War, Lies, and Videotape

As the U.S. gets ready to move on Iran, under the pretext of a gathering Iranian nuclear threat, the news that the War Party got creative when WMD were nowhere to be found in Iraq should give us pause. According to a report in Raw Story by Larisa Alexandrovna, the Office of Special Plans (OSP) – a parallel intelligence agency set up by the neoconservatives to do an end run around the mainline U.S. agencies – was sent into Iraq in 2003 in order to cook up phony "evidence" of "weapons of mass destruction." As Alexandrovna relates:

"Three U.S. intelligence sources and a source close to the United Nations Security Council say that the Pentagon civilian leadership under the guidance of Stephen Cambone, appointed to lead Defense Department intelligence in March 2003, dispatched a series of ‘off book’ missions out of the ultra-secretive Office of Special Plans (OSP). The team was tasked to secure the following in order of priority: fallen Navy pilot Scott Speicher, WMD, and Saddam Hussein."

The Speicher mission was a pretext eventuated by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi minions, who insisted that the downed American was alive and not so well in one of Saddam’s prisons. In addition, authorized teams of operatives were sent in both before and after the invasion, further masking the "rogue" operation launched by OSP, the purpose of which one UN source described thusly:

"’They come in the summer of 2003, bringing in Iraqis, interviewing them,’ the UN source said. "Then they start talking about WMD and they say to [these Iraqi intelligence officers] that ‘Our President is in trouble. He went to war saying there are WMD and there are no WMD. What can we do? Can you help us?’

"The source said intelligence officers understood quickly what they were being asked to do and that the assumption was they were being asked to provide WMD in order for coalition forces to find them. ‘But the guys were thinking this is absurd because anything put down would not pass the smell test and could be shown to be not of Iraqi origin and not using Iraqi methodology,’ the source added."

Is it really possible that they would plant fake WMD, in order for the team of OSP operatives to "find" them? The answer, unfortunately, is undoubtedly yes. For this would cloud the issue, irrespective of whether or not the "find" was later debunked, and it would plant, in the public mind, the idea that there really were WMD to be found in Iraq, that Saddam posed a menace to the region and had to be stopped, and, above all, that Bush was right to invade. The news that the WMD had been "found" would be trumpeted from here to Kingdom Come, while critics and debunkers would be depicted as Bush-hating terrorist-loving partisans. The truth, in this context, is irrelevant. What matters is the public relations effect of such a bold deception.

Well, then, what happened to the ersatz "evidence" of WMD? What became of the work of the small four-to-five man OSP "team" sent into Iraq under such extraordinarily murky circumstances? An article by Stephen Hayes in the Weekly Standard may represent the fruits of their labors. Hayes, a leading figure in the "Bush-was-right" cargo cult and a regular writer for the Standard, avers:

"Saddam Hussein trained thousands of radical Islamic terrorists from the region at camps in Iraq over the four years immediately preceding the U.S. invasion, according to documents and photographs recovered by the U.S. military in postwar Iraq. The existence and character of these documents has been confirmed to the Weekly Standard by eleven U.S. government officials."

Could these mysterious "documents and photographs" be the product of the OSP’s creative postwar tactics in Iraq? It wouldn’t be the first time the Weekly Standard had somehow gotten its hot little hands on discarded and highly dubious "intelligence" from the OSP’s wastebasket.

Hayes’ piece is a perfervid tale of raw "intelligence" vacuumed up by U.S. forces from various sites, including in Iraq, that supposedly documents Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda. The secret of Iraq’s connection to the 9/11 terrorist attack on the U.S. is allegedly contained in a veritable treasure trove of "raw intelligence," the Holy Grail of the neocons, described by Hayes as "photographs and documents on Iraqi training camps" that "come from a collection of some 2 million ‘exploitable items’ captured in postwar Iraq and Afghanistan. They include handwritten notes, typed documents, audiotapes, videotapes, compact discs, floppy discs, and computer hard drives."

The point of Hayes’ piece is that these "secret" documents and other items are being suppressed by evil forces within the U.S. government who want to see Bush and the War Party discredited. All right then, let’s release the hidden "evidence" of al-Qaeda’s much-touted "links" to Saddam: I can hardly wait to see the videotape of the Iraqi dictator playing Risk with Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as the three of them chat amiably about how to nuke New York, Washington, and Crawford, Texas.

