Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Iraq War Reading List

I have conservative and neoconservative relatives who support the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I am at odds with them on this matter. One relative asked me for a reading list of news sources alternative to Fox and other TV news outlets she watches, so that she could read what I've been reading about the Iraq war, and see my point of view better. I am supplying her with the following information. Bear in mind, this is addressed to a supporter of the war.

In the neoconservative think take Project for a New American Century, William Kristol (of the Weekly Standard), Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, John Bolton, and other neoconservaties expressed desires and plans for invading Iraq in the late ‘90’s, well before 9/11.

These folks sent a letter to Clinton in 1998 asking him to invade Iraq. Note that Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Kristol signed it. Here is the letter:

Robert Kagan, a military analyst, offered an idea in 1998 of how to oust Saddam. He describes it in the following link, saying that the U.S. and allies should establish a zone in southern Iraq that is safe from Saddam, and there allow Iraqis who Saddam him to establish their own government to begin destabilizing Saddam. This sounds like a good plan. But given current sectarian strife we are seeing, including clashes between Shiites in southern Iraq, such a plan probably would not have worked.

Much later, in 2005, Kagan criticized Rumsfeld for not having the military ready to fight such a war as we are fighting in Iraq. “You have to go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you have or the army you will have a some later date” said Rumsfeld. But remember, he has wanted to invade Iraq since 1998 or earlier — the plan was not hatched fresh after 9/11. If you think the Bush administration is well suited for fighting the war on terror, and if the war on terror his its front line in Iraq, then how do you explain Rumsfeld’s management of the U.S. military as described in the following article by Robert Kagan. It sharply criticizes Rumsfeld for not fighting this war effectively. My question is, why doesn’t Bush fire Rumsfeld and bring in someone who will build the military appropriately?

Next is another article by the apparently EXTREMELY knowledgeable Juan Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan and connected to the Global Americana Institute, citing the history of the Neocon plan, and also the history of Shiites in Iraq (who, remember, in the Neocon plan, were supposed to form the basis of positive reform in southern Iraq). This is a fantastic article, very informative.

After 9/11, the idea was brought to the general public by the Bush administration and the news media that the U.S. should invade Iraq. We all know about the WMD debate. When intelligence on Saddam’s alleged WMD’s was not conclusive in fall of 2002, Rumsfeld convened a special “intelligence team” to have another look at the intelligence. Here is what Fred Kaplan, a military analyst, had to say about this team.

A year later, the Weekly Standard published evidence of connections between Al Qaeda and Iraq in an article called “Case Closed.” This article is based on a memo written by Douglas Feith of Rumsfeld’s Defense Department, also a neoconservative, based on the DOD’s prewar intelligence findings. The article describes many meetings between emissaries of Saddam and other Islamic militant leaders, but has no specific information as to whether these meetings actually resulted in anything.

After reading that Weekly Standard article, my own question is this: Okay, maybe Saddam’s emissaries spoke to bin Laden’s emissaries. But, if toppling governments is how we should fight the War on Terror, then what we should do is look at all the links between terrorist organizations and governments that we can find, and see what governments have the most links. What if the Weekly Standard published an article describing all the meetings between Al Qaeda operatives and Saudi emissaries? Or Pakistani emissaries? Without such information, I don’t see a reason to conclude that Iraq was the best country to invade, to hinder terrorism.

Dick Cheney once referred to “Case Closed” when asked about the connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Apparently, it sufficed as explanation enough for him.

But then Newsweek published an article saying the Weekly Standard’s “Case Closed” is selective reporting, and much of it’s information is unconfirmed.

Regarding Zarqawi, the following BBC report says that Zarqawi was not part of Al Qaeda when the U.S. invaded in 2003. He was part of a group called Tawhid and Jihad at that time, and merged with Al Qaeda in 2004.

Bush knew about Zarqawi’s training camp in northern Iraq before invading Iraq. He could have hit him with missiles at that time. Why didn’t he?

