In an essential article published on June 16, one of the key architects of the Iraq war, former ambassador John Bolton, argued that “US focus must be on Iran as Iraq falls apart.” He is unapologetic about the war itself, saying that “inevitably, analysts are rearguing George W. Bush’s decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Barack Obama’s complete withdrawal of U.S. forces, and virtually everything else Iraq-related in between.”
To start with, this is a remarkable admission. The war was to remove Saddam, then, and not about Iraq’s WMD’s, or Iraq’s links with the terrorists, as claimed ad nausem at the time. “In-between” is dismissed as some past unpleasantness, unfit to be mentioned in polite company. “None of the parties to Iraq’s current conflict have anything to recommend them,” Bolton says, but excludes himself from the unnamed “parties.” It is not done to claim that what has come to pass in Iraq and its region since March 2003 would not have happened… but for the war.
This reasoning is frankly outrageous, but there’s more surreality to come. According to John Bolton, “This is all beside the point, for today’s decision-makers confronting the question of what, if anything, to do as Iraq nears disintegration. America must instead decide what its national interests are now, not what they were five or ten years ago.” In his scheme of things, we should be looking forward, not back, with the same old crew offering advice that created the disaster in the first place.
For a seasoned foreign policy analyst like myself, the word “incredibly” does not come easy. Incredibly, Bolton suggests the United States to pursue her “national interests” by putting the rampaging ISIS – now in charge of a contiguous swath from north Aleppo to the outskirts of Baghdad – on the back burner, and refocus on Iran, the same country that is helping Nouri Al-Maliki’s Shiite militias beat back the Sunni jihadist onslaught:
[O]ur objective should be to remove the main foe, Tehran’s ayatollahs, by encouraging the opposition, within and outside Iran, to take matters into their own hands. There is no need to deploy U.S. military power to aid the various opposition forces. We should instead provide them intelligence and material assistance, and help them subsume the political differences that separate them. Their differences should be addressed when the ayatollahs’ regime lies in ashes. And as Iran’s regime change proceeds, we can destroy ISIL.
On past form, deciding on “removing the main foe” ultimately means waging war against Iran – in this particular case, against a nation of eighty million, more than twice the size of Iraq, which poses no threat to the United States – or bombing it to the Stone Age at least, and Bolton knows that. War on Iran first, then let’s see about ISIS. But focusing on that “main objective” demands helping “the opposition, within and outside Iran,” a wholly mythical factor in the equation which is as real as the “Free Syrian Army” in Aleppo or Damascus today, or as effective as the early harbingers of CIA-groomed “Iraqi democrats” had been twelve years ago. (Anyone remember Ahmad Chalabi, or his mentor Zinni?)
This is exactly what ISIS would like the United States to : “our objective should be to remove the main foe, Tehran’s ayatollahs.” But implicit in Bolton’s line of reasoning – presuming that he is not totally deluded – is the assumption that the United States can make a deal with the murderous Sunni jihadists, and somehow use them against the “main foe” in Tehran. Bolton does not see ISIS as an “existential threat” to U.S. interest that his fellow über-interventionist John McCain does – some intra-neocon differences of opinion seem visible here – but he advises an unapologetically catastrophic course common to both that would supposedly remove Bashar, hit Iran, support al-Maliki, and impose a semblance of pax Americana amidst the regional mayhem.
Bolton’s wisdom was neatly replicated two days earlier by former British Prime Minister Anthony (“Tony”) Blair. They probably had not seen each others’ articles in advance, but the mindset is the same. As irrelevant and almost as forgotten as Bolton (but far more successful in the postmodern-globalist speechmaking circuit, and as culpable in executing the Iraq war), Bush’s junior partner decided to offer his advice on the chaos Iraq.
It was a disastrous move for Blair’s already tattered reputation. It caused an outrage at all ends of the British political spectrum, including his former cabinet members. In his 2,800-word article Blair claimed that current chaos in Iraq could have been avoided if only the West had bombed Syria last year, which would have prevented the rise of ISIS by giving the “moderates” a chance. He further asserted that it was “bizarre” that the 2003 Iraq war, which he enthusiastically (yet irrelevantly) supported with troops and money, was blamed for current violence there.
