“…the Iraqi secret police were caught trying to murder former President Bush during his visit to Kuwait…. Should you and I not resent any foreign dictatorship that attempts to kill one of our retired chief executives? (President Clinton certainly took it that way: He ordered the destruction by cruise missiles of the Baathist “security” headquarters.)”
This alleged plot may have occurred and then, again, it may have been disinformation. (In the 1980s, for example, various cold war propagandists such as Claire Sterling and Michael Ledeen, and CIA agent Paul Henze, hatched a vast Soviet-Bulgarian conspiracy against the Pope, when a right-wing Turkish nutcase, Mehmet Ali Agca, wounded the Pontiff. 9 (Ledeen, another warmonger who avoided Vietnam, is back with the Bush neo-cons and now pushing a war with Iran.)
Seymour Hersh, one of our last bona fide journalists, wrote an incisive piece on the shaky evidence supporting the Bush plot. A team of Iraqi and Kuwaiti alcohol and hashish smugglers, one 73 years old, were rounded up by Kuwaiti police and tortured. Two confessed to a plot instigated by Iraqi intelligence to kill Bush. Hersh writes, “Precisely what did happen in Kuwait during George Bush’s ceremonial visit remains in dispute, with senior officials in the White House, the Justice Department, and the F.B.I. acknowledging that the assassination plot had something of an Abbott-and-Costello quality.”10 Some of the experts Hersh cites believe the Kuwaitis fabricated the conspiracy to encourage the Clinton Administration to keep the heat on Saddam. Others believe the plot was real but so amateurish that it had little chance of success. The car bomb recovered was a sophisticated plastic explosive unlike other Iraqi car bombs, and explosives experts were at odds whether the remote control device betrayed an Iraqi origin or not. Whether the plot was real or mirage, no one died.
The Clinton Administration, however, felt politically compelled to project a ‘Dirty Harry’ aura, and fired 23 Tomahawk missiles into downtown Baghdad. “Three of the million-dollar missiles,” Hersh comments, “missed their target and landed on nearby homes, killing eight civilians, including Layla al-Attar, one of Iraq’s most gifted artists.”
Hitchens doesn’t mention, naturally, that before the alleged Kuwait plot, in the last three days of his presidency, January 17-19, 1993, George Bush Sr. ordered hundreds of cruise missiles and air strikes to be launched against Iraq causing scores of civilian deaths. One cruise missile struck near the al Rashid Hotel killing two hotel employees. (One of the victims, a pleasant young woman, assisted me with information when I visited the hotel in October 1991. If she had been American or British, Hitchens might still be howling for vengeance.) U.S. intelligence agencies believed Saddam Hussein was to attend an international Islamic meeting in the Al Rashid at the time; allegedly, the missile strike was part of a plot to cover for an assassination attempt.
“Baghdad was for years the official, undisguised home address of Abu Nidal, then the most-wanted gangster in the world, who had been sentenced to death even by the PLO and had blown up airports in Vienna and Rome. Baghdad was the safe house for the man whose “operation” murdered Leon Klinghoffer.”
Lately Bush the junior has been spouting a ‘see-Spot-run’ version of this to justify his invasion. (Not sure whether Hitchens is writing lines for Bush, or Bush is now thinking for Hitchens.) Abu Nidal certainly had a violent and twisted history, constantly betraying allies for personal grievances and gains to such an extent that some suspected him of being a Mossad Agent. He employed most of his venom and paranoia killing Palestinian moderates. Saddam ran him out of Baghdad in 1983, a fact Hitchens has innocently forgotten to mention. Mr. Klinghoffer was murdered, by the way, in 1985 well after Nidal’s residency in Baghdad had ended. Nidal journeyed through Syria but found a home with Gadafy in Libya. In 1990, Abu Nidal sided with Kuwait against the Iraqi invasion. In 1998, ‘pro-Western’ Egypt apparently opened their doors to the psychopath. According to investigations by Jane’s Information Group, after reentering Iraq in 2002, perhaps on a false Yemeni passport, Nidal and his guards got into a shootout with Saddam’s police when they went to arrest him on August 14. Nidal died, shortly later, from lead poisoning.11
I delved into Nidal’s history because it shows, I believe, just how dishonest Hitchens has become in his obsession with discrediting Michael Moore—or almost anyone else who disagrees with him on the Iraq war. Since Hitchens is so morally exercised by Nidal, he should send a box of chocolates to Saddam for whacking him.
