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’”

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Rumsfeld-Era Propaganda Program Whitewashed by Pentagon

by Cyril Mychalejko

This article first appeared at Toward Freedom.

A controversial public relations program run by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s Pentagon was cleared of any wrong-doing by the agency’s inspector general in a report published last month. The program used dozens of retired military officers working as analysts on television and radio networks as “surrogates” armed by the Pentagon with “the facts” in order to educate the public about the Department of Defense’s operations and agenda.

At the same time, the report quoted participating analysts who believed that bullet points provided by Rumsfeld’s staff advanced a “political agenda,” that the program’s intent “was to move everyone’s mouth on TV as a sock puppet” and that the program was “a white-level psyop [psychological operations] program to the American people.” It also found a “preponderance of evidence” that one analyst was dismissed from the program for being critical of former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, while another analysts said a CNN official told him he was being dropped at the request of the White House.

Nevertheless, the inspector general exonerated the Pentagon, stating that it complied with Department of Defense (DoD) policies and regulations, including not using propaganda on the US public, while also claiming that retired military analysts, many of whom were affiliated with defense contractors, gained nothing financially or personally for the businesses they were affiliated with.

The investigation was requested by Congress after the New York Times published a story revealing the Pentagon’s public relations program, “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand” (04/20/2008), which was subsequently awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. The article showed how these analysts, many of whom had ties to military contractors, were used to help sell the war in Iraq, to push other Bush Administration foreign policy “themes and messages” and to act as a rapid response team to counter criticisms in the media. One official Department of Defense talking points document released while the Bush Administration was still trying to sell the need for a war with Iraq to the public states, “We know that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction.”

Continue reading “Rumsfeld-Era Propaganda Program Whitewashed by Pentagon”