Category Archives: saudi arabia

gertrude of arabia: british intelligence officer

The Daily Beast Clive Irving


Gertrude of Arabia, the Woman Who Invented Iraq

The story of the British intelligence agent who rigged an election, installed a king loyal to the British, drew new borders—and gave us today’s ungovernable country.
She came into Baghdad after months in one of the world’s most forbidding deserts, a stoic, diminutive 45-year-old English woman with her small band of men. She had been through lawless lands, held at gunpoint by robbers, taken prisoner in a city that no Westerner had seen for 20 years.It was a hundred years ago, a few months before the outbreak of World War I. Baghdad was under a regime loyal to the Ottoman Turks. The Turkish authorities in Constantinople had reluctantly given the persistent woman permission to embark on her desert odyssey, believing her to be an archaeologist and Arab scholar, as well as being a species of lunatic English explorer that they had seen before.She was, in fact, a spy and her British masters had told her that if she got into trouble they would disclaim responsibility for her. Less than 10 years later Gertrude Bell would be back in Baghdad, having rigged an election, installed a king loyal to the British, re-organized the government, and fixed the borders on the map of a new Iraq. As much as anyone can be, Gertrude Bell could be said to have devised the country that nobody can make work as a country for very long—no more so than now.The Middle East as we know it was largely the idea of a small coterie of men composed of British scholars, archaeologists, military officers and colonial administrators who were called the Orientalists—this is the “orient” according to the definition first made by the Greeks, meaning everything east of the Mediterranean as Alexander the Great advanced to seize it.For decades, beginning in the mid-19th century, the Orientalists had explored the desert and found there the ruins of the great powers of the ancient world—Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia. Through archaeology they revealed these splendors to the modern world and, from their digs, stuffed Western museums with prizes like the polychromatic tiled Ishtar Gates of Babylon, moved to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, or the Cyrus Cylinder, containing the Persian king Cyrus’s new creed of governance as he conquered Babylon, shipped to the British Museum.

They wondered why such resplendently rich and deeply embedded pre-Christian urbanized cultures ended up buried by the drifting sands of the desert, completely unknown and ignored by the roaming Arab, Turkish and Persian tribes above. The many glories of Babylon, for example, lay unexplored not far from the boundaries of Baghdad.

The Middle East as we know it was largely the idea of a small coterie of men composed of British scholars, archaeologists, military officers and colonial administrators who were called the Orientalists.

Among the explorers, a state of mind developed that was patronizing and paternalistic. If they had not made these discoveries, who would know of these great cities? If Arabs took the artifacts it would be, to these men, mindless looting; if the Western scholars shipped them home, often in vast consignments, it was to preserve them for posterity.

The Ottomans had managed Arabia through a decentralized system of provinces called valyets, run by governors they appointed. Tribal, sectarian and territorial conflicts made it a constantly turbulent place, despite the hammer of Ottoman rule. Under a more centralized system the place would have been ungovernable. But the Turks never entertained the Western idea of nation building, it was as much as they could do to keep even a semblance of order.

The Orientalists thought differently. The Western idea of nation building was the future of Arabia. As World War I drew to its end and the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the Orientalists saw an opportunity to bring modern coherence to the desert by imposing new kingdoms of their own devising, as long as the kings would be compliant with the strategic interests of the British Empire.

Into this coterie of schemers came two mavericks, both scholars, both fluent Arab speakers, both small in stature and psychologically fragile, both capable of extraordinary feats of desert exploration—a young man called T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, a more seasoned connoisseur of the desert life.

Both had been recruited before World War I to gather intelligence on the Ottomans. Both were hard to accommodate within a normal military and diplomatic machine and so ended up working for a clandestine outfit in Cairo called the Arab Bureau, which was more aware of their singular gifts and more tolerant of their habits.

Bell’s epic desert trek in 1913-14 was already legendary. Her objective had been a city called Hail that no European had reached since 1893. Under the cover of archaeological research, her real purpose was to assess the strength of a murderous family called the al Rashids, whose capital Hail was.

The Rashids had been kicked out of Riyadh by the young Abdul Aziz bin Abdurrahman al Saud, otherwise known as Ibn Saud, who was to become the founder of Saudi Arabia.

Despite the rigors of the terrain, Bell was as susceptible to the spiritual appeal of the desert as others like her young protégée Lawrence. “Sometimes I have gone to bed with a heart so heavy that I thought I could not carry it through the next day,” she wrote. “Then comes the dawn, soft and benificent, stealing over the wide plain and down the long slopes of the little hollows, and in the end it steals into my heart also….”

When she reached Hail, the Rashids were suspicious and put her under what amounted to house arrest in the royal complex.

But as a woman, Bell enjoyed an advantage over male colleagues that she was to deploy on many missions: molesting or harming women was contrary to the desert code of conduct, even in a family as homicidal as the Rashids. For a week or so, Bell was warmly entertained by the women of this polygamous society, and the women’s gossip provided a rich source of intelligence on palace intrigues, of which there were many. From this she was able to see what her British minders valued: That the Rashids were yesterday’s men and the Saudis would likely be a formidable and independent power in Arabia. The Rashids released her, and she went on to Baghdad, Damascus, and home to London.

It was inside knowledge like this that put Bell in an influential position when the war ended and the European powers decided how they would carve up Arabia. Lawrence had committed himself to the princes of the Hashemite tribe, notably Feisal, with whom he had fought against the Turks, and promised Damascus to them. But unknown to Lawrence, a secret deal had been cut with the French, who wanted control of the eastern Mediterranean and were to get Damascus while Britain would fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire by re-drawing the map of Arabia.

The British were more aware than the French of the importance that oil would assume. Syria, the new French subject state, was unpromising as an oil prospect. The first Middle Eastern oil field began pumping in Persia at the head of the Persian Gulf in 1911, under British control, and geologists suspected, rightly, that vast oil reserves lay untapped in both Persia and Iraq.

While Lawrence left the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 stricken by the guilt for a British betrayal of his Arabs to which he had not been a party, Bell was sent to Baghdad, where Feisal was to be given his consolation prize: the throne of a new Iraq.

As well as the prospect of huge oil reserves, this new Iraq was crucial to the lines of communication to the great jewel of the British Empire, India. And, ostensibly, it was the diplomats and generals of the Indian administration who ran the show in Baghdad. But they depended on Bell as an expert and a negotiator, fluent in Arabic and used to the schisms and vendettas of the region. In fact, many of the decisive meetings as the British struggled to create a provisional government took place in Bell’s own house.

