In this week’s column, I off-handedly mentioned something that I thought had been pretty well-established by now: that Bush “attacked Afghanistan without cause.” Although the protests against invading Iraq were far bigger than those against bombing Afghanistan, in truth many thoughtful Americans have been horribly hoodwinked by the Administration. They don’t understand that, as with Iraq, Afghanistan had nothing to do with fighting terrorism and everything to do with the usual geopolitical grabs for influence over the oil and natural gas supplies which are the lynchpin of modern capitalist production. Here’s an e-mail I got today from John, one of my regular correspondents:

Camon, even for you, attacking Afghanistan without cause????

Where did you come up with that one from????? Do you realize that the only government in the world that recognized the taliban as the rightful government of Afghanistan at the time was Pakistan? Even the UN didnt. So, it is not like we invaded even North Korea or Iran. We gave an ultimatum to the parasite thugs that leached on to the Afghani people. But even if….WITHOUT CAUSE??????? How could you say that??? How could you HONESTLY say that???? Where are you? Is there a real person in there somewhere??

Yes, John, there is a real person in here. Somewhere. And he really needs a shower. Onward and downward:

Those who haven’t found it at Target for $7 like I did should pick up a copy of Bob Woodward’s book “Bush at War.” Written with the cooperation of Bush and his top officials, the book details the Administration’s first reactions to the 9/11 attacks. The so-called neocon wing of the Administration–Rumsfeld, Rice, Armitage–urged Bush within hours after the collapse of the World Trade Center to use the attacks as an excuse to attack Saddam Hussein. This isn’t some liberal conspiracy monger, but the Administration’s official story. Bush decided that the American people hadn’t been properly primed for an Iraq attack, so they decided to go after Afghanistan instead.

Now there’s little doubt that Afghanistan’s Taliban regime had something of an unholy alliance with Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. In fact, bin Laden was in Afghanistan, not far from Kandahar, as of 9/9/01, under the protection of Mullah Omar. But Bush didn’t have any evidence that Osama had carried out 9/11 at the time. As far as we know, he still doesn’t. So attacking Afghanistan to get Osama didn’t necessarily make sense. Furthermore, the Taliban repeatedly offered to turn Osama over if presented with evidence against him–a reasonable request considering that The Taliban had no diplomatic relations with the United States, much less an extradition treaty.

Reliable sources within Afghanistan, however, informed me that bin Laden had fled Afghanistan on or before 9/11 in anticipation of U.S. missile attacks. Where did Osama go? Probably Pakistan’s “Northern Areas,” the Pakistani-held section of Kashmir. This area is extremely rugged and mountainous, and the locals are highly sympathetic to bin Laden’s brand of Islamic fundamentalism. Kashmir is a standard escape route from Afghanistan when the heat is on; that’s where the hijackers of an Indian jet went after the Taliban released them.

Why did Bin Laden leave? Because Bush spooked him, giving him so much advance warning of a U.S. invasion that he would have had to have been an utter moron not to flee. Had Bush really wanted Osama, he would have asked Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan–all U.S. allies–to seal their borders with Afghanistan. Then he would have inserted Special Forces commandos to trap bin Laden and his entourage. The fact that he never attempted to do this proves that capturing bin Laden was never a principal war aim of the U.S. invasion.

Bush’s interest in the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project, however, is well-documented in my book “Gas War.” Most experts agree that, had 9/11 not provided a pretext for a war, Bush would have invaded Afghanistan by the end of 2001 nonetheless. The details are in my book; sorry, but you’ll have to read them there since I don’t feel like typing the whole thing up again.

But I digress. I do that. Back to John’s letter:

Three nations: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates gave diplomatic recognition to the Taliban regime in 2001. They did, after all, control 95% of the country at the time, and were widely expected to finish off the Northern Alliance by the summer of ’02. The United States and United Nations continued to recognize the Northern Alliance as the legal government of Afghanistan, but in practice had many dealings with the Taliban, who were actually in charge. (The Northern Alliance, meanwhile, received little help from the United States, which had largely given up on it.) For instance, top Bush Administration officials met with Taliban officials in Texas during February 2001 in order to discuss the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project. I wonder what happened to the beautiful Afghan carpet the Taliban mullahs gave Bush as a present? It was supposedly a beauty.

Yes, Bush issued an ultimatum to turn over Osama. But when the Taliban agreed to do so, Bush refused their offer. Perhaps he wasn’t all that interested in Osama after all; me, I would have loved to hear Osama testifying in court about the interesting meetings he had with Bush’s father. But I can understand why Bush 43 might not have been so interested.

