The Logic of War and Empire
Revolutionary Worker #1235, April 4, 2004, posted at rwor.org
Countless eyes were glued to the days of public testimony on March 23 and 24 before the "National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States." The ten-member panel grilled policymakers from the Bush team and the previous Clinton administration. There were angry outbursts and finger-pointing. For days, charges and countercharges echoed back and forth outside the commission hearing--through the power structure and the intensifying electoral arena.
But the central verdict of this inquiry was decided before it even started: The U.S. government has (people would be told over and over again) been too restrained, too "risk-averse," too distracted, too worried about killing innocents, too worried about world opinion, too cautious about launching wars and assassinations.
Since this verdict was, from the beginning, the defining assumption of this whole circus--the in- fighting that broke out inevitably centered around a specific set of questions: Who in this government's ruling circles were most guilty of this supposed restraint? Which political and strategic teams would in the future be the most hard, far-sighted, determined and ruthless in exercising U.S. power throughout the whole planet?
Many people watching have been so glad to see any public criticism of Bush, and to see his arrogant team "knocked down a peg"--that many have missed the whole point here: The main criticism of this Bush team of cutthroats to emerge from this hearing was that they were (supposedly) not aggressive enough in launching wars and attacks on foreign "enemies."
Think of the implications of such a claim!
Think of what this Commission is demanding that the presidential team of the coming years (whether Democratic or Republican) should send their armies and covert teams to do!
Think of what the people of the U.S. are being trained to think and accept!
These hearings come after a year when the public doubts about the war on Iraq and other U.S. actions have deepened. White House lies have been exposed, and many people suspect that the foreign actions are not really about their "safety" at all. The testimony of Richard Clarke at the hearings actually help confirm that the plans to invade Iraq and Afghanistan were developed before 9/11 ever happened. (More on this below.)
But at the 9/11 Commission the 3,000 dead of the World Trade Center were evoked, again and again, to justify the tens of thousands of people the U.S. military has killed around the world since 9/11, and to justify (ahead of time) all the killing this government plans to do in the future.
The central lesson of September 11, 2001--according to this Commission and its many witnesses, including Richard Clarke--is that the U.S. government needs to be even more ruthless around the world, and people within the U.S. should be prepared to give the U.S. government a complete carte blanche to carry out wars, assassinations, massive spying and other extreme measures of many kinds, both inside and outside the U.S. And all of this is being demanded in the name of the "safety" of the people of the United States.
This commission should have been renamed "The Empire's Commission for Justifying Even More Pre-Emptive War and Global Covert Operations in the Name of Stopping Terrorist Attacks."
Ridiculing Imperial Restraint
Over and over again in these hearings, former government officials explained why they hadn't simply sent armies to kill suspected enemies of the U.S. everywhere in the world. And over and over again, such statements were ridiculed before a television audience of millions.
Former Senator Bob Kerrey--the most outspoken commission member--grabbed the national political spotlight by angrily demanding to know why the U.S. had not landed more commando killing teams or launched full invasions before 9/11.
Clinton's Secretary of Defense William Cohen said: "The notion that somehow President Clinton or even President Bush--absent 9/11--could have walked into the halls of Congress, say, `Declare war against Al Qaida,' I think is unrealistic. Prior to that time, I dare say there is not a single country that would have been supporting the president of the United States declaring war and invading Afghanistan prior to 9/11."
Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that one reason the U.S. has not simply launched invasions (after attacks in Kenya and Yemen) was that "diplomatic backing would have been virtually nonexistent."
Commission member Bob Kerrey dismissed this argument:
"The fact that it's unpopular, that it's difficult, that our allies are not necessarily with it shouldn't deter a president. We had a round in our chamber and we didn't use it. That's how I see it. And I don't know if it would have prevented 9/11. But I absolutely do not believe that just because a commander-in-chief sits there and said, `Gee, this thing is unpopular therefore I can't do it,' I don't think that's a good argument. I know Secretary Rumsfeld is going to use it here in a few minutes and I'm going to be just as harsh with him."
Just look at these blood-soaked war-makers Cohen, Albright and Rumsfeld being bashed for not being aggressive and ruthless enough!
Think of all the wars, bombings, covert actions, assassinations, embargos, bullying these three monsters have carried out for this empire. And imagine what it means that people are now supposed to believe they have (all along) been too lax and restrained!
