist Thomas Stauffer. Osama bin Laden specified U.S. support of Israel as a key reason for al-Qaeda’s hostility.
After rattling off a long list of conditions for creation of a “disarmed Palestinian ministate,” Frum and Perle insist that such a ministate be “under the leadership of a president untainted by extremism.” This would be a novelty in that part of the world. What about Ariel Sharon — a leader who has been involved with carnage and massacres for over half a century? Israeli historian Benny Morris’s Israel’s Border Wars, 1949–1956 (Oxford University Press) details how an Israeli commando unit under Sharon’s command slaughtered 69 Arab villagers in 1953. Sharon was forced to resign as defense minister after he was harshly criticized by an Israeli government commission in a report on the 1982 massacres by Israeli proxies (Lebanese Christian militiamen armed and aided by the IDF) at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps that left more than 700 dead (mostly women and children).
Sharon is the foreign leader who has most closely embraced the Frum-Perle recipe for fighting terrorism. Since Sharon took power in early 2001, more Israelis have been killed in terrorist attacks than died in the 1967 Six Day War. The ongoing clashes with Palestinians have destroyed the tourist trade and left the Israeli economy in tatters. Even Sharon conceded last May, “It is not possible to continue holding three and a half million people under occupation. This is a terrible thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy.”
Terrorism, public and private
The End of Evil contains exhaustive details of abuses by Arab and Muslim governments and by Muslim terrorist groups. Specific cases of alleged terrorist attacks are repeatedly mentioned to justify a de facto all-out U.S. offensive against Muslim and Arab radicals.
But the authors never address the fact that governments kill far more people than do terrorist groups. From 1980 to 2000, international terrorists killed 7,745 people, according to the U.S. State Department. Yet, in the same decades, governments killed more than 10 million people in ethnic-cleansing campaigns, mass executions, politically caused famines, wars, and other slaughters. The 9/11 attacks made 2001 probably the only year in decades in which the number of people killed by international terrorists even approached 1 percent of the number killed by governments. Governments pose a far greater theat to peace and survival than do terrorist groups.
Many of Frum’s and Perle’s criticisms of Arab and Muslim governments in the Middle East are accurate. Yet almost all the governments in the Middle East have long records of systemic abuses against civilians — thus raising doubts about the wisdom or justice of the United States’s massively intervening on one side to smite all potential opponents.
After its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israel maintained control over a swath of land in south Lebanon, to protect itself from terrorist attacks by Hezbollah and others. From 1993 to 1999, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and its South Lebanon Army proxies killed at least 355 Lebanese civilians while Muslim guerrillas in Lebanon killed 9 Israeli civilians, according to B’Tselem, Israel’s premier human rights organization.
This 40-to-1 kill ratio of civilians was largely the result of the Israelis’ expansive use of force. In 1993 and 1996 Israel launched massive shelling campaigns on Lebanese villages in order to stampede hundreds of thousands of people north toward Beirut and to empty the territory of any possible Hezbollah supporters.
On April 18, 1996, the IDF artillery shelled a United Nations compound near Qana that was overflowing with 800 Lebanese civilians “who had fled from their villages on IDF orders.” The barrage killed 102 refugees and wounded hundreds of others. Hezbollah guerillas had fired Katyusha rockets a few hundred yards from the compound. A spokesman for UN forces in Lebanon quickly denounced the attack as a “massacre.” Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, the commander of the Israeli offensive, insisted that the shelling of the camp could not possibly have been deliberate because “that thing cannot happen in a democratic country like Israel.”
A UN investigation concluded that “it is unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors.” The IDF insisted that it was unaware that the camp was chock full of refugees. The UN report retorted, “Contrary to repeated denials, two Israeli helicopters and a remotely piloted vehicle [drone] were present in the Qana area at the time of the shelling.”
An Amnesty International report concluded that the IDF “intentionally attacked the UN compound.” A few weeks after the attack, one of the Israeli gunners involved in the shelling told a Jerusalem newsweekly, “In a war, these things happen.... It’s just a bunch of Arabs.” Ha’aretz columnist Ari Shavit, who fought at Qana 18 years earlier while serving in the IDF, observed,
An Israeli massacre can be distinguished in most respects from an Arab massacre in that it is not malicious, not carried out on orders from High Above and does not serve any strategic purpose.... An Israeli massacre usually occurs after we sanction an unjustifiable degree of violence so that at some point we lose the ability to control that violence. Thus, in most cases, an Israeli massacre is a kind of work accident.