I’ll admit, I don’t understand the North Korea/Iran/Afghanistan comparison. So if the United States invades a nation that doesn’t happen to enjoy full diplomatic recognition from the US and/or UN, it doesn’t count? And what about Iraq? Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had a seat at the UN and was, in fact, recognized by most of the world’s nations. But that’s different–I guess. For some reason that I can’t quite figure out.

So yeah, it was without cause. We weren’t after Osama, we weren’t going after the guys who did 9/11, and we sure as fuck didn’t care about liberating the long-suffering people of Afghanistan. As I write this, NATO is still thinking about maybe possibly expanding peacekeeping outside of Kabul–you know, to 95% of the country. The part that always needed it most. If we had a cause, it wasn’t one we could say in public.

In all fairness, I understand why Afghanistan looked legitimate to some people. The Taliban were foul, they harbored terrorists, terrorists attacked us. But we didn’t act against the Taliban to liberate women, the Taliban offered to turn over the terrorists we demanded, and the terrorists we demanded had nothing to do with 9/11. It was a brilliant act of deception, as demonstrated by the fact that, even now that the Iraq war has become a debacle, most opponents of the Administration, people like Howard Dean, continue to support the Afghan invasion.

Oh, and they’re Afghan people, not Afghanis. Afghanis are the money, like dollars and rubles.

A Reminder for New Yorkers

“Schlock ‘N’ Roll” cartoonist Ward Sutton’s latest project, a gallery event called “Breaking News,” is tonight at 7 p.m. at the Judson Church, 55 Washington Square South at Thompson Street in Manhattan. Check out “special clips from The Daily Show, a presentation from The Onion, a reading by Tom Tomorrow (This Modern World), performance by Zeroboy, music by Joe McGinty & Nick Danger (Loser’s Lounge), animation by Robert Smigel & J.J. Sedelmaier (SNL’s TV Funhouse), as well as artwork by yours truly and others not so truly. I’ll be hanging out, scrounging for food and drink in these difficult times.

Hey, what’s the point of ear hairs? I mean, biologically. Are they nature’s way of protecting us from evil brain-eating centipedes? Surely some evolutionary biologist reading this knows the answer.

My favorite e-mail from today comes from “Sam in L.A.”, who shares the following with us:

You leftwingers are idiots. All of us to the right of you are richer than you, so our political campaigns crankout more propaganda than yours no matter how much yours crank out. You don’t even realize we divert your attention over to other policy matters so you won’t notice us cranking out so much campaign propaganda that the voters give us the majority of the political offices.

Therefore, our government policies will always be so widespread that you are marginalized (even if you stop us from getting the media controlled by people who are too rich to care about how much campaign propaganda we crank out, and even if you stop us from giving big campaign contributions to campaigns and getting the government policies we want in return.)

Thank you for making your so-called clean money campaign finance reforms voluntary, so our campaigns can still outspend yours by as much as they want to. In other words, thank you for letting our campaigns continue to crank out more propaganda than yours no matter how much yours crank out.

Goodbye doddering old Senator Strom Thurmond. Hello California Governor Arnold the Groper. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!….

Aside from the “left-winger” jibe (hey, I’m a moderate, it’s the country that’s gone over the Niagara Falls of ultra-conservatism/Bushite proto-fascism…and I may be an idiot, God knows I feel like one whenever I see people like Ann Coulter raking in the cash while I sit in my tiny apartment), Sam’s pretty much spot-on. The right will always have more money than the left, and making campaign finance reform voluntary is like any other regulation that’s voluntary–on the environment, labor rights, you name it–utterly worthless.

On the other hand, Democrats/liberals/progressives are an overwhelming majority in this country. The irony is that this majority has been hoodwinked by hundreds of millions of advertising dollars into supporting politicians and programs that work against the interests of the nation as a whole and against them personally. The duty of those of us smart enough to realize that rich people don’t give a damn about the rest of us is to show them that that’s so. That’s the purpose of the book I’m currently writing; more on that later.

By the way, I’m having a hard time being bummed about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s victory in California. To hear my Democratic friends tell it, this is just as bad as Florida 2000, but no–it ain’t. Arnold worked within the system; if Californians don’t like the recall provision in their state constitution they ought to get rid of it. Isn’t that what their referendum system is for? Bush, on the other hand, overturned the system, broke the rules, violated the state and federal constitution, stuffed ballot boxes, dispatched violent goons to intimidate officials conducting a recount. Hardly the same thing, though it’s icky to see that pig George Schultz joining Arnold’s transition team.

