"The trip has taken on, I suppose, a little bit of added significance because of the Middle East crisis with respect to the peace process, but I wouldn't over-emphasize that aspect of it," vice president Dick Cheney told journalists last week as he left on a trip to enlist support for an eventual military campaign against Iraq. Saudi Arabia and Jordan quickly called Cheney's nonchalance into question as they insisted on talking first about limiting violence between Palestine and Israel. Cheney's view of that situation, reportedly shared by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, is that it is essentially a counter-terrorism problem, and that the violence will decline once the price to the Palestinians is high enough. Some observers have reported that moderate Arab leaders "feel like nervous householders who, after complaining for months about a gas leak, have been sent a known arsonist with a blowtorch." While America's allies in the Middle East joined the fight against Al-Qaeda in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and questioned linking Islamic terrorism to the plight of Palestinians, this support is not likely to extend to war against Iraq. As Julian Borger of the Guardian suggests, "An Iraqi war without a Middle East cease fire could give [the extremists] exactly what they want."
On February 28, Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer blamed the current violence in Israel and the occupied territories on former president Bill Clinton. "You can make the case that in an attempt to shoot the moon ... more violence resulted. That as a result of an attempt to push the parties beyond where they were willing to go ... it led to expectations that were raised to such a high level that it turned into violence," he said. Given an opportunity to retract the statement during his afternoon press conference, Fleischer refused, saying, "Of course I stand by it." Eventually Fleischer issued a written statement saying that he had "mistakenly" stated that the mid-east violence was attributable to the Clinton peace efforts. "The only people to blame for violence are the terrorists who engage in it," he said.
Gary Kamiya of Salon.com, among others, has suggested that Fleischer's apparent faux pas reveals what members of the Bush administration actually believe. In foreign policy as in many other areas, the Bush administration began its term using Clinton policies to orient themselves -- whatever Clinton did, they would do the opposite. Thus in the Middle East, Clinton's high level of personal involvement led to a Bush administration policy of doing virtually nothing. From time to time as the level of violence led to public outcry against the do-nothing policy, the administration has increased its involvement, culminating in CIA Director Tenet traveling to the region and proposing a series of conditions that would lead to a cease fire. Nonetheless Clinton is a convenient scapegoat for an administration looking to excuse its policy failures. Kamiya notes that in Fleischer's retraction he still assigned all responsibility for violence to "terrorists," whereas, in Kamiya's view, ..."Israel's destructive occupation of the West Bank and Gaza -- a crisis worsened by corrupt and incompetent Palestinian leadership, and the nihilistic reaction of Palestinians who see no hope in this world" all contribute to the conflict.
The Cheney visit to the Middle East comes as former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter has raised questions about the Bush administration's characterization of the "Iraqi threat." Ritter was chief inspector of the UN Special Commission to disarm Iraq (UNSCOM). In 1997 Iraq accused Ritter of being a spy, and by 1998 he was under investigation by the FBI on charges of spying for Israel. Ritter quit UNSCOM in '98, decrying excessive U.S. influence. Confounding critics and supporters alike, Ritter first protested CIA infiltration of UNSCOM, but later declared Iraq no longer a military threat, and urged lifting of economic sanctions which he said were killing Iraqi children.
In an interview with Salon.com, Ritter quotes Dr. Paul Pillar, CIA national intelligence officer for Near East and South Asia, as saying that Iraq does not pose threat to the U.S. -- certainly not to the point that justifies a "one-on-one" military campaign. Ritter asserts that attacking Iraq would put the U.S. on a par with North Korea when it invaded South Korea, or Saddam Hussein himself when he invaded Kuwait. The "self-defense" that Richard Perle and others in the Bush administration have cited as justification for an attack on Iraq is, according to Ritter, "pure fabrication."
George Bush and his inner circle have betrayed the American people since 9/11. They are justified in their war on terror -- we are obligated to do this -- but they failed by taking political advantage of the upsurge of patriotic fervor to push for an extreme right-wing domestic, military and foreign policy agenda that has nothing to do with Sept. 11.
