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Empire
Transcript: 9/12 and the 'War on Terror'
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Last Modified: 09 Nov 2011 11:49

This is the transcript for the Empire episode: 9/12 and the 'War on Terror' (Thursday, September 29, 2011)

Marwan Bishara

Hello and welcome to Empire, I am Marwan Bishara. On September 12th, America woke up baffled and looking for answers, but a battered Washington was already obsessing about retribution and mandated the Bush Administration, to wage a war on terror, above and beyond the call of reason. Like a pyromaniac fireman, it went to fight fire with so much firepower, the tragic 9/11 attacks paled in comparison. Those daring to ask bold questions were treated as soft liberals, Muslim lovers, even Al-Qaeda apologists. Soul searching was deemed counterproductive, criticism unpatriotic. You're either for the Bush War or against America. Ten years later, many questions remain unanswered. What are the lessons, if any, learned from the debacle of 9/11 and 9/12?

To help me answer these questions, I am joined by Chas Freeman, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Author of, most recently, America's Misadventures in the Middle East, and Bob Grenier, former CIA Counter-terrorism Director, Islamabad Station Chief and agency veteran for 27 years. John Esposito, Professor of Religion International Affairs at Georgetown University and Author of Unholy War:  Terror In The Name of Islam, amongst many others. And last but not least, Peter Beinart, Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York and author of 'The Good Fight:  Why Liberals and Only Liberals Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again'. But first, let's start with some of the facts, the Bush Administration tried to conceal all along.

President George W Bush (Archive)

I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.  (Cheers)

Narrator

And with those words, George Bush began the War on Terror.  Focussing the world's attention in one direction, toward Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda and then Iraq, not where it logically should have gone.

Anthony Summers

There's clear evidence that the Bush Administration and President Bush personally did not want the hardest part, the clearest part of the information gathered, indicating Saudi involvement in 9/11, to come out.

Narrator

15 of the 19 hijackers that day were Saudi, but the White House would rather you didn't know this. In fact it deliberately hushed it up.

Anthony Summers

The last 28 pages, the last chapter, if you like, of the Congressional Joint Enquiry Report, have been totally redacted, suppressed, censored.

Narrator

The real story of 9/11 didn't begin in New York on a bright September day.

Narrator

It began in Kabul, Christmas eve, 1979. The soviet union sent 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, in an ill-fated attempt to secure the country and its oil pipelines for the Kremlin. Washington sees an opportunity and President Jimmy Carter approves a covert plan, Operation Cyclone, to fund local rebel militias. Before long, the White House finds a partner, willing to match its financing in the House of Saud. To keep this all secret, the millions handed over to these fighters were funnelled through Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI.

Why were these countries so willing to work together? Because a mere six weeks before the Soviet invasion, the world witnessed this. 52 American hostages, blind-folded and paraded before the cameras. International humiliation for Washington. The final confirmation of the success of the Iranian Revolution and crucially, a new regime openly hostile to Riyadh. The US and Saudi Arabia now found themselves politically and diplomatically in total agreement, and the rationale for being so was obvious.
 
Anthony Summers

Because of oil, because the oil card is the ace. It had been paramount since the Second World War, when President Roosevelt sat down on a US warship with the King of Saudi Arabia and essentially made the Faustian deal over oil, that has lasted from then until now.

Narrator

And once that deal was struck, it forced the hand of American foreign policy in the region for decades. Even though, as in the case of Afghanistan, Washington failed to realise the long-term consequences, or if it did, chose to ignore them. Ronald Reagan's misunderstanding of the region was so clouded by the Cold War, that when he invited Mujahideen leaders to the White House in 1985, he told the American people, they were "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers". It wasn't until many years later that Pakistan's former president was honest enough to admit the shared culpability. "We helped create the Mujahideen", he said, "armed them, paid them, fed them and sent them to a jihad".

Neither did the United States realise what a rich, educated person like Osama bin Laden might later do with the organisation that we all had enabled him to establish. The turning point came five years later. By the summer of 1990, the Soviet Union was collapsing, which meant the Mujahideen were now surplus to requirements. But that August, Saddam Hussein decided to invade Kuwait. Once again, the US and Saudi had a shared strategic and economic interest. No mention was made of the now-embarrassing overtures Washington had made to Saddam, back when he was helping to keep Iran in check. Instead, the US acted with tacit Saudi approval, using language eerily familiar 13 years later.

President George H W Bush (Archive)

As I report to you, air attacks are underway against military targets in Iraq.

President George W Bush (Archive)

At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations.

President George H W Bush (Archive)

We are determined to knock out Saddam Hussein's nuclear bomb potential.

President George W Bush (Archive)

To disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.

