Editorial note: What follows is the text of a speech delivered on Dec. 16, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the 2005 Perdana Peace Forum.
The theme for this part of the program is "Crimes Against Peace, Crimes Against Humanity." We are discussing here the question of defining and dealing with war crimes. In any such discussion, however, we must start out by identifying who are the war criminals. We must, in short, name names.
I would remind you that only governments make war. Only governments have the resources to commit mass murder. Government is, by its very nature, a weapon of mass destruction. Governments from A to Z from America to Zimbabwe are potential instruments of brutal repression. Last night, as I surfed the Internet, I saw an aerial photo of a village that looked like the bombed-out remnants of a target in Iraq it was, however, a photo of a village in Zimbabwe that had been bulldozed by the government that has displaced over 300,000 people. Let’s be clear: we are talking about government officials as the prime war criminals. So let’s start naming names.
Of course, everyone knows the name of the man most responsible for the invasion and conquest of Iraq, because he is the most powerful and the most dangerous man on earth. He is George W. Bush, commander in chief of America’s military forces, the man who is even now declaring his defiance of the American public and growing congressional opposition to the war by declaring that we won’t get out until "victory" and I put that term in ironic quotes is achieved.
Less known, but no less culpable, are the people who planned and agitated for this war over the course of a decade. In America, we have a name for these people: we call them neoconservatives. "Neocons" for short. This is to distinguish them from ordinary, run-of-the-mill conservatives or libertarians, such as myself who advocate limited government and are generally suspicious of if not downright opposed to such grandiose social-engineering projects as "nation-building." After the end of the Cold War, most conservatives moved to a position of opposing foreign meddling in most cases. It was the liberals who then became the big advocates of America pushing its weight around in the world, with the interventions in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and the bombing of Iraq, which continued throughout President Bill Clinton’s reign.
When the Soviet empire imploded, most conservatives gave up the idea of America as the world’s policeman but not the neoconservatives. They had originally come from the Left, and, having acquired the most authoritarian and elitist tendencies of the Right, the neocons retained the worst of the socialist movement’s messianic pretensions, especially in the realm of foreign policy. As for their extraordinary bloodthirstiness, a brief look at their history shows us it was always there. After all, the earliest of these refugees from the anti-Stalinist Left had huddled around the ruthless figure of Leon Trotsky, founder of the Red Army, later becoming the most relentless and militant opponents of the Kremlin. After some years, the second generation eventually found their way into the Democratic Party, where a good number of them Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Elliott Abrams became aides to Sen. Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson, Democrat of Washington state. In Washington, D.C., these guys were known as the most radical advocates of a massive arms buildup and a strategy of rollback against the Soviet Union.
The war in Vietnam was their Thermopylae, in which they tried to hold off the gathered legions of the burgeoning antiwar movement but without success. Outnumbered, and defeated at the polls, the neocons left the Democratic Party when George McGovern and his antiwar followers took the helm. They soon found a new home in the Republican Party, however, where they continued their long march to power.
Neoconservatism, which has been called a "persuasion" and not an ideology by Irving Kristol one of the chief architects of the movement has always stood for two major principles, and that is the rule by elites at home, and a foreign policy of perpetual intervention and conflict abroad. Over time, this "persuasion" which started out as a primitive anti-Stalinism became more elaborate, taking on the elitism and philosophical nihilism of the philosopher Leo Strauss the philosopher of the so-called noble lie as well as an enthusiasm for the state of Israel, and the U.S.-Israeli alliance, that often borders on the very edge of propriety, and sometimes crosses the line.
For example, in 1978, according to Stephen Green, a researcher very familiar with this subject, Wolfowitz was investigated for passing a classified document on the proposed sale of U.S. weapons to an Arab government to an official of the Israeli government. This was done through an intermediary who worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. The investigation into the matter was eventually dropped, however, and Wolfowitz continued to work at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency where he opposed every effort at arms control and disarmament. Perle and Feith ran into similar problems, with similarly inconclusive results, and the neocons continued their quest for upward mobility in Washington’s corridors of power.
This kind of activity continues to characterize the behavior of the neocons in government right up to the present day, with one difference: this time, the investigation was not dropped, as in the case of Larry Franklin, the top Iran specialist in the Pentagon, who was recently indicted for spying on behalf of Israel. He was caught red-handed turning over sensitive documents and other classified information to two officials of AIPAC, who then passed it on to the Israelis. Franklin and his co-conspirators are scheduled to stand trial in 2006.
