Category Archives: Saddam Hussein

Russia-Ukraine war: George Bush’s admission of his crimes in Iraq was no “gaffe”

It was apparently a “gaffe” of the kind we had forgotten since George W Bush stepped down from the US presidency in early 2009. During a speech in Dallas last week, he momentarily confused Russian President Vladimir Putin’s current war of aggression against Ukraine and his own war of aggression against Iraq in 2003.

Bush observed that a lack of checks and balances in Russia had allowed “one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq… I mean, Ukraine. Iraq too. Anyway… I’m 75.”

It sounded like another “Bushism” – a verbal slip-up – for which the 43rd president was famous. Just like the time he boasted that people “misunderestimated” him, or when he warned that America’s enemies “never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people – and neither do we”.

Maybe that explains why his audience laughed. Or maybe not, given how uncomfortable the laughter sounded.

Bush certainly wanted his mistake to be seen as yet another slip-up, which is why he hurriedly blamed it on his age. The senility defence doubtless sounds a lot more plausible at a time when the incumbent president, Joe Biden, regularly loses track of what he is saying and even where he is.

The western media, in so far as it has bothered to report Bush’s speech, has laughed along nervously too. It has milked the incident largely for comic effect: “Look, we can laugh at ourselves – unlike that narcissist Russian monster, Putin.”

The BBC accorded Bush’s comment status as a down-page brief news item. Those that gave it more attention preferred to term it a “gaffe” or an amusing “Freudian slip”.

‘Putin apologists’

But the focus on the humour of the moment is actually part of the media’s continuing war on our understanding of recent history. It is intended to deflect us, the audience, from thinking about the real significance of Bush’s “gaffe”.

The only reason the media is now so belatedly connecting – if very indirectly – “a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion” of Ukraine and what happened in Iraq is because of Bush’s mistake.

Had it not happened, the establishment media would have continued to ignore any such comparison. And those trying to raise it would continue to be dismissed as conspiracy theorists or as apologists for Putin.

The implication of what Bush said – even for those mockingly characterising it in Freudian terms – is that he and his co-conspirator, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, are war criminals and that they should be on trial at the Hague for invading and occupying Iraq.

Everything the current US administration is saying against Putin, and every punishment meted out on Russia and ordinary Russians, can be turned around and directed at the United States and Britain.

Should the US not be under severe economic sanctions from the “civilised world” for what it did to Iraq? Should its sportspeople not be banned from international events? Should its billionaires not be hunted down and stripped of their assets? And should the works of its long-dead writers, artists and composers not be shunned by polite society?

And yet, the western establishment media are proposing none of the above. They are not calling for Blair and Bush to be tried for war crimes. Meanwhile, they echo western leaders in labelling what Russia is doing in Ukraine as genocide and labelling Putin as an evil madman.

The western media are as uncomfortable taking Bush’s speech at face value as his audience was. And for good reason.

That is because the media are equally implicated in US and UK crimes in Iraq. They never seriously questioned the ludicrous “weapons of mass destruction” justification for the invasion. They never debated whether the “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign of Baghdad was genocidal.

And, of course, they never described either Bush or Blair as madmen and megalomaniacs and never accused them of waging a war of imperialism – or one for oil – in invading Iraq. In fact, both continue to be treated by the media as respected elder statesmen.

During Trump’s presidency, leading journalists waxed nostalgic for the days of Bush, apparently unconcerned that he had used his own presidency to launch a war of aggression – the “supreme international crime”.

And Blair continues to be sought out by the British and US media for his opinions on domestic and world affairs. He is even listened to deferentially when he opines on Ukraine.

Pre-emption excuse

But this is not simply about a failure to acknowledge the recent historical record. Bush’s invasion of Iraq is deeply tied to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And for that reason, if no other, the western media ought to have been driving home from the outset the parallels between the two – as Bush has now done in error.

That would have provided the geopolitical context for understanding – without necessarily justifying – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the West’s role in provoking it. Which is precisely why the media have worked so hard to ignore those parallels.

In invading Iraq, Bush and Blair created a precedent that powerful states could redefine their attack on another state as “pre-emptive” – as defensive rather than aggressive – and thereby justify the military invasion in violation of the laws of war.

Bush and Blair falsely claimed both that Iraq threatened the West with weapons of mass destruction and that its secular leader, Saddam Hussein, had cultivated ties with the extreme Islamists of al-Qaeda that carried out the 9/11 attacks on the US. These pretexts ranged from the entirely unsubstantiated to the downright preposterous.

Putin has argued – more plausibly – that Russia had to take pre-emptive action against covert efforts by a US-led Nato to expand its military sphere of influence right up to Russia’s borders. Russia feared that, left unchecked, the US and Nato were preparing to absorb Ukraine by stealth.

But how does that qualify Russia’s invasion as defensive? The Kremlin’s fears were chiefly twofold.

First, it could have paved the way for Nato stationing missiles minutes away from Moscow, eroding any principle of mutual deterrence.

And second, Nato’s incorporation of Ukraine would have drawn the western military alliance directly into Ukraine’s civil war in the eastern Donbass region. That is where Ukrainian forces, including neo-Nazi elements like the Azov Brigade, have been pitted in a bloody fight against ethnic Russian communities.

In this view, absent a Russian invasion, Nato could have become an active participant in propping up Ukrainian ultra-nationalists killing ethnic Russians – as the West is now effectively doing through its arming of Ukraine to the tune of more than $40bn.

Even if one discounts Russia’s concerns, Moscow clearly has a greater strategic interest invested in what its neighbour Ukraine is doing on their shared border than Washington ever had in Iraq, many thousands of miles away.

Proxy wars

Even more relevant, given the West’s failure to acknowledge, let alone address, Bush and Blair’s crimes committed in Iraq, is Russia’s suspicion that US foreign policy is unchanged two decades on. On what basis would Moscow believe that Washington is any less aggressive or power-hungry than it was when it launched its invasion of Iraq?

The western media continue to refer to the US attack on Iraq, and the subsequent bloody years of occupation, as variously a “mistake”, a “misadventure” and a “blunder”. But surely it does not look that way to Moscow, all the more so given that Washington followed its invasion of Iraq with a series of proxy wars against other Middle Eastern and North African states such as Libya, Syria and Yemen.

To Russia, the attack on Iraq looks more like a stepping stone in a continuum of wars the US has waged over decades for “full-spectrum dominance” and to eradicate competitors for control of the planet’s resources.

With that as the context, Moscow might have reasonably imagined that the US and its Nato allies were eager for yet another proxy war, this time using Ukraine as the battlefield. Recent comments from Biden administration officials, such as Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, noting that Washington’s tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Kyiv is intended to “weaken Russia”, can only accentuate such fears.

Back in March, Leon Panetta, a former US secretary of defence and the CIA director under Barack Obama, who is in a position to speak more freely than serving officials, observed that Washington was waging “a proxy war with Russia, whether we say so or not”.

He predicted where US policy would head next, noting that the aim would be “to provide as much military aid as necessary”. Diplomacy has been a glaringly low priority for Washington.

Barely concealed from public view is a desire in the US and its allies for another regime change operation – this time in Russia – rather than end the war and the suffering of Ukrainians.

Butcher versus blunderer

Last week, the New York Times very belatedly turned down the war rhetoric a notch and called on the Biden administration to advance negotiations. Even so, its assessment of where the blame lay for Ukraine’s destruction was unambiguous: “Mr Putin will go down in history as a butcher.”

But have Bush or Blair gone down in history as butchers? They most certainly haven’t. And the reason is that the western media have been complicit in rehabilitating their images, presenting them as statesmen who “blundered” – with the implication that good people blunder when they fail to take account of how entrenched the evil of everyone else in the world is.

A butcher versus a pair of blunderers.

This false distinction means western leaders and western publics continue to evade responsibility for western crimes in Iraq and elsewhere.

That was why in late February – in reference to Ukraine – a TV journalist could suggest to Condoleezza Rice, who was one of the architects of the illegal war of aggression on Iraq as Bush’s national security adviser: “When you invade a sovereign nation, that is a war crime.” The journalist apparently did not consider for a moment that it was not just Putin who was a war criminal but the very woman she was sitting opposite.

It was also why Rice could nod solemnly and agree with a straight face that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was “against every principle of international law and international order – and that’s why throwing the book at them [Russia] now in terms of economic sanctions and punishments is a part of it”.

But a West that has refused to come to terms with its role in committing the “supreme international crime” of invading Iraq, and has been supporting systematic crimes against the sovereignty of other states such as Yemen, Libya and Syria, cannot sit in judgment on Russia. And further, it should not be trying to take the high ground by meddling in the war in Ukraine.