“Why I believe Blair should stand trial – and even face charges for war crimes,” was the headline of a prompt response by Britain’s most respected soldier, General Sir Michael Rose, one day later. With respect to an ongoing British enquiry into the country’s participation in the Iraq war, Sir John wrote that there is “really no point in holding a further inquiry unless it does apportion blame, unless it does hold to account those who led us into this unnecessary, unwinnable and costly war in Iraq.” He further asserted that the inquiry “should be the first step in a judicial process that brings those responsible for the disasters of the Iraq war before the courts – and could, as I shall explain, ultimately result in Tony Blair being indicted for war crimes”:
As Blair walks off into our history books, without seemingly a scintilla of blame being attributed to him for his part in the Iraq war, no wonder there is such extreme fury and frustration with a political system that refuses to make him answer for his actions… [I]t is not just Blair who should be held to account. In the run-up to the Iraq war, it is clear that MPs failed sufficiently to question the validity of the intelligence used by Blair to justify the war – choosing to believe what they were told and supinely accepting the conclusions of the infamous ‘dodgy dossier’ which warned that Saddam could launch an attack on the West within 45 minutes… If one of my military students at the British Army Command and Staff College had produced such a sloppy and weak case for war as did Tony Blair before Parliament, I would have sacked him – for he would have revealed himself to be entirely without the strategic grasp or ruthless analytic quality that is necessary in any military leader, especially one in time of war.
“That is why I believe that, if justice is to prevail,” Sir Michael concludes, “and faith in democracy is to be restored in this country, Tony Blair and those officials responsible for the disasters of the Iraq war should appear in a court of law which could lead to them being indicted for war crimes.”
It is a melancholy thought that there is no American four-star general, on active duly or retired, to say or write anything of the sort. And make no mistake, many of them agree with General Rose’s assessment.
But back to business. Both Bolton and Blair were fervently in favor of U.S.-led military intervention against Bashar al-Assad’s forces last August. Those same forces that they wished destroyed by the U.S, Air Force are currently coordinating attacks against ISIS with Iraq and against their common enemy. Had Bolton, Blair et al prevailed ten months ago, ISIS would have controlled most of Syria, the tens of thousands of Allawite “apostates” would have been dead (as hundreds of them are already dead now in northwest Iraq, having been shot in cold blood) or expelled. The surviving Christian remnant in Syria would have been forced into exile, or else reduced to the Kuranically ordained and historically tested condition of demeaning dhimmitude.
On September 5, 2002, just over six months before the start of the war in Iraq, I published an article on this website, which is no longer in our archives but it can still be found on http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/745800/posts — and which I take the liberty to reproduce in its entirety, because there is very little to add to the warnings, and the verdict, twelve years later:
“IDEOLOGY IS A BAD WORD” in the English-speaking world. It evokes Jacobin fanatics, inquisitors, goose-stepping storm troopers, commissars, and cultural revolutionaries. Adherents of an ideology are assumed to be brainwashed, imbued with mind-altering dogmas, and steeped in pseudo-reality – a” system of interested deceit” – so unlike the rest of us pragmatic empiricists who are blessed to rely on our common sense to guide us through the world as it really is. We live culturally, they live in ideology. To paraphrase Sartre, ideology is other people.
In today’s America some of the most highly motivated of those “other people” inhabit the academia and the mainstream media. Others pretend to be the executors of our collective will, reside in Washington, and run the foreign policy of the United States. They fall into two categories. Some are inspired by the ideology of “idealistic” globalism, constructed?upon the notion of America’s exceptionalism: the United States is a proposition nation, founded upon the values of equality, human rights, tolerance, etc, etc; it is therefore unique, it is the “indispensable nation,” a light to the world, whether the world wants it or not.
“Humanitarian bombing” was those people’s trademark, the Balkans their favorite playing field, and they thrived under Bill Clinton. They saw America as the ultimate arbitrator of domestic evolutions all over the world; to them foreign policy equated social policy on a global scale,?and nation-building abroad was the equivalent of busing and affirmative action at home.
Under President George W. Bush the “other people” in the foreign policy establishment are guided by globalism’s twin brother: by the neoconservative ideology that seeks and justifies unabashed American hegemony. Both strains strikingly analogous to their doctrinaire Marxist roots, and both are deeply inimical to the traditions and values of the American Republic. Their relentless pursuit of an American Empire overseas is coupled by their deliberate domestic transformation of the United States’ federal government into a Leviathan unbound by constitutional restraints.
