"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Was There Ever Any Doubt

Senate Panel Finds No Prewar Iraq-Qaeda Link

Saddam Hussein had no relationship with al Qaeda, including Iraq-based guerrilla Abu Musab al Zarqawi, despite claims by President George W. Bush and other administration officials, a Senate report released on Friday said.

The report, one of two newly declassified reports released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, drew on a previously undisclosed October 2005 CIA assessment as Americans prepared to mark the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda.

The reports quickly became part of a political battle on Capitol Hill where Democrats and Republicans are wrestling over national security issues before congressional elections in November.

The other report said the administration chose to provide funding to the Iraqi National Congress, or INC, exile group in 2002 over a warning by the Defense Intelligence Agency that the INC had been penetrated by "hostile intelligence services" and was intent on influencing U.S. policy toward Saddam.

The documents, part of the Senate panel's probe of prewar Iraq intelligence, were issued as Bush seeks to address flagging public support for the Iraq war he views as a central front in the U.S. war on terrorism. They were the latest in a series of investigations into the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which Bush launched to counter a threat of weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

Democrats said the data showed that top administration officials, including Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, misled the public to drum up support for war in Iraq by alleging a link between Saddam and the militant network.

"Today's reports show that the administration's repeated allegations of a past, present and future relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq were wrong and intended to exploit the deep sense of insecurity among Americans in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks," said Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia, the panel's ranking Democrat.


The committee's Republican chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, accused Democrats of presenting their own misleading views.

"The additional views of the Committee's Democrats are little more than a rehashing of the same unfounded allegations they've used for over three years," he said in a statement.

Roberts also expressed misgivings about the 208-page INC report, saying its conclusions were not always supported by underlying fact.

Critics of the 2003 Iraq invasion have long argued the administration used flawed information from the INC to bolster their case for war, while ignoring contradictory intelligence.

Roberts said there was no evidence the INC knowingly provided false information to the administration and described the exile group as having "a minimal role" in prewar U.S. judgments.

Another Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, used the report to accuse Bush himself of making a false statement about ties between Saddam and Zarqawi, the one-time al Qaeda leader in Iraq who was killed by U.S. forces in June.

Bush asserted as recently as an August 21 news conference that Saddam had links with Zarqawi.

"The president's statement, made just two weeks ago, is flat-out false," Levin said.
Bush administration officials pointed to supposed links between Saddam and al Qaeda to help justify their case for war before the war.

The CIA report's assessment was similar to the conclusion reached by the bipartisan 9/11 commission, which found in 2004 there had been no "collaborative relationship" between Saddam and al Qaeda.

David Morgan
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro)

The Persistence of Illusion

The Middle East has always been a place where illusion paves the road to disaster. In 1095, Pope Urban's religious mania launched the Crusades, the reverberations of which still echo through the region. In 1915, Winston Churchill's arrogance led to the World War I bloodbath at Gallipoli. In 2003, George Bush's hubris ignited a spiral of chaos and civil war in Iraq.

Illusions once again threaten to plunge the Middle East into catastrophe. The central hallucination this time is that the war in Lebanon was a “proxy war” with the mullahs in Tehran, what one senior Israeli commander has called “Iran's western front.” Behind this hallucination is yet another. According to William O. Beeman, a professor of anthropology and Middle East studies at Brown University, there is “a longstanding U.S. foreign policy myth that believes terrorism cannot exist without state support.”

In short, if Hezbollah exists, it is solely because of Iran. This particular illusion, according to a number of journalists, is behind the carte blanche the White House handed the Israelis during the war in Lebanon (see Stephen Zunes, How Washington Goaded Israel).

Israeli Fallout

As a result of the Lebanon debacle, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party is almost certainly dead. A Dahaf Institute poll found that 63% of Israelis want the Prime Minister out, and 74% want to oust Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Amir Peretz. The latter is busy trying to shift the blame to Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. General Dan Halutz (54% want him to resign) for claiming that Hezbollah could be destroyed from the air.