If we took the implications of Bush’s comment seriously, rather than treating it as a “gaffe” and viewing the Iraq invasion as a “blunder”, we might be in a position to speak with moral authority instead of flaunting – once again – our hypocrisy.

First published in Middle East Eye

The post Russia-Ukraine war: George Bush’s admission of his crimes in Iraq was no “gaffe” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

U.S. Terrorism 101: The Bert Sacks Story

Since the annual U.S. Veterans Day holiday honoring military veterans was just observed on November 11, it seems more than appropriate to suggest the creation of a U.S. Victims Day, just as in a similar effort at truth in labeling, the Defense Department should be renamed the Offensive War Department.

For the victims of American terrorism far outnumber the American soldiers who have died in its wars, although I consider most U.S. veterans to be victims also, having been propagandized from birth to buy the glory of war, not the truth that it’s a racket that serves the interests of the ruling class.

Such wars, carried out with bombs, drones, mercenaries, and troops, or by economic embargoes and sanctions, are by their nature, acts of terrorism.  This is so whether we are talking about the mass fire bombings of Japanese and German cities during WW II, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the carpet bombings and the agent orange dropped on Vietnam, the depleted uranium on Iraq, the use of terrorist surrogates everywhere, the economic sanctions on Cuba, Iran, Syria, etc.  The list is endless and ongoing.  All actions aimed at causing massive death and damage to civilians.

According to U.S. law (6 USCS § 101), terrorism is defined as an act that is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources; is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States; and appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.

By any reasonable interpretation of the law, the United Sates is a terrorist state.

Let me tell you about Bert Sacks.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him.  His experiences with the U.S. government regarding terrorism tell an illuminating story of conscience and hope.  It is a story of how one person can awaken others to recognize and admit the truth that the U.S. is guilty of crimes against humanity, even when one is unable to stop the carnage.  It is a tale of witness, and how such witness is contagious.

In November 1997 Sacks led a delegation to Iraq to deliver desperately needed medicines ($40,000 worth, all donated) that were denied into the country because of US/UN economic sanctions.  For such an act of human solidarity, he was later fined $10,000 by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Sacks had refused to ask for a license to travel to Iraq or to subsequently pay the fine for compelling reasons connected to his non-violent Gandhian philosophy, which teaches that non-cooperation with evil is as much an obligation as cooperation with good.

For years previously, Sacks had been learning, as would have anyone who was following the news, that the American sanctions under George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton following the illegal and unjust Gulf War, had been aimed at crippling the Iraqi infrastructure upon which all civilian life depended.  Iraq had been devastated by the U.S. war of aggression, and a great deal of its infrastructure, especially electricity and therefore water purification systems, had already been destroyed. Clinton kept up the sanctions and the bombing in support of Bush’s war intentions. So much for differences between Republicans and Democrats!  Regular Iraqis were suffering terribly.  All this was being done in the name of punishing Saddam Hussein in order to oust him from power, the same Hussein whom the U. S. had supported in Iraq’s war with Iran by assisting him with chemical and biological weapons.

As Sacks later (2011) wrote in his declaration to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington when he sued OFAC:

Weeks after the end of the Gulf War, on March 22, 1991, I read a New York Times front- page story covering the UN report by Martti Ahtisaari on the devastating, ‘near- apocalyptic conditions’ in Iraq after the Gulf War. The report said, ‘famine and epidemic [were imminent] if massive life-     supporting needs are not rapidly met. The long summer… is weeks away. Time is short.’ The same article explained U.S. policy this way: ‘[By] making life uncomfortable for the Iraqi people, [sanctions] will eventually encourage them to remove President Saddam Hussein from power.’ This sentence has stayed with me for twenty years. It says to me that my government – by inflicting suffering and death on Iraqi civilians – hoped to overthrow President Saddam Hussein, and that we would simply call  it “making life uncomfortable.” [my emphasis]

The years to follow the first war against Iraq revealed what that Orwellian phrase really meant.

In 1994 Sacks read a survey on health conditions of Iraqi children in The New England Journal of Medicine that said:

These results provide strong evidence that the Gulf War and trade sanctions caused a threefold increase in mortality among Iraqi children under five years of age. We estimate that an excess of more than 46,900 children died between January and August 1991.

And that was just the beginning.  For the number of dead Iraqi children [and adults] kept piling up as a result of “making life uncomfortable.”

Anton Chekov’s story “Gooseberries” pops into my mind:

Everything is quiet and peaceful, and nothing protests but mute statistics: so many people gone out of their minds, so many gallons of vodka drunk, so many children dead from malnutrition. . . . And this order of things is evidently necessary; evidently the happy man only feels at ease because the unhappy bear their burdens in silence, and without that silence happiness would be impossible. It’s a case of general hypnotism.  There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man someone standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for him —  disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears  others.

Sacks has long been that man with a gentle hammer, far from happy, comfortable, or contented in what he was learning.  In 1996 he watched the infamous CBS 60 Minutes interview of Madeleine Albright by Leslie Stahl who had recently returned from Iraq. Albright was then the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and soon to be the Secretary of State.  Stahl, in reference to how the sanctions had already killed 500,000 Iraqi children, asked her, “Is the price worth it?” – Albright blithely answered, “The price is worth it.”

In April 1997, a New England Journal of Medicine editorial said that:

Iraq is an even more disastrous example of war against the public health . … The destruction  of the country’s power plants had brought its entire system of water purification and distribution to a halt, leading to epidemics of cholera, typhoid fever, and gastroenteritis, particularly among children. Mortality rates doubled or tripled among children admitted to hospitals in Baghdad and Basra… [my emphasis]

The evidence had accumulated since 1991 that the U.S. had purposely targeted Iraqi civilians and especially very young children and had therefore killed them as an act or war.  This was clearly genocide.  In its 1999 news release, UNICEF announced: “if the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under-five in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998.”

The British journalist Robert Fisk called this intentional destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure “biological warfare”: “The ultimate nature of the 1991 Gulf War for Iraqi civilians now became clear. Bomb now: die later.”  In his declaration to the court, Sacks wrote that the Centers for Disease Control, in warning about potential terrorist biological attacks on the U.S., clearly lists attacks on water supplies as terrorism and biological warfare:

Water safety threats (such as Vibrio cholerae and Cryptosporidium parvum): Cholera is an acute bacterial disease characterized in its severe form by sudden onset, profuse painless watery stools, nausea and vomiting early in the course of illness, and, in untreated cases, rapid dehydration, acidosis, circulatory collapse, hypoglycemia in children, and renal failure. Transmission occurs through ingestion of food or water contaminated directly or indirectly with feces or vomitus of infected persons.

By January 1997, as a result of such statements and those of U.S. military and government officials and reports in medical journals and media, Sacks concluded that the United States government was guilty of the crime of international terrorism against the civilian population of Iraq.  And being a man of conscience, he therefore proceeded to lead a delegation to Iraq to alleviate suffering, even while knowing it was a drop in the bucket.

It is important to emphasize that the U.S. government knew full well that its intentional destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure would result in massive death and suffering of civilians.  Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney said of such destruction that “If I had to do it over again, I would do exactly the same thing.”  All the deaths that followed were done as part of an effort at regime change – to force Hussein out of office, something finally accomplished by the George W. Bush administration with their lies about weapons of mass destruction and their 2003 war against Iraq that killed between 1-2 million more Iraqis.  The recent accolades heaped on Colin Powell, who as Secretary of State consciously lied at the UN and who led the first war against Iraq – two major war crimes – should be a reminder of how unapologetic U.S. leaders are for their atrocities.  I would go so far as to say they revel in their ability to commit them.  Because he called them out on this by doing what all journalists and writers should do, they have pursued and caged Julian Assange as if he were a wild dog who walked into their celebratory dinner party.

In this 1991 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency document, “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities,” you can read how these people think.  And read Thomas Merton’s poem “Chant to be Used in Processions around a Site With Furnaces,” and don’t skip its last three lines and you can grasp the bureaucratic mind at its finest. Euphemisms like “uncomfortable” and “collateral damage” are their specialties.  Killing the innocent are always on their menu.

Bert Sacks and his delegation got some brief media publicity for their voyage of mercy.  He believed that if the American people really knew what was happening to Iraqi children, they would demand that it be stopped.  This did not happen.  His tap with the hammer of conscience failed to awaken the hypnotized public who overwhelmingly had elected Clinton to a second term in 1996 six months after the 60 Minutes interview.  Yes, “Everything is [was] quiet and peaceful, and nothing protests but mute statistics.”

