The Facts Thwart Rehab of Colin Powell May 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Casey Sheehan, cheney, Cindy Sheehan, Colin Powell, counterinsurgency, George Bush, george tenet, good samaritan, guernica, gulf war, gulf war syndrome, Iraq, Iraq invasion, Iraq war, james baker, jay rockerfeller, john mclaughlin, kamasiyah, lawrence wilkerson, leon panetta, prophet isaiah, ray mcgovern, roger hollander, rumsfeld, wmds
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Watching retired Gen. Colin Powell refer to the parable of the Good Samaritan during Sunday’s Memorial Day ceremonies on the Mall in Washington, it struck me that Powell was giving hypocrisy a bad name.
Those familiar with the Good Samaritan story and also with the under-reported behavior of Gen. Powell, comeback kid of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM), know that the two do not mesh.
Powell’s well-documented disregard for those who have borne the brunt of the battle places him in the company of the priest and the Levite – in the Good Samaritan parable – who, seeing the man attacked by robbers on the side of the road, walked right on by.
Sadly, Powell has a long record of placing the wounded and the vulnerable on his list of priorities far below his undying need to get promoted or to promote himself. Powell’s rhetoric, of course, would have us believe otherwise.
At the Memorial Day event, Powell hailed our “wounded warriors” from Iraq and Afghanistan as the cameras cut to several severely damaged veterans. Lauding the “love and care” they receive from their families, Powell noted in passing that some 10,000 parents are now full-time care providers for veterans not able to take care of themselves.
It was a moving ceremony, but only if you were able to keep your eye on the grand old flag and stay in denial about thousands of wasted American lives, not to mention tens and tens of thousands wasted Iraqi lives – as well as many thousands more incapacitated for life – and not ask WHY.
The wounded warriors’ former commander in chief, President George W. Bush, argued that the deaths were “worth it.” They were casualties suffered in pursuit of a “noble cause.”
Some claim that to suggest that those troops killed and wounded were killed and wounded in vain is to dishonor their memory, belittle their sacrifice, and inflict still more pain on their loved ones.
But Bush never could explain what the “noble cause” was, despite months and months of vigils by those camping outside the Bush house in Crawford asking that question. Our hearts certainly go out to the wounded, and to the families of the killed or wounded.
But I think that the surest way to dishonor them all is to avoid examining the real reasons for their loss, and to use lessons learned so that their own sons and daughters will not be sacrificed so glibly.
I lost many good Army colleagues and other friends in Vietnam. Back then, generals and politicians – the military and civilian leaders who promoted Powell and the careerists like him – helped to obscure the real reasons behind that carnage, too. And that was even before the corporate media became quite so fawning.
As the hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on and the casualties continue to mount, I feel an obligation to do what I can to help spread some truth around – however painful that may be. For truth is not only the best disinfectant, it is the best protection against such misadventures happening again…and again.
It is, I suppose, understandable that only the bravest widows and widowers – and parents like Cindy Sheehan whose son Casey Sheehan was killed in Sadr City on April 4, 2004 – have been able to summon enough courage out of their grief to challenge the vacuous explanations of Bush and people like Powell.
You can see it in microcosm in the Sheehan family. Casey’s father, Pat Sheehan, cannot agree that Casey’s death was in vain. Pat told me that Casey met an honorable death, since he was sent to rescue comrades pinned down by hostile forces in Sadr City.
No one can be sure what was going through Casey’s mind. And only later did it become clear that, rather than “volunteering” for an ill-conceived rescue mission, Casey, a truck mechanic, was ordered onto that open truck by superiors unwilling to risk their own hides. (This is what one of Casey’s comrades on the scene later told his mother.)
But let us assume that Casey was nonetheless eager to rescue his comrades. This still begs the question that I asked Pat Sheehan: Why were Casey and his comrades in Iraq in the first place? What was the “noble cause?” Pat’s reaction, or lack thereof, almost made me regret having asked him. Remembering it almost makes me want to stop this essay here. Almost.
With ministers, priests and rabbis officiating at funerals and other memorial services for “the fallen” and spinning their own renditions of “Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori” – “it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country” – small wonder that even those who should know better choose this escape from reality. There is so much pain out there…and if denial helps, well…
It does not help when it comes to charlatans like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell – the latter now trying to re-establish his poster-boy status with an eagerly cooperative FCM.
Aside from those whose TVs are stuck at Fox News and radios at Rush Limbaugh, fewer and fewer Americans now believe the lingering lies. Even funeral directors and preachers tread sparingly with the once-familiar rhetoric – used cynically in Washington to facilitate further careless carnage – that these dead “must not have died in vain.”
