Monday, May 15, 2006

PART III: How and why a cabal of “zealots” hijacked American policy and caused an unnecessary war

Marine Lt. General Greg Newbold left the service after “zealots” determined to invade Iraq hijacked American policy and diverted resources away from the war on terror

(this column will appear in the 5-18-06 THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

“In 1971, the rock group The Who released the antiwar anthem "Won't Get Fooled Again." To most in my generation, the song conveyed a sense of betrayal by the nation's leaders, who had led our country into a costly and unnecessary war in Vietnam. To those of us... who became career members of the military during those rough times--the song conveyed a very different message. To us, its lyrics evoked a feeling that we must never again stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it. Never again, we thought, would our military's senior leaders remain silent as American troops were marched off to an ill-considered engagement. It's 35 years later, and the judgment is in: The Who had it wrong. We have been fooled again.”

From 4/9/06 Time Magazine article by Marine Lieutenant General Greg Newbold, the Pentagon's top operations officer from 2000-2002 during the buildup for the war in Iraq.

In the Fall of 2002, with Osama Bin Laden still uncaught in Afghanistan/Pakistan and American military forces committed to hunting him down along with the remaining members of Al Qaida in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush suddenly diverted essential military assets away from Afghanistan and the fight against the orchestrators of the 9-11-01 attacks. Instead, hundreds of thousands of troops were massed on Iraq’s border. On March 19, 2003, he ordered a preemptive invasion of Iraq, using as a pretext an alleged threat from Saddam Hussein’s imminent use of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear and biological weapons. $300 billion dollars, 2,400 dead Americans, and tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians later, the President’s decision has led to anarchy, civil war, a breeding ground for terrorists, the loss of our credibility and goodwill throughout the world, and a tripling of gasoline prices to $3 a gallon. Why did this happen? Who caused it?

General Newbold writes that the invasion of Iraq was “an unnecessary war” foisted on America by a group of “zealots” who had taken over the government. Highly upset with the diversion of resources away from hunting the terrorists who attacked America on 9-11, the general pointed out to his superiors that the “zealots ' rationale for war made no sense:”

“And I think I was outspoken enough to make those senior to me uncomfortable. But I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat--al-Qaeda. I retired from the military four months before the invasion, in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy.”

Who were these “zealots” who “hijacked” America’s security policy and diverted essential assets in the war against terror to the ill-fated Iraq expedition? Their origins came from a disappointment with the first President Bush’s 1991 refusal to topple Saddam Hussein and their dismay over a “peace dividend” which caused a reduction in the huge Pentagon budget. As sensible as President Bush’s decision now appears after his predictions- and worst fears- have been fulfilled by his son, numerous former members of his administration and other “neoconservatives” disagreed. Determined to rectify what they thought of as a mistake, they created a group called the “Project for a New American Century,” (PNAC) in 1997.

On January 26, 1998, eighteen members of the “Project for a New American Century” (PNAC) wrote to President William J. Clinton to ask him to:

“... turn your Administration's attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam's regime from power. This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts. Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater. We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf....”

Signers of the letter included future George W. Bush policy makers who were instrumental in laying the groundwork for the 2003 invasion, most notably Elliott Abrams, Richard L. Armitage, (now U.N. Ambassador) John Bolton, (now U.S. ambassador to Iraq) Zalmay Khalilzad, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Other PNAC members included Vice President Dick Cheney and Lockheed-Martin Vice President Bruce P. Jackson, who in 2002 temporarily left Lockheed to head up the “Coalition for the Liberation of Iraq,” an organization dedicated to create the environment to support a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq.

In 2000 the PNAC listed among its goals: “Reposition permanently based forces to Southern Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East...”

When George W. Bush took office in 2001, this group of influential outsiders were suddenly the most powerful men in the country. And they were determined to use the United States military to achieve their goals. Diplomacy was never a consideration for them because the demonstration of American military might was a primary part of their plan. As William Rivers Pitt, author of War on Iraq, wrote in February of 2003:

“When Bush assumed the Presidency, the men who created and nurtured the imperial dreams of PNAC became the men who run the Pentagon, the Defense Department and the White House. When the Towers came down, these men saw, at long last, their chance to turn their White Papers into substantive policy.”

Within hours after the 9-11 attacks occurred, PNAC member and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld immediately responded by suggesting an invasion of Iraq- not because it was connected to Al Qaida or the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center towers, but because Iraq was an easy target- it was “doable.” A Freedom of Information Act release revealed that on September 11, 2001, Rumsfeld instructed the military to, in the notes of one of Rumsfeld's aides,

"Judge whether good enough hit S.H. (Saddam Hussein) @ same time — not only UBL (Osama bin Laden) … Hard to get a good case …. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

The invasion of Iraq would be the PNAC’s crown jewel- a demonstration of America’s military might to the world-- a vicarious thrill for PNAC members who had never heard a shot fired in anger and who had no family members who would be serving on the front lines. There was a glitch, however: the CIA kept reporting back that there were no links between Iraq and Al Qaida and no evidence of an ongoing Iraqi program to develop and deploy weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s). Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney “solved” this problem by creating a separate intelligence unit in the Pentagon, whose sole purpose was to lay the groundwork for an Iraq invasion by fixing the intelligence. As New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour Hersh reported on May 5, 2003, a professional intelligence agent who left the unit revealed:

“One of the reasons I left was my sense that they were using the intelligence from the C.I.A. and other agencies only when it fit their agenda. They didn’t like the intelligence they were getting, and so they brought in people to write the stuff. They were so crazed and so far out and so difficult to reason with—to the point of being bizarre. Dogmatic, as if they were on a mission from God.” He added, ‘If it doesn’t fit their theory, they don’t want to accept it.’“

The 2002 “Downing Street Memo” confirmed that as early as the summer of 2002, the British were aware-- and concerned-- that members of the Bush Administration were so determined to go to war with Iraq that they were “fixing the intelligence.” Allegations of Iraq’s WMD’s by Vice President Cheney, (then) National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice, and President Bush in 2002 were made to drum up a war fever. The 2003 invasion was the culmination of a long planned effort by a group of Americans who had never seen combat- most never served in the military- to take our military for a spin” and see how it performed. To complete the metaphor, if America’s military was an expensive sports sedan, the PNAC cabal was a callow 16 year old who decided to borrow it-- then ran it into a ditch.


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