Although the evidence was overwhelming that Iraqi children in the 1990s were dying at the rate of at least 5,000 per month as a direct result of the sanctions, very few major media publicized this.  The 60 Minutes show, with its shocking statement by Albright, was an exception and was seen by millions of Americans.  After that show aired, to claim you didn’t know was no longer believable.  And although most mainstream media buried the truth, it was still available to those who cared.  There were some conscience-stricken officials, however.  In his declaration to the court, Sacks wrote:

The first two heads of the “Oil-for-Food” program – Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck – each resigned a position as UN Assistant Secretary General to protest the consequences of the U.S. imposed sanctions policy on Iraq. Mr. Halliday said, ‘We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that.’ He called it genocide.

There were also doctors, politicians, independent writers, and Nobel Peace Laureates who called the policy genocide and said, “Sanctions are the economic nuclear bomb.”  Sacks told the court that “Finally, this list includes a 32-year career, retired U.S. diplomat – Deputy Director of the Reagan White House Cabinet Task Force on Terrorism – who says: ‘you can think of a number of countries that have been involved in [terrorist] activities. Ours is one of them.’”

Military planners, moreover, wrote in military publications that it was desirable to kill Iraqi civilians; that it was an essential part – if not the major part – of war strategy.  They called it “dual-use targeting” and called themselves “operational artists.”

Sacks was able to reach a few officials and journalists who realized this was not art but massive war crimes.  This showed that it is not impossible to change people, hard as it is.  The judge in his court case, James L. Robart, while agreeing that OFAC had not exceeded its authority in fining him, acknowledged that the court had to accept as true that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children as reported by UNICEF had come to constitute genocide, but [my emphasis] U.S. law prohibited the bringing of any consideration of genocide into a legal proceeding, which allows the U.S. government to commit this crime while barring any other party from raising the issue legally.

In other words, the U.S. government can accuse others of committing genocide, but no one can legally accuse it.  It is above all laws.

Ten months before his 1997 trip to Iraq, Sacks met with Kate Pflaumer, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington.  He says:

We met in her office and I asked her for the legal definition of terrorism pursuant to the laws of the United States. She asked what could she do for me.  I said “Prosecute me for violating U.S. Iraq sanctions by bringing medicine there.”  She said, “I won’t do that for you!  Can I help in any other way?” I asked for the U.S. legal definition of terrorism.  She pulled out a law book, had her secretary copy the page for me, and didn’t forget my request.  When she left office, she wrote the op-ed on June 21, 2001 …calling U.S. Iraq policy terrorism! The two main elements relevant to the issue here are: (1) it is an act dangerous to human life; and (2) done apparently to coerce or intimidate a civilian population or a government  (see 18 U.S.C. § 2331).

On June 21, 2001, Ms. Pflaumer, then the former U.S. Attorney, wrote in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer the following:

The reality on the ground in Iraq is not contested. Thousands of innocent children and adult civilians die every month as a direct result of the 1991 bombing of civilian infrastructure: sewage treatment plants, electrical generating plants, water purification facilities. Allied bombing targets included eight multipurpose dams, repeatedly hit, which simultaneously  wrecked flood control, municipal and industrial water storage, irrigation and hydroelectric power. [Four of seven major pumping stations were destroyed, as were 31 municipal water and sewerage facilities. Water purification plants were incapacitated throughout Iraq. We did this for “long term leverage.” These military decisions were sanctioned by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney.]

In May 1996, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reaffirmed that the “price” of 500,000 dead Iraqi children was “worth it. ”

Article 54 of the Geneva Convention states:

It is prohibited to attack, destroy or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population” and includes foodstuffs, livestock and “drinking water supplies and irrigation works.

Title 18 U.S. Code Section 2331 defines international terrorism as acts dangerous to human life that would violate our criminal laws if done in the United States when those acts are intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.

Thus did Kate Pflaumer, in an act of conscience and upholding her legal obligation as an attorney, call the U.S a terrorist state.  This probably never would have happened without the non-violent hammer of Bert Sacks, who over the years has made nine trips to Iraq with other brave and determined souls who are a credit to humanity.  Messengers of love, truth, and compassion.

Despite their witness, such U.S. terrorism continues as usual.

We cannot let “nothing protest but mute statistics.”  The first lesson in U.S. Terrorism 101 is to become people with hammers, and hammer out truth and justice for the world to hear.  Bert Sacks has done this.  We must follow suit.

Therein lies our only hope.

For by any reasonable interpretation of the law, the United Sates is a terrorist state – beyond the law.

The post U.S. Terrorism 101: The Bert Sacks Story first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Colin Powell: Establishment Warrior

History is strewn with the broken branches of twisted irony.  An individual who found himself entangled in it was the late Colin Powell, who, as a military man, gave a doctrine his name only to forgo it as a diplomat.

The Powell Doctrine was one of certitude and caution: do not engage in conflict except in conditions whereby you could bring overwhelming and decisive force to bear.  Political goals had to be clear; hostilities would be brief.  There would be no more quagmires, no more Vietnam Wars for the US imperium.  The model for this was his first engagement with Saddam Hussein’s forces in 1991.  The other manifestation of this approach was opposing military intervention in Bosnia.

Such ruminations were reached after service in Vietnam, where he made his mark as a major who questioned the account of the My Lai massacre.  Tasked with providing the first response to the Pentagon’s queries spurred on by Ron Ridenhour, he showed an all-establishment view to the butchering of over four hundred villagers, questioning the complaint against Charlie Company as vicious rumour mongering.

This approach served him well, enabling him to get a White House Fellowship, receive patronage from Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, assume the role of President Ronald Reagan’s Deputy National Security Advisor, then National Security Advisor.  The Chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs was only logical in the scheme of this alignment, granting him an almost panoptical view of military-intelligence operations.  He directly supervised the teachers of torture from the School of the Americas and learned the importance of keeping the death-squads in the service of US power at arm’s length.  Ridenhour conveys this point with gruesome precision.  “Just keep those big, burly, white American advisers far enough away from the actual mayhem so that they will never be seen splattered with blood on the evening news.”

His briefings during the 1991 Gulf War were famed for being direct and free of jargon.  It stood to reason.  The Vietnam War, for the likes of Powell, had been lost not only because of unclear goals but because of a failure to control army-media relations.

Through the 1990s, he had a certain pop allure that drew him towards a possible tilt at the White House.  He had mastered military greatness and could now be readied as an Ike-redux.  Under heavy spousal pressure, he gave up his bid for office.  Alma Powell had threatened to leave him in the event of him running, fearing potential assassination from a racist’s bullet.  At the time, Christopher Hitchens recalled those “dinner-parties that turned into unspeakable cafard; the TV and radio chat-shows that went null at the mention of his name.”

Slotting into the role of US Secretary of State in the first administration of George W. Bush, he was billed the voice of sane moderation in a cabinet of hawks, the wounds of September 11, 2001 still bleeding.  The military man could still make his mark, despite pretending to prefer ploughshare to sword.

Prior to him taking the reins at the State Department, he had been mocked by his predecessor, Madeline Albright, who always had a touch of the war monger about her.  “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about,” she chided him with a bloody craving, “if we can’t use it?”  Albright had been a critic of the qualifications suggested by the Powell doctrine, calling it archaic before it even came into practice.  “You know, Gen. Powell wrote a book and one of the problems with writing a book is that it takes a while to get it published.”  She found it “probably ironic that just at the time that this [book] came out, in fact, the limited application of limited force in Bosnia was working.”

Powell would have done his critics proud in abandoning his own doctrine, demonstrating that ideas are there to be vanquished and burned, even by their own creators.  The moment he did so remains dark folklore, a poison of statecraft.  With the Bush administration enthralled by the prospect of war in the Middle East, having marshalled themselves against evidence more counterfeit and conspiratorial than Donald Trump ever could be, Powell played along with gusto. This heralded a conversion from remarks made in February 2001 that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein “has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of destruction.  He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours.”

His infamous February 2003 address to the UN Security Council accusing Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction was another effort at public relations but of a very different quality.  It proved to be free of accuracy and unburdened by reality, despite Powell’s own vetting efforts of the evidence.  This was a man fully enrolled in the service of regime change and making the case for it.

Every statement, claimed Powell, was “backed up by sources, solid sources”.  They were “not assertions.  What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”  The theatrics were ample.  “Let me remind you how ricin works.  Less than a pinch – imagine a pinch of salt – less than a pinch of ricin, eating just this amount in your food, could cause shock followed by respiratory failure.  Death comes within 72 hours and there is no antidote.  There is no cure.  It is fatal.”  To the US Senate, he could say that these were “real weapons.  We’re talking about anthrax.  We’re talking about botulinum toxin.  We’re talking about nuclear weapons programmes.”

