For Christmas 2009 I was given, by a dear and well meaning friend, Bob Woodward’s trilogy of Bush at War.
Bob Woodward is, along with Carl Bernstein, one of the Washington Post reporters who exposed the Watergate scandal and thrust Nixon into the halls of infamy. As a dissident I don’t particularly rate Woodward; categorising him more as a patriotic political policeman – a placeman who stays within the boundaries and know his place in them. However since this essay is not about Woodward’s strengths or failings as a wordsmith or analyst; as a piece of reportage, and treating the integrity and veracity of the trilogy’s contents are as factual as claimed, they do give a fascinating – disturbing – shocking – or downright frightening (you choose) insight on the intelligence and conscience quotas of the individuals who lord over the corridors of power in Washington and, in a very, very minor bit-part role, the poodle parlours of Westminster and Blair’s ambition to connive for himself and, presumably, future prime ministers similar presidential powers.
In a blurb attributed to the Daily Mail for the second book - Plan of Attack - it concludes “Whatever your opinion, for or against, about America’s invasion of Iraq, this extraordinary book will add weight to it.” I believe the reviewer was half right. I’m still looking for the ‘fors.’
Believe it or not, this is the latest version of many - and it may not be the last – drafts I’ve struggled with to convey with some measure of objectivity the incredible quantity of trust we place on the people who occupy high offices of state. Whether by chance or design, I think this is the major failing of the present political paradigm’s that are exposed by the books.
Bush at War (1st of the Trilogy) Deals with the aftermath of the Twin Towers. America’s understandable shock and anger and the White House’s reactions and actions to the atrocities. Which all boiled down to, this was al Qaeda; the bastard Bin Ladin, who they reckoned was holed up in Afghanistan, probably in Kabul, as guests of the Taliban.
What is surprising was, for all the years of political and media hooha on the war on terror preceding 9/11, how little the Americans actually knew. How little covert or overt intelligence they had gathered on either the Taliban or this terrorist elephant called al Qaeda, which seemed to exercise all their executive abilities to a superhuman extent in order to save us from Islam’s venal intent, even if it meant reducing their own citizens rights and freedoms and increased the states instruments of control.
Anyway, they eventually came up with a game plan; which was to put the pressure on the Taliban to capture and handover the al Qaeda elements. The Taliban nodded, shrugged their shoulders and got on with their tyranny. Plan B, was to shower the northern war lords with suitcases of dollars and give them logistical support to drive the Taliban out of Kabul and maybe flush out or, if they were very lucky, blow Bin Ladin into a minor sand dune. The plan didn’t pan out. Neither the Taliban nor Bin Ladin played ball. Instead of standing their ground and testing their ability to withstand the barrage of million dollar smart bombs on five-dollar tents, both Taliban and al Qaeda just stole off into the night, leaving a situation, which hasn’t changed much from nine years ago to this.
But Bush hadn’t secured his Prime Time Showcase revenge for Sept 11. He’d no heads in baskets, no terror trophies; all he’d achieved was possibly to expose Afghanistan to the next warlord who, flush with dollars, fancied his chances.
But there was always Saddam. He was always good for Prime Time and Cheney and Rumsfeld were both slavering to get him on it.
On the 12 Sept 2001, within 24hrs of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, at a National Security Council meeting Rumsfeld had suggested they tie in the Iraq issue with al Qaeda.
Plan of Attack (Book 2) deals with the Iraq offensive and the formation of the coalition. We’re told on the 21st Nov 2001 Bush asked Rumsfeld, “What kind of war plan do you have for Iraq?”
The concise critique of this book would be that there were no plans. Oh there were plans to create plans, Pentagon plans, Secretary of Defence plans covering known knowns, known unknown’s, unknown unknowns; except they didn’t know for certain which category any of the above came under. And, even after years of surveillance, thousands of sorties policing no-fly zones, sanctions and weapons inspectors, the CIA had no real ‘intelligence’ of either the military deployment and capabilities or the mood, morale or aspirations of the people of Iraq. All the Americans knew was ‘they were going to kick ass.’