Frum and Perle emphatically declare, “We must deter all regimes that use terror as a weapon of state against anyone, American or not.” There is no reason why the attack at Qana — as part of a premediated, coordinated effort to terrorize hundreds of thousands of people into fleeing their homes — should not be considered the use of “terror as a weapon of state.” On the other hand, it would be absurd to assume that this action somehow made Israel a threat to America or justified American retaliation against Israel.
Frum and Perle reveal that a sinister foreign lobby controls American foreign policy:
The reason our policy toward Saudi Arabia has been so abject for so long is not mere error. Our policy has been abject because so many of those who make the policy have been bought and paid for by the Saudis — or else are looking forward to the day when they will be bought and paid for.... Saudi Arabia presents a unique problem: Unlike Mexico and unlike Britain, it has over a quarter century spent hundreds of millions of dollars to corrupt the American political system.
The authors are outraged that the media does not highlight Saudi influence in daily press reports:
When journalists follow policy debates over tobacco or health care or any other domestic issue, they identify which people are expressing their conscientious beliefs and which are the paid lobbyists. The American public should expect equal information when the topic is national security — and they are especially entitled to it when the lobbyist is lobbying for an unfriendly power.
The Saudis fiercely opposed the Bush administration’s plans to invade Iraq last year. On the flip side, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported on April 5, 2003, “The war in Iraq was conceived by 25 neoconservative intellectuals, most of them Jewish, who are pushing President Bush to change the course of history.” A week before Bush started the war, the Wall Street Journal noted, “The U.S. is soon likely to go to war in Iraq in no small part because of the arguments of thinkers who have graced the pages of Commentary magazine over the years.” The American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) is widely perceived as the most powerful lobby in Washington, and AIPAC was gung-ho for the war.
Frum and Perle are correct that the Wahabi school of Islam — especially popular with the Saudis and their outreach missions — is noxious and backward. They are correct that Iran’s mullahs have been brutal and repressive. They are correct that women receive far too little respect in many Muslim countries. Arab nations have tended to be authoritarian and reactionary though often as a result of U.S. interventions and the propping up of dictators who serve America’s short-term political interests.
The authors cheerfully conclude, “This is a scenario for a long war, but it is not a scenario for endless war. No lie lasts forever, and militant Islam is a lie.”
Nowhere in the book do Frum and Perle even attempt to estimate how many Americans will need to die to fulfill their vision of victory over Islam. This may be tactical on their part, as such numbers would not spur converts to their cause. Or perhaps the authors don’t consider American casualties relevant in the grand scheme of things.
Frum and Perle offer nothing to justify the book’s basic thesis that the United States must choose between “victory or holocaust.” There is no evidence that Islamic governments or movements threaten the survival of America. America’s survival is far more likely to be threatened by launching an endless series of religiously motivated unnecessary wars.
Frum and Perle repeatedly urge the U.S. government to intervene to suppress anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic incitements at home or around the world. Yet, if someone wrote about Zionism the way The End of Evil writes about Islam, Frum and Perle would be first in line to accuse the writer of anti-Semitism — and rightly so.
Frum and Perle boast, “Now that the U.S. has become the greatest of all great powers in world history, its triumph has shown that freedom is irresistible.” But the more aggressive the U.S. government has become, the less its military triumphs have anything to do with freedom. For Frum and Perle to portray their war on terrorism as a crusade for freedom is a joke — especially since freedom to make money is the only freedom for which they demonstrate consistent enthusiasm. (The authors, perhaps inspired by the ghost of Richard Nixon, ominously warn, “We may be so eager to protect the right to dissent that we lose sight of the difference between dissent and subversion.”)
The End of Evil would have American policymakers always err on the side of inflicting carnage. If this book becomes “conventional wisdom” for the Bush administration, the president will very likely have far more military funerals to avoid.
The Middle East is a quagmire and no amount of U.S. bombing will turn it into a Garden of Eden. We are far more likely to reduce terrorist attacks on the United States by exiting the quagmire than by tripling or quadrupling military assaults in that region. It is a delusion to assume that the more wars America starts, the more peace and liberty Americans will eventually enjoy.
James Bovard is author of Lost Rights (1994) and the forthcoming Terrorism and Tyranny: How Bush's Crusade is Sabotaging Peace, Justice, and Freedom (St. Martin's Press, September 2003) and serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.
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