Susan Rice at the UN - Déjà Vu All Over Again?
Susan Rice and Colin Powell have more than one thing in common, but if things continue to move as they are now, the most historically significant one may be that they both went to the United Nations with “evidence” that got our country involved in a military conflict in a volatile part of the world, resulting in massive death and destruction – all for no good reason.
On February 5, 2003, then-Secretary of State General Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council that Iraq possessed dangerous weapons of mass destruction and the country’s then ruler, Saddam Hussein, was hoodwinking U.N. inspectors by hiding them. It was, as Democracy Now! said last week, “a defining moment “in the Bush administration’s push to invade Iraq.
On February 6, 2003, Rice, then a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told NPR Powell “has proved that Iraq has these weapons and is hiding them, and I don’t think many informed people doubted that.”
What we know now is that what the then highest-ranking African American official in the Bush Administration said was not true. I recall the day NBA great Charles Barkley was asked what was the question of the day and answered “Where are the weapons of mass destruction?”
Turned out there were none.
It was what the New York Times last week termed, “the fiasco of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq”
In the end it didn’t matter much. It was the U.S. public and much of the international community that had been hoodwinked. The U.S. invaded Iraq, overthrew Hussein and set in motion a decade-long war that resulted on 0ver 4,440 U.S. troops deaths, over 32,000 seriously. Over 235 are reported to have taken their own lives while deployed. More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives and 1.6. million were displaced from their homes. All at the cost of over $I trillion.
Last week, Powell’s former aide, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who prepared the U.N. speech, told Democracy Now!, “I don’t believe the hype about that presentation having been the ultimate presentation... that led us to war with Iraq…George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others had decided to go to war with Iraq long before Colin Powell gave that presentation.”
“Frankly, we were all wrong,” said Wilkerson. “Was the intelligence politicized in addition to being wrong at its roots? Absolutely.”
When Powell gave his UN presentation there were already serious questions raised, even in the mainstream mass media, about the sources of the evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, including shadowy figures in the world of international intrigue, like Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, aka “Curveball,” who later admitted he lied.
In March 2003, Hans Blix, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and then leader of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said “No evidence of proscribed activities have so far been found” in Iraq, but that the investigation would continue and could be concluded in a matter of months. However, the Bush Administration called for a halt in the diplomatic track, put together a “coalition of the willing” outside the UN, told UN weapons inspectors to leave Iraq and preceded with invasion.
Interestingly, in light of today’s front page news, on April 7, 2008, CNN quoted Blix as saying he suspected his home and office were bugged by the United States.
On February 25, 2004, CNN reported from London that “Charges have been dropped against a British government translator accused of leaking a memo on an alleged U.S. ‘dirty tricks’ campaign in the run-up to the Iraq War.”
Katherine Gun, 29, reportedly had been fired from her job as a Chinese language expert at Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters listening station (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, charged under the Official Secrets Act 1889 of disclosing security and intelligence information. This related to a request, allegedly from an American National Security Agency official to British counterparts, to tap the telephones of U.N. Security Council delegates.
“The request was allegedly made as Washington and London were attempting to obtain a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the Iraq war. Targets of the eavesdropping efforts were reported to be Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan,” said CNN.
Gun admitted she had leaked the memo. She said “any disclosures were justified because they exposed serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the U.S. government, who attempted to subvert our own security services.”
On June 14, Rice, President Obama’s new chief national security adviser and outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters that U.S. intelligence agencies had determined with “high confidence” from “multiple streams of information” that the Assad regime has used the chemical weapon sarin in small amounts a number of times over the last year. She also denied that there is any evidence Syrian opposition has, or has used, chemical weapons.
Rice said also she had written to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon concerning evidence Rice declared that President Obama’s “clear red lines” had been crossed. She added that the U.S. will “increase in scope and scale” the support provided not only to civilian authorities in the opposition, but also to the Supreme Military Council.
The timing of Rice’s announcement is eerily reminiscent of what occurred a decade ago when Powell was at the Bush Administration’s foreign policy helm. Then, as now, the decision to escalate the conflict came amid feverish international effort to prevent war. UN weapons inspectors were calling for more time to probe the weapons of mass destruction allegations when Powell went before the Security Council with his fraudulent charges and already suspect evidence. Likewise, efforts were underway to attempt a negotiated settlement of the Syrian conflict with U.S. and Russia having agreed to an international conference in August in Geneva, when Rice announced the Obama Administration’s escalation.
