Anyone can go to Baghdad;
real men go to Tehran
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
What does state mean? questioned Antonio Gramsci, the Italian political theorist, Is it just the state apparatus or the whole of organized civil society? In fact, he argued, State is the dialectical unity between government power and civil society. The liberal democratic state relies on civil societys consent for its legitimacy. It therefore has to allow a sphere of non-interference in which ideas circulate and world views take shape. The endorsement that comes out of this seemingly free exchange of ideas gives legitimacy to the existing political order. Far from being passive observers, the ruling elite, through their control of mass media, ensure that their preferred world view remains dominant. Dissent, within notionally acceptable parameters, has a functional role: it helps sustain the illusion that civil society can be an arbiter of the states destiny.1
In the lead up to the Iraq war, the antiwar movement itself became the contested space where ideas had to be contained, managed and neutralized, lest they undermine the tenuous support necessary for legitimizing the war. A carefully orchestrated media campaign set the terms of the debate WMD; regime change; and democracy promotion. The conspicuous absence of oil in the mainstream discourse allowed plenty of room for non-conformist posturing; to triumphantly expose this egregious oversight without having to identify the sources of policy. No blood for oil read the popular slogan this was a war for the control of Iraqi oil.
While the prognosis is accurate, the provenance of the policy is invariably misplaced. Any policy bearing on oil is identified, by default, with Big Oil (the leading oil companies). That there was no evidence that the industry lobbied for the war was of little significance. With its tendency to frame analysis in economic terms alone, the antiwar movement entirely overlooked alternative motivations for the war. In most instances this was deliberate, since, with the neocon vanguard of the Israel lobby beating the war drums, few wanted their reputations stained by incurring the reflexive charge of anti-Semitism that invariably accompanies mention of Israeli involvement. Instead, most reached for sanitised meta-theory: Its imperialism, stupid, read one explanation. True, once again; but insufficient. Imperialism is an abstract notion; mere structure it requires agency for its imposition.2
This left many perplexed: means were confused for ends (oil); and structure for agency (imperialism). A potentially powerful movement was thus reduced to a caricature of itself with empty slogans and cliché-ridden analysis that made the job all the more easier for the ruling elite. The antiwar movement ensured its own irrelevance.
The war party, on the other hand, was far more successful in organizing and centralizing elements of the civil society to legitimize its agenda. Gramscis contention that the civil society is a constitutive element of the state was evident in the various lobby groups, think tanks and support networks that furnished and disseminated propaganda to built support for the war. With a case couched in exaggerated fears and emotive language, it succeeded in engendering the kind of jingoistic unreason that has enabled many wars of aggression.
The Israel Connection
Much has been written about and by the neocons: the former overlook Israel entirely; the latter speak of little else. Yet, when it comes to Left-analysis of the motivations behind the Iraq war, for the most part, the neocon connection to Israel received scant attention. Instead, many went sniffing for clues in putative neocon ideals: the moral dimension in foreign policy; the passion for spreading democracy; the influence of Leo Strauss; the exaggerated view of good and evil. Ho-hum.
There were exceptions: Robert Fisk wrote,3
The men driving Bush to war are mostly former or still active pro-Israeli lobbyists. For years, they have advocated destroying the most powerful Arab nation. Richard Perle, one of Bushs most influential advisers, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton and Donald Rumsfeld were all campaigning for the overthrow of Iraq long before George W Bush was elected
And they werent doing so for the benefit of Americans or Britons.
