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    Middle East
     Nov 21, 2006
Fleeing self-destruction is common sense
By Henry C K Liu

Success can sometimes vindicate faulty policies in the short run. Still, such policies always foil ultimate success in the long run. The simple truth is that final victory is only achievable with sound policies. But when even short-term success is out of reach with a faulty policy, a quick and clean disengagement is just common sense.

The Iraq war proves that the US administration's "war on terror" has been a monumental strategic error, with its reliance on

regime-change militarism creating by the day more danger than security to the United States and to world peace, with its geopolitical unilateralism depriving the US of support from the rest of the world. Wars, especially one waged against as elusive an enemy as terrorism, cannot be fought by hitting wrong targets indiscriminately.

The terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, altered global geopolitics and upset the established realpolitik agenda. The US response to those unprecedented attacks on its homeland has been overwhelmingly militaristic, with a vengeful declaration of a "war on terror". This is a strategic overshoot, because terrorism is an amorphous organism that cannot be eliminated by military operations, however overwhelming, but only by social and political justice.

Further, in a world order of sovereign states, war can only be declared on and fought between states. Thus the US was compelled to conjure up the notion of "rogue states" that gelled into an "axis of evil" allegedly linked to state-sponsored terrorism. Such evil states could then be identified as legitimate targets for regime change.

This was a new approach in US foreign policy. The United States entered World War II to resist expansionism of the Axis powers that upset the existing world order. All through the Cold War, the US aimed to contain communist expansion against existing states. In 1990, the US, in the name of preserving regional and world order, went to war to reverse a regime change by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, a "rogue state" in Iraq's eyes.

To invade another state in a "war on terror", evidence of a direct link between the targeted regime and terrorists is required or, if such evidence is missing, intelligence data must be manipulated to support the pretext for predetermined war.

The decision to go to war against Iraq forced the US administration of President George W Bush to manipulate intelligence data otherwise unsupportive of war. Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, then vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson on September 9, 2006: "The absolute cynical manipulation, deliberately cynical manipulation, to shape American public opinion and 69% of the people, at that time, it worked, they said, 'We want to go to war.' Including me. The difference is after I began to learn about some of that intelligence I went down to the Senate floor and I said, 'My vote was wrong.'"

Rockefeller accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence data to falsify Iraq's link to al-Qaeda and provide a disingenuous pretext to invade, thus distorting the purpose and diminishing the effectiveness of the "war on terror".

Further, the Iraq war is showing that terrorism cannot be fought effectively with state terror because a war on terrorism provides a hotbed for terrorist groups to mushroom faster than military operations can eradicate them. An intransigent prolongation of a faulty policy to fight terrorism by off-target unilateral militarism will only lead to self-destruction of the warmaking nation.

It is clear that the US electorate in this month's mid-term elections expressed growing dissatisfaction with the lack of success in the Iraq war, notwithstanding the Bush administration's argumentative defense on the proper definition of "success". Bush defines success in Iraq as an unflinching will to "stay the course" and to decry as a moral deficit the idea of "cut and run" in the face of an evil enemy.

The war party dismisses the imperative of not sacrificing in vain the lives of helpless US soldiers caught up in the random hazard of a collapsing edifice of state from which the US field command is unable to provide effective protection. The destruction of the Iraqi state was pointlessly set off three years earlier by an ill-conceived US policy of senseless regime change. Continuing US occupation of Iraq only impedes needed nation-building in the shattered Iraqi political landscape. Foreign occupation will not bring about sectarian harmony, social stability or cessation of hostility toward foreign occupiers and collaborators.

More than 2,800 US soldiers had been killed and more than 20,000 wounded in Iraq by election time on November 7, and more can be expected with every passing day, with no end in sight and for no clear definable purpose.

The size of the US occupation force of 140,000 is pitifully inadequate for controlling a country the size of Iraq, with a population of 27 million and an area of 450,000 square kilometers. New York City alone, with a population of just 8 million, has a police force of more than 40,000. And the police in New York are not occupiers of a hostile foreign nation and do not have to face insurgents willing to die to remove them. Attempts to rebuild an Iraqi police force and military with reliable loyalty to the new regime have been thwarted by effective insurgent targeting of new recruits with lethal castigation for treason.

