What's Left

March 3, 2003

Capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed raises questions about war on terrorism

By Stephen Gowans

His name sprang from nowhere. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; the "brain;" KSM, to distinguish him from UBL, Usama bin Laden; the mastermind, we're told, of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, and the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

We're now to believe it was the hitherto unknown Mohammed, not the infamous bin Laden, who engineered the events that provided Washington the initial impetus to embark on a series of wars of conquest under the banner of a war on terrorism.

And yet, the significance of the capture of Mohammed has been largely overlooked by a lickspittle media eager to trumpet the Bush administration's successes, while glossing over the latter's lies, transparent warmongering, and illimitable imperialist ambitions. Mohammed was arrested, through police work. He wasn't killed in the bombing of Afghanistan, though thousands of innocent Afghans who had nothing whatever to do with Sept.11, al-Qaeda, or Mohammed himself, were.

What's more, Mohammed's activities weren't disrupted by the bombing. If we're to believe the media accounts, after the bombing began, Mohammed engineered the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, the Djerba synagogue bombing in Tunisia last April, and whatever planned terror activities prompted last month's Code Orange warnings in the US. It seems bombing a desperately poor country and installing a puppet regime under Washington's control didn't put Mohammed and his associates out of commission.

For anyone whose memory extends further than last week, it will be recalled that critics of Washington's Afghan campaign argued that the way to respond to Sept. 11 was to track down the perpetrators as one would the perpetrators of any crime -- through police work. Bombing Afghanistan, it was pointed out, would be like bombing Sicily to disrupt the Mafia and bring Mafia kingpins to book. All that would be achieved would be the deaths of countless innocent people. But war, in a country whose movie industry now pumps out an endless series of films about the glories of US military interventions abroad, and whose government squanders hundreds of billions of dollars ever year on what is euphemistically called "defense," is embraced as a multipurpose solution, so much so that it is those who oppose war who are expected to bear the burden of showing why war should not be pursued. Bombing the snot out of poor people holds many attractions to large numbers of Americans, particularly those in charge:

1. It's fairly safe (for Americans.)

High-altitude bombing, cruise missiles--and soon, if the trial-baloons from the Pentagon mean anything--mini-nukes (how anything about a nuke could be mini is unclear), allow US forces to subdue their victims without putting US soldiers in harms-way. Despite this, US military personnel, the most thoroughly brainwashed section of history's most thoroughly brainwashed people, can maunder at length about how they put their lives on the line, prepared to make the supreme sacrifice, while millions of peasants, who are given no choice in whether they make the supreme sacrifice, are routinely swept from this life by US bombs and US missiles fired from afar, guaranteeing there will be no or few American casualties.

In this vein, a "shock and awe strategy" has been bruited about in connection with the impending attack on Baghdad. Iraq's capital city would be bombarded by hundreds of conventional missiles over a 48-hour period to produce a Nagasaki-like effect. The aim is to intimidate the Iraqi military into losing its will to fight. The outcome will be the slaughter of countless Iraqi civilians, who will be called Saddam's human shields to absolve the Pentagon of blame.

2. It's good for business.

Some people have grown immensely wealthy manufacturing missiles, bombs, jet fighters and "weapons systems" for the American military. They're well-connected in Washington, as immensely wealthy people are, and they have an interest in inflating threats and building pretexts for military intervention abroad to keep the lucre rolling in.

Take the case of Bruce P. Jackson, formerly an executive with Lockheed-Martin, a major Pentagon arms supplier. When the Republican Party needed a chair for its Foreign Policy Subcommittee during the last presidential campaign, it looked to Jackson. Jackson's committee recommended more defense spending.

Jackson is also one of the founders of the US Committee on NATO, an outfit formed in 1996 to promote the expansion of the North Atlantic alliance. Every time a new Eastern or Central European country is admitted to the US-led club, the US defense industry--which ends up being the supplier of equipment that new NATO countries must purchase from to ensure their militaries are "inter-operable" with that of the US--gets richer.

Jackson is also on the Board of Directors of the Project for the New American Century, a Bush cabinet-connected group that advocates a global US empire based on an indomitable US military; which means, of course, more military spending.

And if that's not enough, Jackson is also the chair of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), a group which aims to persuade the American people of the necessity of "liberating" the world's second largest source of oil, which is to say pressing into service all those expensive warplanes and missiles the US defense industry produces for the Pentagon.

According to the CLI website "between 1993 and 2002, Mr. Jackson was Vice President for Strategy and Planning at Lockheed Martin Corporation," which means that while Jackson was founding the US Committee for NATO and the Project for Transitional Democracies; while he was serving on the board of the Project for the New American Century; and while he was chairing the Republican Party subcommittee on foreign policy--all of which advocated more defense spending--he was also working for a company that stood to gain from stepped up spending on weapons.

But it's not only Bruce P. Jackson and his cronies who stand to make off like bandits as a result of the Pentagon bombing the piss out of poor people. A whole lot of other businesses will get to share in the bonanza, as well. American oil firms will develop the oil and natural gas of the Caspian Basin; American oil firms will develop Iraq's oil fields, muscling out Chinese, Russian and French firms who now have contracts to do so; American pipeline companies will build pipelines across Central Asia; and American technology firms will (re)build Iraq's telecommunication systems. And then there's Iraq's electrical, water treatment, and sewage treatment infrastructure which will need to be rebuilt, not to speak of scores of other opportunities for enterprising American corporations looking to fatten their bottom lines.

