[In Part I of this series Stan Goff described how major international players like Russia, China and Iran are putting the US into a global vice that is increasingly leaving little room and few options for maneuver. In Part II we see that lesser opponents, both domestic and foreign are also encroaching on the Empire’s power and flexibility. Foreign “gnats and mosquitoes” include Venezuela, the Kurds, Sunni militias in Iraq, and an increasingly restive Saudi population. The domestic encroachers include no less than the CIA and its career operatives.
In all of this, the Empire finds itself increasingly weighed down by the two-bladed anchor of Zionism and Christian fundamentalism.
This is leading progressively (pardon the pun) to a place where the Empire, having no wiggle room left, must either break or, refusing that option, chose to move closer to global warfare as it becomes more desperate. – MCR]
Military/Veterans Affairs Editor
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Kurds, Israelis, and the Sultans of Swing
June 20th 2006, 11:23am [PST] -- The United States cannot attack Iran, nor can Israel mount a proxy attack on Tehran, without risking a generalized and well-armed Shia rebellion in the South of Iraq against American forces. In the North of Iraq – Iraqi Kurdistan – Turkish forces cross the border to raid Kurdish positions while Iran lobs artillery fire into Kurdish mountain bases. Even as Turkey retains its commitment never to allow an independent Kurdistan on its Southern border, the Turkish government has grown increasingly Islamist and so more receptive to overtures from Iran.
The principle constraint remaining on the Turkish government is its powerful desire to become part of the European Union – a desire that is steadily losing traction with the Turkish masses whose backs are being broken with the very neoliberal “structural adjustment” policies supported by the EU.
The US attempt to use the Kurds as a counterbalance against the Shias – even resorting to election fraud to diminish the UIA vote count – has backfired spectacularly. Not only has it set the stage for a Shia-Kurd armed conflict within the newly constituted Iraqi armed forces, it has created the conditions for a tactical rapprochement between the Kurds and Sunni Arab guerrillas… an American nightmare.
Instead of knocking off Iraq then moving promptly to the next target – Iran – the Bush administration has now played the foil for Iran, and put within Iran’s reach what it has sought for decades: the position of key political actor in the region and the world.
The only place in the region where the Bush administration enjoys a shred of support from any significant segment of actual national populations is among the right wing in Israel – a strategic alliance that has cost the US dearly over the years and promises to cost it more.
This violent, racist settler state is a magnet for ill-will not just among Arabs and Muslims, but throughout most of the world. This has nothing to do with Judaism… and everything to do with racial Apartheid and predatory expansionism. Neither the Bush administration nor the Democrats can maneuver on this question, partly because of a very well-funded and aggressive Israeli lobbying-and-contribution apparatus within the US, and partly because they are now hoisted on their own petard from years of spouting Zionist propaganda and painting Palestinians as terrorists. The Bush administration in particular is shackled to Zionism because the most consistent support for the right-wing of that party comes from Christian dispensationalists – an end-of-time cult that holds sway over around 50 million Americans (if you count their captive children) – who believe that they can’t achieve their ultimate goal, being sucked up into heaven to abandon the rest of us heathens to plagues, wars, and other unpleasantness, until the Jews (in this case, they believe Israeli Jews) rebuild the Temple Mount.
Some people can be persuaded by reason and new information. That seldom applies to any of these folks, and the Republicans have maneuvered themselves into a very long-term alliance with them… therefore they can under no circumstances acknowledge what an anchor around the neck of US diplomacy Israel really is.
There is no place that should trouble them more than Saudi Arabia, since as we said, continued access to cheap, plentiful supplies of “black gold” is the physical basis of keeping the whole system together.
The Saudi Arabian population – which has actually grown from less than 10 million in 1980 to 24 million today (40% under the age of 15), with a per capita annual income of $25,000 in 1980 that dropped to $7,000 by 2000 – trained assiduously in the state religion – Wahhabi Islam – as a prophylaxis against the danger of yesteryear – pan-Arab nationalism – has grown materially less secure, politically more restive, and has turned the lens of its strict moral teachings on its own leadership… allies of the United States, and by extension, of Israel, occupier and oppressor of fellow Arabs and Muslims.
