Eliot Weinberger A few Facts & Questions

alligatorzine | zine

2 February 2004: One of the enduring mysteries is what it takes for news to become news in the U.S. All the recent scandalous revelations about the Bush Team and the war in Iraq have been common knowledge or open secrets for months or years. Yet even now they are disappearing into clouds of denial, recrimination, and deliberate obfuscation. Administration officials wear out the old waters-in-Casablanca line ("I was misinformed"), while the hawks and so-called liberal hawks take recourse in selecting and refuting the most specious of their opponents' arguments. A few plain facts:

1. The invasion of Iraq was a priority of the Bush Team from the very beginning. [On January 27, 2001, I wrote that a "principal concern" of the new Administration would be a "return to Iraq." I got my insider information from the New York Times.] All of the solemnly and endlessly repeated warnings of imminent threats, terrorism, and WMD's were merely a marketing scheme – as Paul Wolfowitz has admitted – for the plans they had made long before. (It is quite possible that, if 9/11 had not occurred, the invasion would have taken place in the winter of 2001-2002, as a distraction from the collapsing economy and a solution to Bush's enormous unpopularity as an incompetent who had stolen the election.)

2. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. The current crosshatch of finger-pointing over "who knew what" is mere damage control in an election year. On the matter of chemical/biological weapons, the Bush Team selected what they wanted to hear from the CIA, while complaining that the CIA was underestimating the threat. (Now they are falsely complaining that the CIA overestimated the threat.) To counter the information they didn't like, Rumsfeld created his own, unprecedented intelligence office within the Pentagon to confirm his delusions. All the intelligence sources (including the Israelis) were quite clear that Iraq did not have nuclear weapons, or even the rudiments of potential nuclear capability. The nukes were the fabrication of Ahmad Chalabi and members of other Iraqi exile groups, which the Bush Team enthusiastically accepted despite the lack of evidence, and which they used as their most compelling argument for immediate invasion. (For example, shortly before the Senate vote authorizing the invasion, 70 Senators, in a "classified" debriefing, were told that Iraq was capable of dropping nuclear weapons on East Coast cities using unmanned drone planes. The one drone plane they ultimately found, by the way, looked like something some kids had made in the backyard with plywood and rubber bands.) While most of the Team is now blaming the CIA for misinformation, Dick Cheney is sticking to his disinformation. Just last week, he emerged from one of his bird-slaughtering junkets to claim that Iraq did indeed have mobile biological weapon laboratories-- the same labs whose function was proven, months ago, to be the manufacturing of helium for weather balloons.

[An aside: Everyone got a good laugh when Bush, in the State of the Union address, gravely charged that Iraq had "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities." (As the comedian Jon Stewart said, "What the fuck is that?") Susan Stranahan of the Columbia Journalism Review has tracked down the origin of the phrase to an interim report last October by David Kay, the head weapons inspector for the Iraq Survey Group, who now states that Iraq had no WMD's. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he was asked what the phrase means:
"That includes, for example . . . a program to develop a substitute for a major precursor for VX using indigenous production capability and indigenous chemicals so they would not have to import it. It includes a study, for example, on a simulant for anthrax . . . They [the Iraqis] had looked at lethality of various agents and classified them. That's WMD-related work."
Well, ok. . . So another Senator asked: "How many countries would you say in the world today would qualify under the category of developing weapons of mass destruction-related program activities, or having such activities?"
Kay replied: "Probably about 50."
Which leaves 49 more countries to preemptively invade.]

3. Saddam Hussein was monstrous. However, most of his monstrous acts occurred in the 1980's when he was an ally of the U.S. – a bulwark against Iranian fundamentalism – with biological, chemical, and other weapons supplied by the U.S., or immediately following the Gulf War. According to many reports from those inside (most vividly, his personal translator) Saddam in the last years was in "autumn of the patriarch" mode: holed up in his palaces writing his trashy novels, and oblivious to the details of government. The regime was on the verge of collapse – but, thanks to the trade embargo, had been kept in power by its strict control over food, medicine, and other essentials. "Regime change" in Iraq would have occurred, and probably in the near future, without the U.S. invasion.