3. It makes many Americans feel good about themselves.

Comedian George Carlin once remarked that the only thing the United States can do well anymore is deliver ass whippings to poor countries defended by fifth rate armies. This, however, overlooks America's other accomplishments. It is the premier producer of computer games and films that glorify violence and high-tech killing. Anyone who thinks America doesn't have a fascism-fixation ought to spend 10 minutes in a computer games store, looking at the phalanx of brightly colored boxes adorned by illustrations of Roman centurions and up-to-date versions of storm troopers, all brandishing big guns and American flags.

Political scientist C. Douglas Lummis once remarked, "People are fooled into believing that they are powerful when they are members of a powerful state, or when they are soldiers wielding powerful weapons or when they have real or imagined connections to people in powerful positions." Perhaps he had Americans in mind.

Utterly powerless, with the exception of the minority that own and control the economy, Americans feel powerful when their government, over which they have limited control and which makes decisions without the merest of public input, flexes the country's hefty military muscle. Germans and Italians once felt powerful for the same reasons.

It's easy to see, and always was if you weren't locked into the "we're going to kick ass to exact revenge for 9/11" mentality,  that from the perspective of hunting down al-Qaeda's principals, the Afghan campaign was sheer idiocy, all the more so now that the ostensible objective of capturing Osama bin Laden has yet to be achieved (and may never be, his being at large too useful), while the capture of the newly minted "mastermind" was achieved by the very means the antiwar critics proposed all along.

From another perspective, that of oil industry executives, new American century-boosters, and masters of war like Bruce P. Jackson, the Afghan campaign was sheer brilliance. It allowed Washington to effectively take control of Afghanistan and much of the geo-strategically significant Caspian Basin, with the backing of large parts of the American population, fooled into believing the capture of bin Laden was the mission's objective. It also provided a rationale to pursue a broader campaign of conquest, in whose sights lie Iran, North Korea, Syria, and today, Iraq.

That the impending war of aggression on Baghdad has nothing whatever to do with its stated reasons, should be clear from the fact that its stated reasons are in constant flux, changing wherever the last reasons is no longer operable. We can be certain Washington and Britain will have a pretext for attacking Iraq, but we won't know what the pretext will be until the attack is launched, and even at that, the pretext may change many times after.

For example, the British media watchdog MediaLens, points out that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has changed the justification for waging war six times. Initially, he said Iraq would have to be shown to have been complicit in the September 11 attacks for Britain to join a war on Iraq. When complicity couldn't be shown (despite a concerted effort to do so), he cited Iraqi refusal to readmit UN weapons inspectors as a tripwire for an attack. When Saddam Hussein agreed to readmit inspectors, Blair said the discovery of undeclared Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by weapons inspectors would justify an attack. When no evidence of banned weapons was found, the British prime minister said Iraq would have to be bombed because it has links to  terrorist organizations. When the alleged links were called into question, Blair said Iraq had failed to be sufficiently 'proactive' in co-operating with UN weapons inspectors. When weapons inspectors pointed to Iraq's growing cooperativeness, Blair declared Saddam Hussein to be an evil monster who needed to be ousted for moral reasons. Add to the list a seventh reason: now, Washington says disarmament and co-operation aren't enough; the Iraqi regime has got to be changed.

Regime change, not inspections or disarmament, has been the desired objective all along. For example, media watchdog FAIR points out that regime change has always been the single condition of lifting sanctions on Iraq (which the UN estimates has led to the deaths of over one million Iraqis.)

"President George Bush the elder declared in 1991, shortly after the sanctions were imposed, 'My view is we don't want to lift these sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.' His secretary of state James Baker concurred: 'We are not interested in seeing a relaxation of sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.'

President Clinton made a point of saying that his policy toward Iraq was exactly the same as his predecessor's. His secretary of state Madeleine Albright stated in her first major foreign policy address in 1997: 'We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted. Our view, which is unshakable, is that Iraq must prove its peaceful intentions.... And the evidence is overwhelming that Saddam Hussein's intentions will never be peaceful.'" (FAIR Action Alert, Nov. 27, 2002.)

And, it will be recalled that, not too long ago, the Bush administration was very explicit in demanding "regime change" in Iraq.  Yet, even regime change isn't enough. Washington isn't prepared to allow Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime to be replaced by another nationalist regime, or a socialist regime, or a communist regime, or even Iraq's political opposition in exile. Instead, a US military governor will be installed, who will reign supreme, while Washington goes about the business of remaking the Middle East to put the US more wholly in charge of the Middle East than any power since the Ottomans, as former Bush speechwriter David Frum put it. Only later will Iraqis be allowed a say in choosing their own government, when Washington is sure Iraqis will make the right choice.

This will be good for Bush, his cabinet, the oil industry, American companies that build pipelines and telecommunications systems and that can rebuild civilian infrastructure, as it will be good for the "defense" industry and for people like Bruce P. Jackson. As for the estimated 250,000 Iraqis who could die, their lives are as insignificant to Washington and London as the thousands of Afghans who were bombed to death in a campaign whose single biggest success was achieved peacefully through police work.


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