“All countries involved must uphold their responsibilities to seek a resolution of this tragedy,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week. “There is not military solution to this conflict even if both the Government and the opposition, and their supporters think there can be. The military path points directly towards the further disintegration of the country, destabilization of the region and inflammation of religious and communal tensions.”
The UN would not sanction the invasion and occupation of Iraq so it was carried out by an ad hoc “coalition of the willing.” Likewise, an armed intervention in Syria would never be sanctioned by the world body.
Is it possible that Rice will end up before the UN waving a vial of something said to be a weapon of mass destruction and swearing to its authenticity?
Meanwhile, the London Daily Mail reported May 15 that “A senior United Nations official has claimed that Syrian rebels may have used chemical weapons against government forces.” The paper said UN investigator Carla del Ponte “says there are indications that chemical weapons attacks were carried out by Syrian rebels.” Del Ponte said evidence from casualties and medical staff indicated that rebel forces in the civil war had used the deadly nerve agent, sarin. “Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals, and there are strong, concrete suspicions, but not yet incontrovertible proof, of the use of sarin gas,” said Del Ponte in an interview with Swiss-Italian television.
Last Friday, the Russian government warned US against repeating the Iraq war mistake. According to Middle East Online, President Putin’s top foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov called Washington’s claim on Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons “unconvincing.” He said the Obama administration’s decision to provide military aid to Syrian rebels would damage international efforts to end a conflict that has left tens of thousands dead.
Ushakov said US officials had recently presented Russia with new information about Assad’s alleged chemical weapons use. “What was presented by the Americans does not look convincing to us,” he told reporters. “I would not want to make any parallels; I would not want to believe that this data can be similar to the situation with the vial that (US) Secretary of State Colin Powell brandished at the famous Security Council meeting.”
“The responsible role of a lone superpower is not to pick sides in a civil war; it’s to help enable conflict resolution while maintaining a policy of neutrality,” former State Department official Ramzy Mardini wrote in the New York Times June 14. “Instead, the United States came down on one side of a regional sectarian conflict, inadvertently fomenting Sunni hubris and Shiite fear - the same effects (but in reverse) caused by America’s involvement in the Iraq war.”
There may be one area where Powell and Rice differ. The general is generally described as a voice of moderation in elite circles, warning that the duration and consequences of the Iraq takeover would be far greater than the rosy in-and-out scenarios being fed to the public by the neocon hawks and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Rice is what is known of as a “liberal interventionist” and is said to be one of those in an Administration known to be divided on how to proceed, pressing for greater involvement in the Syrian civil war.
That position turned into a virtual campaign for escalation last week when former President Bill Clinton crudely and arrogantly got into the act in what the New York Times called a “cheap shot.” (I’d call it a stab in the back). “It is irresponsible for critics like Mr. (Sen. John) McCain and Mr. Clinton to fault Mr. Obama without explaining how the United States can change the course of that brutal civil war without being dragged too far into it,” the paper’s editors said.
President Obama has said there will be no “boots on the ground,” meaning no U.S. troops. Perhaps. But another Clintonite neocon sees things unfolding on a much bigger scale. “If the objective is to affect the balance of power, but to use minimal means, that doesn’t make any sense,” says former Ambassador Dennis Ross, who spent more than a decade helping to shape U.S. policy in the Middle East and served Secretary of State Clinton as a special advisor on Iran. Ross argues that the United States should “be prepared” to consider deploying Patriot missiles along the Turkey-Syria border as part of a “limited no-fly” zone and says the same thing may have to be considered for Jordan.
Ross is quoted by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a fellow and deputy director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, as asserting “it is only likely to be effective if it is done in a very significant way,” with training, funding, and equipment part of the package. "If you are going to go down this route, then you ought to go down this route in a really serious way. That means being prepared to shape the whole operation and with a very senior person, maybe a four-star [general] in charge of it.”
Ross notes that lack of U.S. military action to date could mean that any greater intervention could speak even louder than it otherwise would. “The worst thing is to do something in a very limited way that engages you a bit more, but has a very limited effect,” says Ross.
“Interventionists tend to detach their actions from longer-term consequences,” Mardini wrote. “This myopia is often coupled with a prevalent misunderstanding of the political and cultural context of where they want to intervene. Both problems are present in the current American approach to Syria.”
As it was in Iraq.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Bloice is one of the moderators of Portside. Other Carl Bloice writing can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.