On August 23, 1921, at a ceremony in central Baghdad, Feisal was installed as the monarch of Iraq, even though he had no tribal roots in the country to assist his legitimacy. “We’ve got our king crowned,” wrote Bell with relief. And she made a claim about this election that would be echoed decades later by Saddam Hussein, that Feisal had been endorsed by 96 percent of the people, even though he was the only candidate and the majority of the population was illiterate.

Indeed, Bell was so carried away with her confidence in the nation she had helped to create that she crowed: “Before I die I look to see Feisal ruling from the Persian frontier to the Mediterranean.”

In reality, the Iraqi borders had been arbitrarily drawn and disregarded 2,000 years of tribal, sectarian, and nomadic occupation. The Persian frontier was the only firmly delineated border, asserted by mountains. Beyond Baghdad the line drawn between Syria, now the property of France, and Iraq was more cartography than anthropology. Nothing had cooled the innate hostilities of the Shia, in the south, who (in a reversal of the current travesty in Baghdad) were virtually unrepresented in Bell’s new assembly, and the Sunnis to the north, as well as the Kurds, the Armenians and the Turks, each with their own turf. Lawrence, in fact, had protested that the inclusion of the Kurds was a mistake. And the desert border in the south was, in Bell’s own words, “as yet undefined.”

The reason for this was Ibn Saud. Bell wrote in a letter to her father, “I’ve been laying out on the map what I think should be our desert boundaries.” Eventually that line was settled by the Saudis, whose Wahhabi warriors were the most formidable force in the desert and who foresaw what many other Arabs at the time did: Iraq was a Western construct that defied thousands of years of history, with an alien, puppet king who would not long survive and internal forces that were centrifugal rather than coherent.

For a while, Bell was the popular and admired face of the British contingent in Baghdad. An American visitor pleased her by calling her “the first citizen of Iraq.” The Arabs called her “Al Khatun,” meaning a noble woman who earned respect. She went riding and swimming every day, somewhat diminishing the benefits of that by chain smoking in public. She also made no secret of the fact that she was an atheist. It seemed that she was more comfortable in the company of Arabs than she had been among her peers in Cairo.

Lawrence, for example, while respectful of her scholarship, thought that Bell “had no great depth of mind” and politically was a poor judge of people and “changed direction like a weathercock.” Sir Mark Sykes, a crusty diplomat who had colluded with the French to give them Damascus, was more defiantly a misogynist. He called her “a silly chattering windbag, an infernal liar, a conceited, gushing, rump-wagging, blethering ass.”

Sometimes Bell revealed a dark self-knowledge. In 1923 she wrote to her father: “At the back of my mind is that we people of war can never return to complete sanity. The shock has been too great; we’re unbalanced. I am aware that I myself have much less control over my own emotions than I used to have.”

By then she had only three years to live, and was becoming frail from overwork. She described her routine in a letter: “I get up at 5:30, do exercises till 5:45 and walk in the garden till 6 or a little after cutting flowers. All that grows now is a beautiful double jasmine of which I have bowls full every day, and zinnias, ugly and useful. I breakfast at 6:40 on an egg and some fruit…leave for the office by car at 6:55 and get there at 7…”

As well as administrating in the manner of a colonial official, she often acted like a viceroy, receiving a stream of tribal sheiks, Arab officials or simply citizens with grievances. The king had to be managed, as he sat in his garden “in full Arab dress, the white and gold of the Mecca princes.” But she also devoted much of her time to a personal passion: creating the Iraq Museum in Baghdad where she gathered a priceless collection of treasures from the world of antiquity—reminding herself and the Iraqi people how the earliest urban civilizations had flourished around the Tigris and Euphrates.

There were, though, other loves that belied the appearance of a desiccated, workaholic spinster. She lived with the memories of two passionate romances, both thwarted.

At the age of 24 she became engaged to a young diplomat but her rich industrialist father deemed it an unsuitable match and, in the compliant Victorian manner, she ended it. Her second affair was far deeper, tragic and, in its effects, everlasting. She fell in love with Colonel Charles Doughty-Wylie, a soldier with a record of derring-do with appropriate movie star looks. But Doughty-Wylie was married, and as long as the war occupied them both neither could see a way out. Bell was, however, completely besotted:

“I can’t sleep,” she wrote to him, “I can’t sleep. It’s one in the morning of Sunday. I’ve tried to sleep, every night it becomes less and less possible. You, and you, and you are between me and any rest; but out of your arms there is no rest. Life, you called me, and fire. I flame and I am consumed.”

He responded in kind: “You gave me a new world, Gertrude. I have often loved women as a man like me does love them, well and badly, little and much, as the blood took me…or simply for the adventure—to see what happened. But that is all behind me.”

Doughty-Wylie died in the amphibious assault on the Turks at Gallipoli in 1916—ill-conceived by Winston Churchill as an attempt to strike at the “soft underbelly” of the Ottoman Empire.

Bell died at her house by the Tigris in Baghdad in July 1926 at the age of 57.  She had taken an overdose of barbiturates, whether deliberately or accidentally it was impossible to tell. Lawrence by then was a recluse, in flight from the road show devised by the American journalist Lowell Thomas that had turned him, as Lawrence of Arabia, into the most famous man on Earth.

But it was Gertrude Bell, who was never a public figure, who had left the greater mark on the Middle East, for better or worse.

King Feisal, who had been ailing for some time, died in Switzerland in 1933, at the age of 48, to be succeeded by his son Prince Ghazi. The monarchy was brought down by a pro-British military coup in 1938, a regime that would ultimately mutate into that of Saddam Hussein’s in 1979.



© The Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University
© The Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University

“Coming towards me was a party of camel riders. They were clearly all Arabs, except one who seemed to be a woman. It was Gertrude Bell. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a well-­dressed Englishwoman, looking spick and span in spite of her weeks of desert travel. I never forgot that first striking impression.”  Sir William Willcocks,1914

An advisor on Arab affairs during World War I, she was the only woman with a diplomatic role at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and the only woman (invited by Winston Churchill) at the Cairo Conference in 1921.

In 1925, Bell drafted a new Law of Antiquities which safe-guarded Iraq’s right to hold onto excavated artifacts. She championed education for Muslim girls, helping to establish one of the most progressive educational systems in the Middle East.

Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) was part proper Victorian and part modern woman. The precocious daughter of a wealthy industrialist family from northern England, her life was a series of “firsts”:

  • The first woman to receive highest honors in Modern History at Oxford
  • The first person to climb all the peaks of the Engelhörner range in the Swiss Alps
  • The first woman to do a solo journey into the uncharted Arabian desert (traveling by camel for 1500 miles across Central Arabia in 1914)
  • The first female Intelligence officer employed by the British Military
© The Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University
© The Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University

saudi arabia to increase support to coalition forces

iraq as a pentagon construction site for the middle east

Iraq as a Pentagon Construction Site

How the Bush Administration ‘Endures’

by Tom Engelhardt, December 3, 2007


The title of the agreement, signed by President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki in a “video conference” last week, and carefully labeled as a “non-binding” set of principles for further negotiations, was a mouthful: a “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America.” Whew!  Words matter, of course. They seldom turn up by accident in official documents or statements. Last week, in the first reports on this “declaration,” one of those words that matter caught my attention. Actually, it wasn’t in the declaration itself, where the key phrase was “long-term relationship” (something in the lives of private individuals that falls just short of a marriage), but in a “fact-sheet” issued by the White House. Here’s the relevant line: “Iraq’s leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America, and we seek an enduring relationship with a democratic Iraq.” Of course, “enduring” there bears the same relationship to permanency as “long-term relationship” does to marriage.  In a number of the early news reports, that word “enduring,” part of the “enduring relationship” that the Iraqi leadership supposedly “asked for,” was put into (or near) the mouths of “Iraqi leaders” or of the Iraqi prime minister himself. It also achieved a certain prominence in the post-declaration “press gaggle” conducted by the man coordinating this process out of the Oval Office, the President’s so-called War Tsar, Gen. Douglas Lute. He said of the document: “It signals a commitment of both their government and the United States to an enduring relationship based on mutual interests.”  

In trying to imagine any Iraqi leader actually requesting that “enduring” relationship, something kept nagging at me. After all, those mutual vows of longevity were to be taken in a well publicized civil ceremony in a world in which, when it comes to the American presidential embrace, don’t-ask/don’t-tell is usually the preferred course of action for foreign leaders. Finally, I remembered where I had seen that word “enduring” before in a situation that also involved a “long-term relationship.” It had been four-and-a-half years earlier and not coming out of the mouths of Iraqi officials either.  

Back in April 2003, just after Baghdad fell to American troops, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt reported on the front page of the New York Times that the Pentagon had launched its invasion the previous month with plans for four “permanent bases” in out of the way parts of Iraq already on the drawing board. Since then, the Pentagon has indeed sunk billions of dollars into building those mega-bases (with a couple of extra ones thrown in) at or near the places mentioned by Shanker and Schmitt.  When questioned by reporters at the time about whether such “permanent bases” were in the works, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the U.S. was “unlikely to seek any permanent or ‘long-term’ bases in Iraq” — and that was that. The Times’ piece essentially went down the mainstream-media memory hole.

On this subject, the official position of the Bush administration has never changed. Just last week, for instance, General Lute slipped up, in response to a question at his press gaggle. The exchange went like this:  “Q: And permanent bases?  “GENERAL LUTE: Likewise. That’s another dimension of continuing U.S. support to the government of Iraq, and will certainly be a key item for negotiation next year.” White House spokesperson Dana Perino quickly issued a denial, saying: “We do not seek permanent bases in Iraq.”  

Back in 2003, Pentagon officials, already seeking to avoid that potentially explosive “permanent” tag, plucked “enduring” out of the military lexicon and began referring to such bases, charmingly enough, as “enduring camps.” And the word remains with us — connected to bases and occupations anywhere. For instance, of a planned expansion of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, a Col. Jonathan Ives told an AP reporter recently, “We’ve grown in our commitment to Afghanistan by putting another brigade (of troops) here, and with that we know that we’re going to have an enduring presence. So this is going to become a long-term base for us, whether that means five years, 10 years — we don’t know.”  

Still, whatever they were called, the bases went up on an impressive scale, massively fortified, sometimes 15-20 square miles in area, housing up to tens of thousands of troops and private contractors, with multiple bus routes, traffic lights, fast-food restaurants, PXs, and other amenities of home, and reeking of the kind of investment that practically shouts out for, minimally, a relationship of a distinctly “enduring” nature.  

The Facts on Land — and Sea  These were part of what should be considered the facts on the ground in Iraq, though, between April 2003 and the present, they were rarely reported on or debated in the mainstream in the U.S. But if you place those mega-bases (not to speak of the more than 100 smaller ones built at one point or another) in the context of early Bush administration plans for the Iraqi military, things quickly begin to make more sense.  

Remember, Iraq is essentially the hot seat at the center of the Middle East. It had, in the previous two-plus decades fought an eight-year war with neighboring Iran, invaded neighboring Kuwait, and been invaded itself. And yet, the new Coalition Provisional Authority, run by the President’s personal envoy, L. Paul Bremer III, promptly disbanded the Iraqi military. This is now accepted as a goof of the first order when it came to sparking an insurgency. But, in terms of Bush administration planning, it was no mistake at all.  At the time, the Pentagon made it quite clear that its plan for a future Iraqi military was for a force of 40,000 lightly armed troops — meant to do little more than patrol the country’s borders. (Saddam Hussein’s army had been something like a 600,000-man force.)

It was, in other words, to be a Military Lite — and there was essentially to be no Iraqi air force. In other words, in one of the more heavily armed and tension-ridden regions of the planet, Iraq was to become a Middle Eastern Costa Rica — if, that is, you didn’t assume that the U.S. Armed Forces, from those four “enduring camps” somewhere outside Iraq’s major cities, including a giant air base at Balad, north of Baghdad, and with the back-up help of U.S. Naval forces in the Persian Gulf, were to serve as the real Iraqi military for the foreseeable future.  

Again, it’s necessary to put these facts on the ground in a larger — in this case, pre-invasion — geopolitical context. From the first Gulf War on, Saudi Arabia, the largest producer of energy on the planet, was being groomed as the American military bastion in the heart of the Middle East. But the Saudis grew uncomfortable — think here, the claims of Osama bin Laden and Co. that U.S. troops were defiling the Kingdom and its holy places — with the Pentagon’s elaborate enduring camps on its territory. Something had to give — and it wasn’t going to be the American military presence in the Middle East. The answer undoubtedly seemed clear enough to top Bush administration officials.

As an anonymous American diplomat told the Sunday Herald of Scotland back in October 2002, “A rehabilitated Iraq is the only sound long-term strategic alternative to Saudi Arabia. It’s not just a case of swopping horses in mid-stream, the impending U.S. regime change in Baghdad is a strategic necessity.”  

As those officials imagined it — and as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz predicted — by the fall of 2003, major American military operations in the region would have been re-organized around Iraq, even as American forces there would be drawn down to perhaps 30,000-40,000 troops stationed eternally at those “enduring camps.” In addition, a group of Iraqi secular exiles, friendly to the United States, would be in power in Baghdad, backed by the occupation and ready to open up the Iraqi economy, especially its oil industry to Western (particularly American) multinationals.

