Monday, May 28, 2007
Ronald Bleier: Bush's Permanent War Agenda
The Bush-Cheney Regime and U.S. Middle East Policy: Radical Nihilists Driving Permanent War
By Ronald Bleier
“What I’m describing to the American people is this war on terror is going to take awhile, and Iraq is just a part of it.
- President George W. Bush, Interview with NPR/ Juan Williams, 1.29.07
When we look at the situation in Iraq today we see the destruction of a country and the unimaginable tragedy and suffering of tens of millions of peoples, only a tiny portion of which is reported in the mainstream media. By way of acknowledging some of the nightmare that is Iraq today, I’d like to quote a portion of an email sent to me by a colleague in April 2007. My friend had just attended a lecture at MIT given by an Iraqi academic now teaching in England. According to my informant, women in Iraq today,
fear going into labor at night because they are terrified they and their husbands will be killed on the way to hospital. EVERYONE fears going outside on the commonest of errands -- so much so that when people leave the house they say goodbye for the last time, since each time may well be the last. Women are afraid to leave their houses and many if not most are simply house-bound. Schools and universities are non-functioning. University professors among this lecturer's circle of friends have taught two or three classes in the past YEAR because criminal gangs/the factions have targeted professors as well as non-university professionals (doctors for instance) and have been killing them wantonly. Electrical grids and water supplies are still ravaged, with, for instance, no air conditioning in heats frequently at 120 degrees Fahrenheit (this affects women, children and family life in ways one can only imagine); queues for everything, including of course petrol - queues that give warring factions and gangs further killing opportunity.
By some estimates, excess Iraqi deaths since March 2003 exceed half a million. More than 2 million Iraqis have been forced to flee the country, the bulk to Jordan and Syria, threatening their stability. Hundreds if not more of the cream of Iraq’s professional and academic society, a bulwark against fascism have been victims of targeted assassination, similar in purpose and manner to Israeli targeted assassinations of Palestinian activists. This crime wave has forced thousands of their professional colleagues to join the massive refugee outflow.
There is also an enormous loss of blood and treasure to the coalition forces. One thing the losses on both sides have in common is the apparent disinterest and pitilessness of the Bush-Cheney clique to the enormous human and cultural and civic tragedy and suffering on all sides.
Several questions arise, chief among them: how long can this devastation continue? Due to a confluence of forces, not least consideration of Israeli interests, there is no consensus in Congress to put a brake on the war momentum that the Bush administration has achieved.
Perhaps the most useful question is still: Why did we go to war in the first place? As a springboard to my argument I’d like to use a fairly conventional and economical statement of the reasons for the Iraq war by Ghali Hassan, writing for the Global Research website. In his article, “Iraq’s Death Squads: An Instrument of the Occupation,” he begins, as he says, by stating the obvious.
The U.S. did not invade Iraq to establish “democracy” and to “free Iraqis”. The U.S. invaded and destroyed Iraq in order to humiliate and divide Muslims – Arabs in particular – protect Israel’s Zionist expansion and control Iraq’s natural wealth.
The contradiction between Israel’s goals and bringing democracy to the Middle East was also mentioned by NYT op ed columnist Robert Wright. He asks
What if the Iraqi people, once empowered by democracy, decided they didn’t want their country to be a U.S. aircraft carrier? … After all, America is bound to use bases on behalf of itself and key allies, and one key ally is Israel. What were the chances this would sit well with an Arab Muslim nation…
It’s not for oil
A more controversial point raised by Ghali Hassan is the one about controlling Iraq’s natural resources. One of the mantras of the anti-war left is that the invasion of Iraq has been and still is a war for oil. But is this correct? As a number of observers have pointed out, there’s no evidence that oil was the Bush’s administration’s priority, nor that the oil companies were pushing for this war. Even Noam Chomsky, a major proponent of the war for oil theory has lately noticed that it seems that the war has, if anything, put Iraq’s oil reserves in jeopardy. If the real goal of U.S. policy was to ensure a reliable and cheap oil supply they would have done everything in their power to keep Saddam Hussein in place. Bush and Cheney would not have embarked upon a policy that predictably would destabilize the region.
But why would the security conscious Bush administration embark on an illegal, wildly unpopular war if they knew in advance that it was going to destabilize a key region of the world? That they knew in advance is hardly open to question. Cheney himself as Secretary of Defense in the George H. W. Bush administration in 1991 argued that for the U.S. get involved in regime change in Iraq “strikes me as a classic definition of a quagmire."
