Israelpolitik, the Neocons and the Long Shadow of the Iraq War—A Review of Muhammad Idrees Ahmad’s book ‘The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War’

This essay first appeared in The Drouth (‘The Thirst’), a quarterly magazine published in Glasgow (Issue 50, Winter 2014/2015). I wrote it in December 2014.

The Road to Iraq book coverThe Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War
By Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
Edinburgh University Press
£19.99

Reviewed by Danny Postel

I was reluctant to review this book. With all the dramatic developments in the Middle East today—the ISIS crisis, the siege of Kobanê, the deepening nightmare in Syria, the escalating repression in Egypt, the fate of Tunisia’s democratic transition, the sectarianization of regional conflicts driven by the Saudi-Iranian rivalry—delving back into the 2003 invasion of Iraq seemed rather less than urgent. It’s hard enough just to keep up with the events unfolding day-to-day in the region. Reading—let alone reviewing—a detailed study of the internal processes that led to the United States toppling Saddam Hussein over a decade ago seemed remote, if not indeed a distraction.

But I’m glad I set these reservations aside and took the assignment. This forcefully argued and meticulously researched (with no fewer than 1,152 footnotes, many of which are full-blown paragraphs) book turns out to be enormously relevant to the present moment, on at least three fronts:

  • ISIS emerged from the ashes of al Qaeda in Iraq, which formed in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Without the 2003 invasion, there would be no ISIS as we know it—and the region’s political landscape would look very different.
  • The US Senate report on CIA torture has brought back into focus the rogues gallery of the Bush-Cheney administration—the same cast of characters who engineered the 2003 Iraq invasion. This book shines a heat lamp on that dark chapter and many of its protagonists.
  • There is talk of a neoconservative comeback in Washington. This thoroughly discredited but zombie-like group are now angling for the ear of Hillary Clinton, who might be the next US president. Ahmad’s book provides a marvelously illuminating anatomy of the neocons, which has lessons that apply directly to this movement’s potentially ominous next chapter.

The central question Ahmad attempts to answer is: Why did the 2003 Iraq War happen? In one of the book’s most valuable sections, felicitously titled ‘Black Gold and Red Herrings’, he goes through several prevalent explanations/theories and takes them apart one by one: Continue reading “Israelpolitik, the Neocons and the Long Shadow of the Iraq War—A Review of Muhammad Idrees Ahmad’s book ‘The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War’”

To the Last Drop

From Al Jazeera‘s excellent Witness series:

The small town of Fort Chipewyan in northern Alberta is facing the consequences of being the first to witness the impact of the Tar Sands project, which may be the tipping point for oil development in Canada. The local community has experienced a spike in cancer cases and dire studies have revealed the true consequences of “dirty oil”.

Gripped in a Faustian pact with the American energy consumer, the Canadian government is doing everything it can to protect the dirtiest oil project ever known. In the following account, filmmaker Tom Radford describes witnessing a David and Goliath struggle.

Below the fold you can also watch Dirty Oil, the 2009 documentary on the Alberta tar sands directed by Leslie Iwerks.

Continue reading “To the Last Drop”

WikiLeaks: Saudis Often Warned U.S. About Oil Speculators

Further evidence of the vacuity of the ‘war for oil’ argument. Much of the price for oil is today determined in the derivatives market by Wall Street speculators rather than by producers or suppliers. The underlying commodity usually has a minimum impact on the actual price. But the Commodity Futures Trading Commission will not investigate this for the same reason why it was prevented from investigating the banks. Because Wall Street owns the executive branch. (Don’t miss the excellent Inside Job and this post by Pat Lang).

Kevin Hall: The Saudis have been saying for years something should be done to curb the influence of banks that are speculating on the price of oil.

The vacuity of ‘war-for-oil’

Tony Blair isn’t a man known for his honesty but he made at least one statement which has some merit. The Iraq war was not about oil. A report in today’s Independent claims to prove otherwise.

Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq’s enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair’s military commitment to US plans for regime change.

The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf because the oil giant feared it was being “locked out” of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.

Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: “Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis.”

Continue reading “The vacuity of ‘war-for-oil’”

Of Niqabs, Monsters, and Decolonial Feminisms

By Huma Dar

A woman in niqab being arrested in Paris, April 12, 2011, copyright EPA

Of Civilities and Dignities

On 22 June 2009, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, asserted that burqas (or the burqa-clad?) are “not welcome” in France, adding that “[i]n our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity” and that “the veils reduced dignity.” France’s Muslim minority is Western Europe’s largest Muslim minority, estimated at six-million-strong.  And this is just an approximation, as the French Republic implicitly claims to be post-race and post-religion via a prohibition on any census that would take into account the race or religion of its citizens. (This anxiety mirrors the brouhaha in Indian media àpropos the much-contested enumeration of OBCs or Other Backward Castes in the Indian census surveys of 2011, or the urgency to declare some spaces post-caste, post-feminist, and post-racist while casteism, patriarchy and racism continue unabated.)