Isaiah on the Mall
Besides the Good Samaritan parable, Powell quoted from Isaiah about bringing comfort to the people. Surely Isaiah did not mean this to be done with lies on top of lies. Isaiah was no shrinking violet. He got himself killed for speaking out bluntly against lies that in his time justified the oppression of those on the margins.
I imagine this is what Isaiah would say to us now:
“Hear this, Americans. It is time to be not only sad, but also honest. You must summon the courage to handle the truth, which is this: our young warriors and (literally) countless Iraqis died in vain, and there is no excuse for their needless sacrifice. Nothing will bring them back – least of all meretricious rhetoric that is an insult to their memory.
“Their sacrifice was in vain, hear? Our task now is two-fold: (1) Bury the dead with respect and care for the wounded and their families; and (2) ensure that the truth gets out, so that a war built on lies will not soon happen again.”
Isaiah, I think, would add that this is also precisely why we owe it to the “fallen” and their families to hold to account those responsible for sending them into battle “on false pretenses,” to quote then-Senate Intelligence Committee head, Jay Rockefeller last June.
After a five-year investigation and a bipartisan vote approving the Senate Intelligence Committee report, Rockefeller summed it up:
“In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.” As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”
There is plenty of blame to go around – to be shared by an adolescent president who liked to dress up and call himself a “war president,” and openly savored presiding over what he called “the first war of the 21st Century.”
Not to mention the power-hungry, sadistic bent of the men he chose to be vice president and secretary of defense and the treachery of CIA seniors George Tenet and John McLaughlin.
But there would have been no war, no dead, no limb-less bodies, no loved ones for whom to recall Isaiah’s words of comfort or mention the Good Samaritan, if Colin Powell had a conscience – if he had not chosen to “walk right on by.”
Let’s face it; neither the Texas Air National Guard’s most famous pilot nor the five-times-draft-deferred former vice president had the credibility to lead the country into war – especially one based on a highly dubious threat.
They needed the credibility of someone who had worn the uniform with some distinction – someone who, though never in command of a major Army combat unit, had been good at briefing the media while Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the glorious Gulf War in 1991, which most Americans have been led to believe was virtually casualty-free.
Actually, since we are trying to spread some truth around, this is worth a brief digression.
The Casualty-Lite Gulf War
According to Powell’s memoir, My American Journey, before the attack on Iraq Powell was warned by his British counterpart, Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir David Craig, about the risks involved in bombing Iraq’s so-called “weapons of mass destruction” installations. After Powell told him that this was indeed part of the plan, Craig expressed particular worry about release of agents from biological installations: “A bit risky that, eh?”
Powell writes that he told Craig the attendant risk of release was worth it and: “If it heads south, just blame me.”
Powell writes he was “less concerned” about chemical exposures. He should have been more concerned, not less. As the hostilities ended, U.S. Army engineers blew up chemical agents at a large Iraqi storage site near Kamasiyah. About 100,000 U.S. troops were downwind.
Many of those troops are now among the 210,000 veterans suffering from nervous and other diseases – and FINALLY now receiving disability payments for what came to be known as Gulf War Syndrome.
Far from his pre-war posture of “just blame me,” Powell joined Pentagon and CIA efforts to cover up this tragedy. When reports of the horrible fiasco at Kamasiyah hit the media, he erupted in macho outrage saying that, were he still on active duty, he would “rape and pillage” throughout the government to find those responsible. Of course, Kamasiyah happened during his watch. Typically, the FCM reported his macho remark, and then gave him a pass.
Despite numerous veterans’ pleas for support, Powell, in effect, went AWOL on the issue of Gulf War illnesses, never acknowledging that he shared any of the responsibility.
He took no interest and, in effect, made a huge contribution to the unconscionable delay in recognizing Gulf War illnesses for what they are. One out of every four troops deployed to the Gulf in 1991 are now receiving the benefits to which they have long been entitled – no thanks to Gen. Powell.
You didn’t know that? Thank the FCM and its persistent romance with Gen. Powell. Sorry for the digression; just had to get that off my chest.
Back to the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld quest for someone to sell the attack on Iraq, someone whom the media loved, someone with military credentials who would do what he was told.
Perhaps they had read Powell’s memoir, in which he brags about his subservience to the “wisdom” of those up the line. They needed someone who was not too bright but could be eloquent – someone who was so used to taking orders that he would squander his own credibility for his boss, if the boss would just ask.
Not too bright? Apparently, during the three years between when Powell and I, as fledgling infantry officers, had been instructed at Fort Benning on counterinsurgency, the Army’s understanding of how to fight it had improved. Either that, or Powell was not able to master the key learnings of the course.
