Christopher Dickey writes: Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi mathematician, banker, schmoozer, spy and source of dubious intelligence provided to journalists and politicians alike, died today of an apparent heart attack in Baghdad at the age of 71. And at least one breaking news headline called him “the man who drove the U.S. to war in Iraq.”
That’s a common, and perhaps convenient, perception. But for my part, as someone who first met Chalabi 30 years ago, and stayed in close touch with him up to and through the first years of the disastrous American occupation of his homeland, I think the blame is misplaced.
George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and crew were hellbent on war with Saddam Hussein, and if they hadn’t had Chalabi supplying grist to their mill, they’d have found someone else. Their attachment to fantasies was infinitely greater than their attachment to facts, and, believing in American omnipotence, they wanted to make their dream of an utterly overhauled Middle East a reality. Chalabi played to their delusions and prejudices, but he didn’t create them.
Do you remember the ideas floating around Washington in those days? With a minimum of force, the United States would invade Iraq; the people would rise up; Saddam would fall; Iraq would recognize Israel (and Iraq’s Jews would return to Baghdad); Iran would be intimidated. The Middle East would be set on a path to democracy. Oh, and a grateful Iraq probably would give American companies great deals on Mesopotamian oil and gas.
Anyone who knew the region well, and there were many in the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department who knew it very well, realized that these were pipe dreams. But the top officials in the Bush administration systematically excluded those voices. [Continue reading…]
Grace Cason and Jim Lobe write: “Many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal,” President Obama observed August 5 at American University in perhaps his most forceful and aggressive speech in favor of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
There really is no question regarding the fundamental truth of that assertion. Virtually all of the political appointees who held foreign-policy posts under George W. Bush—from Elliott Abrams to Dov Zakheim, not to mention such leading lights as Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, Eric Edelman, and “Scooter” Libby—have all assailed the agreement as a sell-out and/or appeasement with varying degrees of vehemence, if not vituperation.
This is reminiscent of the curious Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), an organization established by the Bush White House in November 2002 to “mobilize U.S. and international support for policies aimed at ending the aggression of Saddam Hussein and freeing the Iraqi people from tyranny.” Indeed, Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), perhaps the most aggressive anti-Iran group over the past couple years, is based at the same offices as CLI was. Three of the CLI’s staff of four were associated with the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). CLI’s president, Randy Scheunemann, among other things, enjoyed an especially close relationship with Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC), and CLI and INC also seemed to share websites (as shown by the screen shot below.) A carefully chosen bipartisan group of 33 prominent individuals served on CLI’s advisory board. [Continue reading…]
Jonathan Bronitsky writes: If neoconservatism is to be classified, first and foremost, as a foreign-policy agenda comprised of preemption and democracy promotion, then Kristol was certainly not the “godfather.” Contrary to popular belief, he consistently subscribed to realpolitik. Throughout the Cold War, he supported détente and arms control. “Just for the record,” he told his friend Daniel Bell in 1986, “I believe American foreign policy is ideological in purpose, but should be realistic in strategy and tactics.” Kristol also resisted majestic plots to proliferate Western modes of commerce and governance abroad. “The prospect of the entire world evolving into a cheerless global Sweden, smug and unhappy, had no attraction for me,” he wrote in 1995.
For the most part, Kristol seldom commented on foreign policy and military affairs — even after inaugurating The National Interest in 1985. Indeed, the hazard of merely attempting to clarify his views pertaining to international relations is ascribing disproportionate weight to them. The vast majority of his corpus consists of essays of a philosophical disposition, mostly concerning the loci of virtue, morality and liberty. When neoconservatism became synonymous with a muscular foreign policy during George W. Bush’s administration, a small chorus arose, maintaining that Kristol was no progenitor of Middle Eastern imperial designs. “There is very little connection between those called ‘neoconservatives’ 30 years ago and neoconservatives today,” sociologist Nathan Glazer avowed in a New York Times letter to the editor in October 2003, seven months after the invasion of Iraq. Shortly after Kristol passed away in September 2009, Glazer, still trying to shield the legacy of his friend, “a realist and cautious on these matters,” declared that the term “neoconservatism” had been “hijacked” by those pushing a “vigorous and expansionist democracy-promoting military and foreign policy.” Around this time, historian Justin Vaïsse took an even bolder step in Foreign Policy, writing an article entitled “Was Irving Kristol a Neoconservative?” Like Glazer, he too lamented that “the ‘godfather’ of neoconservatism started a movement that moved away from him.”