This was heavy going, given that such solid intelligence had been gathered from the quicksand sources of the Iraqi National Congress, a notorious outfit of exile led by the oleaginous Ahmed Chalabi.  Powell’s chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, noted how many “of these sources sort of tinged and merged back into a single source, and that inevitably that single source seems to be either recommended by, set up by, orchestrated by, introduced by, or whatever, by somebody in the INC.”

The Secretary of State also ran with the al-Qaida-Iraqi connection, another spurious link manufactured in the aftermath of 9/11 linking the terrorist attacks to Baghdad.  “Iraqi officials deny accusations of ties with al-Qaida.  These denials are simply not credible.”  His UN speech makes special reference to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, suggesting that al-Qaida “affiliates based in Baghdad now coordinate the movement of people, money and supplies throughout Iraq for his network”.

Powell spent subsequent years calling his presentation “painful”, a “blot” that would “always be part of my record.”  But ever mindful of public relations, he could find other more worthy alibis for his conduct.  Blame could be saddled and pinned down elsewhere – for instance, upon the more nefarious Donald Rumsfeld.  Or the devious Vice President Dick Cheney, whose office authored the speech.

For those keen to confine the scope of Powell’s errors and assessments, it is also worth remembering that the taste for regime change did not stop with the placing of boots in Mesopotamia.  As chair for the Bush’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, Powell oversaw the production of a 2004 report advocating various ways the Cuban government might be overthrown.  These were familiar: insinuating market capitalism into the state; introducing multi-party elections; giving Cuban Americans living in the US restitution for losses suffered under the Castro regime.  Accordingly, Washington should “support the Cuban people as they … work to transform themselves” and enable them “to develop a democratic and civic culture … and the values and habits essential to both.”  Such mindful benevolence.

With the imperium in respectful lockstep and sighing deferentially to a departed soldier, Powell’s blemishes can be overlooked by glowing reference to his “service” and patriotism.  But in performing that service, Powell’s legacy will be associated with the murderous, not infrequently incompetent adventurism of US foreign policy and its messianic bent.

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Messianic Failure: Pursuing the GWOT Jabberwock

Anniversaries can provide occasions for reflection and deep consideration.  Past errors and misjudgements can be considered soberly; historical distance provides perspective.  Mature reflections may be permitted.  But they can also serve the opposite purpose: to cake, cloak and mask the record.

The gooey name GWOT, otherwise known as the Global War on Terrorism, is some two decades old, and it has revealed little by way of benefit for anybody other than military industrialists, hate preachers and jingoes.  For its progenitors in the administration of President George W. Bush, motivated by the attacks of September 11, 2001 on US soil, few of its aims were achieved.

The central feature to the war, which deserves its place of failure alongside such disastrously misguided concepts as the war on drugs, was its school boy incoherence.  It remained, and to an extent remains, a war against tactics, a misguided search reminiscent of the hunt for Lewis Carroll’s nonsense beast, the Jabberwock.  As with any such wars, it demands mendacity, flimsy evidence if, in fact, it needs any evidence at all.

This perception was critical in placing the US, and its allies, upon a military footing that demanded false connections (a fictitious link of cooperation between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and al-Qaeda), false capabilities (Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction) and an exaggeration of the threat to US security (all of the above).

With such evaluations of terroristic potential, a secular, domestic murderer such as Saddam could be transformed into a global threat armed with weapons of mass destruction, neither proposition being true as the attacks on 9/11 were executed.  In this hot house fantasy, the Iraqi leader was merely another pilot willing to steer a plane into an American target.

This narrative was sold, and consumed, by a vast number of press houses and media outlets, who proved indispensable in promoting the GWOT-Jabberwock crusade.  Calculated amnesia and hand washing has taken place since then, pinning blame on the standard crew of neoconservatives, various Republicans and New York Times reporter Judith Miller.  “It’s been forgotten this was actually a business-wide consensus,” Matt Taibbi points out, “which included the enthusiastic participation of a blue-state intelligentsia.”

War sceptics such as Phil Donahue and Jesse Ventura were removed from MSNBC while war cheerleaders thickened the airwaves with ghoulish delight.  The New York Times ran sympathetic columns and reviews for the war case, praising such absurd works as Kenneth M. Pollack’s The Threatening Storm. “The only prudent and realistic course of action left to the United States,” wrote the grave Pollack, “is to mount a full-scale invasion of Iraq to smash the Iraqi armed forces, depose Saddam’s regime and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction.”

The New Yorker also joined in the pro-war festivities.  David Remnick made his case in “Making a Case” by praising Pollack and dismissing containment as “a hollow pursuit” that would be “the most dangerous option of all.”  Jeffrey Goldberg, now at The Atlantic, was even more unequivocal in a staggeringly inexpert contribution headlined, “The Great Terror.” On his own hunt for the Jabberwock, Goldberg interviewed alleged terrorist detainees in a prison operated by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, an anti-Saddam Kurdish group in Iraq’s northern Kurdish area.  Having been permitted to interview the prisoners by the Union’s intelligence service (no conflict of interest there), Goldberg was informed that Saddam Hussein’s own spooks had “joint control, with al-Qaeda operatives, over Ansar al-Islam [a local jihadist group]”; that the Iraqi leader “hosted a senior leader of Al Qaeda in Baghdad in 1992”; that members of Al Qaeda escaping Afghanistan had “been secretly brought into the territory controlled by Ansar al-Islam” and that Iraq’s intelligence service had “smuggled conventional weapons, and possibly even chemical and biological weapons, into Afghanistan.”  And so rests the case for the prosecution.

In March 2003, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting examined 393 on-camera sources who featured in nightly news stories on Iraq across a range of programs – ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News and PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.  Of those 267 were from the United States; of the US official sources, only Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy from Massachusetts, registered his doubts.  Even then, he could hardly be said to be a firebrand contrarian, telling NBC Nightly News that he worried about exit plans, the extent of US troop losses and “how long we’re going to be stationed there”.

Many of these outlets would be the same who obsessed about President Donald Trump’s attacks upon them as peddlers of “fake news” during his time in office.  Trump, drip-fed on conspiracy theories and fictions, knew who he was talking to.

The security propagandists have not done much better.  With pious conviction, the vast security apparatus put in place to monitor threats, the warrantless surveillance regime exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013, and the persistent interventions in the Middle East, have all been seen as beneficial.  “Terrorism of many sots continues domestically and internationally,” claims Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Centre, “but the data is unmistakable that in most cases – and especially in the United States – it is both manageable and not nearly of the scale feared in 2001.”

A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner advance a rather different proposition. “Even if one believes American efforts have made the nation marginally safer, the United States could have achieved far greater improvements in safety and security at far less cost through other means.”

The issue of what is marginal is a point of contention.  Former chiefs of the Department of Homeland Security, a monster created in direct response to the 9/11 attacks, are guarded in their assessments.  Bush’s Secretary Michael Chertoff admits to being “hesitant” in saying “we are safer, or less”.  He prefers focusing on scale.  “We haven’t had an attack of that scale since 9/11, and we’ve also been very good about keeping dangerous people out of the country.”  Alas, domestic threats had emerged, notably on the Right, while jihadi sympathisers lurk.

Janet Napolitano, who occupied the office under the Obama administration, waffles in her reading.  “Are there some things that we’re safer on now than we were on 9/11?  Absolutely.  Are there new risks that have evolved or multiplied or grown since 9/11?  Absolutely.   To put it shortly, on some things, we’re definitely safer.”  Napolitano is up with a jargon that says nothing at all: “risks are not static”; the environment is “constantly changing”. “DHS needs to continue to be agile and to adapt.”

The smorgasbord of modern terrorism, a good deal of it nourished by cataclysmic US-led interventions, is richer than ever.  “We have more terrorists today than we did on 9/11,” Elizabeth Neumann, DHS assistant secretary for counterterrorism during the Trump administration, told a Senate panel last month.  “That’s very sobering, as a counterterrorism person.”  Preparing the grounds for the imminent exit from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden reasoned that keeping US troops in the country as a permanent counter-terrorist force was no longer a tenable proposition.  Terrorism as a threat had “become more dispersed, metastasising around the globe”.  The folly of pursuing the GWOT jabberwock shows no sign of abating.

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Paul Wolfowitz: Deluded and At Liberty

It was all marvellous for Paul Wolfowitz to get on Australian television (why bother?) to brusquely discuss those attacks on US soil in September 2001 and criticism of the invasion of Iraq by US-led forces.  After two decades, the former US deputy secretary of defense has not mellowed.

