The war between the United States and Iran is on. American taxpayer dollars are being used, with the permission of Congress, to fund activities that result in Iranians being killed and wounded, and Iranian property destroyed. This wanton violation of a nation's sovereignty would not be tolerated if the tables were turned and Americans were being subjected to Iranian-funded covert actions that took the lives of Americans, on American soil, and destroyed American property and livelihood. Many Americans remain unaware of what is transpiring abroad in their name.
Many of those who are cognizant of these activities are supportive of them, an outgrowth of misguided sentiment which holds Iran accountable for a list of grievances used by the U.S. government to justify the ongoing global war on terror. Iran, we are told, is not just a nation pursuing nuclear weapons, but is the largest state sponsor of terror in the world today.
Much of the information behind this is being promulgated by Israel, which has a vested interest in seeing Iran neutralized as a potential threat. But Israel is joined by another source, even more puzzling in terms of its broad-based acceptance in the world of American journalism: the Mujahadeen-e Khalk, or MEK, an Iranian opposition group sworn to overthrow the theocracy in Tehran. The CIA today provides material support to the actions of the MEK inside Iran. The recent spate of explosions in Iran, including a particularly devastating "accident" involving a military convoy transporting ammunition in downtown Tehran, appears to be linked to an MEK operation; its agents working inside munitions manufacturing plants deliberately are committing acts of sabotage which lead to such explosions. If CIA money and planning support are behind these actions, the agency's backing constitutes nothing less than an act of war on the part of the United States against Iran.
The MEK traces its roots back to the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeg. Formed among students and intellectuals, the MEK emerged in the 1960s as a serious threat to the reign of Reza Shah Pahlevi. Facing brutal repression from the Shah's secret police, the SAVAK, the MEK became expert at blending into Iranian society, forming a cellular organizational structure which made it virtually impossible to eradicate. The MEK membership also became adept at gaining access to positions of sensitivity and authority. When the Shah was overthrown in 1978, the MEK played a major role and for a while worked hand in glove with the Islamic Revolution in crafting a post-Shah Iran. In 1979 the MEK had a central role in orchestrating the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and holding 55 Americans hostage for 444 days.
However, relations between the MEK and the Islamic regime in Tehran soured, and after the MEK staged a bloody coup attempt in 1981, all ties were severed and the two sides engaged in a violent civil war. Revolutionary Guard members who were active at that time have acknowledged how difficult it was to fight the MEK. In the end, massive acts of arbitrary arrest, torture and executions were required to break the back of mainstream MEK activity in Iran, although even the Revolutionary Guard today admits the MEK remains active and is virtually impossible to completely eradicate.
It is this stubborn ability to survive and operate inside Iran, at a time when no other intelligence service can establish and maintain a meaningful agent network there, which makes the MEK such an asset to nations such as the United States and Israel. The MEK is able to provide some useful intelligence; however, its overall value as an intelligence resource is negatively impacted by the fact that it is the sole source of human intelligence in Iran. As such, the group has taken to exaggerating and fabricating reports to serve its own political agenda. In this way, there is little to differentiate the MEK from another Middle Eastern expatriate opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress, or INC, which infamously supplied inaccurate intelligence to the United States and other governments and helped influence the U.S. decision to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. Today, the MEK sees itself in a similar role, providing sole-sourced intelligence to the United States and Israel in an effort to facilitate American military operations against Iran and, eventually, to overthrow the Islamic regime in Tehran.
The current situation concerning the MEK would be laughable if it were not for the violent reality of that organization's activities. Upon its arrival in Iraq in 1986, the group was placed under the control of Saddam Hussein's Mukhabarat, or intelligence service. The MEK was a heavily militarized organization and in 1988 participated in division-size military operations against Iran. The organization represents no state and can be found on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations, yet since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the MEK has been under the protection of the U.S. military. Its fighters are even given "protected status" under the Geneva Conventions. The MEK says its members in Iraq are refugees, not terrorists. And yet one would be hard-pressed to find why the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees should confer refugee status on an active paramilitary organization that uses "refugee camps" inside Iraq as its bases.
The MEK is behind much of the intelligence being used by the International Atomic Energy Agency in building its case that Iran may be pursuing (or did in fact pursue in the past) a nuclear weapons program. The complexity of the MEK-CIA relationship was recently underscored by the agency's acquisition of a laptop computer allegedly containing numerous secret documents pertaining to an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Much has been made about this computer and its contents. The United States has led the charge against Iran within international diplomatic circles, citing the laptop information as the primary source proving Iran's ongoing involvement in clandestine nuclear weapons activity. Of course, the information on the computer, being derived from questionable sources (i.e., the MEK and the CIA, both sworn enemies of Iran) is controversial and its veracity is questioned by many, including me.
Now, I have a simple solution to the issue of the laptop computer: Give it the UNSCOM treatment. Assemble a team of CIA, FBI and Defense Department forensic computer analysts and probe the computer, byte by byte. Construct a chronological record of how and when the data on the computer were assembled. Check the "logic" of the data, making sure everything fits together in a manner consistent with the computer's stated function and use. Tell us when the computer was turned on and logged into and how it was used. Then, with this complex usage template constructed, overlay the various themes which have been derived from the computer's contents, pertaining to projects, studies and other activities of interest. One should be able to rapidly ascertain whether or not the computer is truly a key piece of intelligence pertaining to Iran's nuclear programs.
The fact that this computer is acknowledged as coming from the MEK and the fact that a proper forensic investigation would probably demonstrate the fabricated nature of the data contained are why the U.S. government will never agree to such an investigation being done. A prosecutor, when making a case of criminal action, must lay out evidence in a simple, direct manner, allowing not only the judge and jury to see it but also the accused. If the evidence is as strong as the prosecutor maintains, it is usually bad news for the defendant. However, if the defendant is able to demonstrate inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the data being presented, then the prosecution is the one in trouble. And if the defense is able to demonstrate that the entire case is built upon fabricated evidence, the case is generally thrown out. This, in short, is what should be done with the IAEA's ongoing probe into allegations that Iran has pursued nuclear weapons. The evidence used by the IAEA is unable to withstand even the most rudimentary cross-examination. It is speculative at best, and most probably fabricated. Iran has done the right thing in refusing to legitimize this illegitimate source of information.
A key question that must be asked is why, then, does the IAEA continue to permit Olli Heinonen, the agency's Finnish deputy director for safeguards and the IAEA official responsible for the ongoing technical inspections in Iran, to wage his one-man campaign on behalf of the United States, Britain and (indirectly) Israel regarding allegations derived from sources of such questionable veracity (the MEK-supplied laptop computer)? Moreover, why is such an official given free rein to discuss such sensitive data with the press, or with politically motivated outside agencies, in a manner that results in questionable allegations appearing in the public arena as unquestioned fact? Under normal circumstances, leaks of the sort that have occurred regarding the ongoing investigation into Iran's alleged past studies on nuclear weapons would be subjected to a thorough investigation to determine the source and to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to end them. And yet, in Vienna, Heinonen's repeated transgressions are treated as a giant "non-event," the 800-pound gorilla in the room that everyone pretends isn't really there.
Heinonen has become the pro-war yin to the anti-confrontation yang of his boss, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. Every time ElBaradei releases the results of the IAEA probe of Iran, pointing out that the IAEA can find no evidence of any past or present nuclear weapons program, and that there is a full understanding of Iran's controversial centrifuge-based enrichment program, Heinonen throws a monkey wrench into the works. Well-publicized briefings are given to IAEA-based diplomats. Mysteriously, leaks from undisclosed sources occur. Heinonen's Finnish nationality serves as a flimsy cover for neutrality that long ago disappeared. He is no longer serving in the role as unbiased inspector, but rather a front for the active pursuit of an American- and Israeli-inspired disinformation campaign designed to keep alive the flimsy allegations of a nonexistent Iranian nuclear weapons program in order to justify the continued warlike stance taken by the U.S. and Israel against Iran.
The fact that the IAEA is being used as a front to pursue this blatantly anti-Iranian propaganda is a disservice to an organization with a mission of vital world importance. The interjection of not only the unverified (and unverifiable) MEK laptop computer data, side by side with a newly placed emphasis on a document relating to the forming of uranium metal into hemispheres of the kind useful in a nuclear weapon, is an amateurish manipulation of data to achieve a preordained outcome. Calling the Iranian possession of the aforementioned document "alarming," Heinonen (and the media) skipped past the history of the document, which, of course, has been well explained by Iran previously as something the Pakistani nuclear proliferator A.Q. Khan inserted on his own volition to a delivery of documentation pertaining to centrifuges. Far from being a "top-secret" document protected by Iran's security services, it was discarded in a file of old material that Iran provided to the IAEA inspectors. When the IAEA found the document, Iran allowed it to be fully examined by the inspectors, and answered every question posed by the IAEA about how the document came to be in Iran. For Heinonen to call the document "alarming," at this late stage in the game, is not only irresponsible but factually inaccurate, given the definition of the word. The Iranian document in question is neither a cause for alarm, seeing as it is not a source for any "sudden fear brought on by the sense of danger," nor does it provide any "warning of existing or approaching danger," unless one is speaking of the danger of military action on the part of the United States derived from Heinonen's unfortunate actions and choice of words.
Olli Heinonen might as well become a salaried member of the Bush administration, since he is operating in lock step with the U.S. government's objective of painting Iran as a threat worthy of military action. Shortly after Heinonen's alarmist briefing in March 2008, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, emerged to announce, "As today's briefing showed us, there are strong reasons to suspect that Iran was working covertly and deceitfully, at least until recently, to build a bomb." Heinonen's briefing provided nothing of the sort, being derived from an irrelevant document and a laptop computer of questionable provenance. But that did not matter to Schulte, who noted that "Iran has refused to explain or even acknowledge past work on weaponization." Schulte did not bother to note that it would be difficult for Iran to explain or acknowledge that which it has not done. "This is particularly troubling," Schulte went on, "when combined with Iran's determined effort to master the technology to enrich uranium." Why is this so troubling? Because, as Schulte noted, "Uranium enrichment is not necessary for Iran's civil program but it is necessary to produce the fissile material that could be weaponized into a bomb."
This, of course, is the crux of the issue: Iran's ongoing enrichment program. Not because it is illegal; Iran is permitted to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes under Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Not again because Iran's centrifuge program is operating in an undeclared, unmonitored fashion; the IAEA had stated it has a full understanding of the scope and work of the Iranian centrifuge enrichment program and that all associated nuclear material is accounted for and safeguarded. The problem has never been, and will never be, Iran's enrichment program. The problem is American policy objectives of regime change in Iran, pushed by a combination of American desires for global hegemony and an activist Israeli agenda which seeks regional security, in perpetuity, through military and economic supremacy. The specter of nuclear enrichment is simply a vehicle for facilitating the larger policy objectives. Olli Heinonen, and those who support and sustain his work, must be aware of the larger geopolitical context of his actions, which makes them all the more puzzling and contemptible.
A major culprit in this entire sordid affair is the mainstream media. Displaying an almost uncanny inability to connect the dots, the editors who run America's largest newspapers, and the producers who put together America's biggest television news programs, have collectively facilitated the most simplistic, inane and factually unfounded story lines coming out of the Bush White House. The most recent fairy tale was one of "diplomacy," on the part of one William Burns, the No. 3 diplomat in the State Department.
I have studied the minutes of meetings involving John McCloy, an American official who served numerous administrations, Democratic and Republican alike, in the decades following the end of the Second World War. His diplomacy with the Soviets, conducted with senior Soviet negotiator Valerein Zorin and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev himself, was real, genuine, direct and designed to resolve differences. The transcripts of the diplomacy conducted between Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho to bring an end to the Vietnam conflict is likewise a study in the give and take required to achieve the status of real diplomacy.
Sending a relatively obscure official like Burns to "observe" a meeting between the European Union and Iran, with instructions not to interact, not to initiate, not to discuss, cannot under any circumstances be construed as diplomacy. Any student of diplomatic history could tell you this. And yet the esteemed editors and news producers used the term diplomacy, without challenge or clarification, to describe Burns' mission to Geneva on July 19. The decision to send him there was hailed as a "significant concession" on the part of the Bush administration, a step away from war and an indication of a new desire within the White House to resolve the Iranian impasse through diplomacy. How this was going to happen with a diplomat hobbled and muzzled to the degree Burns was apparently skipped the attention of these writers and their bosses. Diplomacy, America was told, was the new policy option of choice for the Bush administration.
Of course, the Geneva talks produced nothing. The United States had made sure Europe, through its foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, had no maneuvering room when it came to the core issue of uranium enrichment: Iran must suspend all enrichment before any movement could be made on any other issue. Furthermore, the American-backed program of investigation concerning the MEK-supplied laptop computer further poisoned the diplomatic waters. Iran, predictably, refused to suspend its enrichment program, and rejected the Heinonen-led investigation into nuclear weaponization, refusing to cooperate further with the IAEA on that matter, noting that it fell outside the scope of the IAEA's mandate in Iran.
Condoleezza Rice was quick to respond. After a debriefing from Burns, who flew to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where Rice was holding closed-door meetings with the foreign ministers of six Arab nations on the issue of Iran, Rice told the media that Iran "was not serious" about resolving the standoff. Having played the diplomacy card, Rice moved on with the real agenda: If Iran did not fully cooperate with the international community (i.e., suspend its enrichment program), then it would face a new round of economic sanctions and undisclosed punitive measures, both unilaterally on the part of the United States and Europe, as well as in the form of even broader sanctions from the United Nations Security Council (although it is doubtful that Russia and China would go along with such a plan).
The issue of unilateral U.S. sanctions is most worrisome. Both the House of Representatives, through HR 362, and the Senate, through SR 580, are preparing legislation that would call for an air, ground and sea blockade of Iran. Back in October 1962, President John F. Kennedy, when considering the imposition of a naval blockade against Cuba in response to the presence of Soviet missiles in that nation, opined that "a blockade is a major military operation, too. It's an act of war." Which, of course, it is. The false diplomacy waged by the White House in Geneva simply pre-empted any congressional call for a diplomatic outreach. Now the president can move on with the mission of facilitating a larger war with Iran by legitimizing yet another act of aggression.
One day, in the not-so-distant future, Americans will awake to the reality that American military forces are engaged in a shooting war with Iran. Many will scratch their heads and wonder, "How did that happen?" The answer is simple: We all let it happen. We are at war with Iran right now. We just don't have the moral courage to admit it.
"I think the questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged the president. I think not only those of us in the White House press corps did that, but others in the rest of the landscape of the media did that. The right questions were asked. I think there's a lot of critics -- and I guess we can count Scott McClellan as one -- who think that, if we did not debate the president, debate the policy in our role as journalists, if we did not stand up and say, 'This is bogus,' and 'You're a liar,' and 'Why are you doing this?' that we didn't do our job. And I respectfully disagree. It's not our role."
That was NBC correspondent David Gregory, appearing on MSNBC's "Hardball With Chris Matthews." He was responding to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's new book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception." McClellan has challenged the role of the U.S. media in investigating and reporting U.S. policy in times of conflict, especially when it comes to covering the government itself.
As a critic of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, especially when unsubstantiated allegations of weapons of mass destruction are used to sell a war, I am no stranger to the concept of questioning authority, especially in times of war. I am from the Teddy Roosevelt school of American citizenship, adhering to the principle that "to announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but it is morally treasonable to the American public."
Some may point out that Roosevelt made that statement in criticism of Woodrow Wilson's foot dragging when it came to getting America into World War I, and that it is odd for one opposed to American involvement in Iraq to quote a former president who so enthusiastically embraced military intervention. But principle can cut both ways on any given issue. The principle inherent in the concept of the moral responsibility of the American people to question their leadership at all times, but especially when matters of war are at stake, is as valid for the pro as it is the con.
