Fox News recently reported that 58% of U.S. residents believe that the U.S. “did the right thing” in going to war in Iraq. This reflects the fact that most have been persuaded that combat is over, the troops having succeeding in toppling a dictator and establishing a democracy.
I don’t know how accurate the statistic is, but my gut feeling is that it’s probably pretty accurate. And profoundly depressing. Have people forgotten that this war was fought, not for such reasons, but to destroy Saddam Hussein’s (alleged) weapons of mass destruction and end his (supposed) cooperation with al-Qaeda?
Have they forgotten how terrified the Bush administration made them, with carefully calculated talking points? (For example: “Let’s hope the smoking gun isn’t a mushroom cloud over New York City.”) With all the insane color-coded threat advisories, and all the Orwellian manipulation, in the background? With the “Information Awareness Office” under Adm. Poindexter, seemingly modeled after the surveillance system in the former East Germany, making all thinking people uneasy? With Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer saying–after comedian Bill Maher opined matter-of-factly that whatever else they were the 9-11 hijackers weren’t “cowards”–“All Americans need to watch what they say”?
Have they forgotten that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, and that a bipartisan Senate committee concluded that there were in fact no links between Saddam and al-Qaeda? Don’t they recall that–as Senator John Rockefeller, the Committee’s ranking Democrat, put it–“the administration’s repeated allegations of a past, present and future relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq were wrong and intended to exploit the deep sense of insecurity among Americans in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks”?
Immediately after the 9-11 attacks, the Bush administration began plans for an invasion of Iraq. These plans were driven by neoconservatives holding key second-tier positions in the Defense Department and in the Office of the Vice President. (Recall that Cheney was the most powerful vice president ever, had enormous influence over Bush, headed up the transition office that selected the new administration’s top officials, and had–following that stolen election of 2000–seeded the government with neoconservatives.) Neocon Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense (58), held nearly as much power as his boss, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (69). He made Iraq War preparations his main task after 9-11. It was his passion.
Rumsfeld suggested the very day after 9-11 that the U.S. attack Iraq because there were no “good targets” in Afghanistan, where 2 of the 19 hijackers had, it was eventually announced, trained. (None were Iraqi.) He wrote a memo to aides to get “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. (Saddam Hussein) at same time. Not only UBL (Osama bin Laden). Go massive.” “Sweep it all up,” he told aides, “Things related and not.” In other words: Use this opportunity to build a case for invading Iraq, even if it had no relation to 9-11. (Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security advisor, frankly stated that the 9-11 events provided “opportunities.”)
Meanwhile Bush took aside his counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke and in what the latter says was “a very intimidating way” asked him to “find whether Iraq did this.” When Clarke said, “there’s no connection,” Bush repeated the demand that he find one. The administration also stoked fears that Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks. (It wasn’t.)
When the intelligence community was unable to establish Iraq-al-Qaeda links of any significance, Wolfowitz appointed neocons Abram Shulsky and Douglas Feith to set up an “Office of Special Plans” (OFP) in the Pentagon to circumvent the intelligence professionals and manufacture evidence for Iraq-al-Qaeda ties, and for weapons of mass destruction. Virtually all the assertions they came up with (drones capable of delivering WMDs, mobile chemical weapons labs, al-Qaeda flight training center, Niger uranium purchase [which one former intelligence official attributes to neocon Michael Ledeen], sponsorship of the Islamist terrorist al-Zarqawi, etc.) were subsequently discredited. They were manufactured lies allowing Bush (in September 2002) to declare, “You can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam.”
Secretary of State Colin Powell, called upon to make the case for war to the United Nations, actually exploded in indignation at one point prior to his presentation saying, “I’m not reading this. This is bullshit.”
