September 13, 2004
They All Died in Vain |
BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
After thirty-five years, I still hear the same words. They never change: "No father should ever have to bury his own son. It’s wrong, it’s just plain wrong."
But one thing, indeed, has changed. Thirty-five years ago, I was standing with the friends of the deceased — my friends as well — while another casualty of the Viet Nam war was being lowered into the ground.
This time, I am standing with the parents of the deceased. The casket that is slowly descending into the freshly dug earth holds the remains of their 22-year old son, another casualty of the war in Iraq.
Unfortunately, one thought keeps going through my mind, just as it did 35 years ago: "He died for a cause neither legitimate nor defensible. He died in vain." I keep this thought to myself; I stand there, silent, attentive, and respectful.
It is then that I realize with blistering clarity that no political issue has the same significance as war — and the pain, sorrow, and finality it brings. Everything else is just scoring points, making the next day’s headlines, or simply giving the talking heads something new to talk about.
As I walk away from the graveyard, I try to make some sense of it all. I try to puzzle out what was in the minds of those who started the war, those who urge us to continue it still and, most importantly, those who think that sacrificing someone’s entire future for it is justifiable.
Once at home, my first inclination was to pick a few books from the shelves. The person whose mind — specifically, whose purposes, motives, and objectives — I felt deserved greatest scrutiny was naturally that of George Bush.
His desire to see Saddam removed from power most likely began in 1992. It was then that he saw his father’s re-election campaign suffer from the constant criticism that Bush Senior had ended the Gulf War too soon. He had ended it before the primary objective had been achieved, namely the removal of Saddam Hussein.
But if seeing his father lose the Presidency — in part because of Iraq — did not cause George Bush to want Saddam’s demise, then what nearly happened in mid-April of 1993 surely did.
Still regarded as Kuwait’s triumphant hero, Bush Senior was asked in 1993 to return there for a celebratory dinner and tour. He would also receive an honorary degree from Kuwait University on April 16. But on April 12, at Saddam’s behest, the Iraqi Intelligence Service met secretly in Basra to plan the assassination of Bush and everyone traveling with him, including the Emir of Kuwait.
At that meeting, Iraqi operative Wali al-Ghazeri was given a non-descript white Toyota, packed with 200 pounds of plastic explosives — enough to kill anyone within a radius of 400 yards — and a picture of the building where Bush was to receive the degree.
The plan was that al-Ghazeri would detonate the explosives by remote control at the university. But should that not be possible, he was to get as close to Bush as he could and set off a bomb-encased suicide belt.
With no knowledge of how close to death he had just come, George Bush Senior took his place at the building and waited to receive his honorary degree. Only a short time earlier, al-Ghazeri, along with several of his accomplices, had been caught en route. He would later confess and be convicted, along with thirteen others also involved in the assassination plot.
Should al-Ghazeri have succeeded that day, most of the Bush family would have been destroyed. George Bush Junior would have lost his father, his mother, his wife, two of his brothers, and one of their wives — all in one day.
Bush would later publicly refer to Saddam as "The S.O.B. who tried
to kill my dad." By making this attempt, Saddam ignited in Bush a hatred
that probably burns to this day. And from this palpable hatred, there
likely evolved Bush’s desire to invade Iraq and remove Saddam — with
or without legitimate justification.
Although Netanyahu turned down the proposal, Bush took a particular liking to a modified version of it that resurfaced just before he took office in 2001. No doubt, his attentions were riveted by these words: "This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important strategic advantage in its own right."
Bush was similarly interested in those parts of it relating to Syria and other Arab countries being "rolled back" and also to America disengaging itself from the Palestinian problem. That problem was to be left entirely in Israeli hands.
The plan’s authors were Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David and Meyrav Wurmser, James Colbert, and Robert Lowenberg. The first three were soon to become primary figures in the Bush administration: Perle was Chairman of the Defense Policy Board from 2001-2003; Feith is currently the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; and Wurmser now serves on Vice-President Cheney’s staff.
As it turned out, topics from A Clean Break came up during Bush’s first meeting with his National Security Council on January 30, 2001, a mere ten days after his inauguration. Bush began by announcing his intention to reverse the Clinton policy of interceding between Israel and the Palestinians. He would let the Israeli Prime Minister do as he saw fit in that arena.
Taken aback by the quick dismissal of an effort to which years of hard work had already been devoted, Colin Powell voiced his concerns that such a move might "unleash Sharon and the whole Israel army." Bush dismissed that objection with a shrug, saying "Sometimes a show of force can really clarify things."