The validity of this principle is not judged on the level of militancy of the presidential action in question, but rather its viability as judged by the values and ideals of the American people. While the diversity of the United States dictates that there will be a divergence of consensus when it comes to individual values and ideals, the collective ought to agree that the foundation upon which all American values and ideals should be judged is the U.S. Constitution, setting forth as it does a framework of law which unites us all. To hold the Constitution up as a basis upon which to criticize the actions of any given president is perhaps the most patriotic act an American can engage in. As Theodore Roosevelt himself noted, "No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we ask him to obey it."
Now David Gregory, and others who populate that curious slice of Americana known as "the media," may hold that they, as journalists, operate on a different level than the average American citizen. As Mr. Gregory notes, it is not their "role" to question or debate policy set forth by the president. This is curious, coming from a leading member of a news team that prides itself on the "investigative" quality of its reporting. If we take Gregory at face value, it seems his only job (or "role") is to simply parrot the policy formulations put forward by administration officials, that the integrity of journalism precludes the reporter from taking sides, and that any aggressive questioning concerning the veracity, or morality, or legality of any given policy would, in its own right, constitute opposition to said policy, and as such would be "taking sides."
This, of course, is journalism in its most puritanical form, the ideal that the reporter simply reports, and keeps his or her personal opinion segregated from the "facts" as they are being presented. While it would be a farcical stretch for David Gregory, or any other mainstream reporter or correspondent, to realistically claim ownership of such a noble mantle, it appears that is exactly what Gregory did when he set forth the parameters of what his "role" was, and is, in reporting on stories such as the issue of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the Bush administration's case for war. For this to be valid, however, the issue of journalistic integrity would need to apply not only to the individual reporter or correspondent, but also to the entire system to which the given reporter or correspondent belonged. In the case of Gregory, therefore, we must not only bring into the mix his own individual performance, but also that of NBC News and its parent organization, General Electric.
As a weapons inspector, I was very much driven by what the facts said, not what the rhetoric implied. I maintain this standard to this day in assessing and evaluating American policy in the Middle East. It was the core approach which governed my own personal questioning of the Bush administration's case for confronting Iraq in the lead-up to the war in 2002 and 2003. I am saddened at the vindication of my position in the aftermath of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, not because of what I did, but rather what the transcripts of every media interview I conducted at the time demonstrates: The media were not interested in reporting the facts, but rather furthering a fiction. Time after time, I backed my opposition to the Bush administration's "case" for war on Iraq with hard facts, citing evidence that could be readily checked by these erstwhile journalists had they been so inclined. Instead, my integrity and character were impugned by these simple recorders of "fact", further enabling the fiction pushed by the administration into the mainstream, unchallenged and unquestioned, to be digested by the American public as truth.
Scott McClellan is correct to point out the complicity of the media in facilitating the rush to war. David Gregory is disingenuous in his denial that this was indeed the case. Jeff Cohen, a former producer at MSNBC, has written about the pressures placed on him and Phil Donahue leading to the cancellation of the latter's top-rated television show just before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Katie Couric, the former co-host of NBC's "Today Show" (and current news anchor for CBS News), has tacitly acknowledged "pressure" from above when it came to framing interviews in a manner that was detrimental to the Bush administration's case for war. Jessica Yellin, who before the war in Iraq worked for MSNBC, put it best: "I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning," she told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president's high approval ratings."
Now, one would think that a journalist with the self-proclaimed integrity of Gregory would jump at the opportunity to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and focus on this story line, if for no other reason than to prove it wrong and thereby clear his name (guilty by association, at the very least) and the name of the organization he represents. The matter is simple, on the surface: NBC network executives either did, or didn't, pressure their producers and reporters when it came to covering and framing stories. Surely an investigative reporter of Gregory's talent can get to the bottom of this one?
While Gregory certainly does not need help from someone of such humble journalistic credentials as myself, perhaps my experience as a former weapons inspector in tracking down the lies and inconsistencies of the Iraqi government could be of some assistance. The first thing I would do is to frame the scope of the problem. The issue of Iraq as a target worthy of war really didn't hit the mainstream until the summer of 2002, so I would start there. I would be interested in defining the potential sources of "pressure" that could be placed on NBC as an organization when it came to reporting on Iraq.
We do know, courtesy of the Pentagon, that throughout the summer and fall of 2002, NBC News, via its Pentagon bureau chief and other contacts, worked closely with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs, on the issue of media access in any potential future conflict with Iraq. We also know that these meetings were an outgrowth of a meeting held on Sept. 28, 2001, when the Pentagon and bureau chiefs, including representatives from NBC News, discussed how to balance the needs of the media to do their job while protecting national security and the safety of military personnel. The issue of embedding media personnel with the military was raised, with the Pentagon emphasizing that "security at the source" was the principle means for which to ensure no security breach occurred. This meant that if journalists were so embedded, they would have to be responsible about what they reported.
This concept of self-censorship is not a new one, nor is it particularly controversial. Ernie Pyle and Joe Rosenthal, two famous journalists from World War II, were able to establish stellar reputations while operating under the conditions of wartime censorship. So were thousands of other journalists, in several wars. In this manner, journalists covering D-Day knew of the invasion long before the American public, or even members of Congress. Were they bad journalists for not reporting what they knew beforehand? Were their parent organizations corrupted by agreeing to censorship as a prerequisite for access? The answer in both cases is clearly "no."
However, in the interest of establishing a foundation of fact upon which to further any investigation into the possibility of pressure being exerted on NBC reporters and/or correspondents covering a war between the United States and Iraq, an intrepid investigator would want access to documents and records from those early meetings between the Pentagon and NBC News. What were the specific terms spelled out in those meetings? What derivative internal documents were generated inside NBC News, and its corporate master, General Electric, based upon those meetings, and what did those documents discuss? Unlike the situation faced by journalists during World War II, America and Iraq were not yet at war, so did NBC News establish policies on how to balance the operational security needs of the military while reporting on a war which, in the summer and fall of 2002, the Bush administration said wasn't being planned?
Formal planning for "Operation Iraqi Liberation" (only later renamed "Operation Iraqi Freedom") commenced early on in 2002. The U.S. Army began working on a public affairs plan early in 2002 and, in June of that year, briefed U.S. Central Command on a concept for large-scale media embedding for ground forces. U.S. Central Command expanded the Army's plan to include the other services, and by September 2002 had prepared a draft public affairs annex to the overall war plan. Formal public affairs planning for U.S. Central Command was initiated in October 2002, when a planning cell was established. In its first meeting, from Oct. 2-7, the Pentagon reviewed past media operations in time of war, and recommended a break with the past practice of a media pool, and instead suggested a formal embedded media program. These and other media-related issues were consolidated into Annex F (Public Affairs) of the formal "Operation Iraqi Liberation" war plan. It is curious that the Pentagon acknowledges a formal war plan in existence at a time when senior Bush administration officials were telling members of Congress that there were no plans to attack Iraq and that the Bush administration was focusing its efforts on diplomacy.
The embedded media program was formally endorsed by the Pentagon in November 2002. On Nov. 14, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, together with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a message to all military commanders discussing public affairs, and in particular the embedded media program. In it, Rumsfeld addressed how potential future operations [i.e., war with Iraq] could shape public perception of the national security environment, and recognized the need to facilitate access to national and international media to "tell the factual story -- good or bad -- before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions as they most certainly will continue to do. Our people in the field need to tell the story."
When did NBC News become aware of this Rumsfeld memo? Were there any reactions to the concept of embedded journalists being targeted by the military as being facilitators for disseminating a pro-Pentagon point of view? The Pentagon states that while no formal meetings about draft public affairs annex content were conducted with bureau chiefs, "informal discussions were held with some key individuals in the media, who provided input for consideration." The Pentagon also acknowledges that changes to the public affairs annex were made "based on a bureau chief's recommendation." Was NBC News part of the "informal discussions" with the Pentagon? Did NBC News provide any recommendations to the Pentagon's public affairs office based on such meetings? If so, what were the recommendations, who made them, and how was this staffed within the NBC/GE corporate structure?
These are important questions, since balancing the need to maintain secrecy of potential military operations would appear to conflict with any effort undertaken by NBC News to probe Bush administration claims on not only the justification for confronting Iraq, but whether or not there was any plan to attack Iraq to begin with. How did NBC News compartmentalize its knowledge of the Bush administration's plans to attack Iraq? Was there any crossover in terms of management? Did the same personnel who managed Pentagon relations also manage the reporters whose task it was to press the Bush administration on the veracity of its case for war against Iraq? Did such crossover ever manifest itself in a case of conflict of interest? What is the documentary record of internal discussions within NBC in this regard? Were any policies established on the control of information that touched upon sensitive military activities?
It might appear as if I am on a fishing expedition, so to speak, probing for documents for which there is no evidence that they even exist. Again, I'll do my best to help focus David Gregory on his investigation. Much has been made of the fact that parent company GE makes a great deal of money from the machinery of war. It is useful, however, to examine a specific case, an instance where the news operation, the corporate parent and the military were all too intertwined.
In November 2002, the Pentagon established formal rules that specifically forbade any journalist to "self-embed" with a given military unit, noting that all requests for embedding would be handled via the Pentagon's public affairs office. At the same time, in Kuwait, the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division brigade and battalion commanders were experimenting with embedding journalists during short (three to five days) training exercises. The 2nd Brigade Combat Team in particular pushed the embedding concept, getting journalists embedded at the battalion level. From this experience, the 2nd Brigade was able to establish embedding tactics, techniques and procedures that worked for both the media and the commanders. According to the U.S. Army, "The embeds realized they needed to work with their equipment and develop procedures for filing reports. They identified problems with the durability of their equipment and its ability to withstand the elements and a need for power sources for extended periods."
One of these embeds was NBC News correspondent David Bloom. It should be noted that Bloom tragically died while covering the Iraq war. Bloom was a rising star at NBC, with an eye for a developing story. "Early on," NBC News President Neal Shapiro said shortly after Bloom's death, "he said, 'I want a piece of this war.' " Shapiro isn't specific about the date Bloom made that statement, but since Bloom was dispatched to Kuwait in November 2002, we can assume it was on or about that time. Bloom was one of the embeds who worked closely with the U.S. Army during that time, developing the "tactics, techniques and procedures" for embedded media. In December 2002, Bloom called NBC News from Kuwait, where he had just covered the largest U.S. military live-fire exercise since the first Gulf War. Bloom told his NBC News bosses that he had been given permission to embed with the 3rd Infantry Division, even though official Pentagon policy in place at the time specifically forbade any such action. Bloom already exhibited a familiarity with the war plans of the 3rd Infantry Division, bragging that they were the "tip of the spear." Not only would Bloom and his cameraman be able to ride with the 3rd Infantry Division, they would be able to broadcast live while doing so. Clearly, Bloom and his 3rd Infantry Division colleagues had perfected their embed "tactics, techniques and procedures."
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team had offered Bloom the use of a large M-88A1 tank recovery vehicle. Bloom had worked with the Army to mount a camera and a mobile satellite transmission unit on the M-88. The images taken from the camera would be sent back, while the M-88 was traveling at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, to a radically modified Ford F-450 SuperDuty truck that carried specialized satellite communication equipment built by Maritime Telecommunications Network, and a gyro-stabilizing transmission dish mounted underneath a protective dome on the rear body. This truck would trail the leading elements of the 3rd Infantry's spearhead at distances of up to two miles. The M-88 carrying Bloom broadcast microwave signals back to the Ford F-450 truck, which in turn transmitted these signals via satellite uplink back to NBC News headquarters.
Bloom was able to provide the specifications of his idea to his NBC bosses, and in just 40 days, engineers from Maritime Telecommunications Network and NBC were able to modify a Ford F-450 to not only withstand the rigors of the Iraqi desert, but also to accommodate the electronics and satellite dish. Four weeks before the start of the war, the vehicle was tested, only to have the signal drop every time the vehicle turned. The engineers worked frantically to fix the problem, and the modified F-450, nicknamed the "Bloommobile," was airlifted to Kuwait, arriving just days before the start of the invasion.
The cost of the Bloommobile has not been formally revealed, but is thought to run into seven figures. This vehicle would never have been made without the support of GE, which underwrote the cost of its construction. GE also fronted for NBC in negotiating special clearances with the Pentagon and State Department on exceptions to policy and import-export control. The Pentagon's official policy while the Bloommobile was being built was for embeds to ride in vehicles provided by their respective unit, and that the media were not to provide their own transportation. Clearly, the Bloommobile represented a stark exception to that rule.
Keep in mind that the entire time GE/NBC was investing millions of dollars into building the Bloommobile so they could get crystal-clear live video transmitted from the "tip of the spear," the Bush administration was playing coy on the subject of war with Iraq. With GE/NBC News so heavily invested in exploiting a war, was there any pressure placed on NBC reporters/correspondents concerning how they dealt with the Bush administration's case for war? It is a fair question, and one that could best be dealt with through an examination of the internal GE/NBC documents concerning the Bloommobile. Who in GE/NBC served as the project manager for the Bloommobile? Certainly Bloom, the brain trust, was away in Kuwait. Who oversaw the project back in the United States? What did the Bloommobile cost? What was the internal debate within GE/NBC concerning the merits/faults of the Bloommobile? An organization like GE/NBC does not allocate millions of dollars on a whim. There had to be some sort of oversight that was documented. Who in GE/NBC fronted for the Bloommobile with the U.S. government? What is the record of communication between GE/NBC and the U.S. government concerning the vehicle? Did GE/NBC have to provide the U.S. government with any guarantees concerning the use of the Bloommobile?
In investing in the vehicle, GE/NBC News was investing in the war. There are quid pro quo arrangements made every day, and the link between the U.S. government granting NBC News so many exceptions in the creation and fielding of the Bloommobile, and the crackdown within the GE-controlled NBC/MSNBC family on anti-war and anti-administration sentiment, cannot be dismissed as simply circumstantial. But a review of the available documents would clarify this issue.
David Gregory has vociferously defended the role he and NBC News played in the lead-up to the Iraq war. Scott McClellan's new book, combined with testimony from other sources, including those from within the NBC News family, has called into question the integrity of the operation Gregory serves. An allegation from a credible source has been made, and any denial must therefore be backed with verifiable, documented information. To paraphrase former Secretary of State Colin Powell when talking about Iraq before the invasion, the burden is on NBC to prove that it wasn't complicit with the Bush administration concerning its reporting on Iraq and administration policies, and not on NBC's critics to prove that it was.
The old proverb notes that "a fish stinks from its head," something that aptly describes the GE/NBC News team when discussing the issue of Iraq. I challenge David Gregory to demonstrate otherwise.
It has become a mantra of sorts among the faltering Republican candidates: Victory is at hand in Iraq. Mitt Romney, in particular, has taken to so openly embracing the "success" of the U.S. troop "surge" that it has become the centerpiece of his litany of attacks on the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton.
"Think of what's happened this year," Romney recently implored a crowd in Iowa. "General [David] Petraeus came in to report to Congress and Hillary Clinton said she couldn't believe him. She said she just couldn't believe General Petraeus. Now think about that. He's been proven to be right. He should be on the cover, by the way, of Time magazine, and not Putin."
Clinton, for her part, has stood her ground. Addressing a crowd of voters in Iowa, she took a swipe back at Romney: "We all know the Republican candidates are just plain wrong when they declare mission accomplished about the troop surge." She went on to note that U.S. casualty figures in Iraq for 2007 were at an all-time high, and that for all of the positive reports concerning the surge, Iraq remains a nation on the verge of a civil war, no closer today to a political solution than it was before the escalation. She promised that, if nominated, "I will not hesitate to go toe to toe with Republicans in the debates to end the war as quickly and responsibly as possible."
