An alphabet of sorts for our time Print E-mail
The News on Sunday - Pakistan
May 29, 2005-- Rabi-us-Sani 20, 1426 A.H.
3. Political Economy
An alphabet of sorts for our time
By Kaleem Omar

At a 'Ban the Bomb' march in London organised by Bertrand Russell's Committee for Nuclear Disarmament back in the mid-1950s, I saw a demonstrator carrying a banner headlined 'Alphabet for the Atomic Age.' Below the headline appeared the following piece of verse: "A is for Atom and when it's let loose, / The rest of the letters will be of no use." Fifty years have passed since then, and we now need an updated version of an alphabet for our time. Without further ado, then, here is the first part of the new alphabet (from A to L).

A IS FOR AFGHANISTAN, a country which the Russians tried to bomb into the stone age in the name of socialism. Then the Americans tried to bomb it into the stone age in the name of democracy, but succeeded only in rearranging the rubble left by the Russians. Who next will try to bomb it into the stone age and in the name of what?

B IS FOR BUSH, long known as Dubya, and now also known in some anti-Iraq-war circles as 'The Bomber of Baghdad.' According to New York University professor Mark Crispin Miller, author of 'The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder' (W W Norton & Company, 2001), Bush is "the most illiterate president in American history." Let's be charitable, however, and say he shares the honour with Gerald Ford.

C IS FOR CHENEY, the man who actually runs America while Bush -- a fitness fanatic -- is out tooling around on his bicycle (as he was doing one day earlier this month when the White House had to be evacuated due to a security alert). It used to be said of US vice-presidents that the only qualifications they needed for the job were a dark suit and a pulse. Cheney, however, has proved that you don't even need a pulse.

D IS FOR DOG, as in the 1997 movie 'Wag the Dog' -- arguably the greatest political satire since Charlie Chaplin's 'The Great Dictator.' 'Wag the Dog' has a White House spin doctor (Robert DeNiro) hiring a top Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to fabricate a war in 'nuclear-armed' Albania in order to cover-up a presidential sex scandal as election day approaches. In August 2002, as Washington's drum beat for war against a supposedly 'WMD-armed' Iraq increased in tempo, and as Bush's poll ratings fell because of public outrage in America over corporate scandals and a falling stock market, an independent community of Democrats called on its supporters to sign a petition to oppose what it saw as the Bush administration's 'wag the dog' plan to invade, conquer and occupy Iraq.

E IS FOR EQUALITY, about which the less said, these days, the better. Even so, it might still be useful to recall something the Earl of Arran (a British journalist) said about equality back in 1967: "My father always told me that if you see a man in a Rolls Royce you could be sure he was not a gentleman unless he was the chauffeur."

F IS FOR FOX NEWS, the tabloid of American television news channels. If tabloid newspapers print all the news that's NOT fit to print, Fox News is a television channel whose news bulletins sound as if the US occupation of Iraq is being led by Fox anchors. During the US invasion of Afghanistan, Fox viewers were treated, night after night, to the unedifying spectacle of the channel's self-styled 'war correspondent' in Afghanistan, former US talk show host Geraldo Rivera (a sort of downmarket male version of Oprah Winfrey), running around the countryside like a cowboy waving a pistol.

G IS FOR GUANTANAMO BAY, the US military detention camp in Cuba which has aptly been described as 'a hellhole on earth' -- notwithstanding efforts by Bush administration spin doctors to portray it as some sort of holiday resort.

H IS FOR HALLIBURTON, the Houston-based oil services giant. Dick Cheney was the company's CEO from 1995 to July 2000, when he resigned to become Bush's running mate in the 2000 presidential campaign. When Cheney left Halliburton, he received $ 35 million from the company as a severance package. As US vice-president, he continues to receive $ 150,000 a year from Halliburton under a deferred payment arrangement and also holds stock options worth $ 18 million in the company. In a move smacking of payback time, the Bush administration awarded Halliburton and its construction subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, contracts totalling more than $ 12 billion for reconstruction work in Iraq. Most of the contracts were awarded through a blatantly non-transparent bidding process.

I IS FOR IRAQ, where the chaos and continuing loss of life shows no sign of abating. As if to underscore this fact, a car bomb explosion killed three US soldiers in central Baghdad on Tuesday while a fourth was shot in a drive-by shooting. Four more US soldiers were killed in another bomb blast a day earlier south of the Iraqi capital. In addition, six Iraqis were killed near a Baghdad junior high school for girls on Tuesday, a day after 49 Iraqis died in a string of explosions, suicide attacks and drive-by shootings. Bush, for his part, insists that the situation in Iraq is "getting better."