Also note that Zarqawi was in northern Iraq in Kurdish territory, working with Ansar al-Islam, a group of Kurdish islamists. Ann Coulter accuses Democrats of not wanting to “defend the Kurds,” who were abused by Saddam. But beware, the Kurds have great potential to further destabilize the Middle East, if they decide they want to establish their own country. Turkey would fight to prevent this. A country called Kurdistan would take a big chunk out of Turkey. With Turkey being a relatively westernized and democratic country, the U.S. would not want to alienate them by “defending the Kurds” if it came to this!

In recent days, the Senate Intelligence Committee report on how intelligence was used to build the case for invading Iraq has come out. The liberal press reports that it says there is no connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda. How does the Weekly Standard respond? With the following article:

This article rehashes some of it’s old “Case Closed” points, but interestingly, does not rehash many of them.

It says that this recent Senate report is too trusting of Saddam’s former officials. Maybe so. But it does not offer any counter-evidence to support their statement.
It says that Saddam spent the 90’s making threats about the United States. Of course he did. This is not an Al Qaeda connection.
One of Saddam’s intelligence operatives, Farouq Hijazi, met with bin Laden in 1998 to offer him asylum in Iraq. This was also stated in the Weekly Standard’s above “Case Closed” article, and the above the above Newsweek article has already addressed this, saying that bin Laden refused this offer and said that he would not be exploited by a secular state that did not conform to his ideas of a fundamentalist Islamic state.
It says that Saddam fostered some ties with Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and brought them to Iraq to help him defend against a possible invasion of Iraq by the U.S. after Afghanistan. This may be true, and it is believable. Here is my personal comment on this: Taliban/Al Qaeda operatives were powerful in the Middle East, they were Sunni, they had been armed by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, through Pakistan, so it makes sense that if Saddam were seeking allies, he would turn to them. Taliban and Al Qaeda folks were also not really loyal to any local regime — they could travel. AND, this connection was fostered after 9/11, so it does not mean Saddam contributed to the World Trade Center attack.
The Weekly Standard makes several references to “evidence” that Saddam had a positive relationship with Zarqawi. The Senate report says that the two did not have a positive relationship. Either way, if its true that Zarqawi was not a member of Al Qaeda until after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, then this does not support a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

At this point, you will likely say, as I do, that we may never really know the truth on this. Alright. But before acting on intelligence, it would be good to know if such intelligence is good or not. CIA workers have said that the way you confirm intelligence is to cross check it with other sources over and over again. If the sources agree, then you have confirmed intelligence. If they do not agree, then your intelligence is just not solid. So why claim it IS solid, then?

In other words, if you don’t know what to believe, then how do you come to a belief that our operation in Iraq is “making us safer” or is the “frontline in the war on terror?”

Nowadays, people who support the war say, “Saddam was a financier of terrorism. We had to eliminate that.”

Maybe so. But an audit of the Bremer government in Iraq right after our invasion says that nearly 9 billion dollars were lost, unaccounted for, by the Bremer government. Anyone suspecting that Saddam was diverting money to terrorism should be extremely upset over this. Also, this money lost during the Bremer government far outweighs what Saddam grafted off the also corrupt Oil for Food program. I say, be upset about any corruption. Be upset about Oil for Food, and be four times as upset over management of post-Saddam Iraq.

In 2005, the Christian Science Monitor (an excellent newspaper despite the presence of the word “Christian” in its name) reported that fraud in Iraq after Saddam may dwarf fraud during Oil for Food, which conservatives rightly criticize for being fraudulent.

Where is this missing money going in Iraq? Not toward Girl Scout cookies, I assure you. And maybe not toward terrorism. But really now, this is not a time to be naïve!

I am also reading the Iraq Study Group report. It says that corruption in the Iraqi government costs between $5 and $7 billion each year. Again, anyone complaining about the pre 9/11 status quo of the Middle East and the Oil for Food program should be far more concerned about this current level of corruption which far outweighs Oil for Food’s corruption.

