[Marxism] Juan Cole on all the vice president's men

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 28 09:49:55 MDT 2005


http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2005/10/28/vice_president/print.html
All the vice president's men
The ideologues in Cheney's inner circle drummed up a war. Now their 
zealotry is blowing up in their faces.

By Juan Cole

Oct. 28, 2005 | As Washington waits on pins and needles to see if special 
counsel Patrick Fitzgerald hands down indictments, the focus falls on Dick 
Cheney's inner circle. This group, along with that surrounding Defense 
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made up what Colin Powell's top aide, Lawrence 
Wilkerson, called "a cabal" that "on critical issues ... made decisions 
that the bureaucracy did not know were being made." Cheney is the first 
vice president to have had, in effect, his own personal National Security 
Council. This formidable and unprecedented rump foreign policy team, 
composed of radical hawks, played a key role in every aspect of the war on 
Iraq: planning for it, gathering "evidence" to justify it and punishing 
those who spoke out against it. It is not surprising that members of that 
team, and Cheney himself, have now also emerged as targets in Fitzgerald's 
investigation of the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson to the press, along 
with Bush advisor Karl Rove.

Although the investigation has focused on Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis 
"Scooter" Libby, a number of other Cheney staffers have been interviewed. 
Who are these shadowy policymakers who played such a major role in shaping 
the Bush administration's foreign policy?

Most of the members of Cheney's inner circle were neoconservative 
ideologues, who combined hawkish American triumphalism with an obsession 
with Israel. This does not mean that the war was fought for Israel, 
although it is undeniable that Israeli concerns played an important role. 
The actual motivation behind the war was complex, and Cheney's team was not 
the only one in the game. The Bush administration is a coalition of 
disparate forces -- country club Republicans, realists, representatives of 
oil and other corporate interests, evangelicals, hardball political 
strategists, right-wing Catholics, and neoconservative Jews allied with 
Israel's right-wing Likud party. Each group had its own rationale for going 
to war with Iraq.

Bush himself appears to have had an obsession with restoring family honor 
by avenging the slight to his father produced by Saddam's remaining in 
office after the Gulf War. Cheney was interested in the benefits of a war 
to the oil industry, and to the military-industrial complex in general. It 
seems likely that the Iraq war, which produced billions in no-bid contracts 
for the company he headed in the late 1990s, saved Halliburton from 
bankruptcy. The evangelicals wanted to missionize Iraqis. Karl Rove wanted 
to turn Bush into a war president to ensure his reelection. The 
neoconservatives viewed Saddam's Iraq as a short-term danger to Israel, and 
in the long term, they hoped that overthrowing the Iraqi Baath would 
transform the entire Middle East, rather as Kamal Ataturk, who abolished 
the offices of Ottoman emperor and Sunni caliph in the 1920s, had brought 
into being a relatively democratic Turkey that was allied with Israel. 
(This fantastic analogy was suggested by Princeton emeritus professor and 
leading neoconservative ideologue Bernard Lewis.) This transformation would 
be beneficial to the long-term security of both the United States and Israel.

None of these rationales would have been acceptable across the board, or 
persuasive with Congress or the American public, so the various factions 
focused on the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately 
for them, this rationale was discovered to be a mirage. And in the course 
of trying to punish those who were pointing out that the emperor had no 
clothes -- or, in this case, that the dictator had no weapons of mass 
destruction -- Cheney and Bush's underlings went too far. Ironically, their 
attempt to silence critics succeeded only in turning a harsh light on their 
own actions and motivations.

"Cheney Assembles Formidable Team," marveled a Page One article in the Feb. 
3, 2001, edition of the New York Times. It turns out that Cheney had 15 
military and political advisors on foreign affairs, at a time when the 
president's own National Security Council was being downsized. The number 
of aides who counseled Cheney on domestic issues was much smaller. In 
contrast, Al Gore had been advised by a single staffer on security affairs.

