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Letter to the Grandkids: How Did We Get to War With Iraq?
March 1, 2003
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

My Dear Grandchildren:

Within a few weeks, the world is going to change drastically. A terrible war is about to be unleashed, and -- even though the events will happen far, far away from America -- it will affect your parents and Gran and me, indeed all of us in this country and around the globe. And, even though you probably won't realize it at first, the unfolding events will affect you as well.

Some years from now, you're going to be old enough to start wondering how America ever got itself into such domestic and foreign messes in 2003. So I thought I'd provide part of the answer for you while the situation is still fresh in my mind. And you will decide what to do about the situation as you find it then, as we American citizens are deciding now.

So here goes; I'll try to make this as simple-to-read as I can.

To understand why the Bush Administration began destroying the key elements of our Constitution, and invading and bombing other countries that hadn't attacked us, you have to go back in our history, to see the long-term trends, and to more recent history, to see the specific things that led to the events I'll describe.

First you have to know that there's always been a feeling on the part of a great many Americans that we operate with special blessings of God. Since many Americans, including many of our leaders, believe themselves to be doing God's will (as is the case with the Bush Administration today), it follows that they believe that their actions are divinely sanctioned and thus cannot be questioned -- and that the other human beings and countries we encounter do not have the same special relationship with God as we do.

This belief system undergirds a good part of American policy, even though our Founding Fathers made sure to separate religion from government, since so many of them had come from countries where the government decided and enforced what you were supposed to believe spiritually and how you were supposed to practice your religion -- and your politics. Our intelligent Founders never wanted one person or faction to gain that much power again.

Given this strong feeling about the "special relationship" America supposedly had with God, it followed that European settlers believed they had a "manifest destiny" to spread out and conquer the entirety of the American continent. It was the common belief in the country that Americans were doing God's work through such conquest, spreading the glories of civilization from sea to shining sea. If there were native folks that lived in the areas the settlers were moving into, they would have to be converted (for their own good, of course) or moved out of the way, or slaughtered.

It wasn't always pleasant, but the march across, and settlement of, the American continent was regarded as necessary and divinely approved. (There was much less unanimity when it came to the morality or immorality of slavery. The country fought a civil war on that issue. To this day, we're still dealing with that conflict's racist residue.)

Isolationism & Its Demise

For most of our history, America was separated by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans from all the wars and madness taking place in continents far away. George Washington had urged that we keep ourselves away from "foreign entanglements," and most Americans, secure behind our giant oceanic moats, were quite happy with our isolated status, since so much was happening in terms of exciting growth and stability within our own country.

Oh, we got involved in a few foreign disputes and made some bad colonialist-type mistakes occasionally, but, by and large, we were regarded around the world as pretty decent people who tried to do the right thing in most instances.

Americans at first didn't want to fight in World War II. (Obviously, I'm skipping over a whole lot of history here, in the service of hitting the highlights.) We still thought of those conflicts as Over There, not affecting us. But when we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. whole-heartedly joined the Allies in combatting Japan and Germany.

We even fought on the same side as the Soviet Union, our great economic and ideological foe, because the immediate and most dangerous enemy at that time was fascist Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, an insecure leader who invaded a good many countries out of power-and-greed motives, desiring to establish a Roman-like imperial rule-by-force.

After World War II ended, America tried to return to its pleasant isolationist mode, but things had changed. Probably because the U.S. had not been bombed or invaded during the war, America remained one of the few military and economic powers in the world and thus, whether we wanted to or not, found ourselves more involved in foreign issues.

A few years later, the glue holding together the U.S./Soviet alliance weakened, and the rivalry re-asserted itself. Now there were two great Superpowers, vying for influence and control of much of the world. Both had terrible thermonuclear weapons, but they never used them on each other. A kind of balance of madness ensued, madness meaning crazyness but also standing for M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction). And so the two great Superpowers carried on this dangerous dance, always suspicious, always trying to hurt the other Superpower, but never getting carried away into true military insanity.

