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 Day 19

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Candide in the Wilderness

How Bush Administration Policy Was Made

by DOUG GIEBEL

In this best of all possible political worlds, might and money triumph over adversity. Until the dramatically expected appearance of Richard Clarke, Lady Luck was blowing almost daily on the dice of George W. Bush and the Bushvolk. How did they work their magic? Was the table rigged? Short of climbing into the skulls of Bush Administration brainiacs, it is possible to speculate as follows.

Not "All" About Oil

It is no secret. Some neo-conservatives in the Bush Administration pined for the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein well before George W. Bush began his first bid for the White House. The goal: to appropriate Iraq as a major foothold for U.S. military power and influence in the heart of the Middle East. In the years following the first Gulf War, Iraq had succumbed to inspections, sanctions and military strikes. There was virtually no chance Saddam Hussein would or could attack the United States. The problem: How to convince U.S. politicians and the public that an invasion of Iraq was an acceptable course to follow.

Contrary to conspiracy theorists, there is no evidence the Bush Administration war-seekers planned the terrorist crimes of 9/11; nor does it seem likely that those involved in carrying out the attacks knew (a) of the plans to take out Saddam Hussein’s government; (b) how the administration would react to their September Surprise.

In the weeks before September 11, 2001, the Cheney-Rice-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz group ignored advice from Clinton Administration insiders. Instead, as Clarke, O’Neill and the record show, they had their sights on Saddam’s Iraq. Warnings of impending terrorism in briefings given by members of the Clinton Administration to the incumbent Republicans were dismissed or ignored because the new kids on the block had a cocksure sense of their own self worth. They knew Iraq was where they were going. They weren’t quite certain how to get there.

Prior to 9;/11, it seems plausible the Bush team in fact expected an attack, either at a U.S. installation overseas or on home ground. The air inside the Beltway was rife with warnings from many reliable sources. To believe no such attack could be on the horizon was to believe in the Tooth Fairy, and these Republicans are realists. There is no Santa Claus because THEY are Santa Claus. Bush insiders expected an attack, wherever it occurred, would be similar to earlier assaults on the World Trade Center or the <U.S.S>. Cole. In other words, the event would do damage, only not on a massive scale — merely sufficient damage to justify pointing a finger at Iraq.

Lady Luck arrived unexpectedly for both George W. Bush and Usama bin Laden. Just as the terrorists could not have foreseen the complete collapse of the World Trade Center, so the Bush White House did not foresee the expected "event" (in this case, 9/11) would exceed their expectations, giving them a sensational and emotional excuse for taking on Saddam Hussein. This is not to suggest the Bush Administration rejoiced (as bin Laden did) when the twin towers fell and the Pentagon burned; they simply took advantage of the situation. Unfortunately, with no link between Iraq and the 9/11 terrorists, it became necessary to delay invading Iraq until action against bin Laden and the Taliban had satisfied the national desire for revenge.

Is it cynical to imply the Bush Administration had so little interest in the loss of human life it would tolerate a modest loss to terrorists in return for the capture of Iraq? Not according to the evidence. The Bush Administration has shown little interest in the loss of non-military lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our government avoids "body counts" of "collateral damage." Similarly, there have been no major reservations about putting U.S. troops in harm’s way; and the current plan to permanently keep approximately 100,000 of our troops in Iraq will result in more losses for years to come. To the Bush team, such losses are acceptable. On October 17, 2003,Rep. Tom Delay expressed the administration view, declaring, "We’ll pay any price and bear any burden to advance the cause of human liberty. After the shock and of awe of major combat the price and burden of human hope shift from the battlefield to the town hall and the town market. And that hope Mr. Chairman cannot come in the form of a promissory note. It’s our fight and now it’s our job."

Later, when asked if the war was worth the lives of 564 U.S. soldiers killed, Secretary Rumsfeld said, "Oh, my goodness, yes. There’s just no question …25 million people in Iraq are free." (March 14, 2004)

My suggested scenario explains why the administration did not seem especially concerned about an impending event of terrorism and why alarms sounded by people in the field were ignored or under-valued. It also renders more clearly the possible reasons why President Bush would object to setting up the 9/11 Commission and why the commission has been stonewalled. Successful strategists take advantage when the unexpected arrives unexpectedly.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Pre-invasion, their statements to the contrary, Bush Administration leaders knew there were few or no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In revving up the siren to wail that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD capable of killing "thousands" and "millions" of human beings, administration officials knew its fear-inducing claims were patently untrue.