This is the book where you learn regime change was always the prime objective on the American agenda. That the claimed 45mins for activation of WMD’s was thrown out of the ballpark early on by Washington – though Blair still used it as the mantra he based his decision on.
It’s here you find out a British prime minister asked if he could please take part in this war. Jan 31st 2002, Blair said he needed the favour. Please.
In page 338 you are told Bush, concerned by the problems Blair may face getting the vote through Westminster, “If it would help, Bush said, they would let Blair drop out of the coalition and they would find some other way for Britain to participate.”
The interesting word here is ‘let’ – perhaps it helps define what’s meant by the special relationship? Except by now, you have already been disabused of such a relationship ever existing or even that democracy plays any part in either government.
However on 18th March the issue was resolved when Westminster, with the help of the Conservatives, got his vote through parliament. Why would the Conservatives do that? What is this thing with the Conservatives and war – has it something to do with their investment portfolios. Or is it merely a traditional yearning for the glory and spoils of imperialism? There’s no question of the leader of the opposition not being briefed as to the governments reasons for joining the coalition. Should he and any others who attended not be quizzed by the Chilcot inquiry as to what they were told that convinced them to back the government?
Saddam’s military organisation has never been shown to have any particular strategic or tactical skills, expertise or spirited commitment. Sure they could annihilate the unarmed Kurds with toxins and spend years and a fortune shelling and bombing Iranian sand without, as far as I know, gaining a foot of territory. But their enthusiastic foray into Kuwait was only exceeded by their panic to get out of it. So it shouldn’t have been too out of the box for the military and political planners in Washington to develop their plan of attack and to have some idea as to how they’d control the occupation.
They’d won the war, toppled a statue, had their prime time pyrotechnic display but, gawdammit they’d forgotten to drop the leaflets or commission the broadcasts that told the people of Iraq what their liberators intended to keep the countries infrastructures, services and administration functioning.
They had a force powerful enough to conquer but not to occupy, police and maintain stability. In effect they’d won the battle for Baghdad and toppled Saddam but had lost the war for Iraq.
State of Denial (Book 3) Deals with the aftermath.
By this time your numb with idiocy fatigue. Initiatives appear, then somehow or other mutates with another, then, having achieved nothing but chaos disappears. Only for the individuals involved to reappear with initiative N, or is it Z, and you realise a whole new industry has been created in Baghdad and Washington, creating initiatives. Hollywood comes to Baghdad. None of which helps the Iraq’s; where the Hell is Harrison Ford when you need him?
What you do find out is there were many more ‘incidents’ ‘collateral’ deaths and injuries than were reported by the Western media. Months on end the casualty figures exceed the death toll of 9/11. And on a partisan note, Basra, where the British controlled, was mentioned twice.
So, given that most of us already consider Iraq and Afghanistan to be failures, what, if any, impact or insight is contained within the books that would relate to Scotland’s independence?
Often supporters of independence are challenged that Scotland is too wee to matter and too poor to prosper. Keeping that in mind and knowing what we do about the costs these lap-dog policies have on the domestic front. Even, leaving aside for the moment the price in lives. The question has still to be asked what will be the final cost associated with that favour Blair pleaded from Bush and who prospered from it. As to stature, well a few mentions in dispatches isn’t going to strain the transient charity or good will of the special relationship and, if these books are a true reflection of Washington it’s a relationship struggling to keep hold of a corner of a thin blanket.
Can Britain afford the membership fees, ironmongery and pompous regalia needed in order to grab the crumbs from the top table? The self-evident fact is it can’t, though I fear it will try to, even if it bleeds itself dry and pawns its soul in the process. At least Canute tried to stop the tide coming in; Westminster is trying to keep the tide of history in and trying to shape the future from it.
That’s why Scotland has to unhitch itself from the yoke of the union and plough its own furrow