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.