So why has the conventional wisdom remained pretty much undisturbed? [Continue reading…]
Peter Oborne writes: Mr Cameron’s views on foreign policy, and in particular the Middle East, are completely different to those he used to hold 10 or 15 years ago.
Back then he was conservative in the old-fashioned sense of the term. He was sceptical of foreign adventures and pretty well immune to popular clamours.
He only voted with reluctance for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, he permitted William Hague, his foreign affairs spokesman, to describe Israeli conduct as “disproportionate,” a sentiment which led to open revolt among some pro-Israeli supporters of the Conservative Party.
Today David Cameron is a neoconservative. Along with President Sarkozy of France, he led the way in the Western intervention in Libya four years ago. Eighteen months ago he wanted to intervene militarily against President Assad, and was only deterred by a parliamentary vote.
One mark of neoconservatism is uncritical support for the state of Israel. Mr Cameron has become the most vocal international backer of Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr Cameron has gone out of his way to repeatedly defend the conduct of Israeli forces during the Israeli invasion of Gaza last year.
Mr Cameron regularly seeks advice from Tony Blair. Mr Blair was one of the circle of advisors urging David Cameron to bomb Libya. In foreign policy terms, David Cameron should indeed be seen as a protege of the former prime minister. Both men have been steadfast supporters of the Gulf dictatorships and of Netanyahu’s Israel, and both men are unbendingly hostile to democratic movements within Islam, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood.
David Cameron has protected Tony Blair. Had Mr Cameron wanted, he could have insisted on the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War, which is expected to contain damning criticisms of Mr Blair.
This investigation was meant to publish its conclusions within 18 months of the British withdrawal from Iraq in 2007: it is disgraceful that eight years later, Sir John Chilcot is still at work.
Before the 2010 general election, David Cameron also promised an investigation into the very serious allegations that Britain was complicit in torture and extraordinary rendition during the Blair premiership. Instead the investigation has been suppressed.
So what happened to the foreign policy realist I used to talk to a decade and more ago? I believe that part of the explanation lies in David Cameron’s near total lack of knowledge of the world beyond Britain when he was elected prime minister. Beyond beach holidays in the Mediterranean it was negligible.
This ignorance created a vacuum which has been filled by the small, well-knit and very powerful clique of neoconservatives who surround the prime minister. [Continue reading…]
It’s generally understood that the construction of a nuclear weapon using uranium requires highly enriched uranium — enriched to 80% or greater.
Daniel Pipes writes:
[T]he American goal for the accord was that the Iranians not “advance their program” of building a uranium nuclear bomb (and perhaps a plutonium bomb too); the apparent deal exactly permits such advancement, plus sanctions relief to Tehran worth about US$9 billion.
Under the terms of the agreement, Iran will not be able to enrich uranium above 5% and its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium will be divided in two with half being available for the production of medical isotopes and the other half diluted down to 5%. There will be no remaining stockpile with the potential to be enriched to a level required for bomb making, yet Pipes asserts that such an advance remains possible.
Has he discovered something that no one else in the world knows about: how to make a nuclear weapon with low-enriched uranium?
The NSA better keep a close eye on Pipes. He could become the next A.Q. Khan.
