The Surreal Politics of Premeditated War
by R.W. Behan
Published on Sunday, December 3, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
George W. Bush, who proudly claimed the mantle of “war president,” was keenly rebuked in the recent mid-term election. The event was notable, but it merely continued the surreal politics of premeditated war—a politics that has dominated the last six bizarre, hideous years of our nation’s history.
Two elements of the repudiation seem unreal, indeed. Not the fact of it, but the amazing length of its gestation period—those six years—and how tepid it was. Given the documented record of the Bush Administration—lying us into war, torturing prisoners, rewarding cronies with no-bid contracts, spying secretly on the nation’s citizens, selling public policy to Jack Abramoff’s clients, stating even their intent to ignore laws with dozens of “signing statements”—one would expect the political about-face to have occurred far sooner, and the protest to have been a firestorm. Bush loyalists in Congress (and George Bush) should have been turned out angrily and en masse two years ago.
The victorious Democrats’ response was even more surprising, and also unreal. “Impeachment is off the table” quickly became the mantra: let us instead proceed with raising the minimum wage. Apparently the Bush Administration’s record is flawless, showing nothing remotely approaching a high crime or a misdemeanor. Impeachment would be a “waste of time.”
There is a good reason for these strange results: we practice a politics of surrealism, and have done so since George Bush was first put in office.
Ron Suskind of the New York Times learned how the Bush Administration works, from a “senior advisor to Bush” (Karl Rove is a suspect): “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” They have done that, incessantly, and it is the source of the surrealism. Spins, evasions, omissions, jingoisms, distortions, “perception management” (i.e., propaganda), and deliberate lying all contribute to a political discourse adrift from what is honest, true, and reliable.
The Clear Skies Act allowed more pollution, the Healthy Forests Act caused more trees to be cut down, the Patriot Act scarred the Bill of Rights, No Child Left Behind was a step toward privatizing public education, the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act was a bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry and began the process of dismantling Medicare, the Military Commissions Act fostered torture and suspended habeas corpus.
But no such manufactured reality is more misleading, fraudulent, and damaging than the “global war on terror.”
It took six years for a tardy and mild electoral protest of the Iraq war to surface, because the trusting American people believed the “war on terror” was the just and moral response of an innocent nation to a brutal terrorist attack. They handily reelected the President who was prosecuting it, proudly supported the troops, and accepted as necessary evils the Bush Administration excesses. But gradually that acceptance weakened, and on November 7, 2006 it was withdrawn.
The recent electoral turnaround was generated largely by the horrific conditions in Iraq today, the savage bloodletting of insurgency and civil war suffered by Americans and Iraqis alike. These conditions finally exceeded public tolerance. But the rationale for the war, its purpose, went unquestioned, because the Bush Administration obscurantism has been so successful.
We need to strip away the created reality of the “war on terror” to see the true nature of it instead, or our weird, unreal politics will continue.
The wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq were not simply justified and honorable retaliations to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. They couldn’t possibly have been that, because both of them were premeditated—conceived, planned, and prepared long before September 11, 2001.
(Yes, there have been premeditated military incursions in the past—Panama, Grenada, and Kosovo come to mind—but none was of the magnitude and duration of the Afghan and Iraqi wars. Never before have we unleashed full scale combat, unprovoked, on sovereign foreign nations and then installed permanent military bases to occupy them.)
Though it has not been addressed in the mass media, the factual story of the President’s premeditated wars is clearly visible, and when the story is read at one sitting, the dreamlike quality of our politics is apparent.
The story to follow will not be a great revelation to anyone who has read, perhaps a bit more than casually, about our recent political, military, and diplomatic past, and has spent some time searching the Internet for corroboration and details. On the other hand, it is far from common knowledge, because in the manufactured reality crafted by the Bush Administration, it does not exist.
Two strands of history converged in the Bush years. One led to the invasion of Afghanistan, the other to the invasion of Iraq, and the strands came together on September 11, 2001.
The opening chapter of the story reveals a photograph dating to the Reagan years of Donald Rumsfeld cordially shaking hands with Saddam Hussein. We supported Saddam in his war with Iran. But history convulses: on January 26, 1998, Mr. Rumsfeld and 17 others, members of the Project for a New American Century, wrote a letter to President Clinton, urging the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. If we fail to do so, they were candid in asserting, “a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will be put at hazard.”
This could be considered the fountainhead of our surreal politics. The PNAC proposed premeditated war explicitly, in a bizarre retrogression to the centuries of unapologetic European imperialism. Since World War II and the birth of the United Nations, however, the world has been seeking to surpass imperialism, struggling to settle international difficulties peaceably—and here was an open, sad, and radical rebuff.
