Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

Preparing the Battlefield

June 30, 2008

Preparing the Battlefield

The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran.

by Seymour M. Hersh July 7, 2008

Operations outside the knowledge and control of commanders have eroded “the coherence of military strategy,” one general says.

Operations outside the knowledge and control of commanders have eroded “the coherence of military strategy,” one general says.

L ate last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.

“The Finding was focussed on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” a person familiar with its contents said, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.” The Finding provided for a whole new range of activities in southern Iran and in the areas, in the east, where Baluchi political opposition is strong, he said.

Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding, and “there was a significant amount of high-level discussion” about it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the escalation was approved. In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership—Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006 elections—were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party’s presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy.

The request for funding came in the same period in which the Administration was coming to terms with a National Intelligence Estimate, released in December, that concluded that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003. The Administration downplayed the significance of the N.I.E., and, while saying that it was committed to diplomacy, continued to emphasize that urgent action was essential to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. President Bush questioned the N.I.E.’s conclusions, and senior national-security officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made similar statements. (So did Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.) Meanwhile, the Administration also revived charges that the Iranian leadership has been involved in the killing of American soldiers in Iraq: both directly, by dispatching commando units into Iraq, and indirectly, by supplying materials used for roadside bombs and other lethal goods. (There have been questions about the accuracy of the claims; the Times, among others, has reported that “significant uncertainties remain about the extent of that involvement.”)

Military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon share the White House’s concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but there is disagreement about whether a military strike is the right solution. Some Pentagon officials believe, as they have let Congress and the media know, that bombing Iran is not a viable response to the nuclear-proliferation issue, and that more diplomacy is necessary.

A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.” (A spokesman for Gates confirmed that he discussed the consequences of a strike at the meeting, but would not address what he said, other than to dispute the senator’s characterization.)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman is Admiral Mike Mullen, were “pushing back very hard” against White House pressure to undertake a military strike against Iran, the person familiar with the Finding told me. Similarly, a Pentagon consultant who is involved in the war on terror said that “at least ten senior flag and general officers, including combatant commanders”—the four-star officers who direct military operations around the world—“have weighed in on that issue.”

The most outspoken of those officers is Admiral William Fallon, who until recently was the head of U.S. Central Command, and thus in charge of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, Fallon resigned under pressure, after giving a series of interviews stating his reservations about an armed attack on Iran. For example, late last year he told the Financial Times that the “real objective” of U.S. policy was to change the Iranians’ behavior, and that “attacking them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first choice.”

Admiral Fallon acknowledged, when I spoke to him in June, that he had heard that there were people in the White House who were upset by his public statements. “Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,” he told me. “Let’s get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual. The idea that they’re only one way or another is nonsense.”

When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, “Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid.”

The Democratic leadership’s agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. “The oversight process has not kept pace—it’s been coöpted” by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. “The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we’re authorizing.”

Senior Democrats in Congress told me that they had concerns about the possibility that their understanding of what the new operations entail differs from the White House’s. One issue has to do with a reference in the Finding, the person familiar with it recalled, to potential defensive lethal action by U.S. operatives in Iran. (In early May, the journalist Andrew Cockburn published elements of the Finding in Counterpunch, a newsletter and online magazine.)

The language was inserted into the Finding at the urging of the C.I.A., a former senior intelligence official said. The covert operations set forth in the Finding essentially run parallel to those of a secret military task force, now operating in Iran, that is under the control of JSOC. Under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference. But the borders between operations are not always clear: in Iran, C.I.A. agents and regional assets have the language skills and the local knowledge to make contacts for the JSOC operatives, and have been working with them to direct personnel, matériel, and money into Iran from an obscure base in western Afghanistan. As a result, Congress has been given only a partial view of how the money it authorized may be used. One of JSOC’s task-force missions, the pursuit of “high-value targets,” was not directly addressed in the Finding. There is a growing realization among some legislators that the Bush Administration, in recent years, has conflated what is an intelligence operation and what is a military one in order to avoid fully informing Congress about what it is doing.

“This is a big deal,” the person familiar with the Finding said. “The C.I.A. needed the Finding to do its traditional stuff, but the Finding does not apply to JSOC. The President signed an Executive Order after September 11th giving the Pentagon license to do things that it had never been able to do before without notifying Congress. The claim was that the military was ‘preparing the battle space,’ and by using that term they were able to circumvent congressional oversight. Everything is justified in terms of fighting the global war on terror.” He added, “The Administration has been fuzzing the lines; there used to be a shade of gray”—between operations that had to be briefed to the senior congressional leadership and those which did not—“but now it’s a shade of mush.”

“The agency says we’re not going to get in the position of helping to kill people without a Finding,” the former senior intelligence official told me. He was referring to the legal threat confronting some agency operatives for their involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of suspects in the war on terror. “This drove the military people up the wall,” he said. As far as the C.I.A. was concerned, the former senior intelligence official said, “the over-all authorization includes killing, but it’s not as though that’s what they’re setting out to do. It’s about gathering information, enlisting support.” The Finding sent to Congress was a compromise, providing legal cover for the C.I.A. while referring to the use of lethal force in ambiguous terms.

The defensive-lethal language led some Democrats, according to congressional sources familiar with their views, to call in the director of the C.I.A., Air Force General Michael V. Hayden, for a special briefing. Hayden reassured the legislators that the language did nothing more than provide authority for Special Forces operatives on the ground in Iran to shoot their way out if they faced capture or harm.

The legislators were far from convinced. One congressman subsequently wrote a personal letter to President Bush insisting that “no lethal action, period” had been authorized within Iran’s borders. As of June, he had received no answer.

Members of Congress have expressed skepticism in the past about the information provided by the White House. On March 15, 2005, David Obey, then the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee, announced that he was putting aside an amendment that he had intended to offer that day, and that would have cut off all funding for national-intelligence programs unless the President agreed to keep Congress fully informed about clandestine military activities undertaken in the war on terror. He had changed his mind, he said, because the White House promised better coöperation. “The Executive Branch understands that we are not trying to dictate what they do,” he said in a floor speech at the time. “We are simply trying to see to it that what they do is consistent with American values and will not get the country in trouble.”

Obey declined to comment on the specifics of the operations in Iran, but he did tell me that the White House reneged on its promise to consult more fully with Congress. He said, “I suspect there’s something going on, but I don’t know what to believe. Cheney has always wanted to go after Iran, and if he had more time he’d find a way to do it. We still don’t get enough information from the agencies, and I have very little confidence that they give us information on the edge.”

None of the four Democrats in the Gang of Eight—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, and House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes—would comment on the Finding, with some noting that it was highly classified. An aide to one member of the Democratic leadership responded, on his behalf, by pointing to the limitations of the Gang of Eight process. The notification of a Finding, the aide said, “is just that—notification, and not a sign-off on activities. Proper oversight of ongoing intelligence activities is done by fully briefing the members of the intelligence committee.” However, Congress does have the means to challenge the White House once it has been sent a Finding. It has the power to withhold funding for any government operation. The members of the House and Senate Democratic leadership who have access to the Finding can also, if they choose to do so, and if they have shared concerns, come up with ways to exert their influence on Administration policy. (A spokesman for the C.I.A. said, “As a rule, we don’t comment one way or the other on allegations of covert activities or purported findings.” The White House also declined to comment.)

A member of the House Appropriations Committee acknowledged that, even with a Democratic victory in November, “it will take another year before we get the intelligence activities under control.” He went on, “We control the money and they can’t do anything without the money. Money is what it’s all about. But I’m very leery of this Administration.” He added, “This Administration has been so secretive.”

One irony of Admiral Fallon’s departure is that he was, in many areas, in agreement with President Bush on the threat posed by Iran. They had a good working relationship, Fallon told me, and, when he ran CENTCOM, were in regular communication. On March 4th, a week before his resignation, Fallon testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying that he was “encouraged” about the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regarding the role played by Iran’s leaders, he said, “They’ve been absolutely unhelpful, very damaging, and I absolutely don’t condone any of their activities. And I have yet to see anything since I’ve been in this job in the way of a public action by Iran that’s been at all helpful in this region.”

Fallon made it clear in our conversations that he considered it inappropriate to comment publicly about the President, the Vice-President, or Special Operations. But he said he had heard that people in the White House had been “struggling” with his views on Iran. “When I arrived at CENTCOM, the Iranians were funding every entity inside Iraq. It was in their interest to get us out, and so they decided to kill as many Americans as they could. And why not? They didn’t know who’d come out ahead, but they wanted us out. I decided that I couldn’t resolve the situation in Iraq without the neighborhood. To get this problem in Iraq solved, we had to somehow involve Iran and Syria. I had to work the neighborhood.”

Fallon told me that his focus had been not on the Iranian nuclear issue, or on regime change there, but on “putting out the fires in Iraq.” There were constant discussions in Washington and in the field about how to engage Iran and, on the subject of the bombing option, Fallon said, he believed that “it would happen only if the Iranians did something stupid.”

Fallon’s early retirement, however, appears to have been provoked not only by his negative comments about bombing Iran but also by his strong belief in the chain of command and his insistence on being informed about Special Operations in his area of responsibility. One of Fallon’s defenders is retired Marine General John J. (Jack) Sheehan, whose last assignment was as commander-in-chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command, where Fallon was a deputy. Last year, Sheehan rejected a White House offer to become the President’s “czar” for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “One of the reasons the White House selected Fallon for CENTCOM was that he’s known to be a strategic thinker and had demonstrated those skills in the Pacific,” Sheehan told me. (Fallon served as commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific from 2005 to 2007.) “He was charged with coming up with an over-all coherent strategy for Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and, by law, the combatant commander is responsible for all military operations within his A.O.”—area of operations. “That was not happening,” Sheehan said. “When Fallon tried to make sense of all the overt and covert activity conducted by the military in his area of responsibility, a small group in the White House leadership shut him out.”

The law cited by Sheehan is the 1986 Defense Reorganization Act, known as Goldwater-Nichols, which defined the chain of command: from the President to the Secretary of Defense, through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and on to the various combatant commanders, who were put in charge of all aspects of military operations, including joint training and logistics. That authority, the act stated, was not to be shared with other echelons of command. But the Bush Administration, as part of its global war on terror, instituted new policies that undercut regional commanders-in-chief; for example, it gave Special Operations teams, at military commands around the world, the highest priority in terms of securing support and equipment. The degradation of the traditional chain of command in the past few years has been a point of tension between the White House and the uniformed military.

“The coherence of military strategy is being eroded because of undue civilian influence and direction of nonconventional military operations,” Sheehan said. “If you have small groups planning and conducting military operations outside the knowledge and control of the combatant commander, by default you can’t have a coherent military strategy. You end up with a disaster, like the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.”

Admiral Fallon, who is known as Fox, was aware that he would face special difficulties as the first Navy officer to lead CENTCOM, which had always been headed by a ground commander, one of his military colleagues told me. He was also aware that the Special Operations community would be a concern. “Fox said that there’s a lot of strange stuff going on in Special Ops, and I told him he had to figure out what they were really doing,” Fallon’s colleague said. “The Special Ops guys eventually figured out they needed Fox, and so they began to talk to him. Fox would have won his fight with Special Ops but for Cheney.”

The Pentagon consultant said, “Fallon went down because, in his own way, he was trying to prevent a war with Iran, and you have to admire him for that.”

In recent months, according to the Iranian media, there has been a surge in violence in Iran; it is impossible at this early stage, however, to credit JSOC or C.I.A. activities, or to assess their impact on the Iranian leadership. The Iranian press reports are being carefully monitored by retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who has taught strategy at the National War College and now conducts war games centered on Iran for the federal government, think tanks, and universities. The Iranian press “is very open in describing the killings going on inside the country,” Gardiner said. It is, he said, “a controlled press, which makes it more important that it publishes these things. We begin to see inside the government.” He added, “Hardly a day goes by now we don’t see a clash somewhere. There were three or four incidents over a recent weekend, and the Iranians are even naming the Revolutionary Guard officers who have been killed.”

Earlier this year, a militant Ahwazi group claimed to have assassinated a Revolutionary Guard colonel, and the Iranian government acknowledged that an explosion in a cultural center in Shiraz, in the southern part of the country, which killed at least twelve people and injured more than two hundred, had been a terrorist act and not, as it earlier insisted, an accident. It could not be learned whether there has been American involvement in any specific incident in Iran, but, according to Gardiner, the Iranians have begun publicly blaming the U.S., Great Britain, and, more recently, the C.I.A. for some incidents. The agency was involved in a coup in Iran in 1953, and its support for the unpopular regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi—who was overthrown in 1979—was condemned for years by the ruling mullahs in Tehran, to great effect. “This is the ultimate for the Iranians—to blame the C.I.A.,” Gardiner said. “This is new, and it’s an escalation—a ratcheting up of tensions. It rallies support for the regime and shows the people that there is a continuing threat from the ‘Great Satan.’ ” In Gardiner’s view, the violence, rather than weakening Iran’s religious government, may generate support for it.

Many of the activities may be being carried out by dissidents in Iran, and not by Americans in the field. One problem with “passing money” (to use the term of the person familiar with the Finding) in a covert setting is that it is hard to control where the money goes and whom it benefits. Nonetheless, the former senior intelligence official said, “We’ve got exposure, because of the transfer of our weapons and our communications gear. The Iranians will be able to make the argument that the opposition was inspired by the Americans. How many times have we tried this without asking the right questions? Is the risk worth it?” One possible consequence of these operations would be a violent Iranian crackdown on one of the dissident groups, which could give the Bush Administration a reason to intervene.

A strategy of using ethnic minorities to undermine Iran is flawed, according to Vali Nasr, who teaches international politics at Tufts University and is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Just because Lebanon, Iraq, and Pakistan have ethnic problems, it does not mean that Iran is suffering from the same issue,” Nasr told me. “Iran is an old country—like France and Germany—and its citizens are just as nationalistic. The U.S. is overestimating ethnic tension in Iran.” The minority groups that the U.S. is reaching out to are either well integrated or small and marginal, without much influence on the government or much ability to present a political challenge, Nasr said. “You can always find some activist groups that will go and kill a policeman, but working with the minorities will backfire, and alienate the majority of the population.”

The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.

One of the most active and violent anti-regime groups in Iran today is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement, which describes itself as a resistance force fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran. “This is a vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists,” Nasr told me. “They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture.” The Jundallah took responsibility for the bombing of a busload of Revolutionary Guard soldiers in February, 2007. At least eleven Guard members were killed. According to Baer and to press reports, the Jundallah is among the groups in Iran that are benefitting from U.S. support.

The C.I.A. and Special Operations communities also have long-standing ties to two other dissident groups in Iran: the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, known in the West as the M.E.K., and a Kurdish separatist group, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK.

The M.E.K. has been on the State Department’s terrorist list for more than a decade, yet in recent years the group has received arms and intelligence, directly or indirectly, from the United States. Some of the newly authorized covert funds, the Pentagon consultant told me, may well end up in M.E.K. coffers. “The new task force will work with the M.E.K. The Administration is desperate for results.” He added, “The M.E.K. has no C.P.A. auditing the books, and its leaders are thought to have been lining their pockets for years. If people only knew what the M.E.K. is getting, and how much is going to its bank accounts—and yet it is almost useless for the purposes the Administration intends.”

The Kurdish party, PJAK, which has also been reported to be covertly supported by the United States, has been operating against Iran from bases in northern Iraq for at least three years. (Iran, like Iraq and Turkey, has a Kurdish minority, and PJAK and other groups have sought self-rule in territory that is now part of each of those countries.) In recent weeks, according to Sam Gardiner, the military strategist, there has been a marked increase in the number of PJAK armed engagements with Iranians and terrorist attacks on Iranian targets. In early June, the news agency Fars reported that a dozen PJAK members and four Iranian border guards were killed in a clash near the Iraq border; a similar attack in May killed three Revolutionary Guards and nine PJAK fighters. PJAK has also subjected Turkey, a member of NATO, to repeated terrorist attacks, and reports of American support for the group have been a source of friction between the two governments.

Gardiner also mentioned a trip that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, made to Tehran in June. After his return, Maliki announced that his government would ban any contact between foreigners and the M.E.K.—a slap at the U.S.’s dealings with the group. Maliki declared that Iraq was not willing to be a staging ground for covert operations against other countries. This was a sign, Gardiner said, of “Maliki’s increasingly choosing the interests of Iraq over the interests of the United States.” In terms of U.S. allegations of Iranian involvement in the killing of American soldiers, he said, “Maliki was unwilling to play the blame-Iran game.” Gardiner added that Pakistan had just agreed to turn over a Jundallah leader to the Iranian government. America’s covert operations, he said, “seem to be harming relations with the governments of both Iraq and Pakistan and could well be strengthening the connection between Tehran and Baghdad.”

The White House’s reliance on questionable operatives, and on plans involving possible lethal action inside Iran, has created anger as well as anxiety within the Special Operations and intelligence communities. JSOC’s operations in Iran are believed to be modelled on a program that has, with some success, used surrogates to target the Taliban leadership in the tribal territories of Waziristan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. But the situations in Waziristan and Iran are not comparable.

In Waziristan, “the program works because it’s small and smart guys are running it,” the former senior intelligence official told me. “It’s being executed by professionals. The N.S.A., the C.I.A., and the D.I.A.”—the Defense Intelligence Agency—“are right in there with the Special Forces and Pakistani intelligence, and they’re dealing with serious bad guys.” He added, “We have to be really careful in calling in the missiles. We have to hit certain houses at certain times. The people on the ground are watching through binoculars a few hundred yards away and calling specific locations, in latitude and longitude. We keep the Predator loitering until the targets go into a house, and we have to make sure our guys are far enough away so they don’t get hit.” One of the most prominent victims of the program, the former official said, was Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior Taliban commander, who was killed on January 31st, reportedly in a missile strike that also killed eleven other people.

A dispatch published on March 26th by the Washington Post reported on the increasing number of successful strikes against Taliban and other insurgent units in Pakistan’s tribal areas. A follow-up article noted that, in response, the Taliban had killed “dozens of people” suspected of providing information to the United States and its allies on the whereabouts of Taliban leaders. Many of the victims were thought to be American spies, and their executions—a beheading, in one case—were videotaped and distributed by DVD as a warning to others.

It is not simple to replicate the program in Iran. “Everybody’s arguing about the high-value-target list,” the former senior intelligence official said. “The Special Ops guys are pissed off because Cheney’s office set up priorities for categories of targets, and now he’s getting impatient and applying pressure for results. But it takes a long time to get the right guys in place.”

The Pentagon consultant told me, “We’ve had wonderful results in the Horn of Africa with the use of surrogates and false flags—basic counterintelligence and counter-insurgency tactics. And we’re beginning to tie them in knots in Afghanistan. But the White House is going to kill the program if they use it to go after Iran. It’s one thing to engage in selective strikes and assassinations in Waziristan and another in Iran. The White House believes that one size fits all, but the legal issues surrounding extrajudicial killings in Waziristan are less of a problem because Al Qaeda and the Taliban cross the border into Afghanistan and back again, often with U.S. and NATO forces in hot pursuit. The situation is not nearly as clear in the Iranian case. All the considerations—judicial, strategic, and political—are different in Iran.”

He added, “There is huge opposition inside the intelligence community to the idea of waging a covert war inside Iran, and using Baluchis and Ahwazis as surrogates. The leaders of our Special Operations community all have remarkable physical courage, but they are less likely to voice their opposition to policy. Iran is not Waziristan.”

A Gallup poll taken last November, before the N.I.E. was made public, found that seventy-three per cent of those surveyed thought that the United States should use economic action and diplomacy to stop Iran’s nuclear program, while only eighteen per cent favored direct military action. Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to endorse a military strike. Weariness with the war in Iraq has undoubtedly affected the public’s tolerance for an attack on Iran. This mood could change quickly, however. The potential for escalation became clear in early January, when five Iranian patrol boats, believed to be under the command of the Revolutionary Guard, made a series of aggressive moves toward three Navy warships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz. Initial reports of the incident made public by the Pentagon press office said that the Iranians had transmitted threats, over ship-to-ship radio, to “explode” the American ships. At a White House news conference, the President, on the day he left for an eight-day trip to the Middle East, called the incident “provocative” and “dangerous,” and there was, very briefly, a sense of crisis and of outrage at Iran. “TWO MINUTES FROM WAR” was the headline in one British newspaper.

The crisis was quickly defused by Vice-Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. naval forces in the region. No warning shots were fired, the Admiral told the Pentagon press corps on January 7th, via teleconference from his headquarters, in Bahrain. “Yes, it’s more serious than we have seen, but, to put it in context, we do interact with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their Navy regularly,” Cosgriff said. “I didn’t get the sense from the reports I was receiving that there was a sense of being afraid of these five boats.”

