In a recent interview with Raw Story, Former Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith recounted an anecdote from his new book The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End.
When three Iraqi-Americans met with the president prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and spent some time trying to tutor him on the differences between Shi’ite and Sunni Islamic sects, Galbraith says that Bush, ever the slow learner, allegedly responded: “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!”
To Galbraith, this was an indication of rampant Bush administration ignorance of the deep religious and ethnic fault lines in the Middle East.
“From the president and the vice president down through the neoconservatives at the Pentagon, there was a belief that Iraq was a blank slate on which the United States could impose its vision of a pluralistic democratic society,” Galbraith told Raw Story.
Yet given top Bush administration officials’ personal involvement in the notoriously violent history between Iraqi Sunnis and Iranian Shi’ites and their history of backing the Sunni Ba’athist dictatorship run by Saddam Hussein that ruthlessly lorded over the Shi’ite majority in Iraq for years, it’s impossible to believe that (excepting Bush) top administration personnel were oblivious of the deep Sunni-Shi’ite divisions or the level of hatred the Iraqi people would likely harbor for American occupiers who had at one time collaborated with Saddam.
In fact, for a number of years in the 1980’s, the U.S. government backed Saddam Hussein because it knew he was not a Shi’ite, but rather a secular-oriented Sunni willing to wage war against both the Shi’ite majority in his own country and the Shi’ite Islamic theocracy in Iran.
And wage war he did. From September of 1980, when Saddam invaded Iran, until a cease-fire in August of 1988, Iran suffered over 100,000 casualties from Iraqi chemical weapons, making it one of the worst-affected countries in the world by weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld traveled to Iraq in 1983 for the Reagan administration as a special presidential envoy to establish “direct contact between President Reagan and President Saddam Hussein.” A famous picture from that trip of an eager Rumsfeld gazing admiringly at Saddam while they shake hands circulates the internet to this day.
And as it turns out, many of the WMD that Saddam used against Iran were supplied to him by Egypt, Singapore, India, and U.S. allies from Europe. Worse yet, the CIA provided Iraq with intelligence used to “calibrate” its mustard gas attacks on Iranian troops. Saddam also used American-supplied Bell helicopters to spray chemical weapons.
(What eventually became of all those weapons no one knows. Saddam might have used up most of his stock on Iran under U.S. government tutelage given that none were left to be found by WMD hunters following the 2003 invasion).
So the notion that the current Bush administration invaded Iraq somehow oblivious to the ruthless, cut-throat ways of Mideast warmaking, and didn’t know it was blundering into a deadly Sunni-Shi’ite blood feud that harbored a huge side dish of hatred for America is specious at best. George W. may have been wet behind the ears going in, but Rumsfeld and Cheney (who served as Secretary of Defense during Gulf War I under Bush I) knew exactly what they were getting America into, and proceeded anyway.
The current Iraq quagmire, a Hobbesian free-for-all with American troops, Shi’ite militants and Sunni militants all battling one another for survival, is the result.
Knowing today what should have already been obvious given America’s troubled history with Iraq and Iran, are Bush administration heavyweights willing to dig American troops even deeper by taking the U.S. to war yet again (this time directly), against the Iranian people?
According to some in the pro-war faction, it’s already a done deal.
“We are creating a situation where everything we’re going to try short of military force is going to fail,” Ilan Berman, an Iran “expert” at the neocon American Foreign Policy Council, told McClatchy Newspapers. “By the spring of next year, we’re going to be looking at very serious discussions about next steps, including military options.”
“If they get the bomb, all bets are off,” Berman helpfully added, as if he and his neocon coterie are in a position to unilaterally declare war on behalf of the American people. “We don’t want the leading state sponsor of terrorism to have a finger on the trigger.”
Berman’s war fantasies have been helped along by a recently-released “intelligence estimate” by House intelligence committee chair Pete Hoekstra, titled “Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States.”
In terms of sheer propaganda value, says former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, it rivals “Iraq’s Continuing Program for Weapons of Mass Destruction,” the infamous National Intelligence Estimate by which Congress was misled into approving the Iraq war.
Hoekstra, writes McGovern, “has violated all precedent in consenting to have his committee author this faux-National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, making it out to be a strategic threat. But a threat to whom? The answer leaps off the cover. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is pictured giving a Nazi-type salute behind a podium adorned with a wide poster (in English) ‘The world without Zionism.’ And atop the first page stands an Ahmadinejad quote: ‘The annihilation of the Zionist regime will come … Israel must be wiped off the map …'”
According to its critics, writes Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service, the new report “appeared designed mainly to cast doubt on estimates by the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community that Iran was unlikely to develop a nuclear weapon until at least 2010…That assessment is far too optimistic for Israel-centered neoconservatives and other hawks who favor a policy of confrontation with Iran and have denounced Washington’s possible participation in negotiations between the EU3 and Tehran as ‘appeasement.'”
So, once again, it looks as if the GOP is planning to ram through yet another war under the pretext of eliminating dangerous WMD. But this time it is going to spend less energy trying to hide the fact that Israel will be the main beneficiary.
Yet when it comes to WMD, Israel, which pioneered Mideast state sponsored terrorism and engages in it to this day, has had its own finger on the nuclear trigger for years. And unlike Iranian president Ahmadinejad, who has only threatened to “wipe Israel off the map” (and even that alleged phrase may have been a deliberate mistranslation of what he really said) Israel for the last 50 years has systematically gone about actually doing just that to the Palestinians.
Having lost so many of its people to Iraq (with U.S. government assistance), Iran can no doubt sympathize with the Palestinians, who have lost so many of their own people to the Israelis (also with U.S. government assistance).
So which is the bigger threat to peace: A state that might or might not have nuclear weapon ambitions with no record of genocide (Iran) or a state that is known to have both nuclear weapons and a long record of genocide (Israel)?
Rumsfeld already has one war against Iran under his belt with a loathsome ally in the person of Saddam Hussein. Does he really want another war against Iran under his belt with a second loathsome ally in the person of Jim Crow Israel?
If so, history will judge neither him nor the Bush administration kindly. One day pictures of top U.S. politicians and officials shaking hands and fawning over representatives from the institutionally racist Israeli government and its U.S. lobbyists will no doubt circulate the internet. And they will be just as unflattering as Rumsfeld’s portrait with Saddam.