Early in December of 2016 CODEPINK conducted “The People’s Tribunal on the Iraq War.” Two days of testimony and documentation disclosed the indisputable truth: Afghanistan and Iraq were invaded to gain control of hydrocarbon resources. Combating terrorism was irrelevant, a concocted deception.
The detailed history below is adapted from a powerpoint presentation, The Fraudulent War, included in the Tribunal’s record.
Success in Afghanistan
Less than four months after invading Afghanistan, President Bush in his 2002 State of the Union message declared a victory in his Global War on Terror: the Taliban were no longer in power in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden remained at large, but the U.S.-led coalition, the President said, had “…captured, arrested, and rid the world of thousands of terrorists, destroyed Afghanistan’s terrorist training camps…and freed a country from brutal oppression.”
Congress had authorized him to use military force against those directly responsible for 9/11, and those who harbored the terrorists as well; the Taliban were defeated, apparently, because they’d harbored Osama bin Laden.
Buried in the President’s triumphant declaration, however, was a meaningful disconnect: by no means had the Taliban “harbored” Osama bin Laden. Grateful for American support during their conflict with the Russians, the Taliban hoped to retain a good relationship with the U.S., but bin Laden had bombed two U.S. embassies and an American warship. He was “just a damn liability” for the Taliban: far from “harboring” bin Laden they had tried for eleven months to have the Bush Administration take him into custody.(1)
Now a series of permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan was superimposed on the pipeline route; the Bush Administration stood ready to finance the construction; and Hamid Karzai, a former Unocal consultant, was the “Interim Administrator” of Afghanistan. In less than a month he would clear the way for Unocal.
The President boasted of armed victory, but he was celebrating its intended consequence: the geostrategic pipeline route across Afghanistan was now firmly under U.S. control.
Iraqi Oil: a More Complicated Project
Now the Bush Administration could turn to the 200 billion barrels of oil in Iraq.
As the President spoke, his Administration was already committed to an eventual invasion. The State Department was busy engineering the postwar seizure of Iraq’s oil, as Cheney’s “Energy Task Force” had specified. But there remained a huge hurdle for George Bush: Congress had not authorized him to spread the Global War on Terror anywhere he wished. Only regimes complicit in 9/11 could be targeted.
President Bush’s next move was obvious. He had to manufacture the probability of another catastrophic terrorist attack—with Saddam Hussein as the murderous villain.
Conscientious Dishonesty: the Invention of Catastrophe
To accomplish this the Bush Administration undertook perhaps the most brilliant campaign of fear mongering and propaganda in American history. It was launched in the bombast of the President’s 2002 State of the Union speech.
“As we gather tonight,” the President began, “our nation is at war….and the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers.”
For 48 minutes the President described the apocalyptic threats and his resolve to confront and repel them. His language was the raw material of nightmares:
States like these [Iraq, Iran, and North Korea], and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. …I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons. …Our war on terror is well begun, but it is only begun. We can’t stop short. If we stop now — leaving terror camps intact and terror states unchecked — our sense of security would be false and temporary. History has called America…to action, and it is both our responsibility and our privilege to fight freedom’s fight.
The threat was large and diffuse, but Mr. Bush made clear his foremost target:
Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens — leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children.
This message, this imagery, and the fear it engendered needed to be broadcast, assimilated, and normalized to persuade the nation and eventually the Congress of the need to invade Iraq.
President Bush appointed a “White House Iraq Group” to undertake the task. It consisted of twelve trusted and powerful people in his Administration, its central core of political operatives and media professionals:
- Andrew Card, Chief of Staff for President Bush
- Scooter Libby, Chief of Staff for Vice President Cheney
- Karl Rove, Senior Advisor to the President
- Dan Bartless, White House Director of Communications
- Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
- Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor
- Stephen Hadley, Deputy National Security Advisor
- Karen Hughes, Counselor to the President
- James Wilkinson, Chief of Staff for the Secretary of the Treasury
- Mary Matalin, Vice President Cheney’s staff
- Nicholas Calio, Assistant to the President, Legislative Affairs
- Michael Gerson, Chief speechwriter
The group operated in strict secrecy, sifting intelligence, writing position papers and speeches, creating “talking points,” planning strategy and timing of messaging, and feeding information to the mass media. It emphasized the nuclear threat, and Condoleezza Rice’s statement achieved iconic status: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
The stream of information was intentionally misleading and deceptive: that’s the nature of propaganda. A Washington Post story on August 10, 2003, described the Group’s overreach: “Depiction of Threat Outgrew Supporting Evidence.” A subsequent expose’ was entitled, “Not One Claim Was True.”(2)
In 2008 the Center for Public Integrity published the most comprehensive inquiry into the Bush Administration’s record of intentional deception: Iraq: the War Card. The Center studied the public statements made between September 11, 2001 and September 11, 2003 by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, and his successor, Scott McClellan. Inventoried month-by-month, 935 of the statements were documented by the Center to be untrue.(3)
For eleven months the lies were spontaneous, random, and few: no single month displayed more than 20 falsehoods. But after the White House Iraq Group was formed the lies were deliberately constructed, targeted, and numerous, and in September of 2002 the untruths tripled to more than 60.