Admiral Cosgriff’s caution was well founded: within a week, the Pentagon acknowledged that it could not positively identify the Iranian boats as the source of the ominous radio transmission, and press reports suggested that it had instead come from a prankster long known for sending fake messages in the region. Nonetheless, Cosgriff’s demeanor angered Cheney, according to the former senior intelligence official. But a lesson was learned in the incident: The public had supported the idea of retaliation, and was even asking why the U.S. didn’t do more. The former official said that, a few weeks later, a meeting took place in the Vice-President’s office. “The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington,” he said.

In June, President Bush went on a farewell tour of Europe. He had tea with Queen Elizabeth II and dinner with Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, the President and First Lady of France. The serious business was conducted out of sight, and involved a series of meetings on a new diplomatic effort to persuade the Iranians to halt their uranium-enrichment program. (Iran argues that its enrichment program is for civilian purposes and is legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) Secretary of State Rice had been involved with developing a new package of incentives. But the Administration’s essential negotiating position seemed unchanged: talks could not take place until Iran halted the program. The Iranians have repeatedly and categorically rejected that precondition, leaving the diplomatic situation in a stalemate; they have not yet formally responded to the new incentives.

The continuing impasse alarms many observers. Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister, recently wrote in a syndicated column that it may not “be possible to freeze the Iranian nuclear program for the duration of the negotiations to avoid a military confrontation before they are completed. Should this newest attempt fail, things will soon get serious. Deadly serious.” When I spoke to him last week, Fischer, who has extensive contacts in the diplomatic community, said that the latest European approach includes a new element: the willingness of the U.S. and the Europeans to accept something less than a complete cessation of enrichment as an intermediate step. “The proposal says that the Iranians must stop manufacturing new centrifuges and the other side will stop all further sanction activities in the U.N. Security Council,” Fischer said, although Iran would still have to freeze its enrichment activities when formal negotiations begin. “This could be acceptable to the Iranians—if they have good will.”

The big question, Fischer added, is in Washington. “I think the Americans are deeply divided on the issue of what to do about Iran,” he said. “Some officials are concerned about the fallout from a military attack and others think an attack is unavoidable. I know the Europeans, but I have no idea where the Americans will end up on this issue.”

There is another complication: American Presidential politics. Barack Obama has said that, if elected, he would begin talks with Iran with no “self-defeating” preconditions (although only after diplomatic groundwork had been laid). That position has been vigorously criticized by John McCain. The Washington Post recently quoted Randy Scheunemann, the McCain campaign’s national-security director, as stating that McCain supports the White House’s position, and that the program be suspended before talks begin. What Obama is proposing, Scheunemann said, “is unilateral cowboy summitry.”

Scheunemann, who is known as a neoconservative, is also the McCain campaign’s most important channel of communication with the White House. He is a friend of David Addington, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. I have heard differing accounts of Scheunemann’s influence with McCain; though some close to the McCain campaign talk about him as a possible national-security adviser, others say he is someone who isn’t taken seriously while “telling Cheney and others what they want to hear,” as a senior McCain adviser put it.

It is not known whether McCain, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been formally briefed on the operations in Iran. At the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in June, Obama repeated his plea for “tough and principled diplomacy.” But he also said, along with McCain, that he would keep the threat of military action against Iran on the table. 

Bugliosi Wants Bush Charged with Murder

May 29, 2008

Bugliosi Wants Bush Charged with Murder

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Former California prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi wants President Bush charged with murder.

Bugliosi – who in the early 1970s successfully prosecuted Charles Manson for the murder of Sharon Tate and six others – lays out his case against Bush in The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder (Perseus Books, 2008).

The book will hit book stores today – Tuesday May 27, 2008.

“My motivation for writing this book is simple – to bring about justice,” Bugliosi says in a video posted on the book’s web site (prosecutionofbush.com).

“George Bush has gotten away with murder – thousands of murders,” Bugliosi says. “And no one is doing anything about it. The American people can’t let him do this.”

Bugliosi wants one or more of the fifty state attorneys general or one of the nation’s hundreds of district attorneys to step up and prosecute Bush for murder.

“I have set forth in my book the jurisdictional basis for the Attorney General in each of the fifty states – plus the hundreds upon hundreds of district attorneys in counties within the states – to prosecute George Bush for the murders of any soldier or soldiers from their state or county who were killed in Iraq fighting George Bush’s war,” Bugliosi says in the video on his web site.

“I don’t think it is too unreasonable to believe that at least one prosecutor out there in America – maybe many more – will be courageous enough to say – this is the United States of America. And in America no one is above the law. George Bush has gotten away with murder. No one is doing anything about it. And maybe this book will change that.”

Bugliosi argues that Bush misled the nation into a war that has killed more than 4,000 Americans.

At the center of Bugliosi’s indictment of Bush is a October 7, 2002 speech to the nation in which Bush claims that Saddam Hussein was a great danger to this nation either by attacking us with his weapons of mass destruction, or giving these weapons to some terrorist group.

“And he said – the attack could happen on any given day – meaning the threat was imminent,” Bugliosi says.

“The only problem for George Bush – and if he were prosecuted, there is no way he could get around this – is that on October 1, 2002, six days earlier, the CIA sent George Bush its 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, a classified top secret report. Page eight clearly and unequivocally says that Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat to the security of this country. In fact, the report says that Hussein would only use whatever weapons of mass destruction he had against us if he feared that America was about to attack him.”

“We know that Bush was telling millions upon millions of unsuspecting Americans exactly the opposite of what his own CIA was telling him,” Bugliosi said. “We know that George Bush took this nation to war on a lie. Who is going to pay for all of this? Someone has to pay. And the person who has to pay obviously is directly responsible for all of the death horror and suffering. And that person is George W. Bush.”

“The majority of the American people probably are going to find it difficult to accept that the President of the United States, the most powerful man on earth, would engage in conduct that smacks of such great criminality. You just don’t expect something like this from an American president. However, I’m very confident that once they read the book, they will be overwhelmed by the evidence against Bush. They will be convinced that he is guilty of murder and should be prosecuted. In the book, I lay out the legal architecture for the case against Bush, all of the evidence of the guilt against Bush and the jurisdiction to prosecute him. I even set forth proposed cross-examination questions of him if he takes the witness stand at trial.”

As a state prosecutor in Los Angeles, Bugliosi prosecuted Charles Manson and members of his “family” for the 1969 murders of Sharon Tate and six others.

Bugliosi says he lost only one of the 106 felony cases he tried as a prosecutor. He says he won 21 out of 21 murder cases.

He is the author of Helter Skelter – the best-selling book on the Manson trial.

Where Is Raed Now?

May 29, 2008

Where Is Raed Now?
Meet the Iraqi exile (and former Salam Pax blogger) who could foil Bush’s plans for permanent bases near Baghdad.” />

Jonathan Schwarz” />
May 01″ /> , 2008″ />
In 1998, 20-year-old Raed Jarrar watched from the roof of his family’s home in Baghdad as American Tomahawk cruise missiles struck government buildings close by, blowing out the windows and sending him scrambling for cover. Five years later, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, coalition planes targeted the same buildings, as well as the nearby airport and Saddam Hussein’s palace, killing and wounding dozens of people from Jarrar’s middle-class neighborhood.

This year, Jarrar quietly celebrated his 30th birthday outside Pasadena at a retreat he was attending for his job as a consultant for the American Friends Service Committee. He now lives in Washington, D.C., a short metro ride away from the White House, the Pentagon, and the various think tanks where his country’s future has been decided for much of his life. Yet Jarrar’s become something the war’s planners did not anticipate: an Iraqi who’s thwarted their efforts by using the tools of American democracy. Through a peculiar roll of history’s dice, the young exile has helped throw a monkey wrench in the Bush administration’s attempts to lay the groundwork for a permanent American presence in Iraq. “I’m just another small example of how Iraqis would rather end the occupation through talking to U.S. legislators and the public,” Jarrar explains.

Jarrar was born in Baghdad, the son of a Shiite mother and a Sunni father, and the oldest of three boys. He attended the University of Baghdad and began graduate school in Amman, Jordan, where he studied architecture, focusing on postwar reconstruction. As the world’s eyes turned to Iraq in late 2002, a friend and fellow architect who went by the nickname “Salam Pax” started an English-language blog. Because he often had trouble reaching Jarrar, he named it “Where Is Raed?” Jarrar started blogging there as well, and to the friends’ surprise, their musings on stockpiling food and the gyrating value of the dinar were read by people all over the world looking for a glimpse of the final days of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

After the American invasion, Jarrar started an ngo named Emaar (“Reconstruction”) to support Iraqis trying to rebuild their neighborhoods. His blog posts began to reflect his growing anger at the occupation. “American foreign policy is putting people like me in a very weak position,” he wrote in March 2004. “In extreme circumstances, extreme ideologies rule and dominate. And I am, unfortunately, not an extremist.”

While traveling in southern Iraq, Jarrar was kidnapped by a militia; he was released unharmed after a few hours. With normal life in Iraq becoming “impossible,” he decided to return to Jordan to complete his master’s degree. In Amman, he met and became engaged to an Iranian American woman. In September 2005, Jarrar arrived in the United States and made plans to become a permanent resident.

That summer, George W. Bush had assured Iraqis and Americans that the United States would stay in Iraq “as long as we are needed, and not a day longer.” But Jarrar—like many Iraqis—suspected that the administration had other ideas. After witnessing Iraq’s descent into violence, he became convinced that the only solution was for the United States to leave as soon as possible. “Only a complete U.S. withdrawal that leaves no troops, bases, or private contractors behind would create the safe space for Iraqis to deal with their problems and heal their wounds,” he says. “Iraqis will never be capable of starting the process of reconciliation and reconstruction with a foreign occupation taking sides.”

Five years on, American forces remain in Iraq under a United Nations mandate subject to annual renewal by the Security Council. Last June, Iraq’s parliament, asserting its constitutional duty to ratify treaties, passed a law requiring its approval of future extensions of the mandate. But the UN and Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki, under pressure from the United States, have ignored the MPs. Late last year the mandate was renewed until the end of 2008 without parliamentary approval.

In the meantime, the Bush administration has tried to bypass the UN altogether. In late November 2007, Maliki and Bush quietly signed a Declaration of Principles that outlined the United States’ ongoing political and military relationship with Iraq, including its commitment to “defending [Iraq’s] democratic system against internal and external threats.”

In the many countries where its troops are based, the United States maintains Status of Forces Agreements, or sofas, which may be signed by the president without congressional approval. But until now, only treaties, which require Senate ratification, have authorized the use of force by American troops in host countries. No sofa has given American troops the leeway implied in the Declaration of Principles. The administration “does not want this to go to Congress,” explains former assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “They’d never get the votes.”

That’s where Jarrar stepped in. He had already spent months trying to get members of Congress to make contact with Iraqi members of parliament who opposed extending the UN mandate. (More than half of Iraqi MPs have called for the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal.) Shortly after the Bush-Maliki agreement was signed, Jarrar was introduced to Caleb Rossiter, an aide to Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight. In Jarrar, Rossiter recognized a unique resource. Just as Arabic-speaking American officials are a rarity in Baghdad, so too are Iraqi anti-war activists in Washington who speak fluent English and can navigate the intricacies of the Iraqi government.

Rossiter took the issue to Delahunt, who has since held more than five hearings on the legality of the Bush administration’s plans for Iraq. Jarrar testified at the first hearing and is now helping Delahunt bring a handful of Iraqi MPs to the States to meet their counterparts and discuss their shared oversight role. As Rossiter explains, “Never underestimate the bonding power of legislators learning they’re both being constitutionally insulted by the same people in the same way.”

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in February, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates backpedaled on the Declaration of Principles, stating it was “not considered by our government to be a security commitment.” Gates also suggested that any future security agreements with Iraq would be subject to congressional review, although the White House is intent on finalizing its agreement with Maliki before the end of Bush’s term.

Rossiter credits Jarrar for tipping off Congress to a situation that the administration was not eager to publicize. “Without Jarrar, who knows where we’d be,” he says. “He’s been crucial in helping us think through our inquiry into this. What makes him so valuable is he understands the coin of the realm on Capitol Hill is good information. We know from experience that we can count on anything he brings us.” Congressman Delahunt concurs. “Raed’s been simply invaluable,” he says. “There’s so much about Iraq we can miss: the domestic political forces, the diversity of the society. He’s given us outstanding objective analysis on all of it.”

The secret of Jarrar’s success may be that unlike most people walking the halls of Congress, he never wanted to be there in the first place. He’d rather be back in Baghdad, putting his training rebuilding cities to use.

“I still sometimes dream that there will be opportunities after the war, like in Chicago after the great fire,” he says. “But I’m not an architect now. I didn’t have the privilege to decide that. What decided were the bombs that fell on my neighborhood.”

The Lost Kristol Tapes

February 15, 2008

The Lost Kristol Tapes
What the New York Times bought: A look back at William Kristol’s two-hour appearance on C-Span just nine days after the President launched his invasion of Iraq.” /> Jonathan Schwarz” />
February 14″ /> , 2008″ />
Imagine that there were a Beatles record only a few people knew existed. And imagine you got the chance to listen to it, and as you did, your excitement grew, note by note. You realized it wasn’t merely as good as Rubber Soul, or Revolver, or Sgt. Pepper’s. It was much, much better. And now, imagine how badly you’d want to tell other Beatles fans all about it.

That’s how I feel for my fellow William Kristol fans. You loved it when Bill said invading Iraq was going to have “terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East”? You have the original recording of him explaining the war would make us “respected around the world” and his classic statement that there’s “almost no evidence” of Iraq experiencing Sunni-Shia conflict? Well, I’ve got something that will blow your mind!

I’m talking about Kristol’s two-hour appearance on C-Span’s Washington Journal on March 28, 2003, just nine days after the President launched his invasion of Iraq. No one remembers it today. You can’t even fish it out of LexisNexis. It’s not there. Yet it’s a masterpiece, a double album of smarm, horrifying ignorance, and bald-faced deceit. While you’ve heard him play those instruments before, he never again reached such heights. It’s a performance for the history books — particularly that chapter about how the American Empire collapsed.

At the time Kristol was merely the son of prominent neoconservative Irving Kristol, former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle (aka “Quayle’s brain”), the editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard, and a frequent Fox News commentator. He hadn’t yet added New York Times columnist to his resumé. Opposite Kristol on the segment was Daniel Ellsberg, famed for leaking the Pentagon Papers in the Vietnam era. Their discussion jumped back and forth across 40 years of U.S.-Iraqi relations, and is easiest to understand if rearranged chronologically.

So, sit back, relax, and let me play a little of it for you.

To start with, Ellsberg made the reasonable point that Iraqis might not view the invading Americans as “liberators,” since the U.S. had been instrumental in Saddam Hussein’s rise to power: Here’s how he put it:

“ELLSBERG: People in Iraq… perceive Hussein as a dictator… But as a dictator the Americans chose for them. “KRISTOL: That’s just not true. We’ve had mistakes in our Iraq policy. It’s just ludicrous—we didn’t choose Hussein. We didn’t put him in power.

“ELLSBERG: In 1963, when there was a brief uprising of the Ba’ath, we supplied specifically Saddam with lists, as we did in Indonesia, lists of people to be eliminated. And since he’s a murderous thug, but at that time our murderous thug, he eliminated them…

“KRISTOL: [surprised] Is that right?…

“ELLSBERG: The same thing went on in ’68. He was our thug, just as [Panamanian dictator Manuel] Noriega, and lots of other people who were on the leash until they got off the leash and then we eliminated them. Like [Vietnamese president] Ngo Dinh Diem.”

Ellsberg here is referring to U.S. support for a 1963 coup involving the Ba’athist party, for which Saddam was already a prominent enforcer—and then another coup in 1968 when the Ba’athists consolidated control, after which Saddam became the power behind the nominal president. According to one of the 1963 plotters, “We came to power on a CIA train.” (Beyond providing lists of communists and leftists to be murdered, the U.S. also gave the new regime napalm to help them put down a Kurdish uprising we’d previously encouraged.) James Crichtfield, then head of the CIA in the Middle East, said, “We really had the t’s crossed on what was happening” This turned out not to be quite right, since factional infighting among top Iraqis required the second plot five years later for which, explained key participant Abd al-Razzaq al-Nayyif, “you must [also] look to Washington.”

Yet it appears clear on video that Kristol is genuinely startled by what Ellsberg was saying.

Consider the significance of this. Any ordinary citizen could easily have learned about the American role in those two coups—former National Security Council staffer Roger Morris had written about it on the New York Times op-ed page just two weeks before the Kristol-Ellsberg broadcast. And Kristol was far more than an ordinary citizen. He’d been near the apex of government as Quayle’s chief of staff during the first Gulf War in 1991. He’d been advocating the overthrow of the Saddam regime for years. He’d co-written an entire book, The War Over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission, calling for an invasion of that country.

Nevertheless, Kristol was ignorant of basic, critical information about U.S.-Iraq history. Iraqis themselves were not. In a September 2003 article, a returning refugee explained the growing resistance to the occupation: “One of the popular sayings I repeatedly heard in Baghdad, describing the relations between the U.S. and Saddam’s regime, is ‘Rah el sani’, ija el ussta‘—’Gone is the apprentice, in comes the master.'”

What this suggests about the people running America is far worse than if they were simply malevolent super-geniuses: They don’t know the backstory and couldn’t care less. It’s as though we’re riding in the back seat of a car driven by people who demanded the wheel but aren’t sure what the gas pedal does or what a stop sign actually looks like.

Moreover, when Ellsberg tells Kristol this information, he demonstrates no desire to learn more; nor, as best as can be discovered, has he ever mentioned it again. Really? Those colored lights mean something about whether I’m supposed to stop or go? Huh. Anyway, let’s talk more about how all of you complaining in the back seat hate freedom.

Later, when the discussion gets closer to the present. Kristol’s demeanor changes. He appears to be better informed and therefore shifts to straightforward lies:

“ELLSBERG: Why did we support Saddam as recently as when you were in the administration? And the answer is— “KRISTOL: We didn’t support Saddam when I was in the administration.

“ELLSBERG: When were you in the administration?

“KRISTOL: 89 to 93.”

This is preposterously false. First of all, Kristol worked in the Reagan administration as Education Secretary William Bennett’s chief of staff—when the U.S. famously supported Saddam’s war against Iran with loans, munitions, intelligence, and diplomatic protection for his use of chemical weapons. After George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988, Kristol moved to the same position in Vice President Quayle’s office. During the transition, Bush’s advisors examined the country’s Iraq policy and wrote a memo explaining to the incoming President the choice he faced. In a nutshell, this was “to decide whether to treat Iraq as a distasteful dictatorship to be shunned when possible, or to recognize Iraq’s present and potential power in the region and accord it relatively high priority. We strongly urge the latter view.”

And Bush chose. Internal State Department guidelines from the period stated, “In no way should we associate ourselves with the 60 year-old Kurdish rebellion in Iraq or oppose Iraq’s legitimate attempts to suppress it.” (Saddam’s gassing of the Kurdish town of Halabja has occurred less than a year before.) Analysts warning of Iraq’s burgeoning nuclear program were squelched. The Commerce Department loosened restrictions on dual-use WMD material, while Bush the elder approved new government lines of credit for Saddam over congressional objections.

And Saddam was receiving private money as well: most notably from the Atlanta branch of Italian bank BNL. BNL staff would later report that companies wanting to sell to Iraq were referred to them by Kristol’s then-boss, Vice President Quayle. One Quayle family friend would end up constructing a refinery for Saddam to recycle Iraq’s spent artillery shells. The Bush Justice Department prevented investigators from examining transactions like this, while Commerce Department employees were ordered to falsify export licenses.

As Kristol and Ellsberg discuss the buildup to the 1991 Gulf War, Kristol, of course, continues to fiddle with reality:

“KRISTOL: So you were against the liberation of Kuwait. “ELLSBERG: No, on the contrary. At that time, a number of four star military people, former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were foursquare for containing Saddam, preventing him by military means from getting into Saudi Arabia… When it came to expelling him from Kuwait, they wanted to give the blockade and the embargo [more time], on the belief of people like Admiral Crowe that that would be preferable to the deaths that would be involved in trying to expel him militarily. We didn’t test that theory.

“KRISTOL: The argument was not that the sanctions could get him out of Kuwait. The argument was that we could keep him out of Saudi Arabia. Who seriously thought he could be expelled from Kuwait by sanctions?

“ELLSBERG: Practically everyone who testified before Senator Nunn, who is no left-wing radical. And Senator Nunn himself. You’ve forgotten the history of that.

“KRISTOL: I remember the history vividly.”

Ellsberg is correct, of course: On November 28, 1990, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral William Crowe testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee and its chairman Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.). Crowe stated: “[W]e should give sanctions a fair chance… I personally believe they will bring [Saddam] to his knees”—by which Crowe meant Iraq would be “pushed out of Kuwait.” The same message was delivered by General David Jones, another former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman. The next day, the lede in a page one New York Times story was that Crowe and Jones had “urged the Bush Administration today to postpone military action against Iraq and to give economic sanctions a year or more to work.”