The U.S., still a relative novice in foreign affairs, didn't catch on until too late that after World War II, colonialism was a dying, offensive way of moving in international relations. They didn't quite see, or didn't want to see, that nationalism was the operating philosophy motivating so much of the Third World, those poorer countries fought over by the Communist and Capitalist systems. The sad truth came when the U.S. moved into Vietnam, assuming the role of the old French colonialists.

The U.S. leaders saw only a monolithic "worldwide communism" rearing its ugly head; they didn't understand that there could be something called "nationalist communism." The Vietnamese, battling for their country, were determined and ferocious guerrilla fighters; the United States could not win, despite its technological superiority, and finally departed, its soldiers just as mystified as when they had arrived as to what all that was about.

The Bogeyman

Many in the United States continued to view Communism, especially as practiced in the Soviet Union and China (which had gone Communist in 1949), as a monolithic monster that needed to be not just contained but destroyed or "rolled back." By and large, these Communist-obsessed citizens called themselves "conservatives." (Don't misunderstand me; Communist systems were as bad, or worse, than other totalitarian societies. We even have a word for one of the worst kind: Stalinism, where the leader, a rough peasant-type who had not seen much of the outside world, ruled with an iron fist. The Soviet Union had a constitution, which promised all sorts of civil liberties and civil rights, but it was inoperative during Stalin's rule, as it often is when a ruler is insecure and greedy for power.)

Eventually, the Communist system in the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites collapsed -- it was based on rotten foundations, lies, gross hypocrisies, arrogant and brutal rule, and couldn't sustain itself in the re al world for all that long. Also, their economies were in such bad shape that they couldn't keep up the arms race with the wealthier Americans.

As the conservatives saw the melting away of the Communist empire, some of them began theorizing about the opportunities that awaited America as the only Superpower on the planet. When they wrote about how easy it would be for the U.S. to simply move into the power vacuum in the world and do what it wanted, by threat of force or actual force if necessary, most commentators thought of them as little more than kooks, out on the extremist fringe of the conservative Republican Party.

Hardly anyone took them very seriously because for centuries, foreign affairs and diplomacy were handled with great sensitivity and civility, and wars most often were choices of last resort. Likewise in domestic politics, where sharp disagreements were common but liberal and conservative politicians tended to treat one another other civily and with mutual respect.

These more extreme elements in the Republican Party had been on the outside looking in for so long, they were extremely frustrated. (Their first candidate who ran for the Presidency, Barry Goldwater, had gone down to a humiliating defeat.) Even when Richard Nixon was President, a certain civility reigned in the halls of Congress, and the HardRight's far-out ideas weren't taken seriously; these writers were regarded as political weirdos; the issues they cared about -- unfettered capitalism, rolling back liberal social programs, dominating the globe, setting the domestic political agenda, etc. -- hardly made ripples in the media. Something would have to be done.

The HardRight Begins to Move

It dawned on many of those on the HardRight, as I like to call them, that their programs and issues would go nowhere as long as they remained in the political wilderness. The first thing they would have to do was to control the way they were perceived in the country; wealthy corporate supporters began setting up institutes and think-tanks for HardRight intellectuals, and bought scores of newspapers, TV stations, broadcast networks, magazines and publishing houses, installing their own HardRight editors and pundits.

In addition, their supporters in Congress made sure that more conservative and HardRight judges were appointed to the various federal courts -- young appointees whenever possible -- so that appeals normally thrown out by more moderate, ideologically-balanced courts would now get a different reception.

When conservative Ronald Reagan was elected President, all that was missing was control of Congress for a total hold on the reins of federal power. But that didn't happen for awhile. President Bush#1 followed Reagan and promised a "new world order," but nothing much changed.

The HardRightists were growing increasingly angry and anxious. Reagan and Bush#1 were too nice, too namby pamby for them. And then Bill Clinton, a bright young Democrat, was elected President, which brought the HardRightists to a near-boil. When this centrist President won re-election -- after the House of Representatives was captured by the Republicans, with HardRightist Newt Gingrich as Speaker -- they were nearly raging with frustration. Their last chance to assume full power, and thus to set the direction of the country, and the world, for the immediate and even long-term future, was in jeopardy. Something had to be done.