Therein lies the catch. How does Clinton explain her commitment to quick and responsible withdrawal in the context of the short-term reduction of violence in Iraq achieved by the surge? How does she propose to rectify the admitted internal shortcomings inside Iraq, which she likens to near-civil war conditions, with her pledge for a "responsible" withdrawal? If one takes at face value the alleged successes of the surge, it is difficult to justify the embrace of an alternative policy option. Likewise, if one chooses to criticize the surge as all smoke and mirrors, as Clinton has, and yet argues for a quick and responsible end to the war in Iraq without revealing the details of how this would be accomplished, the rhetoric comes across as remarkably shallow.
I'm not one inclined to speak out in support of Hillary Clinton. She made her bed with Iraq, and she should now be forced to sleep in it. However, she is right that nothing the surge has accomplished so far remotely approaches a solution to these enormously destabilizing realities: a largely disaffected Sunni population which finds the current Shiite-dominated government of Iraq fundamentally unacceptable; a decisively fractured Shiite population torn between an Iranian-dominated government on the one hand (controlled by the political proxies of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI, itself an Iranian proxy) or an indigenous firebrand, Muqtada al-Sadr; and a false paradise in Kurdistan, where the dream of an independent Kurdish homeland corrupts a viable Kurdish autonomy and threatens regional instability by provoking Turkish military intervention.
"Quickly and responsibly"? The problem with Clinton is that when it comes to Iraq, she is as shallow as the next candidate, and once one gets past her flowery rhetoric and protestations of expertise, it becomes crystal clear that she, like almost everyone else in the presidential race from either party, hasn't a clue about what is really happening on the ground in Iraq.
There are, in fact, five Iraqs that must be dealt with by a singular American policy. The first is the Iraq of the Green Zone, and by that I mean the Iraqi government brought about by the "purple finger revolution" of January 2005. Those sham elections produced a sham democracy which lacks any viability outside of the never-never land of the U.S.-controlled Green Zone. This lack of centralized authority has led some, like Sen. Joe Biden and the U.S. Senate, to advocate the division of Iraq into three de facto states, one Sunni, one Shiite and one Kurdish, lumped together in a loose federation overseen by a weak central authority.
Given that the 2005 elections were designed to prevent this very sort of Iraqi breakup to begin with, one can begin to understand the fallacy of any policy that contradicts the very foundation upon which it is built. But this sort of behavior defines the entire Iraq fiasco, one contradiction built upon another, until there has been woven a web of contradictions from which no clarity can ever be found. That, in a sentence, is the reality of the current Iraqi government. It is almost as if by design the Bush administration has cobbled together a wreck incapable of governance. How does Hillary Clinton propose to deal "quickly and responsibly" with such a mess?
The second Iraq is the one being managed from Tehran. This Iraq, stretching from Basra in the south up into Baghdad, exists outside of the reach of the compromised disaster that is the current government of Iraq, and is instead dominated by SCIRI and its military wing, the Badr Brigade. Here one finds the unvarnished reality of the dream of the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiites, those who reached political maturity festering in the anti-Saddam ideology cooked up in the theocracy of Iran.
Given the roots of this political movement, bred and paid for by the reactionary mullahs of Iran, the politics of revenge that it embraces should come as no surprise. However, whereas the mullahs in Tehran seek long-term political stability guaranteed by a friendly, compliant government in Baghdad, the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiites seem more focused on rapidly reversing decades of inequities, real and perceived. Revenge is not a policy that breeds stability, and yet it is the politics of revenge that dominates the mind-set of SCIRI.
Serving as a major domestic counterweight to SCIRI is the indigenous grass-roots Iraqi Shiite movement controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr, the third Iraq. Possessing similar geographic reach as SCIRI, the Iraq of the "Mahdi Army" is one which rejects the SCIRI proxy government operating out of the Green Zone as but a tool of the American occupation, and the SCIRI movement itself as a tool of Iran. While maintaining close relations with Tehran, al-Sadr mocks those who would govern in south Iraq as having Farsi, vice Arabic, as their first tongue.
The movement headed by al-Sadr bases its credibility on its pure Iraqi roots, derived as it is from the Shiites of Iraq who actually lived under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Surprisingly, these Shiites are more inclined to find common cause with their fellow Iraqis, including Sunnis who are disaffected with the current government, than with their SCIRI co-religionists. While much has been made of the Sunni-Shiite divide, the fact is that one of the most serious threats to stability in Iraq is the emerging Shiite-versus-Shiite conflict between al-Sadr and SCIRI.
The fourth Iraq is the Iraq of the Sunni. The first three years of the American occupation were dominated by violence emanating from the Sunni heartland as those elements loyal to Saddam, and those opposed to Shiite domination, worked together to make the American occupation, and any affiliated post-Saddam government derived from the occupation, a failure. To this extent, elements of the Sunni of Iraq, drawn primarily from the intelligence services of the Hussein regime, facilitated the creation and operation of al-Qaida in Iraq. The work of this Iraqi al-Qaida has been successful in destabilizing the country to the point that the United States has been compelled to fund, equip and train Sunni militias in an effort to confront al-Qaida, as well as to make up for the real shortfalls of the central Iraqi government when it comes to security and stability in the Sunni areas. The newfound relationship between the Sunni and the United States, especially in Anbar province, is cited as a major factor in the success of the surge.
The fifth Iraq is that of the Kurds. Long hailed as a poster child of stability and prosperity, the fundamental problems inherent in post-Saddam Kurdistan are coming to a head. The inherent incompatibility between the "sanctuary" created by the United States through the northern "no-fly zone" and post-Saddam Iraq is more evident today than ever. The Kurds, pleased with their status as a "special case" in the eyes of the Bush administration, have made no honest effort to assimilate into a centralized system of government. Furthermore, the false dream of an independent Kurdish homeland has not only poisoned relations with the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad (witness the conflict over oil deals in Kurdistan and the Iraqi national oil law), but also between the U.S. and its NATO ally, Turkey.
The Iraqi Kurds' ongoing support of Kurdish nationalist groups in Turkey and Iran has led to increased instability, the most current manifestation of which are the ongoing cross-border attacks into Iraqi territory by the Turkish military. And, given the high level of emotion attached to matters pertaining to Kurdish nationalism, the likelihood of the situation de-escalating anytime soon is remote.
Five Iraqs, and one Iraq policy ill-suited to the reality of any single situation, yet alone the whole. The success of the surge is pure fantasy, a fancy bit of illusion that would do David Copperfield proud, but not the people of Iraq or the United States. The surge addresses events in Iraq based upon short-term objectives (i.e., reducing the immediate level of violence) without resolving any of the deep-seated, long-term issues that promote the violence to begin with. It is like placing a Band-Aid on a gaping chest wound.
The pink, frothy blood may not be visible on the surface, but the wound remains as grave as ever, and because it is not being directly attended to, it only gets worse. Eventually the lungs will collapse and the body will die. This is the reality of Iraq today. Thanks to the surge, we do not see the horrific wound that is Iraq for what it truly is. As such, our policies do nothing to cure the problem, and in doing nothing, only make the matter worse.
History will show that this period of relative "calm" we attribute to the surge is but the pause before the storm. Hillary Clinton is correct to label the surge a failed strategy. But her motivation for doing so rests more with her desire to position herself politically on the domestic front than it is a reflection of a thoughtful Iraq policy. So long as American politicians, regardless of political affiliation, seek to solve the problem of Iraq from a domestic political perspective, then the problem that is Iraq will never be resolved, either "quickly" or "responsibly." Iraq is an unpopular war. There are, therefore, no "popular" solutions, only realistic ones.
The five-dimensional problem embodied in post-Saddam Iraq cannot be bundled up into a neat package. America, and its leaders, must do the right thing in Iraq, not for Iraq, but for America, even when doing so requires making some tough decisions. Narrow the problem set from five dimensions to two, and the problem becomes more manageable. For my money, I choose working with the Sunnis and al-Sadr to create a viable coalition, and then cutting a deal with Iran that trades off better relations in exchange for encouraging the current failed Iraqi government to step aside in favor of new elections. And the Kurds? Autonomy or nothing.
My loyalty is first and foremost to the United States, and when we look at the situation in Iraq from a genuine national security perspective, there is no threat worthy of the continued sacrifice being asked of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. As such, the only policy option worthy of consideration is that which brings our troops home as expeditiously as possible. Politicians who embrace a different policy are simply using the sacrifice of our service members as a shield behind which to hide their ignorance of Iraqi issues, and their personal cowardice, which manifests itself any time brave young men and women are allowed to die in order to preserve someone's political viability.
As we in the United States celebrate this holiday season, let us not forget those who serve overseas in uniform, and the sacrifices they make in our name. And as we approach the coming election season, let us never forget those politicians who would have these sacrifices continue in order to safeguard their individual political fortune. This applies to all who seek the nomination for the office of the presidency, even those like Hillary Clinton who claim to embrace an anti-war position but whose words and actions strongly suggest something else.
Karl Rove, interchangeably known as "Boy Genius" or "Turd Blossom," has left the White House. The press conference announcing his decision to resign has been given front-page treatment by most major media outlets, but the fact of the matter is the buzz surrounding Rove's departure is much ado about nothing, especially in terms of coming to grips with the remaining 16 months of the worst presidency in the history of the United States.
Rove is a domestic political marauder, the personification of a conservative movement which lacks a moral compass and has a complete disregard for facts. The master of exploiting mainstream America's predilection for news-as-entertainment, under which the likes of Rupert Murdoch can manufacture headlines out of thin air, Rove helped turn "fair and balanced" into a national joke which everyone laughs at but few actually comprehend.
Rove served as the maestro of a political-smear orchestra composed of such intellectually challenged muckrakers as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, manipulating the NASCAR/professional wrestling crowd's addiction to seedy gossip in an effort to maintain the all-important 51 percent majority needed to win elections.
Perhaps if the Democratic Party had possessed a semblance of organization and cohesion (not to mention a post-Clinton message that could be sold to a majority of America), then Rove would be but a footnote in history, known simply as the man who helped the worst governor in the history of Texas get elected. Even the self-destructive campaign run by Al Gore in 2000, in which he distanced himself from a sitting president who, despite all of his faults, would have defeated Bush in a landslide if the Constitution permitted a third term, was enough to deny Rove his beloved 51 percent -- it was Gore, not Bush, who won the majority of votes in that contest. It took a Republican governor of Florida, backed by a compliant Supreme Court, to put George W. Bush into the White House, not any genius on the part of Rove.
"Bush's Brain" may claim that it was his careful manipulation of fiction over fact that carried the 2004 election, in which the term "Swift-boating" became synonymous with political character assassination, but it was the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq which sank the Democratic Party and its candidate for president, John Kerry.
It is very difficult to unseat a president in a time of war, especially when so many Democrats voted in favor of the concept, first by buying into every post-9/11 policy put forward by the Bush administration (find me one Democrat who actually read the Patriot Act in its entirety before it was voted into law) and second by rubber-stamping the lies that led to Bush's decision to invade Iraq in March 2003. Remember, it was Kerry's inarticulate defense of his decision to vote in favor of granting war powers to the president that sank his election hopes, not his Vietnam War record.
Certainly, Karl Rove played a significant behind-the-scenes role in supporting Bush's war policies. The perjury trial of "Scooter" Libby forced the collective of deaf, dumb and blind pseudo-journalists who populate what is known as the mainstream media in America to recognize how pathetically duplicitous and petty the Bush administration could get when it came to defending the policies propping up the so-called Global War on Terror and the awful tragedy of Iraq. Rove's fingerprints were all over the decision by Vice President Dick Cheney to leak CIA officer Valerie Plame's name to the media in an effort to thwart the truth-telling of her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson.
But that is about as deep as Rove's involvement in the two issues that will define the presidency of George W. Bush gets. While Rove might be the "genius" behind the kind of winner-takes-all dirty politics that won the Republicans a majority in Texas (and brought down the likes of Tom "The Hammer" DeLay), he was way out of his depth when it came to the reality of national security policy. Unlike unsubstantiated rumors of wrongdoing which can stain a political opponent's record for the brief moment needed to gain political advantage, regardless of what the actual truth is, the never-ending flow of dead American service members from a war based on a foundation of lies cannot be overlooked indefinitely, even by the most subservient of media outlets.
Try as Rove and his political operatives might, one cannot forever suppress the images of flag-draped caskets, row upon row of white grave markers sprouting up in cemeteries across America, or the thousands of wounded veterans left to rot in hospitals, forgotten by an administration that, with few exceptions, never knew war and used the military as an electioneering prop. Eventually, those patriotic Americans who were fooled into believing there was actually some coherent planning behind the global conflict Bush had dispatched their youths to fight and die in were bound to get wise. Rove never had the depth needed to navigate such serious waters.
Being the Brain of the most vapid, intellectually shallow president ever creates an apt epitaph for Rove's tenure at the White House. The Bush administration has never won accolades for its substance. Its best frontman, Colin Powell, self-destructed in front of the U.N. Security Council in February 2003. Powell's nemesis, Donald Rumsfeld, followed suit shortly thereafter, unable to coherently explain where Saddam Hussein had hidden all those WMD we went to war for, and ultimately telling the average foot soldier to pound sand when it came to the lack of adequate equipment needed to fight and survive in occupied Iraq.
Bush's singular appeal has been the impression of steadfastness in the eye of the storm, even if the storm is for the most part self-created. For this we must look not to "Bush's Brain," but instead peer deep into the dark recesses of the White House, where we can glimpse the awful "soul" of the president -- Dick Cheney.
The vice president is the single greatest threat to American and international security in the world today. Not Osama Bin Laden. Not the ghost of Saddam Hussein. Not Ahmadinejad or Kim Jung Il. Not al-Qaida, the Taliban, or Jose Padilla himself. Not even George W. Bush can lay claim to this title. It is Dick Cheney's alone. Operating in a never-never land of constitutional ambiguity which exists between the office of the president and the Congress of the United States, Cheney's office has made its impact felt on the policies of the United States of America as had no vice president's office before him. Granted unprecedented oversight over national security and foreign policy by executive order in early 2001, many months prior to the terror attacks of 9/11, Cheney has single-handedly steered America away from being a nation among nations (albeit superior), operating (roughly) in accordance with the rule of law, and toward its present manifestation as the new Rome, a decadent imperial power bent on global domination whatever the cost.
The absolute worst of the rot that has infected America because of the policies and actions of the Bush administration has originated from the office of the vice president. The nonsensical response to the terror attacks of 9/11, seeking a "global war" versus defending the rule of law at home and abroad, taking the lead in spreading the lies that got us involved in Iraq, legitimizing torture as a tool of American jurisprudence, advocating for warrantless wiretappings of U.S.-based communications (regardless of what the Fourth Amendment says against illegal search and seizure), and pushing for an expansion of America's global conflict into Iran--all can be traced back to the person of Cheney as the point of origin.
America today is very much engaged in a life-or-death struggle against the forces of evil. The enemy resides not abroad, however, but at home, vested in the highest offices of the land. Neither Osama Bin Laden nor Saddam Hussein threatened the life blood of the United States--the Constitution--to the extent that Cheney has. Not Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Ho Chi Minh. Not since the American Civil War has there been a constitutional crisis of the magnitude that exists today, threatening to rip the very fabric of American society apart at the seams, courtesy of Dick Cheney.
That Congress today remains relatively mute on this crisis is one of the great mysteries of our time. Perhaps the vagaries of national politics can be blamed. The Democratic majority in Congress appears to have ceded its leadership role to unelected presidential candidates who seem solely empowered to comment on current events, domestic or foreign, and who, out of fear of any misstep which could hurt their chances to seize the White House as their own, refuse to actually take a substantive stand against the policies of the Bush administration. In an effort that is curiously Rovian in the quest for electoral victory, the Democratic candidates (with a few notable exceptions) have been less than bold in their opposition to the heinous policies that are currently in place concerning Iraq, Iran, the war on terror, torture and constitutional violations--unless you count empty rhetoric.