Narrator

And the similarities cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence.

Anthony Summers

The Bush Administration was determined, simply to keep the boat on an even keel.  After all, it was a boat that the Bush family, father and son, had been riding themselves in the oil business for a very long time.

Narrator

The abandoned rebel fighters now saw a common enemy in Washington and its partner Riyadh, which is why opponents of the ruling family inside Saudi, continued to fund and support them. The White House quickly learned of this, but didn't want to rock the boat. The risk to the oil relationship was just too high. So, the evidence was hidden, the narrative was changed and the war on terror looked elsewhere.

Marwan Bishara

Bob, you worked with the CIA for some 27 years. Do you agree with the thesis that this is blowback from those years of secret co-ordination between the CIA, the Saudi Intelligence and the Pakistani Intelligence?

Robert Grenier

Well, I think that, we could in part ascribe 9/11 to blowback from unwise US policies. But the idea that there was official Saudi complicity in creating the organisation which then attacked the United States in the way that it did, I have not seen a shred of evidence to suggest that.

Marwan Bishara

There's not accusations that have created organisations but they did co-ordinate to create the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.

Robert Grenier

Oh yes.

Marwan Bishara

And the Arab Afghans that graduated from Afghanistan after the Soviet pullout in 1989, are the ones who founded Al-Qaeda.

Robert Grenier

Yes. Absolutely, so this was an unintended consequence of a previous policy, no question about that. I mean I've had these conversations with parties all across the Middle East, I was the Station Chief in Algiers when Islamists in Algeria were organising themselves at the time. Ultimately it produced a Civil War in Algeria.

Marwan Bishara

But that does not involve intended policies does it? Blowback by its nature, does not necessarily intend, intended policies?

Robert Grenier

No. Indeed.

Marwan Bishara

But there were policies of creating another Vietnam of sorts for the Soviet Union and Afghanistan.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

Well indeed we aided the Mujahideen.  During the opening phases of that, I was working on China. I had $600m, in mostly Saudi money, to buy Chinese weapons for the Mujahideen.  It's certainly the case that the Mujahideen became a very powerful force, not only in Afghanistan, but in neighbouring areas of Pakistan and it is certainly the case that, they were taken advantage of by Osama Bin Laden and others, mainly Egyptians, some of whom are still around to trouble us, and that they sponsored 9/11.

Marwan Bishara

What we have is a situation where, for the first time in the history of Islam, for the last 14 centuries, that we have an apocalyptic Islam of this nature, that suddenly wants to go on and attack towers two oceans away, on some mission, on some Jihad, on some crusade, well of some sort, that we've never seen before. Until the question of Afghanistan appeared on the map and Arab Afghans graduated from Afghanistan.

Dr John Esposito

But I think that, the intention of the US, of Saudi Arabia etc, was a good intention at the time, in terms of supporting the Mujahideen against the Soviet and I think the development of Al-Qaeda, actually, really as a kind of opposition force and as a force for terrorism, really developed after that. Because we know that, for example, Bin Laden wound up increasingly breaking relations with the Saudi regime because, when he looked at the impending first Gulf War, he felt that there should be an Arab Muslim response and that a US led armada would not only mean that the US would be coming in, but, what in fact was the fact, that the region would become even more dependant. And I think from that point on, as that estrangement occurs, you begin to see Bin Laden, not only in a fallout situation with the Saudi Government, but it becomes "easy" to then have a fallout with the US, because of its close ties with Saudi Arabia and then for the other issues that emerge.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

Osama bin Laden first came to my attention, I was Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, when he objected to the presence of foreign forces in Saudi Arabia and King Fahd, speaking of him and others like him, described him as a nut. Not a dangerous nut but just a nut. He ended up being thrown out of the kingdom, disowned by his own family and exiled to Sudan, where he hitched up with the Islamic Jihad of Egypt and began to formulate an ideology, which was entirely new.

Marwan Bishara

So we have a situation whereby an archangel becomes Lucifer, because suddenly the United States became the great Satan, while before that in the 80s, it was the Soviet Union. But he was then working alongside American CIA and other Saudi Intelligence Officers in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

When he was in Afghanistan, he was very much a marginal figure, not very important. There was no such thing as Al-Qaeda that was formed much later.