As it turned out, a show of force was next on that meeting’s agenda. The topic of invading Iraq began with Condoleezza Rice’s saying, "Iraq might be key to reshaping the entire area." These words came almost directly from A Clean Break.
Her remarks finished, Ms. Rice turned the meeting over to George Tenet who displayed an indistinct, grainy picture of an Iraqi factory which he said might be a plant "that produces either chemical or biological material for weapons manufacture." But all the photo really showed was a set of large industrial-looking buildings surrounded by railroad tracks, a sight that could be found in almost every city in America.
In the midst of all this, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neil found himself confused — after all, he’d only been sworn into office a few hours earlier. He had always believed that the major destabilizing factor in the Middle East was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not Iraq. But the Palestinian problem had been summarily dismissed after only a few minutes’ discussion.
With that discussion out of the way, the topic had immediately become the invasion of Iraq — not the reasons why, but the means how and the targets necessary. As he was later to tell author Ron Suskind, with whom he wrote The Price of Loyalty, "From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking for ways to take him out and change Iraq into a new country. And if we did that, it would solve everything".
"Getting Hussein was now the administration’s focus; that much was already clear."
According to O’Neil, "The meeting seemed scripted; Rumsfeld said little, Cheney said nothing at all, as though both men had long entertained the idea of overthrowing Saddam." O’Neil could not have known how accurate his suspicions were; for many in that room, the invasion of Iraq had already been decided on.
For example, as far back as January 26,1998, Rumsfeld had signed a letter asking President Clinton to develop a "strategy that should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power." It also recommended unilateral U.S. action against Iraq because "we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition" to enforce the inspections regime.
That letter was sent under the auspices of The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a conservative group to which both Rumsfeld and Perle belonged. Although a founding member of PNAC and an ardent believer in its principles, Cheney demurred and did not sign the letter.
Someone who did sign it was Paul Wolfowitz, a pro-Israel anti-Saddam hawk, and a man who would soon become Deputy Secretary of Defense under Rumsfeld. In fact, Wolfowitz showed his true feelings toward Saddam somewhat earlier. He co-authored an article, "Overthrow Him" for the December 1, 1997 issue of The Weekly Standard. That particular issue carried the headline: "Saddam Must Go: A How-to Guide."
With his administration becoming a haven for neo-conservatives — Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Perle, Feith, and Cheney — Bush had ample support for his way of thinking, particularly as it pertained to Iraq. The enmity for Saddam and the desire to invade Iraq that had once seemed Bush’s personal preoccupation had long since been transformed into doctrine.
But PNAC was far from through. In a report issued just before the 2000 election, the group predicted that the shift against the Middle East — including the use of force to unseat Saddam if necessary — would come about slowly, unless there were "some catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor."
That event came on September 11, 2001. Before retiring on the 11th, Bush wrote in his diary, "The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today."
Perhaps the best evidence that Bush had made the final decision to invade Iraq came in his January 29, 2002 State of the Union Address. In it, he decoupled the "war on terrorism" from the events of September 11; furthermore, he did not even mention bin Laden or al-Qaeda.
The primary threat now seemed to come from three countries he referred to as the "axis of evil" — Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. But almost never did he later speak about Iran and North Korea, particularly as possible targets. His menacing remarks were directed almost exclusively against Iraq.
What Bush needed to do then was convince America that Iraq presented "an imminent threat" and that we had to invade and conquer that country or otherwise experience the deadly harm the Iraqis would inevitably inflict on us.
That Bush was successful in convincing America of these false beliefs is well known. That he and his cohorts engaged in all manner of deceptive maneuvers to accomplish this fraud is also well known. And that America has paid a terrible, seemingly endless price for this vile subterfuge is similarly well known.
The greatest price Bush can now pay for Iraq is that of being temporarily without a job. Even should that happen, he has already had the supreme satisfaction of seeing Saddam forever removed from power.
But for the friends, relatives, and loved ones of the more than 1000 Americans who have died in Iraq, the price they pay knows no limits. And the satisfaction they feel borders on the non-existent.
Should Bush be temporarily without a job, my hope is that John Kerry still remembers the lessons of Viet Nam: that when a war appears unwinnable, bring the troops home as soon as possible.
I also hope that he does something else — lays some flowers on the grave of the last person who died for this mistake.
A BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
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