The second a democracy views its citizens standing up and asking its government questions, the second that becomes an act of treason, we have a problem.
"What is the Iraq of 2002?" Ritter asks.
It has a pathetic army, a pathetic air force and an economy in tatters, destroyed by misuse, sanctions and the military. Its social infrastructure has been destroyed. It cannot project the kind of irresponsible behavior that happened in 1990. Iraq cannot project power. Economic sanctions have been responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqis.
Ritter objects to blanket administration statements such as "We know Iraq has chemical weapons." Essentially, in Ritter's view this is a scare tactic. He believes that on a "scientific and technical level" Iraq is 90 to 95% disarmed, and no longer capable of producing chemical and biological weapons. The Iraqis themselves destroyed components of their weapons program, he asserts, and after 1993 much of what was being concealed from inspectors was information about Saddam Hussein's personal security.
Ritter suggests that future relations with Iraq could and should be built around the creation of economic stability. He warns that military action against Iraq will be vastly different from the "war" in Afghanistan. He estimates up to 200,000 troops may be required. Kurdish and Shiite opposition forces are not likely to provide assistance with the same impact as the Northern Alliance brought to the conflict in Afghanistan. The Iraqi army is considerably more formidable and disciplined than the Taliban. In Ritter's scenario, even if we "win" U.S. forces will eventually have to withdraw, leaving Turks, Saudis and Iranians in conflict over Iraq, and the U.S. isolated in the region. Ritter's analysis is echoed by Israeli journalist and peace activist Uri Avenery.
The drum beat for military action against Iraq is not about weapons, says Ritter, it's about Saddam, adding " We have killed almost six times as many Iraqis trying to eliminate weapons of mass destruction programs, than the weapons of mass destruction have killed in the entire 20th century." Ritter argues that Saddam Hussein, and Iraqis in general have been pictured as comic book characters.
He's a horrible man and has done horrible things. But he's also done a lot of good things for Iraq. Iraq was brought from the Third World status in the 1960s to one of the most modern advanced states in the Middle East in 1990. Saddam brought education, medicine and suffrage to women in Iraq; [Iraqi women] can vote, go to work, get an education. This isn't bad stuff. Saddam Hussein is a much more complicated issue than people like to admit.
In an interview with Der Tagesspiegel in January, former German Minister of Research and Technology, Andreas von Bülow, commented on the role of the "bogeyman" in post-Cold War politics.
The bogeyman of communism doesn't work anymore. It is to be replaced by peoples of Islamic faith. They are accused of having given birth to suicidal terrorism....But the idea of the bogeyman doesn't come from me. It comes from Zbigniew Brzezinski and Samuel Huntington, two policy-makers of American intelligence and foreign policy. By the mid-1990s, Huntington believed, people in Europe and the U.S. needed someone they could hate — this would strengthen their identification with their own society. And Brzezinski, the mad dog, as adviser to President Jimmy Carter, campaigned for the exclusive right of the U.S. to seize all the raw materials of the world, especially oil and gas. [The events of September 11] ... fit perfectly in the concept of the armaments industry, the intelligence agencies, the whole military-industrial-academic complex. This is in fact obvious. The huge raw materials reserves of the former Soviet Union are now at their [the U.S.'s] disposal, also the pipeline routes and ...
Others have suggested that Dubya's zeal to expand the definition of his war on terrorism to include Saddam Hussein's Iraq stems from the failure of his father's administration to oust Hussein at the conclusion of the Gulf War. Yet "Poppy" Bush's relationship with Hussein appears to be complicated, as well.
As reported in the New York Times, September 23, 1990, Bush Sr.'s Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, met with Saddam Hussein at his request on July 25. This was the last official contact between the two governments before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2. During the meeting, Glaspie told Hussein that she had "a direct instruction from the President to seek better relations with Iraq."
GLASPIE: ...not only do I want to say that President Bush wanted better and deeper relations with Iraq, but he also wants an Iraqi contribution to peace and prosperity in the Middle East. President Bush is an intelligent man. He is not going to declare an economic war against Iraq.
