The Russian Gambit and Reality’s Rout
"Reality has always had too many heads."
– Bob Dylan
Part I: Spy Game
Vlad "The Impaler of Chechnya" Putin has now added his two kopeks to the debate over the origins of the Iraq War. Apparently distressed at seeing his self-proclaimed "soulmate," George W. Bush, floundering in the rising tide of revelations about his crooked casus belli, the Chekist-in-Chief tossed the L’il Commander a bone with his recent claim that Russian agents had uncovered Iraqi terrorist plots against the United States – months before Bush launched the blitzkrieg on Babylon.
Strangely enough, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters he’d never heard of this remarkable intelligence before. This would be the same Colin Powell who spent days poring over "the very best intelligence we had" from "every source" before making the American case for war at the UN in February 20003. Given the Bush Regime’s extremely low standard for "very best intelligence"– every major assertion made by Powell on that historic day turned out to be a screaming falsehood – one shudders to think how threadbare Putin’s terrorist tidbits must have been.
That’s assuming they even existed in the first place. Some cynics claim this intervention by the KGB Kid is just typical security organ disinformation, artfully stage-managed to provide a PR boost to the struggling son of ex-CIA chief George Bush I. (And they say there’s no honor among thieves.) Others hint darkly of a sinister quid pro quo: what will Putin ask in return for this manful effort to pull Bush’s roasting chestnuts out of the fire? A free pass for the Khodorkovsky takedown? Extra sauce at the next Crawford barbeque? The return of the Baltics?
Or perhaps it’s just a bit of kooky Kremlin leg-pulling. After all, does Vlad really expect anyone to believe that a Bush Regime which grasped at every possible fear-rousing, warmongering straw – phantom WMD arsenals, phantom mobile WMD labs, phantom uranium, phantom meetings in Prague, phantom terrorist training camps, phantom unmanned bombers that could span the globe – tactfully refrained from mentioning that Saddam had terrorist teams locked, loaded and ready to fire at the American heartland? What, were they too shy to bring this up? Didn’t want to cause a fuss?
No: it is inconceivable that the Bush Regime would not have used such "smoking gun" intelligence in its maniacal efforts to stoke war fever in the American populace. After all, credible evidence of Saddam actively plotting to launch direct attacks on the United States would have been a much more effective tool than the painful contortions about an Iraq-al Qaeda alliance that the Regime kept trotting (and keeps trotting) out. It would have even worked better than all the huffing and puffing about weapons of mass destruction, since the idea that Saddam might send around a crew to blow up a shopping mall would have been far more believable than the Regime’s Hollywood fantasies about an evil supervillain capable of destroying the earth in 45 minutes. If any such evidence – with even the slightest tincture of possible truth to it – had actually existed, it would have been plastered wall-to-wall throughout the ever-compliant American media for months on end.
As for Powell, his expressions of incredulity were couched in the same cringing ambiguity he’s displayed throughout his long career as an apologist for bloodthirsty leaders – Nixon (My Lai), Reagan (Iran-Contra), Bush I (Panama, Gulf War) and Bush II (Babylonian Conquest). In fact, Powell even served a spell as an apologist for Saddam himself, when Bush I needed to whitewash the infamous gassing of the Kurds in order to keep peddling WMD technology to his then-beloved Iraqi tyrant. Now, instead of stating the obvious – that the Russian intelligence, if it existed at all, was so useless that it was flushed out of the system long before it could reach the top – Powell hemmed and hawed and said, well, maybe the boys over "in the intelligence shop" might have seen it.
Well, maybe they did see it. And maybe what they found merely echoed what American intelligence already knew – indeed, what Saddam Hussein had already openly declared: that if Iraq were invaded by the United States, the Iraqis, certain to be overwhelmed militarily, would resort to "asymmetrical warfare" in retaliation, striking at American targets wherever they could. But this wasn’t "intelligence" that had to be ferreted out from the bowels of the Baathist regime by wily Russian agents; it was old news from the back pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times. In the fall of 2002, for example, then-CIA Director George Tenet told Congress – in public, under oath – that there was only one likely scenario in which Saddam would ever attack the United States: if America invaded Iraq. This was duly noted in the "papers of record" – then promptly forgotten (by the papers themselves) in the months of media war-drumming that followed.