Americans and their allies and private contractors would, quite literally, have free run of the country, the equivalent of nineteenth century colonial extraterritoriality (something “legally” institutionalized in June 2004, thanks to Order 17, issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority, just before it officially turned over “sovereignty” to the Iraqis); and, sooner or later, a Status of Forces Agreement or SOFA would be “negotiated” that would define the rights of American troops garrisoned in that country.  At that point, the U.S. would have successfully repositioned itself militarily in relation to the oil heartlands of the planet. It would also have essentially encircled a second member of the “axis of evil,” Iran (once you included the numerous new U.S. bases that had been built and were being expanded in occupied Afghanistan as part of the ongoing war against the Taliban). It would be triumphant and dominant and, with its Israeli ally, militarily beyond challenge in the region. The cowing of, collapse of, or destruction of the Syrian and Iranian regimes would surely follow in short order.  

Of course, much of this never came about as planned. It turned out that, once the Sunni insurgency gained traction, the Bush administration had little choice but to reconstitute a sizeable, if still relatively lightly armed, Iraqi military (as a largely Shiite force) and then, more recently, arm Sunni militias as well, possibly opening the way for future clashes of a major nature. It had to accept a Shiite regime locked inside the highly fortified Green Zone of the Iraqi capital that was religious, sectarian, largely powerless, and allied to some degree with Iran.

It had to accept chaos, significant and unexpected casualties, continual urban warfare, and an enormous strain and drain on its armed forces (as well as a black hole of distraction from other global issues). None of this had been predicted, or imagined, by Bush’s top officials.  On the other hand, the Bush administration has demonstrated significant “endurance” of its own, especially when it came to the linked issues of oil and bases.

In a recent report for Harper’s Magazine, “The Black Box, Inside Iraq’s Oil Machine,” Luke Mitchell describes traveling the southern Iraqi oil field of Rumaila with a petroleum engineer working for Foster Wheeler, a Houston engineering firm hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “to oversee much of the oilfield reconstruction,” and protected by private guards employed by the British security company Erinys. He describes what’s left of the Iraqi oil industry after decades of war, sanctions, civil war, sabotage, and black-market theft — a run-down industrial plant with a rusting delivery system that, at a technical level, is now largely in the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Energy, the State Department, and private contractors like KBR, the former division of Halliburton.

At the most basic level, he reports that many of “Iraq’s native oil professionals,” who heroically patched up and held together a broken system in the years after the first Gulf War, have (along with so many other Iraqi professionals) fled the country. He writes:  “The Wall Street Journal in 2006 called this flight a ‘petroleum exodus’ and reported that about a hundred oil workers had been murdered since the war began and that ‘of the top hundred of so managers running the Iraqi oil ministry and its branches in 2003, about two-thirds are no longer at their jobs.’ Now most of the [oil] engineers in Iraq are from Texas and Oklahoma.” 

Similarly, in Baghdad, the government of Prime Minister Maliki is not expected to handle the crucial energy problems of its country alone. Here’s a relevant (if well-buried) passage from a recent New York Times piece on the subject: “Earlier this month, the White House dispatched several senior aides to Baghdad to work with the Iraqis on specific legislative areas. They include the under secretary of state for economic, energy and agricultural affairs, Reuben Jeffery III, who is working on the budget and oil law…” This is what passes for “sovereignty” in present-day Iraq.  

In this context, the following line of text about agreed-upon subjects for negotiation in last week’s Bush/Maliki “declaration” caused eyebrows to be raised (at least abroad): “Facilitating and encouraging the flow of foreign investments to Iraq, especially American investments, to contribute to the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq.” As the British Guardian put the matter: “The promise was immediately seen as a potential bonanza for American oil companies.”

A BBC report commented, “Correspondents say US investors benefiting from preferential treatment could earn huge profits from Iraq’s vast oil reserves, causing widespread resentment among Iraqis.” (American coverage regularly ignores or plays down the oil aspect of the Bush administration’s Iraq policies, even though that country has the third largest reserves on the planet.)  

Bases, Bases Everywhere  

Among the most tenacious and enduring Bush administration facts on the ground are those giant bases, still largely ignored — with honorable exceptions — by the mainstream media. Thom Shanker and Cara Buckley of the New York Times, to give but one example, managed to write that paper’s major piece about the joint “declaration” without mentioning the word “base,” no less “permanent,” and only Gen. Lute’s slip made the permanence of bases a minor note in other mainstream reports. And yet it’s not just that the building of bases did go on — and on a remarkable scale — but that it continues today.  

Whatever the descriptive labels, the Pentagon, throughout this whole period, has continued to create, base by base, the sort of “facts” that any negotiations, no matter who engages in them, will need to take into account. And the ramping up of the already gigantic “mega-bases” in Iraq proceeds apace. Recent reports indicate that the Pentagon will call on Congress to pony up another billion dollars soon enough for further upgrades and “improvements.”  

We also know that frantic construction has been under way on three new bases of varying sizes. The most obvious of these — though it’s seldom thought of this way — is the gigantic new U.S. Embassy, possibly the largest in the world, being built on an almost Vatican-sized plot of land inside Baghdad’s Green Zone. It is meant to be a citadel, a hardened universe of its own, in, but not of, the Iraqi capital. In recent months, it has also turned into a construction nightmare, soaking up another $144 million in American taxpayer monies, bringing its price tag to three-quarters of a billion dollars and still climbing. It is to house 1,000 or so “diplomats,” with perhaps a few thousand extra security guards and hired hands of every sort.  

When, in the future, you read in the papers about administration plans to withdraw American forces to bases “outside of Iraqi urban areas,” note that there will continue to be a major base in the heart of the Iraqi capital for who knows how long to come. As the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler put it, the 21-building compound “is viewed by some officials as a key element of building a sustainable, long-term diplomatic presence in Baghdad.” Presence, yes, but diplomatic?  

In the meantime, a relatively small base, “Combat Outpost Shocker,” provocatively placed within a few kilometers of the Iranian border, has been rushed to completion this fall on a mere $5 million construction contract.

And only in the last weeks, reports have emerged on the latest U.S. base under construction, uniquely being built on a key oil-exporting platform in the waters off the southern Iraqi port of Basra and meant for the U.S. Navy and allies. Such a base gives meaning to this passage in the Bush/Maliki declaration: “Providing security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace.”  As the British Telegraph described this multi-million dollar project: “The US-led coalition is building a permanent security base on Iraq’s oil pumping platforms in the Gulf to act as the ‘nerve centre’ of efforts to protect the country’s most vital strategic asset.”