Their mendacity apparent in the misrepresentation of the Iraqi crisis to the American people only confirms what we have known about the species and the mindset for a long time. The nation has been pushed into the virtual-reality world of Sunday morning non-debates – the contentious issue is how to wage war and who to install in its aftermath, not whether and why – of fact-free opinion columns, and briefings in which facts are converted into fiction, and even the fictions give up all pretense to credibility. The ruling elite in Washington has acquired an ideological paradigm on the question of Iraq that goes beyond any one piece of deliberate policy, and which falls outside the parameters of rational debate. They have confused U.S. interests and prestige with those of the warring factions in the Middle East, to the point where, in Iraq, they insist on a war that, if successful, will do little to advance American interests – we’d be saddled with yet another Muslim protectorate, unstable and resentful – and that, if unsuccessful, will be hugely detrimental to those interests.
Before proceeding let me make my personal position clear. In the final years of the Soviet Union, as glasnost broadened the scope of permissible public debate, it was nevertheless advisable to precede any expression of controversial views with a little disclaimer, e.g. “While I hold no brief for the Islamic dushmans terrorizing the people of Afghanistan, I think we should withdraw from that country”; or, “While rejecting the notion that Western-style capitalism provides the best model for good life, I think that we should abandon central planning and collectivized agriculture in favor of free-market reforms.”
It is a sign of these unpleasant times that one feels compelled to do the same, here and today, when discussing Iraq, but I am a realist and so be it: I think, unreservedly, that Saddam Hussein is a nasty piece of work. In fact I wish he were dead and gone, and someone very different in power in Baghdad. (Admittedly, hardly any leader in the Arab world is very different from Saddam: to bully, cheat, and lie abroad, and to oppress and rob at home, is the rule rather than exception in that political culture.) The Iraqi dictator has brought nothing but misery to his own people, as well as chronic instability to the region. His military adventures – including two disastrous wars – ended in fiascos, and yes, he did “gas his own people” (actually the Kurds, whom he sees as anything but “his own,” but who had had the misfortune of living under his sway). If he could make them or buy them, Saddam would undoubtedly love to have all kinds of “weapons of mass destruction,” and, in extremis, he would probably use them against a foe unable to retaliate in kind. (Nevertheless, he would not use them against a foe armed with nuclear weapons: brutal dictators are realists, and therefore devoid of suicidal tendencies.)
All of the above, while obviously necessary to the argument that the United States must topple Saddam by force, is not sufficient to make the argument stick. Since different members of the Bush Administration and the War Party have used different tools to support the basic argument, we need to examine them one by one and so introduce much-needed clarity into the debate.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11 the proponents of war against Iraq immediately claimed that it should be dealt with “once and for all” because it was in cohorts with Al-Qaeda. This turned out to be untrue. Saddam is a secular dictator with pan-Arabic, nationalist, rather than Islamic, delusions of grandeur. Accordingly his regime tends to support non-Islamic radicals, notably the PLO dissidents … and he fears Muslim fundamentalist groups such as al-Qaeda. Bin Laden, for his part, regards the Iraqi dictator as a “bad Muslim” and wants him out of power. Widely circulated claim that Muhammad Atta, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, had met an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague months before the hijackings, was discarded in April 2002, when the top Czech spymaster and federal law-enforcement officials both said an extensive investigation had found no evidence that the meeting ever took place.
The war enthusiasts nevertheless do not give up, resorting to desperate ploys: on August 22, William Safire even claimed in the New York Times that “a score of terrorists” were captured by the U.S. Special Forces in Northern Iraq, including a Saddam agent and an Qaeda?operative; there’s even an “al Qaeda-Saddam joint venture” to produce “a form of cyanide cream that kills on contact.” This was all unsubstantiated rubbish.
Anticipating the absence of a smoking gun, within weeks of 9-11 the proponents of bombing Baghdad immediately declared that the absence of a clear link did not matter: we were waging a “war on terror,” Iraq supported terrorists, ergo it was a legitimate target. The ruins of the Towers were still smoldering when Paul Wolfowitz declared that the time had come to settle the score with Saddam once and for all, and his old buddy Richard Perle – George W.’s part-Rasputin, part-Svengali – has echoed the line ever since. A mere week after the attacks, in an open letter to Bush, Bill Kristol and two-dozen neocon leading lights (including Perle, Kagan, Krauthammer, Martin Peretz, and Norman Podhoretz), argued that “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power.” Almost a year later Saffire repeated the line with his claim that “terror’s most dangerous supporter can be found in Baghdad.”