Here is what Powell writes in his memoir about how he bought into his superiors’ notion about how to win hearts and minds – what Powell calls “counterinsurgency at the cutting edge”:
“However chilling this destruction of homes and crops reads in cold print today, as a young officer I had been conditioned to believe in the wisdom of my superiors, and to obey. I had no qualms about what we were doing. This was counterinsurgency at the cutting edge. Hack down the peasants’ crops, thus denying food to the Viet Cong…It all made sense in those days.”
“Duty, Honor, Country” is what I remember made sense in those days. That was the watchword for young Army officers in the early Sixties – not supreme faith in the wisdom of superiors and blind obedience. But most of the rest of us did not make it beyond colonel.
Small wonder that the hapless Powell was easy prey for Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld. They needed him to sell the war to the American people and, they hoped, to the rest of the world.
It is hard to fathom what “wisdom” Powell saw in his superiors’ decisions; what is clear is that he lacked the courage to challenge them, whether out of blind faith, a highly exaggerated – and dubiously moral – notion of obedience, a lack of conscience, or simple cowardice.
Tell lies to support the White House decision for war on Iraq? No problem. As was his wont, Powell saluted sharply, even though four days prior to his Feb. 5, 2003 U.N. speech he and his chief of staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, had decided that some of the “intelligence” the White House had conjured up to “justify” war was pure “bull—t,” according to Wilkerson. Powell ended up using it anyway.
Powell and his handlers were acutely aware that war would be just weeks away after Powell spoke. One small but significant sign of this was what seemed to me the earliest cover-up related to the soon-to-begin attack on Iraq.
It was a literal cover-up, accomplished even before Powell conducted his post-speech press briefing in the customary spot in front of the Security Council wall adorned with a reproduction of Picasso’s famous anti-war painting, Guernica.
Prior to the press conference, that wall hanging had been covered up by another fabric. Some PR person had recognized the impropriety of trying to justify a new war of aggression with Guernica as backdrop. As usual with Powell, the speech and press conference went swimmingly, and the gullible or shameless (your choice) FCM was embarrassingly generous with their accolades.
Once it became clear — by mid-2003 — that there were no WMD stockpiles or mobile bio-weapons labs or anything else that had been conjured up in the U.N. speech, Powell smoothly shifted the blame to the CIA, and his fans in the FCM transformed Powell into a noble victim, now tragically suffering from a “blot on my record” for no real fault of his own.
Though it is abundantly clear that then-CIA Director George Tenet and his accomplice/deputy John McLaughlin did play a treacherous role, no CIA director has ever made a secretary of state worth his salt do anything – and certainly not help start an unnecessary war.
Besides, it is a safe bet that what was already clear to us Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) was at least equally clear to Powell. On the afternoon of Powell’s U.N. speech, we formally warned President Bush that the evidence adduced by Powell fell far short of justifying an attack on Iraq and that such an attack would be a huge fillip to terrorism around the world.
And since it was obvious that Powell had thrown in his lot with those rolling the juggernaut to war, we urged the president to “widen the circle of your advisers beyond those clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason, and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”
Why Powell simply saluted, in full knowledge that his imprimatur would grease the skids to a highly dubious war can be debated. It may be as simple as the clues he provided in his memoir about honoring the “wisdom of superiors” and his penchant to obey, even when it made little sense and even when lots of folks would lose their homes and their lives.
Who was the colonel in Vietnam who insisted he was duty bound to destroy a village in order to save it from the communists? Powell was cut from similar cloth, albeit with a greater sense of subtlety and a much better knack for PR.
In April 2006, Powell admitted to journalist Robert Scheer that top State Department experts never believed that Iraq posed an imminent nuclear threat, but that the president followed the misleading advice of Vice President Dick Cheney and the CIA in making the claim.
It may simply be that by the time other generals promote you to general (the current system) you have distinguished yourself first and foremost by saluting smartly – by obeying and not asking too many questions.
But why Powell acquiesced is less important than THAT he went along. Though perhaps not the brightest star in the galaxy, he certainly was aware he was being co-opted, and that he needed not only to bless the war but also to wax enthusiastic about it, in order to remain welcome in the White House.
Surely he had learned something since his days in Vietnam – something about the “wisdom” of superiors, and of blind obedience. He could have said no, but he just did not have it in him to do so.
Powell’s stature (especially with the FCM) made his blessing of the Iraq War especially valuable to Cheney/Rumsfeld and the war-hungry neocons.
“The Only Guy Who Could Perhaps Have Stopped It”
Don’t take my word for it. Take it from the quintessential Republican elder statesman, former Secretary of State James Baker – hero of the Florida escapade that stopped the recount in Florida and, with the help of the U.S. Supreme Court, gave the 2000 election to George W. Bush.