Given that Saudi Arabia is THE world swing producer of oil, this could be an issue for the US whose demand for the stuff insatiably rises, even with prices topping $75 a barrel. Oh… and the worse news is… Saudi Arabia has probably peaked. Platts, a well-respected energy news service, noted in April this year that Saudi Arabia – at its current capacity – expects an 8% per year decline in production. Even with heroic efforts to apply new infrastructure and technology, Saudi Arabia believes it “can lower… the composite decline rate of producing fields to around 2 percent.”
Read that again. The world’s main swing producer can no longer boost its quotas. It can only manage decline.
The May 14 edition of Bloomberg’s carried an article (“OPEC `Doing Enough' to Meet Demand as States Miss Output Quotas”) that noted:
Iran, Venezuela, Nigeria and Indonesia, which together account for almost 40 percent of OPEC's target output ceiling, fell short of meeting their daily quotas by 1.55 million barrels last month, according to Bloomberg data. Venezuela, OPEC's third largest oil producer, and Indonesia have seen their output capacities decline 20 percent this decade.
“The long emergency” is in progress, and the actions of the Bush administration have served to alienate the majority of the populations sitting atop the world’s remaining oil resources, and potentially destabilize the Sultans of Swing.
The purpose of the war, in this respect, was not to destabilize Saudi Arabia, but to break OPEC and the potential power of the Saudis. The loss of production from the incessant attacks on Iraqi oil infrastructure, and from the inability of OPEC to boost production, has actually increased the fortunes of many OPEC producers.
The segue here is irresistible. Venezuela is emblematic of how the American Empire has hemmed itself into the Mesopotamian Arena of the Gods. Long considered the province of that Empire, Latin America is now being coaxed out of the neoliberal fold by the Creole paratrooper who now leads OPEC’s third largest exporter – Venezuela.
Hugo Chavez has managed – especially with record oil revenues – to break the embargo against Cuba, embolden the indigenous movement in Bolivia that has now taken formal political power with Evo Morales at its helm, strengthened the move toward Mercosur – an anti-Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) bloc, and facilitated a plan by both Argentina and Brazil to pay down their external debts to the International Monetary Fund – Imperial America’s loan sharking agency.
The symbolic placeholder for Latin American popular resistance, Zapatismo, has now been replaced by a movement with real political agency – Bolivarianismo. Zapatismo stirred this giant; but the Bolivarian movement is putting it on its feet. And the US is mired, in every way, in Iraq.
The most interesting thing about Venezuela is that American weakness was exposed there before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. The obsession with attacking Iraq had so preoccupied the administration that it had farmed out the question of dealing with this popular but troublesome “black Indian” who had been elected president of oil-rich Venezuela. That task was assigned to two veterans of the Iran-Contra-Cocaine fiasco, convicted felon Elliott Abrams and arch-gusano Otto Reich. (The third member of this scofflaw troika during Reagan was none other than John Negroponte, now chief of US intelligence.)
Reich had actually been the US Ambassador to Venezuela in 1986.
The face of the April 2002 anti-Chavez coup d’etat in Venezuela was Pedro Carmona of the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce (Fedecamaras), and he had coordinated with Reich on more than one occasion at the White House in preparation. His pot-banger “opposition” was coached and financed by the US Embassy front, the National Endowment for Democracy.
This coup was a foreshadowing of Bush administration arrogance combined with miscalculation. The meddlesome colonel was in custody on April 12th, and the Fedecamaras ricos were engaged locker-room backslapping and proposing toasts to each other in the Palacio Nacional. Bur by April 13th, word of the coup had mobilized the Venezuelan masses, closing in now around the palace like a malevolent flood, and by April 14th, the Venezuelan army – loyal to its nation and its Constitution – entered the main chambers of the Palace and abruptly ended the party. The Bolivarian government had been restored, and Chavez flew back into office on an army helicopter.
Unlike George W. Bush and his stunt aboard the USS Lincoln, Chavez had been a career military officer, and one who had secured the loyalty of his troops through his practice.
This was a staggering setback for the Bush administration; and the expansion of Bolivarian influence in the region has not abated since. When Bolivarianism and the recent immigrant uprising in the Untied States, led by the Hispano-Latinas – displaced from their home countries by US neoliberal depredations – link arms, the inner perimeter of the empire will have been breached.
