Briefly, for background: Matt Johnson wrote a column critical of Ron Paul’s foreign policy positions at PoliticalFiber.com titled “The Rest of the World: Ron Paul Revelations”. I wrote a rejoinder at Foreign Policy Journal titled “Ron Paul’s Crimes Against the State Religion”. Matt then requested that I publish his response at FPJ, which I did, titled “The Ron Paul Brigades March on, Undeterred by Reality”. Here now is my further reply.
Matt Johnson insists that I premised my previous response to him by “mischaracterizing” his argument against Ron Paul’s foreign policy views by suggesting that what he really means by calling Dr. Paul “reactionary” “is that Ron Paul’s views and his positions are extreme, outside of the standard framework for discussion, and his arguments against the status quo and current political establishment outside of the limited range of acceptable criticism and dissent.” If this interpretation is incorrect, Matt offers no evidence for it. On the contrary, his reply strongly reinforces my point. He continues to make clear that Ron Paul’s true sin is that he isn’t an obedient practitioner of the state religion across a broad range of foreign policy issues.
9/11 and al-Qaeda
A perfect example is how Ron Paul points out that the reason the U.S. was attacked on 9/11 was because of its foreign policy. Matt calls this a “myth”, but, instructively, offers nothing in the way of an alternative explanation for why terrorists attacked American targets on 9/11. Does he agree with Bush’s explanation that it is because “they hate our freedom”? I don’t know because, again, Matt doesn’t bother to offer an explanation of any kind. What I do know is that Ron Paul’s statements in this regard are completely uncontroversial, Matt’s remarkable willful ignorance notwithstanding. The 9/11 Commission Report, for example, notes that Osama bin Laden’s “grievances against the United States” were “widely shared in the Muslim world. He inveighed against the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s holiest sites. He spoke of the suffering of the Iraqi people as a result of sanctions imposed after the Gulf War, and he protested U.S. support of Israel.”
In response to my pointing out the uncontroversial fact that these were the primary reasons cited by the al-Qaeda for the 9/11 attacks, Matt writes, “When East Timor was finally granted its independence from Indonesia in 2002, al-Qaeda responded with a bomb that killed 202 people in Bali. In other words, to avoid upsetting al-Qaeda, we’d have to leave East Timor shackled to its brutal Indonesian masters. If Hammond and others believe al-Qaeda will recede after its initial demands are met, they’re entitled to their ignorance.” What is Matt’s point? Is he tacitly acknowledging that the reason for the 9/11 attacks was U.S. foreign policy but trying to argue that they would have occurred even if those policies never existed? Or is he trying to suggest that the U.S. was not attacked because of its foreign policy, but rather because he believes George W. Bush’s explanation that “they hate our freedom”? Was Osama bin Laden lying when he repeatedly stated his grievances against the U.S. for all those years? He really didn’t have a problem with any of those U.S. policies, he just hates freedom or is jealous of America’s wealth (even though he’s from one of the wealthiest families in Saudi Arabia)? Moreover, has anyone suggested the U.S. should abandon East Timor (incidentally, the U.S. fully supported Indonesia’s genocidal invasion East Timor in 1975)? Is he trying to attribute to Ron Paul and me a belief that the U.S. should or should not engage in this or that policy solely “to avoid upsetting al-Qaeda”?
It’s a familiar refrain. During one of the presidential debates prior to the 2008 election, for example, when Ron Paul expressed his opposition to these policies and the war and occupation of Iraq, arguing that they harmed U.S. national security, FOX news’s Chris Wallace constructed the strawman argument, “You’re basically saying that we should take our marching orders from al-Qaeda?” to which Ron Paul responded “No! I’m saying we should take our marching orders from our Constitution. We should not go to war… (applause) We should not go to war without a declaration. We should not go to war when it’s an aggressive war.” It would seem at first that it is beyond Matt’s comprehension that people who oppose such policies might do so for such reasons as that they are illegal or immoral, except for the fact that further on he acknowledges that that U.S.’s murderous sanctions against Iraq were “immoral” and, he seems to agree, a “crime”. What are we to make of this? If Matt can oppose one of the policies for which the U.S. was attacked on 9/11 on the grounds that it was illegal and immoral, why, when Ron Paul opposes the same policy, is it only “to avoid upsetting al-Qaeda”? Would he agree with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that the “price” of half a million dead Iraq children, even if “immoral” and a “crime”, was nevertheless “worth it”, if only to avoid having to “take our marching orders from al-Qaeda”? Matt’s argument for why it is a “myth” that the U.S. was attacked on 9/11 because of its foreign policy is perfectly incoherent.
Matt writes that I was “exactly wrong on the origin and survival of al-Qaeda” and that “history disagrees with” me on this point, but it’s unclear what point of fact or logic he is actually disputing (apart from a strawman argument I didn’t make and thus needn’t debate). I observed that the U.S. “funded, trained, and armed the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and encouraged the creation of al-Qaeda in the first place (bin Laden’s Maktab al-Khidamat, the precursor organization to al-Qaeda, operated alongside the CIA out of Peshawar, Pakistan).” Matt doesn’t deny the truth of this. On the contrary, he implicitly acknowledges this fact. And yet just the act of having made these factual observations, in Matt’s paradigm, shows my yearning “to blame the United States for the atrocious existence of al-Qaeda” and, furthermore, constitutes an effort to “exculpate the murderers and sadists”. Considering his charge that I was “mischaracterizing” his argument, Matt’s hypocrisy is difficult to ignore, and, of course, he just proves the main point of my original rejoinder, that when Matt says that Ron Paul is “reactionary”, what he really means is that Dr. Paul states truths Americans aren’t supposed to hear. Pointing out such truth is a crime against the state religion, as Matt illustrates so perfectly in his hysterical accusations against Ron Paul (and me).
Matt rejects as a “myth” my statement that “acts of terrorism are crimes to be properly dealt with through law enforcement, such as the cooperative efforts with the Pakistani government that led to the arrest of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed” (KSM). He doesn’t elaborate, but clearly what he means is that terrorism is an act of war properly dealt with through military force. He produces no evidence to support such a view. He writes, “If Hammond has a ‘law enforcement’ solution to the problem of state-sponsored succor for al-Qaeda, he failed to mention it.” It’s true, I didn’t elaborate much on means by which the crime of terrorism may be combatted, apart from the example of KSM and addressing root causes of terrorism (i.e., stop committing terrorism, stop illegal and immoral policies terrorists cite as justification for their own acts of terrorism, etc.) One could certainly get into that, but it is tangential to my point. The fact of the matter is that there are only two instances in which the use of force is legitimate under international law: cases of self-defense against armed aggression, and cases where the U.N. Security Council has authorized the use of force. The U.S. claim in its so-called “war on terrorism” to what is alternatively described as “anticipatory self-defense”, “preemptive”, or “preventive” war is without foundation in international law, under which it is indistinguishable from a war of aggression, “the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”, as defined at Nuremberg. Under existing international law, acts of terrorism by non-state actors are distinguished from the use of armed force by state actors. International terrorism is a criminal offense lesser than “the supreme international crime” of aggression, and the mechanisms for dealing with the crime of terrorism recognized under international law are law enforcement mechanisms, such as cutting off of financing to terrorist groups and seizure of funds, arrests, extraditions, prosecutions, etc.
