Robert Fisk on Iraq War - and 911
Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Five years on, and still we have not learnt. With each anniversary, the steps crumble beneath our feet, the stones ever more cracked, the sand ever finer. Five years of catastrophe in Iraq and I think of Churchill, who in the end called Palestine a "hell-disaster". But we have used these parallels before and they have drifted away in the Tigris breeze. Iraq is swamped in blood. Yet what is the state of our remorse? Why, we will have a public inquiry . but not yet! If only inadequacy was our only sin.
Today, we are engaged in a fruitless debate. What went wrong? How did the people -- the senatus populusque Romanus of our modern world -- not rise up in rebellion when told the lies about weapons of mass destruction, about Saddam's links with Osama bin Laden and 11 September? How did we let it happen? And how come we didn't plan for the aftermath of war?
Oh, the British tried to get the Americans to listen, Downing Street now tells us. We really, honestly did try, before we absolutely and completely knew it was right to embark on this illegal war. There is now a vast literature on the Iraq debacle and there are precedents for post-war planning -- of which more later -- but this is not the point. Our predicament in Iraq is on an infinitely more terrible scale.
As the Americans came storming up Iraq in 2003, their cruise missiles hissing through the sandstorm towards a hundred Iraqi towns and cities, I would sit in my filthy room in the Baghdad Palestine Hotel, unable to sleep for the thunder of explosions, and root through the books I'd brought to fill the dark, dangerous hours. Tolstoy's War and Peace reminded me how conflict can be described with sensitivity and grace and horror -- I recommend the Battle of Borodino -- along with a file of newspaper clippings. In this little folder, there was a long rant by Pat Buchanan, written five months earlier; and still, today I feel its power and its prescience and its absolute historical honesty: "With our MacArthur Regency in Baghdad, Pax Americana will reach apogee. But then the tide recedes, for the one endeavour at which Islamic people excel is expelling imperial powers by terror or guerrilla war.
"They drove the Brits out of Palestine and Aden, the French out of Algeria, the Russians out of Afghanistan, the Americans out of Somalia and Beirut, the Israelis out of Lebanon. We have started up the road to empire and over the next hill we will meet those who went before. The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history." How easily the little men took us into the inferno, with no knowledge or, at least, interest in history. None of them read of the 1920 Iraqi insurgency against British occupation, nor of Churchill's brusque and brutal settlement of Iraq the following year.On our historical radars, not even Crassus appeared, the wealthiest Roman general of all, who demanded an emperorship after conquering Macedonia -- "Mission Accomplished" -- and vengefully set forth to destroy Mesopotamia. At a spot in the desert near the Euphrates river, the Parthians -- ancestors of present day Iraqi insurgents -- annihilated the legions, chopped off Crassus's head and sent it back to Rome filled with gold. Today, they would have videotaped his beheading.
To their monumental hubris, these little men who took us to war five years ago now prove that they have learnt nothing. Anthony Blair -- as we should always have called this small town lawyer -- should be facing trial for his mendacity. Instead, he now presumes to bring peace to an Arab-Israeli conflict which he has done so much to exacerbate. And now we have the man who changed his mind on the legality of war -- and did so on a single sheet of A4 paper -- daring to suggest that we should test immigrants for British citizenship. Question 1, I contend, should be: Which blood-soaked British attorney general helped to send 176 British soldiers to their deaths for a lie? Question 2: How did he get away with it?
But in a sense, the facile, dumbo nature of Lord Goldsmith's proposal is a clue to the whole transitory, cardboard structure of our decision-making. The great issues that face us -- be they Iraq or Afghanistan, the US economy or global warming, planned invasions or "terrorism" -- are discussed not according to serious political timetables but around television schedules and press conferences.
Will the first air raids on Iraq hit prime-time television in the States? Mercifully, yes. Will the first US troops in Baghdad appear on the breakfast shows? Of course. Will Saddam's capture be announced by Bush and Blair simultaneously?.But this is all part of the problem. True, Churchill and Roosevelt argued about the timing of the announcement that war in Europe had ended. And it was the Russians who pipped them to the post. But we told the truth. When the British were retreating to Dunkirk, Churchill announced that the Germans had "penetrated deeply and spread alarm and confusion in their tracks".Why didn't Bush or Blair tell us this when the Iraqi insurgents began to assault the Western occupation forces? Well, they were too busy telling us that things were getting better, that the rebels were mere "dead-enders".On 17 June 1940, Churchill told the people of Britain: "The news from France is very bad and I grieve for the gallant French people who have fallen into this terrible misfortune." Why didn't Blair or Bush tell us that the news from Iraq was very bad and that they grieved -- even just a few tears for a minute or so -- for the Iraqis?
