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Apr 25 2008

Neoconservatives, Al Qaeda, and Curveball

A year ago ago, I wrote a series of three posts (part 1, part 2, and part 3) about a fascinating BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares that charted the parallel rise of two groups: the neoconservatives in the US (whose ideology was formulated by University of Chicago philosopher Leo Strauss) and the radical Islamists (led by an Arab intellectual Sayyed Qutb).

Both groups saw liberal ideas as leading to moral decay. Both saw themselves and their followers as an enlightened elite that was superior to the ignorant masses. They both felt that it was up to them to reverse this decay by any means necessary. They adopted the strategy of advancing myths such as religion and nationalism in order to keep the people ‘virtuous’.

Both groups also believed in scaring the daylights out of ordinary people, in order to keep them fearful and thus easily manipulated. The radical Islamists used terror, including assassinations of political leaders and other forms of violence against their own people to intimidate their opponents. The neoconservatives and the US and British governments overplayed the strength of al Qaeda and the danger of terror posed to the West by the Islamists because that fantasy enabled them to frighten the public and carry out domestic policies at home and military actions abroad that otherwise might have been opposed.

The three-hour documentary shows how the neoconservative fantasy about threats was used to drive disastrous policies such as the attack on Iraq. It is quite amazing to see political leaders and opinion makers in the US and Britain flatly assert that they have convincing evidence for things that we now know to be absolutely false.

The documentary is now available online. It is well worth the time to watch it.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

It is by now firmly established that the US public was deceived into supporting the invasion of Iraq. Part of the propaganda was led by the neoconservatives, who have long sought American dominance in that region. What might be stunning to those less cynical about the lack of integrity of political leaders than I am is the extent to which the American and British governments lied to their own people about things they knew to be false, using the flimsiest of cover stories.

Perhaps the most disgraceful element of the fraudulent case was the role of the alleged Iraqi defector known by the codename ‘Curveball‘. His ‘testimony’ was used to build up lurid tales of the danger posed by Iraq.

Curveball was a liar who knew what the US wanted to hear and told his interrogators exactly that, knowing that they would run with it. He was the source for nearly all the lies in Colin Powell’s speech at the UN, backed by the head of the CIA George Tenet. But even he must have been bemused by the lack of any attempt to verify his stories even though there were numerous warning signs that his story was not credible. Even more amazingly, Powell and Tenet based their public statements on this information even though American intelligence interrogators were not allowed access to Curveball by the Germans who were holding him. They simply passed on the information received from the Germans up to their superiors.

US weapons inspector David Kay, sent to Iraq by the Bush Administration after the invasion to find the alleged weapons of mass destruction, reveals in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel the extent of the deceit that was perpetrated by the government and its intelligence agencies.

In the interview Kay delivers a warning: “I feel disillusioned. I think that ‘Curveball’ was the biggest and most consequential intelligence fiasco of my lifetime. It shows how important effective civilian control of the intelligence services is, because non-transparency is extraordinarily dangerous for democracy. In an intelligence service, people who don’t make waves are rewarded. I am worried that the same mistakes could be repeated all over again.”

One error Kay makes is in labeling what happened as ‘mistakes’. Those were not mistakes. They were deliberate acts of policy and will be repeated whenever it again becomes convenient to do so.

POST SCRIPT: Health care

Dr. Vincent Navarro has an excellent and informative article dealing with the politics and history of attempts at health care reform in the US.

Navarro is Professor of Health Policy, Public Policy, and Policy Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. He has written extensively on economics, health, and social policy, and has been advisor to many governments and international agencies. His books have been translated into many languages. He was the founder and president of the International Association of Health Policy, and for almost forty years has been Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Health Services. He is also a founding member of Physicians for a National Health Program.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    John Field

    The nonconservative movement, while extreme, is not a totalitarian militia, as opposed to Islamic militants. It is a political movement, and is not extraordinary other than it’s broad following. There are liberal movements that incite eco-terror to progress their views that modern industrial living is destroying the planet. While this would not excuse neo-conservatives from lying, the country was not misled about Iraq. There were multiple UN resolutions against Iraq which were broken. A UN coalition invaded the country to enforce international law. Part of the infractions suspected from Iraq related to their WMD programs. Iraq was not giving UN inspectors freedom to guarantee that Iraq was not developing WMD’s.

  2. 2
    Mano

    John,

    The UN inspectors led by Hans Blix and including Scott Ritter had full access to Iraq (remember how they even had access to Hussein’s palaces) and were withdrawn just prior to the invasion of Iraq. They concluded that there were no weapons. Blix has himself said the war was illegal under the existing UN mandates and required a new resolution which Bush and Blair refrained from seeking.

    If violating a UN resolution is grounds for invasion, then why did not the US invade Israel which has been in violation since 1967 of Resolution 242 and many other resolutions calling for its withdrawal of all occupied territories?