Chip Cummins of the Wall Street Journal summed up the project this way in a piece headlined, “U.S. Digs In to Guard Iraq Oil Exports — Long-Term Presence Planned at Persian Gulf Terminals Viewed as Vulnerable”: “[T]he new construction suggests that one footprint of U.S. military power in Iraq isn’t shrinking anytime soon: American officials are girding for an open-ended commitment to protect the country’s oil industry.”  Though you’d never know it from mainstream reporting, the single enduring fact of the Iraq War may be this constant building and upgrading of U.S. bases.

Since the Times revealed those base-building plans back in the spring of 2003, Iraq has essentially been a vast construction site for the Pentagon. The American media did, in the end, come to focus on the civilian “reconstruction” of Iraq which, from the rebuilding of electricity-production facilities to the construction of a new police academy has proved a catastrophic mixture of crony capitalism, graft, corruption, theft, inefficiency, and sabotage. But there has been next to no focus on the construction success story of the Iraq War and occupation: those bases.  

In this way, whatever the disasters of its misbegotten war, the Bush administration has, in a sense, itself “endured” in Iraq. Now, with only a year left, its officials clearly hope to write that endurance and those “enduring camps” into the genetic code of both countries — an “enduring relationship” meant to outlast January 2009 and to outflank any future administration. In fact, by some official projections, the bases are meant to be occupied for up to 50 to 60 years without ever becoming “permanent.”  

You can, of course, claim that the Iraqis “asked for” this new, “enduring relationship,” as the declaration so politely suggests. It is certainly true that, as part of the bargain, the Bush administration is offering to defend its “boys” to the hilt against almost any conceivable eventuality, including the sort of internal coup that it has, these last years, been rumored to have considered launching itself.  In an attempt to make an end-run around Congress, administration officials continue to present what is to be negotiated as merely a typical SOFA-style agreement. “There are about a hundred countries around the world with which we have [such] bilateral defense or security cooperation agreements,” Gen. Lute said reassuringly, indicating that this matter would be handled by the executive branch without significant input from Congress.

The guarantees the Bush administration seems ready to offer the Maliki government, however, clearly rise to treaty level and, if we had even a faintly assertive Congress, would surely require the advice and consent of the Senate. Iraqi officials have already made clear that such an agreement will have to pass through their parliament in a country where the idea of “enduring” U.S. bases in an “enduring” relationship is bound to be exceedingly unpopular.  

Still, a formula for the future is obviously being put in place and, after more than four years of frenzied construction, the housing for it, so to speak, is more than ready. As the Washington Post described the plan, “Iraqi officials said that under the proposed formula, Iraq would get full responsibility for internal security and U.S. troops would relocate to bases outside the cities. Iraqi officials foresee a long-term presence of about 50,000 U.S. troops…”  

No matter what comes out of the mouths of Iraqi officials, though, what’s “enduring” in all this is deeply Pentagonish and has emerged from the Bush administration’s earliest dreams about reshaping the Middle East and achieving global domination of an unprecedented sort. It’s a case, as the old Joni Mitchell song put it, of going “round and round and round in the circle game.”  

[Note: Spencer Ackerman has been offering especially good coverage of developments surrounding the recent Bush/Maliki declaration at TPM Muckraker. I’d also like to offer one of my periodic statements of thanks to Iraq-oriented sites that give me daily aid and succor in gathering crucial material and analysis, especially Juan Cole’s invaluable Informed Comment,, and Paul Woodward’s The War in Context.]   Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute’s, where this article first appeared, is the co-founder of the American Empire Project. His book, The End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), has recently been thoroughly updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory culture’s crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq.  

the surge, iran, iraq and middle east extremism

Iraq: an interview with Dr. Stephen Zunes is the source of this posting

Dr. Stephen Zunes is a Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco. He has written extensively on a range of foreign policy issues, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, non-violent struggle and nuclear proliferation.

1. The “surge” has led to a sharp increase in the number of internally displaced refugees and has failed to cut attacks on civilians. How can it be that some people are touting it as a success?

Basically, General Petraeus and the Bush administration manipulated the numbers. Figures released by the Bush administration purporting to cite a decline in sectarian killings appear to be based on some rather arbitrary calculations, including a determination that being shot in the back of the head is a sectarian attack whereas being shot in the front of the head is a criminal act, even in cases where eyewitnesses indicated the frontal killing was indeed sectarian in motivation. All car bombings, even those apparently sectarian in motivation, are also excluded from Bush administration calculations.

If indeed there actually has been a slight decline in sectarian killings in Baghdad over the past six months, it could be attributed to the hundreds of thousands of Sunnis and Shiites who have fled mixed neighborhoods — at a rate of over 50,000 per month — into segregated enclaves, many with concrete walls erected around them to keep out militants from the other side. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office on the situation in Baghdad noted how “The average number of daily attacks against civilians remained about the same over the last six months; 25 in February versus 26 in July.” The Iraqi Interior ministry also confirmed that there has been no drop in civilian deaths.

Claims by President Bush of an improvement in a decline in violence outside Baghdad also have little relation to reality. This may be in part because the administration’s figures purporting to show a decline in sectarian violence exclude such tragic mass killings as the slaughter of 322 Yazidi Kurds in northern Iraq in August or the growing violence in Basra, Karbala and elsewhere in southern Iraq between rival Shiite factions. Estimates based on records from Iraqi morgues, hospitals and police headquarters around the country reveal that the numbers of civilians killed daily is almost twice as high as last year’s level. Six out of ten Iraqis in a recent poll indicate that their security situation has worsened since the surge began and only one out of ten say that it has improved. Seven out of ten believe that the surge has “hampered conditions for political dialogue, reconstruction and economic development.”

2. Why is the Bush administration so hostile towards Iran? How would an attack on Iran serve U.S. interests, or even just U.S. elite interests?

Iran has a repressive regime which imposes a reactionary form of Islam on its population, but they are not nearly as bad as U.S. ally Saudi Arabia in this regard. They have backed extremist groups, some of which have engaged in terrorism, but they have cooperated with the United States – more than has Saudi Arabia – against Al Qaeda, by far the biggest threat in this regard.

So, while there are many bad things to say about Iran’s clerical regime, their real crime in the eyes of Washington has been their refusal to cooperate with America’s strategic and economic designs in the region. Iran is a target as a result of the doctrine of full spectrum dominance – that is, the refusal of the United States to allow any regional power to challenge U.S. hegemony. Iran, along with Iraq, is the only Middle Eastern country which combines a sizable educated population, enormous oil resources and an adequate water supply so to be able to develop a foreign and domestic policy without having to succumb to the demands of the United States, other Western powers and international financial institutions. Iran has the desire and the ability to be an important economic, political and military player in the region, which is seen as unacceptable. As a result, as with Iraq under Saddam Hussein, cruder forms of pressure may be deemed necessary.