Professor Peter Beinart

I mean, I think part of the problem with the whole idea of blowback is the United States was a global hegemon with interests all over the world, being involved with all kinds of things. So it's not very hard to find that the US may have been involved in something over here, that then may have come out over there. I mean that has been much of the story of Post-Cold War American foreign policy, has been the fallout of the Cold War and a Cold War in which America dealt with all kinds of very unsavoury people, who did all kinds of bad things to their own societies and sometimes, even ultimately, came back to hurt us. But also was doing so in a struggle against a global superpower that was, I think, far more malevolent in its ideology than ours.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

The United States opposed the Soviet expansion into Afghanistan because of Cold War geopolitical considerations, but also out of devotion at that time, to the rule of law and the idea that large countries should not be allowed to gobble up small neighbours. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the same factors came into play. The United States knew the Cold War had ended and a new world was beginning and we did not want that world to begin with the President of the sort of aggression that Saddam Hussein conducted. There was also, of course, an element of concern about oil, because we do not want a single country, particularly a malevolent and irresponsible one, like the one that Saddam Hussein represented, to control the world's oil supply.  So yes, oil was a consideration but it wasn't the driving factor.

Marwan Bishara

So here we have two countries, original power and an imperial power. They have three things in common at least. One, a complete hatred to Arab nationalism, secular Arab nationalism, now served downwards. Two, a complete hatred to the Iranian Revolution and three, a complete hatred to communism. So here we have, basically a strategic partnership, beginning with Afghanistan. Now, he might be considered a nut, but what I know and I profiled Osama Bin Laden in 1992, what we know, is something very simple. There was something called the Arab Afghans. Those were originally financed, grouped, recruited and sent to Afghanistan, through CIA and Saudi financing, or not?

Robert Grenier

The CIA certainly had nothing, no role in recruiting these people in their home countries and sending them to Afghanistan. I mean, these people were drawn, as if by a magnet, to come and engage.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

Nor as far as I know Bob, did we ever finance this group.

Marwan Bishara

No it was financed by Saudi Arabia.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

It was financed mainly by private subscription in Saudi Arabia. There was, during the War against the Soviets, official Saudi assistance directly to some of these groups yes. But I think, one of the things that happened immediately after the end of the Soviet intervention, was that there was a big effort in Saudi Arabia to prevent further private donations to some of the worst of these groups.

Robert Grenier

Try and bring them under control.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

To bring them under control.

Dr John Esposito

Prior to this period of time, in many of the countries, Egypt, Algeria, etc, your so-called opposition groups, your so-called extremist opposition groups, your extremist opposition groups, were really opposition groups to their own country. You know, they might give some lip service to Palestine and Israel, that would be a little concerned, but primarily national groups. The trans-national dimension comes in because, indeed…

Marwan Bishara

How does it come in?

Dr John Esposito

…many of them were drawn, both to the Afghan War and then the development of a kind of global Jihad ideology, that dovetailed with their wanting to go to fight.

Marwan Bishara

So the genie was out of the bottle, after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and most people are returning to their home countries and suddenly they're well trained, they know how to do explosives, they know how to fight guerrilla warfares and they're pretty ambitious, having been fighting the Evil Empire, the Soviet Union. Now they go back to their countries and they start these little wars.

Professor Peter Beinart

Yes. I think the problem with the narrative is, you can't understand the way America makes foreign policy unless you understand that, whether it makes sense to you or not, Americans actually often take their ideas and their rhetoric about America's role in the world quite seriously.

Marwan Bishara

Okay, so explain to me Peter, why Kuwait, not the Congo?

Professor Peter Beinart

It was the combination of Kuwait being a country that was more strategically important than the Congo because it had oil. Absolutely, I'm not suggesting that oil is irrelevant to American foreign policy, that was the reason.

Marwan Bishara

And no-one is suggesting that.

Professor Peter Beinart

No, no, but I think, it's also important that George W Bush could not have gone on American TV and simply said, George H W Bush, we're doing this for oil. There was an American language about the purpose of American power, which helps explain why America goes into countries like Bosnia and Kosovo, which have very little material value whatsoever. And so, the idea that there was something that was a violation of another country's sovereignty, which was kind of echoed for Americans, into the kind of worst days of what the Nazis had done, was very important in the political basis of support for the Gulf War.

Robert Grenier

There was also a great move on the part of the Bush Administration to get a broad international sanction for that war. It was very, very important to them and, there were a significant number of Arab countries who also joined that effort, not with a great number of troops and not necessarily with a great deal of popular support at home, but they did ally themselves with that effort.

Dr John Esposito

But I think, part of our problem, you know, is that, President Obama talks about a more multilateral approach and we tend, even if we use the word multilateral, to look like it's unilateral. We become the primary organisers and even when we get our Arab allies on, when you actually look at, you know, what they're really giving by way of troops and then some countries just write a cheque.

Marwan Bishara

Presumably the new doctrine says, no longer we're taking the lead?

