Monday, May 08, 2006


left: a warm welcome home for an Iraq War veteran

In the early summer of 2002, Democrats controlled the United States Senate with a one vote majority. With a balky economy, Enron and WorldCom imploding from fraud and scams, Clinton surpluses turned into burgeoning Bush deficits, and Osama still running loose nine months after the 9-11-01 attacks and President Bush’s guarantee that he would get Bin Laden “dead or alive,” there was a very real chance the Republicans would lose the House and turn Bush into a lame duck only two years into his presidency. By November of 2002, the Republicans took back the Senate and bumped up their majority in the House. None of the economic news had improved and Osama was still uncaught and unrepentent. What happened? How did President Bush pull off a political miracle?

The answer has come to us from a multitude of sources: former Bush Secretary of Treasury Paul O’Neill; former Bush counter-terrorism head Richard Clarke; former NSA terrorism analyst and ex-Marine Rand Beers; and the 9-11 Commission report, to name a few. The answer is that in politics nothing rallies a nation around its leader and its government like an external threat and a buildup towards war. As the 2002 Downing Street memo revealed, British officials discovered that President Bush and his advisors were so determined to go to war in Iraq that they were fixing the intelligence to overstate- or in some cases, fabricate- evidence that Iraq was threatening to develop and deploy weapons of mass destruction. Not coincidentally, the war fever drummed up by the President, Vice President, and (then) National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice, was sufficient to overcome all of the bad domestic news and rally Americans who were confused by the President’s constant conflation of Iraq and the 9-11 attacks in his speeches- a connection later refuted by all evidence made available to the 9-11 Commission.

Under the leadership of Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, our country had acted in schizophrenic fashion towards Saddam Hussein, first aiding him in his efforts to wage war against Iran, then turning on him after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait that precipitated the first Gulf War. The famous photograph of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam on December 20, 1983, was taken when Rumsfeld was sent as special envoy from Republican President Reagan to solidify our tilt towards Iraq during its war with Iran. That aid occurred during the years when Saddam was guilty of the infamous war crimes for which he is now on trial and which have been cited by Republican neoconservatives as an after-the-fact justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq when the “weapons of mass destruction” turned out to be a hoax.

But that wasn’t the first unnecessary war caused by a Bush Administration guilty of venality and incompetence. In 1990, President George Bush, and his Secretary of State, James Baker, engaged in one of the most misbegotten and expensive pieces of diplomacy in American history. On July 25, 1990, our ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, met with Saddam Hussein and relayed her instructions from her superiors:

"I have direct instructions from President Bush to improve our relations with Iraq. We have considerable sympathy for your quest for higher oil prices, the immediate cause of your confrontation with Kuwait. As you know, I lived here for years and admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country....

We can see that you have deployed massive numbers of troops in the south. Normally that would be none of our business, but when this happens in the context of your threat s against Kuwait, then it would be reasonable for us to be concerned. For this reason, I have received an instruction to ask you, in the spirit of friendship - not confrontation - regarding your intentions: Why are your troops massed so very close to Kuwait's borders?....

We have no opinion on your Arab - Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960's, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.

(Saddam smiles)”

On August 2, 1990, Saddam, thinking that President Bush had given him a green light, sent his troops to invade and occupy Kuwait. Seven months later American forces, allied with the British and other Coalition members, ejected the Iraqi Army from Kuwait in “Operation Desert Storm.” Although the road to Baghdad was wide open and Saddam could easily have been removed from power, President Bush refused to do so. In a 1998 book President Bush co-authored with his former National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft, he explained his reasons for not permitting American commander Norman Schwarzkopf to lead the charge to Baghdad:

"Extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq . . . would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. . . . We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad . . . [and] rule Iraq. . . . Under those circumstances there would have been no viable exit strategy . . . the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land."

This decision rankled a group of Republicans later labeled as the “new conservatives,” or “neocons” for short. From 1945 through 1989, the central focus of American foreign policy- and during the McCarthy era of the early 1950’s, much of American domestic policy- was the Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union. With the crumbling of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War in 1989, there were a lot of right wing armchair warriors who lost their raison d’etre, their reason for existing. More importantly to the saga of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, there were several huge defense contractors which saw their sources of funds drying up during the 1990’s as a result of President Bush’s cashing in of the “peace dividend” when America’s troops were demobilized after Operation Desert Storm. Some of them- most notably Lockheed-Martin, were active in promoting government policies which were likely to expand their domestic and foreign markets. And nothing helps a defense contractor’s business like an imminent foreign threat or, even better, a hot war.

Although neo-conservatives later blamed President Clinton for a perceived decline in American military strength and its intelligence gathering apparatus during the 1990’s, it was no secret that the first President Bush had instructed his top defense officials to start the reduction in America’s conventional forces after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After President Clinton won his second term, the new conservatives cast about for a new enemy for America. Most of these “neocons” never served in the military, including Dick Cheney, who testified at his Defense Secretary confirmation hearings in 1989 that he had “other priorities” during the Vietnam War when he received five successive deferments and collected two driving under the influence convictions, one in Montana and one in Wyoming.

The trouble was, there really were no external threats to America during the 1990’s. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing by Islamic terrorists led by Kuwaiti Ramzi Yousef and funded by his uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, was largely written off as a freak incident, unique and unlikely to be repeated. With six killed and the structures intact, we treated it as a crime, not a declaration of war. Even if it had been war, there was no return address and no sovereign state to build up as the next Nazi Germany or Communist Russia.

But the neocons were nothing if not creative, so in 1997 they picked a new old enemy- Iraq. They weren’t deterred by the obvious facts that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a shadow of its former self, decimated by sanctions and surrounded by American troops in Kuwait and Turkey, with the northern and southern thirds restricted by no fly zones for Iraq’s military aircraft.

NEXT WEEK: the “Project for New American Century.”


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