Imagine a White House that deliberately hid money from Congress to invest in a war in the Middle East. Imagine that same White House crafted secret deals with an oil-rich Islamic fundamentalist theocracy with ties to terrorism, and appointed ideologues to key diplomatic posts in a war-torn region. Think you are watching ‘80s reruns of the Iran-Contra scandal? Think again.
A look at the record shows this same scenario apparently unfolded before our eyes over the last four years, featuring slightly different geography, similar policies, and some of the very same people. The target this time was not a leftist Central American government, or Al Qaeda terrorists, or even the “imminent threat” of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (as the President asked ABC News, “what’s the difference” if no WMD exist?). The goal, instead, was to finish off an ideological and personal grudge match against Iraq and Saddam Hussein because, as the President put it, “After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my dad.” And that goal meant ignoring Congress, the public, and the truth.
The first step in the vendetta was to secure funding and that started early. According to Bob Woodward’s new book, Plan of Attack (Simon & Schuster, April 2004), in July of 2002 President Bush took $700 million out of operations against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and diverted it into planning for an Iraq invasion. Woodward said Bush hid the move from Congress and kept lawmakers “totally in the dark”, even though the Constitution and federal statutes require the President to consult with Capitol Hill before moving money. He even lied to the country right after 9/11, reassuring the jittery public in December that he had just held and important meeting with top officials about hunting Al Qaeda, even though the meeting was really about planning his revenge on Saddam.
The next step was to garner political support from a key player in the region. That came in the form of Saudi Arabia, a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy which President Bush has personal and deep financial ties to, despite the country’s ties to terrorists. According to Woodward, Saudi complicity in an Iraq invasion was obtained by sharing intelligence secrets in January 2003 with Saudi Prince Bandar before even sharing them with Secretary of State Colin Powell. Woodward said Bandar returned the favor not only by tamping down Saudi opposition to the war, but also by pledging to manipulate US gas prices in the fall of 2004 in order to aid President Bush’s re-election.
The final step involved placing reliable ideologues with sordid histories in the most sensitive positions people like Iran-Contra felons Elliot Abrams whose willingness to lie in pursuit of an ideological agenda made him the perfect candidate for a top Mideast policymaking position. People like Iran-Contra figure John Negroponte, who was first appointed America’s top UN diplomat and will now become Ambassador to Iraq, despite reaching infamy by deceiving Congress and turning a blind eye to Contra death squads during his diplomatic stint in Central America. Not surprisingly, within two days of Negroponte’s appointment, both Honduras and the Dominican Republic announced they were immediately withdrawing their troops from Iraq. These were just some of the key people making the decisions that now leave America exactly where then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney predicted in 1991: “Bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq.”
How did this happen under our noses, again? How could we allow these shenanigans to dictate national security policy? Maybe we were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after 9/11 and did not realize. Maybe we made the mistake of trusting that our leaders would not use the hysteria about terrorism as a tool to pursue a radical, predetermined gameplan. But one thing is certain: if those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat itself, then we were clearly not paying much attention, much like 20 years ago, during Iran-Contra.
Let’s hope we are paying attention, now.
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