To pick up where we left off, the Global War On Terror (GWOT) began as a collision of two revisionist agendas — one on behalf of Al-Qaeda and Salafist groups, the other on behalf of Neo-Conservatives in the U.S. On the one hand, the Salafists wanted to turn back the clock to the “Islamic Golden Age” (ca. 8th to 14th century), where Arabs rulers presided over an empire that outpaced anything in Europe.
On the other hand, the Neo-Cons wanted to turn the clock back in the U.S. (politically and socially) to the “Gilded Age” in America. This meant erasing the legacy of the New Deal, the Civil Rights Era, and the “Gay Nineties” and replacing it with the Evangelical, big business, and angry white man-version of America. Abroad, they wanted to create “Pax Americana,” where the U.S. was the unassailable, undisputed superpower of the world with no rivals.
Both sides seemed to think that the key to this plan was to “get right with God.” The Salafists seemed to think that the Islamic Golden Age happened on a count of Allah’s favor, not the fact that they followed up on conquest by strengthening trade routes and creating centers of learning. No, their solution was to reject modernity, murder Shias and non-Muslims and imposed Sunni extremism from the Maghreb to Central Asia.
Meanwhile, the Neo-Cons believed the solution to America’s problems was prayer in school, criminalizing gay marriage and abortion, and allowing church law to become state law. In the tradition of Evangelical church-and-corporate politics, they also wanted to nix economic and environmental regulation, cut taxes for the rich, a rotating door between government and industry, privatize prisons, lax gun laws, more military spending, and crush the “liberal media.”
What Salafists would denounce as “riddah” (apostasy) and “infidels,” the Neo-Cons would denounce as “liberals,” “socialists,” and “unAmerican.” In one of history’s little ironies, two sworn enemies had more in common with each other than anyone in between them. And in an Orwellian twist, both used the other to justify their true agenda, which was waging war on their own people.
A Tragedy Exploited
Years after 9/11 took place, multiple sources indicated that in the immediate aftermath, the Bush administration tried to shift focus onto Iraq. These sources included former NSA Director Richard A. Clarke III, who shared the details of the events before the 9/11 Commission, in interviews and in his memoir (“Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror”).
According to Clarke, during a meeting on Sept. 12th, 2001, President Bush “testily” asked him and his aides to try to find evidence that Saddam was connected to the attack. In response, Clarke wrote a report stating there was no evidence of Iraqi involvement, which the FBI, CIA, and other relevant agencies all signed off on. The paper was quickly returned with a note demanding he “update and resubmit” his conclusions.
Much like George Tenet and Paul O’Neil (whose testimony was covered in the first installment), it became clear to Clarke that 9/11 had not altered the Bush administration’s plans for “regime change” in Iraq. If anything, it was seen as a potential justification for an invasion. In an op-ed written for the Washington Post in May of 2009, Clarke summarized the events that occurred just after 9/11 (which he described in more detail in his memoir):
“While the Pentagon was still burning, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld was in the White House suggesting an attack against Baghdad. Somehow the administration’s leaders could not believe that al-Qaeda could have mounted such a devastating operation, so Iraqi involvement became the convenient explanation.
“Despite being told repeatedly that Iraq was not involved in 9/11, some, like Cheney, could not abandon the idea… Nevertheless, the lack of evidence did not deter the administration from eventually invading Iraq — a move many senior Bush officials had wanted to make before 9/11.”
For Bush, 9/11 and the war footing he placed the country on also represented an opportunity to silence critics who were in the habit of asking troublesome questions. This included the Florida recount and whether or not he “stole the election,” his relationship with Enron, his history of alcohol and drug abuse, his SEC violations as part of Harken Petroleum, and how he was repeatedly warned about 9/11 in advance and did nothing.
In any case, Bush wasted little time in the aftermath of 9/11 to push the Neo-Con vision of Pax Americana, which included legal and social reforms that would place the indelible stamp of authoritarianism on America. Like most things, it began small, with VP Cheney and other Bush officials warning the corporate media outlets that questioning the President would be seen as “unpatriotic” (aka. disloyal).
Meanwhile, the Bush administration secretly approved of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” which were green-lighted on Sept. 17th, 2001. This decision gave the CIA the freedom to torture “terror suspects” using foreign and offshore locations, including the USMC base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in 2003 and after, Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq.