The cooler cynical heads of the imperial establishment – those not as compulsively driven by fictional imaginings of martial masculinity – already understand the implications. They are, frankly, alarmed. They have always understood that US power rests on far more than military power and prowess… that, in fact, US military power is far more limited than most imagine, and US military “prowess” is largely mythical. US power was intricately rooted in the complexity of international relations. Dollar hegemony and military backup operate on the terrain of guile, misapprehension, ideology, cooptation… deal-making. Control exercised from the drawing room is always more stable and stabilize-able than control exercised from the battlefield… now an urban battlefield defined more by chaos-theory bifurcations than range, precision, and firepower.
How to Piss Off Your Own Attack Dogs
Dick Cheney is the seat of power in this administration. When Al Gore was Vice President, he had one national security advisor. Cheney has assembled a team of 15 advisors who were – in effect – the actual architects of the war in Iraq. The majority were recruited directly out of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a neo-con propaganda-mill disguised as a think tank.
WINEP’s influence via this Cheney “board of advisors” was detailed in an article by Juan Cole, “All the Vice President’s Men,” October 2005, in Salon.
The principle policy document produced by WINEP building the case for the Iraq invasion was "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” That it was even called “the realm” in the title speaks volumes, but the detailed document itself – nor mandatory indoctrination for US military officers interested in “learning” about the Middle East – as Cole caustically noted, “must be the most absurd, ill-informed and frankly lunatic pieces of prose ever produced by any policy advisor anywhere. It is full of false premises and ignorant assumptions.”
At the head of this Vice Presidential battle staff of laptop bombardiers sat one I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Scooter was a chief stove-piper. He gathered “evidence,” often gleaned from a network of liars under the supervision of Rendon Group exile Ahmed Chalabi (convicted of bank fraud and embezzlement in Jordan), that supported the pre-ordained decision to invade Iraq, establish a puppet government, and construct an array of US military bases there. That “intelligence” was then “stovepiped” to Cheney, and thereby, to Cheney’s pup in the Oval Office.
Seymour Hersh’s October 2003 New Yorker piece, “The Stovepipe,” gives an astonishing and remarkably detailed account of this process.
A small group of Central Intelligence Agency analysts, grown restive under Libby and Cheney’s bullying them for questionable conclusions to support the war in 2002, actually began rebelling in the Agency’s subtle way: they started feeding Cheney’s office bullshit. Hersh:
“The agency guys were so pissed at Cheney,” the former officer said. “They said, ‘O.K, we’re going to put the bite on these guys.’ ” My source said that he was first told of the fabrication late last year, at one of the many holiday gatherings in the Washington area of past and present C.I.A. officials. “Everyone was bragging about it—‘Here’s what we did. It was cool, cool, cool.’ ” These retirees, he said, had superb contacts among current officers in the agency and were informed in detail of the sismi [Italian] intelligence.
“They thought that, with this crowd, it was the only way to go—to nail these guys who were not practicing good tradecraft and vetting intelligence,” my source said. “They thought it’d be bought at lower levels—a big bluff.” The thinking, he said, was that the documents would be endorsed by Iraq hawks at the top of the Bush Administration, who would be unable to resist flaunting them at a press conference or an interagency government meeting. They would then look foolish when intelligence officials pointed out that they were obvious fakes. But the tactic backfired, he said, when the papers won widespread acceptance within the Administration. “It got out of control.”
Like all large institutions, C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia, is full of water-cooler gossip, and a retired clandestine officer told me this summer that the story about a former operations officer faking the documents is making the rounds. “What’s telling,” he added, “is that the story, whether it’s true or not, is believed”—an extraordinary commentary on the level of mistrust, bitterness, and demoralization within the C.I.A. under the Bush Administration.
Howsoever the actual story of Niger uranium began, Cheney rolled up for it like a bass going for a plastic worm. History may well show that this little dirty trick – a bit of payback to a disrespectful boss – may have planted a seed that might lead to the impeachment of the Bush administration.
Cheney ordered the CIA to follow up. So they hired a former diplomat with both Iraq and Africa experience, Joseph Wilson IV, to go to Niger and confirm whether Niger had sold yellowcake uranium to President Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government.
Wilson later explained:
In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.
After consulting with the State Department's African Affairs Bureau (and through it with Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, the United States ambassador to Niger), I agreed to make the trip. The mission I undertook was discreet but by no means secret. While the C.I.A. paid my expenses (my time was offered pro bono), I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.