Matt points out that, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Ron Paul actually voted in favor of the Congressional authorization for the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons”. Indeed, this act of Ron Paul’s contradicts his often stated and correct view that acts of terrorism are crimes to be dealt with through law enforcement, and offers an example of a deed for which one may legitimately criticize Dr. Paul. He was wrong to vote in favor of that authorization, and it is clear that he regrets the manner in which the president executed it.
In his original article, Matt criticized Ron Paul because he “constantly reiterates the importance of avoiding ‘foreign entanglements’”. I pointed out that this was the foreign policy prescription of the “father of our country”, our first president, George Washington, in his farewell address to the nation. In his reply, Matt merely reiterates his rejection of a policy of non-intervention. He makes it perfectly clear that he is all for getting into “foreign entanglements”—such as the illegal and disastrous war on Iraq, to cite just one example. His argument against a policy of non-intervention is that “Congressman Paul would like to take the United States back to a time before the concept of an ‘international community’ existed.” How remarkable! The nations of the world that had diplomatic relations with and traded with each other back in 1796, when Washington offered his advice on U.S. foreign policy, would surely be surprised to learn, if we could go back in time and inform them, that they were not members of an international community. What can explain this comment? One should note that the phrase “international community” is often employed as a euphemism, meaning the world order as dictated by Washington, D.C. If this is how Matt is using the term, it might explain the comment. Matt could just as well have argued that Congressman Paul would like to take the U.S. back to a time before it launched illegal wars of aggression on false pretexts. Matt’s respect for the opinions of mankind and his regard for the “international community”, ironically, don’t extend to respecting the body of international treaties that constitute international law.
The U.S./NATO Bombing in Kosovo
Matt declares that it is a “myth” that “NATO is not a ‘positive force in the world.’” How an opinion can be a “myth” he doesn’t explain, but to support his opinion to the contrary, he declares that the NATO interventions in Kosovo and Libya were “successful”. I don’t necessarily disagree, depending, of course, on how one defines “success” and what the actual goals were. For example, one purpose of the Kosovo campaign seems to have been to redefine NATO in the post-Cold War era in a way that gave it relevancy for pursuing U.S. geostrategic goals rather than being dismantled. In this regard, yes, it was a very “successful” operation. As I previously pointed out, “the illegal bombing of Kosovo in 1999 … was characterized in the West as a ‘humanitarian intervention’, despite the fact that it resulted in an escalation of the ‘cleansing’ and other atrocities on the ground in the former Yugoslavia and a higher civilian death toll in its first three weeks than had occurred during the three months prior”. Matt doesn’t deny this fact. Actually, he begins his response to this with a “Yes”, which would seem to indicate his agreement, and then he proceeds to point out that “over 500 civilian deaths were recorded from the NATO bombing campaign” and that there were “13,000 Kosovar Albanians who were killed by other elements” on the ground. The Human Rights Watch report he cites for these figures doesn’t appear to support the latter, but let us presume it is correct. The report affirms in its introduction the fact of “intensifying violence on the ground” following the start of the NATO bombing campaign. But then, inexplicably, Matt asserts that I “maneuver away from these disgusting facts by falsely accusing NATO of causing more problems than it was solving”. On the contrary, emphasizing these disgusting facts is the very thing that proves my argument.
Matt takes the further step of citing a Foreign Affairs article declaring that thanks to the NATO bombing, a “humanitarian disaster” was “averted” and ethnic cleansing was “reversed”—a repetition of the standard official account Matt clings to, despite the facts just noted. To cite a few additional facts, as Noam Chomsky documented in his book The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo, in the year before the bombing, 2,000 people had been killed and several hundred thousand had become refugees, according to NATO, most of the victims being ethnic Albanians. According to U.S. intelligence, the number of internally displaced was 250,000. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported a similar figure of 230,000. But after less than two weeks of bombing, the UNHCR reported that 350,000 refugees had fled Kosovo just since the bombing began, and by the time it stopped put the number of refugees at 671,500. As I noted previously, NATO Commanding General Wesley Clark said it was “entirely predictable” that the atrocities on the ground would escalate as a consequence of the bombing. “The military authorities fully anticipated the vicious approach that Milosevic would adopt, as well as the terrible efficiency with which he would carry it out”, he said. On the purpose of the bombing, Clark stated, “We were operating, however, under the instructions from the political leadership. It was not designed as a means of blocking Serb ethnic cleansing. It was not designed as a way of waging war against the Serb and mob forces in Kosovo in any way. There was never any intent to do that. That was not the idea.” The Chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss, observed that, “Our intelligence community warned us months and days before that we would have a virtual explosion of refugees over the 250,000 that was expected as of last year, that the Serb resolve would increase, that the conflict would spread, and that there would be ethnic cleansing.” Goss also commented, “One of the consequences surely would be that if you stick in this nest, you’re going to stir it up more, and that was one of the things that might have happened and in fact that is one of the things that did happen because Milosevic did in fact, instead of caving in, he reacted by striking back harder against the Kosovars, harder, more quickly, more ruthlessly.” The intelligence community’s predictions in that regard “were very accurate”, Goss boasted. All of this led BBC reporter Gavin Hewitt to remark, “A NATO campaign intended to protect the Albanians appeared to accelerate their misery. Western governments were shocked by the speed and brutality of a forced exodus, but the White House accepts that some ethnic cleansing was expected.”
But never mind the actual, uncontroversial, admitted facts. The NATO bombing “averted” a “humanitarian disaster” and “reversed” ethnic cleansing, and that is all Americans need to know about the matter. This is what we are supposed to believe unquestioningly, blindly, obediently, and anyone who suggests otherwise may be easily dismissed as “reactionary”. “If this is Hammond’s idea of a botched intervention,” Matt comments, “it’s hard to imagine what he would consider successful.” If knowingly acting in a manner that predictably escalates the atrocities on the ground that the bombing is ostensibly intended to prevent is Johnson’s idea of a “successful” so-called “humanitarian” intervention, it is hard to imagine what he would consider a failure.