Whatever their failings, those who led us into war may be risk-takers, but they are not foolhardy. The everyday behavior of President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and others with membership in The Project for the New American Century demonstrates their collective interest in remaining in power through the re-election of George W. Bush and beyond. In politics, very little happens that is not calculated with at least one hand on the pulse of public opinion. Being there: that’s what politics is all about.

In this context, the often-cited Wolfowitz statement in Vanity Fair makes sense. He said, "The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason [for invading Iraq]." Still hurting from the criminal acts of 9/11, Americans would be more easily persuaded of Saddam Hussein’s evil designs if he were portrayed as posing the most alarming threat possible: his possession of weapons of mass destruction to be used against U.S. cities and other targets. As we know, the argument, although quite absurd, carried the day. (Why "absurd"? Because Saddam’s nation had been under sanctions, military overflights and attacks for a dozen years. Iraq had no air force and no navy capable of reaching the United States. The best our neo-con fear-mongers could muster was the specter of unmanned drone aircraft that were in reality incapable of flying from Iraq to the <U.S.A>.)

How much damage were Bushvolk willing to risk? Facing the potential use by Hussein’s forces of tons of supposedly highly-lethal weapons of mass destruction would have meant taking extraordinary risks with the lives of U.S. and "coalition" troops. Invading forces met by such formidable opposition would likely have resulted in a nightmarish slaughter of the "liberators" and stain the Bush record for all time. Would these otherwise-circumspect political creatures really take that chance? Logically: no, they would not. And they didn’t.

No WMD were used against coalition forces during the invasion, and they have not surfaced to be used against those forces during the occupation. Why not? Common sense would lead one to believe that if the weapons really existed and posed a threat so immediate that invasion was necessary, Saddam Hussein would have used those weapons in a heartbeat to repel invasion and to wipe out the occupiers.

Another major "clue" to the WMD mystery can be addressed by recalling the Pentagon’s unusual strategy to "embed" reporters with the invading troops. According to some estimates, approximately 2,700 "embedded" reporters worked the march to Baghdad and beyond, a staggering number, especially if there were any real fear of encountering weapons of mass destruction. Embedded journalists were perhaps even more likely to be killed or injured than the troops engaged in actual combat. Their reports of battlefield casualties from WMD related-causes would have horrified the nation and the world. It seems certain this army of reporters would never have been invited along for the ride if invasion had not been viewed by Pentagon brass and others as the relative "cakewalk" it turned out to be.

Note also that on February 7, Australia’s newspaper The Age reported, "Australian troops fighting in Iraq were told in an official briefing days before entering the country that Saddam Hussein did not have the capability to launch weapons of mass destruction against its neighbours." The news must have relieved anxiety for Aussie troops. Surely if Australia knew, the U.S. knew. This reinforces retired State Department weapons expert Greg Thielmann’s statement to 60 Minutes that Saddam posed no real threat, not even to his immediate neighbors.

After considering those years of bombings, sanctions and intelligence gathering, the Bush Administration was quite certain an invasion of Iraq would be successful and would immeasurably enhance its prospects for a second four-year stint in the White House. At home, a "war budget" would block funding of social programs disfavored by the White House. The semi-secret plan to build permanent U.S. bases in Iraq would move forward following the selection of a "democratically-elected" group to govern Iraq according to U.S. needs and wishes. Today: Iraq. Tomorrow: The Middle East and beyond.

The unaccomplished mission went forward; Iraq was invaded as planned and desired.

Weapons of mass destruction had everything (and nothing) to do with it.

Protecting Iraq

On March 23, 2004, the Chicago Tribune ran a short article by foreign correspondent Christine Spolar in which she revealed the U.S. military is building "an enhanced system" of fourteen (14) "enduring bases" that are "designed to last for years.

Experts were correct to believe the U.S. should have employed a much larger military force when invading Iraq, especially for maintaining civil order once the occupation began. On the other hand, chaos has the advantage of demonstrating to occupation critics the need for a permanent U.S. military presence. It remains to be seen whether, under U.S. control, an effective Iraqi army and police force can ever be established. Although Iraq poses no real danger to the United States as a nation, a simmering Iraq gives the Bush Pentagon an excuse for maintaining a significant number of U.S. military bases on Iraqi soil. Better safe, they might argue, than sorry.