Maybe the best example of the bullshit was neocon Richard Perle’s baseless statement to an Italian journalist in 2002 that 9-11 hijacker “Mohammed Atta met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad prior to September 11. We have proof of that, and we are sure he wasn’t just there for a holiday. The meeting is one of the motives of an American attack on Iraq.” Perle was at the time the chair of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, a position that–not that this means much–doesn’t require congressional approval. There is in fact no proof of any such meeting, or rational basis to think it happened. Perle like all the neocon ideologues lies as a matter of principle. His good buddy Ahmad Chalabi having spoon-fed disinformation to the OFP proclaimed, after his lies were exposed, “We are heroes in error.” In other words, we lied heroically to obtain our end, the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Powell now regrets having been used by the “little government” within the government centering around Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz that drove the plans for war. (I don’t say that to defend him. I think he’s an amoral opportunist. He helped cover up the My Lai Massacre, after all, in 1968. I’m just pointing out he felt troubled about being the one to deliver these lies before the UN General Assembly about a “sinister nexus” between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He now feels it’s a blot on his career history. He reportedly joked nervously with British officials about possible war crimes trials in the future.)
Many in the professional intelligence community still resent the visits of Cheney and his chief aide (and neocon) “Scooter” Libby to the Pentagon to browbeat them into altering their reports on Iraq. It was absolutely unprecedented for a vice president (usually the vice presidency is a ceremonial position) to take a keen interest in the production of intelligence reports, or to demand that very questionable material be included in those reports. Even if the CIA was convinced that some report from neocons’ informants such as Ahmad Chalabi, Ayad Allawi or Rafid Ahmed Alwan (“Curveball”) was totally worthless, Cheney and Libby urged them to include it, at least indicating that some people thought the information valid. That was the scheme–to countermand objective intelligence reports with deliberate disinformation to give Bush his alibi for war.
The White House Iraq Group (WHIG) headed by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and chaired by Bush’s senior advisor Karl Rove coordinated the PR campaign. (Rove entered political life as a college student, at age 19 stealing 1000 sheets of Democratic Party campaign letterhead and circulating fake campaign fliers to damage a Democratic candidate. The documentary Bush’s Brain tells the whole nasty story.) Card came up with the line: “Let’s hope the smoking gun isn’t a mushroom cloud over New York City.”
The New York Times, itself a proponent of the war, noted that Bush had a “meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress, and the allies of the need to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein.” It quoted Card, after Labor Day in 2002, explaining why the case for war was only made in September: “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” The case for war was marketed.
The WHIG group deliberately played upon fear. As the Downing Street memos show, British intelligence was well aware as of July 2002 that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” (In other words, the U.S. had decided to invade, and was creating bogus intelligence in order to justify doing so.)
Shouldn’t all this be obvious by now to thinking people in this country?
Wolfowitz–in an unguarded moment, demonstrating the cavalier attitude and contempt for truth of these neocons–told Vanity Fair in 2003, “for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason.” In other words, having decided to go to war, they debated among themselves how to justify it to the people, and most thought the weapons charge would be most effective.
How Joseph Goebbels would have admired their procedure!
Please, you 58%! The U.S. “did the right thing”? Invading a sovereign country already crippled by sanctions, which Powell had assured reporters earlier in 2001 was not a threat to the U.S.? (He’d said “We have [Saddam] contained, kept him in his box.”) No way! It was so, so wrong. And the ongoing occupation is wrong.
It’s normal in warfare to use disinformation against the enemy. Maybe you make him think you’re going to attack from the west, so he’ll divert troops and you’ll attack him from the east. The neocons however use disinformation against the people of their own country (or one of their countries, since many are dual US-Israeli nationals). They employ the concept of the “Noble Lie” in order to attain their ends.
They knew Bush wanted war. He’d said in 1999, “If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it.” They knew he was intellectually weak, a dry alcoholic, re-born Christian deeply sympathetic to Israel. He didn’t ask many questions and was heavily influenced by their patron Dick Cheney. They knew Cheney was intent on encircling rising China, interested in securing control of Iraq’s oil fields and also impressed by their worldview and eager to work with them for mutual benefit.
Here was their opportunity to begin implementation of a program some of them (including Douglas Feith and his Defense Department subordinate as of 2001, David Wurmser) had laid out in 1996 in a paper commissioned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Netanyahu of course is now again prime minister, still opposing the “Oslo peace process” and facilitating more illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank.)
Termed “a kind of US-Israeli neoconservative manifesto” by one journalist, this paper, enitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” called for the forceful removal of regimes hostile to Israel throughout the region (as opposed to a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world).
