A Very Useful (and Timely) Iraq Retrospective

Joyce Battle of the National Security Archive has just released a very useful and relevant bundle of documents — the first of a three-part series — that should remind everyone of the particularly critical roles neo-conservatives (despite their recent denials) and their erstwhile hero, Ahmad Chalabi, played in preparing the ground for the invasion of Iraq. The documents include newly declassified memos running from shortly after George W. Bush’s inauguration in January 2001 to May, 2003, as well as a 26-page chronology of the origins of the invasion (beginning with Albert Wohlstetter’s 1985 introduction of Chalabi to Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle), and a 19-page compendium of quotations by various protagonists that will remind everyone just how gullible, deluded, ignorant, and/or deceitful some of them (notably Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, Bernard Lewis) were.

Battle focuses in part on a Nov 27, 2001, Rumsfeld note, that was prepared, apparently in close coordination with Wolfowitz and Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith, for a meeting with then-CentCom commander Gen. Tommy Franks. Among other things, the memo details a strategy for the “decapitation” of the Iraqi government and the installation of a “Provisional Government” in its place and provides new evidence of how thoroughly Rumsfeld had bought into the fantasy — described in 2000 by former CentCom commander Anthony Zinni as the “Bay of Goats” scenario and peddled for years by Chalabi and his neo-con boosters — that arming the Iraqi National Congress (INC), protecting its forces in border enclaves, and recognizing it as the provisional government, combined with robust displays of U.S. military power, would be sufficient to bring about mass defections and Saddam’s collapse.

Other highlights of the newly declassified documents include:

# The difficulty of winning European support for attacking Iraq (except that of British Prime Minister Tony Blair) without real evidence that Baghdad was implicated in 9/11
# The State Department’s analytical unit observing that a decision by Tony Blair to join a U.S. war on Iraq “could bring a radicalization of British Muslims, the great majority of whom opposed the September 11 attacks but are increasingly restive about what they see as an anti-Islamic campaign”
# Pentagon interest in the perception of an Iraq invasion as a “just war” and State Department insights into the improbability of that outcome

On the last point, Battle links to a December 17, 2001, memo by the Pentagon’s chief of Special Operations, Robert Andrews, to Feith about a draft op-ed by Roman Catholic theologian (and authorized biographer of Pope John Paul II) George Weigel that “demonstrates how pre-emptive action against Iraq fits into the just-war tradition” (a position that was strongly opposed by the pope himself). At the time, Weigel was based at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a neo-conservative think tank presided over by [irony alert] Elliott Abrams from 1996 until 2001 when Abrams was inducted into Bush’s National Security Council as director of global democracy promotion. In a handwritten annotation, Feith thanks Andrews, noting that “George is a brilliant guy and a gentleman.”

I knew Weigel back in the mid-1970s when he served as “Scholar-in-Residence” in the Seattle office of the Berkeley-based World Without War Council (WWWC), a somewhat cultish group headed by Robert Pickus. (I was on the boards of the local World Affairs Council and United Nations Association at the time.) The Council, which purported to be a peace group but appeared designed to attract liberals who were questioning the morally exceptional nature of U.S. foreign policy in the wake of Vietnam, invariably took remarkably hawkish positions on just about everything — from the development of the B-1 bomber and the neutron bomb to sustaining covert actions against ostensibly anti-American governments and movements in the Third World. It also specialized in red-baiting progressive groups, particularly those associated with those associated with the local Catholic Archdiocese and the mainstream Protestant churches, a practice at which it became increasingly adept during the mid-1980’s — Weigel had left for Washington by then — when it championed the “Reagan Doctrine” and aligned itself with racist and anti-immigrant groups, notably the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), to oppose the city council’s decision to make Seattle a “Sanctuary City” for Central Americans fleeing violence in their homelands.

The group also poured scorn on the notion that justice and peace were integrally interrelated. In one 1981 paper co-authored with Pickus, Weigel declared that the claim that “‘justice’ is a pre-condition to peace must be debunked, for in virtually every case it is not a peace position at all, but an attempt to promote a particular vision of political economy.” (This coincided with the Reagan administration’s cozying up with apartheid South Africa, normalizing relations with the military junta in Argentina, and launching its “secret war” against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.) Their position was bluntly denounced by one prominent Catholic theologian at the time as tantamount to “throw[ing] out centuries of Judaeo-Christian thought on the nature of biblical peace.” It was natural, therefore, that Weigel migrated to the EPPC.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.