In the hearings, Kerrey confronted Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright with these words: "I keep hearing the excuse we didn't have actionable intelligence."
"Better to have tried and failed than not to try at all,"Kerrey later tells Clinton's Secretary of Defense William Cohen.
Think for a moment, what is being said here: Our world has just watched the U.S. conquer Iraq based on false "intelligence" claims of weapons of mass destruction. The damning exposure of these lies has greatly weakened the credibility of U.S. war-makers.
But now this commission wants to reverse all that --by demanding that everyone accept future U.S. acts of war even without "actionable intelligence."
No one should doubt that this Senator Kerrey knows a lot about what he is proposing:
On February 25, 1969, this same Bob Kerrey led a team of six Navy SEALS into the tiny Vietnamese fishing village of Thanh Phong. Kerrey personally helped slit the throats of the first family of villagers they jumped. His death squad then rounded up the remaining unarmed inhabitants. One survivor, Bui Thi Luom, later said: "I thought they would let us go after they saw we were only women and children. But they shot at us like animals."It was a cold-blooded massacre at short range, for which Kerrey got the Bronze Star and a lifetime label of "war hero."
A question: What does it mean when the ruling class brings back a war criminal like Bob Kerrey and gives him the spotlight to lecture government officials and the public about the need for even more ruthless military aggression?
Bob Kerrey is now being widely mentioned within the Democratic establishment as a possible vice presidential running mate for John Kerry.
Another question: What does this say about which kinds of "criticisms" of Bush policy will be promoted in this election arena, and which ones will not be allowed?
In one exchange, CIA head George Tenet insisted forcefully that his agency is fully committed to covert actions and assassinations. This is chilling for anyone who remembers the bloody trail of U.S. covert operations--from Tibet in the '50s, to Laos in the '60s, to the building up of the Islamists of Afghanistan in the '80s, to Nicaragua's contras, and on and on. These are the kinds of operations that should be ended forever--not unleashed in a new flood on the world.
Then Tenet added that he believed that the key to future "security" was vastly increasing " domestic intelligence" and integrating it fully with agencies for "foreign intelligence." Here is an undisguised plan for even more police-state operations within the U.S.--and this chilling vision was simply accepted and broadcast from these hearings as if it was a natural and obvious fact of modern life.
At every point in these hearings, any notions of military restraint, diplomacy, international law, domestic privacy and civil liberties were treated as dangerous softness--and this chilling vision of the future was put forward in the name of "national security" and "keeping the homeland safe."
And in case anyone had missed the edge of the continuing war mood here--Tenet announced that there are at least 100 active "al-Qaida operatives" now operating in Europe, the FBI announced there was a "terrorism" danger for Texas oil refineries, and the U.S. government closed many of its embassies in the countries of the Persian Gulf.
A Glimpse of the Current Mission
Whenever powerful ruling class forces fight publicly over policy, there are revelations of things that were previously hidden. These hearings were no exception.
Chairman Bob Avakian noted (in The New Situation and the Great Challenges ) that when they came to power the Bush strategic team (including Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice) thought that an aggressive change was needed in the global policies of U.S. imperialism.
Chairman Avakian characterizes their thinking this way: "Look, we had this great victory in the Cold War. Then we had this whole period when we had Clinton in there, and we didn't really take advantage of the victory in the Cold War. We didn't `roll up' the whole world the way we could have, and should have. We let things drift, and it's time to get in there and follow up the victory of the Cold War with this whole new world realignment that we're going to bludgeon into being."
The testimony of Richard Clarke in these hearings revealed more evidence of these strategic goals pursued by the Bush team.
Richard Clarke served the U.S. government for 30 years, as a high-level ring leader of U.S. government counter-insurgency, spying and covert operations. He served as head of "counter- terrorism" under Clinton, and as the new Bush team came to power he was "kept on." He suggested that the new administration continue the "anti-terrorist" plans of the Clinton administration and says he was rudely ignored.
Clinton's government had been highly aggressive internationally--maintaining murderous sanctions on Iraq, launching repeated bombing attacks on Iraq, and sending cruise missile attacks into many different countries like Sudan and Afghanistan to assassinate U.S. opponents. But Richard Clarke and other witnesses document that the Bush team disdainfully felt that the Clinton policies had wasted U.S. military superiority on pinprick actions and low-level interventions in non-strategic areas (Haiti, Somalia, Yugoslavia, and so on).