The Great Ted Rall Book Naming Contest

True confession: I’ve always had trouble naming my books. An old college roommate came up with “Waking Up in America.” The original title for “Revenge of the Latchkey Kids” was supposed to be “Kill Your Parents Before They Kill You”; oddly, the Barnes & Noble chain refused to carry any book with such an, um, title. Anyway:

Next year I’m publishing a collection of essays, columns and cartoons about the Bush Administration. I’m entertaining several possible titles, but to tell the truth I’m none too thrilled about them. That’s why I’m turning to you for help.

Send your suggestion for a title (and subtitle) for my 2004 Bush Administration book to Form should be along the lines of “Beating Around the Bush: Diary of a Contrarian.” (Like I said, I’m having problems.) Try to avoid puns based on my name. Short is better. Alliteration ain’t bad. Most of all, though, it should describe the contents of the book in a way that makes readers want to pick it up and take it home.

If I use your suggestion or something close to it, you’ll win the original artwork for one of my cartoons–a value of $500 to $700. Not all cartoons are available, but I’ll give you your choice within reason. Deadline is ASAP. Contest ends when I announce that it’s over right here; otherwise, assume it’s ongoing. Good luck!

Arnold Schwarzeneggar is governor-elect of California this morning because he learned the art of the apology. Confronted with the fact that he had said some stupid stuff about Hitler as a young man and that he had indulged in foul behavior with unwilling women, he didn’t pull the usual duck-and-cover maneuvers that normal politicians use. He admitted it, apologized for it, and did so–brilliantly, in my view–in front of a friendly crowd, at one of his rallies. Imagine if Bill Clinton had said, “Yeah, I had sex with Monica Lewinsky. She’s da bomb and I love her and we’re moving in together as soon as my divorce from Hillary comes through!”? We would’ve loved him for it–and he wouldn’t have faced the impeachment that he richly deserved.

On a serious note, I doubt that Arnold will be able to govern California any more effectively than Jesse Ventura did in Minnesota. Although the national Republican Party has gotten behind him in the final hour, Arnold remains an outsider at odds with the hard-right tenor of the state’s GOP leadership, and he’s dealing with a disciplined Democratic-controlled legislature in Sacramento. He’s going to need to close that $8 billion budget gap somehow–make that $12 billion if he repeals the car tax–and it’s hard to imagine where he’ll find the money without soaking the rich with a big income tax hike. I almost feel sorry for the guy…and sorrier for the long-suffering people of California, who’ll continue to make do with failing schools and infrastructure because of Proposition 13.

One “Whit Abraham,” who claims to be a cadet at the US Naval Academy, is the latest to send his words of electronic wisdom my way. This missive merely confirms how close I came to social disaster when I very nearly ended up enrolling at Annapolis myself back during the fall of ’81; the lure of free tuition, guaranteed employment and those girl-magnet uniforms were great, but not great enough when I considered the likelihood that I’d end up court-martialed for insubordination. If you think I’m snotty now…! Anyway, here’s Whit’s letter:

Your cartoons sure are eye-poppers. Judging by your long list of guidelines for the e-mails that you receive, I will venture a guess and claim, probablly accurately, that you love to dish out criticism but can’t take any. That’s your excuse for only reading emails from people who agree with you, and “appreciate” what you articulate through pictures. Hiding behind this list of rules is pretty embarassing for such a clever guy, even though it is a great way to celebrate yourself. Maybe you should learn how to face criticism – you are a political critic yourself, arent you? Great job on consistintly overlooking why our war against Saddam was indeed just, and the fact that post-war investigations and reparations to an already damaged nation will take more than a few months after the shooting stops. I understand that you make your living off of irrational sensationalism, but what purpose do your cartoons really serve? I understand that you arent the only satirist out there, but you sure are a prominant one. People like you weaken the morale of our citizenry when, in order to sow the seeds of peace in the Middle East, they need to believe in our leadership and the just reasons that were articulated for engaging in war. Historically, people such as yourself were shunned during times of national crisis, and for good reasons. People like you provide an obscene amount of public criticism and denegration, offer no subsequent solutions to the problems you indirectly address through petty cartoons, and then shirk behind “email guidelines.” In short, you speak loudly and carry no stick whatsoever. Therfore, you are obviously a coward. Most Americans would call you something else…a synonym that starts with p. Report me to my internet provider…they liberated Baghdad while you had arts and crafts time. Besides, thats what I’d expect from a newsboy like you.

