Saturday, June 1, 2013

Dirty Wars Chapter Seven, the Build Up to the Iraq War

Chapter 7 goes into some parts of the GBWA’s prep for the Iraq war, specifically the use and manipulating intelligence, and R and C’s (Rumsfeld and Cheney) efforts to promote the Pentagon over the CIA. Unlike the R and C, the CIA did not have a particular goal to invade or destroy anybody. As most people who were paying attention at the time will know, the “proof” of ties between OBL and Iraq was essentially fabricated. R and C and their understudies such as Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, just picked out and strung together random details from CIA raw data.  The amount of executive pressure put on the CIA, generally by senior officials and personally by Cheney was completely unprecedented, as were the intelligence reports Feith gave to the president behind Tenet’s back. After intense, unrelenting, pressure, the CIA eventually produced reports the administration could use.
I read this chapter a few months after the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq war, in the midst of an Iraq that seems as unstable and violent as ever. During the anniversary period a lot of the left a lot of energy seemed to be spent on who was right and who was wrong-and aggressively reminding those who were wrong, that they WERE WRONG. At some point, it just seemed really mean and counter-productive. I understand some of the journalists, such as Scahill himself, have been intimately involved with people’s lives that have been irrevocably harmed by the war and its aftermath. I understand that as journalists, you take the role seriously of what the media does, and that had media gone the other way maybe things would have been different. I guess if your happy beating up Ezra Klein for statements he wrote in college, Jeremy, I guess you’ve earned it. But to me, excessive energy spent on calling out journalists who were wrong on Iraq gives the appearance that everybody who was for the war deserves to be blamed equally.
What seemed to me to be lacking—and I am sure I missed things—was more analysis of, if the war couldn’t have been stopped, at least to make people pay for what they had done. To make every effort that it not happen again. Because let’s be real here, Ezra Klein, Dan Savage, even Christopher Hichens do not bear ultimate responsibility for the Iraq War. The people whose fault it is that we went to war against Iraq were the people who wanted it, who always wanted it. Who had a fundamental view that US resources and lives should be expended in the name of word domination-because really that was the goal of Rumsfeld and Cheney.  The people who helped them, some whose names we know well, Condolezza Rice, Feith, Wolfowitz, and some who names we do not know. The Congressional members who voted for the war, Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton among them. These are the people who should be shunned and shamed. We should never forget there was no justifiable reason for the Iraq war; it caused countless deaths, Iraqi and American. We will all be paying for it, literally and figuratively, for the rest of our lives.
Ideally, in a world where people have to bear the consequences of their decisions Rumsfeld and Cheney should not be able to get any kind of job, and every Congress member who voted for the war should have been voted out of office. This of course not only did not happen, but most of the principles have either sailed through the typical trajectory of post-government official life and/or simply carried on in their positions. Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton of course have done especially well. This is really the question to ask, why, when their records and erroneous, dangerous behaviors are so well known, how can Rumsfeld write a book, be interviewed, and treated like a human. Why can Condolezza Rice get a position at an esteemed university-be considered a presidential candidate- after her obvious support and complicity for the destruction of a country and so many lives.  To my knowledge, no regret has been expressed with the decisions by any the Bush administration who actively pushed for war. Ironically, it would seem on the Republican side only the former president has suffered in the PR department, although that is probably as much to do with the financial meltdown as the war.
On the Democratic side it was not much better. On one hand I absolutely believe Hilary Clinton’s support for the war lost her the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. It alienated her from a key part of the activist base, and pushed many of them, especially women who otherwise wouldn’t have dreamed of voting for anybody else, to look elsewhere. I believe Clinton’s choice was a cold, political one. She could have stood against the war, it would have transformed her to a leader of the anti-war movement, put her on track to challenge Bush in 2004—all would have been forgiven, at least for a while. THAT, not a Matt Yglesias post, could have stopped the war. If this sounds like hyperbole remember back to the excitement of the Howard Dean campaign-almost entirely based on his Iraq anti-war position which was an after thought. (He got into the race to talk about health care.)  I have to think had one of the most well-known politicians in the country come out against it-if the former president had joined her?-something really could have happened.  
Of course it didn’t happen, and was probably not ever in the realm of possibility. It’s possible Clinton really thought invading Iraq was legitimate, but more likely she thought it was a way to be “serious”, that is get greater access to power.  The idea that there could be power in rallying masses against the war as opposed to being able to sit at the cool kids table, (to be respectable in important circles) I’m guessing never even entered her mind. More importantly, probably not even something she was interested in, as in terms of action she has never deviated from a neoliberal agenda. Either way, whether it was true belief or political calculation, she was dead to me after that and I think it left enough of a sour taste in some Democratic voters mouths to look at Obama more seriously.