(In addition to Mr. Rumsfeld, 10 others of the signatories would serve in the Bush Administration: Elliott Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Paula Dobriansky, Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, Richard Perle, William Schneider, Jr., Robert Zoellick, and Paul Wolfowitz.)
When George W. Bush took office, a concern for the “significant portion of the world’s oil supply” was never far from view, because the Administration’s personal linkages to the oil industry were intimate, historic, and numerous. The president and vice president were just the first examples: eight cabinet secretaries and the national security advisor were recruited directly from the oil industry, and so were 32 others in the secretariats of Defense, State, Energy, Agriculture, Interior, and the Office of Management and Budget.
The Bush Administration came to power anxious, we know from published sources, to fulfill the PNAC’s vision of regime change in Iraq.
In his second week in office, President Bush appointed Vice President Cheney to chair a National Energy Policy Development Group. The supersecret “Energy Task Force,” as it came to known, was composed of officials from the relevant federal agencies and beyond question heavily attended by energy industry executives and lobbyists. (The full membership has yet to be revealed, but Enron’s Kenneth Lay was conspicuously present.)
One brute fact had to be apparent to the Task Force: in the Caspian Basin, and beneath the Iraqi deserts there are 125 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, and the potential for 433 billion barrels more. Anyone controlling that much oil could break OPEC’s stranglehold overnight.
By early March, 2001, the Task Force was poring over maps of the Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, tanker terminals, and oil exploration blocks. It studied an inventory of “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts”—dozens of oil companies from 30 different countries, in various stages of exploring and developing Iraqi crude. (These documents were forced into view several years later by a citizen group, Judicial Watch, with a Freedom of Information Act proceeding. It wasn’t easy—the Bush Administration appealed the lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court—but the maps and documents can now be seen and downloaded at : http://www.judicialwatch.org/iraqi-oil-maps.shtml.)
Not a single U.S. oil company, however, was among the “suitors,” and that was intolerable. Mr. Cheney’s task force concluded, “By any estimation, Middle East oil producers will remain central to world security. The Gulf will be a primary focus of U.S. international energy policy.”
Condoleezza Rice’s National Security Council, meanwhile, was directed by a top secret memo to “cooperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered melding two seemingly unrelated areas of policy.” The NSC was ordered to support “the review of operational policies towards rogue states such as Iraq and actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.”
The Bush Administration seemed clearly to be drawing a bead on Iraqi oil—long before the “global war on terror” was envisioned and marketed. But how could the “capture of new and existing oil fields” be made to seem less aggressive, less baldly in violation of international law?
At the State Department, a policy-development initiative called “The Future of Iraq” was undertaken which would accomplish this. The date was April, 2002, almost a full year before the invasion. The “Oil and Energy Working Group” provided the cover. Iraq, it said in its final report:, “should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war…the country should establish a conducive business environment to attract investment in oil and gas resources.”
“Capture” would take the form of “investment,” and the vehicle for doing so would be the “production sharing agreement.” In exchange for investing in development costs, oil companies would “share” in the subsequent production. What would happen, though, if the companies’ investments were only minimal, but their shares of the production were disproportionately, obscenely large?
That’s the way it will work out. Production sharing agreements (PSA’s) are in place covering 75% of the undeveloped Iraqi fields, and the oil companies, soon to sign the contracts, will earn as much 162% on their “investments.” The “foreign suitors” are not quite so foreign now: the players on the inside tracks are Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, BP-Amoco and Royal Dutch-Shell.
The use of PSA’s, instead of alternative methods of financing infrastructure, however, will cost the Iraqi people hundreds of billions of dollars in just the first few years of the “investment” program.
PSA’s are favored by the oil companies because the term “production sharing agreement” is a euphemism for legalized theft. PSA’s were not adopted voluntarily by the Iraqis, however: their use was specified by the U.S. State Department and institutionalized by Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority.
So a line of dots begins to point at Iraq, though nothing illegal or unconstitutional has yet taken place. We are still in the policy-formulation stage, but two “seemingly unrelated areas of policy”—national security policy and international energy policy—have become indistinguishable.
Another line of dots begins with the Carter Administration encouraging and arming the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden, in Afghanistan, to fend off the Russian invasion there.
And so the next chapter in the story of George Bush’s wars is underway.