Let’s take these in order. The reason for my e-mail rules, Whit, is that I’m a busy guy. I do an op-ed column, three syndicated cartoons and four freelance cartoons every week. Plus I’m writing a book, and now this blog thing! That only leaves so much time for responding to e-mail. I figure, if I’m going to reply to anyone, it’s gonna be my fans, not people who hate my guts and wish I was dead. And yes, I also pledge to report people who threaten me to their ISPs and law enforcement authorities. Given how many nuts there are in the world, it’s stupid to assume that people who send you a death threat aren’t serious about it. So yeah, I take these things seriously. Think about it: when’s the last time you sent a death threat to someone whose opinion you disagreed with? Right. Most people don’t do that. So, when someone does, they should be reported.

I love this quote: “People like you weaken the morale of our citizenry when, in order to sow the seeds of peace in the Middle East, they need to believe in our leadership and the just reasons that were articulated for engaging in war.” Sounds like my pal Alan Keyes, who posited that I should be shot or jailed for damaging the war effort. “Need to believe”? No one needs to believe anything but the truth. If it isn’t obvious by now that the Bush Administration lied–not distorted, not misled, but outright lied–about Saddam’s ties to Al Qaeda and his ability to strike US targets with weapons of mass destruction, I don’t know what to say. Our “leadership” is illegitimate and unelected and should be treated as such. That means every single thing they say or do is by definition a lie. If Bush declares Arbor Day, don’t believe it. Oh, and please let me know when the “seeds of peace” start sprouting in the Middle East as the result of the invasion of Iraq.

The “coward” insult is a right-wing standard. I’ll leave it to others to judge whether or not I’m a pussy (there! I said it!), but I’ve probably spent more time in war zones than Whit–Afghanistan and Kashmir to be specific, plus some hairy moments in southern Kyrgyzstan during an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan offensive. And I didn’t have a gun. I don’t take offense personally, the brave men and women journalists–“newsboys,” if you will–who died to bring us the truth from Afghanistan during late 2001 were anything but cowards. And unlike Whit, they learned how to spell wherever THEY went to school.

Max R. sent me the following missive about a cartoon I drew last week that depicted the ultimate solution to what Israelis consider the Arab problem:

You must be unaware of which side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has repeatedly talked about driving the other side into “the sea.” It’s interesting that you managed to turn that Arab threat against Israelis on its head by implying (absurdly) that it’s the Palestinians who face that danger. (Cartoon of 10/2/03) Nice timing, too. It’s true that you couldn’t have known that 19 Israelis (Jews and Arabs) would be killed in Haifa by a suicide bomber — but since those massacres happen like clockwork, you could have expected it.

True. When I drew that cartoon last week, no one from Hamas or Hezbollah was kind enough to drop me a line about upcoming suicide bombings. But what people on BOTH sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict miss is that BOTH sides are the victims of terrorist attacks. The suicide bombers are reprehensible, targeting innocent civilians. So are the Israeli army and air attacks on Gaza and the West Bank. Both sides think they’re retaliating–whatever. In what way does knowing that a suicide bombing will likely occur in Israel next week make it inappropriate to comment on Ariel Sharon’s disgusting policies?

Given your other cartoons, I don’t know why I should think that you care how many Israelis are killed by Palestinian suicide bombers. Still, it’s depressing to see so clearly that Israel’s defense of its citizenry is a joke to you.

With sadness that the Left, whose number I once counted myself among, is so rabidly anti-Israel

I don’t know about “The Left.” I myself resent the notion that criticizing Ariel Sharon makes one anti-Israeli. (Hmmm…sounds familiar, huh?) Of course I care. I care about the harm occuring on both sides of Sharon’s vile Berlin Wall that he’s building to establish a total apartheid state–and that wall is the subject of the cartoon.

Retaliation is a multisyllabic way to refer to lowering yourself to your enemy’s level.

A scrumptious steak dinner is in the balance. One of my savviest drinking buddies and an all-around great guy who knows more about Inside the Beltway politics than most people I know has bet me that General Wesley Clark will defeat Governor Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination. I think Dean will win, not only because I want him to—as a charter member of the 2004 Anybody But Bush club, I think the Vermonter stands a better chance of defeating Piehole* than any other Democratic presidential candidate to date—but because I think he has it locked up. Failing, of course, some future scandal involving cats, herpes and hair spray. My best guess is that Clark, a registered Republican until 25 days before his declaration of intent, is running for the vice presidency. Frankly, I think the only guy who can give Dean trouble now is John Kerry–and he’s pretty much toast. Still. My friend’s a smart guy. Does he know something I don’t?

