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:
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.
Mark Perry’s explosive Foreign Policy article about Israeli attempts to drag the US into another war is being smothered in the US with a conspiracy of silence. On the other hand, in Israel itself it made the frontpages of Ha’aretz and Jerusalem Post. (Also see Perry’s response to Israeli denials). Among mainstream television networks, only the venerable Al Jazeera has given it its due. Have a look:
Agents with Israel’s spy agency have posed as CIA agents in operations to recruit members of the Pakistani group Jundallah, according to a report in Foreign Policy magazine. Using US dollars and passports, the agents passed themselves off as members of the US’ Central Intelligence Agency in the operations, according to memos from 2007 and 2008, said the report which was published on Friday. Al Jazeera speaks with author, historian and journalist Mark Perry authored the Foreign Policy report.
In the commentary on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the news and infotainment media have predictably framed the discussion by the question of how successful the CIA and the military have been in destroying al Qaeda. Absent from the torrent of opinion and analysis was any mention of how the U.S. military occupation of Muslim lands and wars that continue to kill Muslim civilians fuel jihadist sentiment that will keep the threat of terrorism high for many years to come.
The failure to have that discussion is not an accident. In December 2007, at a conference in Washington, D.C. on al Qaeda, former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin offered a laundry list of things the United States could do to reduce the threat from al Qaeda. But he said nothing about the most important thing to be done: pledging to the Islamic world that the United States would pull its military forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq and end its warfare against those in Islamic countries resisting U.S. military presence.
During the coffee break, I asked him whether that item should have been on his list. “You’re right,” he answered. And then he added, “But we can’t do that.”
“Why not,” I asked.
“Because,” he said, “we would have to tell the families of the soldiers who have died in those wars that their loved ones died in vain.”
His explanation was obviously bogus. But in agreeing that America’s continuing wars actually increase the risk of terrorism against the United States, Benjamin was merely reflecting the conclusions that the intelligence and counter-terrorism communities had already reached.
With a little more than a year until the 2012 elections, the White House and Congressional leadership are anxious to pass pending Free Trade Agreements (FTA) as soon as possible.
Most worrisome of all is the pending FTA between the US and Colombia. Corporate leaders and US and Colombian government officials with their public relations operatives are peddling lie after lie to justify passage.
The following guide put together by The Alliance for Global Justice will help people to better understand and counter the falsehoods they will be hearing in the coming weeks.
Distinguishing between fact and fiction with claims regarding the pending US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement
CLAIM: Passing the FTA will put the US in a better position to pressure Colombia to improve its labor and human rights record.
REALITY: US intervention in Colombia has caused more problems than it has helped and the FTA would only make things worse. Recent investigations by the Colombian Attorney General have uncovered extensive US involvement regarding domestic spying by former President Álvaro Uribe’s administration. Information was shared with and analyzed by embassy staff and domestic spying programs were funded by the CIA. Activities included gaining access to the bank accounts, following the families and bugging the offices of Colombian magistrates.
Targets also included labor leaders. According to an August 20, 2011 Washington Post article: “Another unit that operated for eight months in 2005, the Group to Analyze Terrorist Organization Media, assembled dossiers on labor leaders, broke into their offices and videotaped union activists. The United States provided equipment and tens of thousands of dollars, according to an internal DAS report, and the unit’s members regularly met with an embassy official they remembered as ‘Chris Sullivan.'”
As former Panamanian dictator and CIA employee Manuel Noriega faces money laundering charges in France after spending nearly 20 years in a U.S. prison for drug trafficking, my mind wanders back to the mid-1970s, when I met the then-colonel at a New Year’s Eve party in Panama City.
The party was at the home of a wealthy Panamanian family that owned a cement company. My mother and father, the latter a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, had been invited on account of my mother’s charitable work with the Inter-American Women’s Club. My wife and I, visiting from Mexico, tagged along.
There was a live band playing salsa, an endless supply of Ron Cortez and Cerveza Panamá delivered by fast-moving waiters, and an abundance of prettily dressed debutantes and their dates dancing around a pool. In other words, the wealthiest families in Panama were hurting under the government of Noriega’s populist predecessor General Omar Torrijos.