Georgie Anne Geyer, Universal Press Syndicate
April 23, 2004
WASHINGTON -- It would be strange if it were not so, well, "Washington."
The American mission in Iraq is falling apart, and the White House now tacitly admits that, far from leaving on June 30, as President Bush and his war party have repeatedly promised the American people, the United States is in Iraq to stay for a long, long time.
And while the American military endures its worst trial of fire yet, here in Washington the attention is all on what led up to the Iraq invasion. We Americans are inveterate chest-beaters, and here we go again. But the vehicle this time is not only congressional hearings on intelligence failures but, more and more, the books.
Yes, indeed, the books have electrified Washington--from Paul O'Neill's sacrilegious accounts of dealing with "W," to Richard Clarke's conspiratorial stories of the White House, and now, Bob Woodward's new "Plan of Attack" and James Mann's "Rise of the Vulcans."
It is, of course, the Woodward book that is the present talk of the town, for it has the inside access that no other has had. From that, it paints a deeply disturbing story of everything from the president being told by the CIA director that finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a " slam dunk," to Secretary of State Colin Powell being consistently humiliated by just about everyone, to Vice President Dick Cheney's fevered "obsession" about going to war.
But beyond the intensely interesting and disturbing personal stuff, what are we finding at the heart of all of these books?
They repeatedly tell us, in only slightly different ways, that this leadership group--or, better said, "court"--is one of "irregulars." At every opportunity, they went around our official government, around our institutions, and likely enough around the law. Across their history from the 1970s until today, this Bush neo-conservative group, backed by elements of the radical right and American supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, created alternate power centers to bypass traditional American ones. In short, they are true radicals. Think "Robespierre."
Bob Woodward writes in "Plan of Attack," for instance, how Douglas Feith, one of the most radical of the Bush-Rumsfeld courtiers, lobbied for the special intelligence planning board within the Pentagon to bypass traditional intelligence that warned against going to war in Iraq. This fact is widely known, but Woodward importantly explains: "It was a different way of doing things, first because the planners would be the implementers"--they would become the "expeditionary force" within Iraq after the war. Definitely not kosher!
Foreign correspondent and scholar James Mann's book is particularly valuable because, of all of the books to date, it alone delves deeply into the history of the thinking of the "war party" around Bush and its members' early ideological ties with one another. Once again one sees quickly how, at every turn of the road, people like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were looking to get around the official--and, often, legal--ways of doing things through the American system.
The prototypal action, which led to later, similar actions such as the Pentagon's special plans office, was the now-famous "Team B" exercise of the mid-1970s. At that time, in 1976, this group, only nascent in formation, put out a scathing report against the U.S. deterrence/containment policy toward the Soviet Union, taking the view that the Russians were bent upon global hegemony and that we were losing.
In his book, Mann details still another of the many secretive actions of members of the current war party. At least once a year during the 1980s, he writes, as part of a highly classified Reagan administration program, Cheney and Rumsfeld and a few others would be sent out across the country to three different locations in preparation for the possibility of a nuclear attack.
"Each team had to be prepared to proclaim a new American `president' and to assume command of the country," Mann writes. Then, if the Soviet Union was somehow to locate one of the teams and hit it with a nuclear weapon, a second team could take over and, if necessary, the third. "The problem was that this program was extralegal and extraconstitutional and that it established a process for designating a new American president that is nowhere authorized in the U.S. Constitution or federal law ..."
When the 1991 war with Iraq loomed, Cheney and Wolfowitz immediately began developing their own war plan "without telling Powell or anyone else on the Joint Chiefs of Staff." The history of this group now running the nation above all illuminates the pattern of "special teams" and "special plans" and "plans A and B," and clandestine meetings and going around checks and balances at every possible chance.
This is still happening in many of our institutions under these "irregular" people at the helm. There have never been wars fought so dominantly by Special Forces as the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor private contractors of war-fighting like all the privatized "security forces" that we have commissioned in Iraq, with their lack of oversight. The controls so meticulously set up by and within our society are repeatedly bypassed by this group--and they are palpably and provably wrong in their analyses.
In fact, it was patient deterrence and containment that ultimately defeated the Soviet Union. In fact, Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction and is the most difficult country in the Middle East to dream of changing. In fact, in fact ...
Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist based in Washington. E-mail: gigi(underscore)firstname.lastname@example.org