With each show, interview and podium performance Wolfowitz gives, there is a sense that the hole he has dug for himself has become an oasis of reassuring delusion.  Iraq’s despot Saddam Hussein, executed at the behest of authorities sponsored and propped by the US, gave Wolfowitz an ecstatic excuse to explain the rationale of American power: he was a threat, and worldly threat at that.  In 2003, there was little evidence to suggest that, but neoconservatism has always been a doctrine in search of cartoonish myths.

The fact that Weapons of Mass Destruction featured prominently as the reason for overthrowing Saddam became the necessitous outcome of bureaucratic sensibility: “for reasons that have a lot to do with the US government bureaucracy,” he told Vanity Fair in 2003, “we settled on the one issue everyone could agree on: weapons of mass destruction”.

When those elusive WMDs proved stubbornly elusive, PW shifted his emphasis from security rationales to one of liberation.  Along the way he blamed the “consensus judgment of the intelligence community” for not getting it right in the first place, an assessment verging on the mendacious.

While Saddam Hussein was a high grade butcher and villain to many of his people, it is hard to credit him with the Bond villain, pulp view Wolfowitz gives him.  Evidence chasers such as Ben Bonk at the Central Intelligence Agency were frustrated in being thrown at the fruitless effort to link Saddam to al-Qaeda.  Intelligence operatives were effectively being leaned upon to confect the record and find justifications.

In 2013, Wolfowitz was still insisting on uncertainty as a principle.  “We still don’t know how all of this is going to end.”  He accepted that the decapitation of the Iraqi leadership without an immediate substitute might have been unwise.  The “idea that we’re going to come in like [General Douglas] MacArthur in Japan and write the constitution for them” was erroneous.

That did not matter.  The threat was there and present, growing like a stimulated bacillus.  Depraved and disoriented, he takes the argument that invading Iraq at the time was appropriate because it would have had to happen in any case. Saddam was street store vendor, sponsor and patron of terrorism (he never defines the dimension of this, nor adduces evidence) and needed to be dealt with.  The sword would eventually have to be unsheathed.  “We would very likely either have had to go through this whole scenario all over but probably with higher costs for having delayed, or we’d be in a situation today where not only Iran was edging towards nuclear weapons but so was Iraq and also Libya.”

In 2003, the aptly named Jeffrey Record reflected his surname’s worth by taking a hatchet to the Wolfowitz view in a scathing assessment for the Strategic Studies Institute.  In declaring a global war on terrorism (GWOT), the Bush administration had identified a range of states, weapons of danger, terrorists and terrorism while conflating “them into a monolithic threat, and in so doing has subordinated strategic clarity to the moral clarity it strives for in foreign policy and may have set the United States on a course of open-ended gratuitous conflict with states and nonstate entities that pose no serious threat to the United States.”  Not sloppy, is Record.

He goes on to note, relevantly, the conflation premise: that al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were seen, amateurishly, “as a single, undifferentiated terrorist threat.”  This “strategic error of the first order” ignored “critical differences between the two in character, threat level, and susceptibility to US deterrence and military action” led to “an unnecessary preventive war of choice against a deterred Iraq.  The result: “a new front in the Middle East for Islamic terrorism” and the diversion of “attention and resources away from securing the American homeland against further assault by an undeterrable al-Qaeda.”

The 9/11 Commission Report, despite noting “friendly contacts” between Osama bin Laden and Iraqi officials at various points, similarly found “no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative personal relationship.”  Nor was there “evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.”

Critics suggest incompetence and bungling in the invasion of Iraq.  They exclude venality and calculation.  Wolfowitz, as if anticipating a prosecution in some faraway court, has been busy covering his tracks and pointing the finger at other decision makers further up the greased pole.  The top suspect: current retiree amateur painter President George W. Bush.  “I don’t think I ever met the president alone.  I didn’t meet him very often.  [Secretary of State Colin] Powell had access to him whenever he wanted it.  And if he was so sure it was a mistake why didn’t he say so?”  What a merry band they make.

Wolfowitz, for the defence, always has to play some useful (or useless) idiot card, proffered from the surrounds of the tired lecture circuit or the American Enterprise Institute.  He is ideologically inclined, evidentially challenged, and keen to accept material that confirms his prejudice rather than contradicts it.  When found wanting about his decisions on accepting, for instance, the bargain basement material of Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, he returned to common cultural themes.  “I don’t think anybody in that part of the world was completely straight with us.”

Perhaps, after two decades, it is time to sort the books, order the records and call forth those architects of war who, dismally deluded and acting with criminal intent and incompetence, plunged a good part of the globe into conflict, leaving a legacy that continues to pollute with tenacious determination.  Along the way, we can mourn the dead of 9/11 and all the dead that followed.

The post Paul Wolfowitz: Deluded and At Liberty first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Will Americans Who Were Right on Afghanistan Still Be Ignored?

Protest in Westwood, California 2002. Photo: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

America’s corporate media are ringing with recriminations over the humiliating U.S. military defeat in Afghanistan. But very little of the criticism goes to the root of the problem, which was the original decision to militarily invade and occupy Afghanistan in the first place.

That decision set in motion a cycle of violence and chaos that no subsequent U.S. policy or military strategy could resolve over the next 20 years, in Afghanistan, Iraq or any of the other countries swept up in America’s post-9/11 wars.

While Americans were reeling in shock at the images of airliners crashing into buildings on September 11, 2001, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld held a meeting in an intact part of the Pentagon. Undersecretary Cambone’s notes from that meeting spell out how quickly and blindly U.S. officials prepared to plunge our nation into graveyards of empire in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond.

Cambone wrote that Rumsfeld wanted “…best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. (Saddam Hussein) at same time – not only UBL (Usama Bin Laden)… Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

So within hours of these horrific crimes in the United States, the central question senior U.S. officials were asking was not how to investigate them and hold the perpetrators accountable, but how to use this “Pearl Harbor” moment to justify wars, regime changes and militarism on a global scale.

Three days later, Congress passed a bill authorizing the president to use military force “…against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons…”

In 2016, the Congressional Research Service reported that this Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) had been cited to justify 37 distinct military operations in 14 different countries and at sea. The vast majority of the people killed, maimed or displaced in these operations had nothing to do with the crimes of September 11. Successive administrations have repeatedly ignored the actual wording of the authorization, which only authorized the use of force against those involved in some way in the 9/11 attacks.

The only member of Congress who had the wisdom and courage to vote against the 2001 AUMF was Barbara Lee of Oakland. Lee compared it to the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution and warned her colleagues that it would inevitably be used in the same expansive and illegitimate way. The final words of her floor speech echo presciently through the 20-year-long spiral of violence, chaos and war crimes it unleashed, “As we act, let us not become the evil we deplore.”

In a meeting at Camp David that weekend, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz argued forcefully for an attack on Iraq, even before Afghanistan. Bush insisted Afghanistan must come first, but privately promised Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle that Iraq would be their next target.

In the days after September 11, the U.S. corporate media followed the Bush administration’s lead, and the public heard only rare, isolated voices questioning whether war was the correct response to the crimes committed.

But former Nuremberg war crimes prosecutor Ben Ferencz spoke to NPR (National Public Radio) a week after 9/11, and he explained that attacking Afghanistan was not only unwise and dangerous, but was not a legitimate response to these crimes. NPR’s Katy Clark struggled to understand what he was saying:

Clark: …do you think that the talk of retaliation is not a legitimate response to the death of 5,000 (sic) people?

Ferencz: It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done.

Clark: No one is saying we’re going to punish those who are not responsible.

Ferencz:  We must make a distinction between punishing the guilty and punishing others. If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t believe in what has happened, who don’t approve of what has happened.

Clark:  So you are saying that you see no appropriate role for the military in this.

Ferencz: I wouldn’t say there is no appropriate role, but the role should be consistent with our ideals. We shouldn’t let them kill our principles at the same time they kill our people. And our principles are respect for the rule of law. Not charging in blindly and killing people because we are blinded by our tears and our rage.

The drumbeat of war pervaded the airwaves, twisting 9/11 into a powerful propaganda narrative to whip up the fear of terrorism and justify the march to war. But many Americans shared the reservations of Rep. Barbara Lee and Ben Ferencz, understanding enough of their country’s history to recognize that the 9/11 tragedy was being hijacked by the same military-industrial complex that produced the debacle in Vietnam and keeps reinventing itself generation after generation to support and profit from American wars, coups and militarism.