In his book The War Within, Bob Woodward wrote: “Powell…didn’t think [Iraq] was a necessary war, and yet he had gone along in a hundred ways, large and small…He had succumbed to the momentum and his own sense of deference – even obedience – to the president…Perhaps more than anyone else in the administration, Powell had become the ‘closer’ for the president’s case on war.”
On Oct. 19, 2008, Tom Brokaw asked Powell about this on “Meet the Press;” Brokaw alluded to Woodward’s revelations and how Baker had grilled Powell when he appeared before the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. Here’s Brokaw quoting Woodard’s book:
“‘Why did we go into Iraq with so few people?’ Baker asked. … ‘Colin just exploded at that point,’ [former Secretary of Defense William] Perry recalled later. ‘He unloaded,’ [former White House Chief of Staff and now CIA Director Leon] Panetta added, ‘He was angry. He was mad as hell.’… Powell left [the Iraq Study Group meeting].
“Baker turned to Panetta and said solemnly. ‘He’s the only guy who could have perhaps prevented this from happening.’”
I added the bold, so you wouldn’t miss it.
Powell responded to Brokaw’s question by again pointing his finger at the CIA – “a lot of the information that the intelligence community provided us was wrong” – and then insisting that his war role wasn’t that consequential.
Stung by Baker’s observation, Powell said, “I also assure you that it was not a correct assessment by anybody that my statements or my leaving the administration would have stopped” going to war.
Unlike the Good Samaritan who went out of his way to help a stranger in trouble, Powell simply looked to his own convenience, carefully protecting his status within the Bush administration and keeping his place at fashionable Washington dinner parties.
Whether he could have stopped the war or not, the truth is that Colin Powell didn’t even try. He would not risk his reputation for all those victims – Iraqi and American – who have died or suffered horribly from an unnecessary war. The blot on his record was self-inflicted; the FCM is likely to run out of Clorox trying to remove the stain.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President’s Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Barack Obama, Iraq and the Big Lie March 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Barack Obama, Bechtel, big lie, Blackwater, cheney, corporate america, counter terrorism, democracy, dynacorp, erc alterman, first gulf war, George Bush, gulf war, gulf war 1991, haliburton, Iraq, iraq combat troops, iraq military occupation, iraq redeployment, iraq transition, Iraq war, Iraqi people, jeremy scahill, joel hirschhorn, judge judy, kuwait, McCain, Middle East, military industrial complex, Nancy Pelosi, oil, phyllis bennis, republican right, roger hollander, saddam hussein, SOFA, south korea, status of forces agreement, tyranny, us embassy baghdad, xe
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By Roger Hollander, March 1, 2009, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com
“Don’t piss on me and try to tell me it’s raining”
Does it matter whether it is a moral and intellectual imbecile like George W. Bush or a brilliant and charismatic intellectual like Barack Obama who employ the Big Lie as a tactic to explain and justify the unjustifiable?
In a posting that appeared in towardfreedom.com on February 18, Joel S. Hirschhorn writes, “Compared to rioting Europeans, Americans seem like docile, drugged out sheep … mesmerized by melodic rhetoric of political messiah Barack Obama.”
(http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1529/1/) (italics added)
In an ironic and tragic twist of fate, it now appears that Barack Obama’s mesmerizing and melodic rhetoric has turned out to be a two-edged sword. The same magic timbre that inspired and motivated millions of America to work day and night for his election in order to end America’s disastrous military adventures in the Middle East is now being put to use to give credibility to the Bush/Cheney worldview of the Iraq War and to thwart the desires, interests and welfare of those very same millions. The delivery hasn’t changed, but God help us, look at the content (which is what this article is all about).
In an article entitled “War Is Over (IF You Want It)” that appears in the current edition of The Nation magazine (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090316/alterman), Eric Alterman calls attention to the radical Republican right strategy of defining the fiasco in Iraq as a “victory.” He cites, for example, an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal that quotes Bush speech writer Marc Thiessen, “As Mr. Bush leaves office, Iraq is a unified and free country, and our enemies there have suffered a devastating defeat. If his successor does not squander that victory, a free Iraq will one day be to the Middle East what a free South Korea has been to Asia.” (this parallels the same kind of Big Lie that the radical right has propagated about the Vietnam War, that it could have been won if only the politicians had given the military a free hand – to nuke Hanoi presumably).
Alterman goes on to cite other neocons in a similar vein and suggests that this is a conscious and concentrated strategy the purpose of which is to set up President Obama up for failure. If that is indeed the case, then Obama seems to be willingly and blithely walking into the trap.