Ambassador Chas Freeman

On that point there has been a very sad progression. The Gulf War, to liberate Kuwait, was a genuine multilateral effort, authorised by the Security Council. The invasion of Iraq was a coalition of those who were paid to join the United States. It was not sanctioned by the Security Council, it was arguably illegal under the UN Charter, as a war. So multilateralism has been a big casualty of 9/11, over the succeeding period.

Marwan Bishara

Well let's talk a bit more about the question of, how America is perceiving or has perceived 9/11, now 10 years later, in retrospective?

Robert Grenier

I think there was an enormous visceral, emotional response in the United States to 9/11, to the fact that, the greatest disaster, the greatest single day loss of life in the United States since Pearl Harbor, had suddenly taken place. I was in Pakistan. In some ways, I never really understood the depth of the emotional response here in my own country.

Professor Peter Beinart

9/11 created or helped to create a different fault line in American society than had been there before. Because it was something that all Americans, particularly native born Americans, experienced together and it brought the country together. It superimposed upon that, however, a new dividing line, which I think was between native born Americans and immigrants and with a particular focus on immigrants from the Middle East and the Islamic world. And the struggle about whether, in fact, America should fully include them its national identity, has been a struggle that’s been taking place ever since 9/11.

Marwan Bishara

Peter, hold that thought. We're going to need a news break. Before we do, we're going to take a look at a quick reminder of the consequences of 9/11 and 9/12, before we come back.

Tony Blair (Archive)

We've offered President Bush and the American people our solidarity.

Flo Phillips

It was the day the world changed, for everyone.

Jacques Chirac (Archive)

[Solidarite]

Fidel Castro (Archive)

[Solidaridad]

Vicente Fox (Archive)

[Nos solidaridamos]

Gerhard Schroder (Archive)

[Solidarity]

Yasser Arafat (Archive)

We are completely shocked.

Flo Phillips

The White House had the world's sympathy, but all it wanted was revenge.

President George W Bush (Archive)

States like these constitute an axis of evil.

President George W Bush (archive)

We're gonna smoke 'em out

President George W Bush (Archive)

Wanted, dead or alive.

Flo Phillips

Culture, fear was institutionalised. Increased surveillance became commonplace, as politicians waited in line to sign the patriot act and create the department of homeland security. Green, orange, red, once innocent colours in the rainbow quickly transformed into a colour-coded matrix, to warn people of the constant threat, whether real or perceived.

Flo Phillips

Code red, prepare for an imminent attack. Websites even started selling gas masks.

Flo Phillips

Basic human rights cast aside.

George W Bush (Archive)

Using those techniques to save lives.

Flo Phillips

And if people didn't comply, their records were simply…

American Official (Archive)

Redacted.

Flo Phillips

Everyday air travel became a degrading experience. Stripped, scanned, searched, from head to toe. The global war on terror came at a high price, $1.3 trillion and counting. Some were quick to capitalise.

Flo Phillips

Light relief in a culture of terror, or the perfect recruiting tool.

Game Clip

Flo Phillips

For some, it's only a short jump from the console to the drone.

Member of US Air Force (Archive)

The predator I fly is crucial to our fight against terrorism and protecting lives.

Flo Phillips

Effects have been felt across all aspects of everyday life and ironically, the one thing that was promised…

George W Bush (Archive)

Freedom will be defended.

Flo Phillips

…was the one thing that was taken away.


PART 2

Marwan Bishara

Welcome back. The cost of the war on terror, both in money and human life, has been staggering. Estimates of civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq begin at a quarter of a million people and could be three times as high. 7,500 US and coalition troops have been killed, tens of thousands injured, while 186,000 are still there. The United States has officially spent $1.3 trillion on the war on terror. Some economists insist the unofficial tally is above $4 trillion. Now if 9/11 was a terribly dark day for America, 9/12 was terribly worse for America and the rest of the world. There were those who saw it as the justification they had long hoped and planned for, a chance in a lifetime to seize the initiative, to ensure America's dominance for future generations and in the process, change America and the world forever.

Donald Rumsfeld (Archive)

There are known knowns. There are things we know we know. But we also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know.

Narrator

And thus, for better or for worse, the bush doctrine was explained. Because above all else, what the bush administration knew it knew, was that the 9/11 attacks offered washington an opportunity, to recast global affairs in the way of its choosing. If that sounds crass, it shouldn't. It's precisely the word the administration used in the first few days after the attack. "Through the tears of sadness I see an opportunity" said George Bush. "This is a period, not just of grave danger, but of enormous opportunity" echoed Condoleezza Rice. Use of the word opportunity was quickly dropped for reasons of sensitivity. Much the way the white house eventually stopped talking of a global crusade. But the opportunities in question were not thought up as a reaction to September 11, they'd been in place for years and just needed a catalyst to set them in motion.