On September 28, 2001, the Socialist Worker website published statements by 15 writers and activists under the heading, “Why we say no to war and hate.” They included Noam Chomsky, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan and me (Medea). Our statements took aim at the Bush administration’s attacks on civil liberties at home and abroad, as well as its plans for war on Afghanistan.

The late academic and author Chalmers Johnson wrote that 9/11 was not an attack on the United States but “an attack on U.S. foreign policy.” Edward Herman predicted “massive civilian casualties.” Matt Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, wrote that, “For every innocent person Bush kills in this war, five or ten terrorists will arise.” I (Medea) wrote that ”a military response will only create more of the hatred against the U.S. that created this terrorism in the first place.”

Our analysis was correct and our predictions were prescient. We humbly submit that the media and politicians should start listening to the voices of peace and sanity instead of to lying, delusional warmongers.

What leads to catastrophes like the U.S. war in Afghanistan is not the absence of convincing anti-war voices but that our political and media systems routinely marginalize and ignore voices like those of Barbara Lee, Ben Ferencz and ourselves.

That is not because we are wrong and the belligerent voices they listen to are right. They marginalize us precisely because we are right and they are wrong, and because serious, rational debates over war, peace and military spending would jeopardize some of the most powerful and corrupt vested interests that dominate and control U.S. politics on a bipartisan basis.

In every foreign policy crisis, the very existence of our military’s enormous destructive capacity and the myths our leaders promote to justify it converge in an orgy of self-serving interests and political pressures to stoke our fears and pretend that there are military “solutions” for them.

Losing the Vietnam War was a serious reality check on the limits of U.S. military power. As the junior officers who fought in Vietnam rose through the ranks to become America’s military leaders, they acted more cautiously and realistically for the next 20 years. But the end of the Cold War opened the door to an ambitious new generation of warmongers who were determined to capitalize on the U.S. post-Cold War “power dividend“.

Madeleine Albright spoke for this emerging new breed of war-hawks when she confronted General Colin Powell in 1992 with her question, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

As Secretary of State in Clinton’s second term, Albright engineered the first of a series of illegal U.S. invasions to carve out an independent Kosovo from the splintered remains of Yugoslavia. When U.K. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told her his government was “having trouble with our lawyers” over the illegality of the NATO war plan, Albright said they should just “get new lawyers.”

In the 1990s, the neocons and liberal interventionists dismissed and marginalized the idea that non-military, non-coercive approaches can more effectively resolve foreign policy problems without the horrors of war or deadly sanctions. This bipartisan war lobby then exploited the 9/11 attacks to consolidate and expand their control of U.S. foreign policy.

But after spending trillions of dollars and killing millions of people, the abysmal record of U.S. war-making since World War II remains a tragic litany of failure and defeat, even on its own terms. The only wars the United States has won since 1945 have been limited wars to recover small neocolonial outposts in Grenada, Panama and Kuwait.

Every time the United States has expanded its military ambitions to attack or invade larger or more independent countries, the results have been universally catastrophic. So our country’s absurd investment of 66% of discretionary federal spending in destructive weapons, and recruiting and training young Americans to use them, does not make us safer but only encourages our leaders to unleash pointless violence and chaos on our neighbors around the world.

Most of our neighbors have grasped by now that these forces and the dysfunctional U.S. political system that keeps them at its disposal pose a serious threat to peace and to their own aspirations for democracy. Few people in other countries want any part of America’s wars, or its revived Cold War against China and Russia, and these trends are most pronounced among America’s long-time allies in Europe and in its traditional “backyard” in Canada and Latin America.

On October 19, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld addressed B-2 bomber crews at Whiteman AFB in Missouri as they prepared to take off across the world to inflict misdirected vengeance on the long-suffering people of Afghanistan. He told them, “We have two choices. Either we change the way we live, or we must change the way they live. We choose the latter. And you are the ones who will help achieve that goal.”

Now that dropping over 80,000 bombs and missiles on the people of Afghanistan for 20 years has failed to change the way they live, apart from killing hundreds of thousands of them and destroying their homes, we must instead, as Rumsfeld said, change the way we live.

We should start by finally listening to Barbara Lee. First, we should pass her bill to repeal the two post-9/11 AUMFs that launched our 20-year fiasco in Afghanistan and other wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

Then we should  pass her bill to redirect $350 billion per year from the U.S. military budget (roughly a 50% cut) to “increase our diplomatic capacity and for domestic programs that will keep our Nation and our people safer.”

Finally reining in America’s out-of-control militarism would be a wise and appropriate response to its epic defeat in Afghanistan, before the same corrupt interests drag us into even more dangerous wars against more formidable enemies than the Taliban.

 

The post Will Americans Who Were Right on Afghanistan Still Be Ignored? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

US Foreign Policy Adrift: Why Washington is No Longer Calling the Shots

Jonah Goldberg and Michael Ledeen have much in common. They are both writers and also cheerleaders for military interventions and, often, for frivolous wars. Writing in the conservative rag, The National Review, months before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Goldberg paraphrased a statement which he attributed to Ledeen with reference to the interventionist US foreign policy.

“Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business,” Goldberg wrote, quoting Ledeen.

Those like Ledeen, the neoconservative intellectual henchman type, often get away with this kind of provocative rhetoric for various reasons. American intelligentsias, especially those who are close to the center of power in Washington DC, perceive war and military intervention as the foundation and baseline of their foreign policy analysis. The utterances of such statements are usually conveyed within friendly media and intellectual platforms, where equally hawkish, belligerent audiences cheer and laugh at the war-mongering muses. In the case of Ledeen, the receptive audience was the hardline, neoconservative, pro-Israel American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Predictably, AEI was one of the loudest voices urging for a war and invasion of Iraq prior to that calamitous decision by the George W. Bush Administration, which was enacted in March 2003.

Neoconservatism, unlike what the etymology of the name may suggest, was not necessarily confined to conservative political circles. Think tanks, newspapers and media networks that purport – or are perceived – to express liberal and even progressive thought today, like The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN, have dedicated much time and space to promoting an American invasion of Iraq as the first step of a complete US geostrategic military hegemony in the Middle East.

Like the National Review, these media networks also provided unhindered space to so-called neoconservative intellectuals who molded American foreign policy based on some strange mix between their twisted take on ethics and morality and the need for the US to ensure its global dominance throughout the 21st century. Of course, the neocons’ love affair with Israel has served as the common denominator among all individuals affiliated with this intellectual cult.

The main – and inconsequential – difference between Ledeen, for example, and those like Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, is that the former is brazen and blunt, while the latter is delusional and manipulative. For his part, Friedman also supported the Iraq war, but only to bring ‘democracy’ to the Middle East and to fight ‘terrorism’. The pretense ‘war on terror’, though misleading if not outright fabricated, was the overriding American motto in its invasion of Iraq and, earlier, Afghanistan. This mantra was readily utilized whenever Washington needed to ‘pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall’.

Even those who genuinely supported the war based on concocted intelligence – that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, possessed weapons of mass destruction, or the equally fallacious notion that Saddam and Al-Qaeda cooperated in any way – must, by now, realize that the entire American discourse prior to the war had no basis in reality. Unfortunately, war enthusiasts are not a rational bunch. Therefore, neither they, nor their ‘intellectuals’, should be expected to possess the moral integrity in shouldering the responsibility for the Iraq invasion and its horrific consequences.

If, indeed, the US wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan were meant to fight and uproot terror, how is it possible that, in June 2014, an erstwhile unknown group calling itself the ‘Islamic State’ (IS), managed to flourish, occupy and usurp massive swathes of Iraqi and Syrian territories and resource under the watchful eye of the US military? If the other war objective was bringing stability and democracy to the Middle East, why did many years of US ‘state-building’ efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, leave behind nothing but weak, shattered armies and festering corruption?

Two important events have summoned up these thoughts: US President Joe Biden’s ‘historic’ trip to Cornwall, UK, in June, to attend the 47th G7 summit and, two weeks later, the death of Donald Rumsfeld, who is widely depicted as “the architect of the Iraq war”. The tone struck by Biden throughout his G7 meetings is that ‘America is back’, another American coinage similar to the earlier phrase, the ‘great reset’ – meaning that Washington is ready to reclaim its global role that had been betrayed by the chaotic policies of former President Donald Trump.

The newest phrase – ‘America is back’ – appears to suggest that the decision to restore the US’ uncontested global leadership is, more or less, an exclusively American decision. Moreover, the term is not entirely new. In his first speech to a global audience at the Munich Security Conference on February 19, Biden repeated the phrase several times with obvious emphasis.

“America is back. I speak today as President of the United States, at the very start of my administration and I am sending a clear message to the world: America is back,” Biden said, adding that “the transatlantic alliance is back and we are not looking backward, we are looking forward together.”