The U.S./NATO Bombing in Libya
Matt similarly dismisses my observations that the U.S./NATO intervention in Libya served to prolong the conflict and escalate the violence on the ground, declaring this, too, to be a “myth” and one of my “most ridiculous assertions”. Ergo, he thinks that Gaddafi would not have crushed the armed uprising in a matter of weeks if the U.S./NATO had not intervened. Calling this “ridiculous” seems an odd argument coming from someone who supports the intervention, particularly given how it was a principle argument used by those who favored the bombing at the time.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, for example, wrote in the New York Times on March 13 that the rebels were a “ragged groups of brave volunteers who barely know how to use the weapons they have” and so “need action that will change the situation on the ground”. Arming the rebels was not enough; bombing was required, or it would be “quite likely that Colonel Qaddafi will have retaken or at least besieged Benghazi, the opposition stronghold” by the time arms arrived. In Foreign Affairs on March 16, Robert E. Hunter wrote that Qaddafi was “now closing in on a final campaign to defeat the rebels”, a fact he cited to argue in favor of U.S/NATO intervention. On March 18, a day after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing a no-fly zone to protect civilians, the New York Times reported on how the Obama administration had pushed for intervention because Qaddafi’s forces were “turning back the rebellion that threatened his rule”. The administration’s position “was forced largely” by “the crumbling of the uprising”, which “raised the prospect that Qaddafi would remain in power”. The bombing began on March 19, the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Times observed that the rebel forces had been “battered and routed”, but as soon as the U.S./NATO bombs started falling on Libya, the armed rebels “began to regroup”. Michael W. Doyle argued in favor of the bombing, commenting in Foreign Affairs that “Qaddafi probably would have been able to conquer the rebel capital Benghazi with his air force, artillery, and armor, but the commencement of allied intervention will destroy the air force and protect the civilian population”—as well as the armed rebel opposition, the distinction being deliberately obfuscated by most commentators at the time—“from large-scale ground attacks.” Near the end of March, General Carter F. Ham announced that “The regime still vastly overmatches opposition forces militarily” and “possesses the capability to roll them back very quickly. Coalition air power is the major reason that has not happened.”
As the bombing commenced, President Obama declared that if the U.S./NATO did not act “Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized….” These were the consequences, then, that the intervention were ostensibly intended to prevent. Matt Johnson, apparently, thinks that the bombing was “successful” in doing so (unless he was referring to some other unmentioned goal). If so, it is a delusional belief. It is difficult to know how many people were killed in the conflict. Prior to the bombing, estimates of the numbers killed by Gaddafi’s forces in the thousands were offered by opposition sources, parroted widely in Western media, but unverifiable. Human Rights Watch provided a conservative estimate of about 300 confirmed deaths since the rebellion began towards the end of February. One month after the bombing started, the opposition claimed that the death toll had risen to 10,000. By the end of April, the U.S. State Department estimated that as many as 30,000 had been killed in the escalating violence. There were atrocities by both sides. The UNHCR reported in August that rebel forces were targeting sub-Saharan Africans. The Western-backed rebel forces, whose ranks included members of al-Qaeda, engaged in massacres, executing Qaddafi loyalists and black Africans. By the end of August, the opposition claimed the death toll was as high as 50,000. The rebels ethnically cleansed whole towns, such as Tawargha, where the residents were mostly black. Rebels “forced the entire population of some 30,000 to flee and looted, vandalized and burned down their homes and properties”, Amnesty International noted in a later report. By mid-September, according to Amnesty International, tens of thousands of civilians had been made refugees and over 672,000 foreign nationals had fled the country. 4,500 Libyans had fled to Egypt, and another 187,000 to Tunisia. In October, Qaddafi was captured and executed. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that mass graves were being uncovered, and towards the end of the month what “appeared to be one of the worst massacres of the eight-month conflict”, as the New York Times described it, was discovered in Sirte, where, according to Human Rights Watch, 53 Qaddafi supporters had been executed by rebel forces. A Times investigation involving visits to more than 25 strike locations revealed that scores of civilians had been killed by NATO bombings, despite denials. A report from Human Rights Watch said that at least 72 civilians had been confirmed killed in NATO airstrikes, one-third of them children. According to the U.N., the rebels held some 7,000 people prisoner. Amnesty International reported that prisoners were being tortured and dying while in custody. Mali was destabilized as thousands of fighters fled there and the country was flooded with arms. Chaos and lawlessness reigned in Libya as rival militias claimed authority in areas across the country. A year after the rebellion had begun, Amnesty International reported that the militias were “out of control” and committing “widespread human rights abuses with impunity”, including arbitrary detentions, torture, revenge attacks, and forcible displacement. The British security service, MI5, warned that Libya now offered “a permissive environment for al-Qaeda”, which had established the country as a base of operations. The transitional government held its first elections last month in a vote that was made more difficult, the Times noted, due to the “prevailing lawlessness”. Frederic Wehrey noted in Foreign Affairs that the election resulted in “an Islamist landslide” and warned of the danger that “armed militias could destabilize the state” as “low level violence” continued in the west and south of the country. The Libyan Observatory for Human Rights reported that “The human rights situation in Libya now is far worse than under the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi”. Another Times article noted that “Mali today looks a bit like Libya did in early 2011, except with a more obvious jihadi presence”, and that “Mali is only one example of the spillover from Colonel Qaddafi’s ouster”. Yahia H. Zoubir in Foreign Affairs commented that Libya’s neighbors feared that the conflict “would pry the lid off Tripoli’s sizeable weapons cache and lead to the dispersal of arms across the region. It turns out that they were right to be worried.” A “weapons bonanza” has resulted from the conflict, as well as “disappearing money, and a wave of refugees”. With newly acquired arms, jihadist groups are destabilizing Algeria. The fallout in Mali has led to hundreds of thousands more refugees fleeing that country, placing “a heavy burden on countries that can barely sustain their own populations, which are suffering from drought and hunger.” Zoubir concluded that it is “doubtful that NATO’s celebrated ‘successful operation’ will bring prosperity to the new Libya and stability to the region.”
But never mind the facts. It is a “myth” that the U.S./NATO intervention served to prolong the conflict and escalate the violence on the ground, according to Matt Johnson.
U.S. Support for Armed Rebels in Syria
Matt acknowledges the fact that there are jihadist groups among the U.S.-backed rebels, including al-Qaeda, which was true in the case of Libya and is true now in the case of Syria. His answer to this is that “a cost-benefit calculus must come into play—the cost of denying support to the opposition is higher than the risk of such support being utilized by unsavory actors”. So if money or arms find their way into the hands of members of al-Qaeda, that is just the reasonable cost of overthrowing yet another regime that refuses to obey orders from Washington—not unlike how the “cost” of half a million dead children in Iraq was “worth it” to Albright. Matt adds that “if President Paul had his way, the CIA wouldn’t even exist to execute such missions”—it being axiomatically true, in his view (no argument required, taken simply a matter of faith) that once again acting to prolong the conflict and escalate the violence into a full-scale civil war by backing armed rebels whose ranks include members of al-Qaeda (the CIA’s ostensible efforts “to vet the Syrian recipients of outside weaponry” notwithstanding) is a good thing.