Those 60 were meant to provide background support for two events in September. On the 17th President Bush signed the “National Security Strategy of the United States of America.” This was the capstone triumph of the Project for the New American Century: their neoconservative agenda of world dominion and the doctrine of pre-emptive war were now formal U.S. policy. Two days later the Administration submitted a draft resolution to implement the policy: it asked for Congressional authority to attack Iraq.
President Bush delivered a nationally televised speech on October 7. It bore the watermark of the White House Iraq Group, and it contained its share of false information.(4)(5)
“Tonight I want to take a few minutes to discuss a grave threat to peace and America’s determination to lead the world in confronting that threat.
The threat comes from Iraq. It arises directly from the Iraq regime’s own actions, its history of aggression and its drive toward an arsenal of terror.
…On September 11, 2001, America felt its vulnerability even to threats that gather on the other side of Earth. We resolved then, and we are resolved now, to confront every threat from any source that could bring sudden terror and suffering to America.
…Members of Congress of both political parties and members of the United Nations Security Council agree that Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace and must disarm. We agree that the Iraqi dictator must not be permitted to threaten America and the world with horrible poisons and gases and atomic weapons.
…Saddam is a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction….If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today—and we do—does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?
If the speech was meant to pressure the Congress to sign off on the Iraq war resolution it succeeded almost immediately. On October 16, the President signed P.L. 107-243, “Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq.”
The law itself contained the White House Iraq Group‘s false narrative:
Whereas the efforts of international weapons inspectors, United States intelligence agencies, and Iraqi defectors led to the discovery that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical weapons and a large scale biological weapons program, and that Iraq had an advanced nuclear weapons development program that was much closer to producing a nuclear weapon than intelligence reporting had previously indicated.
Conscientious Warfare: the Option of Choice
In his October 7 speech Mr. Bush directed his wrath not to Iraq as a nation, but to the person of Saddam Hussein. It was his regime that posed the mortal threats, and the solution was clear. The President said, “And that’s why two Administrations—mine and President Clinton’s—have stated that regime change in Iraq is the only certain means of removing a great danger to our nation.” (Italics added.)
Two months after the speech Mr. Bush could have encouraged a peaceful “regime change.” In December of 2002 the Iraqi intelligence agency contacted Mr. Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA head of counter-terrorism, offering to prove Iraq was in no way involved in the events of 9/11. Iraq was willing also to have U.S. troops enter the country to search for weapons of mass destruction. In regard to regime change, Saddam Hussein was willing to undergo an internationally-monitored election. Mr. Cannistraro said later the proposals were forwarded to the White House, but were “…turned down by the president and vice president.”(6)
In January of 2003 the falsehoods tallied by the Center for Public Integrity shot up again. The Bush Administration issued almost 80: the White House Iraq Group was working feverishly. Many of lies appeared in the President’s incendiary State of the Union address:(7)
…25,000 liters of anthrax—enough doses to kill several million people…38,000 liters of botulinum toxin…millions of people…death by respiratory failure…500 tons of sarin, mustard gas, and VX nerve agent….30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents…an advanced nuclear weapons development program…The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa….
America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country…The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq’s ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraq’s…illegal weapons programs, its attempts to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.
We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: if Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.
The zenith of the Bush Administration’s dissembling occurred in February of 2002 when it spun 140 lies, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The most brilliantly illuminated lying was displayed by the U.S. Secretary of State testifying before the Security Council on February 5. Colin Powell waved a vial of simulated anthrax; he showed photos of mobile chemical warfare laboratories; he said there was “no doubt in my mind” about Saddam’s nuclear development program.
Mr. Powell lied to the world innocently, because he believed the information he’d been provided was accurate and genuine. He learned otherwise only much later, and eventually he lamented the Security Council speech as a “lasting blot on his record.”(8)
Powell’s appearance before the Security Council was pure theater, bearing the fingerprints of the White House Iraq Group. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops were already deployed along the Iraqi border,(9) and the invasion was certain to take place with or without Security Council approval: only the timing was in question. Mr. Powell learned this only years later as well. Interviewed in 2016 he said, “You have to remember that at the time I gave the speech on February 5, the president had already made this decision for military action. The dice had been tossed. That’s what we were going to do.”(10)
Soon after Mr. Powell’s performance, Iraqi officials contacted Mr. Richard Perle, Chairman of the Defense Policy Board at the Pentagon. They had a new offer: now the FBI could visit Iraq to search at will for weapons of mass destruction; Iraq would support the U.S. position in the Israel/Palestine dispute; some limited access to Iraqi oil could be arranged; and Saddam Hussein was willing to leave Iraq for voluntary exile, perhaps in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Turkey. (11)
“Regime change in Iraq is the only certain means of removing a great danger to our nation,” President Bush had proclaimed. Here was regime change handed to him again, this time with Saddam Hussein‘s guaranteed departure. Mr. Perle briefed the Central Intelligence Agency about the Iraqis’ offer, only to learn a decision had been made: the CIA replied to him, “Tell them that we’ll see them in Baghdad.”(12)
If the CIA knew the war was certain, clearly President Bush did. On February 22, he met with Condoleezza Rice and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in Crawford, Texas to discuss the Security Council’s deliberations about Iraq.(13) Saddam Hussein‘s offer of voluntary exile was part of the conversation. Mr. Bush acknowledged it, but brushed it aside: “We will be in Baghdad at the end of March,” he said.(14)
A repeat performance was underway here. George Bush could attack Afghanistan only as long as Osama bin Laden remained at large: now he needed Saddam Hussein in Baghdad to justify invading Iraq. The rhetoric about “regime change” was simply another element of the propaganda campaign.
