Avoiding Needless Wars, Part 9: Iraq

Powell-anthrax-vialThe two reasons given for invading Iraq in 2003 were baseless: Saddam Hussein’s WMDs were illusory, as were his connections to al Qaeda. While this needless war is often attributed to an intelligence failure, we all are at fault. Our elected officials failed to ask the questions they should have before going to war. So did our media. And so did we, the citizens who hold the ultimate power of the ballot box. The drumbeat to war hypnotized the nation, overcame rationality, and led to disaster.

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, has called Powell’s February 2003 speech to the UN Security Council – on which Wilkerson played a significant role – “a hoax on the American people.” While he and Colin Powell were misled by CIA Director George Tenet and others, both of them had significant doubts about the CIA’s findings which they put aside, presumably because doing otherwise would have constituted political suicide. Wilkerson regrets not having done what was difficult but right:

My participation in that presentation at the UN constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community and the United Nations Security Council. How do you think that makes me feel? Thirty-one years in the United States Army and I more or less end my career with that kind of a blot on my record? That’s not a very comforting thing.

In the 2007 video documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, Wilkerson explains part of what happened, when Ibn al Shaykh al Libi was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001:

The moment al Libi was water-boarded, he started blurting things out. Well, rather than questioning what he was saying and going into it in detail to see if what he was saying could be corroborated, they immediately stopped and ran off to report what al Libi had said – and ended the torture. And, bang, it gets up to the highest decision-makers.

And all of a sudden Colin Powell is told, “Hey, you don’t have to worry about your doubts anymore, because we’ve just gotten confirmation that there were contacts between al Qaeda and Baghdad.” [1:25:30-1:26:03 on the DVD; also available in text form in an online transcript]

But, as often happens with information obtained by torture, al Libi was telling his captors whatever he thought they wanted to hear, in order to stop the torture. And a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda is what the Bush administration wanted to hear as can be seen from the events related below.

Within hours of the 9/11 attacks, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was looking to:

Hit Saddam Hussein at the same time – not only Osama bin Laden … go massive. Sweep it all up, things related and not.

Those words, including the underlining, were in notes taken by Stephen Cambone, then the Director for Program Analysis and Evaluation within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, at a meeting with Rumsfeld. While they’re hard to read, I’ve attached a complete copy of Cambone’s redacted notes so you can see where those words came from. My excerpt above starts on line 5, “S.H.” stands for Saddam Hussein, and “UBL” for Osama (Usama) bin Laden.

010911 Rumsfeld Plans Attack

David Frum, who was the chief architect of  the “axis of evil” concept in President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address describes how it came about:

It was late December 2001, and Mike Gerson was parceling out the components of the forthcoming State of the Union speech. His request to me could not have been simpler: I was to provide a justification for a war. … Bush needed something to assert, something that made clear that September 11 and Saddam Hussein were linked. [1]

A week before the invasion of Iraq, the Christian Science Monitor noted how President Bush continually linked Saddam Hussein with September 11:

In his prime-time press conference last week, which focused almost solely on Iraq, President Bush mentioned Sept. 11 eight times. He referred to Saddam Hussein many more times than that, often in the same breath with Sept. 11.

Bush never pinned blame for the attacks directly on the Iraqi president. Still, the overall effect was to reinforce an impression that persists among much of the American public: that the Iraqi dictator did play a direct role in the attacks. A New York Times/CBS poll this week shows that 45 percent of Americans believe Mr. Hussein was “personally involved” in Sept. 11 …

Sources knowledgeable about US intelligence say there is no evidence that Hussein played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks, nor that he has been or is currently aiding Al Qaeda. Yet the White House appears to be encouraging this false impression, as it seeks to maintain American support for a possible war against Iraq …

Polling data show that right after Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans were asked open-ended questions about who was behind the attacks, only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Hussein. But by January of this year, attitudes had been transformed. In a Knight Ridder poll, 44 percent of Americans reported that either “most” or “some” of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. The answer is zero.

Just prior to his invasion of Iraq, President Bush formally linked Saddam Hussein with 9/11 when he confirmed to Congress that attacking Iraq was consistent with “continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” That wording comes from the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002.

In spite of this repeated linking, in 2006, when President Bush was asked by Ken Herman of Cox News, “What did Iraq have to do with … the attack on the World Trade Center,” he replied:

Nothing. … nobody has suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. … the lesson of September 11th is take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody’s ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq.

In 2009, former Vice President Dick Cheney similarly declared, “I do not believe, and I have never seen any evidence, that he [Saddam Hussein] was involved in 9/11.” That article notes, however, that “Still, Cheney said a longstanding relationship existed between Hussein and terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, that justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.”

While the Christian Science Monitor and a few others raised questions about going to war, most of the media joined the drumbeat to war. Bill Moyers’ Buying the War video (also available as a transcript) documents this abdication of responsibility by the press. For example, Phil Donahue says on camera that he was instructed to have two supporters of the war on his show for every person raising questions:

You could have the supporters of the President alone [on my TV show]. And they would say why this war is important. [But] You couldn’t have a dissenter alone. Our producers were instructed to feature two conservatives for every liberal.

In spite of that rule, Donahue’s show was canceled several weeks before the invasion. While NBC denied a connection between the cancellation and Donahue’s raising questions about the war, Moyers cites a leaked, internal network memo which stated, “Donahue presents a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war. At the same time our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.”

Moyers’ documentary also has February 2003 clips of Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly creating an atmosphere designed to repress any questions about going to war:

Anyone who hurts this country in a time like this. Well let’s just say you will be spotlighted. … I will call those who publicly criticize their country in a time of military crisis, which this is, bad Americans.

In the documentary, journalist Eric Beohlert notes that when Senator Ted Kennedy gave an impassioned speech questioning the war:

[The] Washington Post gave that speech one sentence. 36 words. I calculated in 2002, the Washington Post probably published 1,000 articles and columns about Iraq. Probably one million words, in excess of one million words. And one of the most famous democrats in the country raised questions about the war, the Washington Post set aside 36 words.

The connection between the Iraq War and defusing the nuclear threat – the goal of this blog – can be seen in a March 2013 Russian article, headlined “What Russia Learned From the Iraq War.” The article was written by Fyodor Lukyanov, editor in chief of Russia in Global Affairs, published with the participation of the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs. Here are some excerpts from that article, which led Lukyanov to conclude that US foreign policy is governed by “strategic insanity” (emphasis added):

The conclusions drawn by Putin from the situation surrounding Iraq were [that] …  the strong do what they want: they don’t contemplate international law, global reality or the costs incurred by themselves and others. The only rational way of behaving in such a world is to increase one’s own power and capabilities, so that one can fight back and exert pressure, if necessary. …

In the 10 years since the Iraq war, Putin’s worldview has only strengthened and expanded. Now he believes that the strong not only do what they want, but also fail to understand what they do. … Everything that’s happened since — including flirting with Islamists during the Arab Spring, U.S. policies in Libya and its current policies in Syria — serve as evidence of strategic insanity that has taken over the last remaining superpower.

… Moscow is certain that if continued crushing of secular authoritarian regimes is allowed because America and the West support “democracy,” it will lead to such destabilization that will overwhelm all, including Russia.

Martin Hellman

[1] David Frum, The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush, Random House, New York, 2003, pages 224 and 233.

The post Avoiding Needless Wars, Part 9: Iraq appears on ScienceWonk, FAS’s blog for opinions from guest experts and leaders.

Missile Watch – June 2010


Missile Watch

A publication of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project
Vol. 3, Issue 2
June 2010
Editor: Matt Schroeder
Contributing Author: Scoville Fellow Matt Buongiorno

Contents:

Global News: Survey of black market prices for shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles reveals large differences in missile prices
Afghanistan: No shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles in seized Afghan arms caches, confirms ISAF spokesperson
Egypt: Shoulder-fired missiles found in the Sinai were old, “in very bad condition,” says Egyptian official
Iraq: Shoulder-fired missile in video of insurgent attack could be Iranian
Iraq: Missile seized in 2008 was a 30-year-old Russian Strela-2M MANPADS, documents reveal
Iraq: At least 27 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles seized from arms caches in Iraq since February
Lebanon: Israeli claim about Igla-S delivery to Hezbollah raises many questions
Peru: U.S. government concerned over reported missile diversion in Peru, but praises investigation
Somalia: Shoulder-fired missile attack at Mogadishu airport foiled by peace-keepers, according to UN report

Additional News & Resources

About Missile Watch

About the Authors

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Missile Watch – February 2010

Missile Watch
A publication of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project
Vol. 3, Issue 1
February 2010
Editor: Matt Schroeder
Contributing Author: Matt Buongiorno
Graphics: Alexis Paige

Contents:

Global Overview

Afghanistan: No recent discoveries of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles in insurgent arms caches
Eritrea: UN slaps arms embargo on major missile proliferator
Iraq: Fewer public reports of seized shoulder-fired missiles in Iraq, but MANPADS still a threat
Ireland: Alleged plot to shoot down a police helicopter may have involved surface-to-air missile
Myanmar: 300 shoulder-fired missiles in insurgent arsenal, claims Thai Colonel
North Korea: North Korean arms shipment included MANPADS, Thai report confirms
Peru: Igla missiles stolen from Peruvian military arsenals, claims alleged trafficker
Spain: Failed assassination attempts underscore the risks for terrorists of relying on black market missiles
United States: Congress to receive DHS report on anti-missile systems for commercial airliners in February
United States: Documents from trial of the “Prince of Marbella” reveal little about his access to shoulder-fired missiles
United States: No new international MANPADS sales since 1999
Venezuela: U.S. receives “assurances” from Russia regarding controls on shoulder-fired missiles sold to Venezuela, but questions remain

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About Missile Watch

About the Authors

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Missile Watch #4: Global Update (January – March 2009)

Afghanistan

In March, the Sunday Times of London reported on the Taliban’s alleged acquisition of Iranian-supplied SA-14 missiles, which the Afghan insurgent group reportedly wants for a “spectacular” attack on coalition forces. The accusation reportedly came from unidentified “American intelligence sources.” According to the Sunday Times, “…coalition forces only became aware of the presence of SA14s two weeks ago when parts from two of them were discovered during an American operation in western Afghanistan.” The article provides no information on the number of SA-14s allegedly circulating in Afghanistan, their condition, or Iran’s alleged connection to them. When queried about the Sunday Times article, a US military official told the Federation of American Scientists that “[man-portable air defense systems] have been recovered in Afghanistan since 2007,” but refused to provide additional details because of “operational security concerns.”

Other types of MANPADS reportedly acquired by the Taliban and other unauthorized end-users in Afghanistan include the Chinese HN-5, photographs of which were obtained by the Washington Times in 2007, and the ubiquitous SA-7.

For information on Iraq, Sri Lanka and Somalia, click here.

Missile Watch #3: Black Market Missiles Still Common in Iraq

Despite a million dollar buyback program and hundreds of raids on illicit weapons caches, US and Iraqi forces are still finding surface-to-air missiles in insurgent stockpiles.  US military press releases and media reports reveal that, since October 2006, at least 121 such missiles have been recovered, along with 4 additional launchers and various components.  These reports suggest that insurgents still have ready access to surface-to-air missiles, including MANPADS, at least some of which are reportedly still operational.  The missiles pose an immediate threat to civilian and military aircraft in Iraq and a potential threat to aircraft in the region.

To read the rest of Missile Watch #3, click here.

New Information on Iraqi Missile Cache

The FAS has acquired, via a Freedom of Information Act request, additional information about a cache of “22 surface-to-air missiles” discovered by Coalition Forces north of Baghdad on 4 January 2006. According to the responsive document – a redacted entry from a database maintained by Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) – the missiles were SA-13 “Gopher” surface-to-air missiles. The SA-13 is a short-range, low altitude, infra-red seeking missile that is typically launched from a pedestal mounted on the back of an armored vehicle. The weapons cache, which included 5000 rounds of 32 mm cannon ammunition, was located with a mine detector and appeared at the time to have been “emplaced in the last 2 weeks.” It is unclear from the DoD documents if the missiles were operational or who they belonged to.
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Iraq’s Looted Arms Depots: What the GAO Didn’t Mention

In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) attributes the looting of Iraq’s arms depots to the “ovewhelming size and number” of these depots and “prewar planning priorities and certain assumptions that proved to be invalid.” The report finds that the US military “did not adequately secure these [conventional munitions storage] sites during and immediately after the conclusion of major combat operations” and “did not plan for or set up a program to centrally manage and destroy enemy munitions until August 2003…” The munitions looted from Iraqi arsenals, claims the GAO, have been used extensively in the deadly improvised explosive device (IED) attacks that have become tragically commonplace in Iraq.

But the IED threat is only part of the story. Iraq’s arsenals were also brimming with shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, thousands of which disappeared during the widespread looting of the regime’s numerous arms depots in 2003.
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Questions about Iranian Weapons in Iraq

At an unusual press briefing on Monday, U.S. military officials provided the first physical evidence of Iranian arms shipments to Iraqi extremist groups. The display, which the New York Times called “extraordinary,” consisted of explosively formed penetrators, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile reportedly found in Iraq and bearing Iranian markings. Notably, the officials also claimed to have proof that the operation was being directed by “the highest levels of the Iranian government,” a claim that was rigorously denied by Tehran.

The briefing raised more questions than it answered. Topping the list are questions about the extent of the Iranian government’s involvement in the arms shipments. Defense Department officials reportedly provided little proof for their claims of high-level involvement by the Iranian government, and the next day General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chief of staff, appeared to contradict them. Commenting on the captured weaponry, Pace conceded that the weapons “[do] not translate to that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this.” Yesterday President Bush sided with General Pace, confirming that “we don’t…know whether the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds force to do what they did.”

The captured weapons themselves are also puzzling. Not only were they reportedly manufactured in Iran, they are also emblazoned with manufacture dates and lot numbers – hardly indicative of a government that wants to maintain “plausible deniability.” Architects of covert aid programs usually go to great lengths to conceal their government’s involvement by purchasing weapons from foreign suppliers and clandestinely shipping them through third countries. The Iranians apparently did neither. Why?
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