In his speech given on Friday, February 27 at marine Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, Obama both affirms the neocon revisionist history of the Iraq invasion and occupation and lies blatantly to the American public about the proposed withdrawal.
First the latter. Obama: “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end …. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.”
A bald faced lie.
Writing in the journal Foreign Policy in Focus on Friday, February 27, (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5910), Phyllis Bennis exposes Obama’s dissimulation about the up to 50,000 allegedly non-combatant troops “left behind.” Leaving aside the question of why that huge number would be required to “train,equip and advise” (one is reminded of the “advisors” in Vietnam), which even Nancy Pelosi has questioned, Bennis refers to a December New York Times article “describing how military planners believe Obama’s goal of pulling out combat troops ‘could be accomplished at least in part by re-labeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be ‘re-missioned,’ their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis.’” She adds, “That would mean a retreat to the lies and deception that characterized this war during Bush years — something President Obama promised to leave behind. It would also mean military resistance in Iraq would continue, leading to more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.”
Along with AlterNet’s Jeremy Scahill (“All Troops Out By 2011? Not So Fast; Why Obama’s Iraq Speech Deserves a Second Look,” (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/129362/all_troops_out_by_2011_not_so_fast%3B_why_obama%27s_iraq_speech_deserves_a_second_look/), Bettis shows how the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which was adopted by the Iraqi government but never ratified by the United States, and which calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, is full of loopholes that the Pentagon and presumably the President are ready, willing and able, to employ when the time comes for the helicopters to be evacuating the remaining troops a la Vietnam (in other words, it ain’t gonna happen).
Obama himself (inadvertently, I presume) lets it slip into the speech where he states that he will “retain a transitional force … conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions.” Such missions can hardly be characterized as anything other than combat missions. He also telegraphs to both the American people via his warning to the Iraq resistance what his ace-in-the-loophole will be: “But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.” It’s that flexibility that we knee-jerk peace-mongers worry about.
Sins of omission can be as deceptive, disingenuous and morally corrupt as sins of commission. As Bettis points out, Obama neglected to mention the future use of air and naval force in Iraq, the disposition of the more than fifty military bases in Iraq, or the future status of the enormous numbers of mercenaries and contractors (e.g. Dyncorp, Bechtel, and Blackwater, now Xe). Nor did refer to the city within a city that is the United States Embassy in Baghdad, the largest embassy in the history of humankind of which you can bet that it wasn’t built to become redundant in a period of a couple of years. Come December 31, 2111, all logic and experience tell us that United States military presence in Iraq will continue to be substantial. Obama does himself and the nation a disservice by suggesting otherwise.
As for the Bush, Cheney, neocon, and now apparently Obama fairytale version of the United States involvement in Iraq, it is probably true that it is the only one that would have been palatable for obvious reasons to the marines at Camp Lejeune, not to mention the neo-Fascist right that has ruled the country for the past eight years. But to speak before the country and the entire world and characterize the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold misery for millions and the virtual destruction of the Iraq infrastructure, as some kind of a noble venture is to contort reality into nothing less than a Big Lie which can only serve to justify past atrocity and foreshadow future ongoing bloodshed and destruction.
Obama: “We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.” Bush could not have said it any better (which is probably why McCain is salivating as we speak).
The Biggest Lie of all comes toward the end of Obama’s speech: “And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime …We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government …And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life …”
Alleging that “we sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime” contains the truth within a lie. In making the statement, Obama incredibly admits that the United States government violated the most fundamental precept of the United Nations Charter and international law, to wit, an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation. But does the President expect the American people and the world to forget about the intentionally false information about nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction that was fed to the American people and world community as the justification for the invasion in the first place? In this instance Obama’s Big lie serves to reinforce the Original Big Lie of the Bush administration. The growing demand for prosecutorial accountability with respect to Bush and Company include, we should remember, not only torture, rendition, illegal wiretapping, etc. but also the crime of lying to the American public and Congress about the grounds for the invasion.
(To put matters into an even broader historical context, I refer readers to Nora Eisenberg’s excellent piece in AlterNet.com where she documents the Big Lie technique that was used to justify the first Gulf War in 1991 where according to a United Nations report the United States Air Force bombed Iraq “back into the Dark Ages.” “Obama to Announce Iraq Troop Withdrawal,”
As for establishing a sovereign government and leaving the Iraqi people the opportunity to have a better life, while the jury may still be out on those counts, the evidence we have to date flies in the face of such empty rhetorical wishful thinking.