It’s not like Kristol could have missed all this, since the Bush administration immediately disputed such commentary—and one of its point men for the push back was none other than Dan Quayle. An early December 1990 article about a Quayle speech reported: “[Quayle] specifically cited the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee” where “voices have argued that the Bush Administration should allow time for economic sanctions against Iraq to work, getting President Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait voluntarily rather than using force to dislodge him.” (Unfortunately, there’s no available reporting on whether Quayle’s chief of staff wrote this speech for him.)

Then there’s Kristol’s curious explanation of his views on how the Gulf War ended—that moment when George H.W. Bush called upon the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam and then, despite having smashed Saddam’s army and controlling Iraq’s air space, let the dictator’s helicopter gunships take to the air and crush a Shiite uprising. There were even reports the administration forbade the Saudis from aiding the uprising and that U.S. troops blew up caches of Iraqi weapons rather than allow the rebels to use them.

Kristol, however, uses his courtier’s skills to remake reality more pleasingly:

“KRISTOL: I was unhappy in 1991 when we stopped the war and left this brutal tyrant in power. I think we betrayed the people who rose up against Saddam, a genuine popular uprising. That was a big mistake on the part of the Bush administration. A political mistake and a moral mistake.”

So that’s clear: Kristol feels the decision was immoral. Or… was it?

“KRISTOL: I don’t think these were simply immoral decisions by the president. These were judgment calls. There were reasons. There were arguments. There weren’t simply— “ELLSBERG: But they were immoral—

“KRISTOL: Well, no, that’s not so easy to call a political decision an immoral decision.

That’s fancy footwork for you! On the one hand, Kristol wants us to know that the decision was indeed “a moral mistake.” The implication is that he should be respected in the post-invasion moment of 2003 as the sort of sensitive tough guy who would indeed invade Iraq to make up for past decisions that lacked morality. On the other hand, we’re talking about a former Republican president and the present President’s father. A straightforward declaration of “immorality,” if pursued far enough, could easily hurt future employment prospects. Kristol has absolutely perfect pitch, managing to strike a blow for moral beauty in politics while maintaining career viability.

Ellsberg then asks questions aimed at just this issue:

“ELLSBERG: Did you consider doing more than disagree? Perhaps putting out the word of your dissent? Perhaps resigning with documents and revealing those to the press and the Congress? “KRISTOL [scoffing]: I had no documents to put out. There were no secrets about the President’s policy… We didn’t want to occupy Baghdad. The rebellion would have failed anyway. We would have gotten in deeper.”

Hmmm. No secrets about Bush the elder’s policy. Yet there was something that most certainly was secret about the rebellions at end of the Gulf War: Saddam was using chemical weapons to put down the Shiite uprising in the south. Rumored since 1991, this has been confirmed by the most impeccable source imaginable—the CIA’s final 2004 report on Iraq’s WMD. According to the report, the Iraqi military used Sarin nerve agent, dropped from the helicopters the U.S. had given them permission to fly.

The CIA goes onto to suggest the U.S. government knew about this at the time, describing “reports of attacks in 1991 from refugees and Iraqi military deserters.” And Gulf War veterans have said they passed such reports up the chain of command. Did Kristol know it then? Probably not. But even today there’s no sign he knows: he and the Weekly Standard appear never to have mentioned it. As with the coups in 1963 and 1968, Kristol’s ignorance is of a peculiarly convenient variety.

In any case, here’s what Kristol did know: the Bush administration made the choices it did at war’s end not because, as Kristol says, they felt “the rebellion would have failed.” Their fear was exactly the opposite: that the rebellion would succeed. Yes, the Bush administration preferred Saddam gone, but it wanted him replaced by some other, more amenable group or leader from the Sunni military elite. It most certainly did not want a popular uprising that might leave a largely Shiite government in power in Baghdad, potentially close to Iran. Even worse was the possibility Iraq could fracture, with power shifting to the oil-rich Shiite south. As an administration official told Peter Galbraith, then a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer, “[O]ur policy is to get rid of Saddam Hussein, not the regime.” Later, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained that Washington was looking for “the best of all worlds: an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein.”

Kristol’s predictions that March day in 2003 are every bit as on target as his descriptions of the past. When Ellsberg raises the possibility of the new Iraq war coming to resemble Vietnam in some fashion, Kristol insists that this is utterly preposterous: “It’s not going to happen. This is going to be a two-month war.”

Here’s the exchange when they turn to what will happen to Iraq’s Kurds:

“ELLSBERG: The Kurds have every reason to believe they will be betrayed again by the United States, as so often in the past. The spectacle of our inviting Turks into this war… could not have been reassuring to the Kurds… “KRISTOL: I’m against betraying the Kurds. Surely your point isn’t that because we betrayed them in the past we should betray them this time?

“ELLSBERG: Not that we should, just that we will.

“KRISTOL: We will not. We will not.”

This past December, we did. The Bush administration officially looked the other way while Turkey carried out a 50-plane bombing raid on Iraqi Kurdistan against the PKK, a Kurdish rebel group. Ken Silverstein of Harper’s reprinted an email from a former U.S. official there that said, in part:

“The blowback here in Kurdistan is building against the U.S. government because of its help with the Turkish air strikes. The theme is shock and betrayal… The people killed and wounded were villagers, not PKK fighters or support people… The initial explanation from Washington that the United States did not authorize the Turkish strike is bullshit, and every Kurd here knows it.”

No mention of the bombing has appeared in the Weekly Standard. It’s fair to assume, however, that Kristol will eventually call America’s actions there “a moral mistake,” while emphasizing that “these were judgment calls. There were reasons. There were arguments.”

Back in 2003, Kristol was also quite certain, almost touchingly so, that the Bush administration would be well served by relying on Iraqi exiles:

“KRISTOL: We have tens of thousands of Shia exiles [who] have come back to help contribute to the liberation of Iraq. “ELLSBERG: I’m afraid the people who propose this war have failed one lesson of intelligence history, which is not to rely too much on the knowledge of people who have left the country… The people who’ve come to this country may very well underestimate the desire of those people not to be governed by foreigners.”

This lesson of history goes back a long way. Book II, Chapter XXXI of Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy is titled “How Dangerous It Is to Believe Exiles”:

“It ought to be considered, therefore, how vain are the faith and promises of those who find themselves deprived of their country… such is the extreme desire in them to return home, that they naturally believe many things that are false and add many others by art, so that between those they believe and those they say they believe, they fill you with hope, so that relying on them you will incur expenses in vain, or you undertake an enterprise in which you ruin yourself… A Prince, therefore, ought to go slowly in undertaking an enterprise upon the representations of an exile, for most of the times he will be left either with shame or very grave injury.”

The Weekly Standard‘s archives show Kristol has published quite a few articles on how political correctness in elite U.S. universities is strangling the teaching of the Western canon. And you can understand where he’s coming from: While Kristol himself received a PhD in government from Harvard, it obviously was during a period when radical multiculturalists had completely expunged Machiavelli from the curriculum. When will the PC brigade ever learn? Teaching Toni Morrison starts wars.

Finally, there’s the most telling moment of the entire two hours, when a caller asks Kristol something he does not at all expect:

“CALLER: I wonder how we reconcile these views with how we treat the American Indians? “KRISTOL: [raising eyebrows, chuckling] Well, I think the American Indians are now full citizens of the United States of America. We have injustices in our past in treating the American Indians. I’m for equal rights for American Indians and for liberating the people of Iraq from this horrible tyranny.”

Kristol obviously finds the caller’s perspective ridiculous. But the man had, in fact, asked the most profound question possible.

After all, there is a deep cultural connection running from our conquest of the continent to the invasion of Iraq. While Americans have mostly forgotten this, the early settlers did not perceive themselves as simply pushing Indians out of the way. Rather, they came here with the very best of intentions. The 1629 seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is a picture of an American Indian, who is saying, “Come over and help us.” Three hundred seventy-three years later in 2002, Ahmed Chalabi was being paid by the U.S. government to tell Americans to come over and “help the Iraqi people.” In his book The Winning of the West, Teddy Roosevelt wrote that no nation “has ever treated the original savage owners of the soil with such generosity as has the United States.” In 2004, Fred Barnes wrote (in the Weekly Standard) that the invasion of Iraq might be “the greatest act of benevolence one country has ever done for another.”

Kristol finishes the C-Span show with a crescendo:

“The moral credentials of this war are strong. We’ll see if we follow through. I agree with Mr. Ellsberg on this, if we’re not serious about helping the Iraqi people rebuild their country and about helping promote decent democratic government in Iraq… it will be a much less morally satisfying and fully defensible war… I’m happy to be held to a moral standard. I ask that it be a serious moral standard.”

So, there you have it: a complex, rich experience to be savored by anyone who enjoys watching a master at the very peak of his craft.

Yet trying to encapsulate Kristol’s now almost five year-old chilling performance by turning it into a bitter joke only takes us so far. After all, the joke is on us.

Kristol indeed has been held to a moral standard, but it’s the moral standard of Rupert Murdoch and, more recently, the New York Times. What we learn from this dusty vinyl LP is that some of the most powerful men and institutions in our country are genuinely depraved. They provide Kristol with his prominence not in spite of performances like this one, but precisely because of them. Kristol is giving them just what they want. The fact that he’s a propagandist straight out of Pravda‘s archives makes the same impression on them as the fact that John Lennon was a great songwriter might make on you or me.

Of course he is. That’s why we bought the album.

Jonathan Schwarz is a frequent contributor to Mother Jones and co-author with Michael Gerber of Our Kampf, a collection of their humor from the New Yorker, the Atlantic, and Saturday Night Live. His website is named after a saying of George Orwell’s: “Every joke is a tiny revolution.”

A tidal wave of misery is engulfing Iraq By Michael Schwartz

February 12, 2008

A tidal wave of misery is engulfing Iraq By Michael Schwartz

Dandelion Salad

By Michael Schwartz
ICH
11/02/08 “
Mother Jones

A tidal wave of misery is engulfing Iraq—and it isn’t the usual violence that Americans are accustomed to hearing about and tuning out. To be sure, it’s rooted in that violence, but this tsunami of misery is social and economic in nature. It dislodges people from their jobs, sweeps them from their homes, tears them from their material possessions, and carries them off from families and communities. It leaves them stranded in hostile towns or foreign countries, with no anchor to resist the moment when the next wave of displacement sweeps over them.

The victims of this human tsunami are called refugees if they wash ashore outside the country or IDPs (”internally displaced persons”) if their landing place is within Iraq’s borders. Either way, they are normally left with no permanent housing, no reliable livelihood, no community support, and no government aid. All the normal social props that support human lives are removed, replaced with…nothing.

Overlapping Waves of the Dispossessed

In its first four years, the Iraq war created three overlapping waves of refugees and IDPs. It all began with the Coalition Provisional Authority, which the Bush administration set up inside Baghdad’s Green Zone and, in May 2003, placed under the control of L. Paul Bremer III. The CPA immediately began dismantling Iraq’s state apparatus. Thousands of Baathist Party bureaucrats were purged from the government; tens of thousands of workers were laid off from shuttered, state-owned industries; hundreds of thousands of Iraqi military personnel were dismissed from Saddam’s dismantled military. Their numbers soon multiplied as the ripple effect of their lost buying power rolled through the economy. Many of the displaced found other (less remunerative) jobs; some hunkered down to wait out bad times; still others left their homes and sought work elsewhere, with the most marketable going to nearby countries where their skills were still in demand. They were the leading edge of the first wave of Iraqi refugees. As the post-war chaos continued, kidnapping became the country’s growth industry, targeting any prosperous family with the means to pay ransom. This only accelerated the rate of departure, particularly among those who had already had their careers disrupted. A flood of professional, technical, and managerial workers fled their homes and Iraq in search of personal and job security.

The spirit of this initial exodus was eloquently expressed by an Iraqi blogger with the online handle of AnaRki13:

“Not so much a migration as a forced exodus. Scientists, engineers, doctors, architects, writers, poets, you name it—everybody is getting out of town. “Why? Simple: 1. There is no real job market in Iraq. 2. Even if you have a good job, chances are good you’ll get kidnapped or killed. It’s just not worth it staying here. Sunni, Shiite, or Christian—everybody, we’re all leaving, or have already left.

“One of my friends keeps berating me about how I should love this country, the land of my ancestors, where I was born and raised; how I should be grateful and return to the place that gave me everything. I always tell him the same thing: ‘Iraq, as you and me once knew it, is lost. What’s left of it, I don’t want…’

“The most famous doctors and university professors have already left the country because many of them, including ones I knew personally, were assassinated or killed, and the rest got the message—and got themselves jobs in the west, where they were received warmly and given high positions. Other millions of Iraqis, just ordinary Iraqis, left and are leaving—without plans and with much hope.”

In 2004, the Americans triggered a second wave of refugees when they began to attack and invade insurgent strongholds, as they did the Sunni city of Falluja in November 2004, using the full kinetic force of their military. Whether the Americans called for evacuation or not, large numbers of local residents were forced to flee battleground neighborhoods or cities. The process was summarized in a thorough review of the history of the war compiled by the Global Policy Forum and 35 other international non-governmental organizations:

“Among those who flee, the most fortunate are able to seek refuge with out-of-town relatives, but many flee into the countryside where they face extremely difficult conditions, including shortages of food and water. Eventually the Red Crescent, the UN or relief organizations set up camps. In Falluja, a city of about 300,000, over 216,000 displaced persons had to seek shelter in overcrowded camps during the winter months, inadequately supplied with food, water, and medical care. An estimated 100,000 fled al-Qaim, a city of 150,000, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS). In Ramadi, about 70 percent of the city’s 400,000 people left in advance of the U.S. onslaught. “These moments mark the beginning of Iraq’s massive displacement crisis.”

While most of these refugees returned after the fighting, a significant minority did not, either because their homes (or livelihoods) had been destroyed, or because they were afraid of continuing violence. Like the economically displaced of the previous wave, these refugees sought out new areas that were less dangerous or more prosperous, including neighboring countries. And, as with that first wave, it was the professionals as well as the technical and managerial workers who were most likely to have the resources to leave Iraq.

In early 2005 the third wave began, developing by the next year into the veritable tsunami of ethnic cleansing and civil war that pushed vast numbers of Iraqis from their homes. The precipitating incidents, according to Ali Allawi—the Iraqi finance minister when this third wave began—were initially triggered by the second-wave-refugees pushed out of the Sunni city of Falluja in the winter of 2004:

“Refugees leaving Falluja had converged on the western Sunni suburbs of Baghdad, Amriya and Ghazaliya, which had come under the control of the insurgency. Insurgents, often backed by relatives of the Falluja refugees, turned on the Shi’a residents of these neighbourhoods. Hundreds of Shi’a families were driven from their homes, which were then seized by the refugees. Sunni Arab resentment against the Shi’a’s ‘collaboration’ with the occupation’s forces had been building up, exacerbated by the apparent indifference of the Shi’a to the assault on Falluja. “In turn, the Shi’a were becoming incensed by the daily attacks on policemen and soldiers, who were mostly poor Shi’a men. The targeting of Sunnis in majority Shi’a neighbourhoods began in early 2005. In the Shaab district of Baghdad, for instance, the assassination of a popular Sadrist cleric, Sheikh Haitham al-Ansari, led to the formation of one of the first Shi’a death squads… The cycle of killings, assassinations, bombings and expulsions fed into each other, quickly turning to a full-scale ethnic cleansing of city neighbourhoods and towns.”

The process only accelerated in early 2006, after the bombing of the Golden Dome in Samarra, a revered Shiite shrine, and crested in 2007 when the American military “surge” onto the streets of Baghdad loosened the hold of Sunni insurgents on many mixed as well as Sunni neighborhoods in the capital. During the year of the surge all but 25 or so of the approximately 200 mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad became ethnically homogenous. A similar process took place in the city’s southern suburbs.

As minority groups in mixed neighborhoods and cities were driven out, they too joined the army of displaced persons, often settling into vacated homes in newly purified neighborhoods dominated by their own sect. But many, like those in the previous waves of refugees, found they had to move to new locales far away from the violence, including a large number who, once again, simply left Iraq. As with previous waves, the more prosperous were the most likely to depart, taking with them professional, technical, and managerial skills.

Among those who departed in this third wave was Riverbend, the pseudonymous “Girl Blogger from Baghdad,” who had achieved international fame for her beautifully crafted reports on life in Iraq under the U.S. occupation. Her description of her journey into exile chronicled the emotional tragedy experienced by millions of Iraqis:

“The last few hours in the house were a blur. It was time to go and I went from room to room saying goodbye to everything. I said goodbye to my desk—the one I’d used all through high school and college. I said goodbye to the curtains and the bed and the couch. I said goodbye to the armchair E. and I broke when we were younger. I said goodbye to the big table over which we’d gathered for meals and to do homework. I said goodbye to the ghosts of the framed pictures that once hung on the walls, because the pictures have long since been taken down and stored away—but I knew just what hung where. I said goodbye to the silly board games we inevitably fought over—the Arabic Monopoly with the missing cards and money that no one had the heart to throw away… “The trip was long and uneventful, other than two checkpoints being run by masked men. They asked to see identification, took a cursory glance at the passports and asked where we were going. The same was done for the car behind us. Those checkpoints are terrifying but I’ve learned that the best technique is to avoid eye contact, answer questions politely and pray under your breath. My mother and I had been careful not to wear any apparent jewelry, just in case, and we were both in long skirts and head scarves…

“How is it that a border no one can see or touch stands between car bombs, militias, death squads and… peace, safety? It’s difficult to believe—even now. I sit here and write this and wonder why I can’t hear the explosions…”

The Human Toll

The number of Iraqis who flooded neighboring lands, not to speak of even approximate estimates of the number of internal refugees, remains notoriously difficult to determine, but the most circumspect of observers have reported constantly accelerating rates of displacement since the Bush administration’s March 2003 invasion. These numbers quickly outstripped the flood of expatriates who had fled the country during Saddam Hussein’s brutal era.

By early 2006, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was already estimating that 1.7 million Iraqis had left the country and that perhaps an equal number of internal refugees had been created in the same three-year period. The rate rose dramatically yet again as sectarian violence and ethnic expulsions took hold; the International Organization for Migration estimated the displacement rate during 2006 and 2007 at about 60,000 per month. In mid 2007, Iraq was declared by Refugees International to be the “fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world,” while the United Nations called the crisis “the worst human displacement in Iraq’s modern history.”

Syria, the only country that initially placed no restrictions on Iraqi immigration, had (according to UN statistics) taken in about 1.25 million displaced Iraqis by early 2007. In addition, the UN estimated that more than 500,000 Iraqi refugees were in Jordan, as many as 70,000 in Egypt, approaching 60,000 in Iran, about 30,000 in Lebanon, approximately 200,000 spread across the Gulf States, and another 100,000 in Europe, with a final 50,000 spread around the globe. The United States, which had accepted about 20,000 Iraqi refugees during Saddam Hussein’s years, admitted 463 additional ones between the start of the war and mid-2007.

President Bush’s “surge” strategy, begun in January 2007, amplified the flood, especially of the internally displaced, still further. According to James Glanz and Stephen Farrell of the New York Times, “American-led operations have brought new fighting, driving fearful Iraqis from their homes at much higher rates than before the tens of thousands of additional troops arrived.” The combined effect of the American offensive and accelerated ethnic expulsions generated an estimated displacement rate of 100,000 per month in Baghdad alone during the first half of 2007, a figure that surprised even Said Hakki, the director of the Iraqi Red Crescent, who had been monitoring the refugee crisis since the beginning of the war.

During 2007, according to UN estimates, Syria admitted an additional 150,000 refugees. With Iraqis by then constituting almost 10% of the country’s population, the Syrian government, feeling the strain on resources, began putting limits on the unending flood and attempted to launch a mass repatriation policy. Such repatriation efforts have, so far, been largely fruitless. Even when violence in Baghdad began to decline in late 2007, refugees attempting to return found that their abandoned homes had often either been badly damaged in American offensives or, more likely, appropriated by strangers (often of a different sect), or were in “cleansed” neighborhoods that were now inhospitable to them.

In the same years, the weight of displaced persons inside Iraq grew ever more quickly. Estimated by the UN at 2.25 million in September 2007, this tidal flow of internally displaced, often homeless, families began to weigh on the resources of the provinces receiving them. Najaf, the first large city south of Baghdad, where the most sacred Shiite shrines in Iraq are located, found that its population of 700,000 had increased by an estimated 400,000 displaced Shia. In three other southern Shia provinces, IDPs came by mid-2007 to constitute over half the population.

