Kerry and the War Issue: Seymour Hirsch
"The rapid ascent of the neoconservatives surprises him.. They didn't march into the Iraq war for Israel or oil but out of idealist utopian motives.. They thought the march to Baghdad was essential for the war against terror and that democracy would flow like water from a fountain!"
KERRY AND THE WAR ISSUE
George W. Bush's first term in office was accompanied by revelations and scandals. Nevertheless the president leads in the polls. Everything depends on whether John Kerry makes the war into the central theme.
By Henning Hoff
[This article originally published in: DIE ZEIT 40/2004 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://zeus.zeit.de/text/2004/40/hersh.]
War times are fast-moving times. Scandals, half-truths and inconsistencies are so overwhelming in the first term in office of George W. Bush that they can hardly be summarized. For example, there was the claim based on gross falsifications that Iraq tried to buy uranium in Niger. The Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon gathered raw secret service data on Iraq, al-Qaida and weapons of mass destruction and forwarded it on to the White House as irrefutable knowledge. Then there are the breakdowns and failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, the lack of a post-war plan and the torture scandals of Abu Ghraib.
The veteran reporter Seymour Hirsch brought this (and much more) to the light of the general public. Whoever wanted to know what really happened in the "war against terror" since the attacks of September 11, 2004 read Hirsch's detailed articles in the New Yorker magazine. Now these articles are in a book "Chain of Command. The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib". Interwoven and enriched with new material, they offer a unique "counter-history" of the American crusade in the name of combating terror. But what has been the effect of his work? Despite the many revelations, Bush has a lead in polls over his democratic challenger John Kerry.
"It is up to Kerry", Hirsch says. "He has never really taken on oppositional stance on the war. Now he is moving in a doctrinaire, vague and confused way. Last week Kerry began to attack Bush on account of the Iraq war. "The next days are crucial. If the polls show he is gaining support, he will continue in this assault. If Kerry can say: If you want this war, vote for Bush! If you want a change in the war or its end, vote for me, then Kerry has a chance."
The hopeless situation in Iraq is becoming increasingly obvious. "This war is unpopular, particularly with the military. True conservative republicans regard the war as dreadful. There is no exit strategy. These kidnappings and decapitations are only symptoms demonstrating the madness of the whole policy." In the last weeks of the election campaign, "the war will be the center of attention", Hirsch insists.
War has been the heart of Hirsch's work. The attacks of September 11, 2001 and what followe4d represented something like a second spring for him. Hirsch is one of the few who still really pursue investigative journalism instead of selling tips and indiscretions. In 1969 he caused a sensation when he uncovered the massacre of civilians in My Lai committed by American soldiers in the Vietnam War and the subsequent cover-up attempts. The story brought him the Pulitzer Prize. His contacts within the government machine, in the military and the secret services in the US and half of the world are legendary.
When he telephoned the editor-in-chief of the New Yorker, David Remnick, on the day of the attacks and asked how this "great story" should be presented. The 67-year old did not know what was in store. Hirsch had written 26 great stories in the last three years for the magazine, sometimes once a week. Hirsch's achievement can be best understood in the light of the magazine's editorial process. The New Yorker is famous for its "fact checkers".
The rapid ascent of the neo-conservatives surprises him. "How could they take over the government so easily? That is still the great question today." They "did not march into the Iraq war for Israel or oil" but "out of idealist utopian motives". This makes them so dangerous because their views are "terribly wrong and misguided". "They thought the march to Baghdad was essential for the `war against terror' and that afterwards democracy would flow like water from a fountain!"
Responsibility for the torture and abuse of prisoners, Hirsch is convinced, extends to the top eschelons in the American government. How could the US fall so deeply? "September 11 frightened all of us", Hirsch says. A mentality of vengeance and striking back has led to making everyone - whether guilty or not - into an enemy so "every soldier could do whatever he wanted with his prisoner. That is what happened. It was atrocious, un-American and foolish since we hardly gained any knowledge from the interrogations."
