A Costly Friendship
Much of the talk in Europe these days--in newspaper offices, at dinner parties, in foreign ministries--is about how the United States and Britain were conned into going to war against Iraq, or perhaps how they conned the rest of us into believing that they had good reasons for doing so. It is now widely suspected that the war was a fraud, but who perpetuated the fraud and on whom? Were Bush and Blair fed fabricated intelligence, or did they knowingly massage and doctor the intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq so as to justify an attack? Everyone agrees that Saddam Hussein was a monster, but the military invasion to depose him is seen by many, and certainly on this side of the Atlantic, as illegitimate and unprovoked, and a blatant violation of the UN Charter, setting an unfortunate precedent in international relations. Henceforth, in the jungle, only might is right.
Various intelligence and foreign affairs committees of the British Parliament and the US Congress have started inquiries into how the decision to go to war was taken--when, why and on what basis. But it will require a superhuman effort to penetrate the murky thicket of competing government bureaucracies, spooks, exiles, defectors and other self-serving sources, pro-Israeli lobbyists, magazine editors, think-tank gurus and assorted ideologues who, in Washington at least, have a massive say in the shaping of foreign policy.
How did it all begin? An important part of the story, though not the whole of it, is the special relationship between the United States and Israel. Warren Bass's important and timely book Support Any Friend, written with candor and firmly rooted in primary sources, takes us back to the diplomacy of the 1960s, and to what he argues were the beginnings of today's extraordinarily intimate alliance between the two countries. It is in effect the story of how Israel and its American friends came to exercise a profound influence on American policy toward the Arab and Muslim world. Bass believes it all began with JFK. It is an interesting thesis and he argues it well, although in my view the US-Israeli entente actually began with LBJ, after Kennedy's assassination.
The neocons--a powerful group at the heart of the Bush Administration--wanted war against Iraq and pressed for it with great determination, overriding and intimidating all those who expressed doubts, advised caution, urged the need for allies and for UN legitimacy, or recommended sticking with the well-tried cold war instruments of containment and deterrence. War it had to be, the neocons said, to deal with the imminent threat from Saddam's fearsome weapons, which, as Tony Blair was rash enough to claim in his tragicomic role as Bush's "poodle," could be fired within forty-five minutes of a launch order. This flight of blood-curdling rhetoric has now come home to haunt him, earning him a headline (in The Economist, no less) of "Prime Minister Bliar."
Where did the information for his remarkable statement come from? How reliable was the prewar intelligence reaching Bush and Blair? The finger is increasingly being pointed at a special Pentagon intelligence cell, known as the Office of Special Plans, headed by Abram Shulsky. The office was created after 9/11 by two of the most fervent and determined neocons, Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Defense Secretary, and Douglas Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, to probe into Saddam's WMD programs and his links with Al Qaeda because, it is alleged, they did not trust other intelligence agencies of the US government to come up with the goods. It has been suggested that this special Pentagon intelligence cell relied heavily on the shifty Ahmad Chalabi's network of exiled informants. If evidence was indeed fabricated, this may well have been where it was done.
One way of looking at the decision-making process in Washington is to see it as the convergence of two currents or trends. The first was clearly the child of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which both traumatized and enraged America, shattering its sense of invulnerability but also rousing it to "total war" against its enemies in the manner of a Hollywood blockbuster. Perhaps because they had more experience of wars and terrorist violence, Europeans were slow to comprehend the visceral impact of these events on the American psyche. Suddenly mighty America was afraid--afraid of mass-casualty terrorism; afraid of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; afraid that "rogue states" might pass on such weapons to nebulous, elusive, fanatical, transnational terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, enabling them perhaps to strike again with even more devastating effect.
The aggressive National Security Strategy of September 2002 sprang from these fears. It proclaimed that containment and deterrence were now stone dead; that the United States had to achieve and maintain total military supremacy over all possible challengers; that any "rogue states" that might be tempted to acquire WMDs would be treated without mercy by means of preventive or pre-emptive war. Under this "Bush Doctrine," the United States gave itself the right to project its overwhelming power wherever and whenever it pleased, to invade countries it disliked, to overthrow their regimes and to transform hostile "tyrannies" into friendly--read pro-American--"democracies." It was a program for global dominance, driven by the perceived threat to America but also by a modern version of imperial ambition.