I had pointed out that, in his view, “Insisting that the U.S. should stop interfering in the affairs of other nations such as by intervening to prolong conflicts and escalate violence and siding with terrorist groups like al Qaeda is ‘dank, self-serving rot’”. Matt responds to this by calling it “a shameful, inane comment” to say that the U.S. is on the same side of the conflict as al-Qaeda, even though he had just admitted that it was true and that if money or arms funneled to the rebels happened to end up in the hands of al-Qaeda, it would be worth the “cost”. Anyone who fails to recognize the logic of this “cost-benefit calculus”, Matt argues, has “a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of warfare”, all of which pretty much speaks for itself, requiring no further comment.
U.S. Foreign Aid
Matt’s astounding willful ignorance is further illustrated when he rejects my observation that U.S. foreign aid helps prop up autocratic regimes and support human rights abuses and violations of international law. He includes among his list of “myths” that “foreign aid entails support for autocracy and oppression”. This is a remarkable denial, one which I’ve never witnessed anyone make before. I already listed examples, not a single one of which Matt bothers to substantively address. He is content to just bury his head deeply up his ass and mistake what he finds there for something called “reality” while mocking the “Ron Paul brigades” for declining to join him there. Take again the example of Israel, which maintains its occupation of the Palestinian territories and oppression of the Palestinian people with $3 billion in annual military aid from the U.S. During Israel’s full-scale military assault on the defenseless Gaza Strip, dubbed “Operation Cast Lead”, from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009, Israel implemented its “Dahiyeh Doctrine”, named for a Beirut neighborhood that was flattened during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon. Israel targeted and systematically destroyed the civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, including attacks on schools and hospitals, and engaged in indiscriminate attacks that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 1,390 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including 344 children and 110 women. This massacre in Gaza was perpetrated with U.S.-supplied arms, including Apache helicopters, F-16 jets, and white phosphorus munitions—with the annual aid provided to Israel serving largely as an American taxpayer-funded subsidy to the U.S. military/security complex, as is the case of U.S foreign aid to other countries.
But never mind the facts. The $3 billion in annual aid to Israel is not support for criminal oppression and abuse, according to Matt Johnson.
Other examples are not hard to find, sticking just to recent history and just to the Middle East. There is the $1.3 billion annual aid to the military establishment in Egypt, for a further example. After peaceful protests erupted last year in Egypt and the military responded with force, Senator Joseph Lieberman bragged that the U.S. “should feel very good about the assistance we have given the Egyptian military over the years since the Camp David peace with Israel, because the Egyptian military really allowed this revolution in Egypt to be peaceful and let the people carry out their desires for political freedom and economic opportunity”. That is to say, Americans should pat themselves on the back since the response of the U.S.-backed military establishment to the revolution in Egypt was mostly limited to using tear gas canisters marked “Made in U.S.A.” against peaceful protesters, while the number of people they injured was kept down at around 6,400, and the number killed to a mere 846—yet another example of how the U.S. promotes democracy around the world.
It would be superfluous to list further examples, which abound, and if Matt is curious, he can look into the other examples I gave him previously. Matt goes to some lengths to document how some foreign aid is actually beneficial and suggests that in my previous rejoinder, I “scoff at” people in Africa. Actually, what I was scoffing at was Matt’s dismissing Ron Paul’s stance on foreign aid by pointing to medical assistance to Africans and such, but completely ignoring various other aspects of U.S. foreign aid, such as: “how foreign aid is given with strings attached requiring that money to be circulated right back to the U.S., such that it often serves effectively as a taxpayer subsidy for various U.S. industries, like the military/security industrial complex”; or “how this aid is effectively used to bribe nations to get in line, the money flowing to obedient client regimes and being instantly cut off to any foreign sovereign nation that dares to defy Washington, even to U.N. bodies like the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, which the U.S. cut funding to for voting to admit Palestine as a member).”
To prove that he is not so naïve as I made him out to be for ignoring these aspects of foreign aid, Matt touts his own argument from a past article that the $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt “should be withheld until the military surrenders its political power”—but not because it is used to support autocracy and oppression, remember, since he proclaims this to be a “myth” (and he doesn’t give whatever other reason he has for agreeing that this aid should be withheld). He further touts a previous article he wrote in which he acknowledged “the people who suffer at the hands of their own brutal governments, autocracies propped up by the U.S. government”—but foreign aid has nothing to do with that, according to Matt, since, remember, it is a “myth” that foreign aid “entails support for autocracy and oppression”.
Matt argues in favor of U.S. military aid to Pakistan, which is an example I find surprising—it would hardly be the first case that came to my mind if I was going to argue in favor of not cutting foreign aid, but c’est la vie. In reply to what I said about strings being attached to aid, he asks, “What ‘strings’ were attached to the naval fleet sent to help the Japanese after they were hit by a devastating tsunami?” Matt apparently would have benefited had I added the adverb “often” before “given with strings attached”. I did not argue strings were attached in every case whatsoever. That said, one should observe that Japan is an official friend of Washington’s. An official enemy, Iran, just had a severe earthquake, with over 300 people killed and thousands injured, and the U.S. has its navy nearby. Can we count on the U.S. to send in the troops to help assist Iranians in need? Can we expect the U.S. to send aid to Iran? The Obama administration said it was ready to send assistance if it is requested by Iran. But, as McClatchy reported, “The quake comes as the United States is increasing economic sanctions against Iran”, which are “frustrating U.S. residents who now want to offer humanitarian assistance but say too that much confusion surrounds what is and isn’t permitted. Charitable donations to Iran in the form of cash aren’t allowed from the United States unless they’re specifically licensed by the federal government, said John Sullivan, a spokesman for the Treasury Department” (emphasis added).
The charge of “scoffing” at Africans, of course, for simply pointing out that not all foreign aid is charity—not by a long shot—is intended to characterize me, and anyone, for that matter, who argues for cutting foreign aid, as uncaring. If you want to cut foreign aid, you just don’t want to help other people in the world. First of all, it is probably safe to assume that Ron Paul would be content with cutting the kind of aid I refer to and keeping the kind Matt discusses, just as even though he is ideologically opposed to programs like Social Security and Medicare, he does not wish to simply eliminate these programs because people are dependent upon them. But setting that aside, suppose we accept Matt’s argument that “a cost-benefit calculus must come into play” and took all of the harm that U.S. foreign aid causes and all of the good it does and weigh then. The case could easily be made that cutting all foreign aid would be an enormous net benefit to the world, given the extent and scale to which it is used to support autocratic regimes, human rights abuses, and violations of international law. Furthermore, Matt ignores entirely the point I made that if foreign aid was cut, not only would a great many people benefit from the U.S. ceasing its support for their oppression, but it would also mean, “if Americans didn’t have their money taken from them by force by the government, they would be all that much more able to show the world how generous a people they are by making private, voluntary, tax-exempt donations to disaster relief programs”—such as they would be able to do for Iran to help in the aftermath of the earthquake, were it not for the government stopping them. Is making this observation also to “scoff” at the less fortunate? If one were to apply Matt’s own standard and turn his rhetorical device against him, it could fairly be said that Matt “scoffs at” the people in Gaza whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed and whose loved ones have been killed thanks in no small part to U.S. foreign aid.