3. Is Iran responsible for the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq? If so, would that legitimise an attack on Iran?

Virtually all attacks against U.S. forces over the past couple of years have come from Baathist, Sunni, and other anti-Iranian Iraqi insurgent groups, which get their outside support from private sources in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. Similarly, of the more than 10,000 suspected insurgents arrested in U.S. counter-insurgency sweeps, the relatively few foreigners among them have been Arabs, not Iranians. It makes little sense, then, that the Bush administration has depicted Iran as the principal foreign threat to U.S. forces in Iraq. The National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, compiled by America’s sixteen intelligence agencies and issued last February, downplayed Iran’s role in Iraq’s ongoing violence and instability.

There are serious questions as to whether the explosively formed projectiles increasingly found among the improvised explosive devices targeting U.S. forces indeed have come from Iran as the Bush administration charges, given that they could be made by anyone trained on a munitions lathe. (Indeed, it is rather bizarre that the same U.S. administration that insisted just five years ago that Iraq was technologically advanced enough to produce long-range missiles and was on the verge of developing an atomic bomb is now claming that Iraqis are incapable of developing an effective roadside bomb.) In any case, there is a huge black market in various explosive devices in Iraq, so it would not be surprising to find components from any number of countries and, given the lack of security along the long Iranian-Iraqi border, it would not be difficult to smuggle weapons across the frontier without the knowledge of either government. Furthermore, despite its repressive theocratic orientation, the Iranian regime is hardly monolithic. Even if some of these devices were of Iranian origin, it is far more likely that they entered Iraq through the machinations of individual Iranian officers or criminal gangs rather than as a result of orders from the “highest levels of the Iranian government,” as alleged by the Bush administration.

It is true that there are elements of the Iranian government backing radical Shiite militias, some of which have engaged in death squad activities. But much of the death squad activity, however, has come from the Badr Brigades, the militia of the largest party in the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, which has received thousands of U.S.-made machine guns, grenade launchers and high-mobility vehicles – not to mention hundreds of thousands of AK-47 rifles – courtesy of the American taxpayer. The Badr Brigades were organized and trained in exile by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, so the U.S. and Iran have mostly been backing the same groups. The greatest irony of the U.S. invasion was that it brought to power these pro-Iranian parties which have asked for this Iranian assistance.

Some Shiite militiamen who have received some Iranian support have probably killed some Americans at some point. And Iran is out to take advantage of the situation in Iraq in some ways that are not supportive of U.S. objectives. Iran, however, does not come close to being the biggest threat against American forces in that country, however, and it does not in any way justify military action against Iran.

4. As far as we know, Iran has no nuclear weapons and no nuclear weapons program. But if it were trying to develop nukes, would that justify an attack on it?

No. Even though Iran is in violation of a number of UN Security Council resolutions regarding its nuclear program, the UN has not authorized the use of force and – combined with the fact that Iran has not attacked the United States and is not on the verge of doing so – any military action by the United States would be a clear violation of the United Nations Charter. (Besides, Israel, India and Pakistan are also in violation of UN Security Council resolutions regarding their nuclear program, but that does not give any UN member state the right to attack them.)

Given that Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions are likely for deterrence, and they are unlikely to develop any deployable nuclear warhead until at least 2012, a negotiated settlement is still possible. For example, the United States could normalize relations and end its threats to attack Iran and efforts to overthrow its government in return for Iran ending its nuclear reprocessing and accepting other guarantees that would preclude their developing nuclear weapons. Such a diplomatic solution led to an end to Libya’s nuclear program in December 2003 and would likely be successful with Iran as well, but the United States has rejected such proposals.

A related initiative could be for the United States to end its opposition to the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone for the entire Middle East and South Asia, where all nations of the region would be required to give up their nuclear weapons and weapons programs and open up to strict international inspections. Iran has endorsed the idea, along with Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and other countries in the region. Such nuclear weapons-free zones already exist for Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, Antarctica and Latin America.

5. How much of a threat does Iran pose to the U.S. and Israel, and how much of a threat would it pose as a nuclear power?

Iran poses no military threat to the United States and, even if it had nuclear weapons, would not have delivery systems capable of reaching the United States for decades. Regarding Israel, since there are hundreds of miles and hundreds of thousands of American troops and sailors in between Iran and the Jewish state, there is no way that Iran could launch any attack against Israel by its navy, ground forces or aircraft. The only way Iran could theoretically attack Israel would be by launching medium-range missiles, to which Israel has more than enough capability to launch a massive counter-attack, not even counting the massive U.S. military operations which would certainly follow as well. In other words, Israel and the United States have more than enough firepower to deter any Iranian aggression.

Israel alone has at least 200-300 nuclear weapons along with ground-launched, sea-launched and air-launched nuclear missiles capable of reaching Iran to deter any possible Iranian nuclear attack. Though Iranian President Ahmadinejad has made some extreme and shocking anti-Israel statements, he does not have control over the Iranian armed forces, which is in the hands of the Supreme Leadership Council of clerics, who work by consensus and wouldn’t realistically launch what would certainly be a suicidal nuclear attack against Israel that would result in Iran’s utter destruction.

(Incidentally, President Ahmadinejad never threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.” That idiom does not even exist in Persian. What he said was, “Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shaved,” which directly translated means “The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” An extreme and deplorable statement, to be sure, but he was referring to the Israeli regime, not the nation as a whole, and it was not nearly as direct a threat as implied by the mistranslation. In any case, he was quoting what Ayatollah Khomeini had said twenty years earlier, so he wasn’t saying anything new indicating a more confrontational policy.)

OUTSTANDING ARTICLE BY ROBERT PARRY: spinning the iraq war death toll (published in full, with small edits)

Spinning the Iraq War Death Toll, by Robert Parry,

Global Research, August 13, 2007, -2007-08-10



But the sources told me that the lower death toll reflects not some impending victory but just a slowdown in the U.S. ground offensive after the early phases of the surge, which poured more than 20,000 additional troops into Iraq. The sources cited a variety of factors contributing to the decline in U.S. casualties.

One U.S. military source said the American troops have not pushed as far from their forward operating bases as the U.S. news media has been led to believe. When Bush unveiled the surge, a key goal was to get American forces out of their secure bases and into small police outposts in Iraqi neighborhoods.