Platitudes and wishful thinking aside, the US cannot possibly return to a previous geopolitical standing, simply because Biden has made an executive decision to ‘reset’ his country’s traditional relationships with Europe – or anywhere else, either.  Biden’s actual mission is to merely whitewash and restore his country’s tarnished reputation, marred not only by Trump, but also by years of fruitless wars, a crisis of democracy at home and abroad and an impending financial crisis resulting from the US’ mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately for Washington, while it hopes to ‘look forward’ to the future, other countries have already staked claims to parts of the world where the US has been forced to retreat, following two decades of a rudderless strategy that is fueled by the belief that firepower alone is sufficient to keep America aloft forever.

Though Biden was received warmly by his European hosts, Europe is likely to proceed cautiously. The continent’s geostrategic interests do not fall entirely in the American camp, as was once the case. Other new factors and power players have emerged in recent years. China is now the European bloc’s largest trade partner and Biden’s scare tactics warning of Chinese global dominance have not, seemingly, impressed the Europeans as the Americans had hoped. Following Britain’s unceremonious exit from the EU bloc, the latter urgently needs to keep its share of the global economy as large as possible. The limping US economy will hardly make the substantial deficit felt in Europe. Namely, the China-EU relationship is here to stay – and grow.

There is something else that makes the Europeans wary of whatever murky political doctrine Biden is promoting: dangerous American military adventurism.

The US and Europe are the foundation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which, since its inception in 1949, was almost exclusively used by the US to assert its global dominance, first in the Korean Peninsula in 1950, then everywhere else.

Following the September 11 attacks, Washington used its hegemony over NATO to invoke Article 5 of its Charter, that of collective defense. The consequences were dire, as NATO members, along with the US, were embroiled in their longest wars ever, military conflicts that had no consistent strategy, let alone measurable goals. Now, as the US licks its wounds as it leaves Afghanistan, NATO members, too, are leaving the devastated country without a single achievement worth celebrating. Similar scenarios are transpiring in Iraq and Syria, too.

Rumsfeld’s death on June 29, at the age of 88, should serve as a wake-up call to American allies if they truly wish to avoid the pitfalls and recklessness of the past. While much of the US corporate media commemorated the death of a brutish war criminal with amiable non-committal language, some blamed him almost entirely for the Iraq fiasco. It is as if a single man had bent the will of the West-dominated international community to invade, pillage, torture and destroy entire countries. If so, then Rumsfeld’s death should usher in an exciting new dawn of collective peace, prosperity and security. This is not the case.

Rationalizing his decision to leave Afghanistan in a speech to the nation in April 2021, Biden did not accept, on behalf of his country, responsibility over that horrific war. Instead, he spoke of the need to fight the ‘terror threat’ in ‘many places’, instead of keeping ‘thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country’.

Indeed, a close reading of Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan – a process which began under Trump – suggests that the difference between US foreign policy under Biden is only tactically different from the policies of George W. Bush when he launched his ‘preemptive wars’ under the command of Rumsfeld. Namely, though the geopolitical map may have shifted, the US appetite for war remains insatiable.

Shackled with a legacy of unnecessary, fruitless and immoral wars, yet with no actual ‘forward’ strategy, the US, arguably for the first time since the inception of NATO in the aftermath of World War II, has no decipherable foreign policy doctrine. Even if such a doctrine exists, it can only be materialized through alliances whose relationships are constructed on trust and confidence. Despite the EU’s courteous reception of Biden in Cornwall, trust in Washington is at an all-time low.

Even if it is accepted, without any argument, that America is, indeed, back, considering the vastly changing geopolitical spheres in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, Biden’s assertion should, ultimately, make no difference.

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Reminder: The U.S. Gov’t Lies, Manipulates, and Kills Without Remorse

On July 25, 1990, Saddam Hussein entertained a guest at the Presidential Palace in Baghdad: U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie. She told the Iraqi president: “I have direct instructions from President (George H.W.) Bush to improve our relations with Iraq. We have considerable sympathy for your quest for higher oil prices, the immediate cause of your confrontation with Kuwait.” Glaspie then asked, point-blank: “Why are your troops massed so very close to Kuwait’s borders?”

“As you know, for years now I have made every effort to reach a settlement on our dispute with Kuwait,” replied Hussein, deploying his own rendition of wartime spin. “There is to be a meeting in two days; I am prepared to give negotiations only this one more brief chance.”

Eight days later, Iraq invaded Kuwait and provided the Land of the Free™ with the pretext it needed to commence a relentless onslaught in the name of keeping the world safe for petroleum. This brings me to a forgotten anniversary. While August 6, 2021, of course, marks the 76th anniversary of the willful nuking of civilians in Hiroshima by the Home of the Brave™, it also marks 31 years since the U.S. war against Iraq was initially launched. 

For most people — particularly willfully ignorant anti-war activists — the starting date for the war in Iraq is March 19, 2003. However, to accept that date is to put far too much blame on one party and one president. It also invalidates decades of intense suffering. A more accurate and useful starting date is August 6, 1990, when (at the behest of the U.S.) the United Nations Security Council imposed lethal sanctions upon the people of Iraq.

It is widely accepted that these sanctions were responsible for the deaths of at least 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in the mid-90s was Madeleine Albright. In 1996, Leslie Stahl asked her on 60 Minutes if a half-million dead Iraqi children was a price worth paying to pursue American foreign policy. Albright famously replied: “We think the price is worth it.”

Shortly afterward, Albright was named U.S. Secretary of State by noted liberal Democrat hero, Bill Clinton. Killing brown children by the hundreds of thousands, it seems, is a real boost for the resume in God’s Country™.

In the words of the immortal I.F Stone: “Every government is run by liars. Nothing they say should be believed.”

The post Reminder: The U.S. Gov’t Lies, Manipulates, and Kills Without Remorse first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Open Letter to George W. Bush

With the recent passing of your close associate Donald Rumsfield, we felt compelled to share with you our many thoughtful remembrances.  Many of us are also approaching our final years, and have already suffered the first indications of failing memory.  (In public figures of Rumsfeld’s and your high stature, the condition is termed “I do not recall syndrome.”)  Despite your outstanding impact on the state of the world as of 2021, you too, like any other 75-year-old, may already be experiencing the tragic signs of failing memory.  It is in this spirit of helpful remembrance that we write to you, determined to remind you of some of the highlights — notably in your first term — of your astonishing career.

Your carefully chosen collaborators were outstanding — in “enabling” you to realize your dreams regarding “preventive war.”  Does the date of August 26, 2002 ring a bell?  That was the day that your vice-president, armed with a speech that must have been fine-tuned by an army of P. R. geniuses, stood at the podium of the VFW Convention, solemnly declaring — to repeated applause and cheers — that “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction…to use against our friends, against our allies, against us.”  This world-historic speech — packed with unusual facts-and-figures which had been uniquely re-arranged, modified, and interpreted in a highly original way — heralded the end of that halcyon summer.  Fall — the ideal time, according to your P.R. adviser, Andrew Card, to promote a “new product” — had officially begun.  And the product you were selling was War, war against Iraq, war against a sovereign state — its people already beaten down and impoverished by the first Gulf War and the draconian sanctions imposed in its aftermath.

Can you remember that time?  The moment in the Oval House when you made one of those terribly difficult decisions that presidents so often make.  (Did you decide that the people of Iraq had not suffered enough?)  In any event, you proceeded boldly, not to say impudently: soon the media was flooded with your voice, an urgent voice that became almost a chant that went something like this:  “Saddam Hussein!!…Weapons of Mass Destruction!!… Saddam!!…WMD!!”  Several months of this “sales campaign” ensued, climaxed by your order to invade and attack — on March 19 of the following year.

Can you even remember those hapless UN inspectors?  Or the ever-polite, ever-so-cautious Kofi Annan?  Probably not — and certainly Americans can’t.  (By now — and you no doubt confidently expected this — most can barely even remember the War itself!)  Anyway, as you might still recall, by 2002 or so the inspectors were coming up empty; it appeared, notwithstanding your innuendos, that Saddam had indeed complied with the Security Council Resolution 687.  What did you do then?  Was this one of your famous “decision points”?

Your advisors quickly offered an alternate (if wildly far-fetched) “reason” for invading Iraq.  Within the shadow of Israel’s large nuclear arms arsenal, and despite the terrible condition of his nation, Madman Saddam was nonetheless tirelessly at work 24/7 — feverishly building an Atomic Bomb!  In those months of 2003, you spoke with great urgency (if not logic) about the diabolical Saddam — a shadowy mastermind who by then had even eclipsed the devilish Osama bin Laden as the personification of pure evil!