You are right. It is true what you say that we do not want higher prices for oil. But I would ask you to examine the possibility of not charging too high a price for oil.
HUSSEIN: We do not want too high prices for oil. And I remind you that in 1974 I gave Tariq Aziz the idea for an article he wrote which criticized the policy of keeping oil prices high. It was
the first Arab article which expressed this view.... Twenty-five dollars a barrel is not a high price.
GLASPIE: We have many Americans who would like to see the price go above $25 because they come from oil-producing states.
HUSSEIN: The price at one stage had dropped to $12 a barrel and a reduction in the modest Iraqi budget of $6 billion to $7
billion is a disaster.
GLASPIE: I think I understand this. I have lived here for years. I admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. I know you need funds. We understand that and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with
I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late 60's. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated
with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction. We hope you can solve this problem using any suitable methods via Klibi or via President Mubarak. All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly.
The transcript of the Glaspie-Hussein exchange has been cited widely as evidence that the Bush I administration "lured" Hussein into invading Kuwait so that it could respond with an attack. Media monitor FAIR reported in November 1990 that "Administration officials had told the Washington Post only six days before the invasion (7/26/90) that 'an Iraqi attack on Kuwait would not draw a U.S. military response.' Glaspie reportedly told British journalists in October 1990 that she "didn't think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait."
In fact, Bush Sr. -- like Reagan before him -- initially sought to improve relations with Iraq with a view toward limiting the threat of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran. A U.S. alliance with Iraq was also seen as depriving the Soviet Union of a key ally in the region. During this period the U.S. ignored many aspects of Iraqi government conduct that would later be cited as moral justification for pursuing the ouster of Hussein: egregious human rights abuses, imprisonment and torture of political opponents, complete absence of democracy, use of poison gas against Iraqi citizens and Iranians, sponsoring terrorism, and the execution of a British journalist.
Because of its public policy of neutrality in the war between Iran and Iraq, the U.S. could not provide military aid to Iraq. Trade, particularly high technology, was seen as a viable alternative. The key to free-flowing trade was the availability of government-guaranteed credit. Iraq's poor financial condition prevented western banks in general from loaning it money without a government guarantee.
In the late 1980s the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL) emerged as an entity crucial to the economic welfare of Iraq. It was disclosed in 1989 that 98% of BNL was owned by the government of Italy, and the firm was later prosecuted for violations of U.S. banking laws. Nonetheless, investigation by Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez of Texas found, between 1985 and 1990 (including portions of the Reagan and Bush I administrations) Iraq received $4 billion in unreported loans from BNL. BNL was also "the largest participant" in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Commodity Credit Corporation, which the government of Iraq used to purchase $5 billion of agricultural commodities between 1983 and 1990. An estimated $2 billion of the BNL money was used by a "secret Iraqi procurement network" to purchase technology for Iraqi weapons programs (including chemical and biological weapons).
Nixon National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger served on a BNL advisory board between 1985 and 1991, which overlapped with a period during which he was a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. In the latter capacity Kissinger would have had access to highly classified intelligence information, and advised the President on intelligence matters. After April 25, 1991, Kissinger told the Financial Times that he had resigned from BNL before it was indicted in February 1991. It was later revealed that he had not, in fact, resigned until four months later.
In a report to the House of Representatives on April 28, 1992, Rep. Gonzalez referred to the CCC program for Iraq as "the cornerstone of United States-Iraq relations. "Indications are that in addition to violating U.S. banking laws, the BNL's activities with Iraq may have led to diversion of CCC guaranteed funds from commodity programs into military sales," he stated. Bush's Deputy Assistant to the President, and Director of Cabinet Affairs, Steve Danzansky, was one of the administration staffers assigned to monitor BNL. Danzansky was responsible for ensuring that Iraq received $1 billion in CCC funds in 1990, despite the findings of investigators that eventually led to indictments. Gonzalez suggests that the USDA was "taking orders from Mr. Danzansky," and that Danzansky sat in on the meeting of the National Advisory Council on International Monetary and Financial Policies at which the decision was made to make the CCC grant to Iraq. "Several Administration officials have told the Banking Committee that this was the first time that a White House official sat in on a NAC decision to grant credits to a foreign country. That meeting also marked the first time in the history that the minutes of a NAC meeting were classified so as to restrict access to the public, and the Congress."