Wayne Barrett writes: Casino king Sheldon Adelson’s multi-million-dollar cache of chips-on-the-table for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign has at last made him a household name outside of Las Vegas. But it isn’t just Adelson’s brand of pro-Israel, donor-driven saber-rattling that’s pushing Gingrich into far-out positions on virtually every Middle East-related question, from applauding the assassination of Iranian scientists to painting Palestinians as an historical concoction to requiring loyalty oaths from Muslim governmental appointees.
Since his days in the House, Gingrich has always attached himself to the most extreme neocon elements of American and Israeli politics. Adelson’s $18 million in contributions since 2006 only further fueled draft ducker Newt’s already chronic case of bombast. And as record-making as Adelson’s super PAC and other gifts to Newt are, they wouldn’t cover the cost of a single airstrike on a single Iranian facility. The price tag on what Gingrich calls “maximum covert operations” and possibly a full-scale war on Iran — both acceptable to Gingrich — would surely compete with the human and fiscal costs of the last conflagration he helped drag us into—the war in Iraq that has gone almost wholly unmentioned this primary season.
If elected, Gingrich would be the first American president to emerge from the dark think-tank world born in the Reagan era that gave us the Iraq War and lusts now for an Iranian reprise. A Likudnik version of the Manchurian candidate, Newt has spent much of his post-Congress life in the grasp of warrior colonies like the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the think tank where he became a senior fellow two months after he stepped down as speaker in 1999, remained until he declared for president last May, and worked at times alongside Dick and Lynne Cheney, Richard Perle, John Bolton, Michael Ledeen, and Paul Wolfowitz, the first Bush battalion to euphemistically land in Baghdad, self-dispatched well before 9/11.
As if spending three times as much time at AEI than he did as speaker wasn’t enough bloodless abstraction for him, Gingrich simultaneously became a distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, where Don Rumsfeld was welcomed with open arms when George Bush finally had had enough of him and where Condoleezza Rice returned as a senior fellow after her eight years in the Bush administration. Gingrich was one of eight Hoover fellows to serve on the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, the official war incubator chaired by ringleader Perle, and he also signed on as a board member of the AEI-tied Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a front group recruited by the White House.
On its website (which I created) Conflicts Forum is referred to as “an international movement which engages with Islamist movements” — a partially correct but somewhat misleading statement.
Conflicts Forum does indeed engage Islamist movements — principally Hezbollah and Hamas. It does have an international element — evident in its advisory board. But by no stretch of the imagination can it accurately be described as an international movement.
It is an operation so small it can barely be described as an organization, let alone a movement. It serves first and foremost as an institutional identity for the former senior British intelligence officer, Alastair Crooke.
In his decades-long service for the British government, Crooke was deeply engaged with resistance movements across the globe, opening up vital dialogue leading to peace deals for which politicians and prime ministers would later eagerly take credit.
That work was prematurely cut short in 2003 because of pressure from an administration in Washington that refused to recognize that governments, however powerful, must sooner or later learn how to talk to their enemies.
Having been pushed out of his official role, Crooke attempted to continue what had become a personal mission through the creation of Conflicts Forum. The problem was: how much value can dialogue yield if only one side is willing to engage?
The outcome — perhaps inevitable — was that Conflicts Forum would be unable to effectively serve as a bridge between Islamists and Western governments and instead become an informal advocate for those movements and for the Middle Eastern governments whose backing they still enjoy.
In the summer of 2009 after Iranians from across the social spectrum took to the streets en masse to reject the outcome of the presidential election, Crooke rejected the idea that this was a “genuine popular uprising“; as for the significance of the unrest he said, somewhat dismissively: “plainly for some in north Tehran it was very real”.
Two and a half years later, Crooke and his partner Aisling Byrne are engaged in a similar effort to portray unrest in Syria, not as a popular uprising but instead as the result of America’s covert war against Iran for whom Syria remains a vital ally. The people on the streets are supposedly just pawns serving a neoconservative agenda: regime change in Damascus and Tehran.
The Guardian’s Brian Whitaker justifiably pours scorn on Conflict Forum’s conspiratorial missives and those on the left who have become Assad and Ahmadinejad’s useful idiots.