Some time ago Bush and the neocons began, ominously, comparing Iraq with South Korea, where the U.S. has had a “successful” military presence for over 50 years. They neglect, of course, to note the difference, to wit, that South Korea was a military ally of the United States against the North Korean invasion, whereas the U.S. has been bombing the life out of Iraq since 1991 and through its unlawful invasion provoked a near civil war within the country that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? Will this South Korea paradigm fiction be the next straw that Obama will need to grasp in order to justify occupation in perpetuity?
There are two other critical concepts, which are central to the forces that were behind the original invasion and which impulse the continued military occupation, that Obama neglected to mention. One of them is “war profiteering.” Wipe out the infrastructure, and then as a pretext for reconstructing it, give billions in untendered contracts to the likes of Dick Cheney’s Haliburton. And that is not to mention the corporate ghouls who manufacture our weapons of mass destruction.
The other concept, however, is one that virtually every American, not to mention the rest of the world, knows in her or his heart to have been, is, and will continue to be the single most – if not the only – motivating force behind the U.S. military adventure in Iraq. It can be found in the original but quickly discarded acronym for the mission: Operation Iraqi Liberation.
Further Deconstruction of President Obama’s February 27 “Withdrawal from Iraq” Speech
Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against tyranny …”
Deconstruction: Those soldiers who have fought tyranny are living in Canada.
Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against … disorder.”
Deconstruction: Disorder created not only by the current invasion and occupation but also by 19 years of U.S. bombing and economic blockade. Eisenberg: “We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.”
Obama: “Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007.”
Deconstruction: Sectarian killing and violence that the U.S. invasion and occupation provoked and by which Saddam Hussein’s atrocities pale in comparison. U.S. inspired violence and killing 2003-2006 conveniently ignored.
Obama: “Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq’s Security Forces …”
Deconstruction: And has been handed a recruiting opportunity that will dramatically inflate the ranks of revenge-motivated terrorists who will plague us for decades or more.
Obama: “… a transition to full Iraqi responsibility … an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant … The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources.”
Deconstruction: An Iraq that is occupied by the U.S. military in perpetuity, in order to ensure the protection of U.S. interests in the region’s natural resources and to ensure the “election” of government’s that maintain Iraq as a client state of the U.S.
Obama: “There are those … who will insist that Iraq’s differences cannot be reconciled without more killing.”
Deconstruction: We don’t insist on more killing we just do it. Bennis: “And what if the reduction in ground troops is answered with an escalation of U.S. air power? The U.S. appears to be planning to control the skies over Iraq for years to come. That means even more Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military. We need the withdraw all air and naval forces too — something the SOFA agreement mentions, but we have yet to hear anything from the Obama administration. The U.S. has been conducting continuous overflights and regular bombing of Iraq since January 1991 – isn’t 18 years of air war enough?”
Obama: “And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary …”
Deconstruction: Necessary to what and to whose ends?
Obama: “What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals.”
Deconstruction: Forget such wishy-washy idealist notions such as actual peace and justice.
Obama: (with respect to) “millions of displaced Iraqis … America has … a moral responsibility – to act.”
Deconstruction: This is another Obama slip up: America has no “moral responsibility” to help those refugees. It was Saddam who made us create all those refugees. Right? We do it out of the goodness of our gas-guzzling hearts.
Obama: “… the United States of America – a nation that exists only because free men and women have bled for it from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Anbar; from the mountains of Korea to the streets of Kandahar.”
Deconstruction: Obama gives us jingoistic triumphalistic patriotism, when the American people hunger for a truthful acknowledgement of the past crimes.
One has to ask the question why the entire sub-text, not to mention the practical implications, of Obama’s speech was addressed directly to the radical Republican right, corporate America, and the military-industrial complex.
Why the Dark Secrets of the First Gulf War Are Still Haunting Us February 27, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: cbd documentary, censorship, Dick Cheney, first gulf war, george h.w. bush, gulf war, gulf war atrocities, gulf war illness, hill & knowlton, Iraq, Iraq war, iraqi soldiers, kuwait, kuwait city hospital, kuwait invasion, Nayirah, nora eisenberg, Pentagon, pentagon censors, propaganda, roger hollander, saddam hussein, to sel a war, war
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With rare exceptions, American politicians seem incapable of opposing an American war without befriending another in a different place or time.
Barack Obama, an early and ardent enemy of the Iraq War, quickly declared his affinity for a war in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan. And like so many Democratic leaders, he has commended Bush 41′s Gulf War over Bush 43′s, for its justifiable cause, clear goals, quick execution and admirable leadership.
It’s difficult to determine the proportion of expedience to ignorance that allows politicians and pundits to advance the theory of the good and trouble-free Gulf War. What’s clear, though, is that for close to 20 years, the 42-day war, in which we dropped more bombs than were dropped in all wars combined in the history of the world, maintains a special place in American hearts.