As we move well into the fifth year of the Iraq war, a few brave voices are daring to suggest that the catastrophe that is now Iraq was not a result of a colossal mistake but is rather the result of conscious, deliberate intention. Nicholas Kristof’s remarkable op ed column, entitled “Iran’s Operative in the White House,” where he wondered whether Bush administration policies which seemed to empower Iran’s most hard-line elements were driven by “malice” or “ineptitude.”
It may be helpful to consider whether the drive for Empire and the broad nature of what we mean by Imperialism, accurately describe the Bush administration’s wars against Afghanistan and Iraq and the war many believe they still hope to initiate against Iran.
Observing the current chaos and devastation that is Iraq today, we can suggest that the purpose of the war was not to extend the American imperium or aggrandize U.S. Empire. Quite the opposite.
The day before the Bush clique took office in January 2001, the US was the world’s only superpower, the strongest empire, the most powerful imperial nation in history. If Empire was all they wanted, they could have simply coasted for eight years, and they would have ended up perhaps even stronger than when they started. But the Bush-Cheney agenda was not passive and it had nothing to do with the painstaking work of carefully consolidating and adding to Empire.
The concern that the Bush administration is not about growing Empire, but about weakening it, perhaps fatally, was expressed by none other than President Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the foremost spokespersons for American Empire. In a mid March 2007 interview on NPR, Brzezinski warned that the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq might spiral into an utterly destructive war with Iran. Indeed, in February 2007, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he surprisingly wondered out loud whether the Bush administration might deliberately provoke war with Iran by staging some sort of incident or provocation. Even more to our present purpose, he went on in the question and answer portion of his testimony to assert that the U.S.’s Iran policy has worked against its own interests. Brzezinski spoke of the “exceedingly hostile” U.S. attitude toward Iran
which has gelled together a kind of residual national sentiment, particularly in support of the nuclear program. And I think our policy has unintentionally- I hope unintentionally; maybe it was devilishly clever, but I think unintentionally helped Ahmadinejad consolidate himself in power…
Why would Brzezinski broadly hint that the Bush administration might be intentionally shoring up support for the most hard line elements in Iran? Is he not suggesting that approach would ease their path to a disastrous war? Such a theory would also fit well with their otherwise arbitrary decision to include Iran as part of the Axis of Evil in 2002.
Had Bush and Cheney wanted to extend the U.S. Empire, they would have acted in a manner calculated to enhance their advantages and enrich their coffers. They would have acted for their perceived benefit and self-interest. If the priority in Iraq was self-interest, wholesale destruction of the invaded country would have been be avoided. Self-interest imposes limits on the Imperial power.
Confusion about Empire
One reason for popular confusion about Empire may be that an Imperial power typically uses its military might or the threat of its military might to extend, consolidate or preserve its empire. However true Empire builders characteristically are judicious in their use of the military. They generally shun the reckless profligacy and sheer waste that Bush-Cheney have exhibited. If Empire is to be advanced, not the use of power, but the threat of the use of power is often most effective. Empire builders typically use the tools of diplomacy; they forge alliances, employing the military only as a last resort. Empire builders would also work to strengthen the military, not tear it down and destroy it. They would devote adequate resources for training and equipping their military, and would seek to provide adequate health care if only for the purpose of maintaining the morale of current and incoming troops. Their privatization scheme for the military speaks volumes about their underlying motivations. Jeremy Schahill, the author of a recently published book on Blackwater, The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (Nation Books) has asserted that the Bush administration has proven to be the most anti-military administration in history.
Stephen Smith/ The first days of the occupation
At the very beginning of the occupation of Iraq the Bush administration gave evidence that their intention was to destroy the country when they allowed or encouraged the ruin of Iraq’s cultural heritage.
Six months after the occupation, Stephen Smith, writing for electronicIraq.net had sufficient perspective to point to this crucial issue and to suggest an appropriate theory.
Heavy suspicion remains that failure of the US to protect heritage sites, more than negligence, was a deliberate oversight designed as a kind of cultural 'shock and awe' that would devastate a sense of shared culture among Iraqis, leaving a blank page for the imprint of the US occupying force and the reconstruction to follow. If proven, this would be cultural genocide not witnessed during this civilization and indeed rarely experienced over the 7,000-year time span of these lost collections.
Smith quotes senior Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk who asks the appropriate questions.
"But for Iraq, this is Year Zero; with the destruction of the antiquities in the Museum of Archaeology and the burning of the National Archives and then the Koranic library, the cultural identity of Iraq is being erased. Why? Who set these fires? For what insane purpose is this heritage being destroyed?"