9-11 provided the neocons a grand opportunity to begin reconfiguring the Middle East for the benefit of Israel. But they couldn’t be straightforward about that; they couldn’t say that. They couldn’t say, “Saddam Hussein supports Palestinian militants and Hizbollah in Lebanon. So the U.S. should use its soldiers to topple him.” Hence the “noble lies” about weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaeda ties.
The neocons are influenced by the classicist/philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973). Wolfowitz studied under this immigrant German Jew at the University of Chicago. (Shulsky, another one of his students, once wrote a paper on the application of Leo Strauss’s thought to the world of intelligence.) Strauss distrusted modern democracy; having grown up in the Weimar Republic and fled it, after it had morphed into Nazi Germany as a result of elections. He questioned the ability of the masses to choose appropriate leadership. Drawing on some ideas of Plato he suggested that societies should be ruled in the background by “the wise” making use of front men (“gentlemen”) to persuade the ignorant masses to accept wise policies which, if explained to them honestly, they would likely reject. The gentleman articulates the “noble lies” on behalf of the wise and convinces the people.
(Recall how Dick Cheney told Tim Russet soon after 9-11 on Face the Nation: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful… so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.” Around the same time there were reports of the government planting false stories for strategic purposes not only in the foreign press but the U.S. press. Following protests, the administration announced it had no intention of planting stories in the U.S. press. But it was subsequently revealed that it paid reporters and worked with at least one planted “journalist” who attended White House press conferences.)
The “wise” in this case included Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff. He headed up an office so secretive that it refused to cooperate with the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office (which is supposed to ensure proper handling of intelligence documents by executive branch agencies). Cheney claimed–preposterously, but he got away with it–that the vice president’s office was not really an executive branch. Such arrogance was unprecedented.
Libby of course was convicted on charges related to an effort his discredit Joseph Wilson, in revenge for Wilson’s exposure of the administration’s deliberate use of the bogus Niger uranium story. There is no end to the dishonesty of these “wise” neocons responsible for the invasion of Iraq, which the world opposed and which UN Secretary General Kofi Annan flat-out called “illegal.”
How can it possibly have been “the right thing”?
The neocons got away with it, and then started slipping quietly out of the administration, laughing all the way to the bank. The World Bank, in Wolfowitz’s case (until he left his post in disgrace due to improper payments to his girlfriend). Feith left in 2005 to assume a distinguished post at Georgetown University. They are now college professors, cable television commentators with titles linking them to various right-wing thinktanks. They are treated with respect as authorities on world affairs. None are in jail for lying to the people of this country, producing a war that has displaced at least four million Iraqis, set back women’s rights, devastated the Iraqi Christian community…
And they’re not done! The current “noble lie” is that Iran is on the verge of producing nuclear weapons. Despite the fatwa issued by Iran’s supreme religious leader against nuclear weapons, despite the continual reports from the IAEA that no nuclear fuel has been diverted from monitored sites, despite the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran has no military nuclear program (which Cheney/Libby tried to suppress), the neocons insist that they know better.
In the build-up to the Iraq War, the neocons were careful to avoid mentioning the issue of Israel’s security, although that was their chief concern. Saddam, they said, was a threat to the whole world. The fact is, none of the countries bordering Iraq, including the two Iraq had invaded (Iran and Kuwait) saw Saddam as a threat or welcomed or requested a U.S. attack. Only Israel applauded U.S. war preparations.
But in building the case for an attack on the next target–Iran–the neocons center their argument around Israeli security. “Bomb Iran!” screams Norman Podhoretz, “godfather of neoconservatism.” Why? Because, he claims, it intends to use nuclear weapons against Israel as soon as it has them. How does he know this? Because, he insists, Iranian President Ahmadinejad has declared Iran’s intention to “wipe Israel off the map.”
This is another “noble lie.” (Ahmadinejad in a speech to students in solidarity with Palestine a few years ago merely quoted Ayatollah Khomeini–who died over twenty years ago: “This regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” His point was that like the Soviet Union, or the regime of Saddam Hussein, Israel as a Jewish state won’t last forever.) But most people in this country have, I fear, been persuaded that Ahmadinejad said, “We’re going to wipe Israel off the map as soon as we get nukes.”
