Wednesday, August 11, 2004
CIA: Secret Wars — Part III-a(1)
Today I’m posting the beginning and will post the remainder over the next few days. Following the suggestion of a friend, I’ve cut it into smaller chunks than I did in the concluding section and have added a bit of commentary (shown in italics in the text). Part III-a deals with the time of George H.W. Bush, and Part III-b is concerned with the Clinton years.
If you are unfamiliar with William Karel, you may want to read the introduction to my first post before dipping into the water. His films, which have been hailed in Europe and Australia, have never been shown in the U.S. How odd.
I would add, without wanting to do a film review, that there is a strong contrast between the technique of Michael Moore and that of Karel. Moore often confronts his subjects with the unexpected while maintaining a disingenuous tone. An illustration of this would be the sequence in Fahrenheit where he accosts Congressmen on the street to ask for their support in sending their children off to war. Karel, on the other hand, combs through his interviews for the unexpected, without any evident provocation on his part.
Translation note: The voice-over segments of the documentary are narrated in the present tense. I felt that in print they read more easily in the past tense and have changed them accordingly.
CIA: Secret Wars, Part III
"One war begets another"
In this opening section, Karel’s cast of characters speak of the mindset of the intelligence services from the period immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union up to the beginning of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
GEORGE BUSH SR. (film clip): With me America will progress and we will continue to go forward—toward a dream without end, inexhaustible [unfailing] and in a blaze of light. That will be my mission and I will accomplish it.1
JAMES WOOLSEY:2 The ideology of the whole country could be summed up in a few words: Why worry? let’s make the most of life and make money, the problems of the planet have disappeared, the Cold War is over.
ROBERT GATES:3 From the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, we quickly realized that the world was going to become unstable, much more troubled and difficult to control than during the relatively structured period of the Cold War.
ROBERT STEELE:4 Gates, who was rather talented, ended up being a prisoner of the system. According to him, there was always only one enemy—the Soviet Union.
OLEG KALUGIN:5 The CIA, in the imagery of the United States and the West, felt that it had triumphed. We’ve won the Cold War! The result was that they ceased to be vigilant and the enemy sprang up from the other side.
JAMES WOOLSEY: We wrestled with the dragon of the Soviet Union for over 40 years. We had just barely brought it to the mat when we found ourselves in the heart of the jungle where all kinds of poisonous snakes were crawling. And these snakes—a great deal more difficult to confront than the dragon6—bore the names Iran, Iraq, North Korea, terrorism, Islamic terrorism.
RICHARD HAASS:7 We were just getting used to the idea that the Cold War was over, when at that very moment Saddam and Iraq invaded Kuwait.
JOSEPH WILSON:8 I was posted in Baghdad at that point, responsible for the embassy. We had already received several pieces of information indicating to us that Saddam was threatening Kuwait.
As Saddam Hussein built up his troops, the CIA was giving warnings of a possible attack. The administration of George H.W. Bush seems to have been befuddled or willfully ignorant.9 The comments of Joseph Wilson reflect this.
VOICEOVER: At the end of July 1990 the CIA and the intelligence services alerted the Bush [Sr.] government—The invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein is imminent. The satellite photos indicated the massive presence of invasion forces on the Kuwaiti border.
ROBERT BAER:10 He sent his troops and all his logistics toward Kuwait, had tons of fuel moved forward. They could see everything. They had satellites, the best electronic systems capable of intercepting their communications. But what they lacked were intelligent maps to understand Saddam.
JOSEPH WILSON: Despite all those evident indicators—the troop movements, the long lines of fuel trucks or supply trucks that they had there under their noses—Saddam’s intentions always remained unclear.
ROBERT GATES: The CIA had followed the deployment of their armed forces and the invasion preparation with great attention. We were very well informed.
ROBERT BAER: But in Washington, as soon as the White House was called to tell them that Saddam was setting up all his forces along the border or that he was sending some new batallions, they told us (and I remind you that the White House was in the hands of the Republicans): "We’re all aware of Saddam. He's only amusing himself by scaring Kuwait, nothing more."