In many ways, the leading Democrats, both those running for office and those currently holding office, are a far greater insult to American values than the conservative standard-bearers for the policies of Cheney. No one of substance takes seriously the manic ranting of the Hannity/Limbaugh/Coulter triad. These Democrats, on the other hand, have mastered the art of compromise to the point that they stand for nothing at all--this at a time in American history when the policies of the administration, derived from the dark abyss of Bush's soul, Cheney, provide the most concrete example of what we as Americans should be standing against.
The Democrats need to stand for something. Cheney has provided the sort of political ammunition that would enable them to fight, and win, a constitutional battle over the heart of America, the kind of defining struggle which I believe the vast majority of Americans would rally around. Unless the Democrats start separating themselves from the policies of the Bush administration, and take an active role in outing and suppressing the true evil that is Dick Cheney, all they will achieve in the coming years is a change in the titular political orientation of America, without the kind of deep-seated break from the failures and crimes of the past six-plus years that have taken our nation, and the world, right up to the edge of chaos.
"Bush's Brain" may be gone, but his "Soul" lives on. It is high time all of America put Dick Cheney fully in the spotlight of collective accountability, purging our nation of this scourge which has harmed us in so many ways. If there is any case for impeachment to be made against any member of the Bush administration today, it can be made against a vice president who has shamed our nation, destroyed our moral standing and broken our laws.
Editor's note: this article has been corrected.
In October 1986 what was supposed to be merely a preliminary meeting between the leaders of the world's two superpowers, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, turned into a historic summit that brought humankind to the brink of total nuclear disarmament. While the Reykjavik, Iceland, summit broke up without this dramatic disarmament threshold being crossed (the Americans and Soviets had reached a contingent agreement to eliminate all nuclear ballistic missiles within 10 years, but the deal fell apart when the United States insisted on being able to deploy its Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense system (SDI, or better known as "Star Wars").
While the world missed an opportunity to walk away from the nuclear abyss altogether, the meeting was not completely for naught. Little more than a year later, from the foundation of trust and respect forged in Reykjavik, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, completely eliminating two entire classes of nuclear missiles (intermediate and short range) and putting into play stringent on-site inspection verification protocols that forever transformed the way in which the world would view arms control and disarmament.
I remember those days well. As an officer in the Marine Corps, I was a member of the original team assigned to the newly created On-Site Inspection Agency, tasked with implementing the INF treaty. In June of 1988, a scant six months after the ink had dried on the INF Treaty document, I had the honor of participating in the first-ever inspection carried out under the INF Treaty as a member of the advance party dispatched to a Soviet missile production facility outside the city of Votkinsk. For the next two years I helped forge a new chapter in arms control history, overseeing the installation of a monitoring facility outside the gates of a factory that had produced SS-12 and SS-20 intermediate-range missiles, and was still producing the modern road-mobile SS-25 intercontinental missile.
In addition to making sure that the Soviets lived up to their end of the bargain (the Soviets had a similar monitoring operation at work in Magna, Utah, where U.S. Pershing II missiles had been produced), our operation in Votkinsk and elsewhere helped facilitate a deeper, broader understanding between two superpowers who had, prior to the INF Treaty, been plotting the destruction of one another. Comprehension of a shared system of human values and ideals tore down barriers of distrust and ignorance of the Cold War era. The INF Treaty led to even greater disarmament initiatives, namely the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), where deep cuts were made in the long-range arsenals of both the United States and the Soviet Union (and, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia and the other nuclear-armed republics).
When President George W. Bush, in June 2001, looked into the eyes of Russian President Vladimir Putin and got "a sense of his (Putin's) soul," he should have looked deeper. Although the two world leaders got along quite well on a personal level, their initial meeting was strained by Russian concerns over the expansion of NATO and continuing U.S. efforts to develop a missile defense shield. The signing of the "Treaty of Moscow" in June 2003 likewise should have been a landmark date in President Bush's growing understanding of what makes the Russian leader tick. While President Bush spoke of an agreement "founded on mutual respect and a common commitment to a more secure world," the critical areas of Russian concern (again, the expansion of NATO and the U.S. missile defense system) were addressed only in the theoretical, with there being a distinct need for the United States to deliver demonstrable steps that would reassure the Russians (and Putin) that the United States boded no ill towards their nation.
Today, Putin's "soul" is dark indeed. Having expended considerable political capital in reaching out to Bush in hopes of genuinely improving the relations between Russia and the United States, Putin has not only failed to generate any viable movement in reaching agreements of substance, but has watched Russia's security position be whittled away by American "unilateralism." From the very start of the Putin-Bush relationship, the Russians had strongly cautioned against such unilateral tendencies. The American withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the expansion of NATO up to the borders of Russia in 2004 all severely tested the Russian leader's patience and credibility. The strong-handed U.S.-led approach toward confronting Iran in 2005-2006 strained the U.S.-Russian relationship to the breaking point. But it was the announcement by the United States in October 2006 that it would construct a major missile defense base in either Poland or the Czech Republic that apparently pushed the Russians over the edge.
Putin had tolerated the Bush administration's decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, noting that while it wasn't a sound decision, it was one which in his mind posed no direct threat to Russia. But his temerity in the face of American unilateralism and NATO expansion had left him in a precarious position in Moscow. The new U.S. initiative represents everything the Russians had feared: the United States marching inexorably toward the complete nullification of Russia as a world power. This American-centric approach was unacceptable to the inner circles of Russian leadership. Awash in a growing sea of oil revenue, the Russians had for some time been quietly rebuilding their once vast military industrial infrastructure. A few years ago the Russians successfully tested a new road-mobile ICBM, the SS-27 M "Topol," which incorporated performance features designed to defeat the U.S. missile defense system's operational parameters. Now, with the United States poised to construct a missile defense umbrella over an expanded NATO membership that laps at the very borders of Mother Russia, Putin has had enough.
Earlier this month, in a speech before the Munich Security Conference, Putin condemned America's drive toward the creation of what he termed a "uni-polar world." In such a world, Putin argued, the United States sought the creation of "one single center of power, one single center of force and one single master." He went on to note that "... the United States has overstepped its borders in all spheres -- economic, political and humanitarian, and has imposed itself on other states," and that this represented a "disaster." Most observers brushed off Putin's strong remarks as being unconstructive, with few fearing anything more than strong language coming from the Russians. But this time the Russian reaction appears to go well beyond simple rhetoric. Invoking the same rational employed by the United States when it withdrew from the ABM Treaty, the Russian defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, recently called the INF Treaty a "relic of the Cold War," while the chief of the Russian general staff, Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, stated that it would be in Russian interests to withdraw from the INF Treaty altogether.
Any Russian withdrawal from the INF Treaty would be a disaster for Europe, NATO, global security and, something members of Congress and the American public should note, the United States. From its very inception, missile defense has been played up by American unilateralists as the "cure all" for genuine security, being cited again and again as the proper response to the ballistic missile threats of Russia, China, Iraq, Iran and North Korea. The reality is much different. Missile Defense has always had a Maginot Line-like quality to it, the technologies encompassed always being decades old before they can be fielded. Since intercepting a missile is much more difficult than launching one, the technology implementation cycle for delivery systems is always tighter than for interception systems, meaning that a missile defense system will never be able to catch up to the threat, especially if the threat is derived from a power such as Russia. If Russia withdraws from the INF Treaty, the United States and NATO will soon be confronted by entirely new generations of advanced short- and intermediate-range missiles which will once again place the cities of Europe beneath an umbrella of potential nuclear holocaust.
I once had the opportunity to serve my country, and the world, by helping eliminate a class of nuclear weapons that destabilized the security of America, the former Soviet Union and all of Europe. The precedent set, both in terms of disarmament and verifiable arms control agreements, set the stage for conventional forces reductions, the elimination of WMD in Iraq, and the expansion of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, among others. Thanks to the policies of the Bush administration, these advances are about to be completely eliminated in the name of American unilateralism. One of the greatest lessons to be learned from the ground-breaking disarmament agreement that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed nearly 20 years ago was that we lived in a multilateral world, where multilateral problems required multilateral solutions.
While the INF Treaty was a bilateral agreement, it established a precedent for far-reaching multilateral disarmament agreements involving the entire world. In this day and age of global terror, if there ever was a need for the kind of security mechanisms represented by the INF Treaty, it is now. Far from being a "relic of the Cold War," the INF Treaty represents the very foundation of a new world order funded on the principles of verifiable multilateral security. If the Bush administration continues to pursue its reckless policies of unilateral security, and if Russia follows up on its threat to withdraw from the INF Treaty, then the world will be a much more dangerous place for us all.
With the dramatic victory of the Democratic Party in the recent mid-term elections, winning as it did a majority in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, there appear to be heightened expectations in many corners of the United States that this new Congress will be able to somehow act on the expectations of the American people and help President Bush chart a new policy course in Iraq. The resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, together with the appointment of the former CIA Director Bob Gates, represents a transition from ideology to pragmatism in a Defense Department torn apart by the ongoing debacle in Iraq. Mr. Gates not only represents a break from the Rumsfeldian past, but also brings with him his recent participation in the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan committee tasked with exploring new policy directions for the United States in Iraq.
The political astuteness of the decision by President Bush to replace Rumsfeld with Gates has escaped notice by many Democrats, who seem inclined simply to gloat over the demise of their archenemy. However, removing Rumsfeld not only eliminated an all-too convenient lightening rod for democratic angst over Bush's Iraq policies, but also, by putting Gates up in his stead, bought the Bush administration much needed political breathing room, as Gate's cannot be held accountable for policy failures he had nothing to do with either formulating or implementing. Indeed, given the fact that the Democrats have as of yet failed to articulate anything that remotely resembles a sound policy option regarding Iraq, instead falling back on the age-old tradition of criticizing without offering a solution of their own, a Gates controlled Defense Department will be almost untouchable from an oversight perspective, especially if Gates chooses to act on any of the policy options the Baker-led Iraq Study Group may recommend to the President.
It is imperative that the Democratic Party stake out a position on Iraq before the Iraq Study Group publicly announces its findings and recommendations.
This would enable the Democrats to enter into their mandated tasks of policy oversight from a position of strength, and not the exceptionally weak position they currently occupy. The American people, in voting in the Democrats, let their frustration over the current policy direction in Iraq manifest itself in real change. Lacking any policy option of their own, the Democratic Party could very well find itself in a position where it will have to accept any policy formulation put forward by the Iraq Study Group simply because it has nothing in its stead to offer. Any opposition to a change in policy direction put forward by the Iraq Study Group, regardless of justification, without a sound alternative to be articulated, will look more like political grandstanding than constitutionally mandated oversight, and will be frowned upon by an American electorate with such high hopes and demands.
What could a Democratic Iraq Strategy look like? Perhaps we should start from a position of what it should not look like. There is much talk about the wisdom of recognizing the inevitable, and accept that post-Saddam Iraq, as had been the case with the former Yugoslavia, is incapable of surviving as a unified nation state, and should be broken down into three basic sub-states, one for the Shi'a Arab majority, one for the Sunni Arab minority, and one for the Kurds. While this simplistic vision has its attractions (indeed, there are a number of esteemed American statesmen, Peter Galbraith, the former US Ambassador to Croatia, among them, who embrace such a concept, especially for the Kurds), it is in fact a plan totally devoid of reality. If the goal of breaking Iraq into three separate components is to reduce the likelihood of civil conflict, the fact is that in doing so the end result will be an environment even more conducive to internal strife that manifests itself violently.
The fact of the matter is that in Iraq today there is no homogeneous Shi'a, Sunni or Kurd community to draw upon in forming these theoretical ethnic/religious sub-states. The only one of the three which comes close to having a singular unifying national vision are the Kurds, and they are fatally split between competing political entities, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Peoples Union of Kurdistan (PUK). As recently as 1997 these two parties were engaged in an all-out civil war of their own, and the truce they have been pressured to consummate in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam is tenuous at best. The growing presence of a third Kurdish entity, the Turkish Kurdish Worker's Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq, brings with it the reality that America's NATO ally, Turkey, will never permit an independent Kurdish state to be carved out of Iraq (something the Turkish military has made quite clear to all parties involved). The fractures between Iraq's Kurds are so great, and their hold on unified governance so fragile, that any pressure brought to bear on the tenuous union between the KDP and PUK would result in its immediate dissolution and return to internecine violence, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.
The Sunni represent a growing quandary for the United States and the region. Once the bedrock foundation of secular stability in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, the Sunni of Iraq today represent the single greatest threat to Iraqi peace and security, and regional stability, due in part to their near-total disenfranchisement since the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003. Where once the Ba'ath Party reigned supreme, the Sunni's of Iraq today find their minority status even further reinforced by the reality that their community has been fractured into numerous entities which increasingly are as much at odds with themselves as they are with the Kurds and Shi'a of Iraq. From this internal discord has grown a vigorous Al-Qaeda-based terror organization.
Initially fostered by secular Sunni seeking to exploit the instability in Iraq brought on by terrorism to undermine the American occupation of Iraq (a tactic which has worked extremely well), the instability fueled by terror also weakened the ability of the secular Sunni to contain the vehemently anti-western Al-Qaeda, who have benefited from their close proximity to Saudi Arabia and the birth place of both Wahabism and Osama Bin Laden. Universal opposition to the American occupation of Iraq, fueled by examples of torture, rape and murder that have emerged as a direct result of this occupation, have provided the Al-Qaeda organization inside Iraq with no shortage of recruits, both foreign and indigenous.
The cornerstone of any American policy in Iraq must be the defeat of this Iraqi Al-Qaeda terror organization. The key to achieving this result is to manufacture a split between any Iraqi Al-Qaeda and their Sunni hosts. As a Sunni-based religious fundamentalist movement, Iraqi Al-Qaeda will never be able to establish itself within the Shi'a majority. The Sunni host is the only chance such an organization has to survive. Therefore, it is essential that the Sunni community of Iraq be brought into any political solution in a manner that addresses their legitimate concerns as well as rewards them for their decision to be a responsible part of a unified post-Saddam Iraq. The Sunni, in exchange for helping bring down Al-Qaeda in Iraq and agreeing to peacefully coexist with their Shi'a and Kurdish neighbors, should be given assurances that they will have a viable place in any future government of Iraq, one inclusive of a share of Iraq's oil wealth.
There are two keys to making this happen. The first requires the United States to help orchestrate a coalition of Iraq's Sunni-dominated neighbors in Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia. These three nations would agree to work with any new Iraqi Government to strangle the financial and personnel support being received from abroad by the Iraqi Al-Qaeda. Saudi Arabia would play a particularly vital role, since it provides host to the very Wahabist influences that serve as the religious and ideological motivators of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The role of Syria also cannot be understated. Syria has provided host to the very secular Iraqi Sunnis the United States needs to turn to if a viable solution to the question of peace and stability in Iraq is to be found. Many of these secular Iraqi Sunni's are today engaged in helping foment and support the anti-American insurgency. By seeking Syrian assistance in reaching an accommodation with these forces, the United States can initiate the process of separating Iraqi Al-Qaeda from their Sunni hosts. The secular Sunni can provide an effective bridge into the ranks of the Sunni tribes, where the reign of the local Sheik more than often outweighs the influence of the local Mullah.