Denying the authenticity of the Syrian uprising is a central plank of the Assad regime’s propaganda message – that the whole thing, as the official news agency put it recently, is a "Zio-American" plot.
To anyone who has been following events in Syria closely since last March, the regime’s conspiracy claims are not only ridiculous but terribly insulting to the thousands of protesters who have risked (and often lost) their lives in the struggle against dictatorship. Even so, there’s a small chorus of westerners who seem to be echoing the Assad line.
“Arguably, the most important component in this struggle,” Aisling Byrne wrote in an article last week, “has been the deliberate construction of a largely false narrative that pits unarmed democracy demonstrators being killed in their hundreds and thousands as they protest peacefully against an oppressive, violent regime, a ‘killing machine’ led by the ‘monster’ Assad.”
Arguably, my foot. Information about the protests has sometimes been wrong – as always happens in conflicts, especially when media access is so severely restricted – but to suggest that this has led to a “largely false narrative” is utter nonsense.
Byrne’s article has been doing the rounds on the internet – Counterpunch, the Asia Times and Countercurrents – as well as being touted enthusiastically inside Syria by the Assad regime. Running to more than 4,700 words, it’s probably the fullest exposition yet of the grand international conspiracy theory.
Of course, it’s true lots of countries have been reacting to the uprising in Syria and some are certainly trying to influence the outcome. Given Syria’s strategic importance, that is to be expected. Reacting to events, though, is not the same as orchestrating things according to some pre-conceived plan – which is what the Assad regime claims is happening, and what Byrne also seems to imply:
“What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime ‘more compatible’ with US interests in the region.
“The blueprint for this project is essentially a report produced by the neo-conservative Brookings Institute for regime change in Iran in 2009.”
There’s no harm in discussing or criticising what foreign powers may be up to with regard to Syria, even if Byrne draws some rather fanciful conclusions. Any attempts to prevent the Syrian people from making their own choices ought to be resisted, too. The overall effect of such articles, though, is to delegitimise the popular struggle – which is unfair to the protesters and also plays into the hands of the regime.
But what of the article’s author, Aisling Byrne? She is projects co-ordinator for the Conflicts Forum, based in Beirut. Its director is Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer who until a few years ago was heavily involved in British and European diplomacy relating to Israel/Palestine. Among many other things, he took part in clandestine meetings with Hamas.
Crooke left his government job and founded the Conflicts Forum in 2004 “to open a new relationship between the west and the Muslim world”, mainly through promoting dialogue with Islamist movements – something that western governments have often been reluctant to do. Members of the forum’s advisory board include Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee, and Azzam Tamimi, regarded as an unofficial voice for Hamas in Britain.
“While facing increasingly intractable problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan and elsewhere,” Conflicts Forum says on its website, “we [ie western governments] immobilise ourselves by turning away from the homegrown political forces that have the power to resolve these crises.”
Judging by Byrne’s article and another by Crooke himself in the Guardian last November, though, Conflicts Forum seems oddly reluctant to engage with the “homegrown political forces” in Syria.
There’s an inconsistency and selectivity here that is also apparent among sections of the more traditionalist left. Pro-western dictators like Ben Ali and Mubarak are considered fair game, but when it comes to toppling contrarian dictators like Gaddafi and Assad there’s lingering sympathy for them.
In Syria’s case this is further complicated by viewing the uprising through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For instance, a briefing paper on Conflicts Forum’s website examining Hizbullah’s continuing support for the Assad regime says:
“Just as Hizbullah viewed the 2009 protests in Iran as a ‘bid to destabilise the country’s Islamic regime’ by means of a US-orchestrated ‘velvet revolution’, the protests in Syria are branded a form of ‘collusion’ with outside powers who seek to replace Asad’s rule with ‘another regime similar to the moderate Arab regimes that are ready to sign any capitulation agreement with Israel’…
“Echoing Hizbullah’s stance on the Iran protests is Nasrallah’s characterisation of the US role in the Syrian uprising as an extension of the July War and the Gaza War. Since the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine had foiled the ‘New Middle East’ scheme in both these military aggressions, Washington was ‘trying to reintroduce [it] through other gates,’ such as Syria.