Conscientious Larceny: Securing the Oil
Three weeks later Mr. Bush and Mr. Aznar met with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair at a U.S. airbase on Terceira Island in the Azores. They were hoping for a Security Council resolution to legitimize their use force against Iraq, but the Security Council demurred. On March 17 Bush and Blair claimed they could proceed without a new resolution, and on March 21, 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched with a fierce bombardment of Baghdad.
Two months later the Security Council did pass a resolution, No. 1483. It recognized the U.S. and U.K. as occupying powers with authority in Iraq. As head of the “Coalition Provisional Authority,” Mr. L. Paul Bremer, an American, set about reconstructing the political economy of the defeated nation.
On the outskirts of Baghdad, he watched a new U.S. embassy being built. It was ten times larger than any other American embassy in the world. It contained 21 multi-story buildings on 104 acres, to accommodate 5,000 diplomats, staff people, and their families. Surrounded by a concrete wall fifteen feet thick, it encompassed a self-contained utility system, a commissary, a movie complex, swimming pools, retail shopping areas, restaurants, schools, and a fire station.
The Bush Administration no longer mentioned “regime change:” the embassy spoke of permanent occupation.
And it was time to move ahead with the “…capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.” Working with representatives of U.S. and British oil companies, the Coalition Provisional Authority eventually produced the draft of a “hydrocarbon law.” It featured the production sharing contracts specified by the State Department’s “Future of Iraq Project,” facilitating the de facto seizure of much of Iraq’s fossil fuel resources. The law was written in English.
In June of 2004 the Security Council endorsed the replacement of the Coalition Provisional Authority by an interim structure of Iraqi governance, and after several subsequent iterations, an elected government was in place. The hydrocarbon law was translated into Arabic. It was approved on February 15, 2007 by Prime Minister Maliki’s cabinet and forwarded to the Iraqi Parliament for enactment. Very few members of Parliament had ever seen it.
Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, Royal Dutch/Shell, and BP/Amoco waited anxiously. These four American and British companies stood to gain “effective control of as much as 87 percent of Iraq’s oil.”(15) But the hydrocarbon law stalled in the Iraqi Parliament as conflicts about the measure between Baghdad and the regional interests of the Kurds proved too stubborn to reconcile.
President Bush forced the issue. He signed a war funding bill on May 25, 2007, which specified a list of mandatory “benchmarks” for the Maliki government to meet. Failing to to do so would threaten seriously the financial and military support of the U.S. Prominent among the benchmarks was the passage of the hydrocarbon law, but the tensions between Baghdad and the Kurds continued: Maliki missed the benchmark.
Conscientious Chaos: the Aftermath
As the years passed, events conspired against George Bush and the ideologues of the Project for the New American Century. There would be no control of Middle East hydrocarbon assets to undergird their fantasy of world dominion.
After the longest period of warfare in U.S. history Afghanistan is still too violent and politically unstable to attract capital investment in pipelines. The Taliban remains a formidable force, and successive puppet governments have been riven with corruption and graft. The likelihood is beyond remote that anyone in Afghanistan will grant an exclusive pipeline right-of-way to an American oil company. And for the record, Unocal has long since disappeared, absorbed by Chevron/Texaco in 2007.
In Iraq the hydrocarbon law went nowhere, as the intramural conflict proved insurmountable. Long after George Bush left office both Baghdad and the Kurds granted various licenses to foreign oil companies. Yes, a few British and American oil companies are included, but they are barely visible among scores of other firms from Russia, China, Egypt, Italy, Japan, France, Austria, Canada, Hungary, India, Norway, and ten more sovereign nations. (16)
George Bush’s attempt to dominate the energy assets of the Persian Gulf was a colossus of wretched failure. It slaughtered hundreds of thousands of civilian and military personnel; it drove millions from their homes as refugees; it burdened thousands of returned veterans and their families with mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, and suicide;(17) and it squandered trillions of dollars.
But George Bush’s Global War on Terror, so named to disguise his unprovoked aggression against two sovereign nations, lurches along in mindless momentum; it is a cauldron of unspeakable violence, all of its own making.