4. The invasion of Iraq was not, as the liberal hawks claim, an act of humanitarian intervention. Although the regime was oppressive – like many others in the world today – Saddam's most grotesque acts had occurred years before. The comparisons to Kosovo or Rwanda are false: The invasion did not stop any slaughter; it led to one.
The liberal hawk argument that we should celebrate the end of a fascist government relies on a selective reading of history. While it is true that the Baathist Party, like many nationalist movements, was founded in the 1940's based on European fascism, these same hawks do not – to take one example – similarly advocate the overthrow of the government of India, currently ruled by the BJP Party (the direct descendent of the RSS, the assassins of Gandhi, who attempted to ally themselves with Hitler – though Hitler, in the matter of India, preferred British rule). It may be said that more innocents are now dying in India because of government complicity than died in recent years in Iraq, before the war – but those Indian innocents are, of course, Muslims. Furthermore, the humanitarian intervention argument bizarrely and willfully ignored who was doing the intervening. If, say, the Argentine junta had invaded Chile and overthrown Pinochet, would they have celebrated the end of the Chilean dictatorship?

5. The Bush Team sincerely believed that, after overthrowing Saddam, they could easily set up a puppet government under Chalabi, who would be welcomed as a liberator, and they could get on with the serious business of reconstruction and drilling for oil. A "piece of cake," as they notoriously said. There appear to have been no plans at all, other than business plans, for the occupation. (The story remains to be told how Chalabi, an embezzler who had not been Iraq since he was a teenager, and considered treacherous by the CIA, so charmed the Bush Team.)

6. We are now at the beginning of what may well be a very long civil war in Iraq. The Kurds, after their semi-independence during the embargo, do not want to be returned to an Iraqi state. The Sunni minority is rightfully fearful of a rule by the Shi'ite majority, after decades of Sunni repression. The Shi'ites, quite brilliantly, have called the American bluff by demanding democracy – immediate direct elections – which is the last thing the U.S. wants, as it would undoubtedly lead to a state ruled by mullahs and unfriendly to American business. Iraq, an invention of the Versailles Treaty that was only held together by colonial or totalitarian governments, is Yugoslavia.

7. More American soldiers have died or have been wounded since the "Mission Accomplished" end of the war than during it. The capture of Saddam did not lessen the violence, or essentially change anything at all, proving his ultimate irrelevance to what is happening right now.
The Americans do not know who their enemy is – which means that not only is there no enemy to fight but, unlike Vietnam, there is not even an enemy to lose to. It is difficult to imagine how any American president, whether Bush or a Democrat, will be able to withdraw the troops in the immediate future. (And as for internationalizing the occupying forces: How many other nations will want to sacrifice their troops to clean up the American mess?) This is indeed the mother of all quagmires.

Afghanistan & Terrorism:

8. Terrorist acts are performed by tiny groups of individuals who are often transformed in the popular imagination (as in the 1960's or in the Muslim world today) into outlaw-heroes. Military activity, with its inevitable killing of civilians, not only does not stop terrorism, but it recruits further individuals to the cause, in the name of protecting or revenging innocents against the aggressor. Terrorism can only be fought through police and intelligence agencies. Europe arrests suspected terrorists; the U.S. blows up the neighborhoods where it thinks they live.

9. The war in Afghanistan killed thousands of innocents and did nothing to stop al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers, as the subsequent bombings in other countries proved. The camps that trained peasant foot soldiers for fighting in Kashmir and Uzbekistan may indeed be destroyed (if they have not merely relocated to Pakistan), but there is no evidence that the cells of middle-class, educated terrorists have been weakened, and much speculation that they have been strengthened.