“With this in mind, attempts to overthrow the Assad regime are considered a ‘service’ to American and Israeli interests.”
Such views are not confined to Hizbullah, however. But how realistic are they? Many neocons hoped the invasion of Iraq would deliver a pro-Israel government there. It didn’t, and instead it strengthened Iran.
Tunisia is no more favourably disposed towards Israel than it was under Ben Ali. Nor is Libya. Nor is Egypt – if anything, less so. And a democratic Syria would still have the same territorial issues with Israel – the occupied Golan Heights, etc – that it has now. In any case Israel seems an odd reason for denying Syrians a chance to determine their own future.
Matt Duss writes: This month, after almost nine years that left 4,484 American soldiers and well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, the U.S. war in Iraq came to an end. As the troubling recent reports indicate, the new Iraq will continue to struggle with enduring political tensions and serious security challenges for years to come.
As my colleague Peter Juul and I noted in our recent report on the war’s costs, The Iraq War Ledger, the end of former Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime represents a considerable global good, and a nascent democratic Iraqi republic partnered with the United States could potentially yield benefits in the future. But when weighing those possible benefits against the costs of the Iraq intervention, there is simply no conceivable calculus by which Operation Iraqi Freedom can be judged to have been a successful or worthwhile policy.
While these questions will doubtless continue to be debated into the future, the holiday season and the New Year are an appropriate time to move beyond the rifts that so divided our country over this war.
But before we do, let’s take a moment to remember some of the people who got the Iraq War completely wrong. This is important not only as a historical matter, but also because many of these same people are now calling for escalation against Iran, from the same perches and sinecures whence they helped get our country into Iraq. And, as former general Anthony Zinni said in regard to the consequences of a war with Iran, “If you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’re gonna love Iran.”
It’s worth noting that a lot of people got various things wrong about Iraq at various times. This writer is no exception. But the following critics are particularly notable not only because they were completely and catastrophically wrong about the costs and benefits of the Iraq War, and more generally about the capacity of American military power to determine outcomes, but also because they tended to go about it in the most condescending way possible. They have also suffered no apparent penalty for it. Going forward, our country will be safer and more secure in inverse proportion to the amount of influence these people have. [Continue reading…]
In a CNN interview Newt Gingrich volunteers to capitulate to Israeli nuclear blackmail: “I would rather plan a joint operation [against Iran] conventionally, than push the Israelis to the point where they go nuclear.”
Gingrich told The Jewish Channel that Palestinians are not a genuine nation.
M.J. Rosenberg writes: Any doubt we might have that the Israeli right has lost its mind should be eliminated by the latest column from one of its most prominent media figures, Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post.
Glick, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, has flipped out over some remarks (which we’ll get to later) made last week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman. And here is how she explains those remarks.
Her first explanation is that “the Obama administration is an ideological echo chamber in which only certain positions are permitted.”
Restrained by ideological thought police that outlaw critical thought about the dominant forces in the Islamic world today, US officials have little choice but to place all the blame for everything that goes wrong on the one society they are free to criticize — Israel.
That, in itself, borders on hilarious.
Anyone who pays even a modicum of attention to the Middle East knows that rather than “place all the blame for everything” on Israel, the Obama administration blames Israel for nothing while providing more foreign aid to Israel than to any other country, supporting it on every issue at the United Nations — often against America’s own interests — and never, ever attaching any conditions to our aid or support (as we do with every other country in the world).
The only thing President Obama has asked of Israel during his entire term is for a three-month settlement freeze, to which Israel said no. (Prime Minister Netanyahu himself says Obama has earned a “badge of honor” for his uncritical support for Israel.)