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The war on Iraq:
Conceived in Israel

Part three

By Stephen J. Sniegoski

Posted February 10, 2003


World War IV

In the October 29, 2002, issue of The Weekly Standard, Kagan and Kristol predict a wider Middle Eastern war:

When all is said and done, the conflict in Afghanistan will be to the war on terrorism what the North Africa campaign was to World War II: an essential beginning on the path to victory. But compared with what looms over the horizon — a wide-ranging war in locales from Central Asia to the Middle East and, unfortunately, back again to the United States — Afghanistan will prove but an opening battle.... But this war will not end in Afghanistan. It is going to spread and engulf a number of countries in conflicts of varying intensity. It could well require the use of American military power in multiple places simultaneously. It is going to resemble the clash of civilizations that everyone has hoped to avoid. [42]

Kagan and Kristol seem to be looking forward to this gigantic conflagration.

In a November 20, 2002, article in The Wall Street Journal, Eliot Cohen dubs the conflict "World War IV," a term picked up by other neocons. Cohen proclaims that "The enemy in this war is not 'terrorism' ... but militant Islam.... Afghanistan constitutes just one front in World War IV, and the battles there just one campaign." Cohen calls not only for a U.S. attack on Iraq but also for the elimination of the Islamic regime in Iran, which "would be no less important a victory in this war than the annihilation of bin Laden." [43]

Critics of a wider war in the Middle East quickly recognized the neoconservative war-propaganda effort. Analyzing the situation in September 2002, paleoconservative [44] Scott McConnell wrote: "For the neoconservatives ... bin Laden is but a sideshow.... They hope to use September 11 as pretext for opening a wider war in the Middle East. Their prime, but not only, target is Saddam Hussein's Iraq, even if Iraq has nothing to do with the World Trade Center assault." [45]

However, McConnell mistakenly considered the neocon stance to be only a minority view within the Bush administration:

The neocon wish list is a recipe for igniting a huge conflagration between the United States and countries throughout the Arab world, with consequences no one could reasonably pretend to calculate. Support for such a war — which could turn quite easily into a global war — is a minority position within the Bush administration (assistant secretary of state Paul Wolfowitz is its main advocate) and the country. But it presently dominates the main organs of conservative journalistic opinion, the Wall Street Journal, National Review, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Times, as well as Marty Peretz's neoliberal New Republic. In a volatile situation, such organs of opinion could matter. [46]

Expressing a similar view, veteran columnist Georgie Anne Geyer observed:

The "Get Iraq" campaign ... started within days of the September bombings.... It emerged first and particularly from pro-Israeli hard-liners in the Pentagon such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and advisor Richard Perle, but also from hard-line neoconservatives, and some journalists and congressmen.

Soon it became clear that many, although not all, were in the group that is commonly called in diplomatic and political circles the "Israeli-firsters," meaning that they would always put Israeli policy, or even their perception of it, above anything else.

Geyer believed that this line of thinking was "being contained by cool heads in the administration, but that could change at any time." [47]


Lighting up the recesses of Bush

Neoconservatives have presented the September 11 atrocities as a lightning bolt to make President Bush aware of his destiny: destroying the evil of world terrorism. Ironically enough, Podhoretz adopted Christian terminology to describe a changed Bush:

A transformed — or, more precisely, a transfigured — George W. Bush appeared before us. In an earlier article ... I suggested, perhaps presumptuously, that out of the blackness of smoke and fiery death let loose by September 11, a kind of revelation, blazing with a very different fire of its own, lit up the recesses of Bush's mind and heart and soul. Which is to say that, having previously been unsure as to why he should have been chosen to become President of the United States, George W. Bush now knew that the God to whom, as a born-again Christian, he had earlier committed himself had put him in the Oval Office for a purpose. He had put him there to lead a war against the evil of terrorism. [48]

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, administration heavyweights debated the scope of the "war on terrorism." According to Bob Woodward's Bush at War, as early as September 12 Rumsfeld "raised the question of attacking Iraq. Why shouldn't we go against Iraq, not just al Qaeda? he asked. Rumsfeld was speaking not only for himself when he raised the question. His deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, was committed to a policy that would make Iraq a principal target of the first round in the war on terrorism." [49]

Woodward adds, "The terrorist attacks of September 11 gave the United States a new window to go after Hussein." On September 15, Wolfowitz put forth military arguments to justify a U.S. attack on Iraq rather than Afghanistan. Wolfowitz expressed the view that "attacking Afghanistan would be uncertain," voicing the fear that American troops would be "bogged down in mountain fighting.... In contrast, Iraq was a brittle, oppressive regime that might break easily. It was doable." [50]