The burden was crushing. By 2007, Karbala, one of the most burdened provinces, was attempting to enforce a draconian measure passed the previous year: New residents would be expelled unless officially sponsored by two members of the provincial council. Other governates also tried in various ways, and largely without success, to staunch the flow of refugees.

Whether inside or outside the country, even prosperous families before the war faced grim conditions. In Syria, where a careful survey of conditions was undertaken in October 2007, only 24% of all Iraqi families were supported by salaries or wages. Most families were left to live as best they could on dwindling savings or remittances from relatives, and a third of those with funds on hand expected to run out within three months. Under this kind of pressure, increasing numbers were reduced to sex work or other exploitative (or black market) sources of income.

Food was a major issue for many families; according to the United Nations, nearly half needed “urgent food assistance.” A substantial proportion of adults reported skipping at least one meal a day in order to feed their children. Many others endured foodless days “in order to keep up with rent and utilities.” One refugee mother told McClatchy reporter Hannah Allam, “We buy just enough meat to flavor the food — we buy it with pennies… I can’t even buy a kilo of sweets for Eid [a major annual celebration].”

According to a rigorous McClatchy Newspaper survey, most Iraqi refugees in Syria were housed in crowded conditions with more than one person per room (sometimes many more). Twenty-five percent of families lived in one-room apartments; about one in six refugees had been diagnosed with a (usually untreated) chronic disease; and one-fifth of the children had had diarrhea in the two weeks before being questioned. While Syrian officials had aided refugee parents in getting over two-thirds of school-aged children enrolled in schools, 46% had dropped out—due mainly to lack of appropriate immigration documents, insufficient funds to pay for school expenses, or a variety of emotional issues—and the drop-out rate was escalating. And keep in mind, the Iraqis who made it to Syria were generally the lucky ones, far more likely to have financial resources or employable skills.

Like the expatriate refugees, internally displaced Iraqis faced severe and constantly declining conditions. The almost powerless Iraqi central government, largely trapped inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, requires that people who move from one place to another register in person in Baghdad; if they fail to do so, they lose eligibility for the national program that subsidizes the purchase of small amounts of a few staple foods. Such registration was mostly impossible for families driven from their homes in the country’s vicious civil war. With no way to “register,” families displaced outside of Baghdad entered their new residences without even the increasingly meager safety net offered by guaranteed subsidies of basic food supplies.

To make matters worse, almost three-quarters of the displaced were women or children and very few of the intact families had working fathers. Unemployment rates in most cities to which they were forced to move were already at or above 50%, so prostitution and child labor increasingly became necessary options. UNICEF reported that a large proportion of children in such families were hungry, clinically underweight, and short for their age. “In some areas, up to 90 per cent of the [displaced] children are not in school,” the UN agency reported.

Losing Precious Resources

The job backgrounds of an extraordinary proportion of Iraqi refugees in Syria were professional, managerial, or administrative. In other words, they were collectively the repository of the precious human capital that would otherwise have been needed to sustain, repair, and eventually rebuild their country’s ravaged infrastructure. In Iraq, approximately 10% of adults had attended college; more than one-third of the refugees in Syria were university educated. Whereas less than 1% of Iraqis had a postgraduate education, nearly 10% of refugees in Syria had advanced degrees, including 4.5% with doctorates. At the opposite end of the economic spectrum, fully 20% of all Iraqis had no schooling, but only a relative handful of the refugees arriving in Syria (3%) had no education. These proportions were probably even more striking in other more distant receiving lands, where entry was more difficult.

The reasons for this remarkable brain drain are not hard to find. Even the desperate process of fleeing your home turns out to require resources, and so refugees from most disasters who travel great distances tend to be disproportionately prosperous, as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans so painfully illustrated.

In Iraq, this tendency was enhanced by American policy. The mass privatization and de-Baathification policies of the Bush administration ensured that large numbers of professional, technical, and managerial workers, in particular, would be cast out of their former lives. This tendency was only exacerbated by the development of the kidnapping industry, focusing its attentions as it did on families with sufficient resources to pay handsome ransoms. It was amplified when some insurgent groups began assassinating remaining government officials, university professors, and other professionals.

The exodus into the Iraqi Diaspora has severely depleted the country’s human capital. In early 2006, the United States Committee on Refugees and Immigrants estimated that a full 40% of Iraqi’s professional class had left the country, taking with them their irreplaceable expertise. Universities and medical facilities were particularly hard hit, with some reporting less than 20% of needed staff on hand. The oil industry suffered from what the Wall Street Journal called a “petroleum exodus” that included the departure of two-thirds of its top 100 managers, as well as significant numbers of managerial and professional workers.

Even before the huge 2007 exodus from Baghdad, the United Nations Commissioner of Refugees warned that “the skills required to provide basic services are becoming more and more scarce,” pointing particularly to doctors, teachers, computer technicians, and even skilled craftsmen like bakers.

By mid-2007, the loss of these resources was visible in the everyday functioning of Iraqi society. By then, medical facilities commonly required patients’ families to act as nurses and technicians and were still unable to perform many services. Schools were often closed, or opened only sporadically, because of an absence of qualified teachers. Universities postponed or canceled required courses or qualifying examinations because of inadequate staff. At the height of an incipient cholera epidemic in the summer of 2007, water purification plants were idled because needed technicians could not be found.

The most devastating impact of the Iraqi refugee crisis, however, has probably been on the very capacity of the national government (which de-Baathification and privatization had already left in a fragile state) to administer anything. In every area that such a government might touch, the missing managerial, technical, and professional talent and expertise has had a devastating effect, with post-war “reconstruction” particularly hard hit. Even the ability of the government to disperse its income (mostly from oil revenues) has been crippled by what cabinet ministers have termed “a shortage of employees trained to write contracts” and “the flight of scientific and engineering expertise from the country.”

The depths of the problem (as well as the massive levels of corruption that went with it) could be measured by the fact that the electrical ministry spent only 26% of its capital budget in 2006; the remaining three-quarters went unspent. Yet, at that level of disbursement, it still outperformed most government agencies and ministries in a major way. Under pressure from American occupation officials to improve its performance in 2007, the government made concerted efforts to increase both its budget and its disbursements for reconstruction. Despite initially optimistic reports, the news was grim by year’s end. Actual expenditures on electrical infrastructure might, for example, have slipped to as low as 1% of the budgeted amount.

Even more symptomatic were the few successes in infrastructural rebuilding found by New York Times reporter James Glanz in a survey of capital construction throughout the country. Most of the successful programs he reviewed were initiated and managed by officials connected to local and provincial governments. They discovered that success actually depended on avoiding any interaction with the ineffective and corrupt central government. The provincial governor of Babil Province, Sallem S. al-Mesamawe, described the key to his province’s success: “We jumped over the routine, the bureaucracy, and we depend on new blood—a new team.” They had learned this lesson after using provincial money and local contractors to build a school, only to have it remain closed because the national government was unable to provide the necessary furniture.

The government’s staggering institutional incapacity is, in fact, a complex phenomenon with many sources beyond the drain of human capital. The flood of managers, professionals, and technicians out of the country, however, has been a critical obstacle to any productive reconstruction. Worse yet, the departure of so many crucial figures is probably to a considerable extent irreversible, ensuring a grim near-future for the country. After all, this has been a “brain drain” on a scale seldom seen in our era.

Many exiles still intend to, even long to, return when (or if) the situation improves, but time is always the enemy of such intentions. The moment an individual arrives in a new country, he or she begins creating social ties that become ever more significant as a new life takes hold—and this is even truer for those who leave with their families, as so many Iraqis have done. Unless this network-building process is disrupted, for many the probability of return fades with each passing month.

Those with marketable skills, even in the dire circumstances facing most Iraqi refugees, have little choice but to keep seeking work that exploits their training. The most marketable are the most likely to succeed and so to begin building new careers. As time slips by, the best, the brightest, and the most important carriers of precious human capital are lost.

The Displacement Tsunami

The degradation of Iraq under the American occupation regime was what initially set in motion the forces that led to the exile of much of the country’s most precious human resources—absolutely crucial capital, even if of a kind not usually considered when talk turns to investing in “nation building.” How, after all, can you “reconstruct” the ravaged foundations of a bombed-out nation without the necessary professional, technical, and managerial personnel? Without them, Iraq must continue its downward spiral toward a nation of slum cities.

The orgy of failure and corruption in 2007 was an unmitigated disaster for Iraqi society, as well as an embarrassment for the American occupation. From the point of view of long-term American goals in Iraq, however, this storm cloud, like so many others, had a silver lining. The Iraqi government’s incapacity to perform at almost any level became but further justification for the claims first made by L. Paul Bremer at the very beginning of the occupation: that the country’s reconstruction would be best handled by private enterprise. Moreover, the mass flight of Iraqi professionals, managers, and technicians has meant that expertise for reconstruction has simply been unavailable inside the country. This has, in turn, validated a second set of claims made by Bremer: that reconstruction could only be managed by large outside contractors.

This neoliberal reality was brought into focus in late 2007, as the last of the money allocated by the U.S. Congress for Iraqi reconstruction was being spent. A “petroleum exodus” (first identified by the Wall Street Journal) had long ago meant that most of the engineers needed for maintaining the decrepit oil business were already foreigners, mostly “imported from Texas and Oklahoma.” The foreign presence had, in fact, become so pervasive that the main headquarters for the maintenance and development of the Rumaila oil field in southern Iraq (the source of more than two-thirds of the country’s oil at present) runs on both Iraqi and Houston time. The American firms in charge of the field’s maintenance and development, KBR and PIJV, have been utilizing a large number of subcontractors, most of them American or British, very few of them Iraqi.

These American-funded projects, though, have been merely “stopgaps.” When the money runs out, vast new moneys will be needed just to sustain Rumaila’s production at its present level.

According to Harper’s Magazine Senior Editor Luke Mitchell, who visited the field in the summer of 2007, Iraqi engineers and technicians are “smart enough and ambitious enough” to sustain and “upgrade” the system once the American contracts expire, but such a project would take upwards of two decades because of the compromised condition of the government and the lack of skilled local engineers and technicians. The likely outcome, when the American money departs, therefore is either an inadequate effort in which work proceeds “only in fits and starts;” or, more likely, new contracts in which the foreign companies would “continue their work,” paid for by the Iraqi government.

With regard to the petroleum industry, therefore, what the refugee crisis guaranteed was long-term Iraqi dependence on outsiders. In every other key infrastructural area, a similar dependence was developing: electrical power, the water system, medicine, and food were, de facto, being “integrated” into the global system, leaving oil-rich Iraq dependent on outside investment and largesse for the foreseeable future. Now, that’s a twenty-year plan for you, one that at least 4.5 million Iraqis, out of their homes and, in many cases, out of the country as well, will be in no position to participate in.

Most horror stories come to an end, but the most horrible part of this horror story is its never-ending quality. Those refugees who have left Iraq now face a miserable limbo life, as Syria and other receiving countries exhaust their meager resources and seek to expel many of them. Those seeking shelter within Iraq face the depletion of already minimal support systems in degrading host communities whose residents may themselves be threatened with displacement.

From the vast out-migration and internal migrations of its desperate citizens comes damage to society as a whole that is almost impossible to estimate. The displacement of people carries with it the destruction of human capital. The destruction of human capital deprives Iraq of its most precious resource for repairing the damage of war and occupation, condemning it to further infrastructural decline. This tide of infrastructural decline is the surest guarantee of another wave of displacement, of future floods of refugees.

As long as the United States keeps trying to pacify Iraq, it will create wave after wave of misery.

Michael Schwartz, professor of sociology at Stony Brook University, has written extensively on popular protest and insurgency. This report on the Iraqi refugee crisis is from his forthcoming Tomdispatch book, War Without End: The Iraq Debacle in Context (Haymarket Books, June 2008). His work on Iraq has appeared on numerous Internet sites, including Tomdispatch, Asia Times, Mother Jones, Information Clearing House and ZNET. His email address is Ms42@optonline.net.

Interview: Seymour Hersh

February 11, 2008
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 07, 2008
2:05 MECCA TIME, 23:05 GMT
Interview: Seymour Hersh

By Sarah Brown

 
 

Hersh was instrumental in exposing the scandal at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison [GALLO/GETTY]

Seymour Hersh, one of the world’s best known investigative journalists,  has turned his attention to the mysterious and controversial bombing of a Syrian facility by Israel last year.

In a new article for the New Yorker magazine, the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, best known for his work exposing the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the horrific mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, says evidence indicates the bombing was a warning to Syria and its allies, including Iran.

Al Jazeera spoke to him about the bombing, why he feels the media failed on the story, and what it means for the Middle East.

Q: Why did Israel bomb a target in Syria?

[I find awful] the hubris, the arrogance of thinking that you could go commit an act of war by any definition and then say nothing about it

A: Well I don’t have the answers to that direct question – one thing that is terribly significant is that the Israel and its chief ally the US have chosen to say nothing officially about this incident and that’s what got me interested – whoever heard of a country bombing another one and not talking about it and thinking they had the right somehow not to talk about it?

In 1981 when Israel bombed the Osirak reactor in Iraq they were very noisy and public about it. In this case they said nothing publicly, but after a few weeks they began to leak [information].

They began to tell certain reporters very grandiose sort of stories about what was going on – ships arriving with illicit materials, offloaded by people in protective gear … from a port in the Mediterranean across to the bomb site, commando’s on the ground, soil samples.

And none of it turned out to be true, really, at least I could find no demonstrable evidence for it.

And so I have to say, that if this article I did generates a decision by Israel to go public with its overwhelming dossier that will answer any questions well that’s great … but they have not and [I find awful] the hubris, the arrogance of thinking that you could go commit an act of war by any definition and then say nothing about it.

Syria of course compounded the problem by being hapless and feckless in response. It took them, I think, until October 1, almost four weeks after the incident before the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, acknowledged it had actually been bombed.

Q: Why was Syria’s reaction so muted?

The bombing was seen as a message to
Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president [AFP]

A: I think they’re just hapless. I don’t think they have any idea about the 24 hour news cycle – it’s just unbeknown to them.

So what happened is: A raid takes place, they announced rather quickly there was an intrusion by the Israelis, they initially say after a couple of days that munitions were bombed, then the foreign minister says in Turkey four or five days after the incident that nothing was bombed however, bombs fell but nothing was hit.

Then, three weeks later, the president says: “Oh, well actually a building was destroyed”. You can’t programme something that inept and that’s a reality. They just weren’t very good.

But there are other factors.

Q: Such as North Korea?

A: There were North Koreans, as the Israelis claimed at the site. They were building a facility, it was a military facility, I think my guess would be. 

I was told two different things by various people inside Syria.

One said it was perhaps a chemical facility for chemical warfare, another one said more persuasively to me that “no, it was for missiles – short range missiles to be used in case we’re attacked by Israel, we’d respond asymmetrically with missiles.”

Q: Because they figure chemical weapons are of little use against a nuclear power?

A: Yes. They’re incinerated. And I’m told they made that decision much longer ago than we might think.

I’m told they really devalued the use of a chemical warhead, certainly as a deterrent, because the response is nuclear.

Q: Didn’t some of your sources tell you there was evidence to support the theory that the US wanted Israel to test Syria’s air defences because they are similar to those of Iran?

A: In the beginning. This plan was staffed – by that I mean it was staffed by the US joint chiefs of staff, it was staffed by people in the vice president’s office.

Israel does not do a raid like this without talking to the White House

The little bit I know about that process was in the summer, months before the mission, there was a lot of talk about doing the mission [and] there was a report in the intelligence community from the Defence Intelligence Agency saying that Syria had dramatically increased the capability of its radar and command control system.

[It said that it had] anti-aircraft radar close or parallel to that now known to be installed in Iran – so this was a way of testing the Syrian radar.

You can walk all over Syria and no-one cares, it’s a small country of 17 million people. But to go into Iran and check out radars by overflying any site, that leads to counter attack.

The Israelis have been overflying with impunity, there’s not much Syria can do and [the Israelis] knew Syria wouldn’t do anything.

So it was initially understood by my friends as a radar operation, it was only after the fact that they learned something else.

Dick Cheney, left, is said to have
overridden the US chain of command [AFP]

It was very hard to get information [in Israel] because they have a bar against speaking and military censorship has been imposed on this issue.

But I did get some people to say to me “Ah, that stuff about radar was [rubbish] – it was never going to happen, that’s a way or a vehicle for us to get in”.

It seems clear from what I’ve learned from my American friends and the Syrians that the Israelis came right in and the only target they had was the one they bombed.

They weren’t looking at any radar site, they just went in and whacked it.

So, then you really get to the next level of questions that I didn’t really deal with in the article because it’s so hypothetical – who authorised it?

Who did they talk to? I mean Israel does not do a raid like this without talking to the White House and I can’t find anybody that knew they were going to hit the facility beforehand. 

That could be that just I can’t find it, and if not that doesn’t mean it’s not there, and it could also be that somebody like Dick Cheney, who has done this before, overrode the chain of command.

So in other words, normally all this information about an Israeli attack would soak through to the joint chiefs, but he undercut that process perhaps – he’s done it before in other incidents – but I just can’t tell you for sure what happened here.

Q: Was the raid’s purpose to act as a potential deterrent to Iran?

A: Of course that was the idea for the US, to let the Iranians know that despite the national intelligence estimate “We’re ready to … we have a proxy and the Israelis will go bang for us if we need.”

I think the Israelis were troubled by the North Koreans there [at the site] … and they thought: ‘Whatever it is we’re not going to let them be’

But of course, for Israel, this whole mission had another point of view.

I think the Israelis were troubled by the North Koreans there [at the site], they were troubled by the building and they thought: “What the hell, whatever it is we’re not going to let them be. We’re going to hit the facility before it gets up, whatever it’s going to be.

If they thought it was nuclear I hope they’ll show us, otherwise they just hit a building that wasn’t done yet.

And the [result] was terrific for them, because it gave Olmert a big jump, a big boost of support 

Q: You mean after the war in Lebanon in 2006?

Absolutely. And also it was seen as a message to Bashar Assad, the president of Syria, who the Israelis believe has become cocky after the Hezbollah war because he was a big supporter of Hassan Nasrallah [Hezbollah leader] – he is Assad’s big buddy.

The Israelis thought that they could take him down a peg, and also the message to Bashar Assad is: “So, what’s Iran doing for you now, buddy? We go and pop you in the head and is Iran doing anything?”

And the American press and the international press end up being used on this one [story] in a scandalous way.

Q: On media culpability, this was a big issue in the lead up to the war in 2003 – questionable evidence that supposedly provides a cause for war. Is the media being manipulated again here?

 

A: The press was feckless on this and credulous and took everything at face value.

 

For me the US press – I don’t think they’ve come face to face with what happened here…. the newspapers missed without question the biggest moral story of the last decade, which is the illegal road to war in Iraq and we missed it.


And that’s not our job, it’s not our job to miss that, our job is not to listen to the president.
There were elements of the same pattern of “kiss-up” going on and that’s very disturbing.

Q: With US elections this year, do you think any foreign policy is going to change with a new president, especially towards Israel, Iran and Syria?

A:  Well certainly [it won’t change] with McCain, he’s talking about not even changing the war, which I think is a big mistake.

Somebody I know wrote a wonderful essay making the point that Iraq is a dead body, and David Petraeus, the general, and our ambassador Ryan Crocker they’re the undertakers, and their job is to keep up with the rouge and the makeup on the body for the next six months until we get past the election – that’s their goal.

[On Israel] it’s very hard, you know in America there’s just no questioning. The American Jewish influence is enormous. There’s a lot of money.

I just wish many American Jews would read the Israeli papers – particularly Haaretz – more carefully and they would see there’s really a vibrant criticism of the Israeli government … and you just don’t see that today.

I’m Jewish and I’m not anti-Semitic and I’m not anti-Israel – [Israelis] understand that, just as by the way a lot of Americans don’t understand that many of the leadership of Hamas and others.

Not everyone spends their life there wanting to kill Jews, they’re more willing than people would like to believe to co-exist, they just don’t like the system the way it works now.

Q: What do you think of Bush’s legacy to the world?He’s done more to terrify the world than anybody I know. The world is so much more dangerous.

I have a very wise friend, born in Syria, who’s a businessman in the West now.

Right after the bombing began in Iraq he said to me: “This war will not change Iraq – Iraq will change you” and so I’ve seen it come and it’s very scary.

It’s very scary to see how things are so fragile right now, nothing going on good in Lebanon nothing going on with Syria nothing going on with Iran … We can’t talk to people we don’t like?

We’ve got to negotiate, it’s the only way we’re going to resolve our problems.

