The Devil’s Advocate
Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
when first we practice to deceive.
You make use of the post 9-11 fear and anger to implement plans for change in Southwest Asia and the Arab world that you, and your colleagues in the American Enterprise Institute and Project for a New American Century, have advocated for a decade. (You recognize the potential utility of anti-Arab racism and the tendency of your countrymen to conflate all Muslims.)
You say al-Qaeda is linked to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. (No serious Middle Eastern scholar believes this, but you know that under the circumstances, with Homeland Security and flags flown cavalry-like from SUVs and Arab-Americans getting beat up and rounded up—the lie will fly.)
You say Saddam is sponsoring the al-Ansar Kurdish group, joined by al-Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan, in northeastern Iraq. (But you know that pro-U.S. Kurdish forces in the northern "no-fly zone" in fact control that area, and Baghdad has minimal influence and no probable cause to support Islamic fundamentalism, which secularist Saddam has in fact always fought.)
You say Saddam has weapons of mass destruction threatening his neighbors and even the U.S. (The neighboring countries all dispute this. As of today, no evidence for any WMD has been found during six weeks of occupation. Both Bush and Rumsfeld have cavalierly noted they may never be found. Paul Wolfowitz has just told Vanity Fair that the "one issue, weapons of mass destruction," was "settled on" by the Bush administration "for bureaucratic reasons." [Emphasis added. Bureaucratic use of untruth, frankly acknowledged.] No problem for Wolfowitz, because, he suggests, the real reason for the war was to allow the U.S. to relocate troops from Saudi Arabia and so create a more peaceful Middle East. As Colin Powell said when the Niger uranium story, so crucial to the administration’s argument, was exposed as a hoax: "Fine." Why would any post-9-11 proud-to-be-an-American want to make an issue out of this?)
You say the WMDs were transported to Syria. (No evidence. But a good case for "regime change" in Syria. We can move on now, and tangle the web more.)
You say Syria has allowed fleeing Iraqi officials to enter the country. (Maybe, but do officials, even ones that their own people might eventually want to try for crimes [somewhat like your own people might eventually want to try you for crimes], people fleeing their illegally invaded country, violate any international law and provide you with any reasonable grounds to resent their travel plans? Or to demand from any government offering them refuge that they turn the refugee officials over to you, to your occupation regime that has little legitimacy in the eyes of the occupied?)
You say that whether or not any WMD are ever found, or whether any al-Qaeda link is ever established, it doesn’t matter. Because Iraq has now been liberated. (Actually, Iraq has been thrown into chaos by Operation Iraqi Freedom, its cultural heritage looted. There are daily anti-occupation riots and demonstrations in Iraq, and U.S. soldiers are being shot every day. It seems that the war Bush with much fanfare pronounced a victory isn’t really over yet. Plans for an interim Iraqi government seem in hopeless disarray. Within a month the Pentagon announced plans to reduce the U.S. military presence by the fall, and then, due to mounting violence—some of it directed at themselves—to increase it. Freedom, or mission-creep?)
You explain away that untidy unrest in freed Iraq by blaming diehard remnants of the Baath Party and Saddam supporters. (But the Sunni and Shiites alike are saying, "No to Saddam, No to the U.S.A.!" The demonstrations and rioting in Fallujah and Hit seem rooted in specific indignities that anyone, including secularists and Islamic fundamentalists, or for that matter Christians and Jews anywhere in the world, would resent.)
You attribute Shiite hostility to the foreign troops to Iranian interference. (Shiite Iran has limited influence among the Shiite community of course; but it doesn’t shape their feelings towards occupation. But this is a good argument for regime change in Iran, which you consider, and want the American people to consider, evil.)
You say that there are some al-Qaeda operatives in northeastern Iran, a lawless region bordering Afghanistan. (Quite probably; just look at a map. If there are refugee al-Qaeda in U.S.-allied Pakistan, to the east, there are probably routed al-Qaeda in Iran, to the west. And in U.S.-friendly Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, for that matter; those countries also border Afghanistan. But you’re not planning to overthrow those governments.)
You expand the point, and declare that Iran is harboring al-Qaeda. (It’s unlikely Tehran would do so willingly, given the lack of ideological affinity and the history of hostility between Iran and bin Laden’s group)
You say that members of the Revolutionary Guards are working with al-Qaeda. (Maybe some very corrupt ones, but as a rule you wouldn’t think Shiite Muslims loyal to the mullahs would associate with Wahhabi Muslims who have a special hatred for Shiites. But since the Iranian Shiite clerical establishment is particularly hostile to the U.S., more than the reformist President Muhammed Khatami, tarring those mullahs with an al-Qaeda brush might suit your purposes.)