Tenet’s testimony dovetailed with other clear warnings intelligence officials gave Bush before the war: that invading Iraq would absolutely guarantee an upsurge of Islamic terrorism around the world. It would be the answer to bin Laden’s prayers: an unprovoked "Crusader" attack on the Muslim heartland, an inexhaustible recruiting tool for generations of "holy warriors." Bush knew this going in – he just didn’t care. His eyes were on the prize – the milking of Iraq for power and profit – not on the security of all those pathetic losers who didn’t even elect him president: the American people.
No doubt Saddam had his minions draw up plans for an "asymmetrical" response to a U.S. invasion – just as the U.S. spends countless millions each year wargaming scenarios for, say, invading Iran, taking over the Saudi oilfields, nuking China and yes, impaling Vlad’s own Russia. And no doubt Russian operatives could have easily picked up such plans while, by their own admission, they were helping Iraq prepare its pre-invasion defenses, as the Los Angeles Times reports. But Saddam – a hardened survivor who’d been helped to power by the CIA and supported in his military aggression and WMD attacks by both Reagan and Bush I – would never have been stupid enough to launch "pre-emptive" terrorist strikes that would have resulted in the immediate destruction of his regime, as Tenet testified months before the war.
It’s obvious now that whatever retaliation plans and revenge fantasies Saddam might have had, their actual reach did not extend beyond the streets of Iraq – where Bush has conveniently sent American soldiers and contractors to be slaughtered by the hundreds (while slaughtering and torturing thousands of Iraqis in their turn). It’s obvious too that these retaliations could only have been triggered by Bush’s invasion. Only he could "bring it on" – as he has the promised al Qaeda upsurge – with his illegal war based on the lies of spies.
Part II: Caves and Chains
The poverty of any given political discourse can be measured by how far its fundamental terms depart from reality. Putin’s heavy-handed intervention – drawing from the deep, poisoned well of the "black ops" world, chasing ghosts in a hall of mirrors – is entirely representative of our famished discourse today. Like Plato’s cave-dwellers, we can only sit in the dark, talking trash about the shadows on the wall. This is especially true for the "debates" over the war in Iraq, particularly its origins, for they are founded upon the most insubstantial, unmoored fantasy imaginable – namely, that the American-led war against Iraq began when George W. Bush launched his ravaging blitzkrieg in March 2003.
In reality, the only genuine question up for debate in the months before that fateful plunge was not, "Should we now go to war with Iraq?" but rather, "Should we now escalate our war against Iraq?" This could be further refined as: "Should we now add ground forces to our on-going, 12-year air war against Iraq?" or "Should we now convert our murderous economic war against Iraq into an open takeover of the Iraqi economy?" or "Should we now upgrade our long-running covert terrorism against Iraq into outright conquest?"
In March 2003, fully one-third of Iraq’s land-mass was already controlled by Kurdish armies allied to the United States: a vast region where U.S. forces, CIA agents and Iraqi dissident groups operated with absolute freedom, far beyond the reach of Saddam Hussein. From here, the CIA ran various terrorist groups whose bombs killed dozens, perhaps hundreds of civilians in the Iraqi "heartland." (As often noted on Counterpunch, new Iraqi strongman Iyad Allawi – currently preparing to impose direct military rule on the subjects his American paymasters have given him to play with – was one of the main terrorist leaders.)
It was here too, in what was essentially American-controlled territory, that the now-infamous Islamic extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi operated his terrorist camp – again, beyond the reach of Saddam, and with no connection to al Qaeda, according to the CIA itself. Bush cancelled several planned military strikes on al-Zarqawi’s camp – precisely because it would have drawn the American public’s attention to the fractured reality of pre-invasion Iraq and undermined the Regime’s cartoonish agit-prop for war.