The leader of the team was Libby, Cheney's chief of staff. Libby had 
studied at Yale with Paul Wolfowitz, who brought him to Washington. He 
co-authored a hawkish policy document with Wolfowitz in the Department of 
Defense for its head, Dick Cheney, after the Gulf War in 1992. When it was 
leaked, it embarrassed the first President Bush. Libby was a founding 
member of the Project for a New American Century in 1997 during the Clinton 
years, when many neoconservatives were out of office. The PNAC attempted to 
use the Republican-dominated Congress to pressure Clinton to take a more 
belligerent stance toward Iraq, and it advocated significantly expanding 
military spending and using U.S. troops as "gendarmes" in the aftermath of 
wars to "shape" the international security environment.

Cheney was also a PNAC member, and his association with this group from 
1997 signaled a shift from his earlier hard-nosed realism, as he allied 
himself with the neoconservatives, who dreamed of transforming other 
societies. The James Baker branch of the Republican Party had long been 
critical of Israel for causing trouble for the United States in the Middle 
East with its expansionist policies and unwillingness to stop the 
settlement of the West Bank, and Baker was well aware that the vast 
majority of American Jews do not vote Republican.

Although a staunch defender of Israel, Cheney at one time was at least on 
speaking terms with this wing of the Republican Party. (The sense of 
betrayal felt by his old colleagues was summed up by Bush I's national 
security advisor Brent Scowcroft, who told the New Yorker he considered 
Cheney a friend, "But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore." As time went on, 
however, he increasingly chose to ally with neoconservatives and the Jewish 
right in the U.S. and Israel, accepting them as powerful allies and 
constituents for his vision of a post-Cold War world dominated by an 
unchallenged American hegemony that would be backed by a vast 
military-industrial establishment fed by U.S. tax dollars. He continually 
promised skeptical Jewish audiences that a democratic Iraq would benefit 
Israel. His choice of advisors when he became vice president demonstrated a 
pronounced preference for the neoconservatives.

But Cheney's alliance with the neocons was probably driven more by his 
Manichaean, Cold War-inspired worldview -- in which the U.S. battled an 
evil enemy -- and his corporate ties, than by an obsession with Israel or 
remaking the Middle East. Islamist terror provided a new version of the 
Soviet "evil empire." And the neocons' dynamic foreign policy vision, their 
"liberalism with guns," offered more opportunities for the 
military-industrial complex than did traditional Republican realism in a 
post-Soviet world, where peer states did not exist and no credible military 
threat menaced the U.S. Only a series of wars of conquest in the Middle 
East, dressed up as a "defense" against the proliferation of weapons of 
mass destruction, could hope to keep the Pentagon and the companies to 
which it outsourced in the gravy.

Such wars could no longer be fought in East Asia, given Chinese and North 
Korean nuclear capabilities, and there were no U.S. constituencies for such 
wars in most other parts of the world. The Middle East was the perfect 
arena for a renewed American militarism, given that the U.S. public held 
deep prejudices against the Arab-Muslim world, and, after Sept. 11, deeply 
feared it.

A key, but less well-known, Cheney advisor on the Middle East is John 
Hannah, a former Soviet expert. He had been part of a policy group 
assembled by Cheney when he was secretary of defense, in 1989, under the 
direction of Paul Wolfowitz. Hannah was distinguished for his distrust of 
Soviet reformist Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev, according to the New 
Republic.

Hannah then came to head the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a 
stridently pro-Israel think tank that has gained enormous influence in 
Washington. WINEP had been founded in the 1980s with the backing of the 
American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the legendarily powerful 
pro-Israel lobbying group. The initial impetus for it was that think tanks 
like the Brookings Institution were felt to be insufficiently pro-Israel. 
Initially WINEP tended to support the government in power in Israel, but in 
the past 15 years it has increasingly been drawn into the orbit of the 
right-wing, expansionist Likud Party.

WINEP wields enormous influence, to the point where it almost functions as 
a governmental entity. The director of a private consulting firm with a 
contract from the Department of Defense that involved trying to think about 
the future of the main political parties in Iraq told me in 2004 that he 
was specifically instructed, as part of his contract, to depend on the 
material at the WINEP Web site. State Department officials and U.S. 
military officers are detailed to WINEP to learn about the Middle East and 
are indoctrinated into a pro-Likud point of view at taxpayers' expense. 
Despite its highly political activities, WINEP has the status for tax 
purposes of a nonprofit charitable foundation.