With this exotic mix of ideological positions pro-war, pro-Israel, and dedicated to the tradition of Strauss and Machiavelli, which holds that only a few men of unscrupulous methods and natural genius have the natural right to rule the neocons worked their way into the Republican Party, infiltrated the U.S. government, and finally penetrated the top echelons of the foreign-policy establishment during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, when they captured the National Endowment for Democracy and the mid-to-lower reaches of the national security bureaucracy. By the time Reagan’s second term rolled around, they had already established a significant beachhead and assured themselves of a semi-permanent foothold in official Washington.
When the Cold War ended and their influence in government waned, they didn’t disappear, but instead retrenched, setting up a network of think tanks, magazines, foundations, and political front groups, seizing effective control of the conservative movement in America. This was done by exercising a decisive influence over how that movement was funded the big conservative foundations, which funded various projects, funneled many millions of dollars into their ventures, subsidized their followers, and pushed their ideas relentlessly, freezing out all opponents in the process. The result was a movement transformed, one that soon threw over its guiding principles limited government, economic and personal liberty, and a foreign policy that puts America first in favor of the neoconservative credo of big government at home and unrestrained militarism around the world.
They started so many magazines that whole forests of trees are now regularly sacrificed so that the Weekly Standard, the National Interest, First Things, National Review, the Claremont Review of Books, Commentary magazine, and the Murdoch chain of newspapers can agitate for war, a policy of relentless American expansionism, and "regime change" from sea to shining sea. The number of neocon thinktanks is staggering: the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Security Policy, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and at least half a dozen or so with the word "Democracy" figuring prominently in their names: the list goes on and on. Together they employ a veritable army of policy analysts, publicists, and propagandists who churn out a steady stream of arguments for increased arms expenditures and endless war especially directed against Arab and Muslim peoples.
The neoconservatives languished during the post-Cold War era, all but running out of steam: in America, the appetite for foreign intervention was practically nil, and the Republicans, the neocons’ chosen host of the moment, were reverting back to their traditional stance of a skeptical attitude toward foreign intervention. The neocons made limited headway during this period, at least on the surface: they did, however, begin to agitate for U.S. military action against Iraq, and in 1997 set up the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), headed by Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, which announced its goal to be the promotion of "American global leadership." In 1998, a letter sponsored by PNAC and signed by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, among others, called on then-President Bill Clinton to attack Iraq.
A series of similar letters, newspaper advertisements, and public statements followed, all in the same vein: the U.S., they demanded, must invade Iraq. The neocons also called, from the beginning, for a major U.S. military buildup, what they termed a "transformation" of the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force, effectively doubling present expenditures. As they sadly noted in a September 2000, policy paper, however, that probably wasn’t going to happen quickly enough to suit them, "absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor."
A year later, they had their "catalyzing event" and the neoconservatives were suddenly at the pinnacle of a wave that has begun to crest only recently. Their war agenda was ready and waiting for the panic, the irrationality, the blind anger that infused the American public in the wake of the biggest terrorist attack in our history and the neocons moved quickly to take full advantage of their golden opportunity.
They had argued long and hard that the Middle East had to be transformed into a series of pliable "democracies," all essentially run from the U.S., in order to make life easier for Israel. Indeed, a group of neoconservatives, including Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, and David Wurmser, among others, authored a policy paper in 1996 for then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which called for regime change in Iraq as a way to humble the frontline state of Syria. The "democratic" transformation of the region was seen by these writers as a way for Israel to get out of its predicament and break through to becoming the dominant power in the region, free from any military or demographic threat.
In short, the plan to invade and conquer Iraq was already in place. After 9/11, the authors of this plan were free to start implementing it and the neocons were well-placed to do it. Dick Cheney, a PNAC alumni, was vice president. His chief of staff was I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, another signer of the 1998 PNAC letter. Wolfowitz was installed at the Department of Defense, along with Feith. Wurmser was in government, ending up in the office of the vice president. John R. Bolton, now our ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, currently the U.S. ambassador to Iraq: the list of strategically -placed members of PNAC holding high positions in the Bush administration is impressive.
What has happened to America since 9/11? This question is now being asked by the world’s peoples, who fear the spectacle of the American giant going on an international rampage. A pretty good answer was given by the journalist Seymour Hersh, speaking at a conference of the American Civil Liberties Union, held on July 7 of this year:
“Okay, so here’s what happens: a bunch of guys, eight or nine neoconservatives, cultists not Charles Manson cultists, but cultists get in.
