Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Why We Fight"

A few days before leaving office in January 1961, Dwight Eisenhower, in a televised farewell speech, warned his fellow Americans about something called “the military industrial complex” – a phrase that has since entered the political lexicon.

The Military Industrial Complex is the unofficial system that drives military spending by means of the "revolving door" syndrome, whereby top generals and other government officials, when they retire, go to work for the weapons manufacturers as lobbyists to persuade the government to buy their weapons of war. The more enticing the weapons, the more will be bought, and constant wars will be needed to justify purchasing all these weapons – the classic chicken-and-egg scenario.

For a president, Eisenhower’s speech was quite extraordinary, but as a former soldier who had commanded the largest army in American history, and as president during the most paranoid era of the Cold War, and who had presided over transformation of the US into a warfare state, Eisenhower knew what he was talking about. So he knew about the practice of weapons manufacturers of distributing their factories liberally around the country, and the practice of the Pentagon of doing the same with military bases, thus creating huge numbers of jobs in the states and districts of most senators and congressmen who, accordingly, have a vested interest in ensuring that monies to maintain these factories and bases keep flowing in greater and greater amounts.

And Eisenhower knew about the power of official propaganda to frighten the people into supporting a huge military establishment, the spending on which, directly and indirectly, comprised, and still comprises more than half the entire Federal budget.

Eisenhower’s military industrial complex speech is the foundation of the recently released film documentary, “Why We Fight”, that looks at why the US has invaded so many countries over the last sixty years, and how the current invasion of Iraq is justified.

Most of us, even if half comatose, should know by now that these invasions were in the service of projecting American power around the world, to protect the US’s “interests” – which are usually the “interests” of American corporations in having a nice safe world to exploit, through the CIA installing friendly foreign governments. These are, admittedly, sweeping statements, for no two situations or countries are the same, but these statements do describe what US foreign policy, at its core, is all about.

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Let’s take the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Why it was done is illumined in recommendations made by a neo-conservative think-tank, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), during the Age of Clinton. The PNAC in a policy study, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century”, advocated that the US play a much larger part in the world and should, to this end, establish military bases around the world including, most particularly, permanent military bases in Iraq.

This made sense since Saudi Arabia had asked the US to close its base there, and, since Saddam had been thoroughly demonized and was therefore ripe to be taken out, what better than re-locate this base to Iraq, and then build even more there, the better to control the supply of all that oil. A pre-condition for this happy scenario would be that Saddam would have to be got rid of, and now he has been. Right now, the US is building fourteen bases in Iraq.

So anyone wanting to know why Iraq was invaded, would need to read little more than what the PNAC advocated in the interregnum between the two Bushes. And why the PNAC’s recommendations were implemented almost lock stock and barrel after 9/11, was because George W Bush, on coming to power, brought the PNAC neo-conservatives with him, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith. So when 9/11 conveniently happened, radically changing the climate of opinion overnight, it enabled the PNAC’s recommendations to become official government policy in the form of the National Security Strategy (NSS), better known as the Bush Doctrine.

What made it more imperative that Saddam be sent packing was that he was planning to sell all Iraq’s oil for euros, despite the dollar being the required medium of exchange for all oil traded on world markets. Saddam could not be allowed to do this, since other oil producers wanting to tweak the American eagle’s tail – like Russia and Venezuela – might be tempted to emulate Saddam, paving the way for the dollar to be knocked off its perch as the world’s official reserve currency, so reducing demand for the dollar so precipitously, its value might drop two thirds or more, thus reducing ordinary Americans to penury.

But Americans couldn’t be told this was why Iraq should be invaded because it would sound inordinately abstruse to probably most of them - doubtless irreversibly brain-damaged from having watched “American Idol” a few times too many - and it would sound…..well……. so sordid and self serving, thus puncturing Americans’ idea of themselves.

Everything had to be kept simple – and noble. So George Bush told his fellow Americans, and kept telling them over and over so many times that they believed him, that Saddam had helped plan 9/11, and that he had fearsome weapons that would kill Americans in their hearths and homes. By invading Iraq, Americans would not only put the execrable Saddam to the sword and destroy his fearsome weapons, they would, most importantly, bring freedom to the suffering people of Iraq.

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“Why We Fight” shows the power of this simple message, for we see Americans on the street being asked why Iraq was invaded, and most (but not all) answer “Freedom”. Of course the opportunities for a documentary film-maker to distort facts are infinite. But while large swathes of the American public did see through the lies of George Bush, millions didn’t, and swallowed unquestioningly what he told them, thus providing the needed cover for him to order the attack on Iraq.

The film looks in depth at one of the gullible - a retired New York City fireman, whose son, also a fireman, had been killed on 9/11. The distraught father - who had been persuaded that Saddam was one of those behind 9/11, and desired revenge - wanted to give his son’s death some meaning. So he e mailed the Department of Defense, asking that his son’s name be inscribed on a bomb destined for use during the Iraq invasion. His request set off a flurry of inter–departmental e mails in the Pentagon.

Eventually he got a reply, saying what he asked would be done. After the bomb, named after the son, was dropped, the Pentagon e mailed the father again, apprising him of this - a message that gave him comfort.

But the father’s faith in his president was shattered some time later when, on television, he saw George Bush, while aggressively cross-questioned by a reporter at a news conference, reluctantly admit there was no evidence that Saddam helped plan 9/11. The father said that, had he known this, he would never have made his request to the Department of Defense. His disillusion with his president is almost palpable.

Millions of the formerly faithful have similarly been made to see their president as a liar. And George Bush is now paying the price.