The US-installed puppet government of Prime Minister Nuri Mamal al-Maliki cannot hope to command any respect from the Iraqi people as long as US occupation continues. Yet as soon as US forces withdraw, the puppet government put in place by foreign occupation will fall from lack of domestic popular support. Influential sectarian leaders such as Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, as they allow themselves to be co-opted into the evolving governing circle under US tutelage, face a predictable loss of support from their core constituents and desertion by radical members of the militia they supposedly lead.

Accurate information on the size and strength of the Iraqi insurgency is hard to come by, but according to GlobalSecurity.org, "In January 2005, Iraqi intelligence-service director General Mohamed Abdullah Shahwani said that the insurgency consisted of at least 40,000 hardcore fighters, out of a total of more than 200,000 part-time fighters and volunteers who provide intelligence, logistics and shelter."

This means the insurgent force is larger than the 130,000-strong US occupation force. With each passing day, the size and strength of the insurgency is increasing, possibly at an accelerating rate. Historical data suggest that a ratio of 20:1 is necessary for an occupation force to deal with, let alone eliminate, an indigenous insurgency. This ratio would put the needed size of the US occupation force at 4 million, larger than the entire US military. At the current troop level of 130,000, US forces perform only one function: that of a sitting-duck symbol of foreign occupation targeted by all sides of the resistance. This is the strongest argument for immediate withdrawal, unless the US is prepared to send in its entire military and risk it on one single hot spot in a world of numerous hot spots created by the US policy of unilateral militarism.

GlobalSecurity continued, "Shahwani said the resistance enjoyed wide backing in the Sunni provinces of Baghdad, Babel, Salahuddin, Diyala, Nineveh and Tamim. Shahwani said the Ba'ath, with a core fighting strength of more than 20,000, had split into three factions. The main one, still owing allegiance to jailed dictator Saddam Hussein, is operating out of Syria. It is led by Saddam's half-brother Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan."

Hassan was No 36 (six of diamonds) on the Pentagon's list of 55 most wanted, with the US government offering a US$1 million bounty on his head, until his capture on February 27, 2005, by Syrian authorities who handed him over to Iraq as a goodwill gesture. The faction is now led by Saddam's former aide, Mohamed Yunis al-Ahmed, also with a bounty of $1 million on his head. It provides funding to its connections in Mosul, Samarra, Baquba, Kirkuk and Tikrit for reconstructing the Ba'ath Party.

Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, deputy chief of the Revolution Command Council under Saddam, now heads a new wanted list with a $10 million bounty on his head. He was No 6 and the king of clubs on the original Pentagon list. He is believed to be operating underground in Iraq as an operational leader of the insurgents. Two other factions have split from Saddam, but have yet to mount any attacks. Other Islamist factions range from that of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed last June 8, to Ansar al-Sunna and Ansar al-Islam.

The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that roughly 1,000 foreign Islamic jihadis have joined the Iraqi insurgency. And there is no doubt many of these have had a dramatic effect on perceptions of the insurgency through high-profile videotaped kidnappings and beheadings. However, US occupation commanders believe that the greatest obstacles to stability are the native insurgents that predominate in the Sunni triangle. Significantly, many secular Sunni leaders were being surpassed in influence by Sunni militants. This development mirrors the rise of Muqtada al-Sadr vis-a-vis the more moderate Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. On Iraqi domestic political dynamics, continuing US occupation can contribute no positive or constructive influence.

By their votes, the US public showed that they measured success in Iraq very differently from the way the Bush administration did. More precisely, voters measured the lack success in Iraq by the rising number of US soldiers and Iraqi police and civilians killed and wounded every day for three long years for no achievable purpose or discernable progress. The public saw only failure in the worsening political fragmentation, social instability and general chaos exacerbated by an unwanted and unhelpful US presence. They were disgusted with the incessant, shockingly graphic news reports of atrocious tactics forced into routine practice by a desperate occupation force in distress and consumed by fatigue, which betray otherwise laudable US moral values.

Also, reports of widespread corruption associated with reconstruction contracts and war profiteering insult the US sense of business ethics. In the meantime, civil liberty and personal freedom are visibly curtailed at home in the name of homeland security, the threat to which does not seem to have been reduced by three years of a mismanaged "war on terror".