Those few conscious, coolly sceptical Americans dimly recalled that an A-bomb requires a good supply of uranium “yellowcake,” which is refined using powerful centrifuges designed for that purpose.  Maybe you “don’t recall” the rather slipshod, forged sales documents involved.  Ambassador Joe Wilson, dispatched to Niger to confirm the sale, found no such thing, and — remarkably — refused to play along with your charade.  Too bad — and on top of that, the supposed centrifuge-arms Iraq had purchased were actually not designed for that purpose at all.

Are you beginning to remember?  It’s surprising how many elderly people, convinced that “it never happened,” are unpleasantly startled by the return of some (unwelcome) memories.  But we who write to you today are among your biggest admirers.  As a machiavellian, you outrank Machiavelli in history (and in notoriety).  Why try to truthfully educate confused Americans — your employers, if we recall the Constitution — when you could, with breathtaking mauvaise foi, ignite a wildfire of fear, hatred, and bellicose vengefulness?

You focused your heroic call-to-arms especially on young Americans, often out-of-work and looking to serve a Cause they could believe in.  Such young people, who were proud to “serve their country” and follow their president’s call, believed you — and why shouldn’t they have? — when you appealed to their patriotic duty to defend the nation against such an Imminent Threat.  But it’s more than a little sad that thousands later returned to the U.S.– under secrecy and at night — in body-bags.  And tens of thousands, maimed physically and/or emotionally by battlefield trauma, returned to the U.S. as shadows of what they once had been.  Tens of thousands more, depressed and despairing veterans, have already committed suicide — but maybe you overlooked that recent news item on your way to the golf course.

In the latter half of 2004, the Occupation Force — having bombed, ravaged, and vandalized Iraq (again) — nonetheless were unwilling to announce the discovery of any (non-existent) WMDs.  You found this absence of WMDs, as you later told a baffled journalist (Helen Thomas), “disappointing.”  But undaunted even by this, you boldly (shamelessly? insolently?) decided on another term.  One can only marvel, once more, at your reckless daring: once again, strutting your lying, boasting personage in front of the beleaguered electorate, you were re-elected!  And, on top of that, you even proved the sanctified Abraham LIncoln wrong: as you no doubt brilliantly predicted, it turns out that “you can fool (most of) the people all the time.”

Even in these benighted and morally confused times, very, very few persons could have mastered, to such a superlative degree, the fine art of being — a scoundrel.  To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “patriotism is the first resort of a scoundrel.”  After the tragedy of 9/11, you were buoyantly energized in your eagerness for — revenge (no matter how misdirected).  You were, you proudly proclaimed, a “war president.”  Therefore, and in closing, we have formally nominated you to join the exclusive ranks of legendary commanders-in-chief, a truly select company of bold, impetuous conquerors — including Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Julius Caesar, Cesare Borgia, Adolf Hitler, and, last but not least, our hero, George W. Bush!

The post Open Letter to George W. Bush first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Known Knowns of Donald Rumsfeld

“On the morning of September 11, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld ran to the fire at the Pentagon to assist the wounded and ensure the safety of survivors,” expressed a mournful George W. Bush in a statement.  “For the next five years, he was in steady service as a wartime secretary of defense – a duty he carried out with strength, skill, and honor.”

Long before Donald Trump took aim at irritating facts and dissenting eggheads, Donald Rumsfeld, two times defense secretary and key planner behind the invasion of Iraq in 2003, was doing his far from negligible bit. When asked at his confirmation hearing about what worried him most when he went to bed at night, he responded accordingly: intelligence.  “The danger that we can be surprised because of a failure of imagining what might happen in the world.”

Hailing from Chicago, he remained an almost continuous feature of the Republic’s politics for decades, burying himself in the business-government matrix.  He was a Congressman three times.  He marked the Nixon and Ford administrations, respectively serving as head of the Office of Economic Opportunity and Defense Secretary.  At 43, he was the youngest defense secretary appointee in the imperium’s history.

He returned to the role of Pentagon chief in 2001, though not before running the pharmaceutical firm G.D. Searle and making it as a Fortune 500 CEO.  It was under his stewardship that the US Food and Drugs Administration finally approved the controversial artificial sweetener aspartame.  A report by a 1980 FDA Board of Inquiry had claimed that the drug “might induce brain tumors.”  This did not phase Rumsfeld, undeterred by such fanciful notions as evidence.

With Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980, and Rumsfeld’s membership of the transition team, the revolving door could go to work. The new FDA Commissioner, Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., was selected while Rumsfeld remained Searle’s CEO.  When Searle reapplied for approval of aspartame, Hayes, as the new FDA commissioner, appointed a 5-person Scientific Commission to review the 1980 findings.  When it became evident that a 3-2 outcome approving the ban was in the offing, Hayes appointed a sixth person.  The deadlocked vote was broken by Hayes, who favoured aspartame.

In responding to the attacks of September 11, 2001 on US soil, Rumsfeld laid the ground for an assault on inconvenient evidence.  As with aspartame, he was already certain about what he wanted.  Even as smoke filled the corridors of the Pentagon, punctured by the smouldering remains of American Airlines Flight 77, Rumsfeld was already telling the vice-chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff General Richard Myers to find the “best info fast … judge whether good enough [to] hit SH@same time – not only UBL.” (Little effort is needed to work out that SH was Saddam Hussein and UBL Usama/Osama Bin Laden.)

Experts were given a firm trouncing – what would they know?  With Rumsfeld running the Pentagon, the scare mongers and ideologues took the reins, all working on the Weltanschauung summed up at that infamous press conference of February 12, 2002.  When asked if there was any evidence as to whether Iraq had attempted to or was willing to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, given “reports that there is no evidence of a direct link”, Rumsfeld was ready with a tongue twister.  “There are known knowns.  There are things we know we know.  We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.  But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”  This was being frightfully disingenuous, given that the great known for Rumsfeld was the need to attack Iraq.

To that end, he authorised the creation of a unit run by the under-secretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith, known as the Office of Special Plans, to examine intelligence on Iraq’s capabilities independently of the CIA.  Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who served in the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia (NESA) unit a year prior to the invasion, described the OSP’s operations in withering terms.  “They’d take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don’t belong together.”

One of Rumsfeld’s favourite assertions – that Iraq had a viable nuclear weapons program – did not match the findings behind closed doors. “Our knowledge of the Iraqi (nuclear) weapons program,” claimed a report by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “is based largely – perhaps 90% – on analysis of imprecise intelligence.”

None of this derailed the juggernaut: the US was going to war.  Not that Rumsfeld was keen to emphasise his role in it.  “While the president and I had many discussions about the war preparations,” he notes in his memoirs, “I do not recall him ever asking me if I thought going to war with Iraq was the right decision.”

With forces committed to both Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States found itself in the situation Rumsfeld boastfully claimed would never happen.  Of this ruinously bloody fiasco, Rumsfeld was dismissive: “stuff happens.”  Despite such failings, a list of words he forbade staff from using was compiled, among them “quagmire”, “resistance” and “insurgents”.  Rumsfeld, it transpired, had tried regime change on the cheap, hoping that a modest military imprint was all that was necessary. The result: the US found itself in Iraq from March 2003 to December 2011, and then again in 2013 with the rise of Islamic State.  Afghanistan continues to be garrisoned, with the US scheduled to leave a savaged country by September.

Rumsfeld was not merely a foe of facts that might interfere with his policy objective.  Conventions and laws prohibiting torture were also sneered at.  On December 2, 2002, he signed a memorandum from General Counsel William J. Haynes II authorising the use of 20-hour interrogations, stress positions and the use of phobias for Guantanamo Bay detainees.  In hand writing scrawled at the bottom of the document, the secretary reveals why personnel should not be too soft on their quarry, as he would “stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”  The results were predictably awful, and revelations of torture by US troops at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 led him to offer his resignation, which President Bush initially rejected.

By November 2006, military voices had turned against him.  With the insurgency in full swing and Iraq sliding into chaos, the Army Times called for the secretary’s resignation.  “Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised.  And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear the brunt.”  Bush eventually relented.

It is interesting that so little of this was remarked upon during the Trump era, seen as a disturbing diversion from the American project.  When Trump came to office, Democrats and others forgave all that came before, ignoring the manure that enriched the tree of mendacity.  The administration of George W. Bush was rehabilitated.

In reflecting on his documentary on Rumsfeld Errol Morris found himself musing like his protagonist.  “He’s a mystery to me, and in many ways, he remains a mystery to me – except for the possibility that there might not be a mystery.”  The interlocutor had turned into his subject.

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