Another thing to note is, I read in a Juan Cole article that I can’t find now that there is so much easily earned money in the Middle East from oil revenues, it is impossible to restrict the flow of some of it to terrorists. How many rich Saudis support terrorism? Shouldn’t we invade their country too? Bin Laden is from there, after all!

Why would any presidential administration want to risk the invasion of Iraq? In the case of Bush, it is because he listened to a few Neocons who clearly had stated their intentions in the Project for New American Century articles written in the ‘90’s, some of which were cited above. Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Feith, Bolton all wanted to invade Iraq. It was their big plan. 9/11 gave them an opportunity to sell the American people on it.

Attached in another email is an article called “Dreaming of Democracy.” It is a beautiful article by George Packer, published in the NY Times just 1 week before we invaded in 2003. It has valuable background information on why the U.S. government thought it could improve things in Iraq; on Iraqi expatriates contributing to this belief; a summary of the neoconservative idea that in the wake of our invasion a democracy would bloom and other dictatorships in the Middle East would fall like dominoes; and then, many statements from experts that say that democracy is not what follows a war, especially in a region like Iraq that has none of the societal elements necessary for democracy.

Or forget the experts and just ask yourself if Iraq has ever functioned as a unified country on its own, without being oppressed by a tyrant or an outside colonial power. Also ask yourself whether sectarian groups in the Middle East (sects defined by tribal origin or religious belief or both) tend to get along in a democratic way, or tend to fight against each other. I think I know what your answers are. Then ask yourself if it takes an expert to say an invasion of Iraq is likely to NOT lead to a democracy in its wake.

“But fighting for democracy is good,” you may say. The thing is, we have seen that, in a Middle Eastern democracy, terrorist groups get elected to parliaments (Hamas, Hezbollah). One Middle Eastern democracy (not a true democracy, granted) functions alongside a strict Islamist governing body (Iran’s). It is far from clear that democracies in the Middle East are necessarily good for their people, or friendly toward the U.S.

And regardless of whether we like Middle Eastern democracies, the cause for democracy in the Middle East has been set backwards after our invasion of Iraq, and after the appearance of Hezbollah and Hamas in legitimate government bodies. The following article is from Yahoo News and was published during the recent Israel/Lebanon crises. The first part of the article may be outdated, but pay attention to the middle and latter parts where Milt Beardon, who ran the CIA’s covert operations in Afghanistan from 1986 to 1989 and was one of the very few CIA workers who actually had direct contact with jihadists, talks about democracy in the Middle East. He also says that Iran stands to gain from our invasion of Iraq, with kindred Shiites now gaining control in that country which, under Saddam, had been an arch-enemy.

I have said that the greatest beneficiary of our invasion of Iraq is Iran. This may be a strong statement at this point. We don’t know for sure. But read this article by Daniel Benjamin, which makes this case. It seems very well informed. Again, it was written during the Israel/Lebanon crises and starts by addressing that, but read deeper into it learn about long-term implications about Iran.

Another statement from the pro-war side I have heard is that we can’t “cut and run” or “appease” our enemies in a time of war. They call anti-war folks cowards. I don’t mind if you want to call me a coward. If all this information in this email, and all these articles which seem very well informed to me, add up to being a coward, then so be it. But if you say “stay the course,” then whom are you listening to? The Neocons with their track record?

And what is the course? Nobody has said what the course is.

“It’s war. We can’t back down,” you may say. But in Iraq, the real war, even if it is not full-blown civil war, is between religious and tribal sects. No outsider (or insider) had been able to reconcile these folks. What do you propose we do now? It seems to me (an impression, I admit) that the terrorism going on in Iraq now comprises attempts by different groups to gain power. They are fighting each other, Iraqis vs Iraqis. What can we do about this?

The following article on the BBC gives a quick roundup of armed militias in Iraq.