But as John R. MacArthur amply demonstrates in The Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, the real 1991 war was kept from the American public. This week, as we commemorate the 18th anniversary of the Gulf War’s end, and opportunities for new hostilities beckon, Americans, and our leaders, would do well to take a hard look at the war that we continue to love only because we never got to see it.
Despite our inability to detect it at the time, U.S. prosecution of the 1991 war with Iraq relied on all the now-familiar and discredited strategies used to promote the present war — with equally disastrous and far-reaching results.
When Saddam Hussein summoned April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, to his office on July 25, 1990, it was to determine what the U.S. response would be should he invade Kuwait with the 30,000 troops he had amassed on its border. According to the Iraqi transcript published in the New York Times two months later, he told the seasoned diplomat that Iraq had defended the region against the Iranian fundamentalist regime, and that the Kuwaitis were paying them back by encroaching on their border, siphoning their oil, increasing oil production and driving down prices. His people were suffering, and his “patience was running out.”
Glaspie commiserated: “I admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. I know you need funds. We understand that, and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. … I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late ’60s. The instruction we had during this period was that … the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction.”
Glaspie later claimed that Iraq transcripts contained “distortions,” which may be so. But her own recently declassified cable to Washington closely resembles the Iraqi transcripts: She wrote that she asked Saddam, “in the spirit of friendship, not confrontation” about his intentions with Kuwait. She reports telling him that “she had served in Kuwait 20 years before; then as now we took no position on these Arab affairs.” She wrote that “Saddam’s emphasis that he wants peaceful settlement is surely sincere … but the terms might be difficult to achieve.”
Glaspie was not the only official to deliver this laissez-faire message. The next day, at a Washington press conference, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutweiler was asked by a journalist if the U.S. had sent any diplomatic protest to Iraq for putting 30,000 troops on the border with Kuwait. “I’m entirely unaware of any such protest,” Tutweiler replied.
Five days later, on July 31, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs John Kelly testified to Congress that the “United States has no commitment to defend Kuwait, and the U.S. has no intention of defending Kuwait if it is attacked by Iraq.”
Two days later, when Saddam entered Kuwait, he had no reason to believe that the U.S. would come to Kuwait’s defense with a half-million troops. Or that when he tried to negotiate a retreat though Arab leaders, the U.S. would refuse to talk. In 1990 as in 2002, a Bush president had his mind set on war.
If the White House and Pentagon were fixed on a war with Iraq, during the summer and early fall of 1990, the American public and Congress were not. To change that, the week after Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Kuwaiti government, disguising itself as “Citizens for a Free Kuwait,” hired the global PR firm of Hill & Knowlton to win Americans’ hearts and minds.
In charge of the Washington office of Hill & Knowlton was Craig Fuller, a close friend of George H.W. Bush and his chief of staff when he was vice president. For $11.8 million, Fuller and more than 100 H&K executives across the country oversaw the selling of the war.
They organized public rallies, provided pro-war speakers, lobbied politicians, developed and distributed information kits and news releases, including scores of video news releases shown by stations and networks as if they were bona fide journalism and not paid-for propaganda.
H&K’s research arm, the Wirthlin Group, conducted daily polls to identify the messages and language that would resonate most with Americans. In the 1982 Emmy award-winning Canadian Broadcasting Corp. documentary To Sell a War, a Wirthlin executive explained that their research had determined the most emotionally moving message to be “Saddam Hussein was a madman who had committed atrocities even against his own people and had tremendous power to do further damage, and he needed to be stopped.”
To fit the bill, H&K concocted stories, including one told by a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah, to another H&K concoction, the House Human Rights Caucus looking to pass as a congressional committee. According to the caucus, Nayirah’s full name would remain secret in order to deter the Iraqis from punishing her family in occupied Kuwait. The girl wept as she testified before the caucus, apparently still shaken by the atrocity she witnessed as a volunteer in a Kuwait City hospital.
According to her written testimony, she had seen “the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns and go into the room where … babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the babies on the cold floor to die.”
During the three months between Nayirah’s testimony and the start of the war, the story of babies tossed from their incubators stunned Americans. Bush told the story, and television anchors and talk-show hosts recycled it for days. It was read into the congressional record as fact and discussed at the U.N. General Assembly.
By the time it emerged that Nayirah was a Kuwaiti royal and the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington and that she had never volunteered in any hospital and that the incident and her testimony had been provided by H&K, it was too late. The war had already begun.
