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The "Reality Mode" Community Strikes Back

Dialectics of the Plame Affair

by GARY LEUPP

The neocon-dominated Bush administration opted for generalized Southwest Asian war after 9-11. "S.H. and U.B.L.; things related and unrelated," penned Rumsfeld the day after. The meaning of this shorthand is clear in retrospect: the administration would use the opportunity to link unrelated phenomena, most notably Iraq (S.H. = Saddam Hussein) and al-Qaeda (U.B.L. = Usama bin Laden), but also 9-11 with a whole range of unfriendly forces that could be targeted in the new situation. They could be targeted solely on the grounds that they were Arab and/or Islamic, and the American public could be trusted to link them all together as complicit in the terrible attacks. What an opportunity!

9-11 could be attributed to general conditions in the "Greater Middle East" (a strange designation not used by geographers but needed to place Afghanistan within the same region as Iraq, a region depicted as a "breeding-ground for terrorism"). Those conditions could be portrayed as "generating hatred," being rooted in "extremist Islam," and the latter could predictably be conflated in the popular mind, especially the minds of Bush’s Christian fundamentalist political base, with Islam in general. So 9-11 could be used as a pretext to attack lots of very different sorts of Muslims, not because the administration necessarily hates Muslims in particular, but because it loves to bring land people and resources under the control of U.S. capital, and Southwest Asia seemed to sit there for the taking after 9-11.

Rumsfeld, oil-baron billionaire, is much more interested in acquiring geopolitical control of Southwest Asia with its oil and gas resources than eliminating "Islamic extremism" as the basis for terror attacks on the U.S. There haven’t been many of those, after all. He’s much more interested in establishing permanent military bases throughout the region, with future conflicts throughout Eurasia probable in what the neocons call "the New American Century." His neocon colleagues are passionate Zionists (including some pathological Islamophobes Arabophobes) who rejoice at the opportunity to transform the region in Israel’s favor during this century, and who rejoice that Christian Zionists have been so thoroughly and uncritically aboard their whole agenda for toppling certain governments that happen to be in some sense Muslim, or involve mostly Muslims, Iraq being one instance of a secular Arab regime under Saddam. Their highly sophisticated minds understand that a war for corporate profit, geopolitical advantage, and Israeli security can be packaged for popular consumption as a war on Islamic terrorism which, because it supposedly rises naturally from Middle Eastern soil, must be pursued endlessly. As Cheney put it early on: "for generations." Anti-terrorism was posited early on as an epochal ideological struggle like the Cold War, although "terrorism" Islamic or otherwise is not an ideology but a tactic, no matter how many time Bush in his bumbling incoherent fashion lectures us that we’re in fact "up against an ideology" which he’s even called "Islamofascism."

The CIA was asked to furnish facts linking 9-11 and Saddam, and to indicate that Iraq threatened the world with weapons of mass destruction, so that President Bush could justify a war. (He’d told his biographer in 1999, "My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it. If I have a chance to invade—if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it.") But the CIA said, "No, sir, actually, Saddam Hussein is not connected to al-Qaeda. The fundamentalists despise his secular regime. And Saddam doesn’t seem to have much of a WMD arsenal, at least not one big enough to bother his neighbors or threatening the U.S."

Their hesitation to depart from what one administration insider called the "reality mode" in order to engage in what the neocons call "perception management" made Cheney, Rumsfeld and their deputies Libby and Wolfowitz livid. They had long considered the CIA a bastion of liberal Democratic thinking. (That alone indicates just how extreme and deluded these people can be.) In this case the agency’s scruples about sowing disinformation (or what in neocon Straussian thinking is called "noble lies") produced a big-time conflict within the power structure. Around May 2002 Rumsfeld, Cheney and their underlings created an alternative intelligence body, the secret of Office of Special Plans, staffed with neocon agents including Douglas Feith, William Luti, Abram Shulsky, David Wurmser, and Michael Ledeen, supplementing it with the White House Iraq Group (formed in August 2002), including Libby, Andrew Card, Karl Rove, and Karen Hughes. The first constituted what Mother Jones has called a "lie factory," relying on Ahmed Chalabi and other Iraqi informants despised by the CIA as known liars to stovepipe cherry-picked "intelligence" to the president, American people and the world in justification of a war on Iraq. This team hyped the Niger uranium documents. This was all taking place while the president assured the world that war with Iraq would be a "last resort." (The Downing memos have decisively exposed that pretense.)

The second group was designed to build public support for the Iraq War. This is the unit that before its existence was widely known produced the simultaneous public references, by Bush and Condoleezza Rice, of the now-infamous and ridiculous "mushroom cloud over New York City" image.