What this meant domestically in HardRight practice was that the kid gloves of civility were taken off. The only object was to win control, and how one won didn't much matter: lying, dirty tricks, smears, all on a grand scale. So, political battles and campaigns got nastier and nastier, and the Republicans, who couldn't attack President Clinton and win on the issues, began investigating him on a wide variety of phony "scandals" and then, when his own personal weaknesses provided an opening, impeached him on a morals charge, as it were: for lying about sex.

The Senate -- taking a cue from the citizenry at large -- didn't want the President removed from office for such a highly personal failing. The damage had been done. The sitting President's program was in shambles, since so much time and energy had to be spent on dealing with the sordid Lewinsky affair. And, better yet for the Hardright, while the attention of the nation was focused on the impeachment brouhaha, the wheels could be set in motion, outside public scrutiny, for achieving domestic and global control. The domestic HardRightists, and the global-control intellectuals (formally the extremist kooks, remember) were about to merge forces and programs.

Beating Around the Bush

The first item on the agenda was to find a candidate who could beat Clinton's would-be successor, Al Gore. The forces that matter on the HardRight -- the corporate angels, the pundits, the power-hungry politicos, the social conservatives, the religious fundamentalists, etc. -- fastened on a young, inexperienced, not-too-bright son of the first Bush. George W. was pretty embarrassing to watch at first, but he mouthed the right catch-phrases provided by his mentor Karl Rove ("compassionate conservatism," "a uniter, not a divider") and was given a free, glowing ride by the HardRight-owned media. After using dirty tricks to knock out a popular major contender for the Republican nomination, Sen. John McCain, Bush became the GOP candidate.

Gore ran an amateurish campaign, the untruthful propaganda aimed at him from the far right hit its mark, and he had to battle the fact that many voters tended to associate him with Clinton's problems. Still, Bush clearly was such an intellectual lightweight and over his head in national politics that Gore eked out a half-million-plus popular vote victory.

But the Electoral College vote was neck-and-neck. It came down to Florida, where the candidates were essentially tied; a recount was ordered. Bush's younger brother Jeb was governor of Florida -- where up to 40,000 African-American voters had been dropped from the voting rolls by the Florida Secretary of State (who just happend to be the campaign manager for Bush in Florida). The Florida Supreme Court ordered that all votes continue to be re-counted, but the Bush forces appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the HardRight majority -- which heretofore had been all for states' rights over federal authority -- reversed itself in midair, stopped the vote-counting and, in effect, installed George W. Bush into the White House.

In 2002, after the midterm elections, finally the Senate joined the House in the Republican camp. The day finally had come. After 40 years in the wildnerness, the Far Right was in total control of all the major levers of national power: the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, the Judicial Branch, the Press. It was time to go for it, all of it, before the bubble burst and they found themselves on the outside once again looking in. There was money to be made, lots of it, and power to be grabbed.

Civility was thrown out the window. Polite diplomacy went with it. An arrogant, bullying attitude was employed to frighten opponents. It was get out of our way, we're taking over. We want the world and we want it...NOW!

The Shredding of the Constitution

Thanks to about 20 foreign governments, Bush and his closest advisers knew months in advance -- and certainly by August 6th of 2001 -- that al Qaida was going to arrive by plane, aiming at high-profile American-icon targets, but the Administration chose to do nothing. When the terrorist attacks of 9/11 did their mass-murder damage, the HardRightists felt as if they'd been presented with a precious gift: the opportunity, with a frightened population looking to them for leadership, to do whatever they wanted, as long as they used the magic words "national security" or "anti-terrorism" to justify their deeds.