A 1996 report, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm called for war on Iraq. It was written not for the US but for the incoming Israeli Likud prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and produced by a group headed by yes, Richard Perle. The destruction of Iraq will, of course, protect Israels monopoly of nuclear weapons and allow it to defeat the Palestinians and impose whatever colonial settlement Sharon has in store.4
James Bamford, John Cooley, Jim Lobe, Juan Cole, Scott Ritter et al have elaborated on this connection, yet it continues to be overlooked by the media. When USAF Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski blew the whistle on the fabricated intelligence coming out of the Office of Special Plans, few paid attention.5 The OSP set up at the Department of Defence by Douglas Feith, a Zionist fanatic was working in concert with the VPs office (where David Wurmser, Scooter Libby and Iran-Contra felon, Elliot Abrams held trenches) and a similar intelligence unit at Ariel Sharons office. Richard Perle, in the meanwhile was heading the influential Defence Policy Board, home to other influential neocons such as Ken Adelman and former CIA Director James Woolsey.6
The chorus was joined from the outside by a bevy of Middle East experts at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a spin-off of AIPAC, the main Israeli lobby group; the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy set up at the Brookings Institution through a $12.3m donation from Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban headed by Israel lobbyist Marin Indyk; the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, home to Feith, Perle, Woolsey, Cheney, John Bolton and Jeanne Kirkpatrick; Centre for Security Policy, headed by Frank Gaffney; and Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, an organization with overlapping membership with all the aforementioned.
William Kristol, son of Irving Kristol, the father of neoconservatism, egged the administration on in his influential Weekly Standard. Kenneth Pollack of the Saban Centre received generous column space in the New York Times; his book, The Threatening Storm, was instrumental in selling the WMD threat7. Influential neoconservative columnists such as Charles Krauthammer, Max Boot, Robert Kagan and George Will deluged the media with articles and commentary ratcheting up fears of the mortal threat posed by Iraq. Newspapers frequently quoted individuals and research from these institutions without revealing the possible conflicts of interest.
The reluctant State Department was eventually overwhelmed by the deluge of propaganda emanating from these sources. In his biography Powell is quoted referring to Rumsfelds team as the JINSA crowd. The neocons in the Defence Department, according to the biography, supported war against Iraq as the first step to replacing Arab despots with democratic governments that would sever their ties to the Palestinians, thereby enhancing Israels security.
In Fisks succinct summation, American-Israeli ambitions in the region were entwined, almost synonymous. This was a war about oil and regional control.
The Oil Factor
The unmitigated disaster that has unfolded since the invasion, among other things, has also increased Americas energy insecurity a case of a conflict of between US and Israeli interests (although most of US oil doesnt originate in the Gulf). Only last year, the new Iraqi government was renegotiating a Saddam-era oil contract with China8. The production has not even reached pre-war levels. American power in the Middle East, according to the Baker-Hamilton Commission report, is on the wane. Even as some Anglo-American oil companies rake in windfall profits from the astronomical rise in oil prices, their future in the region remains uncertain. In the Western hemisphere, the opening created by American entanglement in Iraq has allowed Venezuela to continue unmolested on its radically nationalist trajectory, inspiring many others in the region to follow suit. For the first time since the promulgation of the Monroe doctrine, Latin America is breaking free. Most importantly, most of this was predicted by the foreign policy realists who opposed the war.9
Chomsky is right to suggest that Iraq would not have been invaded, had its primary export been lettuce and pickles; he is wrong, however, when he suggests that the war is merely a continuation of long standing policy. The evidence he adduces is a six-decade-old statement by the State Department that recognized Middle-East oil as a stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prizes in world history. The only recent example he offers is a post-invasion quote by Zbigniew Brzezinski asserting the strategic importance of Iraqi oil.10 For this precise reason, in fact, Brzezinski opposed the war which he has referred to as a historic, strategic, and moral calamity
driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris11 so did prominent oil-men, such as James Baker, Bush Sr., and James Carroll (Shell). The reasons Chomsky offers in support of his argument were equally valid in 1991, yet he doesnt explain why Bush Sr., and Baker did not occupy Iraq.