However, the neoconservatives were not able to achieve their goal of a wider war at the outset, in part because of the opposition of Secretary of State Powell, who held that the war should focus on the actual perpetrators of September 11. (That was how most Americans actually envisioned the war.) Perhaps Powell's most telling argument was his declaration that an American attack on Iraq would lack international support. He claimed that a U.S. victory in Afghanistan would enhance the United States's ability to deal militarily with Iraq at a later time, "if we can prove that Iraq had a role" in September 11. [51]

Powell diverged from the neocon hawks in his emphasis on the need for international support, as opposed to American unilateralism, but an even greater difference lay in his contention that the "war on terror" had to be directly linked to the perpetrators of September 11 — Osama bin Laden's network. Powell publicly repudiated Wolfowitz's call for "ending states" with the response that "we're after ending terrorism. And if there are states and regimes, nations, that support terrorism, we hope to persuade them that it is in their interest to stop doing that. But I think 'ending terrorism' is where I would leave it and let Mr. Wolfowitz speak for himself." [52]

Very significantly, however, while the "war on terrorism" would not begin with an attack on Iraq, military plans were being made for just such an endeavor. A Top Secret document outlining the war plan for Afghanistan, which Bush signed on September 17, 2001, included, as a minor point, instructions to the Pentagon to also start making plans for an attack on Iraq. [53]

Bush's public pronouncements evolved rapidly in the direction of expanding the war to Iraq. On November 21, 2001, in a speech at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, he proclaimed that "Afghanistan is just the beginning of the war against terror. There are other terrorists who threaten America and our friends, and there are other nations willing to sponsor them. We will not be secure as a nation until all these threats are defeated. Across the world, and across the years, we will fight these evil ones, and we will win." [54]

On November 26, in response to a question whether Iraq was one of the terrorist nations that he had in mind, Bush said: "Well, my message is, is that if you harbor a terrorist, you're a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist, you're a terrorist. If you develop weapons of mass destruction that you want to terrorize the world, you'll be held accountable." Note that Bush included possession of weapons of mass destruction as an indicator of "terrorism." And none of that terrorist activity necessarily related to the September 11 attacks. [55]


Transformation complete

The transformation to support of a wider war was complete with Bush's January 29, 2002, State of the Union speech, in which he officially decoupled the "war on terrorism'' from the specific events of 9/11. Bush did not even mention bin Laden or al Qaeda. The danger now was said to come primarily from three countries — Iran, Iraq, and North Korea — which he dubbed "an axis of evil" that allegedly threatened the world with their weapons of mass destruction. According to Bush:

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic. [56]

The phrase "axis of evil" was coined by Bush's neoconservative speechwriter, David Frum. [57]

By April 2002, Bush was publicly declaring that American policy was to secure "regime change" in Iraq. And in June, he stated that the United States would launch preemptive strikes on those countries that threatened the United States. [58] According to what passes as the conventional wisdom, Iraq now posed such a threat. Moreover, by the spring of 2002, General Tommy R. Franks, chief of U.S. Central Command, began giving Bush private briefings every three or four weeks on the planning for a new Iraq war. [59]

Neoconservatives both within and without the administration sought a unilateral U.S. attack on Iraq that would not be encumbered by the conflicting goals of any coalition partners. That push was countered by Powell's efforts to persuade Bush that UN sanction would be necessary to justify a U.S. attack, which the President ultimately found persuasive. That slowed the rush to war, but it also represented a move by Powell away from his original position that Washington should make war on Iraq only if Baghdad were proven to have been involved in the September 11 terrorism.

The UN Security Council decided that UN inspectors, with sweeping inspection powers, would determine whether Iraq was violating her pledge to destroy all of her weapons of mass destruction. UN Security Council Resolution 1441 (November 8, 2002) places the burden of proof on Iraq to show that she no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction. The resolution states that any false statements or omissions in the Iraqi weapons declaration would constitute a further material breach by Iraq of her obligations. That could set in motion discussions by the Security Council on considering the use of military force against Iraq.

While some have claimed that this might mean that war would be put off, [60] it also allows the United States to use the new UN resolution as a legal justification for war. In fact, the United States could choose to enforce the resolution through war without additional UN authorization. As British journalist Robert Fisk writes: "The United Nations can debate any Iraqi non-compliance with weapons inspectors, but the United States will decide whether Iraq has breached UN resolutions. In other words, America can declare war without UN permission." [61]


To part four


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