Then came the Patriot Act, passed on Oct. 26th, 2001 (six weeks after 9/11). Among other measures, the Act expanded the surveillance abilities of law enforcement (including warrantless wiretapping), eased interagency communication, increased penalties for terrorism, and expanded the list of activities that qualified as terrorism. The Act officially eliminated Habeus Corpus and made police state tactics entirely permissible.
Clarke had some thoughts on these measures as well, which he attributed to a pattern adopting the most extreme response possible:
“On detention, the Bush team leaped to the assumption that U.S. courts and prisons would not work… Camps were established around the world, notably in Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners were held without being charged or tried. They became symbols of American overreach, held up as proof that al-Qaeda’s anti-American propaganda was right.
“Similarly, with regard to interrogation, administration officials conducted no meaningful professional analysis of which techniques worked and which did not. The FBI, which had successfully questioned al-Qaeda terrorists, was effectively excluded from interrogations. Instead, there was the immediate and unwarranted assumption that extreme measures — such as waterboarding one detainee 183 times — would be the most effective.”
“Finally, on wiretapping, rather than beef up the procedures available under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the administration again moved to the extreme, listening in on communications here at home without legal process.”
Then there was Bush’s Sept. 20th, 2001, address to a joint session of Congress and the nation, delivered just nine days after 9/11. In the course of his remarks and calls to action, he issued a stark warning: “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Granted, he was clearly alluding to countries like Afghanistan at the time and any other regime that the U.S. perceived as “rogue” or hostile.
But it became clear from Bush’s increasingly arrogant and forceful nature that the message could also be interpreted as a warning to everyone who had stood opposed to his agenda until then. Every nation, friend or fore, and American citizens in general were to fall in line. Otherwise, he and his supporters would brand them as “unpatriotic,” “bad allies,” or say that they “hated America.”
Axis of Evil
Meanwhile, the U.S. and its Coalition Allies launched “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan. The fact that the operation was even happening and the highly coordinated way in which it was carried out indicated that Bush did not yet have full control over the Pentagon and the intelligence establishment in the U.S.
His attempts to divert focus onto Iraq failed, and the fact that the U.S. had secured allies on the ground (the Northern Coalition) and was sending in CIA agents with loads of cash to buy their allegiance showed that the intelligence community was still running operations. But once combat operations had ceased, things began to take a dark turn.
For starters, Osama bin Laden and many of his chief lieutenants escaped after the Battle of Tora Bora. Hamid Karzai, a long-time U.S. ally, was installed as President, and only 12,000 U.S. troops were stationed in the country to protect Kabul while the rest of the country was entrusted to local warlords. Almost immediately, Karzai would earn the nickname “Mayor of Kabul” because his power didn’t extend beyond the capital.
Fresh from this victory (which would soon fall apart), Bush decided to launch the next phase of his administration’s plan. Once again, he provided an ominous preview during a speech before Congress, this time during the President’s 2002 State of the Union address — otherwise known as his “Axis of Evil” speech. Fresh from the victory in Afghanistan.
Bush didn’t spare the condemnation when talking about North Korea and Iran. But he reserved his most scathing condemnations for Iraq and Saddam Hussein, saying:
“Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections, then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.”
This speech was deliberately meant to elicit memories of World War II and the Cold War. “Axis” was a direct allusion to the triple alliance of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperialist Japan. “Evil” was an indirect reference to Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech, which was how the old conservative characterized the Soviet Union (at least, before Gorbachev came to power).
But for those looking past the boisterousness and bravado of speech, there were a few obvious problems. For one, none of the terrorists involved in 9/11 (whom Bush named in the speech) came from any of these countries. Second, none of these countries had any sort of conspiratorial relationship with the other. Sure, North Korea maintained normalized relations with both Iran and Iraq, but these two nations were mortal enemies.
Third, the case for war against Iraq was based entirely on falsehoods and half-truths. In the lead-up to the invasion, the CIA and National Security Council repeatedly cast doubt on claims that Saddam still maintained WMDs, had the capacity to build them again, or had any ties to Al-Qaeda. To circumvent them, Donald Rumsfeld created the “Office of Special Plans” and assembled cherry-picked pieces of evidence and testimony to support the case for war.