The army is whispering that the politicians held them back, and the politicians are grumbling that the army mishandled its budget. Olmert is stonewalling a formal inquiry on the war, which almost 70% of the population is demanding, and the reservists are up in arms. After 34 days of war, Hezbollah is intact, and the two soldiers whose capture kicked the whole thing off are still in its hands. Last but not least, the war knocked 1% off Israel's GNP.

The war's outcome is giving some Israelis pause, and there are some interesting straws in the wind. Amir Peretz, for instance, has called for negotiations with the Palestinians. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni says she is willing to “explore” the idea of talks with Syria. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter has gone even further and says Israel should give up the Golan Heights.

It is not clear where these discussions are going. If nothing else, however, the war has energized an Israeli peace movement, one rather more inclusive than such movements in the past.


For the Bush administration and its neoconservative allies, the ceasefire is just a break between rounds in the president's war on “Islamofascism.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says the United States is “in an emerging third world war.” William Kristol calls the Lebanon war an “act of Iranian aggression” and urges the United States to attack Iranian nuclear sites. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, neocon heavy Max Boot calls for a U.S. attack on Syria.

According to journalist Sidney Blumenthal in Salon, the neocons in the administration, specifically Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Agency Middle East Director Elliott Abrams, have been funneling U.S. intelligence intercepts to the Israelis as part of a plan to target Syria and Iran (see Tom Barry, Hunting Monsters with Elliott Abrams).

Those intercepts were behind the recent House Intelligence Committee report blasting U.S. spy agencies for their reluctance to say that Hezbollah is nothing more than an extension of Iran, that Tehran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, and that Iran poses a clear and present danger to the United States.

The author of the House report, Frederick Fleitz, was a former special assistant to current UN Ambassador John Bolton. Bolton was a key figure in gathering the now-discredited intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

According to Blumenthal, Cheney and his Middle East aide David Wurmser have dusted off a 1996 document called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” The study was authored by Wurmser, ex-Pentagon official Douglas Feith, and Richard Perle, disgraced former head of the Defense Policy Board.

The “Break”—originally written for then-Likud prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu—advocates that the Israelis, with support from the United States, dump the 1992 Oslo Agreement with the Palestinians, target Syria and Iraq, and redesign the Middle East.

A key ingredient in the document, and one central to current administration thinking, is that since terrorism is state-supported, the war on terrorism can be won by changing regimes. Hence, to defeat Hezbollah, you have to overthrow Syria and Iran.

Iran's Non-Role

Brown University's Beeman argues that Iran has no direct control over Hezbollah. While Iran does provide the organization some $200 million a year, that money “makes up a fraction of Hezbollah's operating budget.” The major source of the group's funding is the “sakat,” or the tithe required of all Muslims.

Georgetown University professor Daniel Byman, writing in Foreign Affairs, says that Iran “lacks the means to force significant change in the [Hezbollah] movement and its goals. It [Iran] has no real presence on the ground in Lebanon and a call to disarm or cease resistance would likely cause Hezbollah's leadership, or at least its most militant elements, to simply sever ties with Tehran's leadership.”

If a wider war is to be avoided, argues Christopher Layne of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, the United States “will have to engage in direct diplomacy with Syria and Iran—both of which have important stakes in the outcome of security issues in the Middle East, including those involving Israel's relations with the Palestinians and with Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Recently a group of 21 former generals, admirals, ambassadors, and high ranking security advisers proposed exactly that, calling on the Bush administration to “engage immediately in direct talks with the government of Iran without preconditions.” The group warned that “an attack on Iran would have disastrous consequences for security in the region and U.S. forces in Iraq. It would inflame hatred and violence in the Middle East and among Muslims everywhere.”

Just as Middle East illusions have done for almost a millennium.

Conn Hallinan is an analyst for FPIF.

Editor: John Feffer, IRC