This is the neocons’ dulaist pseudo-reality. In the real world there is evidence that Saddam has provided support to a variety of groups that oppose his regional adversaries – including the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq dissidents fighting the government of Iran, Kurdish rebels fighting Turkey, and, since the Palestinian uprising began in 2000, various Palestinian groups attacking Israel. None of those groups have targeted America. His mischief in this respect is no worse than Pakistan’s support for the Kashmiri separatists who routinely resort to terror against India, or Georgia’s benevolent tolerance of Chechen terrorists on its territory. Saddam’s sins with respect to supporting terrorism pale compared to the Clinton Administration’s warm embrace of the KLA, a terrorist cabal if there ever was one, composed of homicidal dope-dealers and pimps who now run Kosovo – compliments of the U.S. Air Force – having murdered or ethnically cleansed every non-Albanian they could lay their hands on. Yes, Saddam probably also does channel money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, but in doing that he is only following the example of that “reliable ally” of the United States, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Unless Messrs. Musharraf, Shevardnadze, Clinton, and Abdallah are judged by the same yardstick, Saddam’s “support for terrorism” is not a serious argument.??The proponents of the war next resurrected the old claim that Iraq had to be attacked because it could be acquiring “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs) and was refusing to allow the U.N. weapons inspectors to find out if this were so. There was no proof of Saddam actually developing his arsenal; but that objection was discounted by Donald Rumsfeld in a turn of phrase worthy of Torquemada: “the absence of evidence does not mean the evidence of absence.”
There is both more and less than meets the eye in the weapons saga. The Senate hearings two weeks ago [August 2002] were something of an eye-opener, when former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter – a Marine veteran, Bush voter, card-carrying Republican – blandly stated that in his considered opinion the Bush administration did not want renewed inspections of Iraq, because they would make war more difficult to justify. “A handful of ideologues have hijacked the national security policy of the United States for their own ambitions,” Ritter said, insisting that Iraq was stripped of its WMDs, and the capacity to make them. Saddam is not a threat, not because he does not want to be but because he has been successfully declawed. All else is speculation and rhetoric entirely divorced from fact.
Ritter’s former boss, Rolf Ekeus, head of United Nations weapons inspections in Iraq from 1991-97, supports this view and questions the stated reasons for withdrawing inspectors in the first place. He has accused the US of manipulating the UN inspections teams for their own political ends, and attempted to increase its influence over the inspections: “As time went on, some countries, especially the US, wanted to learn more about other parts of Iraq’s capacity.” It tried to find information about the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, and pressed the teams to inspect sensitive areas, such as Iraq’s ministry of defense, when it was politically favorable for them to create a crisis – “inspections which were controversial from the Iraqis’ view, and thereby created a blockage that could be used as a justification for a direct military action.” In December 1998, one such fabricated crisis enabled Bill Clinton – then in the midst of the Lewinsky affair – to order UNSCOM inspectors out of Iraq two days before renewing bombing. As it happened, most of the targets bombed were derived from the unique access the UN inspectors had enjoyed in Iraq, and had more to do with the security of Saddam than weapons of mass destruction.
In reality the current war fever is totally unconnected to weapons inspections. John Bolton, the arms control supremo, [THE SAME JOHN BOLTON WHO WOULD LIKE TO FOCUS ON IRAN TODAY, ISIS NOTWITHSTANDING!] declared that the U.S. “insists on regime change in Baghdad and that policy will not be altered, whether inspectors go in or not.” Bolton is probably aware that it would be audacious for a boldly unilateralist Administration to invoke Saddam’s violations of “the will of the international community” as casus belli. That’s the Clintonistas’ line; the Bush team has no qualms about abrogating nuclear arms control treaties, biological weapons conventions, torpedoing the International Criminal Court, not signing global warming protocols, and taking a hard line on the legality of those Guantanamo cages. Most of those conventions and documents admittedly deserve to be ignored or torn, but from the purely legal point of view, the readiness to attack Iraq without a Security Council mandate represents a violation of international law of the highest order.
More worrying is the fact that the forthcoming war is also a violation of the Constitution of the United States. President Bush may have been told by his unnamed “top legal advisers” that he does not need to secure the prior approval of Congress before launching a full-scale war on Iraq, but their claim is based on the assertion that the original Security Council resolution that paved the way for the Gulf War back in 1991 remains in full legal force – but that claim is not accepted by the Security Council itself! It is additionally galling that the least UN-friendly president in US history deems it necessary to protect his warlike designs from the Congress by pretending that he is legally justified, and bound, by the UN Security Council resolutions.
