Friday, January 21, 2011

Unhappy anniversary, Two

I'm a few days late on this one, but frankly I don't care.

Monday, January 17, was the 20th anniversary of the start of the Gulf War, the supposedly "good" war that expelled Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait. And the old hands were there to pat themselves on the back for their own wonderfulness.
Former President George H.W. Bush and top officials from his administration on Thursday remembered the Gulf War as a time in history when the world stood united against a tyrant as well as a "textbook example" of how to go to battle.

Before a crowd of 3,500 people, including Gulf War veterans, Bush and key members of his national security team gathered at Texas A&M University to discuss the 20th anniversary of the conflict, which began on Jan. 17, 1991. ...

Bush said helping to liberate Kuwait and guiding as commander in chief of the U.S.-led coalition troops was one of the great honors of his life. ...

Sheikh Ahmad Humood Jaber Al-Sabah, representing Kuwait's emir who was unable to attend, thanked the former president, his officials, the U.S. and its military forces.

"Believe me, Kuwait and its people will never forget you," he said. "We carry in our hearts what you did for us each and every day."
Who else joined in the orgy of self-congraulation? How about
then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and then-National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft — and H.E. Mohammad Abdullah Abulhasan, Kuwait's ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the war....

Their discussion detailed the efforts the U.S. made to try to resolve the situation diplomatically and build a worldwide coalition before deciding that military action was the only solution.
In other words, they lied through their teeth, still stained with blood precisely because of the on-going lies.

So herewith a history lesson, because we are also just a few weeks short of the 20th anniversary of the appearance of the print version of Lotus, which survived a couple of years before running aground on the shoals of printing costs. What follows is the full, unedited text of the lead article of that first issue, offered here for those too young (or too forgetful or too unwilling) to recall the truth.
Amid the intentionally mind-numbing drone of "successful sorties" and "significantly attritted" that so far has tricked many Americans into forgetting their "knowledge" of the Persian Gulf war comes through a prism of strict military censorship and while the pile of body bags remains small enough to see over, it's vital that we fix firmly in our minds a single, salient fact: George Bush wanted this war. From the start. He wanted it so much that he refused to acknowledge any hint of compromise, rejected out of hand any proposal, whether from ally or enemy, for a face-saving solution for Iraq, refused to countenance any settlement other than abject retreat - that is, humiliating defeat - for the "new Hitler."

Of course, he affected the highest moral stance, making grand declarations about refusal to "reward aggression." And indeed, the atrocity-laden invasion of Kuwait should not have been rewarded or even tolerated. But the painful fact remains that when faced with a choice between humiliation and war, nations have historically shown a depressingly consistent preference for the latter. If you don't want war, you have to give the other side a way to back out without appearing to back down. And that's exactly what George Bush refused to do.

George Bush wanted war.

That's why there was the parade of rationales-of-the-week, each of which was intended to strike a responsive, pro-war chord in Americans.

George Bush wanted war.

That's why just two months after they'd been imposed, White House officials were declaring economic sanctions had "failed" and Bush was said to be "out of patience."

George Bush wanted war.

That's why there were the posturing and pronouncements, the deadlines and denunciations, the rejection of anything resembling negotiations and the equation (by Vice-President Quayle) of patience with "appeasement."

George Bush wanted war.

It's not necessary to defend the indefensible invasion of Kuwait to recognize the depth of US hypocrisy on the issue, a level not seen since - well, since the invasion of Panama.

Bush's highly selective concern for human rights was perhaps the most obvious example. He quoted from Amnesty International reports about Iraqi savagery in Kuwait, but where were the quotes from AI's equally well-documented reports about outrages committed by Pakistan, by Saudi Arabia, by South Africa? Where were the international economic sanctions against Turkey for its brutal seizure and occupation of half of Cyprus? Where were the troops to stop Indonesian butchery in East Timor? And what of Syria, the once-and-future "terrorist nation" with which the US comfortably schmoozes now that it's politically expedient?

Then there was, again, the insistent denial of any chance of a settlement. Before war broke out, Iraq showed some flexibility - but every sign of compromise or concession was regarded with contempt when not ignored entirely. For example, Bush first said Secretary of State Baker could meet Iraqi Foreign Minister Aziz "any time before January 15," then scorned Saddam's proposal of January 12 as deceitful. He refused to speak to Saddam directly, which says to an Arab "You're insignificant, unworthy of my time." The US pointedly ignored the release of the hostages and dismissed as irrelevant Iraq's shifts from demanding a Mideast peace conference as part of a settlement to demanding a commitment to such a conference and from saying "no withdrawal" from Kuwait to "no unconditional withdrawal." After the Baker-Aziz meeting on January 9, the Iraqi's evasions on Kuwait were labeled callous intransigence by the White House. But as Roger Fisher, a leading specialist on international negotiations who advised participants in the meetings that lead to the Camp David peace accords, noted, what actually happened is that "for six hours, the Foreign Minister avoided saying Iraq would not give up Kuwait" - clearly an opening worth pursuing. Except that we didn't want to.