Another concoction was top-secret satellite images that the Pentagon claimed to have of 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks on the Kuwait-Saudi border, visible proof that Saddam would be advancing soon on Saudi Arabia. Yet the St. Petersburg Times acquired two commercial Russian satellite images of the same area, taken at the same time, that showed no Iraqi troops near the Saudi border, and the scientific experts whom the Times hired could identify nothing but sand at the supposed location of the advancing army.
But the St. Petersburg Times story evaporated, and the Pentagon’s story stuck. When Bush addressed a joint session of Congress on Sept. 11, 1990, he reported that developments in the Gulf were “as significant as they were tragic”: Iraqi troops and tanks had moved to the south “to threaten Saudi Arabia.”
Saudi reluctance to host foreign troops and bases that would desecrate their sacred sites, the holiest in all of Islam, gave way in the face of an imminent invasion, and the war had its staging area. American discomfort with a war to defend a country most had never heard of began to transform into dread that the Saudi oil they relied on would be swallowed up by a monster.
In the lead-up to war, U.S. media organizations, with rare exceptions, had begun to back away from investigative reporting and journalistic scrutiny. Once the war began, government censorship combined with this self-censorship produced a media blackout. The restrictions on the press were tighter than during any earlier American war. Journalists could not travel except in pools with military escorts, and even then most sites were off-limits.
Pentagon censors had to clear all war dispatches, photos and footage before they could be released. Department of Defense guidelines stated that stories would not be judged for “potential to express criticism or cause embarrassment,” but journalists weren’t taking any chances. When news anchors weren’t hosting retired generals and pundits, or screening eerie green images of the coordinates of the day’s targets, they were praising the military on a job well done.
Two months after the war ended, the editors of 15 news outlets protested to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney about the Pentagon’s control. But the damage had been done. The real war was never reported to the American public.
What We Missed and Need to Remember
Americans never saw images of even one of the 100,000 civilians killed in the aerial war, just coordinates of precision-guided strikes, the majority of which missed their marks.
We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.
There were no photos or stories of the start of the ground war on Feb. 24, 1991, after Iraq had agreed to a Russian-brokered withdrawal. We never saw the “bulldozer assault” of Feb. 24-26, when U.S. soldiers with plows mounted on tanks and bulldozers moved along 10 miles of trenches, burying alive some 1,000 Iraqi soldiers. Or the night of Feb. 26, when allied forces cordoned off a stretch of highway between Kuwait and Basra, Iraq, incinerating tens of thousands of retreating soldiers and civilians, in an incident come to be called the “Highway of Death.”
We saw no coverage of dead Kurds and Shiites who, at Bush’s instigation and expecting his support, rose up against Saddam. Nor in the months and years after, the news of the Iraqi epidemic of birth defects, cancers and systemic disease.
We heard little about the 20,000 troops occupying Saudi Arabia after the war, the growing regional resentment for the destruction and death, injuries and insults of invasion and occupation. We never heard of the Saudi Muslim radical Osama bin Laden, his outraged protests, for which he was banished, wandering the region, recruiting young followers to avenge the desecration of Islam’s sacred sites.
As for our own, there were no images of returning coffins filled with U.S. service members, nor, in the days and months after the war, coverage of the war’s aftermath: The 200,000 troops who returned profoundly ill from Gulf War illness; the trauma, addiction and/or brain damage that caused veterans to kill their wives, family, fellow citizens, and/or themselves; and, of course, on Sept. 11, 2001, the tragic event used by the George W. Bush administration to launch a second war against Iraq.
There was no mainstream media coverage of the roots, just of the proclamations of them versus us, hatemongers versus freedom lovers, barbaric cowards versus civilized heroes.
We could read about bin Laden’s jihad, but little appeared of the fatwa he and his counterparts throughout the Middle-East issued, except the often-quoted statement that it was the duty of every Muslim “to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military,” leaving out the second part of the sentence — “in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.”
Barack Obama’s early opposition to George 43′s Gulf War was a sign of the integrity, knowledge, and depth for which Americans would elect him, trusting these virtues would guide us in hard times. Patriotic etiquette discourages politicians, especially presidents, from bearing complexities in public forums.
But war-weary, broke and scared Americans will welcome the president breaking rules and speaking awkward truths.
Invasion and violence, like chickens, do come home to roost. We’re ready for a leader who grasps history’s complications and heeds its lessons and who won’t release us from one war only to tie us to another, and another.
Nora Eisenberg is the director of the City University of New York’s Faculty Fellowship Publication Program. Her short stories, essays and reviews have appeared in such places as the Partisan Review, the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Times, Tikkun, and the Guardian UK. Her third novel, When You Come Home, which explores the 1991 Gulf War and Gulf War illness, was published last month by Curbstone Press.