Continue reading “Of Niqabs, Monsters, and Decolonial Feminisms”

Addicted to Risk

“How else to describe this, but as a form of mass insanity. Just when we know we need to be learning to live on the surface of our planet, off the power of sun, wind and waves; we are frantically digging to get at the dirtiest, highest emitting stuff imaginable…”

The brilliant Naomi Klein delivered this TED talk at on December 8, 2010, in Washington, DC. (A transcript of her speech is to be found below the fold).

Continue reading “Addicted to Risk”

Some Unvarnished Truths About the US and Israel

by M. Shahid Alam

Was there ever a time when a leading organ of the US media could speak the unvarnished truth about the links between the United States and Israel?

Consider this quote from Time magazine of January 1952, embedded in an article that explained its choice of Mohammed Mossadegh as its Person of the Year for 1951. It had no compliments for Mossadegh, the man who was spearheading his country’s bid to take back its oil resources from the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. No surprise there.

Surprising, however, is Time’s candor on Israel. It minces no words. US support for the creation of Israel had alienated the Middle East: it had been a costly error, motivated not by national interest but petty considerations of presidential politics. Truman had supported the creation of Israel in order to court American Jewish votes. This was the plain truth: a US President had placed his electoral chances ahead of a vital national interest. Apparently, in those days, Time could write the plain truth without worrying about the tide of flak from the American Jewish community.

Continue reading “Some Unvarnished Truths About the US and Israel”

Waiting for BP’s tarballs

by Ken Kelley

NOVA SCOTIA—”BP has done ruined all those people’s lives down there,” said my friend Bill, a Nova Scotia lobsterman in his seventies, as we talked about the fate of Louisiana fishermen the other day.  Many are Cajuns, descended from French Acadian settlers who once lived along this very coast, prior to their expulsion by the British in the 1750s.

Having worked on the sea all his life, Bill said sadly: “We ain’t seen nothing yet.  I don’t care how you look at it, that oil is coming up here.”  Remarking on swordfish and tuna, which winter and spawn in the Gulf but are caught by Canadian fishermen in the summer, he noted that “fish swim, but that oil will kill every fish egg it touches.”

Although the focus of the environmental impacts of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been primarily on the devastation of the coastal wildlife, marshes, and beaches of the Gulf Coast, the impacts will be felt all along the Atlantic coast, as well.  With the spill, now in its third month, spewing oil into the ocean at the rate of at least 60,000 barrels a day, it’s clear BP CEO Tony Hayward’s claim that the environmental impact would be “very, very modest” could not be farther from the truth.

Continue reading “Waiting for BP’s tarballs”

Amy Goodman on Gaza attack, BP oil spill catastrophe and Obama’s wars

RTAmerica — 14 June 2010 — RT’s Anastasia Churkina sits down for an exclusive interview with award-winning journalist, TV/radio host and author Amy Goodman to talk about all the latest stories the mainstream media has not been too truthful about.

‘Special relationship’ has only threatened the ’stable flow of oil’

Earlier I had criticzed The Electronic Intifada rather harshly for publishing a really poor article attacking John Mearsheimer & Stephen Walt. Having had a day to think about it, I regret the tone of my post and the failure to acknowledge EI’s otherwise exceptional record (although my criticism stands). I therefore preface my expanded article for Mondoweiss.net with an acknowledgment of what I actually think of EI’s work.

Since its founding in 2001, The Electronic Intifada has earned a well-deserved reputation for being the most influential and effective voice for Palestinian rights. It is backed by a team of smart, savvy and committed individuals. Its co-founder Ali Abunimah is in my view an examplar of what Antonio Gramsci called an ‘organic intellectual’, successfuly fusing political action with theoretical rigrour. I have therefore been a long time supporter of the project, occasionally contributing articles and reviews. However, at the moment I am terribly disappointed. Presently on its front page EI runs a ludicrous attack on John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s work — work that has been pivotal in shifting the debate on US Middle East policy. I find it pointless to respond to the author who has freely purloined others’ work, misused sources, and constructed a slipshod argument. But I’ll give two illustrative examples of the deliberate distoritions that keep resurfacing in these ideological assaults on M & W (in both cases the specific claims have been ‘borrowed’ from Noam Chomsky):

Chomsky has long maintained that the war in Iraq was for oil. He always adduces the same evidence to support his case. A State Department document from 1945, a quote from Zbigniew Brzezinski and another from George Kennan. Chomsky argues that Middle East oil is ‘a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history’ (State Department), and anyone who controls Iraq’s vast oil reserves gains ‘critical leverage’ (Brzezinski), indeed ‘veto power’ (Kennan), over competitors. All of this is indisputable: the United States would no doubt like to control Iraqi oil; it recognizes the ‘critical leverage’ the control affords it; and the critical leverage no doubt would grant it ‘veto power’. Now here is the problem: The State Department document Chomsky cites is about Saudi Arabia, not Iraq. And it recommends that, precisely because Saudi oil is so important, US must maintain friendly relations with the kingdom. Also, it does not follow that regime change is the only means to achieve these goals. Indeed, all of these claims have been just as true the past half century, but they did not necessitate war. The US has long preferred shoring up authoritarian regimes which could ensure its dominance and maintain a stable flow of oil.