Hitchens defends, albeit a bit sheepishly, Bush as he sat insipidly after being informed of the second Twin Tower crash. No one expected uncurious George to adopt “a Russell Crowe stance” but “gone to work”, yes. You would have thought that even the inquisitiveness, say, of a box turtle would have got him moving. The great rough and tumble commander, the “war president”, alas, pulled his head inside his shell and froze.
General Sir Michael Rose, hardly a flower child, in a mixed review of Moore’s F. 9/11 stated: “I believe that this film will utterly destroy any residual confidence that the American people might have in the credentials of George W. Bush as a decisive war leader. For a full five minutes, Moore cruelly dwells on Bush’s vacuous, tortured face in close-up immediately after he had been told about the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.” (Rose is mistaken on the later as the attack on the Pentagon had not yet occurred.) “The message is clear. Here is no Roosevelt, Churchill or Thatcher, but a deeply inadequate man whose mind is frozen with indecision and fear. It is a look I know well – if he had been a subordinate commander in battle I would have immediately relieved him of his command.” Russell Crowe, indeed. More like Mr. Bean Meets Mr. bin Laden. Americans were dying in the flames and explosions of the World Trade Center, even as Bush dallied on his shell-shocked ass. The school itself could have been a target, his schedule was widely known, and his torpor put everyone, including the schoolchildren, at risk. The failure of the Secret Service to whisk the entire entourage out of there is inexplicable. Ignoring all this, Hitchens tries to parry Moore with a broadside against all of Dubya’s critics:
“…half the Michael Moore community would now be calling him [Bush] a man who went to war on a hectic, crazed impulse. The other half would be saying what they already say—that he knew the attack was coming, was using it to cement himself in power, and couldn’t wait to get on with his coup. This is the line taken by Gore Vidal and by a scandalous recent book that also revives the charge of FDR’s collusion over Pearl Harbor. At least Moore’s film should put the shameful purveyors of that last theory back in their paranoid box. But it won’t because it encourages their half-baked fantasies in so many other ways.”
In reality, much of the so-called ‘M & M community’ contends, with overwhelming evidence, that the neo-cons planned the Iraq invasion long before Bush was gifted the White House. In addition, as Paul O’Neill, among others, has stated, the Bushites were trolling for an excuse to invade Iraq well before 9/11. As to the “shameful purveyors” of “half-baked fantasies”, why blame Moore for a position he does not argue? Numerous skeptical scenarios attempt to explain the bizarre discrepancies in the ‘official’ 9/11 narrative and some are quite Byzantine, requiring a cast larger than a Cecil B. De Mille Bible epic. Occam’s Razor alone would seem to disqualify a fair number.
Other researchers, however, discard a priori positions and relentlessly pursue the facts wherever they may lead, no matter how disturbing the implications. I assume that the “scandalous” book in question is David Ray Griffin’s The New Pearl Harbor, which essentially calls for a complete and independent investigation of the attack on 9/11. Nafeez Ahmed’s earlier book The War on Freedom, raised many of the same issues but in a broader historical context. Neither researcher reached definitive conclusions, and though their suspicions about the Bushites may be misplaced, they are hardly “paranoid.”
Bush and Cheney, remember, fought any inquiry into the events of 9/11. It was the 9/11 families, through righteous indignation, who finally forced Bush to appoint a commission. Bush, in a display of ghoulish chutzpah, originally appointed Hitchens’ former sparring partner, Kissinger, to head the inquiry. When the howls chased the old hobgoblin into the night, a neutered bi-partisan crew was assembled by Bush, and Phil Zelikow, a Bush team player and close associate of Condeleeza Rice, was planted as Executive Director to steer the commission away from troubling waters. Bush agreed to testify only with Cheney present to hold his hand, and neither testified in public or under oath. Perhaps they recalled the problems another President encountered while fibbing under oath about, comparatively, a trifle.
Official wisdom assures us that after spending trillions on ‘national defense’, and hundreds of billions on ‘intelligence’, we were undone by guileless incompetence and, in homage to Cool Hand Luke, a failure to communicate.12 Perhaps the FAA, NORAD, and the DOD really were criminally incompetent on 9/11. Perhaps the efforts of FBI field agents and a dozen foreign intelligence agencies to warn the Bush team of impending al Qaeda attacks were just too provocative to grasp. Perhaps the reports that Pakistani ISI head General Mahmoud Ahmed, who just happened to be spending the week of 9/11 in Washington with CIA and Bush officials (and spent 9/11 morning with Bob Graham and Porter Goss, Bush’s new choice to head the CIA), arranged for $100,000 to be wired to reputed head hijacker Mohammed Atta, are false.13
These are questions, alas, the great contrarian forbids us from asking on pain of excommunication as paranoids. As James Bamford, chronicler of the NSA and CIA, points out, people are skeptical for legitimate reasons: They are reacting to a constant stream of disinformation and falsehoods flowing from their government. Most of Federal doubletalk and secrecy, which has reached its apogee under the Bushites, is not to confound enemies but to bamboozle Americans.