A huge, previously-prepared law, the USA Patriot Act, was rushed through the Congress just days after 9/11. It contained various shreddings of the Bill of Rights that had been rejected by previous Congresses as violative of Constitutional due-process protections. (Under the Patriot Act, attorney-client confidentiality was made inoperative; the government could tap your phones and enter your computer and search your files and emails, without you ever being informed or aware; black-bag jobs were permitted in your homes without court warrants; etc. etc.)

Hardly any members of Congress read the final, revised version of bill, which was handed down from the White House at the last minute. In short, the rush job did its job: the foundations for a police-state were now in place, and John Ashcroft was chortling at how smoothly it all went, with so little criticism from frightened legislators and the terrorized public. Those who opposed Bush Administration policy were labeled as unpatriotic or, according to Ashcroft, aiding the terrorists. Professors in opposition were denounced by HardRight outfits and a kind of teaching blacklist began to emerge. Self-censorship was rampant.

The Homeland Security Act came next, further expanding the federal government's police powers. And as your Gramps writes this, Ashcroft is preparing Patriot Act #2, which even further eviscerates Constitutional protections as it enlarges the central government's extraordinary martial powers. (Even some true Conservatives are appalled at how the HardRightists have transformed a party that stood in opposition to Big Government into one that has created a huge Big Brother federal police state.)

The Global Move to Empire

Many HardRightists might have had dreams of imperial rule prior to the demise of Communism, but not much could be done about it. But when Communism dissolved, the door finally was open for open U.S. conquest (as opposed to the more subtle form practiced by Presidents, Democrat and Republican, up until that time). The HardRight think-tanks were churning out position papers about how the U.S. could move unimpeded in the world, and get what it wanted in terms of power, hegemony, natural resources.

As I said earlier, most American thinkers regarded these writings as loony fantasies concocted by extremists who, thank God, would never get into power, because their plans would bring ruin and disgrace upon the United States of America.

But as the HardRightists got ready to attack President Clinton big time and prepare to win the next election -- by hook or by crook -- their writings began to be more and more overt. We should have been paying more attention to what they had in mind. Examples:

• In 1992, the Department of Defense drafted a report -- written for Defense Secretary Dick Cheney by Paul Wolfowitz, then undersecretary of defense for policy (now Deputy Secretary of Defense) -- that envisioned the U.S. as the world's Superpower, doing what it wanted to do economically and militarily around the globe. Somehow, the draft leaked to the press, and President Bush#1 quickly withdrew it.

• Neo-conservative intellectuals Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan declared in “Towards a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy" (Foreign Affairs, July-August 1996) that the goal of U.S. activity in the world must be nothing less than “benevolent global hegemony.” In other words, domination of nations around the world ("for their own good," naturally) -- and, of course, leaving the U.S. in effective control of the world's natural resources. Zalmay M. Khalilzad (currently U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan) had taken pretty much the same line a year earlier in his book "From Containment to Global Leadership?: America & the World After the Cold War" (Rand Corporation, 1995).

• Shortly after George W. Bush's move into the White House, in early 2001 -- i.e., when the so-called "loony" writers were now on the inside the locus of power -- a report by the Council on Foreign Relations was prepared ("Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century") that advocated a more aggressive U.S. posture in the world and called for a "reassessment of the role of energy in American foreign policy," with access to oil repeatedly cited as a "security imperative."

• In September of 2002, The Project for the New American Century -- a HardRight think-tank that was founded in 1997, to push for a policy of aggressive global hegemony* -- published its white paper on "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century." The report was quite frank about why the U.S. would want to move now toward imperialist militarism, a Pax Americana: "At no time in history has the international security order been as conducive to American interests and ideals...The challenge of this coming century is to preserve and enhance this 'American peace'."