The control of Iraqi oil and its subsequent privatization is a neocon idea conceived at the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. The aim, articulated first in a Project for the New American Century policy document, was to flood the market with cheap Iraqi oil in order to break the OPEC monopoly and, to bring down the linchpin of Arab power, Saudi Arabia. Big Oil, on the other hand, has pragmatic interests; it has no qualms about dealing with authoritarian regimes so long as it ensures stable access. Access, rather than control being its priority, Big Oil had long lobbied for sanctions to be lifted (some favoured regime change); it eventually acquiesced in going to war insofar as it allowed it the opportunity to snatch lucrative concessions back from its Russian, French and Chinese competitors.12
In the event, the rising cost of the occupation, burgeoning insurgency, resistance from oil workers unions and failed reconstruction soon made compromises necessary. American civil society may have supported the neocon war; it wasnt too keen on taking sides in an intra-elite factional fight. On Iraqs resources, the neocons temporarily gave ground to Big Oil. Plans for privatizing Iraqi oil were scrapped, replaced by new ones drafted at the James Baker Institute that called for the creation of a state-owned oil company. This plan mollified the oil industry which feared a repeat of the scenario following Russias energy privatization that barred US oil companies from bidding for the reserves.
The Washington Insurgency
By early 2006, the situation in Iraq was dire (it will soon become the costliest war the US ever waged)13, sending alarms through the ranks of the Washington elite. American hegemony was on the decline and Iraq seemed on the verge of break up. This outcome, while desirable for the neocons, as it increased Israels regional hegemony (as envisioned by Yinon)14 by eliminating a potential Arab challenger, was turning into a palpable nightmare for America as it could complicate matters for three of her allies: Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. American economic elites, who value hegemony over empire, felt their interests increasingly threatened. Under these circumstances, a bipartisan commission, comprising trusted guardians of American economic empire, was instituted in the form of the Iraq Study Group. Led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, the commission issued its damning report in November that highlighted the occupations failures, and attempted to foil neocon plans for Iraqs break up by recommending a unified federated Iraq. While urging the President to restate that the United States does not seek to control Iraqs oil, elsewhere the report advised him to assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise.
The publication of the report was both preceded and followed by attacks from the neocons as it singled out the neocon-dominated Department of Defence for its role in the unfolding debacle, recognizing the centrality of the Israel-Palestine conflict to the regions stability and recommending negotiations with Syria and Iran.
The Quartet of Moderates
Saudi Arabia, which supported the Iraq war while publicly opposing it, is closely monitoring the situation in Iraq, concerned at that the rise of the Shia and the increased radicalisation of its own population. During Israels war of aggression against Lebanon, along with Jordan and Egypt, it hastened to condemn Hizbullah. The Sunni Arab leaders of these countries, Patrick Cockburn observes, were embarrassed by the success of the Shia Hizbollah in the war in Lebanon
compared to their own supine incompetence.15
For decades these states have positioned themselves as champions of the Palestinian cause (even as they continued undermined it through their secret dealings with Israel)16; rhetorical support alone earned some legitimacy for their corrupt, dysfunctional regimes. Irans support for Hizbullah and Hamas, on the other had, and the defiant rhetoric of its president has exposed the inadequacy of their support. This has compelled even the king of Jordan to take time off from his Playstation17 to issue ominous warnings of a threatening Shia Crescent.
Ever sensitive to changing winds, Israel moved to capitalize on these fears. Under US tutelage it proceeded to form a de facto alliance with a quartet of moderates of Sunni states, brought together by their common fear of the ascendant Shia. Israel now sees its security as relying not so much on a US guarantee, says Mai Yamani, a Saudi commentator and the daughter of the former Oil Minister, but on Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Turki al-Faysal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and ambassador to US, met Meir Dagan, head of Mossad, while Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi National Security Advisor, met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jordan.18
To roll back Irans growing influence, the moderates, along with other Gulf States, once again chose Palestine and Lebanon as their preferred battleground. In Lebanon, they started shoring up the Siniora government, which had ordered its military to stand down (with one of its Generals even serving tea to the invading army), as Israel proceeded to destroy half the country. Sectarian divisions were played on, as arms were shipped to the Sunnis and the Phalange, while amplifying fears of a likely Shia coup.