J IS FOR JEB, Bush's younger brother. The vote count in the 2000 presidential election between Republican George W Bush and his Democratic rival Al Gore was so close that if it had been the claimed dismissal of a batsman in cricket match that was at stake instead of the presidency of the United States, even the umpire might have appealed! In the end, the contest was swung Bush's way when the US Supreme Court, in a controversial 5-4 split decision, stopped the vote recount in Florida, where Bush's brother, Jeb, was (and still is) governor, giving Bush the electoral votes he needed to push him past the winning post by a whisker. Had the recount not been stopped, a mere 350 additional popular votes for Gore would have given him all of Florida's electoral votes and he would have become president instead of Bush. Making the Florida recount episode even more controversial was the fact that the five Supreme Court judges who voted to stop the recount were all nominated to the bench by previous Republican administrations -- prompting Bill Clinton to sarcastically remark: "Bush won the election fair and square -- 5 to 4 in the Supreme Court!"

K IS FOR KATHERINE HARRIS, aka 'Cruella de Ville.' As Florida's secretary of state in 2000 (yes, US states have secretaries of state too), she was in charge of the state's voting procedure and played an infamous part in the vote recount episode. She was reportedly hoping to be rewarded for her loyalty to Bush with an ambassadorial appointment in his administration if he won. After all the stick the Bush campaign came in for over the Florida vote recount episode, however, Dubya dropped de Ville like a hot potato. She was again ignored when plum assignments were handed out by Bush at the start of his second term. One can only hope Bush doesn't have second thoughts about her suitability and end up appointing her ambassador to Pakistan. One shudders at the thought.

L IS FOR LADEN, as in Osama bin -- a man Bush had vowed, back in September 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, to "smoke out of his cave" and "bring to justice." In the years since then, however, Bush has been reluctant to even mention Osama bin Laden's name. When pressed by journalists at a press conference in September 2004 to say whether the US knew where bin Laden was, Bush hurriedly skipped over the question, muttering: "OBL? I don't know." Senator John Kerry, Bush's Democratic rival in the November 2004 election, took up this point during the October 13, 2004 presidential debate, saying: "When the president had an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, he took his focus off him, outsourced the job to Afghan warlords, and Osama bin Laden escaped." Rubbing in the point, Kerry added, "Six months after he said Osama bin Laden must be caught dead or alive, the president was asked, 'Where is Osama bin Laden?' He said, 'I don't really think about him very much. I'm not that concerned.' We need a president who stays deadly focused on the real war on terror." To which, Bush could only feebly reply: "Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations." (To be continued.)
The News on Sunday -- Pakistan
June 5, 2005-- Rabi-us-Sani 27, 1426 A.H.
3. Political Economy

An alphabet of sorts for our time -- Part II
By Kaleem Omar

The first part of this article (covering the letters A to L) appeared in these columns on May 29th. This is the second part (M to R).

M IS FOR MONEY, as in the billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Iraq awarded by the Bush administration to US oil-services giant Halliburton Corporation and its subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) through a non-transparent bidding process. Details disclosed to US congressional investigators in June 2004 about the Pentagon's contracting process in Iraq revealed that, in the autumn of 2002, during the US's preparations for invading Iraq, the Pentagon sought and received the assent of senior Bush administration officials, including Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I Lewis ("Scooter") Libby, before hiring Halliburton, a Houston-based company that was headed by Cheney for five years (1995-2000) before he became Bush's running mate in the 2000 presidential campaign, to develop secret plans for restoring Iraq's oil facilities. With a personal net worth in excess of $ 150 million, Cheney is by far the richest of the top 100 officials in the Bush administration. He received a severance package of $ 35 million from Halliburton when he left the company in the summer of 2000 and continues to receive $ 100,000 a year from it under a deferred payment arrangement even as vice-president of the United States. In a move smacking of payback time, the Bush administration awarded Halliburton and its construction subsidiary KBR more than $ 12 billion worth of contracts to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, including a $ 7 billion contract to KBR to put out oil well fires and evaluate the state of petroleum fields in post-war Iraq. All things considered, it's a pretty neat trick: first the Bush administration attacks Iraq without any justification and destroys its infrastructure; then the administration awards huge contracts to its cronies to rebuild the infrastructure that its own military forces have destroyed. Small wonder, then, that Halliburton and KBR executives are said to be laughing all the way to the bank these days.

