Bush Lies Uncovered
For those still puzzling over why the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq, two key players offered important, but curiously unnoticed, clues this week.
Statements made by both men confirmed growing suspicions that the Bush administration's drive to war in Iraq had very little, if anything, to do with the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or his alleged ties to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda -- the two main reasons the U.S. Congress and public were given for the invasion.
Separate statements by Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), and U.S. retired Gen Jay Garner, who was in charge of planning and administering post-war reconstruction from January through May 2002, suggest that other, less public motives were behind the war, none of which concerned self-defense, pre-emptive or otherwise.
The statement by Chalabi, on whom the neo-conservative and right-wing hawks in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office are still resting their hopes for a White House-friendly transition to self-rule, will certainly interest congressional committees investigating why the intelligence on WMD before the war was so far off the mark.
In a remarkably frank interview with the British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, Chalabi said he was willing to take full responsibility for the INC's role in providing misleading intelligence to George Bush, Congress and the U.S. public to persuade them that Hussein posed a serious threat to the United States that had to be dealt with urgently.
The Telegraph reported that Chalabi merely shrugged off accusations his group had deliberately misled the administration, saying, ''We are heroes in error.''
"As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful," he told the newspaper. "That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords if he wants."
It was an amazing admission, and certain to fuel growing suspicions on Capitol Hill that Chalabi, whose INC received millions of dollars in taxpayer money over the past decade, effectively conspired with his supporters in and around the administration to take the United States to war on pretenses they knew, or had reason to know, were false.
Indeed, it now appears increasingly clear that defectors handled by the INC were sources for the most spectacular and detailed -- if completely unfounded -- information about Hussein's alleged WMD programs, offered not only to U.S. intelligence agencies, but also to U.S. mainstream media, especially the New York Times, according to a recent report in the New York Review of Books.
Within the administration, Chalabi worked most closely with those who had championed his cause for a decade, particularly neoconservatives close to Cheney and Rumsfeld -- Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith and Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby.
Feith's office was home to the Office of Special Plans (OSP) whose two staff members and dozens of consultants were given the task of reviewing raw intelligence to develop the strongest possible case for war. OSP also worked with the Defense Policy Board (DPB), a hand-picked group of mostly neoconservative hawks, which was chaired until just before the war by Richard Perle, a long-time Chalabi friend.
DPB members, particularly Perle, former CIA director James Woolsey and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, played prominent roles in publicizing reports by INC defectors and other alleged evidence developed by OSP that made Hussein appear as scary as possible.
Chalabi even participated in a secret DPB meeting just a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks in which the main topic of discussion, according to the Wall Street Journal, was finding a way to use 9/11 as a pretext for attacking Iraq.
The OSP and a parallel group under Feith, the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, have become central targets of the congressional investigation, according to aides on Capitol Hill, while unconfirmed rumors circulated here this week that members of the DPB are also under investigation.
The question, of course, is whether the individuals involved were fooled by Chalabi and the INC or whether they were willing collaborators in distorting intelligence.
It appears that Chalabi, whose family has extensive interests in a company that has already been awarded more than $400 million in reconstruction contracts, is signaling his willingness to take all of the blame, or credit, for the faulty intelligence.
But other statements made by Jay Garner this week in an interview with The National Journal suggest that the administration had its own reasons for the war. Asked how long U.S. troops might remain in Iraq, Garner replied, ''I hope they're there a long time," and then compared U.S. goals in Iraq to U.S. military bases in the Philippines between 1898 and 1992.
''One of the most important things we can do right now is start getting basing rights with (the Iraqi authorities)," he said. ''And I think we'll have basing rights in the north and basing rights in the south ... we'd want to keep at least a brigade."
Garner added, ''Look back on the Philippines around the turn of the 20th century: they were a coaling station for the navy, and that allowed us to keep a great presence in the Pacific. That's what Iraq is for the next few decades: our coaling station that gives us great presence in the Middle East."
While U.S. military strategists have hinted for some time that a major goal of war was to establish several bases in Iraq, particularly given the ongoing military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, Garner is the first to state it so baldly. Until now, U.S. military chiefs have suggested they need to retain a military presence just to ensure stability for several years, after which they expect to draw down their forces.
If indeed Garner's understanding represents the thinking of his former bosses, then the ongoing struggle within the administration over ceding control to the United Nations becomes more comprehensible. Ceding too much control, particularly before reaching an agreement establishing military bases will make permanent U.S. bases much less likely.
Jim Lobe writes about U.S. foreign policy for Tom Paine, AlterNet, and Foreign Policy in Focus.