Imagine if, after the attack at Pearl Harbor, an outraged Roosevelt declared war not on Japan but on…Mexico. In justification, the President could cite the recent nationalization of oil by Cardenas, and suspicious meetings between Mexican and Japanese officials. The Hearst papers could cheerlead the invasion by pointing out that Mexico possesses oil and other resources, conveniently shares a border, was far less formidable than Japan, and besides, what was the difference—both countries were run by sneaky, brown-skinned bastards. A logical 9/11 response demanded ‘shock and awe’ campaigns against three guilty capitals: Riyadh, Islamabad, and, in the interests of fair play, our lovely Camelot on the Potomac. The United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan created, funded, and trained the Islamic mujahideen in Afghanistan, a movement that morphed, after their Pyrrhic victory over the Soviets, into the Taliban and al Qaeda. Even the timid 9/11 Commission has stressed the role of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in funding and supporting al Qaeda, and rejected a linkage between Saddam and bin Laden.
“Speaking here in my capacity as a polished, sophisticated European as well, it seems to me that the laugh here is on the polished, sophisticated Europeans. They think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they’ve taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities.”
Although not from his review, this is quintessential Hitchens. Christopher, hardly an underwear model himself, mind you, seems stuck on Moore’s girth. Of course, he also denounced the Dixie Chicks as “fucking fat slags” because they dared to question Dear Leader’s invasion. Opponents of the Iraq war were dismissed as “moral idiots” and various lesser life forms. This is the great moralizer, recall, who snitched on his close friend writer Sidney Blumenthal when he worked at the Clinton White House. Blumenthal’s crime? A remark shared with Hitchens about Monica ‘the stalker’ that did not jibe with his sworn testimony. Hitchens, who nearly catapulted his friend into jail for perjury, rushed to sacrifice Blumenthal to the House Judicial Committee in his vainglorious attempt to nail Clinton. Hitchens seems proud of his ‘moral’ stance but perhaps he’s not the sort of fellow you’d want watching your back.
“The thing that strikes me more and more…is the extraordinary viciousness and dishonesty of political controversy in our time. I don’t mean merely that controversies are acrimonious. They ought to be that when they are on serious subjects. I mean that almost nobody seems to feel that an opponent deserves a fair hearing or that the objective truth matters as long as you can score a neat debating point… Nobody is searching for the truth, everybody is putting forward a ‘case’ with complete disregard for fairness or accuracy, and the most plainly obvious facts can be ignored by those who don’t want to see them. The same propaganda tricks are to be found almost everywhere.”
The quote above is George Orwell lamenting the degradation of political discourse well before Hitchens’ UnFahrenheit 9/11. Conjoined with abuse and name calling, Hitchens scolded numerous prominent anti-war figures such as Nelson Mandela, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Harold Pinter, Naomi Klein, John Pilger, Susan Sontag, and of course all the millions of people who took to the streets to reject the Bush/Blair invasion. One technique dearly beloved by Hitchens is the false dilemma: oppose the war and you are soldiering, perforce, for Saddam.
This old Stalinist approach simply erases history; in its tidy amnesia, it obliterates all real options for creating stability, security, national development, and democracy around the world. One must flense the fact that the CIA suckled Saddam from 1959 on, that Reagan and Thatcher, among others, armed him with tanks, missiles, and anthrax. Most of the festering problems in the Middle East (not to mention the entire political map!) go back, remember, to interventions, coup d’etats, and colonial strangulation by the French, British, and later, the Americans. Leaders and movements that fostered secular nationalism, political independence, and economic democracy were systematically destroyed as threats to Western hegemony.14 The British and Americans, never forget, toppled the honest and secular nationalist Dr. Mossadegh in 1953 to install the corrupt Shah.15 Once options for secular and democratic development in Iran were blocked, the embittered explosion culminated in the rise of Khomeini and the mullahs. (The latest imperial idiocy in Iraq may yet birth another angry theocracy.)