When Hannah was at WINEP, he was still deeply concerned with post-Soviet 
Russian foreign policy toward the Middle East. The Soviets had been major 
patrons of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Syria and Iraq, all of 
whom Hannah viewed as enemies. In a 1993 interview with the Jewish 
Institute for National Security Affairs, another pro-Israel, right-wing 
organization, Hannah expressed anxiety about the rise of Russian 
nationalists who, he claimed, sought to undermine United Nations sanctions 
against Libya and to position Russian companies to invest in Iraq should 
the sanctions on that country begin to slip. For figures such as Hannah, 
Russian nationalism and Middle Eastern rogue states like Libya and Iraq 
represented unfinished business left over from the Cold War. For the 
Israeli hawks and their American supporters, the Cold War was not really 
over as long as the former Soviet allies in the Middle East continued to 
express enmity to Israel.

As former Secretary of State Warren Christopher once remarked, the U.S. 
State Department probably owes WINEP a finder's fee for providing it with 
key personnel. From the institute, Hannah came to work for Christopher (who 
served from 1993 to 1997). During this period, Hannah cultivated ties with 
Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, an expatriate group funded 
by the CIA and the State Department to overthrow Saddam. One of the things 
that made Chalabi attractive to Hannah and other neocons was that he 
promised them that if he came to power he would recognize Israel and take 
Iraq in the same direction as Turkey, a Muslim country allied with the 
Zionist state.

We next meet Hannah as an aide to John Bolton. Bolton, a curmudgeonly 
lawyer who helped stop the Florida recount in 2000, was rewarded by Bush by 
being made undersecretary of state for arms control and international 
proliferation. Bolton detailed Hannah to Cheney's office as chief adviser 
on the Middle East. (Hannah actually knew little about the Middle East and 
knows no Arabic, being primarily an old Russia hand.)

Cheney's other major advisor besides Libby on Middle East affairs is David 
Wurmser, a Johns Hopkins Ph.D. in international relations. He served as 
project officer at the congressionally funded U.S. Institute of Peace, from 
1988 to 1994. He then moved for two years to the Washington Institute for 
Near East Policy, where he was director of institutional grants until 1996. 
In the latter year he co-authored, with Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and 
others, a now-famous policy paper for incoming Likud leader Binyamin 
Netanyahu, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," that 
advocated a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein and install a Hashemite 
monarchy in Iraq as a way of moderating the Shiites of the region and 
securing "the realm" of Israel. Since post-Khomeini Shiites despise 
monarchy as un-Islamic, and since the Hashemites, who used to rule Iraq 
before 1958 and still rule Jordan, are Sunni Muslims, this plan was worse 
than science fiction. Science fiction is coherent and often involves some 
actual knowledge.

The neoconservatives were actually more concerned with Syria initially than 
Iraq, since it more directly threatened Israeli security. Indeed, "A Clean 
Break" advocated the removal of Saddam Hussein mainly as a way of 
pressuring Damascus. The policy paper said, with astonishing ignorance, 
"Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and 
Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort 
can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq -- an important 
Israeli strategic objective in its own right -- as a means of foiling 
Syria's regional ambitions. King Hussein may have ideas for Israel in 
bringing its Lebanon problem under control. The predominantly Shia 
population of southern Lebanon has been tied for centuries to the Shia 
leadership in Najf [sic] Iraq rather than Iran. Were the Hashemites to 
control Iraq, they could use their influence over Najf to help Israel wean 
the south Lebanese Shia away from Hizballah, Iran, and Syria. Shia retain 
strong ties to the Hashemites: the Shia venerate foremost the Prophet's 
family, the direct descendants of which — and in whose veins the blood of 
the Prophet flows — is King Hussein."