For these were the men who had the temerity, the sheer, unadulterated gall, to dress themselves up as Churchill, heroes who would stage a rerun of the Second World War, the BBC dutifully calling the invaders "the Allies" -- they did, by the way -- and painting Saddam's regime as the Third Reich.
Of course, when I was at school, our leaders -- Attlee, Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, or Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy in the United States -- had real experience of real war. Not a single Western leader today has any first-hand experience of conflict. When the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq began, the most prominent European opponent of the war was Jacques Chirac, who fought in the Algerian conflict. But he has now gone. So has Colin Powell, a Vietnam veteran but himself duped by Rumsfeld and the CIA.
Yet one of the terrible ironies of our times is that the most bloodthirsty of American statesmen -- Bush and Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfovitz -- have either never heard a shot fired in anger or have ensured they did not have to fight for their country when they had the chance to do so. No wonder Hollywood titles like "Shock and Awe" appeal to the White House. Movies are their only experience of human conflict; the same goes for Blair and Brown.
Churchill had to account for the loss of Singapore before a packed House. Brown won't even account for Iraq until the war is over.It is a grotesque truism that today -- after all the posturing of our political midgets five years ago -- we might at last be permitted a valid seance with the ghosts of the Second World War. Statistics are the medium, and the room would have to be dark. But it is a fact that the total of US dead in Iraq (3,978) is well over the number of American casualties suffered in the initial D-Day landings at Normandy (3,384 killed and missing) on 6 June, 1944, or more than three times the total British casualties at Arnhem the same year (1,200).
They count for just over a third of the total fatalities (11,014) of the entire British Expeditionary Force from the German invasion of Belgium to the final evacuation at Dunkirk in June 1940. The number of British dead in Iraq -- 176 -- is almost equal to the total of UK forces lost at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944-45 (just over 200). The number of US wounded in Iraq -- 29,395 -- is more than nine times the number of Americans injured on 6 June (3,184) and more than a quarter of the tally for US wounded in the entire 1950-53 Korean war (103,284).
Iraqi casualties allow an even closer comparison to the Second World War. Even if we accept the lowest of fatality statistics for civilian dead -- they range from 350,000 up to a million -- these long ago dwarfed the number of British civilian dead in the flying-bomb blitz on London in 1944-45 (6,000) and now far outnumber the total figure for civilians killed in bombing raids across the United Kingdom -- 60,595 dead, 86,182 seriously wounded -- from 1940 to 1945.
Indeed, the Iraqi civilian death toll since our invasion is now greater than the total number of British military fatalities in the Second World War, which came to an astounding 265,000 dead (some histories give this figure as 300,000) and 277,000 wounded. Minimum estimates for Iraqi dead mean that the civilians of Mesopotamia have suffered six or seven Dresdens or -- more terrible still -- two Hiroshimas.
Yet in a sense, all this is a distraction from the awful truth in Buchanan's warning. We have dispatched our armies into the land of Islam. We have done so with the sole encouragement of Israel, whose own false intelligence over Iraq has been discreetly forgotten by our masters, while weeping crocodile tears for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died.America's massive military prestige has been irreparably diminished. And if there are, as I now calculate, 22 times as many Western troops in the Muslim world as there were at the time of the 11th and 12th century Crusades, we must ask what we are doing. Are we there for oil? For democracy? For Israel? For fear of weapons of mass destruction? Or for fear of Islam?We blithely connect Afghanistan to Iraq. If only Washington had not become distracted by Iraq, so the narrative now goes, the Taliban could not have re-established themselves. But al-Qa'ida and the nebulous Osama bin Laden were not distracted. Which is why they expanded their operations into Iraq and then used this experience to assault the West in Afghanistan with the hitherto -- in Afghanistan -- unheard of suicide bomber.
And I will hazard a terrible guess: that we have lost Afghanistan as surely as we have lost Iraq and as surely as we are going to "lose" Pakistan. It is our presence, our power, our arrogance, our refusal to learn from history and our terror -- yes, our terror -- of Islam that is leading us into the abyss. And until we learn to leave these Muslim peoples alone, our catastrophe in the Middle East will only become graver. There is no connection between Islam and "terror". But there is a connection between our occupation of Muslim lands and "terror". It's not too complicated an equation. And we don't need a public inquiry to get it right.
========== about 911 conspiracy theories =================
Robert Fisk: Even I question the 'truth' about 9/11
Saturday, 25 August 2007
Each time I lecture abroad on the Middle East, there is always someone in the audience -- just one -- whom I call the "raver". Apologies here to all the men and women who come to my talks with bright and pertinent questions -- often quite humbling ones for me as a journalist -- and which show that they understand the Middle East tragedy a lot better than the journalists who report it. But the "raver" is real. He has turned up in corporeal form in Stockholm and in Oxford, in Sao Paulo and in Yerevan, in Cairo, in Los Angeles and, in female form, in Barcelona. No matter the country, there will always be a "raver".
