Middle East

Watch Woolsey
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - If you want to figure out whether the administration of President George W Bush intends a crusade to remake the Middle East in the wake of Washington's presumed military victory in Iraq, watch what happens with R James Woolsey. A former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Woolsey is being pushed hard by his fellow neoconservatives in the Pentagon to play a key role in the post-Saddam Hussein US occupation.

Less well-known than his long-time associates and close friends, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and the former head of the Defense Policy Board (DPB) Richard Perle, Woolsey has long believed that Washington has a mission to use its overwhelming military power and its democratic ideals to transform the Arab world. And he has pushed for war with Iraq as hard as anyone, even before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

If he soon pops up in Baghdad, you can bet that the "clash of civilizations" is imminent, if it has not begun already. To Woolsey's mind, the US is already engaged in what he and many of his fellow neoconservatives call "World War IV", a struggle that pits the US and Britain against Islamist and Wahhabi extremists like al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden, Iranian theocrats, and Ba'ath Party "fascists" in Syria and Iraq. In their view, the Cold War was World War III.

Their list also includes other authoritarian rulers in the Arab world, such as Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and the ruling Saud family in Saudi Arabia, whose "Faustian bargain" with the Muslim Wahhabi sect, in Woolsey's view, is responsible for al-Qaeda and much of Islamist-related terrorism throughout the world.

"We want you nervous," Woolsey told Mubarak and the Saudi monarchy in a speech to students at the University of California at Los Angeles last week. "We want you to realize now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, that this country and its allies are on the march, and that we are on the side of those you most fear: we're on the side of your own people."

"Iraq can be seen as the first battle of the fourth world war," Woolsey declared in a NATO conference in Prague last November, in rhetoric that he has practiced and honed virtually since September 11. "After two hot world wars and one cold one that all began and were centered in Europe," he said, "the fourth world war is going to be for the Middle East."

A high-flying corporate lawyer, Woolsey, like other neoconservatives, began as a liberal Democrat in the 1960s who marched in the civil rights movement and even campaigned for the anti-Vietnam War candidate, Senator Eugene McCarthy. Unlike most neoconservatives, Woolsey served a brief stint in the army - albeit not in Indochina - before entering government, where he fell in with the rising stars of the neoconservative movement, including Perle and Wolfowitz, as an arms-control negotiator.

He served for two years in the Jimmy Carter administration as undersecretary of the navy, and was then recruited by Perle and other hardliners in the Reagan administration to return to arms control work, which he also pursued under the administration of George H W Bush.

Unhappy with the realism of the first Bush, and outraged by his failure to oust Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War, he supported Bill Clinton for president in 1992. To the enthusiasm of other neoconservatives, Clinton made him CIA director in 1993, but he resigned less than two years later, complaining that he and Clinton never established a close relationship.

But Woolsey maintained his obsession with Saddam, and in January 1998 signed a public letter to Clinton by the newly formed Project for the New American Century calling for the adoption of a "regime change" as the main US policy goal towards Iraq. In that same year, he lobbied hard for passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, which not only formalized regime change as a policy but allocated up to US$100 million for the Iraqi opposition, mainly the Iraq National Congress, headed by Ahmed Chalabi.

That lobby went into high gear immediately after September 11. Within just a few days, Perle convened the DPB to discuss how Washington could use the incidents as justification for attacking Iraq, and Woolsey was tasked to go to Europe to collect evidence that Saddam was linked to al-Qaeda. He spent many weeks on that mission, emerging with the story that an unnamed informant had told Czech intelligence that he had seen the leader of the September 11 skyjackers meet with an Iraqi agent in Prague in the April before the attack.

Even though the report was dismissed as not credible by US, British, French and Israeli intelligence agencies, it became the basis - endlessly repeated by Woolsey and other neoconservatives on television talk shows and in op-ed pages of major newspapers - of a major propaganda campaign against Iraq, even as Washington carried out its military campaign in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Woolsey even suggested that Saddam was behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center towers and the anthrax-bearing letters sent to various lawmakers after September 11, and that US intelligence agencies could not find the connection because they lacked sufficient imagination. The campaign largely worked: by late last year, well over one-half of the respondents in one key poll believed that Saddam was somehow linked to September 11.

Like other neoconservatives, Woolsey also appears to have somewhat ambivalent views about the democratic revolution he seeks to generate throughout the Arab world. "Only fear will re-establish respect for the US," he told the Washington Post when asked why US conquests in the Islamic world would not incite even more support for Islamist radicals and al-Qaeda.

When asked whether he would retain his enthusiasm for democracy in the Arab world if tomorrow democratic elections were won by Islamist parties hostile to Washington, he joked, "Well, then perhaps the election should be the day after tomorrow."

Still, Woolsey insists that he opposes a clash of civilizations and that he is counting on the empowerment of silent majorities throughout the Arab world to see the value of allying themselves with Washington. "The key alliance here, just as it was in the Cold War, over and above our military power, is going to be with the moderate and sensible and reasonable Muslims who constitute the vast majority of the world's Muslims and their understanding that we are on their side, just as we were on the side of the people of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the Cold War."

(Inter Press Service)
Apr 8, 2003

In the pipeline: More regime change (Apr 4, '03)

Rumsfeld under three-pronged attack (Apr 4, '03)

Pentagon squares off against Powell, Europe (Apr 3, '03)

Splits emerge over post-Saddam plan (Mar 22, '03)


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