But the greatest hypocrisy may be a hidden one, one that goes to the very roots of the war: For years, the US has striven to keep any Arab nation from becoming preeminent in the Middle East, supposedly to maintain "stability" but in fact to preserve American corporate interests and access to cheap oil. So cynical has been our policy that during the Iran-Iraq war we not only secretly armed Iran, we provided military intelligence to Iraq and may have disinformed both sides to keep either from gaining an advantage even as the deaths mounted.

Pentagon strategists want a permanent base in the region, and a long-discussed scenario for the introduction of American forces is a "request for help from an Arab state attacked by another." Which means it's possible that the July meeting in which the US Ambassador to Iraq in effect told Saddam Hussein the US wouldn't care if he attacked Kuwait was the result of neither ignorance nor incompetence but a deliberate ploy to sucker Iraq into invading Kuwait in order to justify exactly what's followed. As Saudi Arabia openly acknowledges it'd be pleased with a large US military presence in the region and Kuwait says it'd welcome such troops on its soil for the indefinite future, such a twisted, immoral plan seems chillingly plausible.

That's particularly true since it's long been obvious that our goal in this crisis is not and never was the "liberation" of Kuwait - or, rather, the return of the emirs to their palaces. It's the destruction of Iraq and the establishment (or re-establishment) of American hegemony in the region, a goal that's become so clear that no one bothers to deny it.

Indeed, Bush admitted as much in his speech announcing the start of the war, when he said we intended to destroy Iraq's army, a plan going far beyond the UN resolutions he claimed as moral basis for US attacks - and thus also far beyond his Congressional authorization. (Health note: Don't hold your breath waiting for Congress to point that out.) And the Boston "Globe" reports that White House strategists are planning for "an indefinite and muscular presence" in the area including a large naval force in the Gulf and keeping newly-granted basing rights.

In short, this war isn't about "human rights" or "resisting aggression" or any of the other claptrap White House zombies incant. It's about what war is always about: power. Power, control, and domination. If justice was really our goal, we'd have reacted to Iraqi aggression by combining economic sanctions and patience with negotiations to address any legitimate grievances Iraq may have - and the issue of a Mideast peace conference would never have arisen because there already would've been one. But justice isn't our goal. Power is. That's why Iraqis die. That's why refugees stream into Jordan with tales of being bombed on the road out. That's why Israelis spend nights in sealed rooms. That's why thousands of body bags wait in Saudi Arabia. That's why the blood flows thicker and the hatred on both sides burns hotter. Power.

Power. That's why George Bush wanted this war. And we damned well better not forget it.
Even now.

Two if you will footnotes to that history. One is: Was it true that our real goal was, as I charged, to destroy Iraq, to, as I said in a personal letter to someone who challenged my argument, bomb it "back into the third world, deep, deep back?" In the next issue of Lotus I wrote:
In the course of our victory, we proved to anyone who could read or hear or see or breathe that we are liars and hypocrites, whose goals in the war had nothing to do with "freeing Kuwait" and everything to do with destroying Iraq. We bombed power plants, water supplies, oil refineries, roads and bridges, telephone lines and switching stations, and more, labeling them "legitimate military targets" because they could "help strengthen the Iraqi military" - a definition under which its difficult to conceive of anything that's not a "legitimate target."
So yes, I think I can say that was the goal. That's particularly true because - and this is the second footnote - of that July (1990) meeting I mentioned. It was between Saddam Hussein and then-US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie. After being hidden away by the Bush administration for some months, Glaspie emerged to testify to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that those early reports about the meeting, the ones that had her telling Saddam we didn't care about his threats against Kuwait, were false, that instead she had "flummoxed" a "stupid" Saddam into silence with "clear, repeated warnings" against any "belligerent" actions. At one point she tried to cow the Committee by asking, in effect, "Who are you going to believe - me or Saddam Hussein?"

It turned out the answer should have been "Saddam." Her own cable to the State Department reporting on the meeting, released some time later, essentially confirmed the Iraqi version of the meeting and denied hers. She told her superiors that she had emphasized the friendship of the US and Iraq and told Saddam the US "took no position" on Iraq's long-standing and increasingly-hostile border dispute with Kuwait, which is diplomat-speak for "Do what you think necessary; we won't interfere."

Twenty years later, the decision of the court remains the same: George Bush wanted that war.

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