Anthony Summers

There was then and never has been since, any evidence at all that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were involved with 9/11.

George W Bush (Archive)

I George Walker Bush.

Narrator

By the time George W Bush was sworn into office, the authors of the new vision were ready and men like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were able to fill the ranks with ideologues, who boasted of seeing the world in black and white…

Paul Wolfowitz (Archive)

We have no regrets about going after bad guys.

Narrator

…who insisted their plan had nothing to do with oil.

Douglas Feith (Archive)

This confrontation is not and cannot possibly be a money maker for the United States.

Narrator

And who simply dismissed anyone with a different point of view.

David Addington (Archive)

No American should think, we're free, the war's over, Al-Qaeda's not coming and they're not interested in getting us, 'cause that's wrong.

Narrator

Many of these men were the now infamous Neocons, whose New American vision was built around three uncompromising elements. First, traditional diplomacy, as represented by the United Nations was dead. The United States would now simply operate on its own terms.

John Bolton (Archive)

The organisation is incapable of playing a helpful role in the region.

Narrator

Second, American policy toward Israel would become even more sympathetic. The Neocons endorsed a hard line vision toward the Palestinians and the region as a whole. The third element of the Neocon vision was to focus as much attention as possible on the Middle East. The goal was to transform the region in one dramatic sweep, to send a signal to the rest of the world that the United States was to remain the sole, undisputed superpower. These three elements were central to the plan devised years before 9/11 and as a result, explained why the Administration reacted so quickly and decisively after the attacks. In a way that made so little sense to the rest of the world and indeed to members of the administration itself, who didn't follow the neocon vision.

Anthony Summers

On the very night of 9/11, while even they were still thinking that maybe more planes were coming, there was a high-level meeting at the White House and during it, Defence Secretary Rumsfeld said, to the amazement of some of the people sitting there, people like the Secretary of State, Collin Powell, Defence Secretary Rumsfeld said "We've got to do Iraq".

Narrator

This grand plan explains both the decision to invade Afghanistan and then Iraq. It explains why Guantanamo Bay was established and why the cruelties of Abu Ghraib were allowed to continue unchecked for so long. It explains why the Neocons' hand-picked Iraqi leader was jettisoned by the Iraqi people, the first chance they got. It explains the abstract reason for the War on Terror and why sympathetic leaders like Tony Blair were quick to endorse it. This is why the Administration first spoke in terms of opportunities. All the Neocons needed was an event to trigger the plan and a president willing to follow it to the letter.

Marwan Bishara

Bob.

Robert Grenier

9/11 was an opportunity, I felt at the time that it was an opportunity. I was somebody who had devoted much of my career to counter-terrorism. And here suddenly maybe, it's hard to remember this now, but in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was a tremendous upkick in sympathy and support for the United States, I mean we saw it all around the world.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

Huge.

Robert Grenier

Less so in the Muslim world press but even there as well. And there was a feeling on the part of many of us and I think this is what is being reflected in these statements that are being quoted in this film clip, is that now we really have an opportunity to galvanise an international coalition against this phenomenon of terrorism, this idea that national or even sub-national groups can forward their political agenda through indiscriminate attacks on civilians. That is the very definition of uncivilised behaviour. If we as an international community can do something about this now, this is a tremendous opportunity.

Dr John Esposito

I think where the administration lost its opportunity was in the way that it chose to pursue its policy. I remember the day after 9/11, a friend of mine from the Arab world, wrote to me and said, "It's terrible what happened and of course you will wanna go in to get bin Laden. But we wonder whether this is the beginning or the end. You know, will this become an excuse for America to redraw the map of the Middle East?"

Well, you know, if you look at newamericancentury.com and you look at the people who are behind that kind of ballgame, what then wound up happening was, the pursuit of terrorism looked too much, the way in which we then went at it, looked too much like or at least was perceived in the region as "a war against Islam". But at the same time, the advocacy of promoting democracy, really never really took off. You know, that is whenever there was a real opportunity, the Bush Administration folded. Whether it had to do with dealing with Egypt, dealing with Saudi Arabia, etc.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

In part because, in the Arab world, very often, the opposition is Islamist.  There's a contradiction.

Robert Grenier

Hm, hm, yes, yeah.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

You can't be for democracy and against those who argue for it in those societies. The great contradiction of our policy on Hamas is contained in this.