The strategic location of Afghanistan can scarcely be overstated. The Caspian Basin contains some $16 trillion worth of oil and gas resources, and the most direct pipeline route to the richest markets is through Afghanistan.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the first western oil company to express interest and take action in the Basin was the Bridas Corporation of Argentina. It acquired production leases and exploration contracts in the region, and by November of 1997 had signed an agreement with General Dostum of the Northern Alliance and with the Taliban to build a pipeline across Afghanistan.
Not to be outdone, the American company Unocal fought Bridas at every turn, even spurning an invitation from Bridas to join an international consortium in the Basin. Unocal wanted exclusive control of the trans-Afghan pipeline, and hired a number of consultants in its conflict with Bridas: Henry Kissinger, Richard Armitage (now Deputy Secretary of State in the Bush Administration), Zalmay Khalilzad (a signer of the PNAC letter to President Clinton) and Hamid Karzai. (Eventually Bridas sued Unocal in the U.S. courts, and won.)
Unocal stayed on the attack until 1999, frequently wooing Taliban leaders at its headquarters in Texas, and hosting them in meetings with federal officials in Washington, D.C.
Unocal and the Clinton Administration hoped to have the Taliban cancel the Bridas contract, but were getting nowhere. Mr. John J. Maresca, a Unocal Vice President, testified to a House Committee of International Relations on February 12, 1998, asking politely to have the Taliban removed and a stable government inserted. His discomfort was well placed.
Six months later terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden bombed the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and two weeks after that President Clinton launched a cruise missile attack into Afghanistan. Clinton issued an executive order on July 4, 1999, freezing the US held assets and prohibiting further trade transactions with the Taliban.
Mr. Maresca could count that as progress. More would follow.
Immediately on taking office, the new Bush Administration actively took up negotiating with the Taliban once more, seeking still to have the Bridas contract vacated in favor of Unocal. The parties met three times, in Washington, Berlin, and Islamablad, but the Taliban wouldn’t budge.
Behind the negotiations, however, planning was underway to take military action against the Taliban. The State Department sought and gained concurrence from both India and Pakistan to do so, and in July of 2001 three American officials met with Pakistani and Russian intelligence people to inform them of planned military strikes against Afghanistan the following October.
State Department official Christina Rocca told the Taliban, at their last pipeline negotiation in August of 2001, just five weeks before 9/11, “Accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs.”
Common to both the Afghan and Iraqi lines of dots are energy resources, both oil and gas. It is true our country depends on oil and gas, but it is not the American people who need to corner Mid East oil and gas by force. Dozens of oil companies around the world—the “foreign suitors,” for example—can supply us with Iraqi oil or Caspian Basin gas, and would be pleased to do so. There is no reason not to rely on them: we are buying more and more Toyotas and Volvos, and fewer Chevrolets and Fords, with no apparent damage to our national security. Why not do the same with gasoline, diesel, and LNG, and avoid armed conflict?
Why not? Because the bottom lines of Exxon-Mobil, Unocal and other domestic oil companies, in the eyes of the Bush Administration, are sacrosanct. It is not the American consumers, then, but only the American oil companies who benefit from George Bush’s premeditated wars.
Also common to both lines of dots, and integral to the overall story, is the historic, intimate, and profitable relationship across several generations between the Bush family and the royal family of Saudi Arabia. It can be seen today in the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based investment company focused primarily in the arms, security, and energy industries. Both George H.W. and George W. Bush have been deeply involved in Carlyle, and so have a number of the Saudi royalty. (And so, incidentally, has the family of Osama Bin Laden.)
Carlyle has profited immensely from the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars. Its legal matters are handled by Baker, Botts—James Baker’s law firm in Texas. Mr. Baker also has a personal interest in Carlyle, amounting to some $180 million. (Baker, Botts defended Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia, who was sued by the families of Trade Tower victims for alleged complicity in the attacks.) Another client of Baker, Botts is Exxon-Mobil.
In September of 2000, with the Presidential election approaching, the Project for a New American Century published a report, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” The PNAC once more advocated pre-emptive war, i.e., premeditated war, something unprecedented in the U.S. history, but it realized what a radical departure that would represent. Moving to such a mindset would be long and difficult, in the absence of “some catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor.”
When President Bush assumed office three other members of the Project for a New American Century joined his administration: Richard Cheney, Douglas Feith, and Lewis Libby. Pre-emptive, premeditated war was formally adopted when the President signed the National Security Strategy early in his tenure.
So the twists and turns, convulsions, and complexity of people and ideas continued, and so did the jockeying for the world’s oil wealth, but still nothing illegal or unconstitutional had been done.