You say you have intelligence information, received from the Saudis, that those particular, Iran-based al-Qaeda planned the recent attack that killed 8 Americans in Saudi Arabia, thus linking Iran and those American deaths. (Maybe. But CIA chief George Tenet, according to the Financial Times, contests this charge in a disagreement "likely to highlight the rivalry between the CIA and the Pentagon." If it’s true, it’s a very serendipitous addition to the list of arguments for Iranian regime change.)
You say Iran has biological and chemical WMDs. (So do many countries. But this argument worked in the Iraq invasion case, whatever the embarrassing outcome of that particular accusation. So maybe try it again.)
You say the Iranians are pursuing a nuclear weapons program. (The Iranians, who are signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, say they’re not; they state that they just want nuclear plants to generate electrical power, like they do in other modern countries. But let’s say they are working on nukes. Like Israel, Pakistan, India, China and other neighboring countries. And like the U.S., which is threatening to overthrow the Iranian regime. What would you do, if you were in charge of a sovereign state so threatened? But does Iran threaten us?)
You say Iran supports Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, all enemies of Israel.
That last is probably true, not that such support would justify the overthrow of the government of a sovereign state. The U.S. government has supported such terrorists as the Contras of Nicaragua, UNITA in Angola, RENAMO in Mozambique, and the current Israeli president. Would that (speaking abstractly) justify a foreign government toppling this one? Some things are best left to the population of a nation itself.
In any tangled web of lies, there are bits and pieces of truth or likelihood.
You can’t say certain truths. You can’t say (without embarrassingly exposing your historical sins) that you cannot forgive the Iranian people for overthrowing, in 1979, the murderous Shah you imposed on them in 1953; or for holding U.S. diplomats and spies hostage after his overthrow, when you refused to extradite him to Iran to face trial (despite his crimes and the U.S.-Iran extradition treaty); or for opposing your geopolitical goals in the region. You can’t say you’re thinking about placing the Shah’s son, in U.S. exile, back on the Peacock Throne and using him, as you did his father, as your "gendarme of the Gulf." These are hidden truths fit only for the neocon cognoscenti.
You don’t want to mention that Bush’s national security adviser Condoleeza Rice asked the National Security Council immediately after 9-11 "to think seriously about ‘how do you capitalize on these opportunities’ to fundamentally change American doctrine and the shape of the world in the wake of September 11." (Many would find it insensitive to use tragedy inflicted by one enemy as opportunity to attack another, totally unrelated enemy. But seriously opportunistic capitalization on tragedy clearly works.)
You wouldn’t want to mention that the motto of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency you much admire, is: By way of deception, thou shalt do war; or reveal your admiration for the philosopher Leo Strauss, who taught that the wise and good in power should and must use deception to manipulate the masses.
The spiders spinning this web of deceit have captured, and are now trying to digest, untidy Iraq. They hope to draw Syria and Iran into the web as well, and maybe even North Korea. They’ve already spun circles around U.S. public opinion, and hope through their relentless disinformation campaigns to join us all to the sticky project they call the New American Century.
Maybe time to get a broom out and start sweeping.
* * *
The above was inspired by the remarkable speech delivered on the Senate floor May 24 by the Democratic Senator from West Virginia, Robert C. Byrd. I’m not into his type of politics, but I thought the address ("The Truth Will Emerge") well crafted, eloquent, courageous, and true. (It might even offer some small redemption from the more dishonorable aspects of his long career.)
Somewhat like an Old Testament prophet, the 85-year-old Sen. Byrd tears into the Bushites’ deceit. He attacks the "exploitation of fear." He speaks of "prevarication and misuse of power." He declares, "There is ample evidence that the horrific events of September 11 have been carefully manipulated to switch public focus from Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, who masterminded the September 11 attacks, to Saddam Hussein, who did not." He "cringes" at the claim that the U.S. forces in Iraq are "liberators" and notes frankly "the smiling face of the United States as liberator is quickly assuming the scowl of an occupier." He notes "our dissembling" has alienated friends around the world.
He notes that most of the American people have accepted the lies up until now.
"But there is a line. It may seem to be drawn in invisible ink for a time, but eventually it will appear in dark colors, tinged with anger. When it comes to shedding American blood–when it comes to wreaking havoc on civilians, on innocent men, women and children, callous dissembling is not acceptable. Nothing is worth that kind of lie–not oil, not revenge, not re-election, not somebody’s grand pipe dream of a democratic domino theory. And mark my words, the calculated intimidation that we see so often of late by the ‘powers that be’ will only keep the loyal opposition quiet for just so long. Because eventually, like it always does, the truth will emerge. And when it does, this house of cards, built of deceit, will fall."
Well said, Senator. May your words help many to cross the line, get righteously angry and disquiet, and facilitate that fall of the deceitful.
GARY LEUPP is an an associate professor, Department of History, Tufts University and coordinator, Asian Studies Program.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org