But he went on to describe how his report, debunking the claims, was intentionally buried to publicize a phony Iraqi nuclear threat in order to gain the American public’s acquiescence to invasion.
Before I left Niger, I briefed the ambassador on my findings, which were consistent with her own [that the yellowcake story was bullshit]. I also shared my conclusions with members of her staff. In early March, I arrived in Washington and promptly provided a detailed briefing to the C.I.A. I later shared my conclusions with the State Department African Affairs Bureau. There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report, just as there was nothing secret about my trip.
Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador's report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.
I thought the Niger matter was settled and went back to my life. (I did take part in the Iraq debate, arguing that a strict containment regime backed by the threat of force was preferable to an invasion.) In September 2002, however, Niger re-emerged. The British government published a "white paper" asserting that Saddam Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium from an African country.
Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.
The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them. He replied that perhaps the president was speaking about one of the other three African countries that produce uranium: Gabon, South Africa or Namibia. At the time, I accepted the explanation. I didn't know that in December, a month before the president's address, the State Department had published a fact sheet that mentioned the Niger case.
Those are the facts surrounding my efforts. The vice president's office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so, and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government.
The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses. (July 6, 2003, New York Times)
Just as it had with Chalabi’s parade of disinformant-exile stories, Libby’s staff stovepiped the Iraq-Niger nuke fable straight into a presidential speech. Wilson’s public rebuttal (excerpted above) became an instant legitimation crisis for the administration, now facing the reality of a stubborn guerrilla war only two months after the Crawford Generalissimo had capered across the deck of the Lincoln declaring “Mission Accomplished.”
Libby’s staff was directed to un-fuck this situation, and pronto. The way to do that? Shed doubt on Wilson’s credibility. Show that he himself was a partisan in the debate on whether to invade Iraq.
As Howard Fineman explained in Newsweek (October 7, 2003):
Behind the scenes or openly, at war or at peace, the United States has been debating what to do in, with and about Iraq for more than 20 years. We always have been of two minds. One faction, led by the CIA and State Department, favored using secular forces in Iraq—Saddam Hussein and his Baathists—as a counterweight to even more radical elements, from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to the Shiite ayatollahs in Iran to the Palestinian terrorists in the Levant. The other faction, including Dick Cheney and the “neo-cons,” has long held a different view: that, with their huge oil reserves and lust for power (and dreams of recreating Baghdad’s ancient role in the Arab world), the Baathists had to be permanently weakened and isolated, if not destroyed. This group cheered when, more than 20 years ago in a secret airstrike, the Israelis destroyed a nuclear reactor Saddam had been trying to build, a reactor that could have given him the ultimate WMD.
Associating Wilson, through his wife, Valerie Plame, with the Agency was not revenge. That is a bone-headed analysis on its face. It was spin in what was known by insiders to be a polarized power struggle between the Cheney-Rumsfeld faction and the State-CIA faction, about how to handle the question of Iraq. The CIA was not exactly having a banner year in 2003, and being associated with them was not credibility-enhancing.
This was simply a reaction. A blundering one, as it turns out, because by and by it led to questions about the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, about which I’d wager Libby never much thought. The problem was, they violated it. Bush’s enemies, their numbers growing by the day, seized on this – as they did anything that might chip the presidential armor – and ran with it. The fact that it violated a law designed to protect the power of the Security State made it palatable to the press. One thing led to another, when a quiet Illinois prosecutor was appointed to give the impression that there was nothing to hide.
Enter Patrick Fitzgerald, appointed Special Prosecutor December 30, 2003. He was about to become the Archibald Cox of this administration, except for the fact that it was politically impossible to fire him without inviting this very comparison. Fitzgerald would begin a patient and scrupulous investigation that would lead to Libby’s indictment, which may yet lead to the indictment of top presidential advisor Karl Rove, and eventually to that of Vice President Dick Cheney.
As in most cases of political malfeasance, the attempt to cover up a minor infraction generally leads to more felonious ones. The emergency mobilization of the entire White House staff to deal with this burgeoning crisis has led to every more incoherent operations. In the wake of the Libby tremor, while Rove was trapped in chronic consultations with lawyers, the public got a bizarre peek at an administration in turmoil.
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