Identifying, isolating and eliminating those Sunni religious elements which refuse to work within the framework of a unified Iraqi government operating in a post-US occupation Iraq, and instead choose to side with the forces of Al-Qaeda terror, is a job that only the Sunni themselves can accomplish. The goal of the United States should be to facilitate this as rapidly as possible. That this will require a new policy direction vis-ÃƒÂ -vis Syria goes without saying, and needs to be recognized and embraced by those in the Democratic Party seeking an end to the current Iraqi quagmire.
The next key is for a political alliance to be struck between a Sunni alliance of tribal, religious and secular (i.e., former Ba'athist) officials and organizations and the most influential indigenous Shi'a group in Iraq today, the Mahdi Army of the Mokhtar al-Sadr. If the United States wants the future government of Iraq to reflect genuine internal dynamics of that country free from outside influence, then it must seek to empower those elements that are truly reflective of the will of the Iraqi people. Recognition (and active support) of a union that brings together the nationalistic Sunni insurgency (versus Al-Qaeda terrorism) and the nationalistic Mahdi Army is the best way to empower the internal voice of Iraq. A Sunni-Shi'a union of this nature would also enable a strong central government in Baghdad to realistically exist, and exert its influence and control over the Kurds in the north, the pro-Iranian militias of the south, and the anarchy that exists in the Sunni Anbar province of western Iraq.
It also means that the United States must turn its back on the government in helped create. The United States must, in the end, break with its failed policy of attempted imposed democracy, and declare the illegitimate by-product of the union of American neo-conservative militaristic adventure and post-Saddam Iraqi chaos, also known as the Government headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, null and void. This government has no legitimacy, no power, and no chance of success. To continue to hold the future of Iraq hostage to its ineffective and corrupt governance only makes an eventual solution to the quagmire that engulfs Iraq that much more uncertain and difficult to achieve.
The elections of January 2005 which spawned the Maliki government were paid for with the blood and sacrifice of hundreds of American service members, not to mention thousands of Iraqis, and there will be those who will seek to hold on to this vestige of a failed dream if for no other reason than to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in attempting to bring the dream to fruition.
But to grasp at the memory of a noble mission, whether it was in Falluja, Najaf, Samara, Baghdad or anywhere else in Iraq, while the overarching policy position in Iraq has fragmented into a thousand disparate pieces, does nothing to sustain the sacrifice of the fallen. In fact, by maintaining a policy direction that fails to recognize the reality of Iraq for the sole purpose of respecting those who have fallen only ensures that their sacrifice will be stained with the blood of others who will die in support of a dream long since mutated into a nightmare.
The Iraqi experiment in American-imposed democracy has failed. The new mission is, simply put, stability operations.
The government of Nouri al-Maliki represents the antithesis of stability, and therefore must be dissolved so that a new government can rule in its place.
The removal of Nouri al-Maliki can be achieved with little or no problems, if handled properly. First and foremost there must be recognition on the part of Washington, DC that the United States will not have any veto or final say over what form the system of governance that emerges in the post-Maliki period takes. In order to have any legitimacy, the future government of Iraq must be a product of Iraqi politicians, representative of Iraqi goals and objectives. The United States has a critical role to play in facilitating the circumstances under which these interested parties can come together, and later in nurturing and sustaining whatever agreement on governance is reached, but the day of the US pro-Consul is over.
The Sunni-Shi'a alliance would not, and could not, be expected to govern in isolation. The two remaining key political players outside of such an alliance, the pro-Iranian Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, and the Kurds of northern Iraq, would have to be brought in as well. But any effort to incorporate these two elements into a future government of Iraqi unity must be made in concert with a substantive diplomatic effort on the part of the United States to rein in the outside influence of Iran in the affairs of Iraq on the one hand, and any notions of independence on the part of the Kurds on the other. Both of these objectives can be reached, but will require a major shift in policy direction on the part of the United States.
The most dramatic shift would involve a complete strategic rethinking of America's posture vis-ÃƒÂ -vis Iran. As currently structured, the US policy toward Iran is one of increasing confrontation leading to the inevitability of conflict that will, from the standpoint of the United States, result in regime change in Iran. This policy stance is more reflective of an overarching ideologically motivated position that embraces the notion of regional transformation in the Middle East, as opposed to a genuine reaction to any legitimate national security concerns emanating from within Iran. If we are considering a radical restructuring of our failed Iraq policy, then we must recognize the failure of the ideologically motivated policy of regional transformation, inclusive of the notion of regime change, which produced this failure.
Iran is not the problem; America's policy is.
Iran represents the best hope the United States has of creating a viable unified Iraqi government that is capable of instilling peace and stability. And it is in Iran's own interest to promote such a government. The current Iranian support of SCIRI and other pro-Iranian elements inside Iraq is borne from a desire on the part of Iran to ensure that whatever government emerges in Iraq does not embrace policies which create conditions that would put Iraq on course for a repeat of the tensions which led to the bloody Iran-Iraq War of the 1980's. Iran views the American occupation of Iraq as a horrific force of destabilization that threatens Iran and the region, and has reacted accordingly.
If the United States were willing to sit down with the Iranians and enter into negotiations about the future of Iraq, especially if this future was one which included a dramatically reduced presence of the United States in Iraq coupled with a reversal of the US policy of regional transformation in the Middle East inclusive of regime change in Tehran, there is good reason to believe that the Iranians would assist not only in the removal of the Maliki Government in Baghdad, but also in the creation of a new unified Iraqi government where the influence of the pro-Iranian SCIRI was moderated to reflect its actual representative influence inside Iraq.
Iran would also prove to be a very influential player in resolving the Kurdish problem in northern Iraq. There can be no doubt that any hope of a viable unified Iraqi government must incorporate some form of genuine Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq, one that recognizes the unique Kurdish language and culture, but which does not promote the concept of Kurdish independence. Iran, with a large and troublesome Kurdish minority of its own, would be a logical ally in support of any such policy. Any shift in policy by the United States which facilitates the inclusion of Iran as a partner in creating a post-occupation Iraqi government would also enable Iran to work more closely with Turkey in creating a unified front in the face of any notions of Kurdish independence on the part of Iraq's Kurds. Autonomy, not independence, should become the buzz phrase with which all parties address the Kurdish problem in the Middle East.
Both Iran and Turkey should be pressed by the United States not only to support an autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, but also to permit greater autonomy of their own respective Kurdish populations. This is an important element of any US diplomatic effort in support of a post-occupation Iraq, because there can be no talk of a viable unified Iraq so long as northern Iraq serves as a base of operations for the Turkish PKK Kurdish rebels. A unified Iraq must work with the Turks and the Iranians to eradicate the PKK in northern Iraq. But any effort to liquidate the PKK which is not inclusive of a plan to address the root problems in Turkey (and in Iran) which serve to give legitimacy to movements like the PKK will only serve to prolong the violence in the region, and with it the suffering of the Kurdish people. This is one area in which a full-court diplomatic press by the United States, inclusive of a new policy direction regarding Iran, could pay long-term benefits for all.
Once serious negotiations have been entered into with Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, as well as the various Iraqi factions of concerns (with an emphasis on creating a viable alliance between Sunni insurgents and the Shi'a Mahdi Army), the United States needs to get down to the brass tacks of leaving Iraq. The first order of business is to establish goal-based decision points that are tied to the withdrawal of forces.
The first of these should be the establishment of a cease-fire agreement between the American occupiers and the Sunni and Shi'a insurgents. Once this cease-fire has been agreed to, the United States would fall back to clearly defined bases within Iraq. These would include a major base in Anbar province (possibly the massive H-2 airbase complex), the Balad Base north of Baghdad, and Baghdad Airport. Lesser presence would be maintained in the so-called "Green Zone" in Baghdad, and in the Kurdish north. American forces would be withdrawn from Mosul, Tikrit, Al-Qaim, and other operating areas, as well as the streets of Baghdad. Operations would be limited to force protection.
The immediate impact of such a posture change would be to dramatically cut the number of troops required to serve in Iraq. The first order of business should be to take advantage of these force reductions by removing from Iraq most if not all of the reserve and National Guard units, eliminating some of the greatest sources of strain on the American public. The return of American reserve and National Guard forces from their deployments in Iraq would result in immediate political dividends for the Democrats, shutting down the highly unpopular 'back door draft' instituted by the Rumsfeld-led Defense Department.
As the new Iraqi government takes shape (through protracted negotiations monitored, but not dominated or directed, by the United States), the United States could then trade US military presence for Iraqi security presence. For instance, as the new government assumes responsibility for security in Baghdad, the United States could start phasing out its presence at Baghdad Airport. As central authority is expanded, American draw down would be increased.
It is important to note that this equation does not include the notion of perfect security as a precondition for American response. The assumption of security responsibility by the Iraqi government is all that is required. It is assumed that there will be residual violence that will possibly increase upon the departure of American forces. This must be viewed as a natural and expected result that will diminish over time. In order for any withdrawal strategy to work, the United States cannot allow its actions to be dictated by those who are strengthened by the friction and instability brought on by the continued presence of American troops in Iraq, namely Al-Qaeda. These elements will seek to bog the American forces down in Iraq by increasing the level of violence.
In the end, the only solution to violence in Iraq that is viable is a solution borne from internal Iraqi forces. Removing American forces from Iraq represents the best means of empowering these internal forces while at the same time weakening the forces of terror, especially Al-Qaeda.
In place of the large American force concentrations inside Iraq, Special Forces forward operating bases would be established in the border areas of Iraq to assume the residual military mission of the United States, namely anti-terrorist operations against Al-Qaeda and security training operations inside Iraq as requested by the new Iraqi government. Each of these new bases would comprise approximately one reinforced Brigade's worth of troops, who would be responsible for force protection (securing the base itself), rapid reaction responsibilities (protecting deployed forces if they get in trouble), air support (fixed-wing and helicopter) and anti-terrorist and training support forces (to hunt down Al-Qaeda operatives inside Iraq, as well as help train indigenous Iraqi forces in border security operations) that would need to be established in Jordan and Kuwait (and in Saudi Arabia, if possible, taking advantage of America's long history of operating out of the Saudi provincial town of Ar' Ar'). A similar force could be temporarily established in northern Iraq, in the Kurdish zone, to help suppress the PKK, with the goal of withdrawing this force once unified control of all Iraqi territory by central authorities has been achieved). Special Forces liaison activities could be established with the Syrians and Iranians to coordinate border security along these nations respective borders with Iraq.
Once these Special Forces bases are established and operating, the United States would begin the rapid drawdown of forces inside Iraq, turning all installations over to Iraqi forces as US attention turned away from internal security operations in Iraq to border security operations in cooperation with Iraqi forces and those of Iraq's neighbors. Border security operations would be focused on isolating anti-government and Al-Qaeda elements remaining inside Iraq, so that they could either be compelled to submit to central authority, or else be destroyed. Active US military operations in Iraq would be limited to anti-terrorist efforts and security training missions, as requested by the Iraqi government. Military presence in Baghdad would be limited to force protection requirements for the "Green Zone," requirements which should be reduced dramatically as stability in Baghdad increases in light of the reduction of friction brought on by increased Shi'a-Sunni cooperation and the reduction of American presence. Eventually, as the situation in Iraq is brought back to a degree of normalcy and the Al-Qaeda presence is eliminated, the American military presence in Jordan and Kuwait could in turn be drawn down, bringing to closure the military phase of America's involvement in a post-occupation Iraq. Diplomatic and economic involvement would continue as dictated by the requirements of US foreign and national security policy.
A policy such as the one outlined here is neither "cut and run," nor is it "stay the course." It is reflective of the legitimate national security concerns of the United States, as well as the reality of the situation we face in the post-Saddam Iraq (and Middle East) of today. Two final thoughts on any plan which seeks to address the current predicament in Iraq. First, the matter of Saddam Hussein. To allow the former dictator of Iraq to be executed by the Maliki Government would be the worst move imaginable if the United States seeks a return to peace and stability in this war-torn nation. Justice has not been served with the trial of Saddam. His execution would only increase the stature of the pro-Iranian Dawa faction that Nouri al-Maliki represents. As the Maliki Government is stood down, so should the period of Kangaroo Courts in Iraq.
The United States, in determining the illegitimacy of the Maliki Government, should take custody of Saddam and turn him over to an international tribunal at the Hague. In doing so, the United States should be willing to accept whatever verdict the Hague lays down, even if it is not one we would desire. Whatever short term discomfort such a move might bring inside Iraq would be off-set by its long-term benefits, especially if, in preparing the new forces in Iraq who will be called upon to govern following the dismissal of the Maliki government are made aware, and can be compelled to concur, with such an action.
For all those who wish to see Saddam hang, I can say only this: explain your blood lust to the parents of the scores of American service members who will die as a direct result of the violence engendered by such an action. Far too many Americans have died because of our decision to invade Iraq and depose Saddam. There is no need to heap additional tragedy on top of this policy failure. The United States, in all fairness, must recuse itself from the process of judging Saddam. Let the international courts determine Saddam's fate.
Lastly, we must recognize the role Israel, and America's support of Israel, plays in any policy decision involving the Middle East. As outlined here, the key to any successful American withdrawal from Iraq rests in America's willingness to initiate a new policy direction regarding Iran and Syria. Such a policy move would be strongly opposed by the current Israeli government, and those forces inside the United States supportive of this Israeli government. America must engage in an internal debate and discussion about the proper policy position we as a nation should take regarding the state of Israel. That Israel is a close friend and ally there can be no doubt. That America should be available to protect the legitimate national security interests of Israel, as compatible with international law, again goes without question. But to allow a situation to exist, as it currently does, where Israel can influence, or in some cases, using lobbyist proxies, dictate a given course of policy direction when such policies are not in the national interest of the United States, is unacceptable.
There is a need today for an American policy shift regarding Iraq that seeks not only to bring peace and stability to Iraq, but also normalize America's relations with the entire Middle East. This policy direction should not, and cannot, involve the abandonment of Israel. However, it must be recognized that such a bold new policy regarding Iraq will not be to the liking of those who currently govern in Israel, and their American friends and allies. There is room for debate and discussion on this issue. Indeed, sound policy cannot be achieved without such a debate taking place. But this debate must be held free of the rancor of past debates of this sort, where irresponsible charges of anti-Semitism were thrown about by those unwilling to permit the discussion of any policy position deemed unacceptable to the political right in Israel, or their American allies in the pro-Israeli lobby.
We must accept as a basic premise to any discussion about American-Israeli relations the notion that there are circumstances involving the Middle East in which American interests and Israeli interests diverge, and that America is right in pursuing policies which are best for the national security of the United States, even if Israel disagrees. Any new course of policy direction in Iraq that embraces a rapprochement with Iran and Syria represents a situation in which the possibility of a break with Israel exists. America must have the moral and intellectual courage to accept such a break, because at the end of the day it is what is in the best interests of this country that matters most. Peace in Iraq, and stability in the Middle East is a cause worth embracing, and fighting for, regardless of who might oppose it.
This is a tall order for a new Congress to consider. But anything less than total commitment to all facets of a new Iraq policy, inclusive of those elements that might be uncomfortable for Israel, will represent a betrayal of the hopes of the American people when they voted for a Democratic Congress. The new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, together with the new Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, as well as the rest of the Democratic Party leadership and establishment, should proceed with extreme caution in failing to heed these hopes. The "Big Election," the race for national leadership in November 2008, is just around the corner, and if the November 2006 elections prove anything, a slighted electorate has no patience for those politicians who had slighted them.
With Israel waging an all-out war against the forces of Hezbollah, and the death toll in terms of civilian casualties mounting on a daily basis, the question of a diplomatic resolution to the crisis takes on an urgency that is being felt around the world. Everywhere, it seems, except in Israel and the United States. One should not be fooled by the "false" diplomacy being waged by the United States, fronted by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.
The draft Security Council resolution co-sponsored between the United States and France is but a tragic farce, a smoke screen designed to unilaterally protect Israeli interests at the expense of all others that is so transparent no Arab nation takes it seriously (it has been rejected outright by Lebanon, Syria and Hezbollah).