The following Washington Post article talks of U.S. military commanders recognizing that their job has not shifted to preventing civil war, and says that ultimately the Iraqis will have to work this out for themselves.

And here is Marine writer Bing West with an article stating that, as Iraqi police and military forces take more responsibility for handling their own country, Shiite dominated forces are abusing Sunnis. While Sunnis were the biggest source of the insurgency right after the fall of Saddam, now they are turning to the U.S. army for protection.

Regarding the issue of “appeasing the enemy,” who is really appeasing the enemy? Would you say al-Sadr’s Mahdi army is the enemy, or one of them? It is a group working to destabilize the feeble government. So I presume a supporter of the Iraq war would support the August 2006 raid by the U.S. army of Sadr city in Baghdad, where Sadr has his base. However, Prime Minister Maliki said this raid used excessive force, and APLOLGIZED to Iraqis over it. If a Democrat in this country did this, wouldn’t you call this appeasing the enemy? It is Maliki who is doing it, himself a Shiite (like Sadr) who has considerable support from Sadr’s political party.

Maliki is not only supported by al-Sadr, but by the Dawa party which has its roots in Iran. The following article by Juan Cole tells about his background. The Dawa party spawned Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, the folks who bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut in the ‘80’s. This article quotes extensively from news sources from the ‘80’s talking about the attacks in those days.

So now, if Maliki is supported by the Dawa party which has its roots in Iran and spawned Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, don’t you think this constitutes a connection between the NEW Iraqi regime and Islamic militants? Surely this connection to Islamic militants is more significant than any Iraq/Al Qaeda connection cited by the Weekly Standard.

Like you, I am very afraid of the worst possible consequences of the U.S. military leaving. But we will, eventually, have to leave. It is very easy to imagine a military coup, once we leave. Or descent into full civil war. I know it sounds pessimistic, but the following highly speculative article raises issues about terrorism that we should be very concerned about if full civil war does break out.

From the pro war camp, I would like to hear sound arguments based on Middle Eastern history and current conditions that explain what we are doing there, and more importantly, HOW we are going to do it. Saying “stay the course,” simply makes me say, “What is the course?” Please be specific, as I have tried to be. And remember, we are supposed to be making the world safer and more democratic and more secular.

Most of this email to this point was written before the 2006 Congressional election and Rumsfeld’s resignation. At this point, it does seem clear that even the Bush administration recognizes that our course needs to be changed. “We will not stop short of victory” Bush says. So what would victory look like? Forget a secular democracy. You can’t have that. It’s not possible in that country. In lieu of that, what person or body would you like to have govern that country after a true “victory”? I can think of no one who would be satisfactory to me to act as a governing person or body. So please tell me — what exactly would be a victory for us there?

You may say at this point that all this is hindsight. No, it’s not. Much of the troubles today were foreseen by experts in our nation. I refer you again to the “Dreaming of Democracy” article by George Packer. Also read the excerpt from Juan Cole’s blog I’m pasting in another email. That entry was written in early 2003 before we invaded.

My feeling is the neoconservatives were too idealistic. They had a crazy scheme that outshines any liberal scheme we have seen in this country in terms of its oversimplification of a problem. Now we are mired in this war without foreseeable positive outcome. The Iraq Study Group recommends rekindling diplomatic relations with other countries in the Middle East (Iran and Syria) to solicit their aid in working all this out. Yes, we always should have had diplomatic relations with them, but the Bushies and the neocons have sneered at that and favored demonstrations of military might. Now we may be depending more on such diplomatic relations, and our bargaining strength is much weakened by this military involvement in Iraq. Iran and Syria are enjoying seeing us bogged down in Iraq. And yet, we may find ourselves asking for their help.

1 comment:

Phil said...

Wow, that's fantastic: that you would have what sounds like an open conversation with your aunt, that she would want to read about other points of view, and that you would take the time to write it up.