The U.S. at the U.N.
Matt has expressed his disagreement with Ron Paul on the U.N., Ron Paul’s view being the U.S. should not be involved with the organization (I don’t necessarily agree with Dr. Paul on this, although, as I indicated in my previous arguments, I think a lot of good would come of it if the U.S. was to withdraw from or be kicked out of the U.N.). Matt doesn’t actually address my points in this regard, such as my pointing out the fact that the U.S. regularly uses its veto power in the Security Council to protect Israel from censure for its violations of international law. His only response to this is to say that “the problem of undue Israeli influence on American foreign policy can be handled without a full withdrawal from the U.N.” I’m not sure what bearing he thinks that has on my observation. He apparently thinks such a longstanding policy of protecting Israel is due to “Israeli influence”, perhaps a reference to fabled monolithic influence of the oft-cited and loosely defined “Israeli lobby”, which is a view I don’t agree with, either. He offers nothing further for how the problem of the U.S. supporting Israeli crimes against the Palestinians through its veto power can be “handled”.
Ironically, Matt is himself critical of the U.N.—he scolds it for not violating its own Charter by authorizing the U.S. to engage in regime change in Iraq in 1991, and for failing again in 2003 to authorize the U.S. to use force to overthrow Saddam Hussein on a pretext of lies about Iraq having WMD. He describes the U.N.’s authorization of a “no-fly-zone over Libya” as among a number of other “unambiguous victories for universal justice”, despite the fact that the U.S./NATO immediately announced its intention to violate the resolution and the U.N. Charter by using the resolution as cover to engage in a policy of regime change.
I would merely suggest, in reply, that the fact that people like Matt Johnson think that that this is the role the U.N. should play, that it should fall even further under the influence of Washington to be used as a tool for implementing U.S. foreign policy goals, is a compelling argument in support of Ron Paul’s view. (As I said, I don’t necessarily agree with Dr. Paul, but if Matt keeps going on this way, he might just convince me).
U.S. Policy towards Iran
It is a “myth”, Matt declares, that “there is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program”. As I observed previously, the U.S.’s own intelligence community assesses that Iran today has no active nuclear weapons program, so apparently Matt knows something the intelligence community doesn’t know. To support his claim, he cites an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report from November 2011 and quotes from the section titled “Possible Military Dimensions”. This is the smoking gun, he seems to think, stressing that if readers “walk away from” his article “with nothing, save for” this one point, on which count “Jeremy R. Hammond really comes up short”, then he will “be satisfied.”
What Matt doesn’t inform us is that the report also stated that the IAEA “continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material” to any weapons-related program. He also doesn’t inform us that most of the information under the “Possible Military Dimensions” section and related annex was simply rehashed allegations about past activities. The IAEA report noted its concern “about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile” (emphasis added). The report also characterized the information it had in this regard as “overall, credible”. However, what the report is referring to here are allegations contained in what the IAEA calls the “alleged studies”, which a number of senior officials at the IAEA consider the information less than credible, including former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, who “considers the documents as forgeries”, according to the executive director of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), David Albright. The IAEA has never verified the authenticity of the documents, and, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter has observed, there is considerable evidence that the “alleged studies” are a fraud. Most of the information presented in the November IAEA report pertained to alleged activities “prior to the end of 2003” (emphasis added), the IAEA report noted—at which time, according to the U.S. intelligence community, Iran halted its nuclear weapons program. This U.S. assessment is not shared by the IAEA, which issued a statement in September 2009 saying that “the IAEA reiterates that it has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon programme in Iran” (emphasis added). Mohammed ElBaradei repeatedly emphasized that there was no evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and his successor, Yukiya Amano, when asked in July 2009 whether he believed Tehran was seeking a nuclear weapons capability, answered, “I don’t see any evidence in IAEA documents about this”.
Take the claim that Iran has worked on a nuclear payload for a missile. Among the evidence that the “alleged studies” are a fabrication—(and it’s useful to recall the U.S.’s reliance on fabricated documents in the run-up to the Iraq war to bolster its claim that Iraq was trying to obtain yellowcake uranium from Africa in order to enrich to make a nuclear weapon)—is the fact that the documents contain drawings of the wrong warhead. As Gareth Porter has documented, the “alleged studies” purport to show an effort by Iran to redesign its Shahab-3 missile warhead to carry an unidentified payload. But the drawings showed alleged modifications to a warhead design that Iran had already long since abandoned. As Porter has written, “The implausibility of the suggestion that a group organized to redesign the IRBM warhead would not have been working with the new warhead underlines the tortuous thinking that must be used to avoid an obvious conclusion: the warhead schematics are fraudulent.” Furthermore, the documents—allegedly obtained from a laptop smuggled out of Iran—were reportedly provided to the U.S. by the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, which in turn was by some accounts provided with the information by Israeli intelligence.
The IAEA report did contain one new allegation that was latched onto by the media as constituting solid evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program: the sensational claim that a former Soviet nuclear weapons scientist had helped Iran to construct a what the IAEA report described as “a large explosives containment vessel” at the Parchin military base in 2000 (again, before the U.S. intelligence community assesses Iran halted its alleged nuclear weapons program). The Agency described the “cylinder” as being “suitable for carrying out” explosive testing related to the development of a nuclear payload for the Shahab-3 missile. The report described the scientist as “a foreign expert” who is “knowledgeable in these technologies” and who “worked for much of his career with this technology in the nuclear weapon programme of the country of his origin.” The expert in question, however, Vyacheslav Danilenko, is not a nuclear weapons scientist, as Gareth Porter has also noted, but one of the world’s top specialists in the production of nanodiamonds. Danilenko did work at a research institute in the Soviet Union known for its work on nuclear warhead development, but the IAEA’s implication that he worked himself on nuclear weapons and had expertise in this area is baseless. It is well documented that his work there was related to the synthesis of diamonds. The IAEA report noted that his work in Iran from 1996 until 2002 was “ostensibly to assist in the development of a facility and techniques for making ultra dispersed diamonds (UDDs) or nanodiamonds”, thus implying that this was merely a cover story and that his real purpose was to help Iran develop a nuclear warhead—an entirely baseless implication.