There are several reasons for this apparent lack of concern on the part of the primary belligerent (Israel) and its No. 1 underwriter (the United States). First and foremost is the fact that the ongoing violence being waged against Hezbollah is not, contrary to popular opinion, a knee-jerk reaction to the attack against Israel by Hezbollah that resulted in several dead Israeli soldiers and two taken prisoner. It is rather part and parcel of a long-planned strike designed not only to neutralize Hezbollah, but also its largest international supporters, namely Syria and Iran. As such, Israel (and by extension, the United States) has certain predesignated goals and objectives that need to be reached, and no cease-fire will be willingly undertaken until they are. These include the military destruction of Hezbollah and its political isolation, along with its major supporter Iran.
But as the global hue and cry over the indiscriminate death and destruction being inflicted on the innocent civilians of Lebanon by the Israeli Defense Force continues to mount, drowning out any legitimate counter Israel may have by citing similar indiscriminate loss of life and property caused by Hezbollah rockets, Israel and its supporters in Washington, D.C., recognize that there is a limit to what the world will be willing to tolerate.
Already Israel and the United States are feeling the brunt of a diplomatic backlash resulting from the horrific devastation rained down on the people of Lebanon as a result of Israel's blind rage and America's misguided support of everything that is done in the name of Israel.
This does not mean that America's support of Israel's legitimate security concerns is bad policy; just the opposite. Supporting Israel's right to exist, and its right to defend itself against those who wish to do it harm, is the soundest possible policy a democracy such as America could embrace. But as a nation built on the belief that all humans are created equal, and that oppression of one party by another represents a tyranny that must be opposed, it is high time that the United States learn to differentiate between what constitutes legitimate Israeli security concerns, and what constitutes regional hegemony, tyranny and oppression.
Knee-jerk reactions aside, there is really no foundation upon which Americans can morally continue to support the Israeli actions in Lebanon. Indeed, many Americans, joined by like-minded people around the world, are increasingly taking a position that opposes the Israeli military assault on Lebanon.
There is a difference between being opposed to Israeli action, and having a viable plan on what to do instead. One of the main problems is the fact that Israel (and its supporters here in the United States) have sagely exploited the lexicon of terror, a politically savvy move in post 9/11 America that makes the formulation of any viable opposition to what the Israelis claim to be a legitimate response in the face of terror virtually impossible.
When evaluating the Israeli position on Hezbollah, we should never forget that it was Hezbollah, alone among the forces in the Arab world, that defeated Israel, compelling the Israeli Defense Force to withdraw from southern Lebanon in May 2000 after a disastrous 18-year occupation. National pride, combined with hegemonic hubris born of out-of-control Zionism, prevents Israel from ever accepting this result or forgiving Hasan Nasrullah or his followers for this "crime."
Israel claims the moral high ground in this current round of conflict, citing the July 12 attack by Hezbollah on an Israeli Army patrol that left eight IDF soldiers dead and two captured. The disproportionality of response aside (Hezbollah fires hundreds of rockets into Israel, and gets thousands of artillery shells and aerial bombs in return; Israel's civilian casualties run in the scores, Lebanon's in the hundreds), Israel's claim as the aggrieved party simply does not withstand the test of history and fact.
Hezbollah is a direct byproduct of the 1982 Israeli invasion and subsequent occupation of Lebanon. In the chaos and anarchy that followed, Israel helped facilitate disunity and dysfunction within Lebanon by promoting the interests of the Lebanese Christian minority over Lebanese Muslims, Sunni and Shi'a alike. Hezbollah as an organization grew from this political morass, representing the legitimate aspirations of the Shi'a Lebanese of southern and eastern Lebanon. Albeit largely funded and supplied by Iran and Syria, Hezbollah is not an international organization, but one distinctly Lebanese. Its function has been to liberate Lebanon from Israeli aggression. To call Hezbollah a terrorist organization is not only a misuse of terminology, but also symptomatic of the larger problem that plagues both Israel and the United States when it comes to dealing with the Middle East as a whole.
Israel and the United States have become trapped by the lexicon born of the so-called "Global War on Terror." These two nations have collectively painted in their mind's eye a world of distinct black and white, or good and evil. In doing so, the reality that is the Middle East goes unrecognized, and as such, no viable solution can be found. If Hezbollah were a genuine non-state terror group, one could make an argument that direct military confrontation designed to isolate and destroy that group was viable. But Hezbollah is not a non-state player, but rather a legitimate expression of the legitimate desires of a not-insignificant percentage of the people of Lebanon.
Hezbollah is decidedly anti-Israel, as only a group born from the oppression of Israeli occupation of their homeland could be. This has led to fiery rhetoric on the part of Hezbollah and its supporters, which has been exploited by Israel and the United States to paint Hezbollah as an organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hezbollah has stated that its goals are the removal of all Israeli forces from Lebanon, the Golan Heights and the return of Palestinian refugees to Palestine. Hezbollah also continues to demand the release of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, some of whom have been imprisoned for nearly 20 years.
It was the prisoner issue that led to the most recent outbreak of violence between Israel and Hezbollah. Following Israel's retreat from southern Lebanon in May 2000, hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners were still held by Israel, which refused to release them. In October 2000, Hezbollah fighters disguised as U.N. soldiers captured three Israeli soldiers, as well as an Israeli reserve officer who was in Beirut on private business. Hassan Nasrullah declared that Hezbollah would exchange the Israelis for the Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. In a deal brokered by the German government, Israel agreed to release 430 prisoners in exchange for the bodies of the three captured Israeli soldiers (they had been killed shortly after their capture) and the Israeli reservist.
However, Hezbollah claims that Israel had agreed to release three specific prisoners -- Samir Kuntar (captured in a raid on an Israeli settlement in which four Israelis died, including a 4-year-old girl), Yahye Skaff (captured in 1978 after an attack on Israel by Fatah guerillas left 35 Israelis dead and over 100 wounded) and Nissim Mousa N'isr (an Israeli-Arab accused of spying on behalf of Hezbollah). Israeli Ariel Sharon apparently reneged on the deal at the last second, prompting Hassan Nasrullah to declare that Hezbollah retained the right to capture Israeli soldiers at any time in order to secure the release of these three prisoners. The July 12 attack by Hezbollah was nothing more than Nasrullah keeping his word.
Contrary to popular opinion, Hezbollah is not an "international terrorist organization." It has not been linked to any acts of terror outside the borders of Lebanon (the current shelling of Israel notwithstanding, Hezbollah claims these are legitimate military actions in response to Israeli "aggression"). The United States and Israel often speak of "Hezbollah terror attacks" outside of Lebanon, but in the end cannot trace these attacks to Hezbollah with anything stronger than circumstance and rhetoric. The reality of Hezbollah is that it is a decidedly nationalistic organization that has gone on record condemning the September 2001 terror attacks against the United States, rejecting Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, as well as any killing of innocent civilians in the name of Islam. If it were not for the Israeli angle, the irony is that Hezbollah actually represents the kind of home-grown political party that the United States should be supporting.
Hezbollah is very much a political reality. It is woven into the daily reality of the lives of Lebanese Shi'a, providing medical and education support to impoverished civilians who otherwise would have to go without. Hezbollah has participated in the legitimate political processes of the Lebanese democracy, winning over a dozen seats in the Lebanese Parliament, and holding several cabinet-level positions. The Lebanese government itself recognizes the unique character of Hezbollah, rejecting any notion that it is an illegitimate militia, but rather a legitimate national resistance movement that will continue to exist until Israel stops meddling in Lebanese affairs.
The United States and Israel continue to quote U.N. Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, as well as the disarming of Lebanese militias. However, resolution 1559 does not mention Hezbollah by name, and the Lebanese government itself refuses to categorize Hezbollah as an illegal militia, but rather as a legitimate defender of Lebanese interests. As a result, there is a huge disconnect between the United States and Israel on the one hand, and Lebanon and Hezbollah on the other, in regard to the basic foundational element of any diplomatic resolution to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Lebanon. The fact of the matter is, Hezbollah is a reality that neither the United States nor Israel can negotiate away. To attempt to bomb Lebanon into submission as a proxy for its inability to militarily defeat Hezbollah is not only criminal, but counterproductive.
Hezbollah today has the support of nearly 90 percent of the Lebanese population. Hassan Nasrullah has taken on legendary proportions throughout the Arab world, where his and Hezbollah's ongoing stout resistance to Israel's mighty military stands in stark contrast to the impotence of the rest of the Arab world and its leaders.
If anything, the United States should be well-positioned to whisper advice to Israel as to the futility of its current operations in Lebanon. The United States has for more than three years now conducted similar military operations in Iraq, only to find that not only has the vaunted U.S. military been unable to defeat a popular-based resistance, but that the resistance has grown.
Worse, the misguided policies that embrace a unilaterally military solution have destroyed the basic social framework of Iraq, creating a seething morass of anarchy and chaos from which violence erupts that has no center or focus upon which to zero in for a solution. Iraq is very much a dead country, which exists only for the purpose of killing Americans and its own citizens. If Israel were to ponder its folly in Lebanon, it would realize that its actions, if continued, will ultimately result in a similar outcome for the Lebanese -- a society that exists solely for the purpose of killing Israelis and each other. The difference between Iraq and Lebanon is that eventually America will be able to retreat away from the borders of Iraq. Israel will never be able to retreat away from the disaster it is creating in Lebanon today.
Of course, all of this is basic common sense for anyone who takes the time to study the facts. The problem is the predisposition of the respective publics in Israel and the United States to buy into an ideology based upon semantics that is divorced from reality. Once anything or anyone is labeled "terrorist," the game is pretty much up in so far as forming public opinion is concerned, which means, as an extension, any hope of changing governmental policy is likewise doomed. The actions of the Israeli Parliament and the U.S. Congress prove this point.
Their respective unanimity in supporting the daily murder of Lebanese, while casting the blame for the violence solely on the shoulders of Hezbollah and its supporters in Syria and Iran, are not only reflective of bad policy, but also bad thinking brought on by the inability and unwillingness of the people of Israel and the United States to think critically on any issue involving Israel. The U.S. media is particularly at fault in this regard (it is ironic that the Israeli media, and by extension the Israeli people, have been much more critical of the Lebanese operation than have their counterparts in the United States).
So long as the American media collectively continues to masquerade as journalists, when in fact it serves as little more than the propagandistic arm of the U.S. and Israeli governments, the American people will continue to wallow in their collective ignorance of the world they live in, unable to discern solutions to problems because they are for the most part unable to define the problem itself. This is a very serious matter, one with huge potential consequences.
Take, in closing, the manner in which Israel and the United States have painted Hezbollah's military underwriters in Iran and Syria. If Hezbollah resistance continues (as it seems likely to do), the United States and Israel have stated that Syria and Iran become, by extension, legitimate military targets.
This discussion is offered without any thought or recognition of the "other side of the coin," namely the mindset in much of the Arab and Muslim world that if Iran and Syria are targeted for providing military support for Hezbollah, then the No. 1 underwriter for the ongoing Israeli slaughter of Lebanese, the United States, likewise becomes a legitimate military target.
Every citizen in the United States should take a minute while they sit back and enjoy the relative peace of summer and reflect on what that would mean, and if it is really the direction they want the United States to be drifting at the moment. Just don't ask the mainstream American media to assist with any reflective analysis. It is too busy promoting a larger war.
It has been more than a week now since the Iranian government announced that it had "joined the nuclear club" by successfully enriching uranium, albeit for nuclear fuel, not a weapon. Once a nation has the capacity to enrich to the former, enrichment to the latter is simply a matter of time; the technology is the same. Iran's declaration immediately made headlines around the world, with stunned punditry engaging in wild speculation about the potential ramifications of this turn of events. From a simple laboratory-scale enrichment experiment, a massive nuclear weapons program grew Pheonix-like from the ashes, prompting dire warnings from US Government officials such as Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Stephen Rademaker, who told a press conference in Moscow, where he was visiting to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue with Russian officials, that Iran "...may be capable of making a nuclear bomb within 16 days."
Rademaker was referring to the mathematical possibilities arising from Iran enriching uranium to weapons grade-levels at its centrifuge enrichment plant at Natanz, using a 50,000-centrifuge cascade system the United States and others say is capable of being installed at the facility. In a nod to the hypothetical nature of his outlandish remark, Rademaker did note that the Iranians have gone on record as only wanting to install a 3,000-centrifuge cascade at Natanz. In that case, Rademaker said, "We calculate that a 3,000-machine cascade could produce enough uranium to build a nuclear weapon within 271 days." Apparently 271 days isn't as terrifyingly sexy as 16 days, given that the majority of the media reported Rademakers initial statement.
In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition, and for three years since, I have spent many hours speaking to numerous anti-war forums across the country and around the world. I have always been struck by the sincerity of the vast majority of those who call themselves anti-war, and impressed by their willingness to give so much of themselves in the service of such a noble cause.
Whether participating in demonstrations, organizing a vigil, conducting town-hall meetings, or writing letters to their elected officials and the media, the participants in the anti-war movement have exhibited an energy and integrity that would make anyone proud. For myself, I have been vociferous in my defense of the actions of the majority of the anti-war movement, noting that the expression of their views is not only consistent with their rights afforded by the Constitution of the United States, but also that their engagement in the process of citizenship is a stellar example of the ideals and values set forth in that document, and as such representative of the highest form of patriotism in keeping with service to a document that begins, "We the People."
Lately I have noticed a growing despondency among many of those who call themselves the anti-war movement. With the United States now entering its fourth year of illegal war in and illegitimate occupation of Iraq, and the pro-war movement moving inexorably towards yet another disastrous conflict with Iran, there is an increasing awareness that the cause of the anti-war movement, no matter how noble and worthy, is in fact a losing cause as currently executed. Despite all of the well-meaning and patriotic work of the millions of activists and citizens who comprise the anti-war movement, America still remains very much a nation not only engaged in waging and planning wars of aggression, but has also become a nation which increasingly identifies itself through its military and the wars it fights. This is a sad manifestation of the fact that the American people seem to be addicted to war and violence, rather than the ideals of human rights, individual liberty, and freedom and justice for all that should define our nation.
In short, the anti-war movement has come face to face with the reality that in the ongoing war of ideologies that is being waged in America today, their cause is not just losing, but is in fact on the verge of complete collapse. Many in the anti-war movement would take exception to such a characterization of the situation, given the fact that there seems to be a growing change in the mood among Americans against the ongoing war in Iraq. But one only has to scratch at the surface of this public discontent to realize how shallow and superficial it is. Americans aren't against the war in Iraq because it is wrong; they are against it because we are losing.
I pulled myself away from the television set recently, enthralled as I was by the ongoing Winter Olympics, and took the time to wade through the massive quantities of information building up in my in box (electronic and otherwise) about the world we live in outside of the sports arena.
One piece of information in particular caught my eye. The revelations made by retired CIA officer Paul Pillar in an article published in the March-April issue of the journal Foreign Affairs should come as a surprise to no one who has been following the disturbing case of Iraq and the missing weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Mr. Pillar is a career intelligence officer with the CIA who served as the deputy chief of the Counterterrorist Center and, most recently, as the national intelligence officer for Near East/Middle East affairs from 2000 to 2005. His essay offers sound analysis to back up his claim that the Bush administration had made the decision to invade Iraq independent of any viable intelligence analysis to sustain the allegation that Iraq possessed undeclared and hidden WMD capability. This capability allegedly not only violated international law but also constituted a threat to the United States and the international community that justified the use of force.
This, of course, is not a news flash, although Mr. Pillar has found his assertions suddenly newsworthy. I found myself puzzled as the collective American news media reacted with stunned fascination over the notion that the Bush administration would have "cherry picked" intelligence in order to justify its decision to invade Iraq.