In Occupied Palestine Territories (OPT), the Arab states did little to prevent the starvation of the besieged population by acquiescing in the US-EU sanctions. Their hypocrisy was exposed when Iran became one of the few Muslim countries to reject sanctions and offer aid to the beleaguered Palestinians. Arab states countered by accepting a US-Israeli proposal to undermine the Hamas government by aiding its defeated rival, Fatah. Arms were shipped through Egypt to the gangs of Muhammad Dahlan, the Fatah henchman, and US-Israeli advisors started training them, with intelligence agencies of the Arab states setting up shop in the OPT.19
Despite the sectarian incitement, it appears that on the popular level, the Arab plan against Palestine has been a failure. According to an IPS report, a face-to-face survey of a total of 3,850 respondents in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates found that close to 80 percent of Arabs consider Israel and the United States the two biggest external threats to their security. Only six percent cited Iran. For all the scaremongering by hardliners like Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert and Avigdor Lieberman, only 36 percent of Israelis perceive an Iranian nuclear attack the biggest threat.20
The New Politics of Oil
Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist and establishment mouthpiece, may very well be articulating future policy when he writes: the best tool we have for curbing Irans influence is not containment or engagement, but getting the price of oil down in the long term. Tailoring his pitch to NYTs liberal audience, Friedman couches his proposal in environmental rhetoric, advocating conservation and an alternative-energy strategy.
As it happens, such demands on the consumer may be unnecessary. Because of recent developments, according to the Washington Post, Saudi Arabia is finally worried enough about Iran to use oil as a weapon. It has already opposed Iranian-Venezuelan calls for OPEC production cuts to check falling crude prices ($78 a barrel in July to just above $50 by January 2007). This follows threats by Bandar bin Sultan of a resort to confrontational tactics against Iran. Nawaf Obaid, one of his close aides had already laid bare Saudi plans in a comment piece in the Washington Post. If Saudi Arabia boosted production and cut the price of oil in half, the kingdom could still finance its current spending he said, But it would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even with todays high prices. (Obaid was subsequently fired.)21
As during Iran-Iraq war, when all the Gulf States backed Saddam Hussein against Iran, they have once again lined up behind Irans adversary this time US and Israel. The drop in oil revenues coupled with an American instigated financial squeeze, Americans hope, will cause social and political unrest, and lead to the Iranian governments destabilization. Using colourful Guantanamo-era metaphors, the campaign led by Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the American Treasury has been called financial waterboarding and a financial crusade. Europeans had already acquiesced; the Gulf States are the real boon.22
As in the 80s, Saudi Arabia leader of the Muslim world and home to Islams two holiest sites is using its famed oil weapon to subjugate other Muslims and thwart challenges to American hegemony.