This paragraph must be the most absurd, ill-informed and frankly lunatic 
pieces of prose ever produced by any policy advisor anywhere. It is full of 
false premises and ignorant assumptions. Saddam Hussein's branch of the 
Baath Party was a rival of the Syrian Baath Party, not a supporter. Syria 
had joined Bush I's coalition against Iraq, allying with the Americans in 
1990-91. Removing the Iraqi Baath would more likely strengthen Syria than 
weaken it. As for the Shiites in Iraq and southern Lebanon, they had been 
deeply influenced by the ideology of Ayatollah Khomeini, who preached that 
monarchy is incompatible with Islam. The idea that the old Hashemite 
monarchy could be revived and reinstalled in revolutionary Iraq was itself 
absurd. That a Sunni king in Baghdad might have any appeal to the Shiites 
of southern Lebanon, who favored Hezbollah and Khomeinism, would only occur 
to someone completely ignorant of the actual politics of Tyre and Nabatiya. 
The tragedy is that this sort of hallucination appears actually to have 
underpinned real policy moves by the neoconservatives as they became 
powerful in Washington under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Wurmser is married to Meyrav Wurmser, director of Middle East programs at 
the right-wing Hudson Institute. She was listed as a co-author of "A Clean 
Break." She had also co-founded, with a former colonel in Israeli military 
intelligence, the MEMRI translation service, which cherry-picks Arabic 
newspapers for the more outrageous articles and political cartoons, and 
translates them into English for the purpose of creating a negative view of 
the Arab world.

In 1999 David Wurmser published "Tyranny's Ally: America's Failure to 
Defeat Saddam Hussein." In 2000, Wurmser authored a paper urging the U.S. 
government to push Syria out of Lebanon and to refuse to engage with 
Damascus that was published by the Middle East Forum of Daniel Pipes. The 
Middle East Forum advisory board is primarily composed of leaders of 
right-wing organizations such as the Jewish Institute for National Security 
Affairs and the Zionist Organization of America.

Wurmser was picked by fellow neoconservative and Undersecretary of Defense 
for Planning Douglas Feith (whom the departing Colin Powell denounced to 
George W. Bush as a "card-carrying member of the Likud") after Sept. 11 to 
form part of the notorious Office of Special Plans in the Near East and 
South Asia division of the Department of Defense. That unit cherry-picked 
intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's alleged 
links to al-Qaida, singling out unreliable, single-sourced accounts and 
stripping them of any context that would show where they came from. These 
were then stovepiped to Libby and Hannah in Cheney's office, so as to go 
directly to Bush and make an end run around the professional intelligence 
agencies. When allegations emerged that corrupt Iraqi businessman and 
longtime expatriate politician Ahmad Chalabi had been given classified 
information about U.S. intelligence efforts against Iran, and had promptly 
passed it on to Tehran, Wurmser was among the officials the FBI interviewed 
searching for the leak.

When the OSP was dissolved after the Iraq war, Wurmser went back to work 
for Bolton. Although Wurmser only came to Cheney's shadow national security 
council in September 2003, after the Plame leak, he had been in close 
contact with Libby and Hannah all along. Close observers noted a distinct 
turn toward belligerency against Syria in White House pronouncements soon 
after Wurmser's advent. (He replaced old Soviet hand Eric Edelman, who was 
sent as ambassador to Turkey.)

On Sept. 10, 2002, the Boston Globe had reported that ascendant hawks in 
the Bush administration saw the overthrow of Saddam as a first step toward 
democratizing and transforming the Middle East. John Donnelly and Anthony 
Shadid wrote, "The argument for reshaping the political landscape in the 
Mideast has been pushed for years by some Washington think tanks and in 
hawkish circles. It is now being considered as a possible US policy with 
the ascent of key hard-liners in the administration -- from Paul Wolfowitz 
and Douglas Feith in the Pentagon to John Hannah and Lewis Libby on the 
vice president's staff and John Bolton in the State Department, analysts 
and officials say."

Cheney and other advocates of this policy promised that an Iraq war would 
break the deadlock between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Donnelly and 
Shadid quote Meyrav Wurmser, "Everyone will flip out, starting with the 
Saudis ... It will send shock waves throughout the Arab world ... But if we 
can get a democracy in the Palestinian Authority, democracy in Iraq, get 
the Egyptians to improve their human rights and open up their system, it 
will be a spectacular change. After a war with Iraq, then you really shape 
the region." Since both Wurmsers and their circle had argued forcefully for 
the destruction of the Oslo peace process and against the surrender by 
Israel of any of the Palestinian territories captured in 1967, it seems 
most likely that they hoped that getting the U.S. to produce chaos in the 
Middle East by undermining its allies would give hawkish Israeli Prime 
Minister Ariel Sharon a free hand to annex most of the West Bank, and 
perhaps other Arab lands, rather than that it would lead to a just peace. 
Weakened by the loss of their backers in Baghdad and Damascus, the 
Palestinians would be forced to make peace on Sharon's terms.

