History… phooey!

Or, more mildly, Americans traditionally aren’t much interested in it and the media largely don’t have time for it either. For one thing, the past is often just so inconvenient. On Monday, for instance, there was a front-page piece in the New York Times by Elisabeth Bumiller on Robert Blackwill, one of the "Vulcans" who helped Condoleezza Rice advise George W. Bush on foreign policy during the 2000 election campaign, Iraq Director on the National Security Council during the reign in Baghdad of our viceroy L. Paul Bremer III, and the President’s personal envoy to the faltering occupation (nicknamed "The Shadow"), among many other things.

He is now–here’s a giant shock–a lobbyist. And, among those he’s lobbying for (in this case to the tune of $300,000) is Ayad Allawi, former CIA asset and head–back in Saddam’s day–of an exile group, the Iraq National Accord. Bumiller identifies Allawi as "the first prime minister of the newly sovereign nation–America’s man in Baghdad." She also refers to him as having had "close ties to the CIA" and points out that he was not just Bremer’s, but Blackwill’s "choice" to be prime minister back in 2004. Now, he’s Blackwill’s "choice" again. Allawi is, it seems, yet once more on deck, with his own K-Street lobbyist, ready to step in as prime minister if the present PM, Nouri al-Maliki, were to fall (or be shoved aside).

But there’s another rather inconvenient truth about Allawi that goes unmentioned — and it’s right off the front page of the New York Times, no less — a piece by Joel Brinkley, "Ex-C.I.A. Aides Say Iraq Leader Helped Agency in 90’s Attacks," published in early June 2004, just at the moment when Allawi had been "designated" prime minister. In the early 1990s, Brinkley reported, Allawi’s exile organization was, under the CIA’s direction, planting car bombs and explosive devices in Baghdad (including in a movie theater) in a fruitless attempt to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s regime. Of course, that was back when car bombs weren’t considered the property of brutes like Sunni extremists, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the Taliban. (Just as, inconveniently enough, back in the 1980s the CIA bankrolled and encouraged the training of Afghan "freedom fighters" in mounting car-bomb and even camel-bomb attacks in a terror campaign against Soviet officers and soldiers in Russian-occupied Afghan cities (techniques personally "endorsed," according to Steve Coll in his superb book Ghost Wars, by then-CIA Director William Casey).

But that was back in the day–just as, to randomly cite one more inconvenient piece of history also off the front page of the New York Times (Patrick Tyler, "Officers Say U.S. Aided Iraq in War Despite Use of Gas," August 18, 2002), years before we went into Iraq to take out Saddam’s by then nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, we helped him use them. The Reagan Pentagon had a program in which 60 officers from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency "were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments" to Saddam’s forces, so that he could, among other things, wield his chemical weapons against them more effectively. ("The Pentagon ‘wasn’t so horrified by Iraq’s use of gas,’ said one veteran of the program. ‘It was just another way of killing people — whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn’t make any difference.’")

Of course, when it comes to America’s oily history in Iraq, there is just about no backstory–not on the front page of the New York Times, not basically in the mainstream. Even at this late date, with the price of crude threatening to head for the $100 a barrel mark, Iraqi oil is–well, not exactly censored out–just (let’s face it) so darn embarrassing to write about. In fact, now that all those other explanations for invading Iraq — WMD, freedom, you name it — have long since flown the coop, there really is no explanation (except utter folly) for Bush’s invasion. So, better to move on, and quickly at that.

Unfortunately, history, even when not in sight, matters. And the deeper you go, as Michael Schwartz proves in a recent piece, "Why Did We Invade Iraq Anyway?", the more likely you are to find that gusher you’re looking for.