Mr. Pillar's revelations only reinforced information previously available from such sources as the Downing Street Memo, circa July 2002, which noted that the Bush administration had made the decision to go to war with Iraq using WMD and the link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaida as the justification. The memo further noted that the case was a weak one, and that the Bush administration was busy fixing intelligence around policy in order to bolster its decision.
Of course, I and several other former intelligence officials had been saying the same thing for some time. But Mr. Pillar provided some sugar coating along with his bitter pill of accusation: The CIA, he noted, had believed that there were WMDs in Iraq, but that Iraq was containable, and war, therefore, was not a worthy policy objective.
It was stunning to read Mr. Pillar's critical finger-waving at the Bush administration for cooking the books, all the while defending the CIA's analytical processes, despite the fact that, in the final analysis, the CIA maintained that there were WMDs in Iraq. I guess Mr. Pillar's defense is that the CIA was wrong but not as wrong as the Bush administration. Mr. Pillar rightfully decries the politicization of the CIA's analytical processes, but for the most part limits the scope of his criticism to the Bush administration during the time period leading up to the invasion in March 2003.
Nowhere does Mr. Pillar mention the issue of regime change and the role played by the CIA in carrying out covert action at the instruction of the White House (both Democratic and Republican) to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Because he was the former national intelligence officer for Near East/Middle East affairs, I find this absence both disconcerting and disingenuous. By failing to give due credence to the impact and influence of the CIA's mission of regime change in Iraq on its analysis of Iraqi WMDs, Mr. Pillar continues to promulgate the myth that the CIA was honestly engaged in the business of trying to disarm Iraq. I may not have been the national intelligence officer, but I was plugged into the system well enough to know "Steve," who headed the CIA's Near East Division inside the Directorate of Operations, and helped plan and implement several abortive coup attempts in Iraq. I also knew "Don," who helped run the CIA's Counter Proliferation Center and was well aware of how the CIA interfered with and undermined several investigations and operations run by U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq. If these operations had reached fruition, the myth of a noncompliant Iraq might have been undone, thereby putting at risk the CIA's primary tasking vis-a-vis Iraq: regime change.
I knew these men and their respective missions, as I knew of many others. Mr. Pillar also did, and his silence on these men and their tasking begs the question: Why? The only answer I can arrive at is that Paul Pillar, for all of his good intentions, strives to defend his own personal legacy and thus remains oblivious to the fact that the actions of professional intelligence officers such as himself have lead to the demise of the CIA as a legitimate tool for the national security of the United States. Paul Pillar is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Curiously, I find myself joined in criticizing Paul Pillar's recent writings by none other than my old nemesis, Stephen Hayes, a highly partisan commentator for the neoconservative flagship, The Weekly Standard. I cite Mr. Hayes not because I find any merit in what he writes about Mr. Pillar, but because the inconsistencies of Mr. Pillar's words open the door for Iraq war apologists like Mr. Hayes to muddy the waters when it comes to more clearly understanding the complete lack of justification that exists for America's invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
I criticize Paul Pillar for his curious defense of CIA analysis of Iraqi WMDs, which was fundamentally wrong, and his failure to acknowledge the existence of a CIA program, directed from the White House, to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and the impact that such a regime-change policy would have on the CIA's analysis of Iraqi WMDs within a process readily acknowledged by Mr. Pillar as being overly politicized. But Stephen Hayes bases his attack on Mr. Pillar's failure to factor in such foundational arguments such as Saddam's alleged assassination attempt against former President George H. W. Bush in April 1993 (allegations that led to the bombing of the Iraqi Intelligence Service Headquarters in June 1993), and the connection between Iraq and the Sudan concerning alleged chemical weapons cooperation, which led to similar bombings in the Sudan in August 1998.
The highly politicized environment of the CIA's analytical and operational branches as far back as 1993 resulted in analysis that was based upon supposition and hearsay more than sound assessment of fact. Mr. Hayes cites an alleged assassination attempt that has long since been shown to be a figment of the Kuwaiti government's mind. None of the data assembled by the U.S. intelligence community to link Saddam Hussein with the alleged Kuwaiti plot has stood the test of time. The plotters, the timing devices and the bomb itself have been shown to have no known link to the Iraqi Intelligence Services, not to mention Saddam Hussein. Today, with all of the potential plotters and organizers of the alleged assassination attempt in U.S. custody, one is struck by the silence of the CIA and American law enforcement when it comes to this case. One would think that bringing the perpetrators of an attempt of a former president's life to justice would be a top priority in this age of "global war on terror." And yet the silence is deafening, only reinforcing the reality that yet another allegation of wrongdoing on the part of Saddam Hussein has fallen by the wayside.
The same holds true regarding Mr. Hayes' assertions concerning Iraqi-Sudanese links in 1998. Not only has the U.S. government all but acknowledged the fact that the Shifa Plant, bombed in August 1998, had no connection with either Iraq or the manufacture of VX nerve agent, but like the situation regarding the alleged assassination attempt, the United States has in its possession all of the key players who would have been involved in any illicit cooperation with the Sudan, including Hayes' cited Emad al Ani, the Iraqi mastermind behind this plot. Once again the silence of the U.S. government on this matter speaks volumes, as does Mr. Hayes' hysteria in once again trotting out baseless allegations produced by the same politicized intelligence process that Mr. Pillar so eloquently decries.
As I reflect on the inconsistency of the Paul Pillars and the rantings of pseudojournalists like Stephen Hayes, I have to chuckle at the incongruous nature of another unfolding drama, that being the trial of Saddam Hussein. We Americans sit back and wave a scolding finger at the former Iraqi dictator, chiding him for the crime of brutally suppressing those who attempted to assassinate him in 1982 in the village of Dujail (an assassination attempt no one has said did not take place), all the while ignoring the fact that we bombed Iraq in June 1993 using as justification an alleged assassination attempt.
If the Kuwaiti government, with the help of some anti-Saddam elements in the U.S. government, cooks up a scheme where they fabricate an assassination attempt against a former president in an effort to keep American policy regarding Iraq "on track," there is not a flicker of concern from the hypermoralistic citizens of the United States. However, woe be it to the dictator who survives an attempt on his life from a village whose leadership had been infiltrated by agents of a nation with which he was at the time locked in a life-or-death struggle and then seeks accountability from those responsible.
This, it appears, is a crime of horrific proportions, so big that it currently stands as the only one Saddam Hussein has been tried for. It doesn't matter much to the "law and order" society in America that the pro-Iranian group, the Dawa Party, which planned and executed the failed assassination attempt in 1982, now occupies the highest position of power in Iraq (Ibrahim Jafari, the current Iraqi Prime Minister, was the president of Dawa) and is responsible for carrying out justice against Saddam. No conflict of interest here, or so it would seem for most Americans.
We, the people of the United States, despite our status as one of the most technologically advanced nations on the face of the earth, remain among the most ignorant about the world we live in. And yet we continue to hold forth that we have some sort of divine right of intervention, where a nation of some 300 million is self-empowered to dictate to billions of others the terms in which we all coexist on the planet. We seem shocked when things don't go as we envisioned (take Iraq, for example, where song and flowers were rapidly replaced by bombs and bullets), but in the end we have only ourselves to blame. Our ignorance of the world we live in seems to be only exceeded by our near total abrogation of our duties and responsibilities as citizens of the world's foremost representative democracy.
I recently spoke before a crowd of around 150 people at an event in Santa Fe, N.M. The topic was the intelligence failure in Iraq and the upcoming war with Iran. It was "Super Bowl Sunday." Santa Fe has a well-deserved reputation as a city with a conscience, populated by mostly progressive-leaning pragmatists who care about their community and the country as a whole. However, this mainstream element was sadly lacking from the audience, which consisted primarily of social activists who could for the most part have cared less about who won the Super Bowl (Pittsburgh did, beating Seattle in what was a mediocre game at best). For a city capable of mobilizing thousands in the cause of peace and justice, the fact that so many chose to spend their Sunday eating chips and drinking beer seated before a TV screen rather than engage in a community dialogue about issues of war and the future direction of our country speaks more to the fact that consumerism has once again trumped basic citizenship.
This is a trend that goes far beyond the environs of Santa Fe, reflecting instead a nationwide tendency to stick our collective heads in the sand, wallowing in fear and ignorance, while those we elect to higher office pursue policies that benefit a distinct minority to the detriment of the masses. Some day in the near future those who turned their back on citizenship in the name of consumerism will find that the latest Super Bowl commercial has been replaced by a TV screen screaming out the breaking news that America is once again at war. Unlike the current debacle in Iraq, where the pain and suffering is only felt by those who have lost a loved one, the Iran war will resonate across the country, wracking up a devastating tally both in terms of human and economic cost.
The American people will act with shock and horror, but by then it will be too late: Once again our fighting men and women who serve us in the armed forces will have been dispatched to a conflict not worthy of the loss of a single American life. Once again the American people will cover their shame concerning their collective failure of citizenship by proudly proclaiming their undying support for the troops, waving the American flag on the street corner and putting colorful magnetic "support the troops" stickers on their cars, all the while those who wear the uniform fight and die in another faraway country.
Such hypocrisy, underscored by the fact that when the American people had a chance to really do something for the troops, like come out on a Sunday night and engage in a public discussion about the Iranian crisis, they chose instead to watch a football game.
Stung by growing criticism of his Iraq policy which has manifested itself in all-time low public opinion ratings, President Bush last month embarked on a tour in which he delivered five speeches outlining his "Plan for Victory" in Iraq, as well as offering a defense of his decision to invade Iraq. "It is true that much of the intelligence [used to justify the invasion] turned out to be wrong", Mr. Bush said in the fourth of these speeches. "As President, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq."
While taking responsibility for his actions, Mr. Bush has not taken well to any criticism of his role in over-selling the case for war, and in his speech was quick to attack those who dared hold him to account. "Some of the most irresponsible comments about manipulating intelligence", he said, "have come from politicians who saw the same intelligence we saw, and then voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein. These charges are pure politics."
But it is the President, through his speeches, who is engaged in politics of the most puerile sort. Mr. Bush failed to address his role in the Niger yellowcake forgery, the aluminum tube exaggeration, the rush to embrace "Curveball", or any of the myriad of politicized intelligence pushed by the White House in the lead up to war with Iraq. The President continued to exploit in the basest fashion the death of nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. As has been his style since that horrible day, Mr. Bush hid behind the memory of so many fallen to mask his administration's shortcomings and disguise its true intent.
"Given Saddam's history", the President said (conveniently omitting that the CIA today states that Iraq had destroyed all of its WMD by the summer of 1991), "and the lessons of September the 11th, my decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision. Saddam was a threat -- and the American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power." But even the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, used by the Bush administration to sell its Iraq war to the US Congress, failed to identify Saddam Hussein as a threat.
The White House pushed hard to find intelligence information that backed the assertions made by President Bush in the fall of 2002 that Hussein's regime was an "ally of al-Qaeda" and posed a direct terrorist threat to America. "This is a man that we know has had connections with al-Qaeda," he said, referring to Saddam Hussein. "This is a man who would like to use al-Qaeda as a forward army. And this is a man that we must deal with for the sake of peace."
The official results of the Jan. 30, 2005 elections are in. The Shi'a emerged as the big winners, grabbing 48 percent of the vote, followed by the Kurds who garnered 26 percent, and Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's coalition party netting a paltry 13 percent. Behind the scenes political infighting rages as the victorious political parties vie to get their candidates positioned in the new government. On the surface, this looks like the sometimes messy aftermath of democracy; squabbling, rhetoric, and posturing. The Iraqi elections have been embraced almost universally as a great victory for the forces of democracy, not only in Iraq, but throughout the entire Middle East. The fact, however, is that the Iraqi elections weren't about the free election of a government reflecting the will of the Iraqi people, but the carefully engineered selection of a government that would behave in a manner dictated by the United States. In Iraq, democracy was hijacked by the Americans.
Elections have been used in the past to cover up inherently non-democratic processes. Stalin had elections, as did Hitler. So did Saddam Hussein. The Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Ba'athist Iraq were not burgeoning democracies, but totalitarian dictatorships. The point here is that elections don't bring democracy. The roots of any democracy lie in a people united in their desire to govern in accordance with a rule of law that guarantees the rights of all. Such people then create conditions in which elections can certify their desire by selecting those who will govern. This produces democracy. What occurred in Iraq on Jan. 30, 2005 was anything but such an expression of Iraqi national unity.
The Iraqi election was an American-brokered event: the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority set the terms of the election, and its date (not sooner than Dec. 31, 2004, but no later than Jan. 30, 2005) in its 'Law number 92,' signed into effect by former CPA chief Paul Bremer on May 31, 2004. The U.S. then had this act certified a week later by the Security Council of the United Nations, which passed resolution 1546, a Chapter VII resolution which carries the weight of international law and which endorsed the U.S.-dictated timetable for elections.
'Law number 92' is part of a larger body of Iraqi law, known as the 'Transitional Administrative Law', or TAL. The TAL was approved by the Interim Iraqi Governing Council on March 1, 2004; on June 1, the IIGC voted on an Annex to the TAL which certified as law all of the CPA's laws, regulations, orders and directives, regardless of the TAL. Iraq today is still governed under these conditions, which provide the U.S. occupiers in Iraq de facto control over what happens behind the scenes in the Iraqi Government. Iraq's 'democratic' elections were held under these conditions.
The main objective of the Iraqi election was to elect a national assembly which would then draft a new constitution by August 2005. This new constitution will be brought up to the national assembly for vote on Oct. 15, 2005. If the constitution is adopted, the new parliamentary elections would be held in December 2005 based on this constitution. If the constitution is rejected, then there will be a new national assembly election (a repeat performance of the Jan. 30 vote), and Iraqis will have another year to sort out their constitutional crisis.
Iraq's future rests on this issue of a new constitution. And herein lies the rub. It is the fervent wish of the Bush administration, and its ally, interim Prime Minister Alawi, that the new National Assembly rubber stamp the interim constitution that is already in place. This constitution contains language which precludes Iraq from becoming an Islamic Republic like Iran, where religious law (i.e., the Shar'ia), versus secular law, reigns supreme. Iraq's Shi'a majority have rejected this notion, and as such will not support the constitution as it currently exists.
The interim Iraqi constitution was dead on arrival. The Bush administration just hasn't accepted this fact. It had no chance of survival had the Shi'a won an outright majority of the vote in the Iraqi election. 'If it [i.e., the percentage of Shi'a votes] had been higher, the [Shi'a] slate would be seen with a lot more trepidation,' a senior U.S. State Department official said, once the official Iraqi election results were announced on Feb. 14. The problem is, there is good reason to believe that the percentage of votes for the Shi'a was higher – much higher. Well-placed sources in Iraq who were in a position to know have told me that the actual Shi'a vote was 56 percent. American intervention, in the form of a 'secret vote count' conducted behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny, produced the Feb. 14 result.
The lowering of the Shi'a vote re-engineered the post-election political landscape in Iraq dramatically. The goal of the U.S., in doing this, is either to guarantee the adoption of the U.S.-drafted interim constitution, or make sure that there are not enough votes to adopt any Shi'a re-write. If the U.S.-drafted Iraqi constitution prevails, the Bush administration would be comfortable with the secular nature of any Iraqi government it produces. If it fails, then the Bush administration would much rather continue to occupy Iraq under the current U.S.-written laws, than allow for the creation of a pro-Iranian theocracy. In any event, the Shi'a stand to lose.
Whether this re-engineering will succeed in the long run has yet to be seen. What is clear, however, is that many senior Shi'a know the real results that occurred on Jan. 30, and will not walk away from what they believe is their rightful destiny when it comes to governing of Iraq: a Shi'a controlled state, operating in accordance with Shar'ia law.