After a meeting with Podhoretz (also attended by Cheney), Bush gave a speech in which he ominously and ridiculously declared that Iran “threatens’ Israel with “a nuclear holocaust.” The association of genocide with a peaceful nuclear program once backed by the U.S. (when the Shah was in power) was naked fear mongering. And it was an appeal to the Christian Zionists to get on board the program to attack Iran–to save Israel in these End Times. (If the U.S. has to do something terrible to protect Israel, so be it.)
We all (should) know that Israel has nuclear weapons. Maybe 200 or so. And unlike Iran, it has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Its nuclear sites are not monitored by the IAEA. When rational people (including some Israelis) suggest that Iran even if it had nukes would not attack Israel with them for fear of massive retaliation, the neocons respond that Iran being so huge could survive a nuclear exchange whereas all the Jews in Israel could be killed. What nonsense. Their evidence? A statement by former Iranian president Rafsanjani: “If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in [its] possession … application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.”
That’s just a statement of fact, not a threat. The “Muslim world” extends from Morocco to Indonesia and includes about 1.3 billion people (while there are maybe 16 million Jews, about 6 million in Israel). And by the way the “world of Islam” already has nuclear weapons–Pakistan has had them for over a decade. Rafsanjani certainly didn’t say, “We’d be happy to loose 10 million of our people, if we can only kill 7 million Israelis, one quarter of whom are Muslim Arabs”! (Rafsanjani is, in fact, usually described as a “pragmatic conservative” who wants to avoid conflict with the west. He is certainly not advocating war with Israel. And by the way, whereas Israel has repeatedly invaded the surrounding countries since its inception, often claiming the actions are “pre-emptive” against those hostile to it, Iran has not invaded any country in centuries.)
The efforts to vilify Iran are endless. In 2006 Canada’s National Post ran a dis-informational piece, quickly picked up by the U.S. press, about a plan of the Iranian parliament to badge Jews. Iranian officials including Iranian Jewish leaders quickly pointed out that this was somebody’s fabrication. There had never been any such discussion, and it would be inconceivable in Iran. In fact Iran has the largest number of Jews in the Middle East outside Israel and they possess the same legal rights as others, and are guaranteed parliamentary representation. There is no doubt that Iran is a repressive state, and the situation of Jews is not ideal.
But it’s a whole lot more comfortable than that of Palestinians in Gaza. There was no movement underway to badge Jews. The author of the piece simply wanted to suggest that Iranian authorities were following Nazi precedent–total fear-mongering fiction.
Cheney (whom you recall has never retracted his insistence on Iraq-al-Qaeda links) has been saying that Iran can’t possibly need nuclear power for peaceful purposes because it has so much oil. But while Cheney served in the Nixon and Ford administrations the U.S. was actively encouraging Iran to acquire nuclear power through the “Atoms for Peace” program. Just like it was encouraging Brazil, Pakistan, India, and other countries to build reactors with the help of General Electric and other U.S. corporations.
As the Iranians point out, nuclear power is cleaner, their oil will eventually run out, and they’d rather sell it than use it domestically to finance development. (Cheney by the way sabotaged an Iranian effort towards rapprochement in the spring of 2003. In a message conveyed to Washington through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, the Iranians offered support for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and for the Arab League proposal for a two-state solution. They offered to discuss their nuclear program and to end support for Hamas and Hizbollah. Powell as secretary of state was interested in the offer. But Cheney berated the Swiss diplomat for sending it in the first place, demanding he never do it again. “We don’t negotiate with evil,” he declared.
As of February 2003 Richard Armitage, Powell’s deputy, number two man in the State Department, was calling Iran a “democracy.” U.S. wrestlers had been attending the Takhti Cup in Iran, accorded a warm welcome. But if there was potential for “ping-pong diplomacy,” the neocons destroyed it.
The neocons have less of a presence in the Obama administration than they did in the Bush one, obviously. But Obama’s key advisor on Iran, with an office in the White House, is Dennis Ross, a neocon who has known to favor a policy of ultimatums to Iran followed by a naval blockade to prevent gasoline imports. In an op-ed piece he co-authored in 2008, he recommended the naval blockade be followed by a blockade of oil exports, then massive air strikes on the nuclear facilities and military facilities. The goal would be not only the crippling of the nuclear program for a few years but the destruction of the military and government.