The whole history shows the simplicity of the American president and his advisors. "They believe violence works." The "special access program", the undercover unit at the highest secret service level that kidnaps people around the world who in the opinion of American authorities are key figures in terrorism, was authorized by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. "According to Rumsfeld's conviction, the legal way was too slow", Hirsch says. "We prefer to snatch anyone, drag him from bed, fly him in unmarked aircraft for interrogations in Egypt, Singapore or Thailand. Since December 2001, we have made people disappear." The Pentagon denies the existence of this program.
Now he offers his book. But Hirsch would not be Hirsch if he did not include a brief stay in London in his work. "I had breakfast this morning with someone, not a journalist", he says. He proudly points to a stack of copies, "the Telegraph papers". Five days before the British Daily Telegraph quoted Prime Minister Tony Blair's secret memorandum and revealed that foreign minister Jack Straw and his ministry warned at the beginning of 2002 that Iraq would sink into chaos after Saddam Hussein's military overthrow.
"The Telegraph missed the burning story", Hirsch says. He reads from the papers. "At the beginning of 2002, everyone spoke of war against Iraq. The real story is that Bush and Blair lied to the public and the UN for a year about their true intentions." One passage fills him with pride. Sir Christopher Meyer, British ambassador in Washington at that time, is quoted in a document saying that Hirsch's April 2002 article about America's war plans was "a fairly accurate picture".
Governments around the world usually deny this. "Hirsch is a liar", Bush told the Pakistani ruler Pervez Musharraf. Pentagon spokesperson Lawrence Di Rita decried Hirsch's stories about the Abu Ghraib revelations. After Hirsch showed the connection of political and business interests, the neo-conservative advisor Richard Perle before live television cameras called him "the greatest approximation to a terrorist in American journalism".
Given the fact that western hostages in Iraq are often dressed in orange-colored overalls as "revenge for Guantanamo", Hirsch is criticized for undermining his own nation with his revelations. Quite the contrary, Hirsch replies, "What I do is good for America!" The torture stories would be published anyway. If they had first appeared in the Arab media, the catastrophe for the US would have been even greater. "People in the Arab world who think somewhat rationally see that the American public finds the incidents atrocious and that there are people in the US who believe in decency and integrity."
The situation in Iraq today is completely hopeless and inextricable. People know hardly anything about the insurgent movement. The Jordanian terrorist Abu Massab al-Sarkawi was blamed though his actual role was very unclear. "No one in the secret services and the US military that I know believes this about Sarkawi. Immobilizing the people is the only purpose. The worst thing is that the president believes this. This one evil type is said to weld the nation together."
Then there is the strategic situation in the region. Two states want the US in Iraq, Israel and Iran. "Israel doesn't want any mad Shiite and tribal elder in power. A greater danger for the country than under Saddam would arise in a Balkanized Iraq." The great winner is Iran that the US also wants to bind in Iraq. From their view, the United States resembles more and more the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Iran helped entice the US into Iraq and could watch quietly how the US was broken. This is "an incredible mess" for Bush or for Kerry, Hirsch says.
If Bush is re-selected, he will have no other possibility in Hirsch's opinion than escalating the war, "more violence, more bombs and an incredible number of casualties". This will reveal the true situation of the American armed forces. "The special forces are completely exhausted. Among the commando-forces of the Marines, the SEALs, 300 more soldiers are quitting than are newly enlisting. There are hardly any reservists left." At the end, the army could consist of only seniors waiting for their due pensions after 20 years of service and young recruits without any premonitions.
Then the US will have only a "shake-and-bake army", an instant troop. All competent people will have alighted as after Vietnam. The next step would be the re-introduction of universal conscription. Then the American people at last will "see through" Bush. "Perhaps we need this `awakening experience', Hirsch says, "to finally understand the madness of the whole policy."
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