“And it’s not, with all due respect to Michael Moore, (his movie’s fine) but it’s not about oil, it’s even not about Israel, it’s about a utopia they have. It’s about an idea they have. Not only about that democracy can be spread. In a sense I would say Paul Wolfowitz is the greatest Trotskyite of our times. He believes in permanent revolution. And in the Middle East, to begin with, needless to say.
“And so you have a bunch of people who have been, for 10 or 12 years, fantasizing, since the 1991 Gulf war, on the way to resolve problems. And of course there’ll be beneficiaries, Israel would be a beneficiary, etc., etc., but the world in their eyes, this is a utopia.
“And so they got together this small group of cultists. And how did they do it? They did do it. They’ve taken the government over.
“And what’s amazing to me and what really is troubling is how fragile our democracy is. Look what happened to us They took the edge off the press, they also muzzled the bureaucracy, they muzzled the military, they muzzled the Congress. And it’s an amazing feat. We’re supposed to be a democratic society. And all those areas of our democracy bowed and scraped to this group of neocons.”
Hersh is right: after 9/11, the neocons pulled off what was, in effect, a coup d’etat. Already implanted deep inside the U.S. government, they emerged, at this crucial moment, like the pod people in the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and took over their host, commandeering American foreign policy and bypassing the traditional safeguards built into the system. They bypassed the generals, they bypassed the intelligence community, they lied to Congress, and they ginned up a war that had been in the making for a decade.
But Hersh is wrong about the supposed fragility of the American system of constitutional government: it isn’t all that fragile, as it turns out. It’s just very flexible. It has been bent very far in one direction, and is now in the process of returning to its original position. Today, the war is very obviously a gigantic and quite embarrassing failure. The neocons are in retreat. And not only are they in retreat, but they or at least some of them will likely wind up in jail.
On Oct. 28 of this year, Patrick J. Fitzgerald. the special counsel appointed by the U.S. Justice Department, announced the indictment of I. Lewis Libby on five charges: one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury, and two counts of making false statements. I won’t go into all the specifics of the case here: suffice to say that the vice president’s chief of staff faces as much as 30 years in jail. The cabal that lied America into war is facing not only exposure, but also legal prosecution, because they broke several laws in the process of luring us into the Iraqi quagmire not the least of which was planting bogus "intelligence" about alleged "weapons of mass destruction," then retaliating against anyone in the government who dared dispute their dubious assertions.
If we look at the neoconservatives as a parasitic infestation, we can see that the American body politic is reacting as any healthy organism would: it is rejecting the invaders and expelling them. The American people now realize the war against Iraq was started under false pretenses, and they are wondering when we are going to get out. The president and his cronies have launched a propaganda counteroffensive, trying to convince people that all is well and that we ought to "stay the course" to no effect. Americans have made up their minds, and the question now isn’t will we withdraw, it is how and when we do it.
The war criminals have committed crimes against the Iraqi people and against other peoples of the Middle East, but they have also committed crimes against Americans and that is what tripped them up in the end. The indictment of Libby is only the beginning: prosecutor Fitzgerald is already looking into other crimes committed by other top Bush administration officials. There are even rumors that Vice President Dick Cheney is in Fitzgerald’s sights.
Crime, as a popular American saying goes, does not pay. The criminals are eventually caught, exposed and made to pay the price. The only question is how much damage they can do in the interim.
The damage to Iraq, and to the volatile situation in the Middle East, is considerable. We won’t know for many years how many Iraqis died the United States military, while it keeps a count of its own war dead, doesn’t bother counting dead Iraqis. We don’t know the extent of the bombing except that it is being kept a secret. In Vietnam, they used to announce the number of bombing sorties every day: in Iraq, they don’t talk about these bombing raids. As Seymour Hersh has reported, however, the air war is going to be increased in intensity, as American troops retreat to safer ground: that will increase the number of Iraqi casualties exponentially. We can count on two, three, many Fallujahs.
What we are facing is a conspiracy against humanity, a cabal motivated by an idea that is criminal in itself, and which consists of the assertion that the United States must run the world for "our own good," of course. But that is what every tyrant and would-be conqueror has asserted in the past: that they and only they have the answer to the world’s problems. The Soviets believed that, and so did the British, the Germans, and the French from Napoleon to Paul Wolfowitz, the rationale is always the same. And it always ends in disaster.