What's Left

January 8, 2003

Ex-Bush speechwriter: I was to provide a justification for war

By Stephen Gowans

In late December 2001, chief presidential speechwriter Mike Gerson "was parcelling out the components of the forthcoming State of the Union speech. His request to me," recalls David Frum in his new book The White House in The Right Time: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush, "could not have been simpler: I was to provide a justification for a war."

And so was born the phrase "the axis of evil."

A year later, the impending all-out assault on Iraq is spinned as "a war of liberation." And there's a certain truth to the claim.

It will be a war that could liberate up to 500,000 Iraqis of their lives, according to the British healthcare group, Medact.

It will be a war that could liberate 200,000 Iraqis of their homes, and 10 million of their security against hunger and disease, according to a new UN report.

And, above all, it will be a war that will liberate Iraq of its oil wealth and put America more wholly in charge.

It will indeed be a war of liberation.

And one long in the making.

Key Bush cabinet members had been pushing for a take-over of Iraq and its oil fields for some time.

In September, 2000,  Dick Cheney, now vice-president, along with his current chief of staff Lewis Libby, and Donald Rumsfeld, now Secretary of Defense, along with his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, laid out a plan to create a new American century, in which the United States would be supreme in the world, the first truly global empire.

The plan adumbrated regime change in Iraq, that is, the installation of a US puppet regime in Baghdad.

The events of 9/11 were pressed into service to provide the trigger.

Within hours of hijacked jets careening into the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, Rumsfeld was ordering his staff to find something that could be used to pin the blame on Iraq.

National Security advisor Condoleeza Rice ordered her staff to consider the opportunities 9/11 provided, as if the grim events of that day were a sliver lining that could justify the vigorous extension of US hegemony.

In his book, Frum recounts how he spent two days dreaming up a pretext for "going after Iraq," eventually hitting on the "axis of evil" idea, which he originally conceived of as the "axis of hatred" but which Gerson changed "to use the theological language that Bush" (mirroring Osama bin Laden) "had made his own since Sept. 11."

While Frum denies the decision to launch a ground invasion had been made when he was asked to "sum up in a sentence or two our best case for going after Iraq," the events leading up to Frum's inventing a pretext for the mass murder suggest the decision had been made long before that.

But more revealing is Frum's attack on the antiwar camp, for in dismissing its arguments, Frum lets slip the real reasons for the impending slaughter: American control of the Middle East.

"I knew that opponents of action against Iraq relied on two main points," Frum writes. "First, they say there was no direct, conclusive proof that Saddam Hussein aided the Sept. 11 terrorists."

This, Frum does not deny, but says Iraq, Iran, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are linked in "resenting the power of the West," his rationale for drawing all four into an axis. (North Korea was added at the last minute, he explains, because "it needed to feel a stronger hand.")

"Saddam Hussein was certainly a very bad man, so was Stalin," Frum acknowledges. "We had relied on deterrence, not war, to contain him; why should we not do so with Saddam, who after all controlled a much weaker state than the old Soviet Union?"

Actually, it was less Stalin, and more Washington, with its insatiable appetite for meddling in Central and South America, in Africa, in Indochina, that needed to be contained, but lay that aside. In reply, Frum says this argument is nothing more that resentment of American power.

"An American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein...and a replacement of the radical Baathist dictatorship with a new government more closely aligned with the United States--would put America more wholly in charge of the region than any power since the Ottomans. People who resent American power...very understandably dreaded such an outcome."

In Frum's view, there's a lot of resenting going on, all having to do with Washington's throwing its weight around to "more wholly take charge," and while it's no doubt true that Washington's jackbooting around the world occasions considerable resentment (as the Nazi's did), it's clear that Frum regards the resenting as somehow illegitimate.

Certainly, in the case of countries or organizations, resenting a US take-over is sufficient to earn your way onto Washington's hit-list; resentment is the tie that binds set upon countries into an axis.

Frum's views are entirely consistent with the tacit doctrine that holds sway among his journalistic colleagues in North America and the UK (Frum now writes for Canada's viciously right-wing, Washington-aligned The National Post) that the United States is now the legitimate world ruler, whose authority must be obeyed. Under this regime, ideas of national sovereignty are illegitimate, for all countries (at least the weakest ones, unable to fight back) are to consider themselves subordinate, and are to make way for Washington to manoeuvre itself into a position where it can be "more wholly in charge."

Emblematic of this thinking is the way North Korea is presented in the Anglo-American media: as defiant, for refusing to be bound by an international agreement Washington long ago abandoned, but has commanded Pyongyang to comply with. The very act of asserting one's national sovereignty or right of self-defense in the face of American edicts is considered a defiant act, as if Washington's power to compel compliance rests on legitimate authority and not simply the threat of force or economic warfare.

On the other hand, Washington can unilaterally rip up as many international agreements as it likes, undermine some (such as the International Criminal Court), refuse to be bound by others, and brazenly thumb its nose at international conventions (such as those established at Nuremberg,) and this veridical rogue behavior is regarded as perfectly legitimate, the actions of a sovereign.

Stripped of its verbiage, Frum's account reduces to this: "I was asked to provide a justification for a war that would put Washington more wholly in charge of the region that any power since the Ottomans."

For Frum, and the velociraptors plotting mass murder in the name of strengthening American primacy, there can be no cause higher than service to Washington's imperial ambitions. Inventing justifications for mass murder, are, therefore, wholly justifiable.

Pity those who resent it.
 

Frum's book is being excerpted in The National Post. His recounting of his inventing a pretext for going after Iraq appears in the January 8, 2003 edition.

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