The exposure of U.S. troops to the additional hazard of such front-line assignments was a factor in the upswing of American deaths in the early months of the surge. This forward positioning also presented risks for U.S. logistical personnel who had to brave roadside bombs and ambushes to supply these isolated units.

Further complicating those assignments was the brutal summer heat – reaching temperatures of 130 degrees – at a time when electricity in many Iraqi neighborhoods is spotty at best. By slowing or postponing these deployments, the dangers to the troops – not to mention their discomfort – were reduced.  Still, this source said the dcline in violent incidents involving U.S. troops could be viewed as a combination of two factors – a drop-off in activity by the Iraqi insurgency as well as a pull-back by the Americans.  Another source said the precise reason for the reduced U.S. military activity inside Iraq wasn’t entirely clear, but noted that the slowdown in the Iraqi theater was in sharp contrast to more aggressive operations in Afghanistan.

A decline in American activity in Iraq also has been noted by Israeli intelligence, another source said, raising some concern in Tel Aviv that the U.S. military was shying away from offensive operations to avoid higher casualties that would further undermine political support for the war in the United States.  The source said some Israeli officials want the Americans to keep taking the fight to the enemy.

July Heat

It’s also possible that the brutal heat has a lot to do with the slower pace of the fighting, by discouraging operations by both guerrillas and U.S. troops. Since the war began, July has been one of the least deadly months for U.S. troops.  Indeed, compared to earlier July casualty reports, the July 2007 death toll of 80 was the worst of the war for U.S. troops. In July 2003, 48 American soldiers died; in July 2004, the death toll was 54; in July 2005, it was 54; in July 2006, it was 43. [For details, see]

U.S. military officials and Bush administration war supporters, however, have cited the decline in American deaths this July – compared with the previous three months – as one of several positive indicators that Bush’s surge strategy is making progress.  These supporters also have hailed signs of increased cooperation with Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province, once considered an insurgent stronghold. Over the past few weeks, the U.S. military has escorted analysts from several Washington think tanks to areas of relative calm in Iraq, leading to some glowing reports.

Typical was an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack of the Brookings Institution, who portrayed themselves as tough critics of the Bush administration’s strategy who, after a visit to Iraq, concluded that Bush’s surge was succeeding. “As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily ‘victory’ but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with,” O’Hanlon and Pollack wrote in an article entitled “A War We Just Might Win.”  Yet the authors – and the New York Times – failed to tell readers the full story about these supposed skeptics: far from grizzled peaceniks, O’Hanlon and Pollack have been longtime cheerleaders for a larger U.S. military occupying force in Iraq.  (See IRAQ UPDATE’S OWN SIMILAR ANALYSIS OF THE ARTICLE IN AN EARLIER BLOG….)

Pollack, a former CIA analyst, was a leading advocate for invading Iraq in the first place. He published The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq in September 2002, just as the Bush administration was gearing up its marketing push for going to war.  British journalist Robert Fisk called Pollack’s book the “most meretricious contribution to this utterly fraudulent [war] ‘debate’ in the United States.” (Meretricious refers to something that is based on pretense, deception or insincerity.) [See Fisk’s The Great War for Civilization]

Cautious Report

Another think tank analyst, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, returned from the same trip with a somewhat less optimistic assessment. Cordesman wrote: “From my perspective, the U.S. now has only uncertain, high-risk options in Iraq.  It cannot dictate Iraq’s future, only influence it, and this presents serious problems at a time when the Iraqi political process has failed to move forward in reaching either a new consensus or some form of peaceful coexistence. …

“So far, Iraq’s national government has failed to act at the rate necessary to move the country forward or give American military action political meaning.”  Nevertheless, the Bush administration seems certain to tout whatever fragile positive developments can be discerned, to secure a new round of funding from Congress in September.

But the détente with those Sunni tribal leaders may turn out to be short-lived, especially if they conclude the U.S. occupation is helping the Shiite majority consolidate its power in Baghdad and its control over the nation’s oil wealth.

The Shiite-dominated government is showing little inclination to make meaningful concessions to the Sunnis. Despite stern warnings from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Iraqi parliament adjourned for a month-long recess, leaving unresolved legislative disputes about sharing oil revenues and giving Sunnis a bigger stake in the government.

The grim future of Iraq might be foretold by conditions in the southern Shiite city of Basra, which once was regarded as a success story. As British forces were driven back into fortresses – and now are eying a full-scale withdrawal – the region became a battleground with various Shiite factions at war.

As the Washington Post reported, “Shiite militias there have escalated a violent battle against each other for political supremacy and control over oil revenues, deepening concerns among some U.S. officials in Baghdad that elements of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated national government will turn on one another once U.S. troops begin to draw down.  “Three major Shiite political groups are locked in a bloody conflict that has left the city [of Basra] in the hands of militias and criminal gangs, whose control extends to municipal offices and neighborhood streets.” [Washington Post, Aug. 7, 2007]

To sustain even a modest degree of public support for the war, President Bush increasingly has relied on the argument that – as bad as the situation on Iraq is now – it would get worse if U.S. forces left.

Yet, however one cuts it, the future of Iraq looks bleak. In one telling passage from Cordesman’s trip report, he described plans to address the disorder in Iraq by locking up tens of thousands of Iraqis, overwhelmingly Sunnis.  “The detainees have risen to over 18,000 and are projected to hit 30,000 (by the U.S. command) by the end of the year and 50,000 by the end of 2008,” Cordesman wrote. “Shiite detainees are often freed while Sunnis are warehoused.”

In other words, Bush’s policy in Iraq appears headed toward replacing Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated police state which persecuted Shiites with an even more expansive police state run by the Shiites persecuting Sunnis. Once the Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar get a whiff of what’s in store for their religious brethren, they might reverse themselves again on their attitudes toward their new American friends.

In his report, Cordesman also put the Iraqi death toll from the war at more than 100,000. However, some estimates that count Iraqis who died unnecessarily due to the war’s chaos have put that total at more than a half million.

If Bush’s Iraq policies continue much longer – and the war turns even uglier – those staggering numbers could represent just a down payment in blood and misery. Years from now, the American people may find little solace from the pro-war spin point that the July 2007 death toll for U.S. troops was only 80.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

Robert Parry is a frequent contributor to Global Research.  Global Research Articles by Robert Parry

dick cheney: we did it right when we didn’t invade iraq. we avoided a quagmire……..duh

Q: Do you think the U.S., or U.N. forces, should have moved into Baghdad?

A: No.

Q: Why not?

A: Because if we’d gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn’t have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq.

Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it — eastern Iraq — the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey.

It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families — it wasn’t a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth?

Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.

strange bedfellows

If you have an allegiance with someone whom you think of as a trustworthy person, you can “wake up” and find that you have been “sleeping with a strange bedfellow” when it comes to dealing with problems of terrorism.