    It is true that the neoconservatives do not have their own militia. Rather than fight their own battles, they use the US military to achieve their ends, leaving others to die for their cause.

  3. 3
    Trevor

    As someone who holds conservative views myself, I just want to say that pretty much everything said here can also be turned right around the other way. For instance:

    “Both saw themselves and their followers as an enlightened elite that was superior to the ignorant masses. They both felt that it was up to them to reverse this decay by any means necessary.”

    “Both groups also believed in scaring the daylights out of ordinary people, in order to keep them fearful and thus easily manipulated.”

    “The liberals of the US and British governments overplay the threat of climate change and the danger it poses to the world because that fantasy enables them to frighten the public and carry out domestic and international policies that otherwise might have been opposed. (Kyoto, carbon taxes, etc.)”

    To accuse conservatives of scaremongering while giving liberalism a free ride while they pull the exact same stuff is childish and makes me wonder if your views have actually been thought through or if you are just conditioned to liberalism.

    (For the record, I’m am conservative, though not religious, and know that both parties are in it for themselves. And I agreed with the Iraq war when it was launched and I agree with it now, as it has removed Saddam from power and is building Iraq up into a functional country.)

  4. 4
    Anonymous

    As someone who holds conservative views myself, I just want to say that pretty much everything said here can also be turned right around the other way. For instance:

    “Both saw themselves and their followers as an enlightened elite that was superior to the ignorant masses. They both felt that it was up to them to reverse this decay by any means necessary.”

    “Both groups also believed in scaring the daylights out of ordinary people, in order to keep them fearful and thus easily manipulated.”

    “The liberals of the US and British governments overplay the threat of climate change and the danger it poses to the world because that fantasy enables them to frighten the public and carry out domestic and international policies that otherwise might have been opposed. (Kyoto, carbon taxes, etc.)”

    To accuse conservatives of scaremongering while giving liberalism a free ride while they pull the exact same stuff is childish and makes me wonder if your views have actually been thought through or if you are just conditioned to liberalism.

    (For the record, I’m am conservative, though not religious, and know that both parties are in it for themselves. And I agreed with the Iraq war when it was launched and I agree with it now, as it has removed Saddam from power and is building Iraq up into a functional country.)

  5. 5
    Trevor

    My apologies for the double-post.

  6. 6
    disgruntled goat

    trevor: details? evidence?

    i just watched the first video. it’s interesting, but:

    (1) i find the analogy between the rise of the neocons and the rise of islamic extremism strained. they came about in very different contexts, and their power derives from very different sources. in the US, there’s virtually no popular support for straussian principles, whereas al-qaeda has considerable popular support in the US-backed dictatorships in the middle east. as far as anyone’s been able to figure, their popularity appears to be the result of political and economic pressures and their opposition to U.S. and israeli terrorism and imperialism, which is widespread in the arab world, not opposition to american movies and products, which are popular throughout the arab world. the neo-cons are machiavellian rather than populist. a better analogy, i think, would be between islamic extremists and the christian fascists in the US.

    (2) it’s remarkably naive about US foreign policy before the rise of the neocons. this is especially evidence in the treatment of henry kissinger as a pragmatist who just wanted to promote stability in international relations. any educated person should know better – this is the guy who torpedoed the paris peace talks (lengthening the vietnam war by several years), decided to bomb cambodia (helping to bring the khmer rouge to power), decided to overthrow the government of chile (bringing in a mass-murdering fascist dictatorship), and set the U.S. policy that israel doesn’t have to return the 1967 occupied territories, which was probably the greatest contribution to instability in the middle east before the US went to war there. “the trial of henry kissinger” has a good summary.

    even before kissinger, US foreign policy was based on contrived lies. there were invented atrocities by the cubans and the germans to get us into the spanish-american war and WWI; there were all kinds of lies about vietnam to get us into there. etc. in fact, mass lies are probably the number one method for getting democratic countries to go to war. i don’t think this documentary [so far] has done a good job of assessing just what the contribution of the neo-cons was.

  7. 7
    Trevor

    What details are you after? I’d be happy to provide ‘em.

  8. 8
    disgruntled goat

    trevor,

    details and evidence of this:

    “The liberals of the US and British governments overplay the threat of climate change and the danger it poses to the world because that fantasy enables them to frighten the public and carry out domestic and international policies that otherwise might have been opposed. (Kyoto, carbon taxes, etc.)”

    and more particularly, i’m looking for you to make the case that what liberals are doing is comparable with what the documentary and prof. singham are alleging the neocons have done, like deliberately lying and issuing reports contradicting the expert consensus.

  9. 9
    mckee

    Mano’s conclusions about the neocons are supported by Craig Unger’s impressive book The Fall of the House of Bush, 2007. The role of the religious right is also covered. Terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are undermined as rationales for our presence in Iraq. See http://blog.case.edu/mckee.mcclendon for a discussion of related issues.

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