N IS FOR NATIONS, as in United, the world body that Bush said during the US build-up for war against Iraq was in danger of becoming "irrelevant." Bush had levelled that criticism only because two of the UN Security Council's permanent members (France and Russia) had threatened to veto the draft resolution tabled by the US and Britain seeking the Council's approval for the war against Iraq. Most of the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council, including Pakistan, had also refused to support the US's and Britain's draft resolution. When Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair realised they would lose the vote, they withdrew the draft and took their countries to war against Iraq without the UN's approval, in what was an unprovoked act of aggression in violation of every canon of international law and in defiance of world public opinion. Even UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a soft-spoken man, was moved to describe the US-led invasion of Iraq as an "illegal war."

O IS FOR OIL, a commodity that Iraq has in plenty, with proven reserves of 112 billion barrels -- the second largest in the world after Saudi Arabia's. At today's price of around $ 50 per barrel, Iraq's oil reserves are worth $ 5.6 trillion -- a pretty useful piece of change even by US standards. It is said that White House officials had originally intended to call their war against Iraq "Operation Iraqi Liberation", but when they realised that that spelled O.I.L. they changed the name to "Operation Iraqi Freedom"!

O IS ALSO FOR OPEC, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which is primarily concerned with coordinating the crude-oil policies and prices of its member states. Founded in 1960, OPEC has 11 members -- Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. Of the world's known oil reserves, 65 per cent lie beneath the Middle East. As the world's biggest consumer and importer of oil, the United States has a vital stake in ensuring that it's requirements continue to get first priority from Middle Eastern oil producers. That's why the US is building four huge permanent military bases in Iraq. Construction of the bases gives the lie to Bush's assertion, at a White House press conference last week, that he will bring American troops in Iraq home as soon as the US has trained the new Iraqi army to fight the insurgents. The giveaway in Bush's statement was that he did not say when this withdrawal would take place.

P IS FOR PATRIOT, as in the Patriot Act, a draconian piece of legislation sponsored by the Bush administration and passed by the US Senate on October 25, 2001 by a vote of 98-1, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. The only member of the Senate to oppose the act was Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold. But more than 25 million Americans live in states or communities that have officially declared that they oppose those parts of the Patriot Act that trample on US civil liberties and freedoms. It is also notable that the act has become the target of an artistic resistance in America that speaks with the same clarity and passion that Feingold displayed when he stood alone in the Senate against the forces of ignorance and repression. Cartoonists Mike Konopackl and Gary Huck organised the satirical USA Patriot Act exhibition of pro-civil liberties cartoons in 2002. Novelist Ursula K Le Guin, the author of the "Left Hand of Darkness," has been appearing at rallies to express the concern of artists regarding a law that clearly threatens freedom of association, movement and expression. "What do attacks on freedom of speech and writing mean to a writer?" Le Guin asks. "It means that somebody's there with a big plug they're trying to fit in your mouth." American libraries, too, are under siege under the provisions of the Patriot Act, which, among other things, gives the FBI the right to obtain a court order to access any records that American public libraries have of books borrowed by customers. The Patriot Act, and the even more draconian Homeland Security Act (passed on January 23, 2002), have turned America into a country that increasingly resembles a police state. Welcome to Bush's Orwellian world of "Big Brother Is Watching You."

Q IS FOR QUESTIONS ABOUT WORDS, such as last October's hulaballoo about Bush and Senator John Kerry's awkward phrases. One flap was over Kerry's use of the word "nuisance" in an interview with the New York Times. Kerry talked about how he hoped to reduce the threat of terrorism, to the point where terrorists were "not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance." The Bush campaign charged that this showed Kerry didn't understand the nature of the threat, that it demeaned those who died (in the 9/11 attacks). They said for him to compare terrorism to prostitution and illegal gambling showed a pre-9/11 mentality that would be dangerous for the United States. In fact, Kerry never compared the threat of terrorism to either. He only said that terrorism would never go away, like prostitution and illegal gambling. It was a somewhat inarticulate way of saying that he hoped to beat terrorists to the point where they lost power and influence. For the Bush camp to suggest otherwise, as George W Bush did at one point during the October 13, 2004 presidential debate, was intellectually dishonest.