Professor Peter Beinart

There was a very naive view that, if democracy emerged in the Middle East, that the people who would win those elections would be people who essentially supported American foreign policy, which I think was based on an extraordinary kind of ignorance of actually the dynamics, but it was self-serving. I think the metaphor of the Cold War, the analogy of the Cold War is extremely important in how American foreign policymakers defined their response to 9/11. The Cold War was seen in, had been tidied up as a complete victory, as a kind of a pure struggle, the analogue to World War Two and it was almost a yearning amongst some, for America to find a new sense of purpose, the kind of that we had had during those great struggles. What would be this new generation's great sense of purpose? It came at a time, where the confidence in the American military was sky high after the successes in Bosnia and Kosovo and the apparent success early on in Afghanistan, that led us then to Iraq and also in which America's ideological self-confidence was massively high because of the spread of democracy. All those things were very important.

Marwan Bishara

So success, that's what you're talking about?

Professor Peter Beinart

Absolutely. Hubris was born in part, of the extraordinary success that America had had in the period since the end of the Cold War.

Marwan Bishara

We're trying to understand these elements, so help us understand why America would go in and invade Iraq when Iraq had absolutely no connection to Al-Qaeda or to 9/11?

Professor Peter Beinart

Because Iraq had been a festering problem for American foreign policy since the end of the Gulf War, because the Gulf War had been meant to get rid of Saddam Hussein and to everyone's surprise, he stayed in power and the sanctions regime was crumbling, it could not sustain itself forever. So America had a problem, the problem was, do you essentially let Saddam out of his box? Now our image of how powerful he was, was dramatically exaggerated, but even the Clinton Administration people thought that was unacceptable. But they also began to realise that this sanctions regime was untenable.

Marwan Bishara

But why is that, that's an imperial thinking isn't it?

Professor Peter Beinart

Well you could call it imperial if you want to. America was a great power which had a concern about Saddam Hussein, who has been someone who we believe wanted to essentially become a man of his own in the Middle East.

Marwan Bishara

So you think if Saddam Hussein had a problem with America and its ambition and so on and so on, they should have took on George Bush?

Professor Peter Beinart

No, I think the Iraq war was a grave mistake, I'm just trying to explain to you why I think it happened?

Ambassador Chas Freeman

There was a simple explanation for Iraq, which you could hear out in the hinterland and the theory was this. 9/11 was done by Arabs, bad Arabs. The baddest Arab of them all is Saddam Hussein, therefore it's appropriate to go after him. That was the chain of logic, it was that stupid. It was a justification for vengeance against Saddam Hussein. It's total nonsense, but that is the way many people reason.

Marwan Bishara

But ambassador you know the Arab world old enough to know that, the nature of the Saddam regime was as such…

Ambassador Chas Freeman

Of course.

Marwan Bishara

…in a totalitarian republic that, if they hated anyone, it would be an Islamist non-state actor, acting transnationally.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

Of course, of course, of course.  No I don't think anybody at the table will argue that the Bush justifications for attacking Iraq had any validity at all.

Professor Peter Beinart

But it's important to remember that America was going to war and we did major missile attacks on Iraq in 1998. Now without 9/11, there would never have been the political support to Iraq, that's absolutely right. But to suggest that essentially the engagement with Saddam Hussein came out of the blue, America had an ongoing, essentially military struggle with Saddam Hussein that was going throughout the 90's.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

The Gulf War never ended.

Professor Peter Beinart

Exactly, indeed.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

There was no termination strategy for it, there was no negotiation, there was no agreed adjustment of relationships between us and Iraq and Peter's right, it festered. Most Americans imagine that we want a great victory in the Cold War.  We defeated the Soviet Union.

Professor Peter Beinart

Exactly.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

Actually the Soviets, they defaulted.

Professor Peter Beinart

Imploded, exactly, exactly.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

They imploded, but our mistake, which led us to feel that we were omnipotent, that we could do anything we wanted, that we had infinite resources and capabilities, parallels the Islamist mistake in the interpretation of Afghanistan. They imagined that it was a combination of Islam and their guerrilla tactics, that freed Afghanistan of the Soviet Union and that brought the Soviet Union down. That was a grotesque exaggeration of what actually happened.

Marwan Bishara

In fact, out of the debacles of Afghanistan and the Cold War and our debacles of the invasion of Iraq, what we have is, Arabs have been suffering non-stop because of those policies.

Dr John Esposito

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, I was asked to meet with an Assistant Secretary of State, on the same day that I'd signed a contract for a book called the "Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality", which I had conceived when I was looking at the first Gulf War and it was clear, you know, when I met with this person, he said, "No I don't see Islam as a global threat on the Muslim world', but it was, is Algeria another Iran?" No matter how you tried to explain that it wasn't, 'cause of the trauma. And then the next line was, "But, you know, when you look around the world for an ideological alternative or threat, Islam poses that potential threat."