Libby, Hannah and Wurmser were at the center of the production and 
purveying of bad intelligence on alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. 
Hannah received intelligence directly from the Iraqi National Congress, 
according to a leaked memo from that organization. He was also a liaison 
with Wurmser when the latter was in the Office of Special Plans.

According to a Newsweek article of Dec. 15, 2004, "a June 2002 memo written 
by INC lobbyist Entifadh Qunbar to a U.S. Senate committee lists John 
Hannah, a senior national-security aide on Cheney's staff, as one of two 
'U.S. governmental recipients' for reports generated by an intelligence 
program being run by the INC and which was then being funded by the State 
Department." The article explains that the program arranged for the raw 
information coming from defectors and other sources to be "reported to, 
among others, 'appropriate governmental, non-governmental and international 
agencies.'" The memo explicitly mentioned Hannah as "a principal point of 
contact" for the program. The other point of contact, according to 
Newsweek, was William Luti, who headed the Office of Special Plans in the 
Pentagon under Feith. (Luti, also known as "uber-Luti," was such a zealot 
that he denounced retired Gen. Anthony Zinni as a "traitor" for expressing 
reservations about the impending Iraq war.) Chalabi's lie factory thus had 
two main customers, both of them wholesalers to Cheney. (These alleged 
contacts are an apparent violation of the National Security Act, which 
prohibits federal officials from engaging in unauthorized intelligence 
gathering.)

These, then, were the key neocon players gathered around Cheney. Cheney's 
office was key to the manufacturing of the bogus case for Iraq being close 
to having a nuclear bomb (it had no nuclear weapons program at all after 
the mid-1990s) and for it having a biological weapons program on wheels 
(biological weapons labs require clean rooms and cannot be mounted in 
Winnebagos). Cheney's office was among the originators of the smears 
against critics of such allegations, such as Joseph Wilson. Wilson's attack 
on the integrity of their intelligence gathering deeply threatened them. At 
the time he began speaking out, no high U.S. government official had dared 
name their fantasy for what it was -- a tissue of innuendo and falsehoods 
fed to them by the ambitious and swallowed by the greedy and the gullible. 
That he was connected to the CIA's own unit on weapons proliferation 
through his wife, Valerie, made him all the more dangerous in their eyes, 
once Cheney had ferreted out that link.

The New York Times reported on Oct. 24, 2005, that it was Cheney who told 
Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. White House chief of staff Karl 
Rove also learned of Plame's identity, although it is not known how. Both 
of them shared the information with the press, including Matt Cooper of 
Time magazine, Robert Novak of CNN and Judith Miller of the New York Times. 
Their aim was to discredit Wilson in official Washington as a tool of CIA 
disinformation, someone determined to make the White House the fall guys in 
the intelligence scandal, so as to spare the Company criticism. Some have a 
dark suspicion that they may also have wished to disrupt the CIA unit on 
anti-proliferation, which continued to doubt the case they were making 
about the rogue Middle East states. When confronted by special counsel 
Patrick Fitzgerald, Libby and Rove seem to have claimed that they did not 
reveal the name of Valerie Plame Wilson. In fact, they had called her "Joe 
Wilson's wife." This denial, however, is strikingly disingenuous and 
unconvincing.

Clearly Cheney's men had powerful domestic political reasons to try to 
destroy Wilson. But considering the larger geopolitical ambitions of the 
neocons in Cheney's inner circle, and their combination of ignorance and 
arrogance, it could be argued that Iraq and Iraqi weapons were all along a 
mere pied-à-terre. Syria, Iran and the rest of the Middle East were in the 
cross hairs, and Wilson and Plame were getting in the way of the next projects.

With the war in Iraq a disaster, possible indictments looming and polls 
showing that 80 percent of Americans believe that revealing Plame's 
identity was either illegal or unethical, those dreams of world domination 
have crumbled to dust.


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