Now we have pre-emptive war.  We just hope none of our enemies will strike us pre-emptively.  Surely our allies would never do that, or would they?  They would surely use diplomatic channels first.   We can’t be struck first because we are so powerful, our own familiar fail-safe scenario.  But that only works with “nation-states”:  it is not so simple with terrorist groups that span countries and ideologies. 

Now we are selling and giving weapons to insurgents who we only a year ago viewed as Al-Qaida’s strong supporters in Iraq.

We can pre-emptively go to war in Iraq, but Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan are to mind their fences carefully or we will attack them.  If they have an issue with Iraq, or allies in Iraq, we have declared that it is a “no man’s zone” and we will control who will give support to its sectarian factions and they cannot help fellow Shi’as, for example. 

We are appalled by terroism, but not appalled by CIA “semi-torture” techniques that are used against prisoners we suspect of aiding and abetting terrorists. 

We use heavy air power as a means of protecting our troops, even though civilian casualties are significantly increased by such tactics.

We sell weapons to countries who are enemies with one another so that our political allies can make profits and we can feel assured of a continued fearful détente.  We know that some of the weapons we lose or sell will be used against civilian targets by militant groups who are carrying out cleansing campaigns or mindlessly aim at civilians who for want of a job, an air-conditioner, or food, step outside of the walls that are being erected to “keep the peace” and “keep them in their place”. 

Sometimes the image of these strange bedfellows could remind us of a youth dance in which young people are made to “change partners” rapidly to ensure inclusion of everyone.  No one is to be left out.  But then, again, if you join the dance, you are sure to come close to carefully disguised sadistic killers and rapists.  When you are in the theater of war, you never know who your next dancing partner will be…perhaps we should call it the “Neo-con Dance”.  It has  strange bedfellows:  the Christian right, the Zionists, the Knights Templar, the secular Saudis, the apocalyptic planners and Armeggaden engineers, and of course the jihadists and the profiteers of the U.S. military industrial complex.

For this dance, they are our friend.  Next dance, they become our enemy.  This dance, we kill them.  Next dance, they kill us?

The dance works best if the dance floor is floating on a pool of oil….

And it reminds me of a bumper sticker that I keep on the bulletin board in my office:

  We Are Making Enemies Faster Than We Can Kill Them

collision course on Iran: Bush vs. Congress

Bush, Congress could collide on Iran

Mourners march in Sadr City

Karim Kadim/AP

Mourners carry coffins in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Aug. 8 after a raid and airstrike by U.S. troops targeting smuggled weapons and fighters from Iran.

WASHINGTON — Taking military action against Iran could put President Bush on a collision course with Congress, leading Democrats and a Republican lawmaker cautioned Friday following Bush’s threat of unspecified consequences for alleged Iranian meddling in Iraq.

It’s been the consensus for months among the Democrats who hold the majority that Bush must get congressional authorization before any military strike.

But the authorization would be no easy sell. Two knowledgeable U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because intelligence on Iran is highly classified, said that the administration so far doesn’t have “smoking-gun” evidence that could be used publicly to justify an air attack.

The presumed target of an attack would be camps in Iran where officials believe the Iranians are teaching Iraqi Shiite fighters how to fashion bombs that can destroy American armored vehicles.

The U.S. officials refused to discuss whether such evidence exists but can’t be made public because doing so would betray intelligence sources and methods, or whether it hasn’t been uncovered. Even with such evidence, however, the Democratic-controlled Congress could be hard to convince five years to the month after Vice President Dick Cheney kicked off the administration’s public relations campaign against Saddam Hussein with a speech in Cincinnati.

Given the hindsight about the intelligence that led to the invasion of Iraq, “I think you’ll find a lot of skeptical Republicans, no less Democrats, on the Hill,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

At a press conference Thursday, Bush warned of unspecified “consequences” if Iran’s alleged interference in Iraq continues. Several administration officials said that Vice President Cheney has advocated launching air strikes against targets in Iran if there’s clear evidence of Iranian support for Shiite Muslim militants in Iraq.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, appeared Friday to steer the administration toward requesting authorization.

“I doubt the President could or would do so without coming to Congress,” he said. “Nevertheless, there are a number of wide-ranging actions he could be taking, primarily focusing on expanding diplomatic efforts to increase pressure on Iran.”

Highlighting Democratic wariness of Bush, Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia introduced a bill earlier this year that would prevent money from being used for a strike against Iran without congressional approval. Among the supporters of the bill is Reid, who’s been saying for months that Bush doesn’t have authority to strike Iran.

“If the opportunity arises to attach this legislation (to another bill), he would do it,” said Kimberly Hunter, Webb’s spokeswoman.

Should Bush simply pursue a strike against Iran without seeking congressional authorization, it would cause “an uproar over here. It would be a serious breach of (the limits on) executive power,” said a military affairs aide to a Democratic senator.

Nevertheless, Bush and Vice President Cheney take a broad view of executive power, and it’s unclear what consequences Bush would face if he were to take action without authorization.

Many on Capitol Hill said the reaction would depend largely on the provocation used as a rationale for an attack.

“We cannot and we must not allow recent history to repeat itself,” Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, said of a potential strike against Iran in a February speech, citing the distrust stemming from the administration’s push for war with Iraq, which was based on exaggerated claims and faulty intelligence.

An advisor for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), like Clinton a candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, called for “tough, sustained, and direct diplomacy” with Iran. “While military force must remain an option, we must combine diplomacy with an aggressive effort to implement stronger sanctions to isolate Iran,” said Susan Rice, a foreign policy advisor.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, some wonder why Washington is escalating its allegations of Iranian meddling.

“They (the U.S.) want to put the blame on Iran . . . for what’s happening in Iraq,” said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish legislator,” adding that the harsh rhetoric is hindering Iraq’s efforts at stability. “Even Syria they don’t talk much about these days.”

Othman also criticized his own government’s Iran policy. While Iran espouses support for Iraq’s Shiite-led government, Othman said, it also helps militias that act against the government. He criticized Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki for traveling to Baghdad when his own government is in crisis.

Waleed al Hilli, a leading member of Maliki’s Dawa party, said Iraq is trying to “build a bridge” between the U.S. and Iran.

“We refuse any involvement from any side about our relations with Iran or any other country,” he said. “We’ve worked hard to avoid making Iraqi a base to attack Iran. We won’t accept such a thing.”

Even so, Hilli said, American accusations against Iran for supporting militiamen that attack U.S. troops are valid.

“These bombs kill their soldiers, and they have the right to defend,” Hilli said.