Friday, August 19, 2005


The grieving mother haunting President Bush haunts us as well, raising ghosts other than that of her soldier son slain in Iraq. The scariest ghost is the cause of the Iraq war itself, raised in part by comments attributed to the mother, Cindy Sheehan, saying her son “was killed for lies and for a PNAC neocon agenda to benefit Israel.”

Whether she actually said these things or not, professional ranter Christopher Hitchens has responded, dismissing her take on “the Michael Moore/Ramsay Clark school of Iraq analysis” as not “one atom more elegant or persuasive” than it’s ever been.

Hitchens lost his mind during 9/11. He’s not alone — Dennis Miller and Ron Silver are two other much-noted casualties for whom “9/11 changed everything” — but is the most prolific (save for Thomas L. Friedman, who at least struggles to stay on his meds in his New York Times column). Hitchens became so starry-eyed that he came to believe that “what is happening in today’s Iraq is something more like a social and political revolution than a military occupation” and tried to take down Michael Moore for criticizing the Iraq effort in the film “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

In this way Hitchens has something in common (shudder) with my friend Michael Scott Moore, who resents sharing a name with the filmmaker and has recently written in response to Hitchens:

I don’t like the Michael Moore school of analysis; I think the Iraq War was just the easiest response in front of Bush after 9/11, since the brave and honest response — facing down the Saudi family and liberalizing Arabia — was such an intractable bitch. (And still isn’t resolved.) We had a military lock on Iraq, after all, and Saddam was a bad guy, and wouldn’t it be good to have a democratic regime and a few bases and some friends there in charge of the oil? Yes, of course. I thought so, too, in theory.

I side with Sheehan in the “the Michael Moore/Ramsay Clark school of Iraq analysis,” if in fact that’s even the side she’s on. The attacks of 9/11 didn’t change everything. In the context of Iraq, it hardly changed anything, although the Project for the New American Century referred to by Sheehan (which actually wants to benefit the United States of America first, with Israel as a distant second) isn’t technically to blame.

It’s responsible in the same way U2 is responsible for “Original Soundtracks 1” by the Passengers, which is U2 recording slightly different music under another name with the help of producer Brian Eno. In this case, replace U2 with “Project for the New American Century” and the Passengers with the “Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.” This institute, which is based in Jerusalem, is where Douglas Feith, Richard Perle and David Wurmser wrote a 1996 paper called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” that suggested to Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu that:

Israel can shape its strategic environment ... by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right.

Among the reasons Feith, Perle and Wurmser could come up with for going after Syria were that:

Syria repeatedly breaks its word. It violated numerous agreements with the Turks, and has betrayed the United States by continuing to occupy Lebanon in violation of the Taef agreement in 1989 ... Syria has begun colonizing Lebanon ... while killing tens of thousands of its own citizens at a time ... Syria’s regime supports the terrorist groups [and has a] weapons of mass destruction program.

Some of this obviously sounds very familiar. Netanyahu didn’t go for it, but two years later this thinking was recycled into PNAC’s notorious letter to President Clinton saying “removing Saddam Hussein ... needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.” Among the signers of the letter was Perle, a project member who became chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee in July 2001. Feith, who is not a member of the project, became Bush’s undersecretary of defense for policy the same month. Wurmser joined the State Department’s top ranks and now advises Vice President Cheney on the Middle East.

On Jan. 30, 2001, nine months before 9/11, Bush gathered his top cabinet members and advisers for his first big meeting on national security. The only items on the agenda, according to former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, were Israel and Iraq. Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet showed overhead shots of what could have been a plant “that produced either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture.”

We know the rest. America was attacked. And despite evidence that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were behind 9/11, and despite the fact there was no evidence against Saddam Hussein, the U.S. war machine immediately began looking at attacking Iraq.

Describing a meeting on Sept. 12, 2001, former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke wrote in “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror” (Simon & Schuster, 2004) that:

I walked into a series of discussions about Iraq. At first I was incredulous that we were talking about something other than getting Al Qaeda. Then I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that [we] were going to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote [attacking] Iraq. Since the beginning of the administration, indeed well before, they had been pressing for a war with Iraq.

Iraq was not a “response” to 9/11. If anything, 9/11 was an excuse for Iraq, and it’s entirely plausible when Clarke says he heard long before the attacks that there were hopes of invading Iraq in 2002.

Interestingly enough, that 1998 letter to Clinton urged him to take on Iraq quickly because the end of United Nations weapons inspections in Iraq meant that “in the not-too-distant future we will be unable to determine with any reasonable level of confidence whether Iraq does or does not possess such weapons.”

Years later, long after the end of inspections, that uncertainty would be unjustifiably gone.

Sheehan has much more cause to believe that a decade-old neocon agenda killed her son. In fact, we all do.

1 comment:

Michael Scott Moore said...

"Iraq was not a 'response' to 9/11. If anything, 9/11 was an excuse for Iraq."

Well, it sure was gussied up to look like a response, even if Bush did just adopt a ready-made plan.

My problem with the PNAC story is that it leads so quickly to conspiracy-mongering. Of course the vision for our foreign policy had to come from somewhere. But the important question (right now) isn't, "Where'd this idea come from?"; it's, "How well does it fit reality?"