"Most ominously, this PNAC document described four 'Core Missions' for the American military. The two central requirements are for American forces to 'fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars,' and to 'perform the "constabulary" duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions.' Note well that PNAC does not want America to be prepared to fight simultaneous major wars. That is old school. In order to bring this plan to fruition, the military must fight these wars one way or the other to establish American dominance for all to see." (See "Of Gods and Mortals and Empire," by William Rivers Pitt)

"To preserve the Pax Americana, the report says U.S. forces will be required to perform 'constabulary duties' -- the United States acting as policeman of the world -- and says that such actions 'demand American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations'...To meet those responsibilities, and to ensure that no country dares to challenge the United States, the report advocates a much larger military presence spread over more of the globe, in addition to the roughly 130 nations in which U.S. troops are already deployed. More specifically, they argue that we need permanent military bases in the Middle East, in Southeast Europe, in Latin America and in Southeast Asia, where no such bases now exist." (See Jay Bookman, "Bush's Real Goal in Iraq," Atlanta Journal & Constitution)

[ * Founders of PNAP include: Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Weekly Standard writer William Kristol. Other contributors to the report included: Eliot Abrams, now with the National Security Council; John Bolton, now Undersecretary of State; Stephen Cambone is head of the Pentagon's Office of Program, Analysis and Evaluation; Eliot Cohen and Devon Cross are members of the Defense Policy Board, which advises Rumsfeld; I. Lewis Libby is chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney; Dov Zakheim is comptroller for the Defense Department. ]

• The Bush Administration revealed its official foreign/military policy on September 20, 2002, the "National Security Strategy of the United States of America," and it is almost an idea-for-idea mirroring and extension of the PNAC's White Paper of the year before. The ideas, and the personnel who created them, are now part and parcel of the Bush Administration. It's Mad Dogs (& Englishmen) for real.

Major items not already covered by the reports above include the concept, as an ongoing policy, of "pre-emptive" attacks on countries that could possibly threaten the U.S. at some future point, of ignoring international treaties and opinion when they do not serve U.S. imperial goals, an enormous expansion of major U.S. military staging bases around the globe. In short, and stated proudly to the public, the Bush Administration sees the U.S. as a New Rome, an empire with its foreign legions keeping the outlying colonies in line. This is scary stuff.

And Now to Iraq

So how does all this connect to the war about to be waged by the U.S. in Iraq, ostensibly about hidden armaments?

In August of 2002, William Rivers Pitt notes: "Defense Policy Board chairman and PNAC member Richard Perle heard a policy briefing from a think tank associated with the Rand Corporation. According to the Washington Post and The Nation, the final slide of this presentation described 'Iraq as the tactical pivot, Saudi Arabia as the strategic pivot, and Egypt as the prize' in a war that would purportedly be about ridding the world of Saddam Hussein's weapons."

In other words, in order for the U.S. to assume "benevolent hegemony" in the Middle East region of the globe, Saddam Hussein must go, under any pretext that will work to conceal actual U.S. motivations. Saddam has been an annoying irritant for years, standing in the way of U.S. dominance of the area, and, not coincidentally, of the huge reserves of oil under Iraq's desert sands. If he won't leave on his own, and permit the U.S. to set up a government more friendly to U.S. policies (as in Afghanistan), he will be bombed out.

And, there's an added bonus for the U.S.: By unleashing its bombs and missiles on Iraq, the lesson is passed on to others in the area, and around the globe, who might be thinking of standing up to U.S. imperial policy: This is what might well happen to you and your government and your people ("collateral damage") unless you accede peaceably to our demands.

Many anti-war marchers in the U.S. and in other countries think the sole and central issue is oil. But the core motivation is imperial domination. Bombing a small country more or less defenseless against U.S. military technology gets one the oil, to be sure, but it yields even bigger dividends: a world that does the U.S. bidding because it fears destruction of its society from U.S. military might. (Influential elements in the governments in Germany and France and Russia and China and Japan are in opposition to the way the U.S. is moving against Iraq not only, or even mainly, because the rush to war makes no immediate or logical sense, but because they see the handwriting on the wall: the U.S. will stand like a Colussus astride the globe, the one Superpower who cannot be challenged without paying a high economic or military price. These oppositional forces believe that the U.S. must be challenged now before the die is totally cast. (Already, the Bush Administration is plotting how to retaliate against the Germans and French for humiliating the U.S. in public at the United Nations.)