The airspace of another third of the country was controlled by Anglo-American fighters and bombers, which ranged freely throughout the land to destroy any military structure they saw fit. Indeed, by the late 1990s, U.S. generals were openly complaining that there were no more targets to hit; they had destroyed everything that could have possibly posed a threat to other countries. Still the bombing went on, again killing hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent civilians over the long, relentless air campaign.
Finally, there were the famous UN sanctions that helped destroy Iraq’s physical and social infrastructure, its hospitals, waterworks, waste-treatment plants, agriculture, industry, roads, turning one of the most developed nations in the Middle East into a backward sewer where disease ran wild, killing people by the hundreds of thousands – especially children and the poor, the old and the sick. Weakened, starved, blockaded, cut off from anything that might help them build any kind of alternative social and civic structure in opposition to the regime (except, of course, for the religious extremism now coming to full flower in the occupation), the Iraqis were forced into an even further dependence on the tyrant, whose food distribution system (hailed, ironically, as a model by the very UN whose sanctions made it necessary) was the only thing that kept most people alive.
This was the reality of the situation during the run-up to Bush’s invasion; and in any political/media system not completely narcotized – to the point of zombification – by Big Money, these facts would have set the terms for the debate. Instead, the decision for war was presented as a blank slate, with no history, no context, no connection to reality. We were all trapped in a ludicrous pipe-dream, where Iraq was a strong, unitary state, threatening its neighbors in all directions, "harboring" al Qaeda terrorists, raging with irrational, unfounded hatred against the United States, bristling with weapons of mass destruction – not WMD "programs" or "WMD-related program activities," but the real deal, cited with iron certainty in speech after speech: "We know where they are," declared Donald Rumsfeld early on; "they are north of Baghdad, in the area around Tikrit."
Of course, they were not there. They were nowhere. Most of Iraq’s WMD arsenal – the chemical weapons Saddam had used against Iran, with the direct assistance of U.S. military intelligence under Ronald Reagan, the chemical weapons Saddam had used against the Kurds, for which he was awarded with increased aid, money and military technology by George Bush I – had been destroyed after the first Gulf War. The rest of the WMD and the "WMD-related program activities" had been destroyed or shut down at Saddam’s order in 1994 – a fact which the United States and Britain well knew, because it was confirmed by top Iraqi defectors, including Saddam’s own son-in-law, as Time Magazine (among many others) reported years ago.
In other words, more than a million innocent people were killed in order to "punish" Iraq for not destroying WMD which the Anglo-American intelligence services knew had already been destroyed. This pre-invasion reality – a dismembered, partly-occupied country, a dismantled arsenal, a million civilians murdered, a 12-year war of bombing, sanctions and state terrorism – is the true context for any reports that Iraq considered retaliatory strikes against such an onslaught. You don’t have to be a Powell-like apologist for Saddam’s murderous, American-succored regime to acknowledge this fact – nor the fact that despite the 12-year war, Iraq never actually launched or supported any terrorist act against the United States.
But of course, this reality has been erased from the American mind, allowing the Bush Regime to spin whatever flights of fancy serve its partisan turn at any given moment. Zarqawi is a case in point. After being repeatedly reprieved by Bush before the war – in effect, given a license to kill – Zarqawi has since conveniently morphed into the Scarlet Pimpernel: striking here, there and everywhere, with one leg, two legs, with dark skin and light skin, with a Jordanian accent and a Russian accent, in Mosul, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Fallujah – the prime mover of all evil in Iraq and now, according to Bush in his recent casus belli contortions, the retroactive justification for the war itself.
Once again, we’re in the cave, chained to fools whose gazes are fixed on the dark shapes flickering across the wall. Putin’s KGB kibitzing is just the latest amorphous shadow sent out to blot our vision. Right now, it looks as if this particular gambit hasn’t taken; it was too clumsy, too obvious. But there will be more, many more of these in the months to come – and some of them will have blood in them. For it’s clear now that the shadowmakers will stop at nothing to hold on to the very real substance of their power.