Even the neo-conservatives who were early vocal proponents of the US-led invasion of Iraq have abandoned the Bush administration, complaining that while the war aims remain valid and policies correct, the implementation has been wanting. They now say a dysfunctional administration has turned sound US policy into an unmitigated disaster.

Card-carrying neo-con Richard Perle, an assistant secretary of defense under the late president Ronald Reagan and former chairman of a committee of Pentagon policy advisers early in the current administration, reportedly told Vanity Fair magazine for its upcoming January issue that "had he seen at the start of the war in 2003 where it would go, he probably would not have advocated an invasion to depose Saddam Hussein". Perle added that he would have advocated instead "other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists".

Yet Perle must know by now that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq after the invasion. It is not possible for Iraq to supply terrorists with something it does not have. So the pre-war phobia was only a neo-con fantasy. Apparently neo-conservatives do not make policy based on facts, nor will they learn from facts. Still, Perle unwittingly confessed that there were "other strategies" available but war was the neo-cons' strategy of choice. By extension, there must also be other strategies than "stay the course" now that war has proved to be a disaster of self-destruction.

Three days before the mid-term elections, White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe was reported to have said, responding to the upcoming Perle article, "We appreciate the Monday-morning quarterbacking, but the president has a plan to succeed in Iraq, and we are going forward with it." The morning after the election returns that showed the Republicans suffering, in Bush's own words, "a thumping", a drastic reversal of fortune from the "Road to Victory" engineered by White House adviser Karl Rove only two years ago in the 2004 presidential election, the old "plan to succeed" in Iraq was history, with the forced resignation of Perle's former boss, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, symbol of the bankrupt Iraq-invasion policy. Logic would suggest that any new plan to succeed cannot preclude quick disengagement.

Kenneth Adelman, a former Defense Policy Board member, reportedly told Vanity Fair he is now "crushed" by the dismal performance of Rumsfeld. A year before the war, Adelman predicted that demolishing Saddam's military power and liberating Iraq would be a "cakewalk". But he told the magazine he was mistaken in his high opinion of Bush's national-security team. Having declared in the Washington Post on March 23, 2003, that he had "no doubt we're going to find big stores of weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq after the war, Adelman now laments that neo-conservatism, "the idea of using our power for moral good in the world", has been undeservedly discredited with the public by the Bush team's incompetence and "it's not going to sell" after Iraq.

While the incompetence charge may have some validity, the assertion on the validity of neo-conservatism does not. Moral good cannot come from the misuse of power.

Failure is an orphan. There is now much backbiting among those associated with the Bush administration who had pushed for the ill-fated invasion of Iraq. Perle told Vanity Fair that "you have to hold the president responsible" because he didn't recognize "disloyalty" by some in the administration. He said the White House's National Security Council, then run by now-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, did not serve Bush properly. What he meant was that the NSC presented for presidential decision a balanced and complete range of views from within the administration, including those of the State Department that Perle considered "disloyal", rather than promoting only the neo-con-dominated Department of Defense. Yet anyone familiar with the official mandate of the NSC knows that to present a comprehensive range of views is precisely its official function.

Douglas Feith, former under-secretary of defense for policy and a charter member of Rumsfeld's gang of neo-cons at the Pentagon, loyally wrote in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard a defensive his-dog-loves-him political eulogy for Rumsfeld, his dismissed boss. According to the Nelson Report, Feith, standing in for the defense secretary at a 2003 interagency "principals meeting" on the Middle East, gave his summary of the position of the Pentagon, after which then-national security adviser Rice reportedly quipped, "Thanks, Doug, but when we want the Israeli position we'll invite the ambassador." The ruinous role Feith played in shaping catastrophic US policy on the Mideast and in Iraq has been amply covered by Pulitzer-deserving journalist Jim Lobe in Asia Times Online (see Loss of Feith in Douglas, November 7, 2003).

But the voice that really hurt came from the military rank and file. The Military Times Media Group, a Gannett subsidiary that publishes Army Times and other military-oriented periodicals, the voice of the men and women doing the actual fighting, announced three days before the mid-term elections it would run an editorial on election eve again calling for Bush to fire Rumsfeld. The first such call had been in May 2004, when the Abu Ghraib prison torture and abuse scandal broke.

The Military Times Media Group editorial, published the day before the elections in four periodicals, said active-duty military leaders were beginning to voice misgivings about the war's planning, execution and dimming prospects for success.

"Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large," the editorial said. "His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt." The editorial concluded: "Regardless of which party wins November 7, the time has come, Mr President, to face the hard bruising truth: Donald Rumsfeld must go."

Army Times editor Robert Hodierne insisted the timing was not prompted by the elections. Rather, it was inspired by Bush's statement earlier in the month that he wanted Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney in their posts through the end of his presidential term. What the editor did not know was that Bush, by his own admission to the press the day after the elections, had already been working behind the scenes to replace Rumsfeld with former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Robert Gates. It was another occasion that the president did not tell the country the truth.

Conservatives have opposed the neo-con war from its beginning. After three disastrous years, even Republican leaders in Congress began to criticize Bush's policies on Iraq. Senator John Warner of Virginia, Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, returning from a trip to Iraq in early October, described the situation in Iraq as "drifting sideways" and suggested that the US should consider "a change of course" if the violence there did not diminish soon. The failure of the Bush White House to respond to this timely opportunity to announce a policy review as its "October surprise" relating to a key campaign issue allowed the Democrats to turn the Warner description into their own "October surprise" in elections. Many Republicans have since been furious at the hugely inopportune timing of the White House's Iraq-policy shift, delaying it until after the thumping at the voting booths, which was anticipated given that Iraq was a key issue in the elections. It was a classic case of closing the barn door after the horse had bolted.

The "coalition of the willing" is also dissolving. Last month, General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British army, said Britain's presence was contributing to violence in Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair conceded on the new English-language channel of Al-Jazeera TV - with 40 million viewers worldwide, though still unavailable in the US - that the invasion of Iraq by the US and Britain had been a "disaster" and offered his frank assessment of the prospect that the country could descend into civil war. British Minister for Industry Margaret Hodge, a long-standing political ally, described the conflict as Blair's "big mistake in foreign affairs", accusing him of "moral imperialism".

Bipartisan doubt about the war had not been absent in the US Congress. The Iraq Study Group (ISG), also known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission, is a 10-person bipartisan panel appointed on March 15 by the Republican-controlled Congress, charged with delivering an independent assessment of the situation in Iraq in the US-led Iraq war and occupation. The idea of a panel was first proposed by Virginia Republican Congressman Frank Wolf, who, being in tune with the public on the war, easily beat Democratic challenger Judy Feder with 57% vs 41% of votes cast. Gates, who served as CIA director under president George H W Bush, was a member of the panel until he was replaced by Lawrence Eagleburger on November 10 when Bush nominated Gates to replace Rumsfeld. The move from Rumsfeld to Gates is widely interpreted as a policy shift on Iraq from ideology-driven to pragmatism-driven.

Although the final ISG report will not be released for months, media reports have hinted at anticipated recommendations of a phased withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraq and direct US dialogue with Syria and Iran over Iraq and the Middle East in a regional context. President Bush and his national-security team met on November 13 with members of the bipartisan commission to devise a new course for the unpopular war in Iraq. The group had a closed-door joint conference at the White House with Bush, Cheney and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and individual meetings with Secretary of State Rice, Rumsfeld, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, and CIA Director Michael Hayden. They also talked with Zalmay Khalizad, US ambassador in Baghdad.

During a visit to Iraq earlier, ISG members met with key players across the Iraqi political spectrum, reportedly including a representative of Muqtada; President Jalal Talabani; Prime Minister Maliki; and Abdul-Aziz Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a large, influential, and moderate Shi'ite political organization formerly based in Iran.

Commission members met also with other secular leaders, including even leaders of the Iraq Communist Party. The exploitation of the Iraqi communists to neutralize the influence of Iranian Islamic theocracy appears to be part of the new game plan, a reversal of US Cold War strategy of promoting Islamic fundamentalism to contain communism in the Middle East.

Attempts to include Sunnis in the new government, seen as key to establishing law and order and neutralizing insurgency, whose supporters are largely Sunnis, have not been successful. Yet the Shi'ite bloc, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, failed to win an absolute majority in the December 15, 2005 election, despite the fact that Shi'ites constitute more than 60% of the population. The Alliance took 128 of the 275 seats, Kurdish parties 53 and the main Sunni Arab bloc 44 seats. Sunnis still allege poll fraud and continue to challenge the result. Thus the Alliance must govern with a coalition and has been forced to set up committees to hold talks with Kurdish and Sunni groups in the new parliament, trying to form a coalition with Sunni factions but on condition that they do more to calm the insurgency. It is a demand that moderate Sunni politicians cannot meet because their cooperation with the coalition government will set them up as treasonous targets for insurgents.