The State Department under Colin Powell sided with the CIA and the "reality mode," with the significant exception of Powell’s lieutenant in charge of nonproliferation, the neocon John Bolton, strategically stationed over Powell’s objection in his department. The existence of a major conflict between Cheney and Rumsfeld on the one hand, and Powell on the other, was widely noted in the press. Meanwhile former intelligence officials, such as Vincent Cannistrano, Karen Kwaitkowski and Ray McGovern with knowledge of the mood within the intelligence community, were writing about widespread alarm about the hijacking of intelligence by bullying warmongering ideologues. Cheney and Libby, for example, who repeatedly and in a break with precedence marched on the Pentagon to demand changes in intelligence reports that didn’t adequately support their war plans.

The conflict was resolved temporarily by the administration’s decision to follow the advice of Powell (and Tony Blair) and seek a new UNSC resolution for the resumptions of UN arms inspections in Iraq which, if Saddam rejected as the neocons hoped he would, provide pretext for war. This one might say was the synthesis preserving the crux of the neocon project, while satisfying State’s desire to acquire some international legitimacy for that plan. But Powell plainly had reservations about the reams of "bullshit" (his term) he was being asked to sell to the world, and surely as he stood at the UNSC podium seeking, in February 2003, UN endorsement of a war, he felt uneasy about his role. The neocons for their part, prepared for unilateral action, were unenthusiastic about UN involvement, and when the arms inspectors were in the middle of their work, they convinced the president it was time to begin the war he’d hoped to conduct all along.

Within weeks of the attack on Iraq it was apparent that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, although Bush at one point in an interview in Poland averred that they had been discovered. There may have been a conflict within the administration about the degree to which to sow further disinformation to support that lie, still promoted (if ineffectively) by Judith Miller in the New York Times as late as April 2003. Some administration officials conceded it might "take years to find" the missing WMD. But the administration was soon obliged by a newly (very slightly) emboldened mainstream press to concede that indeed there had been "intelligence flaws" attributable to—whom but?—the CIA! The CIA, which would now have to be reorganized and improved to prevent such failures in the future.

The Iraq War and exposure of neocon lies set the stage for Powell to openly refer (in interviews with Bob Woodward) by the following spring to a "separate little government" that had been set up to promote the war, mentioning specifically Cheney and Rumsfeld and their staffs. It was a remarkable admission by Powell, then still in office, that the administration in which he continued to serve had been hijacked by men he distrusted. A remarkable sign that the conflict within the ruling elite was ongoing. More recently Powell’s chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson attacked the "Oval Office cabal" that had sidelined the State Department and intelligence community in building for the attack. Already in May 2003 Seymour Hersh had written in the New Yorker about that neocon "cabal," and Hersh had obviously been briefed by dissident insiders. Against this background, Joseph Wilson, who had investigated the Niger uranium lie for the CIA, felt emboldened to spill the beans about that key piece of disinformation to the New York Times.

So the neocon-CIA conflict, simmering in the background as CIA agents looked forward to a reorganization scheme designed to transform their organization into a Lie Factory, entered a new phase when administration members, enraged at Wilson’s honest exposure of one of their "noble lies" leaked the identity of Wilson’s wife in an effort to intimidate and punish honesty. The leak occurred in July, via Robert Novak. The CIA, on the defensive but maybe more ferocious for being so, responded with indignation, demanding that the Justice Department investigate. A special prosecutor was only appointed in December 2003, Attorney General Ashcroft having recused himself from the investigation due to his close ties to principal suspects. The revelation in August 2004 that Rumsfeld subordinate and neocon Larry Franklin was under investigation by the FBI for espionage on behalf of Israel should, with its subsequent developments, perhaps be seen in the context of this conflict between the traditional intelligence community and the cabal.

So now we see this latest phase in the dialectic reaching some sort of climax just as the U.S. death toll in Iraq reaches 2000. Will the Fitzgerald report expected out this week indict principal figures in the disinformation apparatus, and link the Plame Affair narrowly defined to the neocon hijacking of the government, systematic manipulation of public opinion through the cynical broadcast of cock-and-bull "intelligence"? Will it identify the likely source of the forged uranium documents? Will it smite Cheney? Will the next week produce some breakthrough in the present balance of political forces in society?

Will a desperate president fire the prosecutor, as Ray McGovern has suggested he might? Should that happen, I’d hope the streets are filled with protestors demanding (as some of us once did of Nixon, after he fired the special Watergate prosecutor): "Throw the Bum Out!" (Actually, that should happen anyway.) Will the conflict within the power elite, concentrated in a confrontation between the neocons and the CIA, or the presidency and the judiciary, spill out into the streets and more significantly involve ordinary people? Will the outing of Ms. Plame and the CIA’s reaction be an instance of what Hegel called "the cunning of history," producing good out of apparent evil? I will probably be disappointed, but rising from the Pandora’s box the neocons opened after 9-11 there does remain some hope.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu