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Strictly Speaking

A Requiem for Iraq


To any thinking person with a full grasp of the relevance of choices to consequences, the ongoing struggle in Iraq was cast the moment that George W. Bush ordered that nation invaded in 2003. While he may have imagined an American satrapy that would last a thousand years, the accomplishment of this mission was far less possible than had been an American victory in Vietnam, and for similar reasons.
Having been involved in nuclear nonproliferation for fifteen years at the Department of Energy, post-2003 I collected on a lot of bets that there were no nuclear weapons in Iraq. In order for a national nuclear weapons program to exist, a vast series of large, interconnected facilities need to exist. These include an isotopic separation facility for enriching uranium, a nuclear production reactor, a nuclear reprocessing plant, a warhead fabrication facility, a facility for tipping missiles with warheads, and a waste disposal site or repository, and a transportation system connecting these facilities and their product to launch sites. It is impossible to construct such a network without detection. Since Operation Desert Storm, high resolution variable angle satellite imagery monitoring Iraq’s no-fly zone had collected, analyzed and archived photographs continuously, including all construction activity in or around Baghdad. This surveillance process is the technological escalation of the less sophisticated technique of U-2 photographs used by President John F. Kennedy when he presented his case for Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba to the American people in 1962, opening with “We have evidence...” By starkest contrast, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld said, “We know.” But how did they know, and where was the evidence?
In addition to satellite photo surveillance, U.S. intelligence agencies track shipments of materials required to build and operate these facilities, down to specific machinery, chemical feedstocks and the smallest parts. The globally destabilizing commercialization of nuclear technologies has been led by a Pakistani, A. Q. Khan, a citizen of one of our putative allies. From Kahn Iran acquired the essentials for its uranium enrichment program. North Korea specializes in selling delivery vehicles, rockets with increasing range.
On the face of it, the Bush policy of protecting the United States against adversaries with nuclear weapons is fundamentally sound. But if the threats of 2003 had been assessed objectively on a global scale, they would have stacked up in this order: (1) North Korea, with both the capability and will to launch a strike; (2) Pakistan, because it allows the proliferation of nuclear technologies internationally, (3) Iran, a sponsor of terrorism, because it is an avowed enemy of the United States, and had been courting Soviet nuclear scientists since the mid-1980s.
The evidence for a real, growing nuclear threat existed in all three of these nations. Since the Clinton era, satellite photos the North Korean production reactor have existed and been published. The records of shipments by A. Q. Kahn have been detected and followed, sometimes with interception of packages to verify contents. Pakistan’s possession of nuclear arms, and refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, have defined its position. Satellite photography of the emerging underground gaseous diffusion facility in Iran confirmed their involvement, and clinched the first step required toward a national nuclear weapons program.
No counterpart of this evidence ever existed in Iraq. If it had, then Bush could have presented it, as did JFK in 1962. It didn’t exist because there not only were no nuclear weapons in Iraq, there was not even groundbreaking on any of the several facilities required to support such a program.
The CIA’s George Tenet’s speculative “intelligence” identification of weapons sites turned out to be a fantasy. None of nearly 400 weapons sites pegged in aerial photographs had been confirmed on the ground. National Security Advisor Steven Hadley’s claim of uranium shipments from Nigeria, inserted into Bush’s State of the Union speech, was less than a rumor. None of the administration’s subsequent tap dancing regarding freeing the Iraqi people fell within the original justification of protecting the United States from a nuclear threat. Even if, as Bush claimed, Saddam Hussein was a “bad” man, it would be necessary to determine who was the world’s “worst” man in order to justify military action. And by 2003, most Americans knew who topped that list: Osama Bin Laden. So strongly did Americans believe this that even in 2008, a campaign promise to bring Bin Laden to justice figured in Barack Obama’s election.
In late 2002, staff from the U.S. Department of State met secretly at the Japanese Embassy with White House staff and Mossad, Israeli’s intelligence agency, and got this advice: “Don’t invade Iraq. Iraq is not the problem; Iran is.” Former Deputy Director of the CIA Bobby Inman called the Mossad, “The best informed intelligence source on details relating to their own security.” And what could be more threatening to Israeli security than an enemy with nuclear weapons, and one that had previously rained Scud missiles on them in Operation Desert Storm. Beyond that, Israel had previously demonstrated its ability thwart any Iraqi program in nuclear weapons when its bombers destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor outside Baghdad in 1983.
Despite the Bush claim that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, no reliable evidence supported this claim. Not one Iraqi national was among the suicide pilots flying on that day. Nor was it remotely plausible to imagine a murderous megalomaniacal secular despot like Saddam supporting a revolutionary theocratic zealot like Osama Bin Laden. These are the reason that George W. Bush could not enlist the Arab coalition partners that his father had in 1991, and the reason that other nations who fought against Saddam’s internationally illegal invasion of Kuwait, would not become one of the offending nations in a U.S. attack on Iraq.
The unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Iraq in 2003 sparked a panIslamic rage for jihad against the invaders that was impossible without it. Al Qaeda, falsely claimed as linked to Saddam Hussein before the invasion, gained a foothold in Iraq by enlisting a Koranic obligation. Worldwide, Muslims were summoned to join the fray against the imperialist American invaders. Even George W. Bush admitted that the invaders were occupiers, and that he wouldn’t want to be occupied either. As Mohandas Gandhi said, “There is no nation that would rather not be ruled by its own people, however poorly, than by an occupying force, however well.”
I have been fortunate in working with, and living next to, an Iraqi and an Iranian, the latter educated in Paris and now living in France. Both knew what Bush did not: that in the post-colonial borders arbitrarily assigned by the departing European powers, only a strong man could hold together the polyglots of cultures, tribes, ethnic and religious groups confined by nonsensical lines on a map that was not of their own making. Despite Bush’s statement in the second presidential debate against Al Gore than no one should invade a nation without a withdrawal plan, no one in the administration ever asked, “After Saddam, then what?”
The glib answer was “a model for democracy in the Middle East.” But a new governmental system must be fought for an chosen by the people living within it. This is how the United States was founded, with its citizen warriors risking their “lives, liberties and property” in the venture. Even if democracy had been imposed in Iraq, the outcome of elections would need to be a reflection of the cultures, peoples and religions indigenous to the nation. When democracy revolutionized Egypt after that Arab Spring, the elected leadership looked nothing like Anwar Sadat’s. It was Islamic and theocratic, a reflection of the voters. Nor was that democracy durable. It was fragile enough to be ousted by its own military.
As historian Will Durant concluded, a nation or people should be free to choose its own governance, according to the abilities of that government to meet its basic needs. Sometimes these needs are as basic as avoiding starvation. The next government for them does not need to be perfect. It simply needs to be better.
Once a government is imposed, as it was in Iraq, its people need a willingness to protect that form of government or risk being associated as collaborators with an occupying force. So Operation Iraqi Freedom was doomed from the planning stage, because Iraq’s simmering sectarian strife is more acrimonious than what afflicted Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, they all worshipped the same God and Savior. In Iraq, it is the same Allah, seen through different hermeneutics. And when a people believe that God has called them to the slaughter, absent a reconciling agreement, the bloodshed will end only with the extermination of one side or the other. The carnage in Norther Ireland ended not by imposition of military force, but by negotiation at a table, with both parties included and neither party coerced.
In Iraq, all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can never restore a regime that was dependent on America to fight their adversaries. It was an entirely misguided – doomed and hopeless – venture, as are often ventures built entirely on lies, in the service of greed.
Returning to our priority list of potential enemies of American security on the eve of the second invasion of Iraq, we have to assess what the worst threats, North Korea, Pakistan and Iran, had to offer in oil, compared to Iraq. In two cases, nothing, in the third, not as much. This motivation – an oil-rich Middle Eastern American colony – has been an open Washington insider secret for over forty years. Although I worked with a Q clearance – top secret national security information – I did not need it to hear what others were discussing with casual blandishments.
In reaction to the OPEC oil embargo of 1974, Richard Nixon had drafted a secret plan to invade Iraq, which became known to a Washington Star reporter, James Grady. If Watergate had not erupted as it did, Grady’s story would have taken center stage. Instead, he fictionalized it in a novel, Six Days of the Condor. This became a film with Robert Redford, Three Days of the Condor. The plot closely resembles Operation Iraqi Freedom. The real-life directors were two oil men, and the truth finally revealed by Bush’s deputy national security advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan, Meghan O’Sullivan on September 11, 2011. Her take: the 2003 invasion of Iraq may be turning out better than opponents thought, and so a substantial U.S. military presence should remain there, because the Zubair oil field in Iraq would help the world avert an energy crisis. And because Halliburton, already fifteen billion dollars richer as the sole source support services contractor in Iraq, could make even more money.
In the retrospect of realpolitik and that history that George W. Bush loved quoting, given the motives and lies and revisions behind the invasion and occupation, it would be a moral outrage if any nation forcefully occupied another merely to fuel their own economy. Yet this is what a 2005 CIA report from that administration openly predicted: Most wars in the twenty-first century will be resource wars. Operation Iraqi Freedom was the first, a prototype. But, as war scholar Thomas B. Allen points out, part of a pattern. The rationale was that the stronger the American military, the better position it would have to dominate world commerce. After thirty years of military service and two medals of honor, Marine General Smedley D. Butler agreed, “For thirty years I was a thug for capitalism.” The U.S. first troops on the ground in Iraq in 2003 secured the headquarters of the oil ministry and flooded into to protect the oil fields. Not even a token pursuit of weapons of mass destruction occurred for weeks. For good reason. You don’t waste time looking for what you know isn’t there.
With those precious Zubair oil fields that Meghan O’Sullivan posited would avert a global energy crisis beyond U.S. influence, the fiasco of Operation Iraqi Freedom seems complete. And by avoiding dealing with the greater threats to U.S. security in 2003, we now have a more capable North Korea threatening an EMP event or full strike on Pearl Harbor, home base of the Seventh Fleet. We have Iran, ignored in 2003, on the brink of achieving nuclear weaponry that Iraq lacked. And we have a grand laissez faire capitalist, A. Q. Khan, happily selling components for nuclear reactors to anyone who has a laptop and off-shore bank account. Mission Accomplished. Read More 
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