Muqtada al-Sadr, the young Shi'ite cleric, was given the Ministry of Health portfolio in the coalition government on the condition that he would disband his militia after clashing with US forces in April 2005. Muqtada cannot afford an image of having been co-opted into the US-controlled evolving governing establishment, lest he face a loss of support from his core constituents and desertion by radical members of the militia he supposedly controls. The Sadr militia continues to be a potent and potential threat to both occupational troops and Iraq's fledgling government. The Mehdi Army controls Sadr City, a Shi'ite stronghold in northeast Baghdad, flouting government-imposed curfews in the area. US troops remain largely outside Sadr City, and the anemic Iraqi police and security forces dare not challenge Muqtada's forces there.

A rumored proposal by the Baker Commission is a coup in Baghdad by the new US-trained Iraqi military, reconstituted from scattered elements of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist army, to oust the ineffective Maliki coalition government and replace it with one led by a more effective figure, former Ba'athist Iyad Allawi, along with a presidential pardon and political rehabilitation for Saddam. In preparation for the parliamentary elections that took place in Iraq last December, Allawi formed an alliance of diverse political groups, including secular Sunni and Shi'ites and the Iraq Communist Party under the Iraqi National List, which did not score well at the polls because of CIA obstruction. Allawi is a blood relative and political rival of Ahmad Chalabi, a prominent anti-Saddam exile who was hailed by neo-cons as the "George Washington of Iraq". Chalabi, now disgraced and abandoned by his US handlers, was the person who convinced Rumsfeld that US invasion troops would be welcomed with flowers and kisses by the Iraqis and that establishing democracy would be a "cakewalk" in Iraq.

Ironically, Chalabi told The New York Times Magazine in a November 5 front-cover profile, two days before the mid-term elections, that "America's big mistake was failing to step out of the way after the fall of Saddam and let the Iraqis take charge". Chalabi maintained that a new Iraqi government would have acted even more harshly than Saddam's government, "even brutally, to regain control of the country", and the Iraqis would have been without foreigners to blame. They would have "appreciated a firm hand". There would be no guerrilla insurgency and if there were, it would be a small one that the new Iraqi government would quickly ferret out and crush on its own before it had a chance to spread. An Iraqi government would have brought Muqtada into the regime and house-trained him, and the US soldiers would have been gone long before now.

Chalabi's formula was a reintroduction of a tougher version of Saddam's ruling style, which he asserted most Iraqis recognize as fitting for Iraq's political culture. Iraqi domestic politics and Arabic geopolitics are Byzantine in complexity, and beyond the comprehension of most Western "experts", be they neo-liberals or neo-conservatives, ideologues or pragmatists. As Colin Powell said after the first Gulf War in explaining why the George H W Bush administration did not topple Saddam: "You get rid of Saddam, you get another Saddam worse than the first Saddam," or words to that effect.

While the Baker Commission's final report is not expected to be released before the end of the year, preemptive criticism has already been launched by Michael Rubin, neo-conservative editor of the Middle East Quarterly and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. In an article in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard on October 30 titled "Conclusion first, debate afterward", Rubin attacks the Baker Commission as "tilted", resurrecting failed old approaches of geopolitical pragmatism as new promising approaches devoid of "moral clarity". Rubin pointed out that in May 2001, ISG co-head Lee Hamilton co-chaired an Atlantic Council study group that called on Washington to adopt a "new approach" to Iran centered on engagement with Tehran. And, in 2004, former commission member Gates co-chaired another study group that called for a "new approach" of engagement toward Iran.

The problem, according to Rubin, is that "this 'new approach' hasn't been good for US national security", implying that the neo-con-inspired invasion has been good for US national security, a claim publicly challenged by Jay Rockefeller. "The world would be better off today if the US had never invaded Iraq, even if it means Saddam Hussein would still be running Iraq," Rockefeller told CBS News in September.