His -- or her -- question goes like this. Why, if you believe you're a free journalist, don't you report what you really know about 9/11? Why don't you tell the truth -- that the Bush administration (or the CIA or Mossad, you name it) blew up the twin towers? Why don't you reveal the secrets behind 9/11? The assumption in each case is that Fisk knows -- that Fisk has an absolute concrete, copper-bottomed fact-filled desk containing final proof of what "all the world knows" (that usually is the phrase) -- who destroyed the twin towers. Sometimes the "raver" is clearly distressed. One man in Cork screamed his question at me, and then -- the moment I suggested that his version of the plot was a bit odd -- left the hall, shouting abuse and kicking over chairs.
Usually, I have tried to tell the "truth"; that while there are unanswered questions about 9/11, I am the Middle East correspondent of The Independent, not the conspiracy correspondent; that I have quite enough real plots on my hands in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Iran, the Gulf, etc, to worry about imaginary ones in Manhattan. My final argument -- a clincher, in my view -- is that the Bush administration has screwed up everything -- militarily, politically diplomatically -- it has tried to do in the Middle East; so how on earth could it successfully bring off the international crimes against humanity in the United States on 11 September 2001?
Well, I still hold to that view. Any military which can claim -- as the Americans did two days ago -- that al-Qa'ida is on the run is not capable of carrying out anything on the scale of 9/11. "We disrupted al-Qa'ida, causing them to run," Colonel David Sutherland said of the preposterously code-named "Operation Lightning Hammer" in Iraq's Diyala province. "Their fear of facing our forces proves the terrorists know there is no safe haven for them." And more of the same, all of it untrue.
Within hours, al-Qa'ida attacked Baquba in battalion strength and slaughtered all the local sheikhs who had thrown in their hand with the Americans. It reminds me of Vietnam, the war which George Bush watched from the skies over Texas -- which may account for why he this week mixed up the end of the Vietnam war with the genocide in a different country called Cambodia, whose population was eventually rescued by the same Vietnamese whom Mr Bush's more courageous colleagues had been fighting all along.
But -- here we go. I am increasingly troubled at the inconsistencies in the official narrative of 9/11. It's not just the obvious non sequiturs: where are the aircraft parts (engines, etc) from the attack on the Pentagon? Why have the officials involved in the United 93 flight (which crashed in Pennsylvania) been muzzled? Why did flight 93's debris spread over miles when it was supposed to have crashed in one piece in a field? Again, I'm not talking about the crazed "research" of David Icke's Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Center Disaster -- which should send any sane man back to reading the telephone directory.
I am talking about scientific issues. If it is true, for example, that kerosene burns at 820C under optimum conditions, how come the steel beams of the twin towers -- whose melting point is supposed to be about 1,480C -- would snap through at the same time? (They collapsed in 8.1 and 10 seconds.) What about the third tower -- the so-called World Trade Centre Building 7 (or the Salmon Brothers Building) -- which collapsed in 6.6 seconds in its own footprint at 5.20pm on 11 September? Why did it so neatly fall to the ground when no aircraft had hit it? The American National Institute of Standards and Technology was instructed to analyse the cause of the destruction of all three buildings. They have not yet reported on WTC 7. Two prominent American professors of mechanical engineering -- very definitely not in the "raver" bracket -- are now legally challenging the terms of reference of this final report on the grounds that it could be "fraudulent or deceptive".
Journalistically, there were many odd things about 9/11. Initial reports of reporters that they heard "explosions" in the towers -- which could well have been the beams cracking -- are easy to dismiss. Less so the report that the body of a female air crew member was found in a Manhattan street with her hands bound. OK, so let's claim that was just hearsay reporting at the time, just as the CIA's list of Arab suicide-hijackers, which included three men who were -- and still are -- very much alive and living in the Middle East, was an initial intelligence error.
But what about the weird letter allegedly written by Mohamed Atta, the Egyptian hijacker-murderer with the spooky face, whose "Islamic" advice to his gruesome comrades -- released by the CIA -- mystified every Muslim friend I know in the Middle East? Atta mentioned his family -- which no Muslim, however ill-taught, would be likely to include in such a prayer. He reminds his comrades-in-murder to say the first Muslim prayer of the day and then goes on to quote from it. But no Muslim would need such a reminder -- let alone expect the text of the "Fajr" prayer to be included in Atta's letter.
Let me repeat. I am not a conspiracy theorist. Spare me the ravers. Spare me the plots. But like everyone else, I would like to know the full story of 9/11, not least because it was the trigger for the whole lunatic, meretricious "war on terror" which has led us to disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan and in much of the Middle East. Bush's happily departed adviser Karl Rove once said that "we're an empire now -- we create our own reality". True? At least tell us. It would stop people kicking over chairs.