*Piehole = my term of endearment for the man who plays the president on TV. Also known as Shrub, Bush 2, Bush 43, the Resident, Thief-in-Chief, Generalissimo El Busho, That Idiot.

People write the darnedest things! Check out this e-mail I received today. One Bryan (I’ll spare him the use of his last name), writes:

I think you need to ask yourself a question……

Here it is….. Have I gone to far? First off let my say I do enjoy your work, albeit with a grain of salt. Next, I know this might be hard for you to contemplate. But just humor me for a moment. Have you ever heard the saying “The truth is probably somewhere in between both extremes.” Ok you obviously hate the Bush administration. So let’s call him the “right” extreme. Although I don’t agree….I would call someone on the level of Hitler the most extreme conservative, but I digress. Bush is the most extreme for this argument. Who would be on the “left” extreme… hmmm…. Let’s think…. Maybe Ghandi, but he wasn’t a saint either. Just lookup his views on the untouchables cast in India. Ok. How about you! Yea… So if I am right, then that means the truth is somewhere in between your point of view and Mr. Bush and both of you can be accused of being an extremist…

Just think about it…

OK, I’ll allow that the Bush Administration fits on the ideological spectrum somewhere to the left of Hitler. Let’s say, on a scale from 1 to 10, Adolf’s a 10 and Marx was a 1. The question is, where’s Bush? By definition 5 would be a centrist. Since Bush’s regime espouses a radical right-wing agenda–establishing a concentration camp at Gitmo, paring the Bill of Rights, running up a $10 trillion deficit so that a few thousand superrich people don’t have to pay taxes, a USA-Patriot Act that allows government spooks to paw through your stuff without having to tell you about it–he’s no 5. Or 6. I’d give him an 8 for what he’s done and a 9 for what he’d like to do. Death camps? Nah—not yet, anyway.

Where I run into trouble with Bryan is his supposition that, as someone who’s against Bush’s politics, I’m an anti-Bush, a Ghandi to Bush’s Hitler. That would make me a 3 for what I am and a 2 for what I’d like to do. But that’s silly. I’m all over the place ideologically; I espouse libertarian values of keeping the government out of people’s personal lives, conservative opinions on balancing the budget, free trade and keeping out of foreign conflicts that don’t concern us, and leftist views of economic and social justice. I support the Second Amendment right to bear arms; I’m against the death penalty because it turns society into murderers, not because I think Mumia’s innocent. Which I don’t.

I’m certainly not much of a wild-eyed revolutionary in the vein of, say, Dubya. For one thing, I pretty much like my streets free of rioters and think the United States would be just dandy if it would nip and tuck some of its uglier aspects: propping up dictators, paying teachers like shit, letting homeless people sleep on the street, that sort of thing. On the other hand, I’m willing to concede that the system may not be reformable, that it may one day have to be utterly destroyed in order for progress to occur. That’d be a shame, though, since it wouldn’t take much reform to make things perfect. So where do I rank myself? I don’t, but if you put a Constitutionally-protected firearm up to my head and demand that I tell you, I’ll say: 5. I feel like a moderate, anyway. The “average” may be right-wing, but that doesn’t turn the rest of us into left-wing. Not automatically, anyway. Ideological labeling is stupid, unless you’re describing a simpleton like Bush.

So, there. I thought about it. Why? I can’t imagine.

Israel, already being led over the precipice of disaster by Ariel Sharon, continues to escalate the cycle of madness in the Middle East by attacking Syria without provocation. (It followed the bombing in Haifa that killed 19 Israelis, but there’s zero proof that Syria had anything to do with that attack.) If President Assad possessed any integrity, he’d do what countries do when their neighbors invade their airspace to drop bombs: declare war. But he won’t, because he would surely lose against Israel’s U.S.-financed army and because his “brotherly Arab nation” friends wouldn’t lift a finger to help if he did. And there’s always the chance that George W. Bush would use such a declaration as an excuse to add Syria to his growing collection of Muslim colonies. As Scott McClellan says, “We’ve always stated that Israel has the right to defend herself.” How about Syria. Scott? Does Syria have the right to defend herself too? It’s just another reason why Arabs feel powerless, and resort to extreme measures like blowing themselves up to make a point.