What madness! The devastation and chaos this would produce are incalculable, worse even than the grotesque results of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The anti-U.S. rage that would explode throughout the world (and not only in Muslim countries) immeasurable. The neocons who once said the Iraq invasion would be a “cakewalk” and require 100,000 troops at most now say the Iranian people are the most “pro-American” in the region (and so they will welcome an American attack). The fact is, almost all Iranians are proud of the country’s nuclear program, want to move ahead with it, and would be shocked by any attack on it.
While 58% of U.S. residents polled now might say invading Iraq was the “right thing,” according to Fox News about 60% think force will need to be used to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
This means the neocons are winning. Obama’s in their camp, their black front man “gentleman” (rather like Colin Powell) delivering their message to the masses. (In his very first press conference after the election, Obama was asked about his response to a congratulatory message from Ahmadinejad. It was merely: “Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable.”) While he talks about talks without preconditions, he in fact demands that Iran suspend its entirely legal program of nuclear enrichment as the precondition for negotiations.
Neocon John Bolton was the main neocon in the State Department during George W. Bush administration. He peddled so much disinformation about Cuban and Syrian weapons programs that the intelligence community insisted he not appear at a scheduled Congressional hearing in July 2002. This is a man very comfortable with “noble lies,” delivering them with a particularly violent, blustering style. He tells Fox News he may run for president. Imagine that–the man couldn’t get Congressional confirmation as UN Ambassador because too many in both parties regarded him as a bully playing hard and loose with the facts–as president! The Republican field of candidates could then include a guy who thinks Jesus Christ appeared in the sky over New York delivering the Sermon on the Mount; a woman who claims to see Russia from her house and has no brain; a preacher who believes in “biblical inerrancy;” a general with lots of Iraqi and Afghan blood on his hands; and this attack dog.
With Democrats in disarray, Obama’s popularity plummeting, and historical memories short, one of them might win. Hey, if 58% think the war in Iraq was the “right thing,” anything’s possible in this troubled country.
In 2003 Bolton was (as Undersecretary of State) was assigned to attend multilateral talks with North Korean representatives concerning Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Because of his undiplomatic language about Kim Jong-il and life in North Korea, the North Koreans demanded he be excluded from the deliberations. In the same year British officials “at the highest level” demanded that he be removed from the team negotiating a (successful) deal with Libya in which Libya agreed to abandon WMDs.
The Koreans called him “human scum.” I don’t often agree with North Korean representations of reality, but I’d say anyone who deliberately lies in order to convince people to support a war (or fear a whole people, or hate a world religion) is indeed a scumbag.
Strauss was right, I think, in believing that the masses are ill-informed and can be easily manipulated. The 58% figure shows that. Teabaggers and East Coast liberals alike “support the troops.” While Obama praises Bush for his patriotic motives in his decision to invade Iraq, the supposedly antiwar satirist/comedian Steven Colbert is “honoring the troops” for their service.
Why not honor the Soviet youth who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s too? Why not honor the wholesome German youth so filled with patriotism who invaded Poland in 1939? Or (applying Kant’s “categorical imperative”) honor all troops of all countries who have invaded countries throughout time, in appreciation of their “service”?
(I say this as a military brat born on an Air Force base in Alaska while my dad was monitoring Soviet behavior in the Bering Strait. I was raised on or near military bases in Nevada, California, Germany, Virginia and Hawai’i. My late father received the highest non-combat heroism award that the Air Force accords. Half of my family is military. But do I want to “honor the troops”? How can I do that without honoring what’s happened, what they did in Iraq?)
Strauss was right about the malleability of the masses. But the answer is not noble liars pulling strings. People need genuine empowerment, and need to be equipped with critical thinking abilities derived from education, and information from objective news media (rather than bombastic infotainment). How to bring about such empowerment? I don’t know.
58% now think the war was okay? It’s hard not to respond with despair. I just try to keep exposing the lies, and oppose the killing.