Shortly after the IAEA released its report, Robert Kelley, who worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and is a former IAEA inspector, pointed out that “there’s very little new in the report” and explained that “we’ve been led by the nose to believe that this [explosives] container is important when in fact it’s not important at all. It’s highly misleading. And that kind of new information in this report is very distressing.” Kelley also wrote an article noting that the question was “whether there is evidence” that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “was restarted after being shut down in 2003.” He observed that there “appeared to be a misinformation campaign” not unlike that prior to the war on Iraq, and that the authenticity of documents relied upon by the IAEA had not been established. On the contrary, there were numerous indications that some of the documents were forgeries, he noted. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists also commented on how “the media has misread the IAEA’s report Iran” and remarking that the “scattered research” suggested in the report didn’t indicate that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program, which “still appears to have halted in 2003.” Two months after the IAEA issued that report, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta admitted, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.” He went on to suggest Iran was “trying to develop a nuclear capability”—much like Japan, which has the technical knowledge to develop a nuclear weapon but no active program to actually do so. Again at the end of January 2012, Panetta acknowledged that the U.S. had no intelligence that Iran was “proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon”. The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, similarly acknowledged in a report for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that “Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.” In other words, there is no evidence that Iran today has an existing, active program to build nuclear weapons, an assessment which the U.S. intelligence community continues to maintain.
But never mind the facts, it is a “myth” that there is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, according to Matt Johnson.
I previously observed that Matt’s statement that the nonexistent “Iranian nuclear weapons program would be given an idiotic American blessing” under a President Ron Paul is “a ridiculous strawman argument which just goes to show that either he has never actually listened to what Ron Paul has had to say about the matter or he just doesn’t care to be honest with his readers”. Incredibly, Matt responds to this by appealing to readers to watch a video of Ron Paul in one of the presidential debates (which he had linked to in his original article) that he somehow fancies proves his point. I had observed that what Matt was “really referring to is the fact that Ron Paul has argued that the U.S. should not use military force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon”, and that it would be “too inconvenient for Matt Johnson to point out other relevant facts about what Ron Paul has said about it, such as that he wouldn’t want to see Iran get nuclear weapons, but that Iran has a right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, that there isn’t any evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and that a military attack on the country would only serve to incentivize Iran to actually try to develop nukes to deter further such attacks”. Matt responds to this by insisting that I should “Please try to actually watch it this time”—which is truly remarkable since all of my observations there came from what Ron Paul actually said in that video (which I was already perfectly familiar with). Indeed, by all means, please watch it. Observe the fact that Ron Paul prefaced his whole remark about the matter by saying, “Well, even our own CIA gives me this information that they have no evidence that they are working on a weapon” (emphasis added). He proceeded to note the irrationality of talking about war against a country “that might get a nuclear weapon someday”, and that the warmongering serves only to incentivize Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon to deter the U.S. and other nuclear-armed nations in the region, including Israel. He asks, “What’s so terribly bad about” talking to the Iranians? He expresses his opposition to the sanctions. “I say a policy of peace is free trade, stay out of their internal business, don’t get involved in these wars, and just bring our troops home!” he concluded. From those comments, FOX News correspondent Chris Wallace—not unlike Matt Johnson—created the asinine strawman: “So your policy towards Iran is if they wanna develop a nuclear weapon, that’s their right, no sanctions, no effort to stop them.” Dr. Paul nowhere suggested Iran had a “right” to build nuclear weapons, of course, which it is forbidden from doing under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty. He was merely making the argument that the sanctions are a bad policy and that even if Iran did have a nuclear weapons program—where there is no evidence of—the solution would not be “to go to war against them”.
This is what Matt Johnson, taking his cue from Wallace, somehow twists into a “blessing” to Iran to develop nukes, which he clarifies in his follow-up article “simply means ‘approval’ in this case”—a no less dishonest adjective. By such means, Matt idiotically turns any opposition to launching a war to stop a nonexistent nuclear weapons program into a “blessing” for and “approval” of Iran obtaining a bomb. Yet he writes, “Hammond continues to misrepresent the truth even in the face Congressman Paul’s own words.” Matt’s dishonesty is thus matched only by his hypocrisy.
The U.S. War on Iraq
Turning to Iraq, Matt reiterates “a series of American blunders and crimes over the past 30 years” that I had mentioned and argues that Saddam Hussein “mercilessly committed an entire catalogue of the most heinous crimes imaginable,” but “was left in power” while “the Iraqi people were punished with the slow, cruel decay of sanctions.” Immediately following this remark, he comments, “And this is the status quo Jeremy Hammond and Congressman Paul would have adhered to.” He says that “the folly of Congressman Paul’s thinking” is that “not only is he indifferent to the plight of the most threatened people on earth; he can’t even support the rectification of past American injustices”.
This argument, of course, simply ignores all of the previous comments that I had made that prompted this attempt at a rebuttal in the first place. It is not possible that Matt missed the parts where I wrote that if a Ron Paul had been president, “the U.S. wouldn’t have supported Saddam Hussein in the first place”, “wouldn’t have encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up to overthrow their dictator with the promise of U.S. military backing only to then stand idly by and watch the regime use helicopter gunships to slaughter those who responded to this call”, “wouldn’t have given Saddam a green light to invade Kuwait”, and “wouldn’t have then strengthened Saddam’s regime by implementing draconian sanctions that killed Iraqi civilians and made the Iraqi people dependent on the regime for survival”. In fact, Matt acknowledges the “American complicity with Saddam Hussein’s crimes” and the U.S. policy to “punish the Iraqi population with sanctions”, which he agrees was “immoral” (Matt hasn’t been completely turned to the dark side; there is good in him yet). And yet the fact that Ron Paul wouldn’t have committed these immoral crimes in the first place if he had been president is not enough to convince him that Ron Paul is not “indifferent” to the suffering of Iraqis.
Rather, he uses these past actions of the U.S. as the basis for his argument that “the only decent course” to answer for these past American failings was to launch a war on Iraq in 2003 to overthrow the dictator. He is repeating a familiar argument, identified by Noam Chomsky as the “change of course” doctrine, according to which U.S. policymakers do sometimes make “blunders”, but only ever with benevolent intent. We must therefore not dwell on history and past “blunders”, but press forward in our efforts and take on the “weighty responsibility” of setting aside our own self-interests and continuing and improving upon our efforts to do good in the world, to “claim responsibility for our actions and correct them”. Thus, atoning for our past sins by waging an illegal war of aggression, “the supreme international crimes, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”, was “the only decent course”, according to Matt Johnson. Waging a war in violation of the U.S. Constitution on a false pretext consisting of blatant lies was “the only decent course”. Destroying Iraq and inflicting sociocide upon the country was “the only decent course”. Killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, tearing the country asunder with sectarian violence, and establishing it as a base of operations for al-Qaeda was “the only decent course”. This is the “only decent course” because in Matt’s equation, Saddam = bad and therefore the U.S. overthrow of Saddam = good, and that is all anyone need to consider. Everything else is irrelevant, and if anyone thinks that the war on Iraq was wrong, it is proof positive that they are just “indifferent to the plight of the most threatened people on earth”. Ron Paul has “trumpeted the line of stubborn self-interest” by failing to get on board with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which may have been “ineptly managed”, but was nevertheless a selfless act of benevolence.