R IS FOR RESIGN, which is what Americans opposed to Bush's policies would like him to do. Critics say Bush lied to the American people and the world about Saddam Hussein's non-existent ties to al-Qaeda, lied about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, lied about the so-called "imminent threat" that Iraq allegedly posed to "the national security of the United States," and continues to lie about his administration's real reasons for invading and occupying Iraq. Those reasons, they say, can be summed up in three words: oil, oil and oil. (To be continued.)
The News on Sunday - Pakistan
Sunday June 12 2005-- Jamadi Al Awwal 04, 1426 A.H.
3. Political Economy

An alphabet of sorts for our time -- Part III
By Kaleem Omar

The first part of this article (covering the letters A to L) appeared in these columns on May 29th, the second part (M to R) on June 5th. This is the third part (S to V).

S IS FOR SCANDAL, such as the revelation in a newspaper report published on Wednesday that US President George W Bush's decision to reject the Kyoto treaty on global warming was partly a result of pressure from ExxonMobil, the world's biggest oil company, and other American industries. US State Department papers seen by Britain's Guardian newspaper "reinforce widely-held suspicions of how close the company is to the administration and its role in helping to formulate US policy," the paper said. It said: "In briefing papers given before meetings to the US under-secretary of state, Paula Dobriansky, between 2001 and 2004, the administration is found thanking Exxon executives for the company's 'active involvement' in helping to determine climate change policy, and also seeking its advice on what climate change policies the company might find acceptable. Other papers suggest that Ms Dobriansky should sound out Exxon executives and other anti-Kyoto business groups on potential alternatives to Kyoto." Until now Exxon has publicly maintained that it had no involvement in the US government's rejection of the Kyoto treaty. But the documents, obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace under the US Freedom of Information Act, suggest this is not the case. In fact, Wednesday's revelation comes as no surprise to those of us who have long been aware of the close links between the US energy industry and senior Bush administration officials, including Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Bush was in the oil business before he was elected governor of Texas in 1996. Cheney, who headed the Bush administration's task force on energy in 2001, was CEO of Houston-based oil services giant Halliburton for five years (1995-2000) before resigning in July 2000 to become Bush's running mate in the 2000 presidential campaign. Rice worked for US oil giant Chevron, which even named an oil tanker after her.

T IS FOR TEXAS, Bush's adopted home state. Texans like to boast that things in Texas are bigger and better than things in any other US state. This philosophy received a bit of a setback when Alaska became a state. Alaska is much bigger in area than Texas. However, Texans got around this problem by promptly declaring that their state was still the biggest in the "Lower 48." Some petrol stations in Texas still sell tongue-in-cheek maps that show Texas occupying 90 per cent of North America -- with the other US states, Mexico and Canada occupying the other 10 per cent! Back in the nineteenth century Texas was part of the wild and woolly West where gunfights were the favourite occupation. Bush seems to have brought that nineteenth-century attitude to his conduct of the US's war on terrorism. Talking at a press conference, about how his administration was going to hunt down Osama bin Laden, Bush once even referred to Old West-style "Wanted Dead or Alive" posters.

U IS FOR UNOCAL, the US energy company that in the mid-1990s was vying with Bridas of Argentina for a contract to build a pipeline from gasfields in Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a former employee of UNOCAL. Zalmay Khalilzad, a US national of Afghan origin, whom Bush had appointed as US ambassador to Afghanistan two years ago, and has now appointed as US ambassador to Iraq, was a consultant to UNOCAL. When a delegation of Taliban officials visited Texas in late 1996 for talks with American energy executives about the gas pipeline project, the delegation's host at a reception in Texas was then-Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney. Khalilzad was also present at the reception. The US only turned against the Taliban regime in Kabul after they decided to award the pipeline contract to the Argentinean company Bridas, instead of to UNOCAL. On Wednesday a Chinese company, China National Oil Company, announced that it was thinking of putting in a bid to buy UNOCAL.