Both Smith and Fisk have suggested answers to their own questions. Yes, allowing the trashing of Iraq’s cultural heritage was a deliberate oversight (if that’s the right word) intended to reduce the country to a blank page, to year Zero. And Fisk also gets it right by suggesting that the purpose, to destroy Iraqi civil life, destroy its sense of cultural heritage was perhaps clinically insane in the sense that it cannot have any constructive purpose.
A war for Israel
Writing at the very beginning of the invasion in March 2003, conservative journalist Patrick Buchanan pretty much identified the purposes of the war.
"We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America's interests. We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo Accords. We charge them with deliberately damaging U.S. relations with every state in the Arab world that defies Israel or supports the Palestinian people's right to a homeland of their own. We charge that they have alienated friends and allies all over the Islamic and Western world through their arrogance, hubris, and bellicosity.
If there is anything missing from Buchanan’s argument it would be the deeper intention behind the war policy of the Bush administration. That intention, much easier to see today than in March 2003, is to bring Iraq back to Year Zero, to rub it out as a political and civil entity.
Activist and journalist Naomi Klein went to Baghdad in 2004 and published an article in Harper’s Magazine (September 2004) entitled “Baghdad Year Zero.” Her subtitle is: “Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia.” She attributes to one faction in the Bush administration the belief that “Iraq was so contaminated that it needed to be rubbed out and remade from scratch.” She was right about the first part: the only thing the neocons – or the ones making policy in Vice President Cheney’s office -- wanted to do to Iraq was to destroy it. They have been called radical nationalists. But nationalists also have as their priority the self-interest of their nation or their tribe. I see the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld clique rather as radical nihilists, bent on permanent war and destruction for its own sake. According to Wikipedia, one of the definitions of Nihilism is the irrational desire to destroy meaning, knowledge and value and it embraces suicide and mass murder. Note the distinction between radical nationalists as they have been called and radical nihilists. Nationalists, for good or ill generally have an agenda of self aggrandizement or self interest, not self destruction.
We’re in a better position now to answer the question: why did Bush and Cheney invade Iraq. They did it in pursuit of an endless war agenda. They used the terror events of 9/11 as their rationale to go to war against Afghanistan. From there they braved the tough uphill slog in the face of prodigious popular opposition to get to Baghdad. From Baghdad they may have assumed it would be downhill to Teheran, which as Hillary, and Obama and Edwards have assured us, is not off the table.
Needless to say it’s counterintuitive to seriously consider a 21st Century American administration devoted to the destruction of all meaning, knowledge and value, the destruction of worlds. Such an agenda signals the exceptionalism of Bush and Cheney. The evidence indicates that theirs is an ideological, not a practical or realist or self-serving agenda since endless war is ultimately suicidal. If it’s counterintuitive to view Bush and Cheney as determined on a path not for self interest but rather for destruction and endless war, that’s in part because most of us see elements of ourselves in our government. In order to survive and thrive we are properly trained from an early age to work on behalf of our self interest. Those who don’t tend to fall by the wayside and are typically weeded out from positions of power. However sometimes circumstances conspire, not least when the society is weakened by inner or outer challenges, to bring to the fore leaders who are very successful and at the same time utterly vicious and remorseless. One such 20th century leader who arose in just such circumstances was Pol Pot, the 1970s leader of the Kymer Rouge in Cambodia who did everything he could to destroy his country and kill millions of his countrymen.
Endless war – A public declaration
The case for a Bush-Cheney agenda for destruction should begin with their public statements, and their openly proclaimed policies. If we examine every single major and minor domestic and international policy initiative of the Bush administration from Iraq on down, we may find that they fit the pattern of deliberate destruction.
The Bush administration made no secret of their desire for endless war from the first moments after the terror events of 911. On message and unified almost as if they knew of the attacks in advance, they insisted that we were in a war on terror. The remedy, they urged could not merely be a police action: this was war. As they consolidated a revolutionary, aggressive program of war, with no little assist from the anthrax attacks, the Bush-Cheney team were finally comfortable for the first time since they took office. Now they had something that they had sorely lacked earlier: an agenda. And a heady, action packed agenda it turned out to be: the Patriot act, two wars, enemy combatants, torture, indefinite detention, Guantanamo, suspension of habeas corpus, warrantless wiretapping, the evisceration of the positive role of virtually all government agencies, illegal massive surveillance of mail, phone and email traffic; construction of concentration camps, a doubling of their inherited military and secret agencies budgets, the hyper trashing of health, safety and environmental regulations, the destruction of the economy through their targeted tax cuts and corporate giveaways– what did I leave out?. Note that their entire agenda has been one of destruction of civil life everywhere, leaving only a police state to enforce their revolutionary and widely unpopular policies.