10. The Taliban were monstrous. However, in their absence, the country has largely returned to warlord rule, with the "democratic" government limited to Kabul and its immediate environs. Outside of Kabul, the rights of women have not improved (or even, as it is never said, approach the degrees of freedom held by women under the Soviet occupation – or, for that matter, in Iraq under Saddam). Poppy production, banned by the Taliban, has once again become the country's largest industry. Radio music may be back, but the subsistence economy is even worse, and the Taliban is regrouping on the other side of the Pakistan border. Afghanistan – that graveyard of imperial ambitions since the time of Alexander the Great – is now a forgotten disaster.

11. There was absolutely no connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. (Osama bin Laden, after all, had often called for the overthrow of the secularist Saddam. And one of Saddam's last messages to his followers was a warning against the Islamists.) Saddam had nothing to do with international terrorism, and Iraqi Baathism under Saddam was a strictly national totalitarian movement without (Kuwait aside) the international ambitions of radical Islam. Everyone on the Bush Team knew this from the beginning. Their conflation of Saddam and terrorism, which still continues, is a lie that has led to many thousands of deaths.

12. The War on Terrorism has successfully created the climate of fear (the color-coded Alerts, the duct tape, the repeated use of the word "terror" in Bush's State of the Union address, etc.) that is a traditional hallmark of a totalitarian state. It has created chaos among foreigners living in the U.S., Muslim Americans, and anyone attempting to visit, study in, or emigrate to the U.S. It has created the largest new government bureaucracy – the Dept. of Homeland Security – since the New Deal, and surely the most useless one. It has created countless petty annoyances in airports, office buildings, public gathering places. It has suspended the legal rights of citizens and resident aliens, and destroyed the lives of innocent people through deportations and secret arrests.
The one thing the War on Terrorism has not done is eliminate terrorists. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have generally alienated the Muslim (and the rest of the) world from the U.S., and have created countless new sympathizers of radical Islam. Only a very few of those, of course, will become active terrorists, but terrorism depends on only a few.

13. Nearly everything said by the Bush Team (or their spokesperson, the President) has turned out to be a lie. Every day yet more lies are revealed: There are so many of them that the word "lie" has lost all meaning. By the standards of the Republicans during the Clinton Administration (Whitewater, Monica, Travelgate) the President and Vice-President should be impeached, and every important member of the Administration forced to resign.
We can imagine what the Republicans would have done if a Democratic
– had leaked the name of a covert CIA operative in petty revenge;
– awarded former employers billion-dollar contracts without competitive bidding and then allowed them to grossly inflate prices;
– ignored intelligence about terrorist threats before 9/11;
– failed to apprehend the anthrax killer;
– run up a $500 billion deficit for the coming year thanks to massive government spending;
– was losing 5-10 American soldiers a week in Iraq, keeping the wounded invisible (and cutting their medical benefits), while offering no possible exit scenario;
– refused to prosecute its biggest campaign contributor for cheating consumers out of billions of dollars;
– failed to capture Osama bin Laden;
– had an education policy based on falsified state statistics from the time when the current President was governor;
– hacked into the computers of the rival party for more than a year, stealing strategy plans;
– set up an internet gambling racket for "terrorism futures" at the Pentagon;
– refused to reveal the names of those who had attended important policy meetings;
– had the CEO's of voting machine manufacturing companies running their campaign committees;
– presided over the greatest job loss since the Great Depression (while proclaiming an economic recovery);
– circumvented Constitutional mandates by appointing ideological judges during a Congressional recess;
– frequently announced the "certainty" of an "imminent" terrorist attack "within days";
and on and on. It's safe to say there would be nobody left in office.

14. The Democrats, and their candidates for President, should be presenting concrete information that reveals the multiplicity and depth of these lies and deceptions. Instead they are speaking platitudes worthy of the politico poobahs in a Preston Sturges movie, using the bankrupt rhetoric of former campaigns ("special interests," "I'm an outsider"), or attacking each other for positions held years ago. It is difficult to imagine how they could not lose.
Nevertheless, if the election seems at all close, there will doubtlessly be another imminent security threat or another foreign invasion in early October, causing the nation to rally around the President in time of crisis. It is unimaginable, or all too imaginable, what another four years of this ruling junta will bring.


This material is © Eliot Weinberger

www.alligatorzine.be | © alligator 2004