 
 
 

Source: Al Jazeera

There Is No “War on Terror”

February 8, 2008

There Is No “War on Terror”

By Edward S. Herman
and David Peterson

Edward S. Herman’s ZSpace Page
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 One of the most telling signs of the political naiveté of liberals and the Left in the United States has been their steadfast faith in much of the worldview that blankets the imperial state they call home.  Nowhere has this critical failure been more evident than in their acceptance of the premise that there really is something called a “war on terror” or “terrorism”[1]—however poorly managed its critics make it out to be—and that righting the course of this war ought to be this country’s (and the world’s) top foreign policy priority.   In this perspective, Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than Iraq ought to have been the war on terror’s proper foci; most accept that the U.S. attack on Afghanistan from October 2001 on was a legitimate and necessary stage in the war.  The tragic error of the Bush Administration, in this view, was that it lost sight of this priority, and diverted U.S. military action to Iraq and other theaters, reducing the commitment where it was needed.

Of course we expect to find this line of criticism expressed by the many former supporters who have fled from the sinking regime in Washington.[2]  But it is striking that commentators as durably hostile to Bush policies as the New York Times‘s Frank Rich should accept so many of the fundamentals of this worldview, and repeat them without embarrassment.  Rich asserts that the question “
Who lost Iraq? is but a distraction from the more damning question, Who is losing the war on terrorism?”  A repeated theme of Rich’s work has been that the Cheney – Bush presidency is causing “as much damage to fighting the war on terrorism as it does to civil liberties.”  Even in late 2007, Rich still lamented the “really bad news” that, “Much as Iraq distracted America from the war against Al Qaeda, so a strike on Iran could ignite Pakistan, Al Qaeda’s thriving base and the actual central front of the war on terror.”[3]

 

Other expressions of faith in something called the “war on terror” abound. Thus in a long review of several books in which she urged “[r]evamping our approach to terrorism” and “recapturing hearts and minds” around the world, Harvard’s Samantha Power, a top lieutenant in the humanitarian brigade, wrote that “most Americans still rightly believe that the United States must confront Islamic terrorism—and must be relentless in preventing terrorist networks from getting weapons of mass destruction.  But Bush’s premises have proved flawed….”[4]   Most striking was Power’s expression of disappointment that “millions—if not billions—of people around the world do not see the difference between a suicide bomber’s attack on a pizzeria and an American attack on what turns out to be a wedding party”—the broken moral compass residing within these masses, of course, who fail to understand that only the American attacks are legitimate and that the numerous resultant casualties are but “tragic errors” and  “collateral damage.”[5]  

 

Like Samantha Power, the What We’re Fighting For statement issued in February 2002 by the Institute for American Values and signed by 60 U.S. intellectuals, including Jean Bethke Elshtain, Francis Fukuyama, Mary Ann Glendon, Samuel Huntington, Harvey C. Mansfield, Will Marshall, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Michael Novak, Michael Walzer, George Weigel, and James Q. Wilson, declared the war on terror a “just war.”   “Organized killers with global reach now threaten all of us,” it  is asserted in one revealing passage. “In the name of universal human morality, and fully conscious of the restrictions and requirements of a just war, we support our government’s, and our society’s, decision to use force of arms against them.”[6]  The idea that “killers with global reach” who are far more deadly and effective than Al Qaeda could be found at home doesn’t seem to occur to these intellectuals.  And like Power, they also make what they believe a telling distinction between the deliberate killing of civilians, as in a suicide bombing, and “collateral damage”-type casualties even in cases where civilian casualties are vastly larger and entirely predictable, though not specifically intended.[7]  Throughout these reflections, the purpose is to distinguish our murderous acts from theirs.  It is the latter that constitute a “world-threatening evil…that clearly requires the use of force to remove it.”[8]  

 

In the same mode, Princeton University international law professor Richard Falk’s early contributions to The Nation after 9/11 found a “visionary program of international, apocalyptic terrorism” behind the events.  “It is truly a declaration of war from the lower depths,” Falk wrote, a “transformative shift in the nature of the terrorist challenge both conceptually and tactically….There is no indication that the forces behind the attack were acting on any basis beyond their extraordinary destructive intent….We are poised on the brink of a global, intercivilizational war without battlefields and borders….”  Some weeks later, in a nod to “just war” doctrine, Falk argued that the “destruction of both the Taliban regime and the Al Qaeda network…are appropriate goals….[T]he case [against the Taliban] is strengthened,” he added, “to the degree that its governing policies are so oppressive as to give the international community the strongest possible grounds for humanitarian intervention.”[9]  

 

Peter Beinart, a liberal-leaning former editor of the New Republic and the author of the 2006 book The Good Fight: Why Liberals-and Only LiberalsCan Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again, wrote in the aftermath of Cheney – Bush’s 2004 re-election: “Today, the war on terrorism is partially obscured by the war in Iraq, which has made liberals cynical about the purposes of U.S. power.  But, even if Iraq is Vietnam, it no more obviates the war on terrorism than Vietnam obviated the battle against communism.  Global jihad will be with us long after American troops stop dying in Falluja and Mosul.  And thus, liberalism will rise or fall on whether it can become, again, what [Arthur] Schlesinger called ‘a fighting faith’.”[10]

 

Even David Cole and Jules Lobel, authors of a highly-regarded critique of Cheney – Bush policies on “Why America Is Losing the War on Terror,” take the existence of its “counterterrorism strategy” at face value; this strategy has been a “colossal failure,” they argue, because it has “compromised our spirit, strengthened our enemies and left us less free and less safe.”  The U.S. war in Iraq “permitted the Administration to turn its focus from Al Qaeda, the organization that attacked us on 9/11, to Iraq, a nation that did not.  The Iraq war has by virtually all accounts made the United States, the Iraqi people, many of our allies and for that matter much of the world more vulnerable to terrorists.  By targeting Iraq, the Bush Administration not only siphoned off much-needed resources from the struggle against Al Qaeda but also created a golden opportunity for Al Qaeda to inspire and recruit others to attack US and allied targets.  And our invasion of Iraq has turned it into the world’s premier terrorist training ground.”[11]  

 

Elsewhere, appearing at a forum in New York City sponsored by the Open Society Institute to discuss his work, David Cole made the remarkable assertion that “no one argued” the post-9/11 U.S. attack on Afghanistan was “not a legitimate act of self-defense.”  No less remarkable was Cole’s statement shortly thereafter that the United States’ “holding [of prisoners] at Guantanamo would not have been controversial practice had we given them hearings at the outset,” because, as Cole explained it, such hearings “would have identified those people as to whom we had no evidence that they were involved with Al Qaeda and then they would be released.”[12] 

 

Cole’s first remark ignores the UN Charter, which allows an attack on another state in self-defense only when an imminent attack is threatened, and then only until such time as the Security Council acts on behalf of the threatened state.  But given the absence of such urgency and the absence of  a UN authorization,  and given that the hijacker bombers of 9/11 were independent terrorists and not agents of  a state, the October 2001 U.S. war on Afghanistan was a violation of the UN Charter and a “supreme international crime,” in the language of the Judgment at Nuremberg.[13]  Would Cole have defended Cuban or Nicaraguan or Iraqi bombing attacks on Washington D.C. as legitimate acts of self-defense at any juncture in the past when the United States was attacking or sponsoring an attack on these countries?  We doubt it.  Cole also seems unaware that the United States attacked after refusing the Afghan government’s offer to give up bin Laden upon the presentation of evidence of his involvement in the crime.[14] Furthermore, the war began long after bin Laden and his forces had been given time to exit, and was fought mainly against the Taliban government and Afghan people, thousands of whom were killed under targeting rules that assured and resulted in numerous “tragic errors” and can reasonably be called war crimes.

 

Given the illegality and immorality of this war—now already well into its seventh year—the killing of people in Afghanistan cannot be regarded as “legitimate”—and neither can the taking of prisoners there under any conditions.  Cole’s second remark also ignores the modes of seizure of prisoners, some turned over in exchange for cash bounties; or their treatment in Afghanistan, en route to Guantanamo, and in rendition facilities, apart from delays in or absence of  “hearings at the outset.”  Last, Cole is wrong even on the alleged general agreement on the legitimacy of this act of  “self-defense” in Afghanistan.  Despite the domestic hysteria in the United States at the time, a number of  lawyers here contested its legitimacy .[15]  Furthermore, a series of opinion polls in 37 different countries by Gallup International in late September 2001 found that in no less than 34 of these countries, majorities opposed a U.S. military attack on Afghanistan, preferring instead to see the events of September 11 treated as crimes (i.e., non-militarily), with extradition and trial for the alleged culprits.  The three countries where opinion ran against the majority in the other 34 were the United States (54%), India (72%), and Israel (77%).  Otherwise, it appears that significant and sometimes overwhelming majorities of the world’s population were opposed to the U.S. resort to war.[16]

 


What War on Terror?

 

But talk of the “failure” of the war on terror rests on the false premise that there really is such a war.   This we reject on a number of grounds.  First, in all serious definitions of the term,[17] terror is a means of pursuing political ends, an instrument of struggle, and it makes little sense to talk about war against a means and instrument. Furthermore, if the means consists of  modes of political intimidation and publicity-seeking that use or threaten force against civilians, a major problem with the alleged “war” is that the United States and Israel also clearly use terror and support allies and agents who do the same. The “shock and awe” strategy that opened the 2002 invasion-occupation of Iraq was openly and explicitly designed to terrorize the Iraq population and armed forces. Much of the bombing and torture, and the attack that destroyed Falluja, have been designed to instill fear and intimidate the general population and resistance.  Israel’s repeated bombing attacks, ground assaults, and targeted assassinations of Palestinians are also designed to create fear and apathy, that is, terrorize.  As longtime Labour Party official Abba Eban admitted years ago, Israel’s bombing of  Lebanon civilians was based on “the rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that afflicted populations [i.e., civilians deliberately targeted] would exert pressure for the cessation of hostilities.”[18]  This was a precise admission of the use of  terrorism, and surely fits Israeli policy in the years of the alleged “war on terror.”  Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has also acknowledged an intent to attack civilians, declaring in March 2002 that “The Palestinians must be hit and it must be very painful: we must cause them losses, victims, so that they feel the heavy price.”[19]

 

The United States and Israel actually engage in big-time terror, like strategic bombing, helicopter attacks, torture on a continuing basis, and large-scale invasions and invasion threats, not lower-casualty-inflicting actions like occasional plane hijackings and suicide bombings.   This has long been characterized as  the difference between wholesale and retail terror, the former carried out by states and on a large scale, the latter  implemented by individuals and small groups, much smaller in scale, and causing fewer civilian victims than its wholesale counterpart.[20]  Retail terrorists don’t maintain multiple detention centers in which they employ torture (at the height of its state terror activities in the 1970s the Argentinian military maintained an estimated 60 such centers, according to Amnesty International;[21] the United States today, on land bases and naval vessels and in client state operated facilities, uses dozens of such centers).

 

Furthermore, retail terror is often sponsored by the wholesale terrorists—notoriously, the Cuban refugee network operating out of the United States for decades, the U.S.-supported Nicaraguan contras, Savimbi’s UNITA in Angola in the 1980s, backed by both South Africa and the United States, the South Lebanon Army supported by Israel for years, and the Colombian rightwing death squads still in operation, with U.S. support.  Thus, a meaningful war on terror would surely involve attacks on the United States and Israel as premier wholesale terrorists and sponsors, a notion we have yet to find expounded by a single one of the current war-on-terror proponents.

 

In short, one secret of  the widespread belief that the United States and Israel are fighting—not carrying out—terror is the remarkable capacity of the Western media and intellectual class to ignore the standard definitions of terror and the reality of who does the most terrorizing, and thus to allow the Western political establishments to use the invidious word to apply to their targets. We only retaliate and engage in “counter-terror”—our targets started it and their lesser violence is terrorism.

 

A second and closely related secret of the swallowing of war-on-terror propaganda is the ability of the swallowers to ignore the U.S. purposes and program. They never ask: Is the United States simply responding to the 9/11 attack or do its leaders have a larger agenda for which they can use 9/11 terrorism as a cover?  But this obvious question almost answers itself: Documents of the prior decade show clearly that the Bush team was openly hoping for another “Pearl Harbor” that would allow them to go on the offensive and project power in the Middle East and across the globe.  In the rightfully infamous words of the Project for the New American Century (2000), “the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.”[22]  The huge military forces that have been built up in this country conveniently permit this power-projection by threat and use of force, and their buildup and use has had bipartisan support, reflecting in large measure the power and objectives of the military establishment, military contractors, and transnational corporations. The military buildup was not for defensive purposes in any meaningful sense; it was for power-projection, which is to say, for offense.

 

In this connection we should point out that at the time of 9/11 in the year 2001, Al Qaeda was considered by most experts to be a small non-state operation, possibly centered in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, but loosely sprawled across the globe, and with at most only a few thousand operatives.[23]  It is clear that such a small and diffuse operation called for an anti-crime and intelligence response, not a war.  Of course a war could be carried out against the country which was their principal home, but given the lags involved and the threat that a war, with its civilian casualties and imperialist overtones, would possibly strengthen Al Qaeda, the quick resort to war in the post-9/11 period suggests covert motives, including vengeance and taking advantage of  9/11 for power-projection.  And while a war could be launched against Afghanistan and an attack made on Al Qaeda headquarters, this was hardly a war on terror.  Nor could the huge military buildup that ensued  have been based on a fight in Afghanistan or against tiny Al Qaeda.[24]

 

It is also notable that there has been no attempt by the organizers of the war on terror  to try to stop terrorism at its source by addressing the problems that have produced the terrorists and provided their recruiting base. In fact, for the organizers and their supporters in the “war on terror,” raising the question of “why” is regarded as a form of apologetics for terror, and they are uninterested in the question, satisfied with clichés about the terrorists envy, hatred of freedom, and genetic or religious proclivities. This is consistent with the view that getting rid of terror is not their aim, and that in fact they need the steady flow of  resisters-terrorists which their actions produce to justify their real purpose of  power projection virtually without limit.  Failure to end terrorism is not a failure of the “war on terror,” it is a necessary part of its machinery of operation.   

 

In short, the war on terror is an intellectual and propaganda cover, analogous—and in many ways a successor—to the departed “Cold War,” which in its time also served as a cover for imperial expansion. Guatemala, Vietnam, Chile, Indonesia, Zaire (and many others) were regularly subverted or attacked on the ground of an alleged Soviet menace that had to be combated. That menace was rarely applicable to the actual cases, and the strained connection was often laughable. With that cover gone, pursuing terrorists is proving to be an admirable substitute, as once again a gullible media will accept that any targeted rebels are actual or potential terrorists and may even have links to Al Qaeda. The FARC rebels in Colombia are terrorists, but the government-supported rightwing paramilitaries who kill many more civilians than FARC are not and are the beneficiaries of U.S. “counter-terrorism” aid.  Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, on the other hand, which does not kill civilians, is accused of  lack of cooperation in the U.S. “counter-terrorism” program, and is alleged to have “links” to U.S. targets such as Iran and Cuba, which allegedly support terrorists.[25] Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, and other torture-prone states are “with us” in the war on terror; states like Venezuela, Iran and Cuba are not with us and are easily situated as terrorist or “linked” to terrorist states.

 

If Al Qaeda didn’t exist the United States would have had to create it, and of course it did create it back in the 1980s, as a means of  destabilizing the Soviet Union. Al Qaeda’s more recent role  is a classic case of “blowback.”  It is also a case of resistance to power-projection, as Al Qaeda’s terrorist activities switched from combating a Soviet occupation, to combating U.S. intervention in Saudi Arabia, Palestine and elsewhere.  It was also spurred by lagged resentment at being used by the United States for its Soviet destabilization purposes and then abandoned.[26]

 

While U.S. interventionism gave Al Qaeda a strong start, and while it continues today to facilitate Al Qaeda recruitment, it has also provoked resistance far beyond Al Qaeda, as in Iraq, where most of the resistance has nothing to do with Al Qaeda and in fact has widely turned against it. If as the United States projects power across the globe this produces resistance, and if this resistance can be labeled “terrorists,” then U.S. aggression and wholesale terror are home-free!  Any country that is willing to align with the United States can get its dissidents and resistance condemned as “terrorists,” with or without links to Al Qaeda, and get U.S. military aid. The war on terror is a war of superpower power-projection, which is to say, an imperialist war on a global scale.

 

The issue of who terrorizes whom is hardly new. Back in 1979, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism featured the U.S. terror gulag in great detail, and even had a frontispiece showing the flow of economic and military aid from the United States to 26 of the 35 countries using torture on an administrative basis in that era. Herman’s The Real Terror Network of 1982 also traced out a U.S.-sponsored terror gulag and showed its logical connection to the growth of the transnational corporation and desire for friendly state-terrorists who would produce favorable climates of investment (recall Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s statement to U.S. oil companies back at the time of his 1972 accession to power: “We’ll pass laws you need—just tell us what you want.”[27]). But these works were ignored in the mainstream and could hardly compete with Claire Sterling’s The Terror Network, which traced selected retail terrorisms—falsely—to the Soviet Union.  This fit the Reagan-era “war on terror” claims, which coincided with the Reagan era support of Israel’s attack on Lebanon and subsequent  “iron fist” terrorism there, Reagan’s support of the Argentine military regime, Suharto, Marcos, South Africa, the Guatemalan and Salvadoran terror regimes, Savimbi, the Cuban terror network, and the Nicaraguan contras.

 

This historical record of  U.S. terrorism and support of terrorism occasionally surfaces in the mainstream, but is brushed aside on the ground that the United States has taken a new course, so that long record can be ignored.  In a classic of this genre, Michael Ignatieff, writing in the New York Times Magazine, claimed that this was so because President George Bush said so!  “The democratic turn in American foreign policy has been recent,” he wrote, adding that at long last, the current George Bush has “actually risked his presidency on the premise that Jefferson might be right.”[28] This capacity to ignore history, and the institutional underpinning of that history, complements the mainstream media and intellectuals’ ability to take as a premise that the United States is virtuous and in its foreign dealings is trying to do good or is just defending itself against bad people and movements who for no good reason hate us. As noted, the amazing definitional systems in use are de facto Alice-in-Wonderland: Terrorism is anything I choose to target and so designate.

 

Two novelties of the Bush era projection of power and wholesale terrorism are their brazenness and scope.  Past U.S. employment of torture, and of gulags in which to hold and work-over alleged or possible terrorists or resisters, were more or less sub rosa, the cruelties and violations of  international law and U.S. involvement kept more or less plausibly deniable. The Bush team is open about them, calling for legalization of torture and their other violations of  international law, which they rationalize by heavy-handed redefinitions of  “torture” and claims of the inapplicability of international law to their new category of “enemy combatants.”[29] Bush also brags in public about the extension of the U.S. killing machine to distant places and the extent to which declared enemies have been removed, implicitly by killing, obviously without hearing or trial.  On September 17, 2001, Bush signed a “classified Presidential Finding that authorized an unprecedented range of covert operations,” the Washington Post later reported, including “lethal measures against terrorists and the expenditure of vast funds to coax foreign intelligence services into a new era of cooperation with the CIA.”[30] And in his State of the Union speech of 2003, Bush asserted that “more than 3,000 suspected terrorists” had been arrested across the globe “and many others have met a different fate—Let’s put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.[31] As Chris Floyd has pointed out, this represents the work of  a “universal death squad,”[32] the authorization and accomplishments of which were barely acknowledged in the mainstream media.

 

U.S. state-terrorism has also been broadened in scope and is a facet of globalization.  In accord with the principles of globalization, there has been a major increase in the privatization of  terrorism.  Blackwater Worldwide is only the best known of mercenary armies in Iraq that now outnumber regular armed force members, and who are free from some of the legal constraints of the armed forces in how they treat the local population. The global American gulag of secret prisons and torture centers to which an unknown number of people have been sent, held without trial, worked over and sometimes killed as well as tortured, is located in many countries: The “spider’s web” first described by a Council of Europe investigation identified landings and takeoffs at no fewer than 30 airports on four different continents;[33] and earlier research by Human Rights First estimated that the United States was operating dozens of major and lesser known detention centers as part of its “war on terror”: These included the obvious cases of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq, the U.S. Air Force base at Bagram in Afghanistan, Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, and other suspected centers in Pakistan, Jordan, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean,  and on U.S. Navy ships at sea.[34]  Still others are operated by client and other states at the torture-producing end of the “extraordinary rendition” chain (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Morocco).  Given the vastness of this U.S. enterprise, surely we are talking about tens-of-thousands of prisoners, a great many picked-up and tortured based on rumor, the inducement of bonus payments, denunciations in vendettas, and accidents of name or location.[35] We know that a great majority of those imprisoned in sweeps in Iraq were taken without the slightest information on wrong-doing even on aggressor-occupier terms.[36] There is strong anecdotal evidence that suggests that the same is true in Afghanistan.