In the end, the WMD and “ties to Al-Qaeda” claims were based almost entirely on the testimony and obviously forged documentation of by two foreign (and questionable) sources. So questionable was this information that Secretary State Gen. Colin Powell refused to include them in his presentation before the U.N. Security Council in March of 2003 (just days before the war began).
He still shared everything else about the chemical/biological weapons programs and the “mobile weapons laboratories” stuff, all of which came from people like Ahmed Chalabi, then-president of the Governing Council of Iraq. This ex-patriot organization was made up of wealthy Iraqis who had lost much of their power to Saddam’s Baathist regime.
In exchange for testimony that would help the U.S. make a case for war, the U.S. hoped to install Chalabi as the new President of Iraq. With him in power, the Bush administration could assign lucrative no-compete contracts to their corporate allies — Haliburton, the Carmen Group, Exxon, Occidental, etc.
Naturally, the U.N. Security Council rejected the U.S.’ case for war, which did nothing to deter the Bush administration from launching the invasion on Mar. 20th, 2003. And of course, neither did the warnings that came from in-house sources prior to the invasion. Those who issued these warnings might have appeared like prophets afterward, except that their warnings were obvious.
“I Told You So!”
Much like the Bush administration lies about not being warned in advance of 9/11, the Bush administration also claimed that it could not foresee the fallout that occurred in the wake of the invasion. But by sometime in 2004, these lies were being exposed on a regular basis, thanks to a national media that no longer felt particularly cowed.
As we learned from multiple sources (many of whom testified before the 9/11 Commission), the Bush administration was repeatedly warned about the problems they would face in Iraq. After choosing not to remain with the Bush administration after 2004, Colin Powell recounted how he had warned the President about the long-term implications of “regime change” in Iraq:
“I said: ‘Mr. President, it isn’t just a simple matter of going to Baghdad. I know how to do that. What happens after? You need to understand, if you take out a government, take out a regime, guess who becomes the government and regime and is responsible for the country? You are. So if you break it, you own it.’”
Prior to the invasion, a study conducted by the RAND Corporation stated that 500,000 troops would be required for success. This included “stability operations,” referring to the post-war reconstruction and administration of the country. Rumsfeld rejected these estimates and came back with his own, claiming that 140,000 troops would be more than enough.
The task of planning for “stability operations” (i.e., post-invasion operations) from the State Department and refused to make any plans at all, even refused to let anyone else do so either because he didn’t do “nation-building.” The administration also insisted that there was no reason to think that more troops would not be needed to occupy the country than invade it.
As for the issue of cost, Bush economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey was fired to stating that the total cost of invading Iraq could reach as much as $200 billion. Instead, Bush went with Paul Wolfowitz, who claimed the invasion would be largely “self-financing” via Iraq’s oil, and Andrew Natsios made the ridiculous claim that it would cost no more than $1.7 billion.
As for the potential for fallout, administration officials and supporters — including Rumsfeld, Cheney, Sen. McCain, and others — all stressed that “we will be greeted as liberators.” Oddly, this was the exact opposite of what Dick said in 1991 and 1994 when he was asked why the administration of George H.W. Bush (to whom he was Defense Secretary) had not chosen to topple Saddam’s regime as part of Operation Desert Storm:
“If you’re going to go in and try to topple Saddam Hussein, you have to go to Baghdad. Once you’ve got Baghdad, it’s not clear what you do with it. It’s not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that’s currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime, or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists?
“How much credibility is that government going to have if it’s set up by the United States military when it’s there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect the people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?”
As anticipated, Iraq quickly devolved into a quagmire that cost the lives of almost 5000 US and Coalition soldiers, the lives of as many as 1 million Iraqi people, and the U.S. taxpayers over $1.1 trillion. There were also the refugee crises it triggered, the rise of Al-Qaeda (and ISIS) in Iraq, the revelations of torture and human rights abuses (in particular, at the Abu Ghraib prison facility), and the fallout caused to neighboring countries.
By 2009, U.S. troops were withdrawn from the country after six years of occupation and nothing to show for it. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden remained at large eight years after escaping from Tora Bora, his whereabouts remained unconfirmed — presumably, he was in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) — and Bush went so far as to say “not concerned about it.”
Ten years later, the fallout still hasn’t ended. We’ll deal with that in the third and final installment!