The post-election 'cooking' of the results in Iraq all but guarantees that the Shi'a of Iraq will rally together to secure that which they believe is rightfully theirs. This journey of 'historical self-realization' may very well ignite the kind of violent backlash among the Shi'a majority in Iraq that the U.S. has avoided to date. It could also complicate whatever strategies the Bush administration may be trying to implement regarding Iraq's neighbor to the east, Iran. But in any case, the American 'cooking' of the Iraqi election is, in the end, a defeat for democracy and the potential of democracy to effect real and meaningful change in the Middle East. The sad fact is that it is not so much that the people of the Middle East are incapable of democracy, but rather the United States is incapable of allowing genuine democracy to exist in the Middle East.
The battle for Iraq's sovereign future is a battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. As things currently stand, it appears that victory will go to the side most in tune with the reality of the Iraqi society of today: the leaders of the anti-U.S. resistance.
Iyad Allawi's government was recently installed by the United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to counter a Ba'athist nationalism that ceased to exist nearly a decade ago. In the aftermath of the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein's regime shifted toward an amalgam of Islamic fundamentalism, tribalism and nationalism that more accurately reflected the political reality of Iraq. Thanks to his meticulous planning and foresight, Saddam's lieutenants are now running the Iraqi resistance, including the Islamist groups.
Not only has the United States failed to put into place a viable government to replace the CPA in the aftermath of the so-called "transfer of sovereignty," but more importantly, it continues to misidentify the true nature of the Iraqi insurgency. As a consequence, the resistance will inevitably continue to flourish and grow until no force can defeat it, Iraqi or American.
Ba'athism is Dead, Long Live Saddam
In August 1995, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, defected to Jordan. In the lead up to the war, much of the attention paid to this event has centered on Kamal's various debriefings with the CIA, British Intelligence, and UN weapons inspectors concerning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Fourteen months into the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Hussein Kamal's testimony that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed in the summer of 1991 has taken on new relevance, given the fact that to date no WMD have been found.
But more important than the WMD information (which has become abundantly clear through other sources) is Kamal's self-described reason for defecting: Saddam Hussein's order that all senior Ba'ath Party officials undergo mandatory Koranic studies. A staunch Ba'athist like Hussein Kamal, schooled in the doctrine of secular Arab nationalism, viewed the command as tantamount to heresy. But for Saddam Hussein, this radical shift in strategy was necessary to his survival given the new realities of post-Gulf War Iraq.
Confronted with the postwar turmoil created by military defeat and economic devastation (prolonged by UN-imposed sanctions), Saddam had to re-engineer his domestic constituency to maintain his power. The traditional Ba'athist ideology, based on Iraq-centric Arab nationalism, was no longer the driving force it had been a decade prior. Creating a new power base required bringing into the fold not only the Shi'ite majority – which had revolted against him in the spring of 1991 – but also accommodating the growing religious fundamentalism of traditional allies such as key Sunni tribes in western Iraq.
The most visible symbol of Saddam's decision to embrace Islam was his order to add the words "God is Great" to the Iraqi flag. He also simultaneously embraced traditional Iraqi tribal culture, de-emphasizing the importance of the Ba'ath Party in 1996 by noting that it was but "one of the tribes of Iraq" – a move that erased decades of Ba'athist anti-tribal policies.
Getting It Wrong, Again
The transformation of the political dynamics inside Iraq, however, has gone largely unnoticed in the West. It certainly seems to have escaped the attention of the Bush Administration. And the recent "transfer of sovereignty" from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to the new Iraqi government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi reflects this lack of understanding.
For many in the Bush Administration, the greatest and indisputable success of the invasion of Iraq was ridding the world of a dangerous ideology, Ba'athism. Indeed, one of the first directives issued by Paul Bremer, the former head of the CPA, was to pass a "de-Ba'athification" law, effectively blacklisting all former members of that party from meaningful involvement in the day-to-day affairs of post-Saddam Iraq. The law underscored the mindset of those in charge of Iraq: Ba'athist holdouts loyal to Saddam were the primary threat to the U.S.-led occupation.
Senior Bush Administration officials recognized their mistake – though a little too late. In April 2004, Bremer rescinded his "de-Ba'thification" order. The architect of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, recently told members of Congress that the Pentagon had underestimated its enemy in Iraq. The Pentagon today speaks of a "marriage of convenience" between Islamic fundamentalists and former members of Saddam's Ba'athist regime, even speculating that the Islamists are taking over Ba'athist cells weakened by American anti-insurgency efforts.
Once again, the Pentagon has it wrong. U.S. policy in Iraq is still unable or unwilling to face the reality of the enemy on the ground.
The Iraqi resistance is no emerging "marriage of convenience," but rather a product of planning years in the making. Rather than being absorbed by a larger Islamist movement, Saddam's former lieutenants are calling the shots in Iraq, having co-opted the Islamic fundamentalists years ago, with or without their knowledge.
One look at the list of the 55 "most wanted" members of the Saddam regime who remain at large reveals the probable chain of command of the Iraqi resistance today. It also underscores the success of Saddam's strategic decision nearly a decade past to disassociate himself from Ba'athist ideology.
All the Tyrant's Men
Keep in mind that there was never a formal surrender ceremony after the U.S. took control of Baghdad. The security services of Saddam's Iraq were never disbanded; they simply melted away into the population, to be called back into service when and where they were needed.
The so-called Islamic resistance is led by none other than former Vice President Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, an ardent Iraqi nationalist, a Sunni Arab and a practicing member of the Sufi brotherhood, a society of Islamic mystics. His deputy is Rafi Tilfah, who headed the Directorate of General Security (DGS), an organization that had thoroughly penetrated Iraqi society with collaborators and informants during Saddam's regime.
As a former UN weapons inspector, I have personally inspected the headquarters of the DGS in Baghdad, as well as the regional DGS Headquarters in Tikrit. The rooms were full of files concerning those who were working with or on behalf of the DGS. There is not a person, family, tribe or Islamic movement in Iraq that the DGS does not know intimately – information that is an invaluable asset when coordinating and facilitating a popular-based resistance movement.
I also interacted with the former Director of the Special Security Organization, Hani al-Tilfah, on numerous occasions during 1997-98, when he was put in charge of riding roughshod over my inspections. He was also responsible for transferring many of his officers to Rafi's command, purging the DGS of old Ba'athist nationalists and replacing them with officers loyal to Saddam's new Islamic-Tribal vision of Iraq. Today he helps coordinate the operations of the Iraqi resistance using the very same officers.
Tahir Habbush headed the Iraqi Intelligence Service that perfected the art of improvised explosive devices and using them to carry out assassinations. In the months prior to the U.S.-led invasion, he was ordered to blend his agents back into the Iraqi population so as to avoid detection by any occupying force. The intelligence service agents were also told to infiltrate organizations actively opposed to Saddam Hussein, and thus most likely to play a leading role in any post-Saddam Iraqi government. These included both the Kurdish and Shi'ite opposition parties.
The recent anti-American attacks in Fallujah and Ramadi were carried out by well-disciplined men fighting in cohesive units, most likely drawn from the ranks of Saddam's Republican Guard. The level of sophistication should not have come as a surprise to anyone familiar with former Chief of the Republican Guard Sayf al-Rawi's role in secretly demobilizing select Guard units for this very purpose prior to the U.S. invasion. And as the former Director of Tribal Affairs for the Special Security Organization, Rokan Razuki's knowledge of Iraqi tribal realities is unmatched and his connections unrivaled. His continued access to tribal councils is a tremendous threat to any authority in charge of Iraq.
No More Lebanons
The transfer of sovereignty to the new Iraqi government of Iyad Allawi is a charade that will play itself out over the next weeks and months, with tragic consequences. Allawi's government, hand-picked by the United States from the ranks of anti-Saddam expatriates, lacks not only a constituency inside Iraq, but also legitimacy in the eyes of many ordinary Iraqi citizens.
The truth is that there never was a significant people-based opposition movement inside Iraq for the Bush Administration to call on to form a government to replace Saddam. It is why the United States has instead been forced to rely on the services of individuals tainted by their association with foreign intelligence services, or drawn from opposition parties heavily infiltrated by agents of Saddam's former security services.
Regardless of the number of troops the United States puts on the ground or how long they stay there, Allawi's government is doomed to fail. The more it fails, the more it will have to rely on the United States to prop it up. The more the U.S. props up Allawi, the more discredited he becomes in the eyes of the Iraqi people – all of which creates yet more opportunities for the Iraqi resistance to exploit to their advantage.
The historical parallel that best underscores the current disaster-in-the-making is not the Vietnam War but rather Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Originally intended to rid Lebanon of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel's subsequent occupation led to the creation of Hizbollah as a viable force of political and military resistance. The Hizbollah was so effective that Israel was forced to unilaterally withdraw its forces from Lebanon in May, 2000. The 18-year occupation not only failed to defeat the PLO, but it also created an Islamic fundamentalist movement that today poses a serious threat to the security of Israel and the Middle East region.
In Iraq, history may very well produce the same result since neither the Bush Administration nor a possible Kerry Administration shows any inclination to withdraw from Iraq in the foreseeable future. And so the course of American involvement in Iraq and its inevitable consequences are clear. We will suffer a decade-long nightmare that will lead to the deaths of thousands more Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis. We will witness the creation of a viable and dangerous anti-American movement in Iraq which will one day watch as American troops unilaterally withdraw from Iraq every bit as ignominiously as Israel did from Lebanon.
The strength of this anti-American resistance depends on how long the United States chooses to "stay the course" in Iraq. The calculus is quite simple: The sooner we bring our forces home, the weaker this movement will be. And, of course, the obverse is true: The longer we stay, the stronger and more enduring this by-product of Bush's elective war on Iraq will be.
There is no elegant solution to our Iraqi debacle. It is no longer a question of winning, but rather mitigating defeat.
In early November, 2003, I found myself engaged in a series of meetings with members of the British Parliament on the issue of Iraqi WMD.
"I, of course, was against the war," opined Michael Meacher, a Labor MP and former environmental minister who resigned his position in protest of Prime Minister Blair's Iraq policy. "While I view Saddam as a menace, Blair simply had not made a case sufficient to support military action."
Meacher had gained an unlikely ally in fellow Labor MP Andrew Mackinlay, a leading member of the Select Committee of Foreign Affairs who had voted in favor of the war, but had recently come to question that decision. "We need to know the truth about Iraq's WMD," he told me. "We haven't gotten to the bottom of this one yet."
Others were less skeptical. The Chair of the Select Committee on Defense, Bruce George, listened patiently as I took apart Tony Blair's case for Iraq's retention of WMD, piece by piece, in the back of the Member's cafeteria. When I finished, George shrugged his shoulders. "I still believe that this war was justified over the issue of WMD," he said, "if for no other reason than Saddam's ongoing intent to acquire them in the face of UN inspections."
"Intent?" I asked, incredulously. "What intent? No one has made a case that Saddam was attempting to either hold on the hidden WMD, or reacquire new capabilities."
George was taken aback by my words. "Certainly you can't be saying you don't believe Saddam wanted WMD?" he asked.
"What I believe and what I know are two different things," I replied. "Our two nations went to war because our respective leaders said they knew Iraq possessed WMD, that they knew Saddam intended to acquire WMD. It has turned out that there has been no WMD found in Iraq, and no hard evidence to sustain any ongoing acquisition of WMD by Saddam."
"Yes, we know that," George repeated. "But we also know that Saddam intended to get these weapons in defiance of the UN, and for that reason he had to be removed."
"How do you know this?" I asked. "On what basis can you back this up?"
"Because," George said, with a smile, "Saddam is evil."
And with that, the discussion ended.
I had come face to face with a phenomenon I have come to describe as the 'theocracy of evil.' Going beyond mere political ideology, the theocracy of evil encompasses a faith-based value system that embraces a simplistic 'good versus evil' opposition. If Saddam is evil, such thinking holds, then evil must be confronted, and such niceties as fact and fact-based logic no longer apply. As such, WMD became simply an enabling issue – something designed to focus the attention of the public while those in charge pursued the broader agenda of confronting evil.
The 'theocracy of evil' establishes a deeply ingrained mindset that may be the reason why the U.S. intelligence community failed to accurately assess Iraq's WMD capabilities; why Congress failed to adequately debate the issue of Iraq before voting to go to war; and why the American public willingly allowed itself to be drawn into a war without demanding more proof to back up the Bush administration's allegations. If Saddam is evil, such thinking holds, then he surely intends to acquire WMD, and as such every bit of data collected regarding Iraq must be assessed with that assumption foremost in mind.
President George W. Bush repeatedly used the bully pulpit of the presidency to preach the 'theocracy of evil', most notably on Jan. 20, 2003, during his State of the Union address. "Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror," the President said. "States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger."
Congressman Steve Chabot, a Republican representing the First District of Ohio, exemplifies the congressional embrace of the 'theocracy of evil.' He defended the war in Iraq as an operation designed "to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction, root out terrorists, topple Saddam Hussein's evil dictatorship and liberate the oppressed citizens of Iraq." The congressional debate over Iraq in the lead-up to the war focused on WMD and Saddam's purported links with al Qaeda. It resulted in Congress abrogating their constitutional powers by transferring war powers authority to the president before Mr. Bush had formally decided on war with Iraq.
But how does Representative Chabot, who ironically serves as the Chairman of the House Committee on the Constitution, feel today about the decision to go to war, now that no WMD have been found, and no links between Saddam and Al Qaeda have been uncovered. Is toppling Saddam's 'evil regime' and the 'liberation' of Iraq worth the cost in human lives and the damage done to constitutional processes?
Even worse is the passivity of those in Congress responsible for effective oversight of the massive failure of intelligence regarding Iraq, WMD and purported links with al Qaeda. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, a Republican, and Senator John Rockefeller of West Virginia, a Democrat, have been embroiled in partisan politics, which has paralyzed the committee's ongoing investigation into intelligence assessments of Iraqi WMD capabilities. Efforts to get these two senators to talk on the record about the investigation have been futile.
But a senior staff member of the Select Intelligence Committee has says that it is unlikely that the committee will render any definitive judgment until after the Iraqi Survey Group submits its final report.
Given the recent resignation of David Kay from his position on the ISG, and the diversion of many of the ISG's resources away from the search for WMD and into the counterinsurgency effort, such a report is unlikely to be submitted any time soon. Some estimate that such a report, if written at all, won't come out until the fall, after the presidential election. In fear of being seen as "partisan," no one on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee would comment on the record regarding such a turn of events.
The truth about what the U.S. intelligence community knew about Iraq's missing WMD is truly a Pandora's Box, with any disclosure sure to incite repercussions that would be damaging not only to those who promoted the war with Iraq, but those who supported this effort, helped hype the war in the media, or stood passively by while all of this occurred.
The pervasiveness in America today of the 'theocracy of evil' has led to a widespread 'ends justify the means' mentality that may prove fatal to a democratic institution founded on the principle of the rule of law. Andrew Mackinlay has made it clear that as far as he is concerned, democratic principles will trump the 'theocracy of evil' in Great Britain. "Politics be damned," the influential member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs said to me during my stay in London. "If it turns out that the Blair Government lied or misrepresented fact to make its case for war, then the defense of democracy requires nothing less than coming to a full accounting over what transpired, regardless of the consequences. I'm certain my constituents would demand nothing less of me."
Looking at the political landscape in the United States today, I wonder if there are politicians today from either major party who are willing to do the same in defense of American democracy, or constituents with the courage to demand it.
Scott Ritter was the UN Chief Inspector in Iraq from 1991-1998. He is the author of 'Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America" (Context Books, 2003)