There is an abundance of circumstantial evidence indicating that the violence and the inability to pursue normal civil and political life that characterizes Iraq in 2007 is a result of deliberate planning, not the result of miscalculations or misjudgments. We can begin with two high profile actions taken by Paul Bremer that dramatically turned the invasion into a tragic occupation. .
The context of Bremer’s still unsatisfactorily explained actions is Bush’s early cashiering of General Jay Garner who was the first official chosen to lead the post-war reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Garner began his tenure in March 2003. He hoped to implement early elections, 90 days after the fall of Baghdad with a view to an independent Iraq. Garner said: “I don’t’ think [Iraqis] need to go by the U.S. plan…. it’s their country… their oil.”
Less than two months later, in May 2003, Paul Bremer who was selected to head the Coalition Provisional Authority replaced Garner. Bremer immediately scotched the plan for early elections, and by the time he left, about 13 months later, he did just about as much damage to Iraq as someone in his position could manage.
Less than a month after he took office, Bremer issued Order Number 2, in effect disbanding the Iraqi army and putting 400,000 Iraqi soldiers out of work. This immediately created a large pool of disgruntled armed youths for the insurgency.
Secondly, he fired thousands of schoolteachers and removed Ba’ath party members from top government positions. The effect was to rob the country of its most experienced people who could have played a key role if reconstruction was the goal.
Covert Death Squads
We move now to the covert aspect of the Bush-Cheney plan for Iraq. One particularly telling pattern of actions is evident from the title of Ghali Hassan’s paper, “Iraq’s Death Squads: An Instrument of Occupation.” If such a pattern of activity could be demonstrated it would go far toward subverting the mainstream notion that victory means putting an end to sectarian violence since it would be evident that the coalition forces are covertly driving the violence, largely through their sponsorship and direction of both Shia and Sunni death squads.
Gali Hassan summarizes the situation when he writes that the aim of the campaign of assassinations and the activity of the death squads “ is to create a climate of terror and incite civil war among Iraqis in order to justify the Occupation of Iraq and the fraudulent “war on terror.”
A. K. Gupta is a freelance writer and editor of the Indypendent in NYC has written several articles for Z Magazine on the militias. In “Iraq: Militias and Civil War: “The Pentagon is using militias in sectarian battles,” (Z Magazine, December 2006) he explains that the rise of the militias is a disincentive to the Iraqi national police and army forces. He explains that by one means or another Iraq’s national forces are starved of resources and allowed to deteriorate to the point of uselessness. Instead of creating a process insuring accountability and transparency, and instead of seeking out strong and dedicated Iraqi leaders, the U.S. has overseen a system where corruption has become an integral part of the process. In the end recruits aren’t paid for months, training isn’t adequate. As a result recruits leave in droves and those who stay are unreliable and have little or no loyalty to a national force.
Gupta explains that the militias were organized and overseen by the U.S. military to step into the vacuum left by the national forces. They were originally deployed against the Sunni resistance but have since been involved in Shia against Shia violence, particularly U.S. backed Shia militias fighting against the nationalist al-Sadr forces.
Gupta and others also document the involvement of U.S. personnel who have played key roles. One of these is Steven Casteel, is identified by Gupta as the “federal overseer of the effort” to train the Iraqi police. A veteran of the Latin America’s dirty wars, Casteel’s name, Gupta writes,
keeps surfacing in reference to militias. While Casteel was referred to as the “senior advisor” to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, this was just a euphemism. Like other Americans serving as “senior advisors” to Iraqi ministries under the Coalition Provisional Authority, Casteel was actually running the ministry until the CPA went out of business on June 28, 2004.
Max Fuller, a researcher who writes regularly for the Global Research website has also been tracking evidence of U.S. involvement and direction of Iraqi militia and death squad activity since at least 2005. In “For Iraq The Salvador Option Becomes Reality, “ and in a follow up article the same year, “Crying Wolf: Media Disinformation and Death Squads in Occupied Iraq,” , he presents evidence that the bitter spiral of sectarian tit for tat Shiite Sunni death squad style killings that is making civil life impossible for most Iraqis is an organized campaign driven by the occupation forces.