Now you fast forward to the Bush Administration and if you look at many of the Neocons and its administration, Wolfowitz and others, they believed and we know that this is the way Rumsfeld felt, that Iraq had to go, that Saddam had to go and they actually needed an excuse, but then it worked into a nice belief to say, this can become the launching pad for promoting democracy. But it was a neo-imperialist approach to promoting democracy, you know, because we're gonna get our own guy.

And one of the facts that people miss also is, that there was a fear, not just a naive tale about how governments might go. The real fear that Mubarak and the rest of them played on was, you've now seen what can happen with terrorists, okay. Therefore, you give us aid, we use it any way we want and any opposition we have, religious, secular, mainstream or not, just realise, if it's not us, okay, what's gonna come after us?  And those became driving forces that then, I think, you know, really continued to distort the way in which we then have continued to deal with issues in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Marwan Bishara

But John, you don't really think that America was naive to believe these things, that if it's not Mubarak, then it is Al-Qaeda or if it's not Gaddafi, it is Al-Qaeda?

Dr John Esposito

I can't say America, I can say…

Marwan Bishara

Certainly to say it was intelligent to know that this is not true.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

You know, we spent an awful lot of money on intelligence analysis, I won't talk about covert action or the collection of intelligence, but just intelligence analysis. We missed the Sino-Soviet split. We misunderestimated, to use George Bush's word, "The Vietnamese". We didn't foresee the collapse of the Soviet Union. We didn't foresee Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. We missed the Arab spring. Why is it that anyone should imagine that we would have an intelligent analysis that informed our policy during all this period? It's full of mistakes of judgement.

Marwan Bishara

Bob I didn't say anything, it was the Ambassador who said it.

Robert Grenier

It's the State-CIA thing all over again, here we go.

Robert Grenier

First of all, 9/11 should not have come as a complete surprise. I mean, bin Laden, he was not known by many people, but there were certainly people within the US Government who knew of him. It was very clear that he and his organisation were responsible for the attacks on our embassies in East Africa. We all knew that it was not a matter of whether but of when the next attack would occur. Nobody that I know imagined the scope of the attack when it came. But I think, the heart of the Bush Doctrine was that, when we know that there is an incipient threat out there, we will take effective…

Ambassador Chas Freeman

Pre-emptive.

Robert Grenier

…pre-emptive action, in order to deal with it and here, as Peter has pointed out, we had this festering problem in Iraq, much greater in scope than anything that we would have anticipated from Al-Qaeda, that we weren't dealing with. 

Professor Peter Beinart

One part is, it's very important to understand that the mentality of the Bush people was to denigrate the importance of non-state actors. They were very inclined to believe, essentially, to denigrate the idea that Al-Qaeda essentially could be significant without state sponsorship and to look for state sponsorship… and I think that's part of the reason they were essentially grasping for straws at state sponsorship in Iraq and not only Iraq, other places too, when in fact there really wasn't.

Marwan Bishara

Sounds to me that the Bush Doctrine is cut and paste from the Israel's doctrine of pre-emptive. I remember an Israeli historian by the name of Tom Segev, who wrote a piece of the New York Times saying, "Whatever you do, don't do what we do because, we don't seem to get out what we're in." Which is the torture, the pre-emptive strikes, military occupation of lands and so on and so forth. But it seems that the Bush Administration has taken on the Israeli Doctrine step by step. Is that intelligent?

Professor Peter Beinart

I think there is some truth in that and in some ways in which it’s very wrong.  I think it is true that the sense of extreme vulnerability that defined Neo-Conservative vision and it wasn’t just in post-Cold War, it was very much a function of their view of the Cold War. If you look at these guys during the Cold War, they were always of the view that America was about to lose, that the Soviets were so much stronger. That notion of extreme vulnerability was similar to the extreme vulnerability that's defined Israeli's actions, because Israel is a very small country. But let me finish.

Marwan Bishara

But Peter, you just told us that, after Clinton, by the year 2000, 2001, America was so confident, America was so arrogant and so strong.

Professor Peter Beinart

Yes, but that's because the irony is that, the more power you have, the more you can afford to see threats that are not so great, as apocalyptic, because you believe you have the power to solve them. If you have a gun as opposed to having a knife, you're more willing to go after the bear. But I just wanna make one point, because I think it's important for your listeners. To say that, to say that there was a conceptual similarity is not to say that the people who defined Bush Administration foreign policy went into Iraq because they thought it was good for Israel. I think that it's absolutely incorrect. If you look at the individuals, I think, in fact, the role of Israel in their thinking, for many of them, was really quite marked.