 

Another notable feature of  the “war on terror” is the extent to which this mythical war has been advanced via the UN and the “international community,” the UN’s work in particular serving as an extension of U.S. policy.  This has been in marked contrast to their treatment of open aggression and violations of the UN Charter’s prohibition of aggressive war.  Time and again the United States and Israel have violated this fundamental international law during the past decade, and they are clearly the global leaders in state-terrorism that many observers believe to be the main force inspiring a global resistance and spurring on various forms of Islamic terrorism, including Al Qaeda.  But instead of focusing on the causal wars and state-terrorism, following the U.S. lead the UN and international community have focused on the lesser and derivative terrorism, and taken the “war on terror” at face value.  In other words, they have once again assumed the role of servants of U.S. policy, in this instance helping the aggressor states and wholesale terrorists struggle against the retail terror they inspire.

 

We can trace this pattern at least as far back as October 1999 (almost two years before 9/11), when the Security Council adopted Resolution 1267 “on the situation in Afghanistan.”  This Resolution deplored that the “Taliban continues to provide safe haven to Usama bin Laden,” and it demanded that the “Taliban turn over Usama bin Laden without further delay to appropriate authorities in a country where he has been indicted.”  1267 also created the Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee to manage this effort to squeeze the Taliban and anyone linkable to either of them.[37]  At the time, bin Laden had been indicted by a U.S. Federal Court for his alleged involvement in the August 1998 suicide bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing some 250 people; Al Qaeda had also been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State.  “The international community has sent a clear message,” President Bill Clinton announced.  “The choice between co-operation and isolation lies with the Taliban.”  But the Taliban complained that “This unfair action was taken under the pressure of the United States….So far, there has not been any evidence of Osama’s involvement in terrorism by any one”—essentially the same retort that the Taliban made to Bush White House demands after 9/11 that the Taliban surrender bin Laden.[38]  1267 thus extended key components of the 1996 U.S. Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s category of states designated “not cooperating with U.S. anti-terrorism efforts” beyond U.S. borders to the level of internationally-enforceable law.

 

Only four days after 1267, the Council adopted companion Resolution 1269 “on the responsibility of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security.”  1269 condemned the “practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation,” and stressed the “vital role” of the UN “in combating terrorism.”[39]  Similarly, Resolution 1373, adopted shortly after the 9/11 attacks and just days before the United States launched its war to remove the Taliban, greatly expanded the UN’s involvement in the U.S. “war on terror,” creating the Counter-Terrorism Committee to manage the fight against terrorism and criminalizing all forms of support for individuals and groups engaged in terrorism.  Like 1267 and, later, 1540 (April 24, 2004), which created a committee to prevent “non-State actors” from acquiring “weapons of mass destruction,”[40] the Security Council adopted each of these resolutions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, on the basis of which the Council is to supposed to respond to “threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.”

 

All of this vigilance with respect to “terrorism,” and the notion that “non-State actors” and “terrorists” of the Al Qaeda variety deserve this intense UN concern, stands in dramatic contrast with the treatment of literal aggression, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, and genocidal actions such as the U.S.-U.K.-UN “sanctions of mass destruction” that killed possibly a million Iraqi civilians during the years between the first and second wars against Iraq, ca. 1991-2003.[41]  Yet, in his report In larger freedom (March, 2005), Kofi Annan argued that “It is time to set aside debates on so-called ‘State terrorism’.  The use of force by States is already thoroughly regulated under international law.  And the right to resist occupation must be understood in its true meaning.  It cannot include the right to deliberately kill or maim civilians.”[42] 

 

 But these comments contain a major falsehood and reflect serious pro-state-terrorism and anti-resistance bias—there is no “thorough” regulation of state-terrorism, and in fact there is none at all, as evidenced by the fact that the United States and its allies have been able to attack  three countries in a single decade (the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq) without the slightest impediment from Kofi Annan’s United Nations,[43] but also in each case with the UN’s ex post facto assent.  Note also Annan’s failure to suggest that states should not have the “right to deliberately kill or maim civilians,” a concern that he exhibits only as regards resisters to state violence and occupation.  This despite the fact that in their recent and ongoing wars the United States and its allies have killed, maimed, starved, and driven from their homes vastly more civilians than has Al Qaeda or all of the world’s retail terrorists combined.  Note also that within the targeted countries, political leaders have been captured by these aggressors, and subjected to trial by tribunals—but never the leadership of the great powers.  In pursuing their enemies to the farthest reaches of the earth, they continue to enjoyed complete impunity.[44]  

 

 

Concluding Note

 

In sum, the war on terror is a political gambit and myth used to cover over a U.S. projection of power that needed rhetorical help with the disappearance of the Soviet Union and Cold War. It has been successful because U.S. leaders could hide behind the very real 9/11 terrorist attack and pretend that their own wars, wholesale terrorist actions, and  enlarged support of  a string of countries—many authoritarian and engaged in state terrorism—were somehow linked to that attack and its Al Qaeda authors. But most U.S. military actions abroad since 9/11 have had little or  no connection with Al Qaeda; and you cannot war on a method of  struggle, especially when you, your allies and clients use those methods as well.

 

It is widely argued now that the war on terror has been a failure. This also is a fallacy, resting on the imputation of  purpose to the war’s organizers contrary to their actual aims—they were looking for and found the new “Pearl Harbor” needed to justify a surge of  U.S. force projection across the globe. It appears that Al Qaeda is stronger now than it was on September 11, 2001; but Al Qaeda was never the main target of the Bush administration.  If Al Qaeda had been, the Bush administration would have tried much more seriously to apprehend bin Laden, by military or political action, and it would not have carried out policies in Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere that have played so well into bin Laden’s hand—arguably, policy responses that bin Laden hoped to provoke. If Washington really had been worried at the post-9/11 terrorist threat it would have followed through on the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations for guarding U.S. territory (ports, chemical plants, nuclear facilities, airports and other transportation hubs, and the like).[45] The fact that it hasn’t done this, but instead has adopted a cynical and politicized system of terrorism alerts, is testimony to the administration’s own private understanding of the contrived character of the war on terror and the alleged threats that we face.

 

Admittedly, the surge in power projection that 9/11 and the war on terror facilitated has not been a complete and unadulterated success.  But the “war on terror” gambit did enable this surge to come about, and it should be recognized that  the invasion-occupation of Iraq was not a diversion, its conquest was one of the intended objectives of this war. That conquest may be in jeopardy, but looked at from the standpoint of  its organizers, the war has achieved some of the real goals for which it was designed; and in this critical but seldom appreciated sense it has been a  success. It has facilitated two U.S. military invasions of foreign countries, served to line-up many other states behind the leader of the war, helped once again to push NATO into new, out-of-area operations,  permitted a further advance in the U.S. disregard of international law, helped bring about quasi-regime changes in some major European capitals, and was the basis for the huge growth in U.S. and foreign military budgets. While its destabilization of the Middle East has possibly benefited Iran, it has given Israel a free hand in accelerated ethnic cleansing, settlements, and more ruthless treatment of  the Palestinians, and the United States and Israel still continue to threaten and isolate Iran.

 

Furthermore, with the cooperation of the Democrats and mass media, the “war on terror” gave the “decider” and his clique the political ability to impose an unconstitutional, rightwing agenda at home, at the expense of  the rule of law, economic equality, environmental and other regulation, and social solidarity.  The increased military budget and militarization of U.S. society, the explosive growth in corporate “counter-terrorism” and “homeland security” enterprises, the greater centralization of power in the executive branch, the enhanced inequality, the unimpeded growth of the prison-industrial complex, the more rightwing judiciary, and the failure of  the Democrats to do anything to counter these trends since the 2006 election, suggests that the shift to the right and to a more militarized society and expansionist foreign policy may have become permanent features of life in the United States.  Is that not a war on terror success story, given the aims of  its creators?

 

 

 

  —- Endnotes —-

 

 


[1] We will use the phrases ‘war on terror’ and ‘war on terrorism’ interchangeably.  Nor are we aware of any nuance in meaning to be gained by distinguishing one phrase from the other.  This caveat also holds for the similar phrase ‘global war on terror’.  (Etc.) 

[2] See, e.g., Francis Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy (Yale University Press, 2006).  Along with 24 others that included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, Lewis Libby, Paula Dobriansky, and Norman Podhoretz, Fukuyama was a founding member of the Project for the New American Century, whose efforts to “rally support for the cause of American global leadership” and a “Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity” the world continues to suffer beneath.—See the Project’s “Statement of Principles,” June 3, 1997.

[3] Frank Rich, Where Were You That Summer of 2001?” New York Times, February 25, 2007; The Wiretappers That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” January 8, 2006; and Noun + Verb + 9/11 + Iran = Democrats’ Defeat?” New York Times, November 4, 2007.

[4] Samantha Power, “Our War on Terror,” New York Times Book Review, July 29, 2007.—Power also used this review to lavish praise on the recently updated The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (University of Chicago Press, 2007), assembled by U.S. Army General David Petraeus et al., the current commander of the U.S.-led Multinational Force in occupied Iraq, along with critical input from members of the humanitarian brigades, including Sarah Sewall, a colleague of Power’s at Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

[5] Note that Samantha Power implies that an “American [bombing] attack on what turns out to be a wedding party” is a unique and excusable “error.”  This is false.  It was not even the only wedding party bombed in Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. forces, and the notable feature of both U.S. wars in these countries is the lavish use of devastatingly powerful explosives in places where civilian casualties are certain.  In Afghanistan, the United States has bombed every kind of civilian infrastructure—dams, telephone exchanges, schools, power stations, bridges, trucks on roads, mosques, Al Jazeera radio, and even the well-marked Red Cross facilities in Kabul. It has also used cluster bombs on a massive scale. In his exhaustive analysis of civilian casualties, Marc W. Herold states that the 3,000-3,400 civilian deaths resulting from U.S. bombing in the period October 7, 2001 – March 2002 can be explained best by “the low value put upon Afghan civilian lives by U.S. military planners and the political elite, as clearly revealed by their willingness to bomb heavily populated areas.”  He concludes that “the U.S. bombing campaign which began on the evening of October 7th, has been a war upon the people, the homes, the farms and the villages of Afghanistan, as well as upon the Taliban and Al Qaeda.”  (Marc W. Herold, “A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States’ Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan,” Revised Edition, March 2002.)  This bombing war relied heavily on people like Samantha Power and the media to keep the ruthlessly anti-civilian character of this war out of public sight.  (Also see Tom Engelhardt, ‘Accidents’ of War: The Time Has Come for an Honest Discussion of Air Power,” TomDispatch, July 9, 2007.)

[6] What We’re Fighting For: A Letter from America, Institute for American Values, February, 2002. This document is also reproduced in David Blankenhorn et al., The Islam/West Debate: Documents from a Global Debate on Terrorism, U.S. Policy, and the Middle East (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), pp. 21-40.

[7] For a critique of this notion of civilian deaths as “collateral damage,” a legal ploy by which Americans distinguish the “unintended” deaths caused by their “far more terrifying violence” from the “premeditated” deaths caused by enemies, see Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity (Pluto Press, 2004), pp. 46-56.

[8] In their discussion “A Just War?” the Institute for American Values asserted: “Although in some circumstances, and within strict limits, it can be morally justifiable to undertake military actions that may result in the unintended but foreseeable death or injury of some noncombatants, it is not morally acceptable to make the killing of noncombatants the operational objective of a military action.” They continued: “On September 11, 2001, a group of individuals deliberately attacked the United States….Those who died on the morning of September 11 were killed unlawfully, wantonly, and with premeditated malice – a kind of killing that, in the name of precision, can only be described as murder….Those who slaughtered more than 3,000 persons on September 11 and who, by their own admission, want nothing more than to do it again, constitute a clear and present danger to all people of good will everywhere in the world, not just the United States.  Such acts are a pure example of naked aggression against innocent human life, a world-threatening evil that clearly requires the use of force to remove it.”  (What We’re Fighting For: A Letter from America, Institute for American Values, February, 2002.)    

[9] Richard Falk, “A Just Response,” The Nation, October 8, 2001; and “Defining a Just War,” The Nation, October 29, 2001.—To his credit, Falk was under no illusions that the Cheney – Bush regime would heed any limits on the use of force.

[10] Peter Beinart, “A Fighting Faith,” New Republic, December 13, 2004 (as posted to the Free Republic website).  Also see his The Good Fight: Why Liberals-and Only LiberalsCan Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again (HarperCollins, 2006).

[11] David Cole and Jules Lobel, “Why We’re Losing the War on Terror,” The Nation, September 24, 2007.  Also see their Less Safe, Less Free: Why America Is Losing the War on Terror (The New Press, 2007), esp. Ch. 5, “The Costs of Overreaching,” pp. 129-146. 

[12]OSI Forum—Less Safe, Less Free,” Open Society Institute, November 14, 2007. —David Cole’s own words were: “I just don’t see anybody around the world who has questioned the notion that the United States has the right to respond to the attacks that we suffered [on September 11, 2001] by going to Afghanistan.  There are people who say it wasn’t the best policy.  But no one argued it was not a legitimate act of self-defense.”  And: “If you have the right to go to waryou have the right to kill the people you’re fighting againstsurely you have the right to hold them for the duration of that conflict.  So that’s not a controversial issue.  And holding them at Guantanamo would not have been controversial practice had we given them hearings at the outset.  Which, for one, would have identified those people as to whom we had no evidence that they were involved with Al Qaeda  and then they would be releasedand then we wouldn’t have the problem of innocent people being held at Guantanamo.”  (Our transcription picks-up Cole’s remarks beginning at approximately the 49:35 minute mark of the full-length audio clip.) 

[13] “The charges in the Indictment that the defendants planned and waged aggressive wars are charges of the utmost gravity. War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”  See Final Judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Trial of German Major War Criminals (September 30, 1946), specifically “The Common Plan or Conspiracy and Aggressive War,” from which this passage derives.

[14] According to Radio Voice of Shari’ah in Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of Balkh province in northern Afghanistan, “senior officials” of the Taliban released a statement as early as September 13, 2001 in which they “honestly asked America to give clear and substantial evidence for what it considers Usamah to be responsible for, and the [Taliban] will hand him over to one of the Islamic courts of the world in order to be tried. The stance of the [Taliban] is clear in this regard. Otherwise, nobody can accuse others by bringing false and groundless allegations.” In the same statement, the Taliban “condemn” the events of 9/11, calling them “against the welfare and interests of the world.”  The Taliban also “expresses its sympathy for the American people,” adding that it “expects the USA not to resort to irreparable measures before discovering the facts.”  (“Afghan Taleban ready to hand Bin-Ladin to Islamic court if USA provides evidence – radio,” BBC Monitoring Central Asia, September 13, 2001.)  News of this and subsequent offers communicated by Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the Taliban’s foreign minister, and by Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, were reported by Reuters, The Herald (Glasgow), the New York Times, the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe, and The Independent (London).  But as the record makes clear, no one will ever know how genuine these offers really werethe Bush White House categorically rejected them, and the offers died there.

[15] Among the professors of law at U.S. universities who contested the legality of the U.S. war on Afghanistan are Marjorie Cohn, currently president of the National Lawyers Guild, Michael Ratner, now president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Francis Boyle, Brian Foley, Jordan Paust, and John Quigley.

[16] See “Gallup International poll on terrorism in the U.S. (figures),” Gallup International, late September, 2001.  Also see Abid Aslam, “Polls Question Global Support for Military Campaign,” Inter-Press Service, October 8, 2001; and David Miller, “World Opinion Opposed the Attack on Afghanistan,” Sterling Media Research Center, Scotland, November 21, 2001 (as posted to the Religion-online website).  Miller noted that “When polling companies do ask about alternatives [to the war-option], support for war falls away.”  Hence, he added, this was the reason why so much news media coverage systematically distorts the facts away from informing people about real alternatives and the real impact of the war on Afghanistan.  In Pakistan, a case with great resonance today, a Gallup International poll sponsored by Newsweek in the early days after the start of the U.S. war found that “Eighty-three percent of Pakistanis surveyed say they side with the Taliban, with a mere 3 percent expressing support for the United States.”  (“Shifting Sympathies,” Newsweek Web Exclusive, October 18, 2001.) 

[17] Here we are content to cite two definitions of terrorism.  (1) “[V]violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;” and that “appear to be intended – (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping….”  (United States Code, Title 18, Part I, Ch. 113B, Section 2331, 1984.)  And (2) “Any action…that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.”  (A more secure world: Our shared responsibility. Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats (New York: United Nations, 2004), par. 164(d).)

[18] Abba Eban, “Morality and Warfare,” Jerusalem Post, August 16, 1981.

[19] In Matt Rees, “Streets Red With Blood,” Time Magazine, March 10, 2002. 

[20] See, e.g., Edward S. Herman, The Real Terror Network: Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda (South End Press, 1982), esp. Ch. 2, “The Semantics and Role of Terrorism,” pp. 21-45; and with Gerry O’Sullivan, The “Terrorism” Industry: The Experts and Institutions That Shape Our View of Terror (Pantheon Books, 1989), esp. Ch. 3, “The Western Model and Semantics of Terrorism,” pp. 37-51.

[21] Oscar Alfredo González and Horacio Cid de la Paz, Testimony on Secret Detention Camps in Argentina (Amnesty International, 1980).

[22] Thomas Donnelly et al., Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century, Project for the New American Century, September, 2000, p. 51, col. 1.—Also see n. 2, above.

[23] The last major “terrorism” report by the U.S. Department of State prior to 9/11 was Patterns of Global Terrorism 2000 (April 30, 2001).  Within its Appendix B, “Background Information on Terrorist Groups,” the entry for “al-Qaida” stated that the group “May have several hundred to several thousand members,” adding that “Bin Ladin…is said to have inherited approximately $300 million that he uses to finance the group.”  In the Congressional Research Services’ last major assessment of “Near Eastern Terrorism” published the day before 9/11, the CRS reported that “Bin Ladin is estimated to have about $300 million in personal financial assets with which he funds his network of as many as 3,000 Islamic militants.”  (Kenneth Katzman, Terrorism: Near Eastern Groups and State Sponsors, 2001, Congressional Research Service, September 10, 2001, p. 13.) 

[24] According to conservative estimates on global military trends in the annual Yearbook published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, whereas the last Clinton budget for fiscal year 2001 devoted $345 billion to military account, by fiscal year 2006, Bush’s fifth, this had increased to at least $529 billion (i.e., both in constant 1985 dollars).  The SIPRI Yearbook 2007 reports that “U.S. outlays…increased by 53 percent…between 2001 and 2006, primarily as a result of allocations of $381 billion for military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.”  World military expenditure in 2001 was $839 billion, but by 2006 was “estimated to have reached $1204 billion in current U.S. dollars,” an increase of “37 percent between 1997 and 2006.”  The primary driver of these huge increases: The mythical Global War on Terror which, in reality, has witnessed the most aggressive U.S. and allied military expansion in history.  (See SIPRI Yearbook 2002 Summary, pp. 12-13; and SIPRI Yearbook 2007 Summary, pp. 12-13.)

[25] See, e.g., Larry Birns and Michael Lettieri,  “Washington May Soon Try to Pin the Venezuelan Uranium Tail on the Iranian Nuclear Donkey,” Council on Hemispheric Affairs, May 9, 2006; and Larry Birns and Tiffany Isaacs, “Chávez Could Fuel U.S. Propaganda Campaign with Upcoming Bilateral talks with Kim Jong Il, If Misguided Strategy Is Adopted,” Council on Hemispheric Affairs, July 16, 2006.

[26] See Chalmers Johnson, Abolish the CIA!,” TomDispatch, November 5, 2004.  Also see Johnson’s Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, 2nd. Ed. (Metropolitan Books, 2004). 

[27] “Philippines: A government that needs U.S. business,” Business Week, November 4, 1972.

[28]  Michael Ignatieff, Who Are Americans to Think That Freedom Is Theirs to Spread?”  New York Times Magazine, June 26, 2005 (as posted to the Harvard University website).

[29] See, e.g., Marjorie Cohn, Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law (PoliPoint Press, 2007).

[30] Dana Priest, “Foreign Network at Front of CIA’s Terror Fight,” Washington Post, November 18, 2005.

[31] George W. Bush, “President Delivers ‘State of the Union’,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, January 28, 2003.

[32] Chris Floyd, “Sacred Terror,” Moscow Times, December 8, 2005 (as posted by the Information Clearing House).

[33] Dick Marty et al., Alleged secret detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers of detainees involving Council of Europe member states (Doc. 10957), Council of Europe, June 12, 2006,.  Annex, “The global ‘spider’s web’.”  Also see Christos Pourgourides et al., Enforced Disappearances (Doc. 10679), Council of Europe, September 19, 2005; and Dick Marty et al., Secret detentions and illegal transfers of detainees involving Council of Europe member states: Second report (AS/Jur/2007/36), Council of Europe, June 7, 2007.

[34] Deborah Pearlstein et al., Ending Secret Detentions, Human Right First, June, 2004.

[35] Also see Deborah Pearlstein and Priti Patel, Behind the Wire: An Update to Ending Secret Detentions, Human Rights First, March, 2005; and Guantanamo and beyond: The continuing pursuit of unchecked executive power, Amnesty International, May 13, 2005. 