Turning to the policy papers of the architects of the war, of course, tells a different story. A document drafted in 1992 under the supervision of Paul Wolfowitz under then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, titled “Defense Planning Guidance”, declared that the “first objective” of U.S. “defense strategy” should be “to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival”. The U.S. “must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” The “second objective” is to “address sources of regional conflict and instability in such a way as to promote increasing respect for international law, limit international violence, and encourage the spread of democratic forms of government and open economic systems.” Of course, the phrases here were being used in their usual euphemistic sense. For instance, “Respect for international law” means that the rest of the world must behave, although the U.S. is free to make its own rules and may choose to allow certain friendly nations to apply a different set of rules, as well, if it serves some U.S. interest (e.g. Israel). Thus neocon Richard Perle could declare following the invasion of Iraq that, “I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing.” Similarly, “International violence” means their violence, not ours (e.g., Palestinians must “renounce violence”, including the internationally recognized right to armed resistance to foreign occupation, but Israel need not similarly renounce violence). And “democratic forms of government” goes hand in hand with “open economic systems”. So if a nation with a closed economic system like Iraq is threatening to cut off its supply of oil to the West or threaten dollar hegemony by trading in euros or some other currency, its government must be overthrown and replaced with a more “democratic” one that will open the spigots and let the oil flow. Thus, the document naturally added, “Various types of U.S. interests may be involved in such instances”, such as “access to vital raw materials, primarily Persian Gulf oil”. With regard to the Middle East and Southwest Asia, “our overall objective is to remain predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region’s oil.”
In 1996, a number of prominent neocons, including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser, prepared a paper for the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructively tiled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”. The report was the result of the Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000 from the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies and argued for “a clean break” from old policies and the forging of “a peace process and strategy based on an entirely new intellectual foundation” designed for “rebuilding Zionism”. One of the goals was to “Forge a new basis for relations with the United States” based in part on “strategic cooperation on areas of mutual concern”, such as with Iraq. “This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq—an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right—as a means of foiling regional ambitions.”
The neoconservative think-tank The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) was one prominent holdout for the architects of the Iraq war. PNAC’s Statement of Principles clearly outlined their “vision of America’s role in the world” and “guiding principles for American foreign policy”, which should be designed to “maintain American security and advance American interests in the new century.” The “United States stands as the world’s preeminent power” and should build up the military to maintain that power.
In 1998, PNAC wrote a letter to President Clinton stating that “American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding” and that U.S. “strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power.” The reasons were given. “The policy of ‘containment’ of Saddam Hussein has been steadily eroding” and “we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition to continue to uphold the sanctions or to punish Saddam when he blocks or evades UN inspections.” This would make it difficult “to determine with any reasonable level of confidence whether Iraq does or does not possess” weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Were Saddam to actually have a WMD capability, “a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard.” Thus the real concern, again, was ensuring access to Iraq’s oil.
Another principle concern for the neocons was maintaining U.S. “credibility”. Another letter was sent from PNAC to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott in May 1998. The letter reiterated the points of the Clinton letter and the fear that “Saddam will be effectively liberated from constraints”—a reference to the sanctions that had resulted in widespread poverty, malnutrition, and disease, and the deaths of half a million children according to the U.N. The end of these sanctions would be “an incalculable blow to American leadership and credibility” and hence “the goal of U.S. policy should be to bring down Saddam and his regime.”
In September 2000, PNAC released its manifesto, entitled “Rebuilding Americas Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century”, which made the case for maintaining U.S. preeminence and global hegemony through a buildup of the military; to “extend the current Pax Americana”. The document states that “Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” The goal was to “preserve American military preeminence”; however, “the process of transformation”—the strengthening of the military—”is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.”
This assessment echoed one from Andrew Krepinevich, Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on March 5, 1999. After stating that “There appears to be general agreement concerning the need to transform the U.S. military into a significantly different kind of force from that which emerged victorious from the Cold and Gulf Wars,” he noted that “this verbal support has not been translated into a defense program supporting transformation.” He stated further that “While there is growing support in Congress for transformation, the ‘critical mass’ needed to affect it has not yet been achieved.” In conclusion, “in the absence of a strong external shock to the United States—a latter-day ‘Pearl Harbor’ of sorts—surmounting the barriers to transformation will likely prove a long, arduous process.”
In other words, there was a widely held view among policy-makers that the military needed to be rebuilt, but in the wake of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the American public expected and wanted a decrease in military spending. The “transformation” of the military into a force able to enforce the U.S.’s will globally would therefore not occur unless a catastrophic event occurred that allowed policy-makers to shift American public opinion back towards increased military spending. Indeed, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were viewed as an opportunity by those favoring this “transformation” of the military to enforce U.S. global hegemony. Robert Kagan, a director of PNAC, wrote in the Washington Post that “Just as the Korean War, Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the Lusitania taught us that we can’t immunize ourselves against the world’s problems, Sept. 11 must spur us to launch a new era of American internationalism. Let’s not squander this opportunity.” National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice similarly stated, “No less than Pearl Harbor, September 11 forever changed the lives of every American and the strategic perspective of the United States.” Rice also stated that “an earthquake of the magnitude of 9/11 can shift the tectonic plates of international politics…. If that is right, if the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11 bookend a major shift in international politics, then this is a period not just of grave danger, but of enormous opportunity. Before the clay is dry again, America and our friends and our allies must move decisively to take advantage of these new opportunities. This is, then, a period akin to 1945 to 1947, when American leadership expanded the number of free and democratic states—Japan and Germany among the great powers—to create a new balance of power that favored freedom.”
In the days after 9/11, PNAC wrote to President Bush encouraging him in the “war on terrorism” but stating that, “We agree that a key goal, but by no means the only goal, of the current war on terrorism should be to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, and to destroy his network of associates.” It then moved quickly on to Iraq. Saddam Hussein, in the words of Secretary of State Colin Powell, is “one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth” and “It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”
The real problem posed by Iraq was further outlined in great detail in a 2001 report resulting from a task force sponsored by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University and the Council on Foreign Relations entitled “Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century”. The document noted that (emphasis added throughout) “For many decades now, the United States has been without an energy policy” and that, “In fact, the world is currently precariously close to utilizing all of its available global oil production capacity, raising the chances of an oil-supply crisis with more substantial consequences than seen in three decades. These limits mean the America can no longer assume that oil-producing states will produce more oil. Nor is it strategically and politically desirable to remedy our present tenuous situation by simply increasing dependence on a few foreign sources. So, we come to the report’s central dilemma: the American people continue to demand plentiful and cheap energy without sacrifice or inconvenience. But emerging technologies are not yet commercially viable to fill shortages and will not be for some time”.