Clarke describes how his plans and proposals were shoved aside as the Bush team formulated new, global strategic plans. Meanwhile Clarke and other testimony before the 9/11 Commission documents how the Bush team (in the months before 9/11) was focused on creating war plans to actually take over the countries of Afghanistan and Iraq. The preliminary report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (released March 23) officially acknowledged for the first time that the Bush administration adopted a plan for invading Afghanistan and imposing a pro-U.S. government--and approved that plan the day before the September 11 attacks!
Richard Clarke also describes how after 9/11, the White House and Pentagon heads suddenly realized they could use the 9/11 attacks as an opportunity to carry out those aggressive international moves they had long wanted to make.
After 9/11, the U.S. government first carried out the invasion of Afghanistan that they were already planning. Then (as phase 2) they carried out the conquest of Iraq--which Bush's Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil confirmed they had planned from their very first days in office, in January 2001.
Richard Clarke describes how after September 11 Bush and Rumsfeld were especially interested in finding the way to justify an invasion of Iraq. Clarke said (in a March 21 interview with CBS'60 Minutes ): "The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, `I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, `Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this." I said, `Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection...' He came back at me and said, `Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean, that we should come back with that answer."
Clarke said he wrote a report together with the CIA and FBI that concluded that Iraq had few links with al-Qaida and no involvement in the September 11 attacks. Clarke said: "We sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Adviser or deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, `Wrong answer... Do it again.' I have no idea, to this day, if the President saw it, because after we did it again, it came to the same conclusion."
What emerges from these descriptions is one central fact about today's world: The attacks of September 11 were exploited by the U.S. government to unleash a long-prepared global offensive to consolidate and extend U.S. domination over the globe, and especially over key strategic regions like the Persian Gulf.
On one hand, like the gangsters they are, the rulers of the U.S. felt they had to respond after they were hit on 9/11--but they responded by pursuing a larger, established plan for enforcing U.S. domination over the planet.
The so-called "war on terrorism" is fundamentally not about the "safety of the American people." It is about using U.S. military superiority to forge a new world order re-organized to better serve U.S. capitalist interests. It is about imposing new "norms" of U.S. actions in the world--the so-called Bush Doctrine--that frees the U.S. government from earlier restraints of alliances, international treaty and public opinion, and gives them a blank check to use their military wherever their interests suggest.
A Twisted Use of Apology
Richard Clarke grabbed headlines by publicly apologizing to the families of 9/11 victims and saying: "Your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you. And I failed you. We tried hard. But that doesn't matter, because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask, once all the facts are out, for your understanding and for your forgiveness."
This seemed, to many, to be a rare and refreshing act of responsibility in a swamp of finger-pointing and "cover your ass."
But in fact, this "apology" promotes dangerous illusions about this "global war on terror." It suggests that the "failure" of the U.S. government was not being aggressive enough, and that new U.S. assaults must be embraced in the name of "the safety of the people of the U.S."
This is exactly upside-down.
On September 14, 2001, only days after the attacks on New York and Washington, the Revolutionary Communist Party argued:
"Who has put the masses in the U.S. in harm's way? The U.S. power structure points the finger to the Middle East. But the answer lies on U.S. soil. These imperialists--who have perpetrated countless crimes and rained havoc on the people of the world through their relentless global exploitation and their military actions--have created a situation where millions of people all around the world hate the government of the United States. As the dust clears from our eyes, the people in the most powerful country in the world find ourselves held hostage to the inevitable repercussions of the actions of this U.S. power structure and their bloody military machine. Now, besides the horrors that they have perpetuated against the people around the world--horrors that multiply the tears shed in NY and Washington a thousand times--these cold-hearted imperialists have called forth the same kind of devastation in the belly of their own beast."
This "war on terrorism" is fundamentally a historic and imperialist grab for world power by the rulers of the U.S. It seeks to reorganize the world at gunpoint and will not provide "safety and security" for anyone--inside or outside the U.S.
What does it mean when a "bi-partisan" government commission and its "bi- partisan" government witnesses all argue that the U.S. government must be more ruthless in launching wars and covert actions on other countries--pre-emptively--without proven cause, without regard to public opinion, and without international approval?
It means there is a consensus in ruling class circles to press ahead with a reckless and brutal grab for world domination--even while there is a heated and visible cat-fight among them over how best to pull all this off.
And it means the challenge of this moment is to reject and expose all this--especially when it is done, perversely, in the name of the people and their safety.