[36] Based on interviews that it conducted in late 2003 and early 2004 with U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq, a confidential report that the International Committee of the Red Cross used to highlight prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib and other prisons run by the occupying forces is reputed to have estimated that “70 percent to 90 percent of prisoners had been wrongly arrested”—and, we might add, this is assuming that the occupying forces had any right to arrest anybody.  See Peter Slevin, “System Failures Cited for Delayed Action on Abuses,” Washington Post, May 20, 2004; and R. Jeffrey Smith, “Army Report Warned in November About Prison Problems,” Washington Post, May 30, 2004.

[37] Resolution 1267 (S/RES/1267), October 15, 1999. 

[38] Anthony Goodman, “UN sanctions on Taliban to surrender Bin Laden force,” The Independent, October 16, 1999; “Taleban slams U.N. sanctions over Osama bin Laden,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, October 16, 1999.—Among the body of statements attributed to bin Laden over many years are several that identify the United Nations with the United States precisely because, in his view, various agencies of the UN have aligned themselves with the U.S. “war on terror.”

[39] Resolution 1269 (S/RES/1269), October 19, 1999.  Barbara Crossette, “U.N. Council in Rare Accord: Fight Terrorism,” New York Times, October 20, 1999.

[40] Resolution 1373 (S/RES/1373), September 28, 2001; Resolution 1540 (S/RES/1540), April 28, 2004.

[41] John Mueller and Karl Mueller, “Sanctions of Mass Destruction,” Foreign Affairs, May/June, 1999.—These authors noted that economic sanctions (i.e., warfare) have been “deployed frequently, by large states rather than small ones, and may have contributed to more deaths during the post-Cold War era than all weapons of mass destruction throughout history….The destructive potential of economic sanctions can be seen most clearly, albeit in an extreme form, in Iraq….No one knows with any precision how many Iraqi civilians have died as a result, but various agencies of the United Nations, which oversees the sanctions, have estimated that they have contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths….If the U.N. estimates of the human damage in Iraq are even roughly correct,…it would appear that…economic sanctions may well have been a necessary cause of the deaths of more people in Iraq than have been slain by all so-called weapons of mass destruction throughout history.”

[42] Kofi Annan, In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all (A/59/2005), United Nations, March 21, 2005, par. 91.

[43] In the case of Operation Allied Force, the U.S.-led NATO bloc’s 1999 aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Kofi Annan had quietly advocated on behalf of war for as many as nine months in advance of it.—See, e.g., Kofi Annan, “Secretary-General Reflects on Intervention” (SG/SM/6613), Ditchley Foundation Lecture, United Kingdom, June 26, 1998; and Kofi Annan, “Secretary-General Calls for Unconditional Respect for Human Rights of Kosovo Citizens” (SG/SM/6878), NATO Headquarters, Belgium, January 28, 1999.  As Annan delivered these lectures in the context of NATO’s threats of war, we hardly believe that they can be taken as calls for NATO to stand down. 

[44] In the Legality of Use of Force cases (1999 – 2004), brought by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia against ten of the members of NATO that attacked it in 1999, the International Court of Justice ruled that as the defendant-powers refused to recognize the ICJ’s jurisdiction in the cases brought before it by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the ICJ “manifestly lacks jurisdiction to entertain Yugoslavia’s Application” and “cannot therefore indicate any provisional measure whatsoever”—that is, lacking jurisdiction, it cannot issue an injunction or rule on the legality of NATO’s use of force.  (See, e.g., Yugoslavia v. United States of America, June 2, 1999.  Each of the other nine cases wound up the same.)

[45] The 9/11 Commission Report, National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, July 22, 2004, esp. Ch. 12, “What To Do? A Global Strategy,” and Ch. 13, “ How To Do It? A Different Way of Organizing the Government.”  As recently as the first week of January 2008, former Commission co-chairs Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton complained about the CIA’s withholding of evidence and obstruction of the Commission’s inquiry.  See “Stonewalled by the C.I.A.,” New York Times, January 2, 2008.

Missing Voices in the Iraq Debate

January 30, 2008

Missing Voices in the Iraq Debate
Iraqis on “success” and “progress” in their country. Dahr Jamail
January 28 , 2008

This March 19 will be the fifth anniversary of the shock-and-awe air assault on Baghdad that signaled the opening of the invasion of Iraq, and when it comes to the American occupation of that country, no end is yet in sight. If Republican presidential candidate John McCain has anything to say about it, the occupation may never end. On January 7th, he assured reporters that he was more than fine with the idea of the U.S. military remaining in Iraq for 100 years. “We’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea 50 years or so… As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. That’s fine with me.”

He said nothing, of course, about Iraqis “injured or harmed or wounded or killed.” In fact, amid the flurries of words, accusations, and “debates” which have filled the airways and add up to the primary-season presidential campaign, there has been a near thunderous silence on Iraq lately—and especially on Iraqis.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll indicated that 64% of Americans now feel the war in Iraq was not worth fighting. American opinion on the war and occupation, in fact, seems remarkably unaffected by the positive spin—all those “success” stories in the mainstream media—of these post-surge months. The media now tells us that Iraq is going to be taking a distinct backseat to domestic economic issues, that Americans are no longer as concerned about it.

Once again, with rare exceptions, that media has had a hand in erasing the catastrophe of Iraq from the American landscape, if not the collective consciousness of the public. What, it occurred to me recently, do my friends and acquaintances back in Iraq (where I covered the occupation for eight months during the years 2003-2005) think not just about their lives and the fate of their country, but about our attitudes toward them? What do they think about the “success”—and the silence—in America?

On October 6, 2004, George W. Bush proclaimed: “Iraq is no diversion; it is the place where civilization is taking a decisive stand against chaos and terror—and we must not waver.”

Iraqis, of course, continue to witness firsthand this “decisive stand against chaos and terror.” In our world, however, they are largely mute witnesses. Americans may argue among themselves about just how much “success” or “progress” there really is in post-surge Iraq, but it is almost invariably an argument in which Iraqis are but stick figures—or dead bodies. Of late, I have been asking Iraqis I know by email what they make of the American version (or versions) of the unseemly reality that is their country, that they live and suffer with. What does it mean to become a “secondary issue” for your occupier?

In response, Professor S. Abdul Majeed Hassan, an Iraqi university faculty member wrote me the following:

“The year of 2007 was the bloodiest among the occupation years, and no matter how successful the situation looks to Mr. Bush, reality is totally different. What kind of normal life are he and the media referring to where four and a half million highly educated Iraqis are still dislocated or still being forcefully driven out of their homes for being anti-occupation? How can the people live a normal life in a cage of concrete walls [she is referring to concrete walls being erected by the Americans around entire Baghdad neighborhoods], guarded by their kidnappers, killers, and occupation forces? What kind of normal life can you live where tens of your relatives and your beloved ones are either missing or in jail and you don’t even know if they are still alive or, after being tortured, have been thrown unidentified in the dumpsters? “What kind of normal life can you live when you have to bid farewell to your family each time you go out to buy bread because you don’t know if you are going to see them again? What is a normal life to Mr. Bush? If we’re lucky, we get a few hours of electricity a day, barely enough drinking water, no health care, no jobs to feed our kids…

“Little teenage girls are given away in marriage because their families can’t protect them from militias and troops during raids. Women cannot move unescorted anymore. What kind of educations are our children getting at universities where 60% of the prominent faculty members have been driven out of their jobs—killed or forced to leave the country by government militias? Is it normal that areas [on the outskirts of Baghdad] like Saidiya and Arab Jubour are bombed because the occupation forces are afraid to enter the areas for fear of the resistance? It is always easier to control ghost cities. It becomes very peaceful without the people.”

On January 8th, President Bush held video teleconferences with General David Petraeus and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, as well as with the U.S.-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and with members of U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq. Afterwards, he told reporters at a press conference, “It was clear from my discussions that there’s great hope in Iraq, that the Iraqis are beginning to see political progress that is matching the dramatic security gains for the past year.” Members of the PRTs, he claimed, had told him that”[l]ife is returning to normal in communities across Iraq, with children back in school and shops reopening and markets bustling with commerce.” Bush thanked members of those teams for “making 2007, particularly the end of 2007, become incredibly successful beyond anybody’s expectations.”

Mohammad Mahri’i, an Iraqi journalist, has a rather different take on the situation: “The problem with Bush is that his people believe him every time he lies to them,” he writes me. “His reconstruction teams are invisible and I wish they could show me one inch above the ground that they built.”

Maki al-Nazzal, an Iraqi political analyst from Fallujah who has been forced to live abroad with his family, thanks to ongoing violence and the lack of jobs or significant reconstruction activity in his city, which was three-quarters destroyed in a U.S. assault in November 2004, offered me his thoughts on the Western mainstream coverage of Iraq.

“The media should not follow the warlords’ and politicians’ propaganda. It is our duty to search for the truth and not repeat lies like parrots. The U.S. occupation is bad and no amount of media propaganda can camouflage the mess inside occupied Iraq. We are ashamed of the local and Western media [for] marketing the naked lies told by generals and politicians. Comparing two halves of 2007 is ridiculous. “Bush and his heroes, [head of the Coalition Provisional Authority L. Paul] Bremer, [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and now Petraeus always lied to their people and the world about Iraq. U.S. soldiers are getting killed on a daily basis and so are Iraqi army and police officers. Infrastructure is destroyed. In a country that used to feed much of the Arab world, starvation is now the norm. It is ironic that Iraq was not half as bad during the 12 years of sanctions. Our liberation has pushed us into a state of unprecedented corruption.”

General David Petraeus, U.S. surge commander in Iraq, insists that “we and our Iraqi partners will… continue to look beyond the security realm to help the Iraqis improve basic services, revitalize local markets, repair damaged infrastructure and create conditions that allow displaced families to return to their homes.”

Iraqis know differently. Al-Nazzal is realistic:

“Petraeus wants us to celebrate the return [to Baghdad] of 50,000 Iraqis who were starving in Syria, when five million remain in exile and internally displaced. What he conveniently forgets to mention is that those who returned found their houses either destroyed or occupied by others. He also wants to be praised for handing over the nation’s security to militias he allowed to form rather than to academics and technocrats. Iraq has no medicines in its hospitals, no electricity, no potable water, no real security, and no well-guarded borders. Nevertheless, some people say they are happy for what is going on in Iraq!”

Much as they would like to believe the claims of success and progress from American officials, Iraqis—surrounded by disaster—cannot do so.

37-year-old Sammy Tahir, a Kurdish education advisor living in Baghdad, offers the following assessment of the cautious but upbeat claims being made by Petraeus and others:

“No improvement in any service can be found in Iraq. On the contrary, we are much worse now and we are back to painting old buildings to make them look better. Kurdistan is still full of displaced Iraqis from southern and mid-Iraq.”

About this Mari’i writes:

“It was the generals who destroyed Iraq in the first place and I do not see any improvement in basic services. For example, most of Baghdad has been without electricity for about two weeks at the time of writing!”

Professor Hassan shares a similar view:

“What the Americans hadn’t destroyed by the end of the military operations of 2003, they have finished off over the past four years, and I don’t think that the occupation forces and their assigned government would like to do anything about the displacement of Iraqi families, simply because they are the ones who created that situation. “The sectarian violence, which led to this mass displacement, was initiated by the U.S. and its allies to divide the Iraqi community in accordance with American plans and the published ‘new’ Iraqi constitution, which emphasizes sectarian issues. The occupation would like to divide Iraq into small sectarian and ethnic regions to be able to easily command, control, and conquer them. The major objective of the occupation is to control oil production and reserves in Iraq and the Middle East region. Displacing families is, to them, acceptable collateral damage.”

According to Tahir:

“Children always went to school before the late 2007 crackdown and it was mainly the military operations that stopped them from doing so in some areas where the Americans attacked towns and villages. Bush has been saying the same words since 2003, but things have always gotten progressively worse in Iraq. He and his generals are destroying both Iraq and the U.S. by continuing this war. The U.S. economy will never hold against the expenses of war and Iraq is totally destroyed.”

During a surprise visit to Baghdad on January 15th, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said that last year’s “surge” of American forces was paying dividends and suggested that she could “help push the momentum by her very presence” in Iraq.

Mahri’i’s offers a lament for the American presence and those “dividends”:

“It seems that Americans do not care about what has been done to Iraq. They decorated Bremer, who is a war criminal, with top medals. [In December 2004, Bush bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on him.] Why not honor another criminal like Petraeus and other Bush administration officials with the same medals for lying to them while their soldiers and our people are getting killed?”

Tahir, on the other hand, has a warning: “It seems that all U.S. politicians and the majority of Americans think the way [Sen.] McCain does. But they should not think Iraq is Japan or South Korea.”

Mahri’i agrees: “Such leaders will write the final page of history for their country. If Americans keep electing such adventurers, then I can see the end of their country approaching fast.”

Professor Hassan states what is clearly on the minds of many Iraqis as the occupation grinds on and the American presidential race revs up, though she may be more charitable than many of her compatriots:

“Most Americans figured out the real reasons behind the invasion of Iraq and the terrible consequences of that war for them, currently and in the future. The American people I know are kind, considerate, and understanding. I am sure they will do what it will take to end this occupation. They know by now that this is not a war of the American people; it is the oil companies’ war, so why should they sacrifice their young men and women for oil companies’ greed?”

Last October, speaking of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation at Stanford University, where he is now a visiting fellow of the Hoover Institute, former CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid told the audience, “Of course it’s about oil, we can’t really deny that.” General Abizaid’s comment came roughly a month after former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan wrote in his memoir, “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

While many in the U.S., along with Bush administration officials and leading presidential candidates (both Democratic and Republican) continue to refuse to grasp the magnitude of the catastrophe that is the occupation of Iraq, Iraqis don’t have the same luxury.

Early on in my time in Iraq, during the first year of the occupation, the Iraqis I met were generally quick to differentiate between the policies of the U.S. government and the desires of the American people.

Over time, after brutal U.S. military operations against cities like Najaf, Fallujah, Al-Qa’im, Samarra, and Ramadi, after Abu Ghraib, after Haditha, after the near-total collapse of their country’s infrastructure and the shredding of its social fabric, I began to witness occupation-weary Iraqis ceasing to draw that same critical line.

Recently, a resident of Baquba (who asked not to be identified by name for fear of retribution for talking to the media), told my Iraqi colleague Ahmed Ali, “The lack of security is a direct result of the occupation. The Americans crossed thousands of miles to destroy our home and kill our men. They are the reason for all our disasters.”

Abu Tariq, a merchant from Baquba, believes the U.S. military intentionally destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure. He told Ali,

“The Americans destroyed the electricity, water-pumping stations, factories, bridges, highways, hospitals, schools, burnt the buildings, and opened the borders for the strangers and terrorists to get easily into the country. The one who does all these things is void of humanity. I hate America and Americans.”

Abu Taiseer, another resident of Baquba, summed up Iraqi bitterness this way:

“At the very beginning of the occupation, the people of Iraq did not realize the U.S. strategy in the area. Their strategy is based on destruction and massacres. They do anything to have their agenda fulfilled. Now, Iraqis know that behind the U.S. smile is hatred and violence. They call others violent and terrorists while what they are doing in Iraq and in other countries is the origin and essence of terror.”

Jalal al-Taee, a retired teacher, told Ali what more Iraqis than ever likely believe:

“In Baquba, people have severe hatred towards the Americans and a large number of residents have become enemies of the U.S. army. The people of Diyala province have been oppressed and treated unjustly by the U.S. army and the [Baghdad] government. In order to improve the situation, the U.S. army should let the people of this city rule it by themselves.”

Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of the recently published Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007). Over the last four years, Jamail has reported from occupied Iraq as well as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey. He writes regularly for Tomdispatch.com, Inter Press Service, Asia Times, and Foreign Policy in Focus. He has contributed to the Sunday Herald, the Independent, the Guardian, and the Nation magazine, among other publications. He maintains a website, Dahr Jamail’s Mideast Dispatches, with all his writing.

“We Can’t Afford to Let Them Spill the Beans” Edmonds on Grossman by Gary Leupp

January 28, 2008

“We Can’t Afford to Let Them Spill the Beans” Edmonds on Grossman by Gary Leupp

Dandelion Salad

by Gary Leupp
Dissident Voice
January 28th, 2008
Sibel Edmonds on Marc Grossman

I am not one to easily embrace conspiracy theories, and in particular have found the idea that 9-11 was somehow an inside job too incredible for serious consideration. On the other hand, there are some very fishy aspects to some officials’ behavior pertaining to the attacks. Justin Raimondo has made a very good case for the fact that Mossad agents posing as “Israeli art students” were tracking al-Qaeda operatives in the U.S. before 9/11.

Over 120 Israelis were detained after 9/11, some failing polygraph tests when asked about their involvement in intelligence gathering. But they were not held or charged with any illegal activity but rather deported. As former FBI translator and whistleblower Sibel Edmonds has revealed, there was a curious failure of the government before 9/11 to act upon intelligence pertaining to an al-Qaeda attack. Most importantly Edmonds, defying the gag order that former Attorney General Ashcroft imposed on her in 2002, is implicating Marc Grossman, formerly the number three man in the State Department, in efforts to provide US nuclear secrets to Pakistan and Israel. She suggests this was done through Turkish and Pakistani contacts, including the former head of Pakistan’s ISI who funneled funds to Mohamed Atta! Now there’s a conspiracy for you.

Edmonds claims that during her time at the FBI (September 20, 2001 to March 22, 2002) she discovered that intelligence material had been deliberately allowed to accumulate without translation; that inept translators were retained and promoted; and that evidence for traffic in nuclear materials was ignored. More shockingly, she charges that Grossman arranged for Turkish and Israeli Ph.D. students to acquire security clearances to Los Alamos and other nuclear facilities; and that nuclear secrets they acquired were transmitted to Pakistan and to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the “father of the Islamic bomb,” who in turn was selling nuclear technology to Libya and other nations.

She links Grossman to the former Pakistani military intelligence chief Mahmoud Ahmad, a patron of the Taliban, who reportedly arranged for a payment of $100,000 to 9/11 ringleader Atta via Pakistani terrorist Saeed Sheikh before the attacks. She suggests that he warned Pakistani and Turkish contacts against dealings with the Brewster Jennings Corp., the CIA front company that Valerie Plame was involved in as part of an effort to infiltrate a nuclear smuggling ring. All very heady stuff, published this month in The Times of London (and largely ignored by the U.S. media).

She does not identify Grossman by name in the Times article, but she has in the past, and former CIA officer Philip Giraldi does so in an extremely interesting article in the American Conservative. From that and many other sources, I come up with the timeline that appears below.

But first, some background on Grossman. A graduate of UC Santa Barbara and the London School of Economics, he was a career Foreign Service officer from 1976 when he began to serve at the US embassy in Pakistan. He continued in that post to 1983, when he became the Deputy Director of the Private Office of Lord Carrington, the Secretary General of NATO. From 1989 to 1992 he was Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Turkey, and from 1994 to 1997, US Ambassador to Turkey. As ambassador he strongly supported massive arms deals between the US and Ankara.

Thereafter he was Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, responsible for over 4,000 State Department employees posted in 50 sites abroad with a program budget of $1.2 billion to 2000. In 1999 he played a leading role in orchestrating NATO’s 50th anniversary Summit in Washington, and helped direct US participation in NATO’s military campaign in Kosovo that same year. As Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from the beginning of George W. Bush’s administration to January 2005, he played a bit role in the Plame Affair, informing “Scooter” Libby of Plame’s CIA affiliation.

Grossman is close to the American Turkish Council (ATC) founded in 1994 as a sister organization to the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC). Its founders include neoconservatives involved in the Israel-Turkey relationship, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, as well as Henry Kissinger, Brent Snowcroft and former congressman Stephen Solarz. (Perle and Feith had earlier been registered lobbyists for Turkey through Feith’s company, International Advisors Inc. Perle was at one point making $600,000 per year from such activity). Edmonds says this is “an association in name and in charter only; the reality is that it and other affiliated associations are the US government, lobbyists, foreign agents, and Military Industrial Complex.” (M. Christine Vick of Grossman’s Cohen Group serves on the Board of Advisors.) Grossman is also close to the American Turkish Association (ATA), and regularly speaks at its events.

Both ATA and ATC have been targets of FBI investigations because of their suspected ties with drug smuggling, but Edmonds claims she heard wiretaps connecting ATC with other illegal activities, some related to 9/11. The CIA has investigated it in connection with the smuggling of nuclear secrets and material. Valerie Plame and the CIA front group Brewster Jennings were monitoring it when Bush administration officials leaked her identity in July 2003. Edmonds, Giraldi, and researchers Christopher Deliso and Luke Ryland accuse him of suspiciously enriching himself while in government service. Nevertheless he was awarded the Foreign Service’s highest rank when President Bush appointed him to the rank of Career Ambassador in 2004, and received Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award the following year.