The Gonzalez report asserts that because Danzansky was "Poppy" Bush's Director of Cabinet Affairs, "It is clear that President Bush was directly involved in the decision to provide Iraq with a $1 billion in CCC credits just months before the invasion of Kuwait."
James Baker, Secretary of State at the time, was instrumental in obtaining approval for the CCC funds for Iraq, having personally telephoned Agriculture Secretary Yeutter. Talking points for Baker's call, obtained by Rep. Gonzalez indicate that the State Department supported the $1 billion in aid "on foreign policy grounds." A Federal Reserve work paper obtained by Gonzalez reports that in the fall of 1989 Baker actually conferred with Saddam Hussein concerning the BNL scandal.
Ironically, Saddam Hussein was one of the first to link his exploits to the plight of Palestinians when he declared in August 1990 that the invasion of Kuwait was the first step toward the liberation of Jerusalem. That "linkage" proved problematic for Yasser Arafat and the PLO, as it appeared to align them with Saddam Hussein. Dubya's recent words of mild reproach for Israeli premier Ariel Sharon may signal a return to a version of the 90's linkage, not as defined by Hussein, but in the sense that in order to advance any policy objective in the Middle East, the US must appear to be engaged in the process of finding peace between Israel and the Palestinians. As peace activist Uri Avenery told the Guardian, when "instead of looking for a solution to the Palestinian problem, Bush gave the green light to Sharon so that he could run berserk in the Palestinian territories ... the basic logic of the situation started at long last to assert itself." That basic logic, according to Avnery, is that any successful campaign against terrorism, much less an attack on Iraq, is impossible unless the Palestinian issue is at least addressed, and perhaps even solved. "It takes only minutes to conclude a train of thought, but a superpower needs six months to change its policy," he added.
Some observers have described the peace proposal put forward recently by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as a return to the process described in the Oslo accords. From the beginning, Arab nations have viewed the Oslo process as "land for peace" with the implication that all the peace is only available in exchange for all of the land (i.e. the land occupied by Israel in 1967). The U.S. has expressed some support for Prince Abdullah's proposal, without endorsing the latter interpretation. The question, then, as Martin Woollacot wrote recently in the Guardian is how serious US interest in a policy realignment really is. "Is it a limited realignment, designed to quieten Arab allies and contain the violence in Israel and the territories while preparations for a possible confrontation with Iraq go ahead? Or is it the beginning of a more fundamental change in which, setting aside its fears of a failure such as Clinton experienced and its doubts about appeasing terrorism, the Bush administration will push for a full settlement and not just for another unsteady 'process' that could soon falter and collapse?" That, of course, remains to be seen.
Woollacott, Martin "The question of Iraq is also the question of Palestine" Guardian (UK) 22 Mar. 2002.
Aydintasbas, Asla "Scott Ritter" Salon.com 19 Mar. 2002.
Borger, Julian. "Realities intrude on Bush's war plans" Guardian (UK) 13 Mar. 2002.
Kamiya, Gary. "The meaning of Ari's blunder" Salon.com 1 Mar. 2002.
"Kissinger Associates, Scowcroft, Eagleburger, Stoga, Iraq, And BNL" Congressional Record. House of Representatitves. 28 Apr. 1992.
Lebert, Stephan and Norbert Thomma "Da sind Spuren wie von einer trampelnden Elefantenherde" Der Tagesspiegel 13 Jan. 2002.
Bowen, Russell S. Immaculate Deception Carson City: America West Publishers, 1991.
"BNL Subpoena Renewal" Congressional Record. House of Representatitves. 25 Apr. 1991.
Naureckas, Jim "Media on the March:Journalism in the Gulf" FAIR. Nov.-Dec. 1990.
See also the complete Tagesspiegel interview with Andreas von Bülow.