Looking back on the post-Iraq war period I believe the lack of political consequences played a large role in where we are today, although I certainly didn’t think about it this way at the time. Part of the problem was that the anti-war apparatus was I think somewhat spilt between those who were not politically inclined/active (that is more focused on resistance and protest) and the part that was politically active was basically an arm of the Democratic Party. The same Democratic Party whose leaders, (not everybody) had supported the war.  The few anti-war signs of political life, Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, rose and fell with their candidate’s political campaign. Dean returned to the conventional politician that he was, and Kucinich did not appear to have skills or the interest in trying to lead a movement.
I wonder what would have been different if there had been a mass-based anti-war party, one politically orientated but expressly focused on anti-war positions of candidates. Such a group could have threatened the Democratic base in key elections, it might have caused some movement. If nothing else maybe a genuine anti-war candidate could have emerged in 2004. Building such an organization is difficult, requiring time, money, and organization. Even if people had been thinking this way, I admit it’s a long shot to seeing to happen.  It’s true that 3rd parties in general have a poor record of “success”, that is if you define success in terms of getting elected. But you can have an effect by not getting elected, see the Tea Party who have managed to have strong effects on Republican positions by just the threat of a primary. What if similar pressure could be put on Democrats? It’s important to note that while Occupy tends to get compared to the Tea Party they are very different. While parts of the Tea Party could be considered “grassroots” it had solid financial backing, from right-wing sources. Occupy on the other hand was a true organic movement with no such financial resources, and was broken-up in large part through state police intervention.  If enough people stayed home, if even one or two established figures went down or were seriously challenged, could that have changed anything?
Of course part of the reason why the war happened was due to the after effects of 9-11, the manipulation of fear by those who did want to go to war. What is it about our culture that killing people is considered “brave” and choosing to not to kill people is considered “weak”? The few public figures, even just celebrities, who dared to speak out, were ridiculed/shunned. Here is probably where the media can be legitimately blamed; contributing to a culture that seems to think the US is simply a force for good in the world, that if the government says its true, well most of it must be true. Part of the anti-war crowd’s problem was that the majority of the population, speaking generally, does not want to believe the government would flat-out lie to its population, actually put it’s people in risk, for imperial power. In spite of people’s overall skepticism toward government, I feel when push comes to shove, especially national security, most people want to believe what they are told.
Getting back to blame for the war there is another group of people; those who were not for it, but arguably did not do enough to stop it. You could put some Congressional members in this category, if you were feeling generous but I am thinking primarily of members of the GBWA who were against the war, as well as professionals at the CIA. Colin Powell and most of the State department appeared to be against the war, but ultimately supported it. What if Powell had refused to “sign-off” on the war?  What if he had just make his case public, say supported Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame. Certainly, he was one of the most popular members of the administration and it would have been difficult for R and C to isolate him politically in a public way as they had done privately. But I recognize that such a scenario would be just as likely as the Hilary Clinton scenario I sketched out, but for slightly different reasons. Somebody like Colin Powell has spent his entire life following orders and to not follow orders, even when in a theoretically a position of power, would be out of character. Again, it would have meant not sitting at the cool kids table, i.e. invitations to the Council on Foreign Relations and the like, probably no corporate speaking gigs. It would have put one with the dirty, hippy anti-war people, even though that included a lot former Bush senior officials. It seems crazy that culture should be such a powerful pull over what is morally right, but there it is.
Finally, what about the professionals at the CIA who ultimately supported, against their will you might say, the Iraq war? What should we expect of such people? Do we put the same level of responsibility on them as those higher up the food chain? There is line of reasoning that says any involvement in a crime makes you as guilty as the perpetrator. While CIA analyst sounds like an exotic job, ultimately it is a job. I imagine that many of those people have families, mortgages, and I would guess that many of them had been there long enough that they didn’t think leaving/or getting “fired” for protesting the war was a good career move. We all like to think we’d do the right thing when circumstances present us with a serious, moral, choice. I’d like to think I’d do the right thing if I was a worker bee in the CIA, I’d like to think I’d leave and/or protest the war, as forcefully as I did in real life, but I don’t know for sure.

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