A dual Israeli-American national, Grossman has promoted the neocon agenda of forcing “regime change” in the Middle East. “[T]he time has come now,” he declared on the eve of the Iraq invasion, “to make a stand against this kind of connection between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. And we think Iraq is a place to make that stand first . . . the great threat today is the nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.” But he has not been as conspicuous a war advocate as Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Libby, Bolton, and some others. (Perle and Feith, one should note, were also deeply involved in lobbying activities on behalf of Turkey as well as Israel in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Edelman was ambassador to Turkey 2003-05 where, chagrined by the Turkish failure to enthusiastically support the US occupation of Iraq, he deeply offended his hosts.) Grossman seems less an ideologue driven to make the world safer for Israel than a corrupt, amoral, self-aggrandizing opportunist. Anyway, here is an incomplete chronology of his alleged wrongdoing, along with other relevant details.

2001

As newly appointed Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Grossman assists Turkish, Israeli and other moles — mainly Ph.D. students — godfathering visa and arranging for security clearances to work in sensitive research facilities, including the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory in New Mexico. FBI taps his phone 2001-2, finds he is receiving bribes (one for $15,000). Edmonds states: “I heard at least three transactions like this over a period of 2½ years. There are almost certainly more.”

Between August and September: Grossman warns his Turkish associates seeking to acquire nuclear secrets that Brewster Jennings (for whom CIA agent Valerie Plame works) is a CIA front.

Sept. 4: Gen. Mahmoud Ahmad, the chief of Pakistan ’s intelligence service (ISI) arrives in US, meets with Grossman and other U.S. officials.

Sept. 10: Report by Amir Mateen in Pakistani newspaper Dawn ( Karachi ): “[Ahmad] also held long parleys with unspecified officials at the White House and the Pentagon. But the most important meeting was with Mark Grossman, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. US sources would not furnish any details beyond saying that the two discussed ‘matters of mutual interests.’”

Sept. 11: Gen. Ahmad is having breakfast in Washington with Congressman Porter Goss (R-Fla.) and Senator Bob Graham (D) when attacks occur.

(Goss had had 10 years in clandestine operations in CIA and later — September 22, 2003-May 5, 2006 — heads the organization. Graham and Goss later are the co-chairs of the joint House-Senate investigation that proclaimed there was “no smoking gun” as far as President George W. Bush having any advance knowledge of September 11.)

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, FBI arrests people suspected of being involved with the attacks — including four Turkish and Pakistani associates of key targets of FBI’s counterintelligence operations. Sibel heard the targets tell Grossman: “We need to get them out of the U.S. because we can’t afford for them to spill the beans.” Grossman facilitates their release from jail and suspects immediately leave US without further investigation or interrogation.

Sept. 12-13: Meetings between Ahmad and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Armitage threatens to bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” unless it cooperates in US attack on Afghanistan. Ahmad also meets Secretary of State Colin Powell. Agreement on Pakistan’s collaboration is secured.

Sept. 20: Sibel Edmonds, a 32-year-old Turkish-American, hired as a translator by the FBI.

According to Edmonds, she overheard an agent on a 2000 wiretap discussing with Saudi businessmen in Detroit “nuclear information that had been stolen from an air force base in Alabama,” and stating: “We have a package and we’re going to sell it for $250,000.” She also claims she listened to recordings of a high official (Grossman) receiving bribes from Turkish officials.

Early October: Indian intelligence reports that Gen. Ahmad had in summer of 2001 ordered Saeed Sheikh (convicted of the kidnapping and killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl) to wire US$100,000 from Dubai to one of hijacker Mohamed Atta’s two bank accounts in Florida. FBI confirms story, reported on ABC news.

Oct. 7: US-led Coalition begins air strikes against Taliban.

Oct. 8: Gen. Ahmad, Taliban supporter and an opponent of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, forced to retire from his post as director-general of ISI.

Late Oct.: Pakistani government arrests three Pakistani nuclear scientists, all with close ties to Khan, for their suspected connections with the Taliban.

2002

Early March: Edmonds sends faxes to Senators Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy on the Judiciary Committee, is called in for polygraph test; Department of Justice inspector general’s report states “she was not deceptive in her answers.”

March: Grossman keynote speaker at ATC conference.

March 22: Edmunds fired, allegedly for shoddy work, security breaches.

Oct. 27: Edmonds appears on CBS’ 60 Minutes program.

Dec: Grossman visits Turkey, approves $3 billion US aid to Turkey for the Iraq Cooperation deal.

2003

March 3: In interview for Dutch television, Grossman says, “[T]he time has come now to make a stand against this kind of connection between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. And we think Iraq is a place to make that stand first . . . the great threat today is the nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.”

May 29: Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff “Scooter” Libby asks Grossman for information about news report about the secret envoy sent by the CIA to Africa in 2002. Grossman requests a classified memo from Carl Ford, the director of the State Department’s intelligence bureau, and later orally briefs Libby on its contents.

Mid-June: Powell and his deputy secretary Richard Armitage may have received a copy of the Grossman memo.

June 10: Grossman asks the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) for a briefing on the Niger uranium issue, and specifically the State Department’s opposition to the continuing White House view that Iraq had tried to buy yellow cake. The resulting memo is dated the same day, and drawn from notes on the February 19 meeting at the CIA on the Wilson mission and other sources. Memo is classified “Top Secret,” and contains in one paragraph, separately marked “(S/NF)” for “Secret/No dissemination to foreign governments or intelligence agencies,” two sentences describing in passing Valerie “Wilson’s” identity as a CIA operative and her role in the inception of the Wilson trip to Niger. This June 10 memo reportedly does not use her maiden name Plame.

June 17-July 9: Senate Judiciary Committee holds unclassified hearings on Edmunds’ allegations.

June 19: letter from Senior Republican Senator, Charles Grassley, and Senior Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy to Inspector General Glenn A. Fine concerning Edmonds’ allegations.

July 14: Robert Novak reveals Plame’s CIA identity.

July 22: Edmonds files suit against the Department of Justice, the FBI, and several high-level officials, alleging that she was wrongfully terminated from the FBI in retaliation for reporting criminal activities committed by government employees.

Aug. 13: letter from two senators to Attorney General Ashcroft concerning Sibel Edmonds’ allegations.

Aug. 15: 600 victims of the 9/11 attacks file suit (Burnett v. Al Baraka Investment & Dev. Corp.), request from Edmonds deposition providing evidence for US government foreknowledge of 9-11 attacks.

Sept. 22: Goss made CIA Director (resigns May 5, 2006).

Oct. 18, 2002: Attorney General John Ashcroft invokes the State Secrets Privilege (requested not by Justice Department but by State department) in order to prevent disclosure of the nature of Edmonds’ work on the grounds that it would endanger national security, and asked that her wrongful termination suit be dismissed, in effect placing Edmonds under a gag order.

Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Ca.) expresses outrage at gag order, promises that a Democratic majority in Congress would conduct hearings. (This has not been done.)

Oct. 28: Letter from two senators to FBI Director Robert Mueller concerning Sibel Edmonds’ allegations.

Dec. 11, 2003, Attorney General Ashcroft again invoking the State Secrets Privilege, files a motion calling for Edmonds’ deposition in Burnett v. Al Baraka case be suppressed and for the entire case to be dismissed. The judge, seeking more information, orders government to produce any unclassified material relating to the case. In response, Ashcroft submits further statements to justify the use of the State Secrets Privilege.

Dec: Grossman back in Turkey to approve Turkey ’s eligibility to participate in tenders for Iraq’s reconstruction.

2004

Grossman achieves Foreign Service’s highest rank when President Bush appoints him to rank of Career Ambassador.

Patrick Leahy calls for investigation; Sen. Orrin Hatch, Republican Chairman of the Senate, blocks it.

May 13: Ashcroft retroactively classifies all material that had been provided to Senate Judiciary Committee in 2000 relating to Edmond’s lawsuit, as well as the senators’ letters that had already been posted on-line by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).

June 23: POGO files lawsuit against Justice Department for classifying material it had published; Justice Department fails to get the case dismissed.

July 6: Edmonds suit dismissed on state secrets grounds.

July: Edmonds files appeal. On same day, Inspector General releases unclassified summary of a highly classified report on an investigation that had concluded “that many of her allegations were supported, that the FBI did not take them seriously enough, and that her allegations were, in fact, the most significant factor in the FBI’s decision to terminate her services. . . Rather than investigate Edmonds’ allegations vigorously and thoroughly, the FBI concluded that she was a disruption and terminated her contract.”

August: Edmonds founds the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC) to address US security weaknesses.

December: Grossman the key speaker at an ATC Conference held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

2005

Grossman receives Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award.

January: Grossman quits his government job. Eric Edelman, another former ambassador to Turkey, takes job of Under Secretary of Defence for Policy.

January: Pakistani nuclear engineer A.Q. Khan confesses to having been involved in a clandestine international network of nuclear weapons technology proliferation from Pakistan to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

Feb. 5: Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf announces he has pardoned Khan. US response is mild.

March: Grossman made vice-chairman of Cohen Group.

Feb. 18: Justice Department under new attorney general backs away from claim that documents posted by POGO were classified.

April 21: In the hours before the hearing of her appeal, three judges issued a ruling that barred all reporters and the public from the courtroom. During the proceedings, Edmonds was not allowed into the courtroom for the hearing.

May 6: Edmonds’ case dismissed, no reason provided, no opinion cited.

May 14: In open letter, Edmonds states the governments wants to silence here to “protect certain diplomatic relations” and to “protect certain U.S. foreign business relations.” Says the “foreign relations” mentioned in the gag order “are not in the interest of, or of benefit to, the majority of Americans, but instead serve and protect a small minority.”

June 20: Edmonds writes: “(In) April 2001, a long-term FBI informant/asset who had been providing the bureau with information since 1990, provided two FBI agents and a translator with specific information regarding a terrorist attack being planned by Osama Bin Laden. For almost four years since September 11, officials refused to admit to having specific information regarding the terrorists’ plans to attack the United States. The Phoenix Memo, received months prior to the 9/11 attacks, specifically warned FBI HQ of pilot training and their possible link to terrorist activities against the US. Four months prior to the terrorist attacks the Iranian asset provided the FBI with specific information regarding the ‘use of airplanes’, ‘major US cities as targets’, and ‘Osama Bin Laden issuing the order.’ Coleen Rowley likewise reported that specific information had been provided to FBI HQ.”

July 20: Unidentified as a “retired state department official” Grossman tells AP that a classified State Department memo disputed the legitimacy of administration claims that Iraq sought to acquire uranium from Niger, also contained a few lines about Plame Wilson’s CIA employment, marked as secret.

August 5: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) petitioned for the Supreme Court of the United States to review the lower courts’ application of the State Secret Privilege in both lawsuits. The ACLU claims that the courts conflated the State Secrets Privilege and the Totten rule.

Sept. 28: Washington Post cites unnamed former administration source (Grossman) as stating that the outing of Plame was “Clearly . . . meant purely and simply for revenge.”

Oct. 28: In Patrick Fitzgerald’s indictment of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Grossman is the Under Secretary of State mentioned as giving information about Plame to Libby.

November: Grossman attends lavish Turkish Ottoman Dinner Gala, receives award from Turkish lobby group, the Assembly of American Turkish Association (ATAA) in Chicago.

Nov. 28: the Supreme Court declined to review the decisions made in the Edmonds case.

2006

March: Grossman the key speaker at the ATC annual conference.

June: Grossman key speaker at MERIA Conference, discussing Turkey’s importance to US and Israel.

Sept. 2006: a documentary about Sibel Edmonds’ case called Kill The Messenger (”Une Femme à Abattre”) premiers in France. (watch film here)

2007

January 24: Grossman first to testify in Libby trial. Says he informed Libby of Plame’s involvement “in about 30 seconds of conversation” in June 2003.

November: Grossman subpoenaed by defense in AIPAC trial.

Nov. 26: Grossman, now Vice Chairman of the consulting firm the Cohen Group, attends a major Security Conference in Riga, Latvia.

2008

January: Edmonds posts, without comment, photos of current and former officials and Turkish associates on website: Richard Perle, Eric Edelman, Marc Grossman, Brent Snowcroft, Larry Franklin, Ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Roy Blunt (R-Mo), Dan Burton (R-Ind.), Tom Lanton (D-Ca.), Bob Livingston (ex-House Speaker, R-La.), Stephen Solarz (D-NY), Graham Fulle (RAND), David Makovsky (WINEP), Martin Markovsky (WINEP), Yusuf Turani (president in exile of Turkmenistan), Prof. Sabri Sayari (Columbia University, WINEP), Mehmet Eymur (former head of Turkish counter-terrorism).

Jan. 6: The Times of London carries story, “For sale: West’s deadly nuclear secrets.” States that a high official “was aiding foreign operatives against US interests by passing them highly classified information, not only from the State Department but also from the Pentagon, in exchange for money, position and political objectives.” Claims that the FBI was also gathering evidence against senior Pentagon officials — including household names — who were aiding foreign agents.

“If you made public all the information that the FBI have on this case, you will see very high-level people going through criminal trials.”

Jan. 22: White House issues statement declaring its intention to approve sale of nuclear secrets to Turkey; Joshua Frank writes on January 25, “It appears the White House has been spooked by Edmonds and hopes to absolve the US officials allegedly involved in the illegal sale of nuclear technology to private Turkish ‘entities’.” Frank identifies Grossman as one of these officials.

* * * * *

Edmonds is tirelessly and fearlessly campaigning for Congressman Waxman, now chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to hold hearings. She says that FBI agents and even former Turkish intelligence officials are willing and able to validate her charges. But the congressman hesitates, perhaps fearing the storm of indignation that explosive evidence will produce in a country sick of its politicians, the lying neocons, and the war. Should they discover that, while disseminating disinformation about foreign nukes in order to fearmonger and build support for aggressive war, some of these officials were actually peddling nuclear secrets — committing treason while receiving honors for their patriotic service — the response could be explosive.

The Office of Special Plans under Abram Shulsky and Douglas Feith cherry-picked the intelligence vetted through the New York Times to terrify people into supporting an attack on Iraq. Democratic leaders have in the past urged an investigation of that spooky office, but furnished the opportunity since November 2006, they have declined to hold hearings. The Italian parliament conducted a study of the Niger uranium hoax, fingering neocon Michael Ledeen as a key suspect in forging documents designed to provide a casus belli before the Iran attack. Congress does nothing to follow up. In effect they are saying that the administration has a right to lie to the people. The presidential pardon granted Libby is a clear statement that it’s okay to punish whistleblowers like Joseph Wilson. The Supreme Court refuses to hear Edmonds’ appeal. It seems that all three branches of government compete to coddle the most unscrupulous and lawless officials, while marginalizing or punishing honest citizens who expose the rot.

The publication of the National Intelligence Estimate undercutting the administration’s case for attacking Iran indicates that there are in the US intelligence community persons alarmed by the administration’s lies and efforts to justify more aggression based on lies. It enrages the neocons who, with Norman Podhoretz in the lead, have been praying for Bush to bomb Iran. The arrest and conviction of Feith subordinate Larry Franklin shows that within the FBI there are forces disturbed at the close connections between the neocons, Israeli intelligence, and the Israel lobby and are willing to take action against lawbreaking. But Feith and Perle have both been investigated before, Perle for discussing classified information with Israeli Embassy staff in an FBI-monitored phone call in Washington in 1970. But the cases dropped for apparent political reasons. Perhaps the Grossman story will gain some traction. Maybe it will prove egregious enough that the tide will turn. Maybe Bush’s last year of office will see the neocons’ thorough exposure, humiliation and defeat.

Or maybe Waxman, Rep. Conyers and others in positions to honestly confront this most mendacious of administrations will continue to dither, feeding the assumption of the most vicious, cynical and corrupt that they are indeed above the law. And earning the contempt of those naïve enough to expect serious congressional oversight of a rogue regime.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu. Read other articles by Gary.

Oil and the Looming Threat to Iraq

January 24, 2008

Oil and the Looming Threat to Iraq

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Access to and control of Middle East oil has figured prominently in the strategic thinking of American policy makers. In the Bush administration, State Department policy planners discussed scenarios for taking over by force the oilfields of the Middle East, and internationalizing them.

 

Jane Mayer revealed in the New Yorker that a secret Bush National Security Council (NSC) document dated Feb 3, 2001, instructed NSC members to cooperate with Vice-President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force for ‘reviewing international policy towards rogue states” and “actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.”  (Feb 16. 04)

 

The Bush administration has denied that the Iraq war was for oil, and proclaimed its commitment to the preservation of Iraq’s sovereignty and Iraq’s territorial integrity. Recent events, however, indicate that oil is playing a role in the looming threat to Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

 

Sovereignty under occupation is at best nominal anyhow. Support for Iraq’s territorial integrity offered the prospect of a strong central government able to contain the conflict from spreading into a wider regional war.

 

It also offered the best guarantee of achieving two of Washington’s important goals in Iraq: access to Iraqi oil and an ‘enduring’ relationship with Iraq that gave Washington, through an Iraqi national oil law, the access and control it sought.

 

Shortly after President Bush announced in February last year his new military strategy of escalation of the war in Iraq, then-U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad welcomed progress toward an Iraqi oil law, and explained its importance in American strategic thinking about the future of Iraq:.

 

“This is a significant political achievement,” Khalilzad said on Feb 27, “Under the approved law, oil will become a tool that will help unify Iraq and give all Iraqis a shared stake in their country’s future.” (Washington Post. Sept.5. 07)

 

Far from unifying Iraq, however, American pressure for an oil law is dividing the Iraqis, weakening the central government, and strengthening the separatist tendencies.

 

As Antonia Juhasz explained in the New York Times, the oil law being pushed by the Bush administration would transfer control of Iraqi oil from the Iraqis to international oil companies. It would leave The Iraq National Oil Company with exclusive control of only 17 of Iraq’s 80 oil fields, leaving the rest as well as the yet undiscovered oil fields open to foreign control. The foreign oil companies would enjoy highly advantageous profit-sharing production agreements with no obligation to invest in the country, to employ or train local manpower, or to transfer technology to the Iraqis. (March 13.07)

 

This did not escape the attention of the Iraqi people a majority of whom are reported by various opinion polls to believe that the American invasion of Iraq was primarily motivated by the desire to rob the Iraqis of their oil wealth.

 

In an open letter to the Iraqi parliament, a group of 419 Iraqi academics, engineers and oil industry experts stated that “it is clear that the government is trying to implement one of the demands of the American occupation.”

 

The draft oil law, the letter stated, “lays the foundation for a fresh plundering of Iraq’s strategic wealth and its squandering by foreigners, backed by those coveting power in the regions, and by gangs of thieves and pillagers.” (Washington Post. Sep 5, 07)

 

Growing opposition to the oil law at the national level in Iraq, and the failure of Bush’s strategy of military escalation to stamp out the insurgency, or to secure compliance from Baghdad with Washington’s agenda, could not be denied in Bush’s ‘progress’ report to the Congress in September.

 

Bush seems to have given up hope that a strong central government in Baghdad could ever help him achieve his goals in Iraq.

 

Last September, the US Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of carving up Iraq into separate autonomous regions. Senator Joseph Biden, author of the bill, stated in a television program that failure in Iraq was inevitable and that: “there is no possibility—no possibility—of a central government governing Iraq in any near term.” (Meet the Press, Sep 9.07)

 

A year and a half ago the Bush administration had dismissed the Bidden proposal for partitioning Iraq as “as an unworkable and irresponsible prescription for breaking apart Iraq.” (Los Angeles Time, Sep 27.07). The adoption of the bill by the Senate in September met with no similar condemnation from the Bush White House.

 

That is because the Bush administration, as Iraqi analyst Raed Jarrar has shown in a co-authored analysis, is backing the separatists., the Iran’s hardliners and the Sunni fundamentalists: “All are working — separately, but towards the same ends — against the wishes of a majority of Iraqis, who polls show want a united, sovereign country in control of its own resources and free of meddling by Washington, Tehran and other foreigners.”

 

This has emboldened the Kurds in Northern Iraq who proceeded to act as if they were an independent state and signed their own contracts with foreign oil companies. A noticeable beneficiary of these contracts is Hunt Oil of Dallas. Hunt Oil is owned by Ray Hunt who has close ties to the Bush White House. Hunt also serves on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

 

Hunt would not be gambling the future of his company in a dangerous region if he did not have privileged knowledge of Bush’s thinking about Iraq. As Paul Krugman of the New York Times put it: “The smart money, then, knows that the surge has failed, that the war is lost, and that Iraq is going the way of Yugoslavia.”

 

 

Prof. Adel Safty is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Novosibirsk, Russia. He is author of From Camp David to the Gulf, Montreal, New York; and Leadership and Democracy, New York.