The rationale, the urge, and the planning, however, for attacking both Afghanistan and Iraq were in place. But to attack a sovereign nation unprovoked would enrage the American people—and much of the world, as well. The Bush Administration bided its time.
The preparations had all been done secretly, wholly within the executive branch. The Congress was not informed until the endgame of the premeditation, when President Bush, making his dishonest case for the “war on terror” asked for and was granted the discretion to use military force. The American people were equally denied information of critical public importance. Probably never before in our history was such a drastic and momentous action undertaken with so little knowledge or oversight: the dispatch of America’s armed forces into five years of violence.
The story of George Bush’s premeditated wars now enters its final chapter.
The catastrophic event takes place. A hijacked airliner probably en route to the White House crashes in Pennsylvania, the Pentagon is afire, and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center are rubble.
In the first hours of frenetic response, fully aware of al Qaeda’s culpability, both President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld seek frantically to link Saddam Hussein to the attacks, we know from on site-witnesses. They are anxious to proceed with their planned invasion. And less than a week later, at a meeting of the National Security Council, President Bush ordered the Defense Department to be ready to handle Iraq, “possibly occupying Iraqi oil fields.”
The controversies rage on yet today about the events of September 11, 2001. No steel building has ever collapsed from fire alone. Buildings falling precisely into their footprints are the marks of deliberate (and expert) demolition. The faulty construction/foreshortened lifespan/insurance angle. The collapse of a third building that was not hit at all. The short-selling of airline stock in previous days. The Pentagon hit by a missile, not a civilian airliner. Michael Rupert’s book “Crossing the Rubicon” lays the blame for 9/11 directly at Dick Cheney’s feet. Senator Robert Dole’s former chief of staff, Mr. Stanley Hilton, claims he can prove George Bush signed an order authorizing the attacks. Half the people polled in New York city believed the Bush Administration had prior knowledge of the attack, and “consciously failed” to act. Et cetera.
(Conspiracy is forever easier to see than to find, but that does not obviate the need to seek thoroughly the whole truth about 9/11, and that has yet to be done.)
Involving the Bush Administration in the execution of 9/11, or even accommodating their informed inaction, is almost too appalling to contemplate. But if they needed a reason to proceed with their planned invasions, they could not have been handed a more fortuitous and spectacular excuse.
9/11 was a criminal act of terrorism, not a violation of our entire nation’s security. Comparing it, as the Bush Administration immediately did, to Pearl Harbor was ludicrous: the hijacked airliners were not the vanguard of a formidable naval armada, an air force, and a standing army ready to engage in all out war, as the Japanese were prepared to do and did in 1941. 9/11 was a shocking event of unprecedented scale, but to characterize it as an invasion of national security was criminal. It was creating reality. It was also, and in the extreme, surreal, because the Bush Administration chose consciously to frighten the American people beyond any conceivable necessity. It adopted fear mongering as a mode of governance.
As not a few disinterested observers noted at the time, international criminal terrorism is best countered by international police action, which Israel and other nations have proven many times over to be effective.
Then why was a “war” declared on “terrorists and states that harbor terrorists?”
The pre-planned attack on Afghanistan, as we have seen, was meant to nullify the contract between the Taliban and the Bridas Corporation, to assure access to the Caspian Basin riches for American oil companies. It was a pure play of international energy policy. It had nothing to do, as designed, with apprehending Osama bin Laden—a pure play of security policy.
But the two “seemingly unrelated areas of policy” had been “melded,” so here was an epic opportunity to bait-and-switch--and the opportunity was not missed for a moment. Conjoining the terrorist and the state that harbored him made a “war” plausible: it would be necessary to overthrow the Taliban as well as to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. (As it turned out, of course, the Taliban was overthrown instead of bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, but the energy policy goal was achieved, at least. And years later President Bush was astonishing in his candor, when he admitted “Osama bin Laden isn’t important.”)
The first monstrous and intentional deception—the declaration of a “war on terror”—took place. There was no talk of contracts, pipelines, or Argentinian oil companies. Osama bin Laden and the Taliban were cleverly, ingeniously conflated, and there was only talk of war.
On October 7, 2001 the carpet of bombs is unleashed over Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai, the former Unocal consultant, is installed as head of an interim government. Subsequently he is elected President of Afghanistan, and welcomes the first U.S. envoy—Mr. John J. Maresca, Vice President for International Relations of the Unocal Corporation, who had implored Congress three years previously to have the Taliban overthrown. Mr. Maresca was succeeded by Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad—also a former Unocal consultant. (Mr. Khalilzad has since become Ambassador to Iraq.)