V IS FOR VENALITY, a trait which seems to be widely prevalent among some former members of the Bush administration. A case in point is Thomas White, the former vice-chairman of Enron Energy Services (EES) and one-time Secretary of the Army in the Bush administration, who testified before the US Senate more than two years ago that he was clueless about the tactics the employees who worked for him used to manipulate electricity prices in the California power market in addition to the massive losses EES -- under his leadership -- hid in an effort to keep its parent company, Enron Corporation, temporarily afloat. (Enron filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2001. Enron founder Ken Lay, a longtime crony of Bush, was a big financial contributor to Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns. Lay is now facing criminal charges for his role in Enron's collapse.) Now, White is back in the energy business and this time he's looking for a handout, in the form of government funding for a new energy project. The US federal government, under President Bush, may guarantee hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to help White. According to a report posted on the web site, the federal energy bill that's currently making the rounds through the Senate contains a provision that provides federal loan guarantees for "a project to produce energy from coal...mined in the western United States...and offers the potential to sequester carbon dioxide emissions and...shall be located in a western State at an altitude greater than 4,000 feet," the energy bill states. According to the watchdog group Public Citizen, White and his business partners are trying to secure funding for a project to produce energy from coal in Wyoming, specifically, "a $ 2.8 billion coal gasification project in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. The coal will be supplied from Arch Coal mines neighbouring the power facility; it will stuff carbon dioxide emissions into oil wells; and the facility will be located in a western state (Wyoming) at an altitude above 4,000 feet." Public Citizen's Tyson Slocum said in an interview with that the language in the energy bill is "very broadly written and could very well accommodate" energy proposals such as White's. Slocum said he is concerned because he has heard that White has been actively lobbying lawmakers to try and get loan guarantees for his new energy venture. Slocum said that Senator Ken Salazar, Democrat-Colorado, who was responsible for drafting the language in the energy bill, and the energy committee "are saying that the language that's written in the bill is not intended to fund White's project but White's company does qualify because of the way the bill is written." It's been two years since Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld fired White from his Army Secretary job. Since then, according to, "White has kept himself busy writing a book, preparing his $ 15 million Florida home for sale, and quietly getting back into the field that made him a very rich and reviled man. White's new endeavour, DKRW Energy (whose symbol has an eerie resemblance to Enron's crooked E) is a joint business venture started in 2000 by three other former Enron executives: Robert C Kelly, formerly the chairman and chief executive of Enron Renewable Energy, Jon C Doyle, who worked at Enron in an executive capacity under Kelly, and H David Ramm, who used to be president and CEO of Enron Wind and was a co-managing director of Enron Renewable Energy, according to the biographies on the company's web site." White joined DKRW last year. The company, formerly known as DKR Development, changed its name to DKRW after White reportedly promised his partners that his connections to Washington lawmakers would help the company secure federal funding for various renewable energy projects. Interestingly, though, as notes, there is not a single reference to White's tenure at Enron on his biography. White's biography only states that he "has 11 years experience in energy markets."
The News on Sunday -- Pakistan
June 19 2005-- Jamadi Al Awwal 11, 1426 A.H.
3. Political Economy

An alphabet of sorts for our time -- Part IV
By Kaleem Omar

The first part of this article (covering the letters A to L) appeared in these columns on May 29th, the second part (M to R) on June 5th, the third part (S to V) on June 12th. This is the concluding part (W to Z).

W IS FOR WATERGATE, which turned up in the news again earlier this month like the proverbial bad penny, with the disclosure in an article published in Vanity Fair that The Washington Post's 'Deep Throat' Watergate source was former FBI deputy director W Mark Felt, who helped bring down a corrupt US presidency more than 30 years ago. Felt, 91, suffered a stroke two years ago. Now his disclosure has touched off a debate in the United States over whether Felt served the national good or did a disservice to his country by leaking government information to Post reporter Bob Woodward, who worked on the Watergate story, along with Post reporter Carl Bernstein. "It's hard for me to judge," President George W Bush said. "I'm learning more about the situation," he added. He later said in a television interview that he was "taken aback" by the disclosure, but that he probably wouldn't comment on it. "It's not appropriate for the president to get drawn into the debate," he said. Could his reluctance to get into the debate have anything to do with the fact that Bush's father, former president George H W Bush, defended Republican President Richard M Nixon during the Watergate scandal as chairman of the Republican Party National Committee in 1973? In an article posted on the site on June 2, Warren Flagg (who was an FBI agent for 22 years) said: "Former FBI official W Mark Felt's disclosure that he was Deep Throat rightly makes him a hero to some, but it also may throw road blocks in the path of current street agents. On the one hand, Felt is a courageous whistle-blower to many, especially those of us who served under him in the FBI... The other side of the coin is that current street agents may have to pay a price for Felt's disclosure that he was Deep Throat in the Watergate investigation. Since Felt was the FBI's No 2 official and now admits he leaked information to The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, informants could have more reason to be reluctant to provide agents with crucial information. They may ask: 'How do I know you won't leak this to the media?'" Upon the news that Deep Throat had come forward, CNN's Judy Woodruff waxed nostalgic about the golden era of muckraking journalism. "It is so hard, I think, for young people we know who work here at CNN and other news organisations to even imagine what Watergate was like," she said on the "Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics" show. "To have a White House come undone, an administration come undone, because of some news reporting!" Coming from a lead reporter at one of America's largest cable networks, it was a sad commentary.