When the War Party encounters legal and rational obstacles it cannot answer, it resorts to the old reductio ad Hitlerum, to dehumanization and demonization: Saddam is evil, so evil in fact that no arguments are needed, and whoever insists on getting them is no better than he. Yes, Saddam is Hitler – forget Milosevic and Noriega – and if we don’t act decisively now… Munich… much higher price later… blah, blah. But this trick has been played once too often, and Condoleeza?Rice’s “moral case” for attacking Iraq has misfired. Even the neocons realize that it would be potentially tricky to insist on the Wilsonian-“moralist” line, in view of the distinctly unsavory nature of so many regimes whose support they regard as essential to the neoimperial project. Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and, yes, Israel, with countless skeletons in their cupboards, only show that, to an ideologue, “morality” is no longer treated as a function of?actual behavior. It is situational, it reflects the place of the actor within the ideological system: if Iraq kills Kurds, it gets bombed; if Turkey kills Kurds, it is OK, or at least we’ll keep quiet about it. If Saddam violates human rights, he is a monster; if the Islamo-fascist freak regime in Riyaadh does so, endemically and relentlessly, it is a topic unfit to broach when its Ambassador comes to the President’s Texas ranch.
In the end we are left with the uncomfortable realization that the U.S. government wants to attack Iraq because it can do so, because it expects to be able to do so with relative impunity, and because within the Administration there are people who have vested interests and their own geopolitical and emotional agendas that have nothing to do with the national interest of the United States. The ultimate reason for attacking Saddam is the same as Sir Edmund Hillary’s reason for climbing the Everest: because it’s there. It is about more than Iraqi oil and Israeli security; it is about the future of the world. Years before the neocons came to power, back in 1996, Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan gloated in what they called “benevolent global hegemony.” They demanded indefinite and massive military build-ups, unconnected to any identifiable military threat, and for “citizen involvement,” in effect, militarization of the populace. Their vision of Pax Americana was summarized in their exultation that “we have never lived in a world more conducive to [our] fundamental interests in a liberal international order, the spread of freedom and democratic governance, [and] an international economic system of free-market capitalism and free trade.” They did not tell us how the US would preserve the traditional moral?fabric, social structure and economic interests of its own people – what most Americans still mean by “national interests” – because they are ultimately in the business of altering minds and culture, not preserving them.
The same triumphalist spirit was in evidence when Vice-President Cheney, addressing a VFW convention in Nashville at the end of August , vowed that the Bush administration “won’t look away and hope for the best,” and predicted that Saddam’s removal would be greeted with joy inside Iraq, and would help the spread of democracy across the entire Arab world. This is pure rhetoric, spiced with wishful thinking. There is no strategic vision, no cost-benefit analysis, no consideration of risks, and no definition of victory. This is frivolity on par with the behavior?of Europe’s leading statesmen in July 1914. It remains unchallenged, amidst the bipartisan War Party’s near-monopoly on U.S. media commentary, making America hardly more open to meaningful debate than its chief adversary was during the Cold War. What had started, on October 2001, as a legitimate (although not fully legal) military response to the terrorist outrage of 9-11 has degenerated into a hubristic power play. Small wonder that only one foreign government in the world fully supports what Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney & Co want (and yes, you have guessed which one it is).
There are other reasons for the war, in addition to the “passionate attachment,” all of them equally bad: to hide the fact that Afghanistan is a costly failure, to keep the Administration’s many arms industry buddies busy in these lean economic times, but above all to satisfy the?hubristic longings of the neoconservative cabal that now possesses Bush’s ear, soul, heart, and tongue. They give the President ever more menacing scripts to read, and then claim that we have to attack Iraq because now we were painted into the corner, since the White House rhetoric no longer allows for a “humiliating” retreat.
These puppet masters are America’s true enemy. They are far greater threat to the constitutional order, identity, and way of life of the United States than Saddam will ever be. They are in pursuit of Power for its own sake – thus sinning against God and man – and history teaches us that, in the end, America will be destroyed if its rulers are allowed to proceed with their mad quest. Given the choice, the people of this country would never opt for it, but it is unclear how they can resist it, in this age of “managed mass democracy.” The War Party may even prevail, for now, and enter Baghdad in triumph [AS IT DID, SIX MONTHS LATER]; but before long there?will be new excitement, new opportunities, a new Hitler. In the end the misused power will inevitably generate countervailing power –a grand coalition containing many current “allies” –after the world has become a poorer, nastier, less free, and far less populous place.
* * *
Lest we forget, thus Chronicles opined on September 5, 2002, less than a year after 9/11 and more than six months before the disastrous Iraqi war was unleashed. Today we stand by every word. Messrs. Bolton, Blair et al stand by theirs.
We shall all be judged.