He notes for example the case of Yasser Salihee, a journalist for Knight Ridder who investigated the steady stream of extra judicial killings in 2004 and 2005. Salihee describes what happens to the death squad victims.
“Characteristically the victims’ hands are tied or handcuffed behind their backs and they have been blindfolded. In most cases they also appear to have been whipped with a cord, subjected to electric shocks or beaten with a blunt object and shot to death often with single bullets to the head.” Investigating the bodies, Salihee found that eyewitnesses claimed many of the victims were seized by men wearing commando uniforms in white Toyota Land Cruisers with police markings.” Three days after Salihee’s last article was published on June 27, 2005, he was fatally shot by a U.S. sniper at a routine checkpoint.” Max Fuller concluded.
What is possible is that both sides of the apparent sectarian violence are run as part of a huge CIA-lead intelligence operation designed to split Iraq at the seams. I tentatively suggest that the intelligence apparatus at the Interior Ministry is contriving attacks on Sunnis and that British and US special forces in conjunction with the intelligence apparatus at the Iraqi Defence Ministry are fabricating insurgent bombings of Shias.
In his most recent article on the subject, published in March 2007, Fuller’s subtitle is “Proof of US orchestration of Death Squads Killings in Iraq, He cites two survivors of the notorious Jadiriyah detention facility which was infamously raided by U.S. troops in November of 2005 when they discovered some 170 detainees suffering from “horrific conditions, many of them clearly the victims of obscene tortures.”
Despite the wide publicity of this incident, amazingly the prisoners were returned to Iraqi custody, proof Fuller thinks of U.S. involvement in the death squads. One victim was distinguished Professor of Pedagogy, Professor Samaree [first name not given] whose condition was so bad when the Americans found him, that he and a dozen others were taken to a local hospital. Afterwards Professor Samaree, one of whose sons resides in the States, like the others was to be returned to prison, but he managed to escape. He subsequently fled to Europe where he is claiming political asylum.
Another Jadiriyah survivor, Abbas Z. Abid, was arrested in August 2005 and spent 14 months in prison before he was finally released in October 2006, having undergone imprisonment and torture eleven months after the U.S. intervention. Fuller claims that such accounts demonstrate U.S. complicity.
These stories, and relevant accompanying information, published by the Brussels Tribunal were offered, Fuller writes, to a range of mainstream media organizations such as the New Yorker, the New Statesman, the Independent, The Big Issue and Z Magazine, all of whom rejected it. Fuller concludes that the Jadiriyah story was “simply off the agenda.” One can understand why the right wing and the mainstream center would find them off-putting. But why would a radical left organ like Z Magazine also find such evidence discomforting. Perhaps because it would raise difficult questions about the U.S. mission in Iraq.
A less blinkered view of the dynamics of the violence in Iraq would make it easier to respond to critics who argue that if we withdraw, chaos if not genocide will follow. The nugget of truth in such a response is that so much depends on how we leave, assuming that we can muster the political will to do what the American people and the international community demand. If there were good will on the American side it’s not beyond the abilities of diplomats to arrange for example for a serious international conference which might deal with the most critical issues. Needless to say, no positive action can take place with a U.S. presence in the country. Total withdrawal will always be the first requirement.
The harder question is what do we do about Israel’s needs. Leaving Iraq to the Iraqis, while it could not for the foreseeable future pose a security threat to Israel by any stretch of the imagination, would be perceived as a defeat for them, for the power of the Israel Lobby and for the right wing and the neocons.
Withdrawal would not be such a terrible conundrum if Israel’s interest in dominating the Middle East were not at stake. Since Israel has such power to press its interest within and without of the U.S. government, it’s difficult to see now how we extricate ourselves, not to mention how we begin to put things right in Iraq. One thing we can do is look clearly at the evidence exposing the source of much of the violence.
1.See Lancet’s October 11, 2006 survey which calculated excess deaths went though June 2006.
3. “The Neocon Paradox” (4.24.07)
4. March 2007
5. Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army by Jeremy Scahill - Feb 2007)Interview broadcast on CNN-Books TV, March 31, 2007.
6. Stephen Smith, electronicIraq.net, Electronic Iraq, September 4, 2003.
7. Patrick J. Buchanan, “Whose War?, March 24, 2003.
8. November 2005
9. “Silence of the Lambs? Proof of US orchestration of Death Squads Killings in Iraq,”
10. Max Fuller Global Research, March 14, 2007.
11. available online