The stakes are so high. That is why the Bush Administration, with its swaggering, bullying, arrogant attitude, is trying so hard to convince everyone that U.S. military action -- and the imperial dominance that will follow -- is "inevitable," and that to not climb aboard is to be "irrelevant" -- which is to say that, if you oppose our march to power, you will never do good business, or have good relations, with America again. To make its policy work, the U.S. must destroy or greatly weaken any countervailing powers: the United Nations, NATO, "Old Europe," etc. That is why this confrontation over Iraq with our former allies is so nasty: both sides know exactly what's really going on and what's at stake.

No Free Lunch: The Consequences

Now, there is no such thing as a free lunch. You always pay, one way or another. The U.S. will pay big time for its Roman-style imperial moves around the globe. First, terrorism will skyrocket, obviously in the theaters of war as nationalist guerrillas and fanatic fundamentalists ambush and otherwise target U.S. forces and institutions in their countries (as is happening daily again in Afghanistan). But this will also happen at U.S. and other Western interests in other countries as well.

And, of course, such U.S. policies around the world guarantee that there will be more and bigger terrorist attacks inside the United States, including waves and waves of impossible-to-defend-against suicide bombers, and biological and chemical and even dirty-bomb radiological weapons. Presumably, the Bush Administration feels it can handle such terrorism -- and may welcome its effect on an already frightened citizenry: the population will become even more compliant to the government's restrictions on its freedoms and dissent, thus ensuring passage of whatever laws it wishes. HardRight domination of the political scene for another decade or two will be guaranteed, they believe.

So Americans will pay in blood for such aggressive, greed-and-power policies of the Bush Administration. But it will also pay, big time, in other ways. You see, the conservatives for years have wanted to decimate and, if possible, destroy a wide variety of social programs that help ordinary citizens and those too poor to fend well by themselves. Those programs, including most notably Medicare and Social Security, are so popular and engrained in the social fabric, that not even Bush&Co. can attack them head on. But if there's no money in the budget to pay for them, because so much of our national treasury has to go toward wars to "protect our national security," then the Bush Administration feels it can't be blamed. It's not our fault; we love those programs, but we simply don't have any more funds. So Head Start and money for schools, and drugs for our seniors, and for keeping up the urban infrastructures, etc. etc., get cut or eliminated.

The giant corporations and their officers will make out like bandits -- and the Bush Administration now wants to give them even more tax breaks -- but ordinary folk will just have to fend for themselves. The economy, deeply in debt, with humongous deficits stretching out into the far future, will tank; the few remaining environmental protections will be wiped out, and polluters will be even more free to spew their filth into our air and water; more jobs will be lost, we will go into a deep Depression (economic and psychological). But we'll sit atop the globe, King of the World!

Summing Up

My beloved grandchildren, I know it all sounds bleak as I write this now -- and you'll have to deal with the fallout from the misguided and dangerous policies of our days. But the future as projected by the HardRightists of the Bush Administration is not inevitable. More and more folks here in this country are beginning to learn what's really going on; many abroad already have done so. They are organizing to stop the Bush&Co. momentum, to turn this country around from its obsession with profits and power to a more humanitarian way of looking at people and the world.

Recently, up to 10 or 11 million people demonstrated in the streets around the world -- on the same issue, on the same day. This has never happened before in human history -- and it took place before the war had even begun! Many other ordinary American citizens, including moderate conservatives appalled at what their party is doing in their name, feel sympathetic to the cause.

There is a coalescing of concern, worldwide. The fight is not going to be easy. These are not nice people we're battling and they play with real guns and bullets and don't mind using them. But your Gran and Gramps, like so many others, feel they have to fight to restore our Constitutional protections, and on behalf of peoples everywhere. We aim to bring back the light to our world made dark by shadow forces who have far too little love in their minds or in their hearts.

Welcome to our world. May we make it far better for you by the time you're able to fully comprehend what I've written here.

Love to you all -- Grandpa.


Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught government & international relations at various universities, worked as an activist journalist during "The Sixties," was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers.

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