With the Taliban banished and the Bridas contract moot, Presidents Karzai of Afghanistan and Musharraf of Pakistan meet on February 8, 2002, sign an agreement for a new pipeline, and the way forward is open for Unocal once more.
The Bridas contract was breached by US military force, but behind the combat was Unocal. Bridas sued Unocal in the US courts for contract interference, and in 2004 it won, overcoming Richard Ben Veniste’s law firm. That firm had multibillion dollar interests in the Caspian Basin, and shared an office in Uzbekistan with the Enron Corporation. In 2004, Mr. Ben Veniste was serving as a 9/11 Commissioner.
About a year after the Karzai/Musharraf agreement was signed, an article appeared in “Alexander’s Gas and Oil Connections,” an obscure trade publication. It described the readiness of three US federal agencies to finance the prospective pipeline, and how “…the United States was willing to police the pipeline infrastructure through permanent stationing of it troops in the region.” The article appeared on February 23, 2003.
The objective of the first premeditated war was now achieved. The Bush Administration stood ready with financing to build the pipeline across Afghanistan, and with a permanent military presence to protect it.
Within two months President Bush sent the military might of America sweeping into Iraq.
The second round of deliberate deception was more egregious by far.
Alleging a relationship between bin Laden’s al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan had at least some basis in fact. Alleging a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein simply did not. And the weapons-of-mass-destruction argument was equally fraudulent, we know now. But the bait-and-switch “war on terrorism” would continue. “Cakewalk.” The staging of the Jessica Lynch rescue. The toppling of the statue in Baghdad. Mission accomplished. The orchestrated capture of Saddam Hussein. And the barrage of managed perception continues to this day.
The smokescreen includes the coverup of the 9/11 attacks on the Trade Towers and the Pentagon. Initially and fiercely resisting any inquiry at all, President Bush finally appoints a 10-person “9/11 Commission.” Its report places the blame on “faulty intelligence.” President Bush and Vice President Cheney are accorded breathtaking courtesies in the inquiry: they are not required to testify under oath, and they need not even testify separately. At the insistence of the White House, they are “interviewed” together in the Oval Office, with no transcription permitted.
The apparent manipulation of pre-war intelligence is not addressed by the 9/11 Commission, the veracity President Bush’s many statements is assumed without question, and the troubling incongruities of 9/11 are ignored.
Many of the 10 commissioners, however, were burdened with stunning conflicts of interest—Mr. Ben Veniste, for example— mostly by their connections to the oil and defense industries, both of which were benefited beyond measure (and doubt) by the Mid East conflicts.
Then the Abu Ghraib horrors came to the surface. Then the spectacular cronyism of the no-bid contracts, with Mr. Cheney and his former company, Halliburton, becoming the icons of corruption. Then the domestic spying issue. Torrents of exposés were published, while Iraq descended into the hellish quagmire of insurgency and civil war—with Afghanistan belatedly following suit.
On November 7, 2006 the American people said, “Enough!” By any measure—by public acclaim—the last six years have been a national tragedy and a national disgrace.
In spite of the Democrats’ united message rejecting it, many citizens are calling actively for the impeachment of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and perhaps others. (Secretary Rumsfeld has left the Administration, but faces prosecution under German law.)
The story told here has to be considered “circumstantial.” None of it results from testimony under oath, none of it has been admitted as legal evidence in a jurisprudential undertaking, and the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven remains axiomatic. And we might well reiterate the humane and civil plea, heard frequently after 9/11: what we need is justice, not vengeance.
We should not proceed directly to impeachment. At the very least, however, the story of George Bush’s premeditated wars raises questions of presidential dereliction as grave as any in our history.
We need to know the truth and all the truth. The time has come, as well as the opportunity, for formal, Congressional investigations, based on subpoenas, sworn testimony, and direct evidence about 9/11 and about the created reality of the “war on terror.”
The new Congress has no greater Constitutional duty than to find this truth and display it, if our nightmarish politics is to end. If such inquiries clearly exonerate the Bush Administration, the nation can breathe deeply and go on. If they do not, then but only then should impeachment be undertaken.
To fail in this responsibility is to condone the surreal political discourse the Bush Administration has imposed. That could render it the permanent condition of American governance.
Richard W. Behan's last book was Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands (Island Press, 2001). He is currently working on a more broadly rendered critique, To Provide Against Invasions: Corporate Dominion and America’s Derelict Democracy. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.