Rubin disclosed that in the weeks prior to the Iraq war, Washington once again allegedly naively engaged Tehran in a move of confused moral clarity. Zalmay Khalilzad, the current US ambassador to Baghdad, who at the time was the president's chief Iraq adviser on the NSC, solicited a non-interference pledge in postwar Iraqi politics from Iran's United Nations ambassador in New York, in exchange for a US bomb attack on and blockade of the Mujahedeen al-Khalq camp, an Iranian opposition group inside Iraq. In February 2000 the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, General Rahim Safavi, had called on Iraq to take action to curtail the group's activities, warning that if Baghdad did not take action, Iran's armed forces would respond strongly. Iranian conservative cleric Ayatollah Mohammed-Taqi Mesbah Yazdi had suggested during the 2000 election that the CIA had infiltrated Iran's reformist government and bribed moderate journalists as well as supported Iranian opposition groups in Iraq. These Iranian opposition groups in Iraq, former US allies against Iran, became priority military targets of the US invasion force.

Of course, the prospect of Iranian non-interference in Shi'ite politics in Iraq after the fall of Saddam or anywhere else in the region is only neo-con utopian fantasy. Yet Rubin had the chutzpah to write: "Effective realism requires abandoning the utopian conviction that engagement always works and partners are always sincere." Rubin warned that in Iraq, "perception trumps reality". Actually, in neo-con-dominated Washington, more respect for reality would be an improvement.

Rubin attacked Baker for his role in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 in failing to support rebellious Kurds and Shi'ites who responded to Bush Sr's called upon Iraqis to "take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside". But had the US intervened militarily in Iraqi domestic politics in 1991, it would have landed in the same trap in which the US finds itself in 2006. In 1991, the US wisely allowed Saddam to retain control of Iraq to avoid a collapse of balance of power in the region, to contain the rise of Iran through the Shi'ite connection, and to avoid risk of destabilizing Turkey, which has a large Kurdish minority. Baker's pragmatic regional geopolitical approach in the State Department served US security interests infinitely better than the ideological "moral clarity" fantasy of the neo-con gang in the Defense Department under Rumsfeld.

Neo-con spinners, now out of government, accused Baker of bringing "the left" back into US foreign policy after "the left" had been purged by the Bush Jr administration. To the neo-con extremists, the "left" is centrist-right Republican. It is a familiar charge from the likes of Douglas Feith, the notorious former Pentagon official who was investigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee for allegedly distorting prewar intelligence on Iraq to support invasion. Feith was also questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in relation to the passing of confidential Pentagon documents by one of his Defense Department underlings to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which in turn passed them to the Israeli Embassy.

The neo-conservative agenda is promoted by a well-oiled propaganda machine manned by a team of intellectuals that includes David Wurmser, former adviser to Vice President Cheney and aide to the former under secretary of state for arms control and international security, now unconfirmed Ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Others in the neo-con team include William Luti of the Office of Special Plans (OSP), a secretive Pentagon outfit whose players included Feith and Abram Shulsky, a Leo Strauss scholar and intelligence expert associated with the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC). In 2002, Shulsky co-authored with Gary Schmitt, the director of the PNAC, Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence, which argued that "truth is not the goal" of intelligence operations, but "victory" is. It is a step beyond Dr Joseph Goebbels, who at least only applied that perverse principle to propaganda, but had the sanity to stop before applying it to intelligence.

The neo-conservative view on bureaucratic interagency infighting over policy turf is that the State Department, supported by the analysis section of the CIA, is basically a seditious center of resistance to the "global war on terrorism" (GWOT), lately reframed as the "global war on extremism" (GWOE). The State Department's multilateral diplomacy is opposed by the hawks in the Department of Defense, supported by the covert-operation section of the CIA, who promote US "exceptionalism" through unilateral militarism. While Joseph McCarthy saw communists infesting the State Department of the 1950s, neo-cons see multilateral pragmatists in the State Department of the 21st century aiding and abetting the enemies of democracy by negotiating with them, jeopardizing a foreign policy based on "moral clarity".

According to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, Luti and his OSP cohorts were charged with assembling intelligence on Iraq that would support the Defense Department's case for invasion. The OSP, conceived by Paul Wolfowitz, began its work soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks, bringing "a crucial change of direction" in US intelligence from objective information gathering to supporting a predetermined agenda, relying on predisposed data provided by the Iraqi National Congress, the anti-Saddam exile group headed by Chalabi.