W IS ALSO FOR WMD, no, not Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction that most people -- including Bush administration officials -- knew all along Iraq did not possess, but the US's own huge nuclear arsenal. With over 11,000 strategic nuclear missiles (each with a destructive force 20 times greater than the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the United States has enough WMD in its arsenal to wipe out humanity several times over. Russia, too, has a similar capability. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that possesses nuclear weapons. It has more than 200 nuclear warheads, including hydrogen bombs. Even without nuclear weapons, Israel is the fourth strongest military power in the world (after the US, Russia and China) and more than a match for all its Arab neighbours combined. Yet no American administration has ever questioned Israel's right to possess nuclear weapons. On the contrary, successive US administrations have continued to pour military and economic aid into Israel. US aid to Israel is currently running at about $ 4 billion a year, making it the world's biggest recipient of American aid. Since 1985, the US has given Israel over $ 100 billion in military and economic aid. The US invaded Iraq because the Bush administration falsely claimed Baghdad possessed WMD that "posed an imminent threat to the national security of the United States." Two months before the invasion, Syria called for a nuclear-free Middle East. The call was met by deafening silence from Washington, because a nuclear-free Middle East would mean calling for Israel to give up its nuclear weapons -- something the US is not prepared to contemplate.

X IS FOR X-FILES, the American TV show that was hugely popular with viewers around the world through much of the 1990s and into the new millennium. The show's catchline "the truth is out there" became a buzz word, but just what this "truth" was or just where "out there" was, the show never said. This, in a way, was a bit like the Bush administration's approach toward the truth about Iraq's alleged WMD. "The WMD are out there," administration officials never tired of saying, even though they knew full well that no such WMD existed. In fact, Bush began the invasion of Iraq long before he went to Congress or the United Nations. It was a huge air assault: approximately 100 US and British planes flew from Kuwait into Iraqi airspace. At least seven types of aircraft were part of this massive operation, including US F-15 Strike Eagles and Royal Air Force Tornado ground-attack planes. They dropped precision-guided munitions on Iraq's major western air-defence facility, clearing the path for Special Forces helicopters that lay in wait in Jordan. Earlier attacks had been carried out against Iraqi command and control centres, radar detection systems, Revolutionary Guard units, communication centres and mobile air-defence systems. The Pentagon's goal was clear: destroy Iraq's ability to resist. This was war. But there was a catch. The war hadn't started yet, at least not officially. This was September 2002 -- a month before Congress had voted to give Bush the "authority" he used to invade Iraq, two months before the United Nations brought the matter to a vote and more than six months before "shock and awe" officially began.

Y IS FOR YELLOW ALERT, the lowest level of alert in the Bush administration's pantheon of colour-coded "terror" alerts. The other levels of alerts, in ascending order, are green, orange and red. In the months preceding the November 2004 US presidential election, hardly a week passed without the Department of Homeland Security issuing an alert. The affect of all these alerts was to keep the American people in a perpetual state of fear, and thereby -- so Bush campaign strategists apparently figured -- more likely to vote for Bush. This conclusion is lent credence by the fact that no alerts have been issued by the Department of Homeland Security since Bush won the election.

Z IS FOR ZALMAY KHALILZAD, a US national of Afghan origin and a member of the State Department's Policy Planning Council's staff under the Reagan administration in the mid-1980s. Two years ago, President George W Bush appointed Khalilzad ambassador to US-occupied Afghanistan and has now appointed him ambassador to US-occupied Iraq. Over the years, Khalilzad has acquired an unsavoury reputation for changing his position on various foreign policy issues. As Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan, Khalilzad gave a speech upon his arrival in Kabul condemning the Taliban. Yet the same Khalilzad had at one time, as a paid adviser to the US oil company UNOCAL, courted and defended the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is also a former employee of UNOCAL -- which, in 1997, had put together a consortium to build a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. The Taliban regime, however, eventually decided to award the contract for the Afghanistan-portion of the pipeline to an Argentine company called Bridas. That's when Khalilzad changed his tune and became a bitter critic of the Taliban. Khalilzad has changed his tune so often that Anatol Lieven, an analyst with the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, "If he was in private business rather than government, he would have been sacked long ago."