WILLIAM WEBSTER:11 They trusted the leaders of the regions—the Iraqis, the Jordanians and the others—who were telling them: "Certainly not. Saddam will never invade an Islamic country, a friendly country."
ROBERT GATES: All these heads of state confirmed to Bush: "He will never invade Kuwait. It’s only a bluff to seize the oil prize. Mubarrak has confirmed it, King Hussein of Jordan also and even the Emir of Kuwait has told us the same thing."
JOSEPH WILSON: We followed the advice of members of the Arab League who were our friends and they clearly asked us to do nothing.
ROBERT GATES: And the United States took that literally.
JOSEPH WILSON: So in the end the attack on Kuwait was really a surprise, and for everybody. But that doesn’t mean that we could have done very much more to prevent it. It was only in the course of the last 18 hours that the signs began to become undeniable.
WILLIAM WEBSTER: Richard Kerr, who was my deputy, warned the crisis group 12 hours before the invasion. He told them: "According to the CIA, Saddam Hussein is going to invade Kuwait in the next 12 to 24 hours."
RICHARD KERR:12 Oh, I don’t remember if William Webster was warned. The President was warned in any case.
ROBERT BAER: The gap between what Washington refused to admit and the reality was immense. I was on the ground, I saw the fighting, but they continued not to believe it. I was shouting into my satellite phone: "But I’m not crazy, I can see everything that’s happening, the pillage has begun. You can see tanks and all the rest." And they went on, "In any case, we don’t see anything."
VOICEOVER: And on August 2 Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait. Nobody in the Pentagon took seriously the warnings of the CIA agents stationed along the border. They even forgot to inform the person most interested, Robert Gates.
ROBERT GATES: I was on vacation. We were having a family outing along a riverbank near Washington when a relative of my wife joined us for lunch. She looked at me and said, "I’m surprised to see you still here." I asked her what she was talking about, and she said, "The invasion." I asked her "What invasion?" She replied, "Iraq has invaded Kuwait."
WILLIAM QUANDT:13 They were fortunate to have CNN in order to get the news.
JOSEPH WILSON: Saddam invaded Kuwait on August 2. I met with him on the 6th for almost an hour and a half and he suggested to me what you might call a proposition, broadly this: You let me annex Kuwait and I will guarantee to provide you with petroleum indefinitely at a reasonable price. I would then be the dominant power in the Northern Gulf region. The face-to-face meeting was rather chilly; I hadn’t slept for 4 days. I made him a counter-offer that could be summed up in two words: "Evacuate Kuwait."
COLIN POWELL (public speech): Our strategy against this army will be simple... very simple. First, isolate them, then destroy them.
5 OLEG KALUGIN, former KGB general, handler for John Walker, charged with treason by the Soviet Union, convicted in absentia and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He decided not to return. He became an American and gave himself over to the entrepreneurial spirit. [back]
6 Beyond the stabilizing effect on world order that the bipolar world of the U.S. and the Soviet Union brought with it, the sudden ascendancy of the U.S. to sole superpower status meant that it no longer had to fret about how its actions might appear on the world stage.
Would the Civil Rights movement have succeeded (to the extent that it did) without the Cold War, without the propaganda coup that a failure of the movement would have represented for the Soviet Union?
Indeed, would we be in Iraq now?
The liberal values asserted in our myth of ourselves at home and in our propaganda abroad could now be replaced by "let’s make the most of life and make money"—capitalism triumphant. [back]
There is some confusion about the spelling of his name. The French transcript has him as "Haas" as do a number of other publications, but I’m going to have to go with the CFR and The New Yorker. In March of 2003, Nicholas Lemann wrote, "With his departure, it’s hard to think of whom one could call a prominent moderate theoretician in the Bush [Jr.] Administration." [back]
10 ROBERT BAER, formerly with the CIA-Covert operations, author of Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude. Interviewed last year on PBS’ All Things Considered in the segment "Saudi Arabia and Terrorism" and in June of this year on Morning Edition in "Saudi Arabian Oil." But then you probably shouldn’t miss "House of Saud" either. [back]