The Next War
Anyone can go to Baghdad; real men go to Tehran, an administration official was heard saying shortly after the fall of Baghdad. If there were doubts as to the motives behind the Iraq war, there should be none when it comes to Iran. According to the Guardian, Neo-conservatives, particularly at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, are urging Mr Bush to open a new front against Iran. So too is the vice-president, Dick Cheney. While many had breathed a sigh when high profile neocons like Wolfowitz, Feith and John Bolton were banished from Departments of Defense and State, the Vice Presidents office is still a veritable neocon hotbed. David Wurmser and Elliot Abrams still hold key positions, and their influence over policy is strong enough for the President to reject ISG recommendations in favour of a plan drafted by Fred Kagan of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute.23
US preparations for an air strike against Iran are at an advanced stage, according to the Guardian, the present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the US to mount an attack by the spring. For more than a year, there has been a steady stream of leaks and denials trial balloons to test public opinion before the inevitable military action. While new appointments at CENTCOM and the deployment of the Second Naval Carrier Group (with the likelihood of a third one, the USS Ronald Reagan, following suit) along with minesweepers to the Persian Gulf are well known, other developments, such as the so called surge in Iraq, can only be understood within the context of a planned confrontation with Iran. In an almost comical replay of the lead up to the Iraq war, stories meant to sell the war have already started appearing by the same actors! Michael Gordon of the New York Times, who co-authored front page stories with Judith Miller on the non-existent Iraqi WMDs, was already busy selling the escalation; on February 10, he contributed a new front page story: Deadliest Bomb in Iraq is Made by Iran, US Says. His sources, once again, remain anonymous.24
Kenneth Pollacks new book, The Persian Puzzle, is doing for Iran, what his earlier book, The Threatening Storm, had already done for Iraq. Bernard Lewis, the doyen of Zionist Orientalism, has issued repeated apocalyptic warnings. Joshua Muravchik is still a leading cheerleader for war. The Iran Policy Committee, an AIPAC groupuscule, has been lobbying for at least the past two years for regime change, and support for Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian terrorist organization. AIPAC, the Conference of the Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, FDD; Michael Rubin, Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen; Krauthammer, Boot, Will, Kristol, Kagan they are still keen, in the words the Middle East scholar Juan Cole, to use US military as Israels Gurkha army.25
A Movement Gone AWOL
Except for Israel, its powerful lobby, and the columnists and congressmen bought and paid for by it, the war is opposed by everyone: the military, Pentagon, State Department, conservatives, business elite, and the Left. While a year of intense protests had preceded the invasion of Iraq, in this instance, despite the gravity of the situation and abundant warnings, there has been a curious absence of public outrage. A recent star-studded antiwar rally in Washington overlooked the issue entirely. The continuing ineffectuality of the antiwar movement is guaranteed in the nature of praise it garners. At a time when Israel is the only party visibly lobbying for the war, according to one report on the rally, the antiwar Rabbi Michael Lerner was pleased that there were very, very, very few signs that had anything to do with Israel at the rally. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a leading participant said, the lack of attention directed toward Israel was a credit to the peace movement. Another participant was relieved that she did not notice any criticism of Israel at any event.26
In its refusal to point a finger at the main cause of the impending war the Israel lobby and its stranglehold on the American Congress27 the antiwar movement is certainly not impeding the march to war; in fact, it confirms Gramscis dictum by passively enabling it in not taking its main proponent to task.
Criminal oversight, or smothered dissent; the question need not detain us here. This is not a war for a compromised antiwar movement to stop. Short of a mutiny in the ranks of the armed forces, economic meltdown, or a conservative revolt, it is unlikely that the drive towards war can be checked. Much was made of the Republican defeat in the last mid-term elections; the Democratic majority that has taken over since, at least on Iran, seems more gung-ho. Only last month, Democratic front runners in the presidential race were at the Herzliya conference in Israel attempting to outdo one another in their threats to Iran.
The brinkmanship in both countries US and Israel is fuelled by domestic political concerns, but the initiative ultimately lies with the US; Bushs quest for a diversion from his failures in Iraq could very easily lead him to a new confrontation (evident in the recent strikes on Somalia). He hopes this will lead to a surge of support, with the inordinately jingoistic population reflexively rallying around the flag, and put Democrats on the spot, who, in an effort to appease the Israel lobby, have already pledged maximal measures.28
February 21 may be a decisive date, because it is the UN Security Councils deadline for Iran to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development even though Iran is well within its rights to do so under the NPT. The hypocrisy is monumental: the Security Council has been dragooned into taking action against Iran (a state that is signatory to the NPT, and has adhered by its rules) by Israel, a state which itself refuses to sign the NPT and remains the foremost violator of Security Council resolutions.
The endgame is not yet clear; however, the consequences of inaction are frightening. [S]ome provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran warns Zbigniew Brzezinski, a man not given to hyperbole, could culminate in a defensive U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Scott Ritters plea to the Congress Stop the Iran war before it starts29 is therefore worth reiterating:
Summon [AIPAC], or any other lobby promoting confrontation with Iran, to the forefront, so that the warnings they offer in whispers from a back room can be articulated before the American public. Hold these conjurers of doom accountable for their positions by demanding they back them up with hard fact. See if the US intelligence community concurs with the dire warnings
and if it doesnt, ask who, then, is driving US policy toward Iran?