The OSP neo-con agenda was echoed by salon intellectuals outside of government, such as Christopher Hitchens, whose aim in life is to be the living celebrity who proves that if you go far enough toward the left you would end up a neo-con, and William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, home and incubator of neo-conservatism and owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch.

Hitchens, a former Oxford Trotskyite who morphed opportunistically into a noisy neo-conservative after September 11 to earn from British anti-war member of parliament George Galloway the label of "drink-sodden former Troskyist popinjay", now acts as a fervent evangelical for his new-found pro-war cause. In a Slate piece titled "Losing the Iraq war - can the left really want us to?" Hitchens presented a post-modernist deconstruction of the case for war:
There is a sort of unspoken feeling, underlying the entire debate on the war, that if you favored it or favor it, you stress the good news, and if you opposed or oppose it you stress the bad. I do not find myself on either side of this false dichotomy. I think that those who supported regime change should confront the idea of defeat, and what it would mean for Iraq and America and the world, every day. It is a combat defined very much by the nature of the enemy, which one might think was so obviously and palpably evil that the very thought of its victory would make any decent person shudder. It is, moreover, a critical front in a much wider struggle against a vicious and totalitarian ideology.

It never seemed to me that there was any alternative to confronting the reality of Iraq, which was already on the verge of implosion and might, if left to rot and crash, have become to the region what the Congo is to Central Africa: a vortex of chaos and misery that would draw in opportunistic interventions from Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Bad as Iraq may look now, it is nothing to what it would have become without the steadying influence of coalition forces. None of the many blunders in postwar planning make any essential difference to that conclusion. Indeed, by drawing attention to the ruined condition of the Iraqi society and its infrastructure, they serve to reinforce the point.
Hitchens' is a cafe-society argument for moral imperialism that relies on the alleged evil nature of the enemy. Aside from the dubious usurpation of the godly prerogative to decide what is evil, the argument promotes a rationalization for eliminating evil with more evil. In essence, when one gets past the convoluted Oxford prose, it is a tiresome rehash of the old "domino theory" of the Vietnam War era. The US "lost" China to evil communism, as it did in Vietnam after French imperialism, having lost Algeria to national independence, cut and ran from evil Vietnamese communism after the disaster at Dien Bien Phu. Yet none of these countries nor the region turned into a "vortex of chaos and misery" following the expulsion of Western imperialism. This very weekend, the president of the United States was in Hanoi to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit amid talk of an "Asian century".

In a September 2005 article titled "A war to be proud of", Hitchens wrote with a straight face: "Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of coalition troops in Baghdad." The remark has since become a late-night TV comedy line.

Notwithstanding the brash assertions of the likes of Hitchens, the disastrous war in Iraq was a key factor in the Republican defeat in the mid-term elections. The replacement of Rumsfeld was in motion even before election day. After the elections, victorious Democrats immediately called for a phased pullout of US troops. "We have to tell Iraqis that the open-ended commitment is over," said Carl Levin, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, adding that he wanted phased troop withdrawals to begin in a few months and that some Republican senators were preparing to back him.

The Baker Commission reportedly thinks that "staying the course" is an untenable long-term strategy, and is looking at two options, both of which amount to a reversal of the current Bush administration stance. One is the phased withdrawal of US troops, and the other is to seek the help of Syria and Iran to stop the fighting.

Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, whose views have been sought by the Baker Commission, told the British Broadcasting Corp on Sunday that military victory is no longer possible in Iraq. Presenting a bleak prognosis on Iraq, Kissinger said the US must enter dialogue with Iraq's regional neighbors, including Iran, if progress is to be made in the region. But Kissinger warned against a rapid withdrawal of coalition troops, saying it could destabilize Iraq's neighbors and cause a long-lasting conflict.

History shows that in Vietnam, more than four years would pass from the time the need to withdraw was recognized by US president Lyndon Johnson to the time his successor, Richard Nixon, was actually able to withdraw honorably. It is hard to see how the US can afford that kind of time in Iraq.

Next: Looking to Syria and Iran for help

Henry C K Liu
is chairman of a New York-based private investment group. His website is at www.henryckliu.com.

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing .)

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