The report stated, “For the most part, U.S. international oil policy has relied on maintenance of free access to Middle East Gulf oil and free access for Gulf exports to world markets. The United States has forged a special relationship with certain key Middle East exporters, which had an expressed interest in stable oil prices and, we assumed, would adjust their oil output to keep prices at levels that would neither discourage global economic growth nor fuel inflation. Taking this dependence a step further, the U.S. government has operated under the assumption that the national oil companies of these countries would make the investments needed to maintain enough surplus capacity to form a cushion against disruptions elsewhere. For several years, these assumptions appeared justified. But recently, things have changed. These Gulf allies are finding their domestic and foreign policy interests increasingly at odds with U.S. strategic considerations, especially as Arab-Israeli tensions flare. They have become less inclined to lower oil prices in exchange for security of markets, and evidence suggests that investment is not being made in a timely enough manner to increase production capacity in line with growing global needs. A trend toward anti-Americanism could affect regional leaders’ ability to cooperate with the United States in the energy area. The resulting tight markets have increased U.S. and global vulnerability to disruption and provided adversaries undue potential influence over the price of oil. Iraq has become a key ‘swing’ producer, posing a difficult situation for the U.S. government.”
To further complicate the situation, “U.S. unilateral sanctions as well as multilateral sanctions against oil-producing countries have discouraged oil resource investment in a number of key oil provinces…. In the case of Iraq, the U.N. sanctions imposed as a result of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait have had a severe effect on potential Iraqi production.” Moreover, “Iran and Iraq accuse Saudi Arabia of seeking higher production rates to accommodate the economic interests of the United States, Japan, and Europe at the expense of the needs of local populations, creating internal pressures in the Arabian Gulf region against a moderate price stance. Bitter perceptions in the Arab world that the United States has not been evenhanded in brokering peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have exacerbated these pressures on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and given political leverage to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to lobby for support among the Arab world’s populations…. Over the past year, Iraq has effectively become a swing producer, turning its taps on and off when it has felt such action was in its strategic interest to do so. Saudi Arabia has proven willing to provide replacement supplies to the market when Iraqi exports have been reduced. This role has been extremely important in avoiding greater market volatility and in countering Iraq’s efforts to take advantage of the oil market’s structure. Saudi Arabia’s role in this needs to be preserved, and should not be taken for granted. There is domestic pressure on the GCC leaders to reject cooperation to cool oil markets during times of a shortfall in Iraqi oil production. These populations are dissatisfied with the ‘no-fly zone’ bombing and the sanctions regime against Iraq, perceived U.S. bias in the Arab-Israeli peace process, and lack of domestic economic pressures.”
The report’s recommendation was to “Review policies toward Iraq with the aim to lowering anti-Americanism in the Middle East and elsewhere, and set the groundwork to eventually ease Iraqi oilfield investment restrictions. Iraq remains a destabilizing influence to U.S. allies in the Middle East, as well as to regional and global order, and to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East. Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his own export program to manipulate oil markets. This would display his personal power, enhance his image as a ‘Pan Arab’ leader supporting the Palestinians against Israel, and pressure others for a lifting of economic sanctions against his regime. The United States should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq, including military, energy, economic, and political/diplomatic assessments.”
In line with the requirement of a “new Pearl Harbor” to be able to implement the “transformation” of the military to further U.S. global hegemony and secure U.S. “interests” in the region, “primarily Persian gulf oil”, the Bush administration did indeed take advantage of the “opportunity” provided by 9/11. Thus, their case against Iraq centered on either psychologically linking Iraq to the terrorist attacks or claiming directly that Iraq had some role, in addition to the blatant lies and deceptions about Iraq’s possession of WMD. It was crude propaganda, but effective enough manufacturing consent for the war by deluding ignorant Americans with their political science degrees incapable of exercising independent thought outside the confines of the state religion into the belief that it was “the only decent course”, even a benevolent humanitarian intervention totally absent any self-interest.
Never mind the facts, though; it is a “myth” that “Past American failures in Iraq were reasons to stay out in 2003”—both a strawman argument and a reiteration of the “change of course” doctrine—according to Matt Johnson. All the devastation and dead Iraqis are merely the “price” that has been “worth it” in a “cost-benefit calculus”, because the good deed of getting rid of an evil dictator outweighs any and all other considerations, which, under the familiar doctrine, we may consign to irrelevancy.
Matt describes Ron Paul as my personal “savior” and my “hero”, and he calls me “the vicar of the venomous, illogical, and overconfident Ron Paul revolutionaries.” This is, of course, intended to characterize me, and supporters of Ron Paul in general, as cult-like fanatics, blind followers of a personality. How does Matt explain, then, my own criticisms of Ron Paul, such as have appeared within these two responses to him, or, to cite another example, in my editorial that appeared at Foreign Policy Journal titled “Ron Paul’s Position on Israel is a Betrayal of His Values”? It’s true, there are those who seem cultish in their fanatical support for Ron Paul, if the comments on that editorial are any indication. But what Matt doesn’t get is that for people like myself, Ron Paul is not the message but merely a messenger. It’s not about Ron Paul, it’s about ideas. It’s about wanting change—real change, and not just campaign slogans—for our country. As Dr. Paul says, “An idea whose time has come cannot be stopped by any army or any government.” Ron Paul is not that idea. But he does speak about that idea. And I will congratulate Matt for being right about one thing: Ron Paul is a hero of mine. He is a hero for having the courage to speak out and tell Americans the truth they do not want to hear, such as telling them that 9/11 was what the intelligence community calls “blowback” for U.S. foreign policy, and refusing to back away from speaking the truth even when booed by his audience for it. He insists that the U.S. should exercise the golden rule in its foreign policy, and follow the teaching of Jesus to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, even when he is booed by his audience for it. He has near single-handedly changed the nature of the debate in the country on important issues like the role of the Federal Reserve and U.S. foreign policy. I disagree with Dr. Paul on some of his positions, but I respect him as a person of principle, honesty, courage, and integrity—which is certainly more than I can say for Matt Johnson and the rest of the practitioners of the state religion. One difference between people like Matt and people like myself is that people like him must “choke down some aspirin” just to endure thinking about Ron Paul and his “reactionary” ideas that “should be consigned to obscurity as soon as possible”, whereas I and many other Americans think Ron Paul is someone we should at least listen to. If the Matt Johnson’s of the world were to do that, they might actually learn something.