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a member of Spinwatch. His regular commentaries appear at:
1 See Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, Vol.1, (New York: University of Chicago Press, 1991).
2 See for example: Noam Chomsky, Its Imperialism, Stupid, Khaleej Times, July 4, 2005
3 Robert Fisk, The case against war: A conflict driven by the self-interest of America, The Independent, February 15, 2003
4 Zionist plans for breaking up Iraq and turning the region into Israeli sphere of influence, in fact, date back to the February 1982, first articulated by Oded Yinon in, Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties.
5 Jim Lobe, Pentagon Office Home to Neocon Network, Inter Press Service, August 7, 2003
6 Perle had to resign his post under accusations of a conflict of interest. In the 70s, an FBI wiretap had caught him passing classified information to the Israeli embassy. In 1983, he had already come under fire on charges of conflict of interest for receiving money to represent an Israeli weapons companys interests while working at the Defence Department. Feith left the Pentagon in the wake of an espionage investigation by the FBI; his role in selling the war on questionable intelligence has been confirmed more recently by the Pentagons own Inspector General.
7 See Richard Falk & Howard Friel, The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy, (Verso, 2004).
8 Iraq, China to revive Saddam-era oil deal as Baghdad seeks investment, International Herald Tribune, October 28, 2006
9 John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, Realists Are Not Alone in Opposing War With Iraq, Chronicle of Higher Education, November 15, 2002
10 Op. cit. Chomsky
11 Paul Craig Roberts, Criminals Control the Executive Branch, Antiwar.com, February 10, 2007
12 Secret U.S. Plans For Iraqs Oil Spark Political Fight Between Neocons and Big Oil, Democracy Now!, March 21, 2005,
13 Jamie Wilson, Iraq war could cost US over $2 trillion, says Nobel prize-winning economist, The Guardian, January 7, 2006
14 See note. 4
15 Patrick Cockburn, It is no use blaming Iran for the insurgency in Iraq, The Independent, February 7, 2007
16 Robert Fisk, Twisting Gulf Arms, New Statesman, October 31, 2005
17 The King of Jordan spends his free time (of which he reportedly has plenty) playing Playstation.
18 Mai Yamani, Changing States, The Guardian, January 9, 2007
19 Joseph Massad, Pinochet in Palestine, Al Ahram, November 9-15, 2006
20 Jim Lobe, Arabs Less Worried About Iran, Poll Finds, Inter Press Service, February 8, 2007
21 Jim Hoagland, Impatience on Iran Carries a Price, Washington Post, January 21, 2007; Nawaf Obaid, Stepping Into Iraq, Washington Post, November 29, 2006
22 Michael Hirsh, Emptying Irans Pockets, Newsweek, January 11, 2007
23 Ewen MacAskill, Target Iran: US Able to Strike in the Spring, The Guardian, February 10, 2007; Mark Benjamin, The Real Iraq Study Group, Salon, January 6, 2007
24 Michael Gordon, Deadliest Bomb in Iraq is Made by Iran, US Says, New York Times, February 10, 2007; Op. Cit. Falk & Friel
25 Juan Cole, AIPACs Cover and Overt Ops, Antiwar.com, August 30, 2004
26 Gabe Ross, A change in tone: Anti-Iraq War protest participants say Israel was off the agenda, Washington Jewish Week, January 31, 2007
27 Robert Fisk, United States of Israel?, The Independent, April 27, 2006; John Mearsheimer & Stephen Walt, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, London Review of Books, March 23, 2006
28 Justin Raimondo, Homage to Herzliya, Antiwar.com, January 26, 2007
29 Scott Ritter, Stop the Iran War Before It Starts, The Nation, February, 2007