Marwan Bishara

If it was up to Israel, they should have invaded Iran.  But anyway, having said that…

Professor Peter Beinart

The Israelis were very pessimistic about what would happen after Saddam Hussein.

Marwan Bishara

But is it intelligent for a superpower to borrow the doctrine from a small, what some would call, a rogue state?

Ambassador Chas Freeman

It's very strained, after the end of the Cold War, the United States suffered from what I call enemy deprivation syndrome, which is the queasy feeling you have when you don't have an enemy anymore and you've built a huge apparatus and intellectual superstructure to deal with a sense of omnipotent threat. So you look around for enemies. Second, in this context, the situation of Israel is totally different from that of the United States. It is a very small country, with a very limited margin for error, which has consistently followed the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, because it doesn't believe in deterrents, because it doesn't believe it has the luxury of testing the feasibility of deterrents. The United States is a vastly powerful country behind two oceans. There is no existential threat to the United States whatsoever, the only threat to us is from ourselves, our own corrosion of our own values.

Marwan Bishara

Certainly the military expenditures have skyrocketed, with new expenditures for the security affairs. Is this another case of a conflict creating demand for yet more military industrial expenditures?

Dr John Esposito

It is true that there is a big industry, if you will, that has grown up, which is supplying services, training other services to the intelligence and the defence communities and I think it's simply because, this is a very complicated world, much of this struggle that we've been talking about is intelligence driven. There is a tremendous amount of expertise that really cannot be developed solely within the US Government and nurtured with the US Government.

Marwan Bishara

But Robert, there is no zero sub-behaviour here, I mean it's not that the security and the intelligence is rising and the other expenditure, the hardware, is softening, they're both rising.

Robert Grenier

Oh no. Yes. Because we've been fighting both types of war.

Ambassador Chas Freeman

This goes back to your question about the Israeli Strategic Doctrine and our adoption of that mode of reasoning. The Neo-Conservative argument is both a moral one and an expedient one. They believe we won a great huge victory in the Cold War. It left us globally supreme in a military sense. They think from that followed two principles. First, if you are globally all powerful, you have a responsibility to use your power to change the world for the better, as you see it. Second, you should hang on to that superiority at all costs.

Dr John Esposito

They were also driven by a recent history and a belief that we are number one and it's important that we remain number one. Okay, so, we used to think of ourselves as number one politically, economically and militarily. Well the economic is clear, not there and even before, it was clear that, you know, there were other rising forces. But there's an inherent belief that, you know, if you have a huge military, you are also then going to be seen and will have tremendous clout and influence internationally, politically.

Marwan Bishara

But John, this is an amazing statement.

Dr John Esposito

We tend to think that bigger is better. So if we don't say to ourselves, do we have a bloated, let's say intelligence community or military. You know, can we cut back, can we do it less? It's part of our culture, you know, bigger is better. I mean, that's the way we think of things.

Marwan Bishara

So what you're telling us is that the Pentagon is now, or has been for a while now, certainly for many years, an instrument to advance American interests and since the Cold War, it remains to be so and because it's big and because it's there, then why not use it?

Professor Peter Beinart

I think also what happened was…

Marwan Bishara

But that's a dangerous notion.

Professor Peter Beinart

…the story of America's success in the Cold War, it's not called a victory and even in World War Two, was told particularly by the Bush Administration as a story of military success. It was almost imagined as if we'd actually defeated the Soviet Union on the field of battle and that I think was particularly important in this vision of essentially, well how do we win our next Cold War? Essentially through military strength. What was lost was the recognition that America's real ace in the hole, both against the Nazis and against the Soviets had been our industrial power, our ability to out-produce the Nazis and then our ability to have a stable dynamic economy when the Soviets couldn't and it was that story about that kind of American success and pre-eminence that I think was really lost and as the military one took centre stage.

Marwan Bishara

Guess what Peter, this is actually our next Empire episode is about. Gentlemen, thank you for joining Empire.

Robert Grenier

Thank you.

Marwan Bishara

And I'll be back with the last thoughts.

Marwan Bishara

The Arabs have been pressured over the last decade to make a choice, between Bush and Bin Laden and choose they did, a revolution, one that negates their visions and underlines their failures. But that didn't prevent Al-Qaeda and Washington to jump on the bandwagon of people's power and express their support for the revolutions sweeping through the region, in the hope of influencing their outcome.

This is bad news considering that the Arab and Muslim worlds have long suffered from Al-Qaeda's apocalyptic terrorism and Washington's imperial wars. Unlike Al-Qaeda, America is no runaway rogue group, it is an old constitutional democracy with vibrant public opinion, that needs to ensure Arab democracies are not held hostage to the war on terror. And that's the way it goes.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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