Two redundant questions regarding a "rebuilt" Iraqi military:

1. Will an Iraqi air force be re-established capable of repelling threats from outside the country?

2. Will the Iraqi military be independent and provided with military hardware (tanks, missiles, etc.) capable not only of repelling attacks from foreign entities and also capable of launching an invasion of neighboring nations?

Consider. In May 2003, Secretary Rumsfeld said, "We’ll have as many forces in the country as is necessary to see that there is a secure environment.” Nearly one year later Rumsfeld ruminated, "[M]y personal view is that the Iraqis are going to be better able to provide for their own security, more likely to make progress with respect to their economic and–and–and essential service side of the equation if, in fact, there’s an Iraqi face on the government and that they have a voice and some important role in governing their country."

The Iraqi military will not be revived to the extent it could pose a "danger" or an "imminent threat" to anyone outside its borders. In all matters foreign and domestic, there will be an "Iraqi face" and they will have "some important role" in the nation’s affairs.

Interviewed on ABC’s This Week program, Secretary of State Powell said, "We will continue to have 100,000 troops there, helping them with their security as their own security forces show greater ability to protect the population. We’ll also have a very large embassy." (March 14, 2004)

In February 2004, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, seconded Rumsfeld, stating it is unlikely an Iraqi government will ask the U.S. to leave Iraq. Then Myers added, "And our help’s going to be needed for some time. If nothing else, think about the external threats to Iraq. Certainly, the new Iraqi army’s not going to be up to that in terms of size, or their training."

These revealing statements set forth Iraq’s future, the performance of which will be stage managed by the United States, not for a year but, in Gen. Jay Garner’s words, "the next few decades. (Congress Daily, February 6, 2004)

If Iraq is threatened from outside, the U.S. will come to the rescue with our military might including continued use of National Guard and Reserves. Should those forces dwindle, re-introduction of the military draft will follow. By means of this political strategy, employment figures at home will be boosted, giving President Bush a means of claiming an improved economy as new workers are hired to fill the shoes of those sent east in combat boots.

Rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure will drag on for years. The contracts granted to U.S. corporations will continue as long as our semi-privatized military and our palatial embassy remain in Iraq. Delaying and prolonging reconstruction has advantages. Men sitting endlessly in line to fill their cars’ gas tanks will not be making mischief somewhere else. Families who must wait hours for electricity to come on are tied to their homes by necessity. Water is necessary for life. Its absence weakens the healthy and debilitates those who are ill. Unpurified water may cause sickness among those who are not immune to impurities. Negatively rationing water leads to restricted activity and cloudy mental processes. Our model here: the old Hollywood westerns: He who controls the energy and water supplies controls the territory.

The cowboys are in charge. To borrow from President Bush, we will be in Iraq "As long as it takes." Whether a compliant press will ever ask President Bush and John Kerry for their views on this issue seems doubtful. The cost of building and maintaining at least 100,000 troops on ground in Iraq is unknown, as are estimates of the number of lives that may (surely will) be lost over a period of (say) fifty years. Will our grandchildren and great-grandchildren be wounded or murdered in Baghdad? Perhaps these matters are not to be discussed in polite patriotic society. Is "Bring the Troops Home" already a lost cause?

How does the Bush Administration respond to the question of lives lost as a result of our good-will efforts to remake Iraq in our own image? Neo-con Bush booster William Kristol, Chairman of the Project for the New American Century, gave what might be the answer when he told the Diane Rehm Show, "I am very comfortable defending the morality of the current situation." Kristol’s comfortable position is cold comfort to those who must serve in harms way and those who suffer loss as the war of occupation drags on for decades, draining money and blood from Americans.

The Bush Administration was quite aware no weapons of mass destruction posed a threat to our invading and occupying forces. The Big Lie was bigger than most folks realized. Contrary to critics who believe the administration has no "plan" for post-invasion Iraq, the plan is obvious to any willing to examine what has happened, what is happening and what is being said. The years those neo-conservatives spent dreaming of their golden opportunity to appropriate Iraq were not spent in idleness. The puzzle fits.

Oh, and one more thing . . .

Oil.

DOUG GIEBEL is a writer and analyst who lives in Big Sandy, Montana. His essay "When Professors Cheat" is soon to be published by Mellen Press. He welcomes comments at dougcatz@ttc-cmc.net.