Belaboring the Obvious

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Forest, Trees....

In the early 1981, neo-conservatives such as Michael Ledeen were talking up Claire Sterling's The Terror Network as the definitive explication of the Soviet Union's grip on all world terrorism. The implication was that all terror emanated from the Kremlin. So taken with this notion was William Casey that he ordered the CIA, newly under his command, to investigate.

The CIA did, and came to the conclusion that the book was entirely mistaken, in large part because it was based upon black propaganda inserted in the European press by the CIA itself. The CIA had made it up, and told Casey so. He didn't believe the people who had done it. So, Mel Goodwin (then the head of the Soviet political affairs desk at the CIA) thought it best to use the old operational people, people with ties to the OSS, of which Casey had been a member, to tell him the same thing. It didn't work. Casey didn't believe them, either.

Then, a curious thing happened. The Soviet Union, likely pushed along that path by Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika campaigns, fell apart. Just like the house of cards everyone said it was. The first crack in its wall was the crack in the Berlin Wall. When that came down in 1989, the other cracks in the Kremlin facade showed up, too. The Soviet Union was no more.

So, what happened to all the terrorism supposedly being directed from Moscow? Did it, as one might expect, without political influence and cash behind it, disappear, too? Nope.

According to yet another writer with an idea and no solid evidence, Laurie Mylroie, the seat of all world terror magically transferred to Baghdad, with Saddam Hussein pulling the strings. Mylroie had academic credentials, teaching at Harvard as she did, but by the time of her publication of Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America, in which she posits that Hussein was directing most terrorism worldwide through al Qaeda as the only retaliation Hussein could make in the wake of the U.S. thwarting his invasion of Kuwait, she was on her way to becoming a darling of the neo-cons, eventually taking up residence as a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. (Paul Wolfowitz's then-wife was "instrumental" in the production of the book, and Mylroie's acknowledgements read like the neo-con Hall of Shame--John Bolton, John Hannah, Richard Perle, 'Scooter' Libby, David Wurmser, Paul Wolfowitz, Francis Brooke.) Her premise:

Newsweek reports that at the heart of Mylroie's theory is the belief that Pakistani Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted of the WTC bombing, and Abdul Basit, a Pakistani man who in 1990 was living in Kuwait, are two different people [indicating, to Mylroie, that Yousef was an Iraqi intelligence agent which Hussein had inserted into al Qaeda while Iraq controlled Kuwait and had access to Basit's records]. The FBI has maintained that they are one and the same. Wolfowitz believed in Mylroie's "switched identities" theory enough that he persuaded the "Justice Department shortly after September 11 to provide a government jet and FBI staff support for a secret mission to England by former CIA director James Woolsey. The idea behind the mission was to check fingerprints on file in Swansea, Wales, where Basit had once gone to school, and compare them to the fingerprints of the Ramzi Yousef in prison. ... Justice Department officials tell NEWSWEEK that the results of the Woolsey mission were exactly what the FBI had predicted: that the fingerprints were in fact identical. After the match was made, FBI officials assumed at the time that it had put the Mylroie theory to rest."

Even Richard Clarke laments the effects of this delusion on Wolfowitz, and its effects on pursuit of bin Laden and his cohort.

The neo-cons had once again taken up a book with a dubious premise and without good evidence as proof of the rectitude of their plans. First, the Soviet Union is responsible for all terror. Then, with the Soviet Union defanged, Iraq is responsible for all terror. The problem was that both premises were based on faulty evidence, and both were disproved and in dispute by the intelligence services and/or law enforcement investigations.

The point in saying all this is that there is a theme developing. Terrorism has been at the root of these claims, and terrorism is being used as a wedge issue to promote expansionist policies of the neo-conservatives--even at a time when terrorism was not at all a domestic issue for the U.S. Research tells us that terrorism is at the very visceral root of basic fears--the fear of sudden death, death occurring by events over which one has no control. And, with the right sort of propaganda, that is a fear which can be manipulated.

At the same time, this fear of terrorism is being used to promote military interests. In the `80s, the effort was to further enable the Reagan administration's huge increase in military spending. In the `90s, the effort was to justify military action against countries of interest, such as Iraq. Does it matter in this scheme that terrorism around the world has actually increased since the invasion of Iraq and the deposing of Hussein?

Not a bit. The object, it appears, is not to eradicate terrorism, but to use it politically for other purposes. The odd thing about the books mentioned is that they did not have a huge popular impact, in part because their theses were not advanced on good evidence. What they did, however, was resonate among the neo-cons. Here was all the evidence they needed to advance their agenda. As one sees from the Newsweek excerpt above and with Richard Clarke's recollections, even the refutation of evidence central to her arguments wasn't sufficient to deter the neo-cons from continuing to use Mylroie's arguments as justification for attacking Iraq.

In a way, this explains the persistence of weak minds such as Cheney's repeating falsehoods already demonstrated to be so. The arguments themselves were persuasive to the people who needed them to accomplish a foreordained end, precisely because the facts pointed to a course of action in direct opposition to their aims, and having those arguments in published book form encouraged in them the mental gymnastics necessary to believe the unbelievable.

With all this in mind, it's probably wise to put Bush's latest conflation of all terror as having one common Islamic source ("Islamic fascism"), and then juxtaposing that assertion with the description of Iran as a state sponsor of terror, into the context of past neo-con planning. Why? Because the right wing is all atwitter over a recent book of Richard Miniter's, The Shadow War, the central assertion of which is that the ayatollahs of Iran are secretly providing sanctuary to bin Laden and his group, even though more recent stories cite intelligence sources that bin Laden's trail has been "stone cold" for at least two years. Miniter himself has appeared on Fox News recently to provide color commentary for Ayman al-Zawahiri's most recent videotape, even saying that Zawahiri is "using a lot of the same rhetoric as the [U.S.] antiwar crowd."

Sure, this plays into Bush's Manichean world view of Christo-corporate America as good and "Islamic fascism" as evil, but that simply makes it easier for the neo-cons around him to convince him that their arguments, rather than the facts, should determine the actions to be taken. That, indeed, may be the central theme of Ron Suskind's recent book, The One Percent Doctrine.

There's no way of knowing, right now, if The Shadow War has been passed around from neo-con to neo-con in Bush's administration, but, given their past modus operandi, it will not be surprising if, one day, after an attack on Iran, we find that the book, rather than rigorous intelligence assessments, formed the basis for the excuse to attack yet another oil-rich country.


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