This is the fallback theory the neocons are pushing in light of the complete collapse of the case for WMD, which only the most die-hard cargo-cultists of Neoconland still uphold. It’s much more fluid, and easier to "prove," if only in the minds of the president’s supporters. Although an alleged Prague meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent turned out to be a crock, there is an infinite number of similarly tall tales on tap, and I’m sure Señor Hayes and other authors of the neocon school of docudrama will rise to the challenge.

Such a ploy illustrates the three cardinal rules of warfare, both political and otherwise: Buck up the troops and keep firing at the enemy. Above all, stay on the offensive.

This is precisely what the neocons are doing with the current campaign – now reaching a crescendo of righteousness – against Iran’s alleged attempts to develop nuclear weapons. Although Israel doubtless has nukes aimed at Tehran, the Iranians are not allowed to defend against or deter the threat of an Israeli first strike – that would be committing the sin of "moral equivalence."

After all, what right have the Iranians got to defend themselves – isn’t their newly-elected president a Holocaust-denier, and hasn’t he expressed a strong desire to "wipe Israel off the map"? Never mind that he seemed to have mellowed out after due consideration and supplemented his remarks with a suggestion that perhaps Israel might be re-implanted somewhere else – say, in Europe, the scene of the greatest crimes against the Jews. The real point, however, is that once the Iranians get their hands on nukes, the worst thing in the world will have happened. Yet is this really so?

Insofar as it would make all-out war unthinkable, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Tehran would, ironically, stabilize as much as destabilize a volcanically volatile region. As it stands now, the entire Middle East lives in the shadow of a possible Israeli first strike against a perceived threat – as exemplified by a recent round of speculation about an imminent Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. This is inherently destabilizing, as it means an increase in "fourth generation" terrorist tactics employed by Israel’s enemies, and opens up the possibility that a future Israeli prime minister – perhaps an extremist elected by a radicalized Israeli majority – might one day really pull the nuclear trigger.

On the other hand, having leveled the playing field, the Iranians would render the Israeli first-strike strategy inoperable. A war between Israel and its adversaries in the Middle East, rather than ending in the nuking of Tehran, Mecca, and every major Muslim city in the region, would instead have to mean "mutually assured destruction" (MAD) – that old specter of the Cold War that the neocons found so insufferably irritating at the time, and which stood in the way of their dreams of "regime change." (It happened anyway, albeit without their intervention, but that’s another story…)

In any case, the neocons, allied with Israel’s amen corner in the U.S., are bound and determined that this will not happen, and they have considerable backing, not only in both parties but internationally: the UN Security Council is likely to take up the questions of sanctions soon, and the first notes of a long prelude to another war in the Middle East are now being heard. Rather than defend the indefensible, i.e., the veracity and integrity of the "intelligence"-gathering methods that lied us into war in Iraq, the War Party is simply changing the subject – while still employing the same old tried-and-true methods. After all, it worked the last time…

Yet another Raw Story scoop – Larisa Alexandrovna is one busy gal – gives us a preview of what the neocons might have in store for us:

"Several U.S. and foreign intelligence sources, along with investigators, say an Iranian exile with ties to Iran-Contra peddled a bizarre tale of stolen uranium to governments on both sides of the Atlantic in the spring and summer of 2003. The story that was peddled – which detailed how an Iranian intelligence team infiltrated Iraq prior to the start of the war in March of 2003, and stole enriched uranium to use in their own nuclear weapons program – was part of an attempt to implicate both countries in a WMD plot. It later emerged that the Iranian exile was trying to collect money for his tales, sources say."

The source of this neocon fantasy-fiction: Manucher Ghorbanifar, a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, a legendary fabricator, and a key source of much of the wheeling and dealing of phony "intelligence" in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The audacity of this fable is that it kills two birds with one stone – targeting both Iraq and Iran as aspiring nuclear powers deserving of "regime change."

Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Penn.) became the tireless champion of Ghorbanifar’s guff on Capitol Hill and even wrote a whole book on the subject, Countdown to Terror – a compendium of what amounts to neocon fan fiction, related in the breathless tone of a dime-store spy thriller. According to the official mythology, an Iranian informant code-named "Ali" had information that the Iranians had sent a team to Baghdad to make off with weapons-grade uranium from one of Saddam Hussein’s many hidden stockpiles. As Ali tells it, the Iranians had penetrated Iraq before the invasion and filched Saddam’s nukes, apparently in the nick of time and just under our noses – albeit not, according to Ali, without coming down with radiation poisoning in the process.

This story has everything: a secret informant, a mission seemingly impossible, and, in the end, a martyrdom. The only problem is that it isn’t credible, given its source. As Laura Rozen revealed in the definitive debunking of the "Ali" myth:

"The Prospect has learned that the true identity of ‘Ali’ is Fereidoun Mahdavi, formerly the shah’s minister of commerce and, more importantly, the close friend and business partner of Ghorbanifar, legendary arms dealer, infamous intelligence fabricator, and central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal that almost brought down the Reagan administration. It was ‘Gorba,’ as he was known back then to Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the rogue National Security Council officer, who lured the Reagan administration into secretly selling U.S. missiles to the Islamic regime in exchange for the release of Western hostages."

Yesteryear’s serial liars are making their encore appearance, with an all-star cast of all-too-familiar neocons seeming to mock us, relentless and brazen. Iraq was yesterday, but Iran is today. So are Syria and Lebanon: the War Party is on the move. The sounds of their war cries are already rebounding, and are heard in that inner sanctum of "peace" and global togetherness, the United Nations.

The Security Council is due to take up the issue of Iran’s bid to build a nuclear deterrent, and this time the Americans have their European allies, including France and Germany, on board. The Iranians, for their part, assert that they are acquiring a nuclear capacity purely for the purpose of power generation, and they are trying desperately to wriggle out of the UN inspections vise that once had Saddam in its grip.

Viewed from an Israeli perspective, of course, the existence of an Iranian nuclear deterrent is a strategic disaster and utterly impermissible. After all, those nukes won’t be aimed at New York or Los Angeles: they’ll be aimed at Tel Aviv – and, perhaps, any number of European capitals, which accounts for the "multilateralist" character of the latest Western crusade against menacing Saracens in the East.

From a purely American standpoint, however, the alteration of the nuclear equation in the Middle East takes on an entirely different aspect, one that is, at the very least, highly ambiguous. To begin with, proliferation of nuclear weaponry is bad in and of itself: we don’t want another Pakistan on our hands, in which we nervously await an internal eruption to empower some Islamic nutball to launch a nuclearized jihad. On the other hand, we’ve endured the Pakistan situation for this long, and its potential consequences in terms of getting nuclear arms directly into the hands of Osama bin Laden & Co. are far more likely – and more horrendously lethal – than the prospect of Tehran acquiring nukes.

Secondly, as I’ve said above, the evening out of the Middle East playing field might not be such a bad idea after all. With the threat of an Israeli first strike removed, the process of general disarmament – starting with nuclear disarmament – can begin. Let the International Atomic Energy Agency – the UN’s official nuclear weapons watchdog – inspect Israel’s nuclear sites and make their findings public. Then the Security Council can deal with the allegations against Iran in context – and, perhaps, forge the basis for negotiating the general and complete nuclear disarmament of the entire region, setting in place safeguards and monitoring mechanisms that conduct surveillance on an equal basis.

The acquisition of a nuclear capacity is, for Iranians, a matter of national pride: even the more democratic opponents of the current regime, when asked, assert their nation’s "right" to go nuclear. Yet it is also a matter of survival for any nation that takes seriously the American intent to preemptively attack anyone, anywhere, at any time, in order to prevent some alleged future aggression or the coalescence of some formless "threat." Another spoke in the axis of evil, North Korea, didn’t need to be told this, and now the Iranians are learning it, too. To anyone who has ever looked at Uncle Sam cross-eyed, the lesson of the Iraqi invasion is that the failure to develop nuclear arms is an invitation for the U.S. to engage in a little "regime change." Our foreign policy of global aggression accelerates the natural inclination of states to arm themselves to the teeth, thus fostering the nuclear arms race: preemption precipitates proliferation.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].