Former columnist Chad Nagle sends this special report from Washington.

September 21, 2002

Will Congress Rubber-Stamp an Unpopular War?

"I don't think the President has a view of the Constitution that Congress is a rubber stamp."

~ Secretary of State Colin Powell, answering a question in hearings by the House Committee on International Relations, 19 Sept. 2002.

On Thursday, September 19th, at the House International Relations Committee hearings on invading Iraq, Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) attempted to inject a little levity by paraphrasing late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Mr. Hyde cautioned everyone present not to "forget" about Richard Perle, "lurking over us like a brooding omnipresence." A few people actually laughed.

Perle, one of four people testifying before the committee on the subject of invading Iraq, couldn't be there physically, so he appeared instead by live video broadcast from the US Embassy in London. Apart from the two small screens on the walls on either side of the hall, I noticed a cinema-size screen on the back wall facing the members of the House, on which Mr. Perle's gigantic image appeared. The larger-than-life, bloated and dark-eye-socketed Perle – the "Prince of Darkness," who once passed classified information to the Israeli Embassy when working as a US Senate staffer in the 1970s – could therefore hardly be "forgotten." Quite the contrary, he was looking down on everyone present, a constant reminder to the mere mortals of exactly who was running the show.


After Perle made his opening statement, warning of the dire threat posed by the evil Saddam Hussein to the "American people" and the "imminent" need to invade and remove the dictator, a couple of feeble speakers in the form of Jessica Tuchman Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and retired Air Force Gen. Charles Boyd of Business Executives for National Security took their turns laying out an impossible UN inspection plan. The idea was to implement a "coercive" inspection regime with a force of 50,000 troops that would be "large enough to be turned into an invasion force if necessary." They claimed they wouldn't want the Iraqis to think the inspection force was just a "Trojan Horse" for an invasion. They wouldn't want the Iraqis to think the inspectors were "spies" or anything. The idea: to sink the "plan" in committee because everyone knew that any head of state worth his salt – even Saddam – would conclude exactly that, and would be right to.

It was an easy set up for former CIA director James Woolsey, now vice president of consulting giant Booz Allen & Hamilton, to pick apart. Launching into a laundry list of human rights violations by Saddam, Woolsey said that the last time the UN sent inspectors in, no one in Iraq had been able to speak candidly to them because a functionary of Iraqi intelligence had always been sitting next to them during the meetings. Then the patriotic Woolsey went into all the ways Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" and their manufacturing facilities could be miniaturized – like "a microbrewery attached to a restaurant" – and hidden. For good measure, he threw in a lot of allegations of torture, murder and (to get the female blood going) rape of the wives and daughters of Iraqis who dared to talk. And then towards the end of his little speech he said something that should have elicited laughs but didn't. He said that all of Iraq's production facilities for "ballistic missiles" with a range greater than a hundred and fifty kilometers had to be removed. A hundred and fifty kilometers – less than a hundred miles. An "imminent threat" to the "American people."

The aged, heavily-accented Tom Lantos (D-CA) threw softballs to Richard Perle by prefacing his questions with remarks about "no practical chance" that the inspection plan would succeed. Saddam Hussein had already "sacrificed fifty, seventy-five, a hundred billion dollars to develop weapons of mass destruction." He challenged Ms. Tuchman Mathews as to whether the invasion could really be thought of only as "regime change" or rather as "liberation"? Would she describe the WWII Allied invasion of Germany and the Soviet Army's advance to Berlin as occupation or "liberation"? There was a pause before Tuchman-Mathews answered, timidly: "That was a liberation." It was a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, and Stalin's occupation of East Germany could now be given the historical stamp of "freedom" without anybody raising an eyebrow.

Then Lantos let slip an admission that the whole proceedings were bogus. He condescended to tell Ms. Tuchman-Mathews and Gen. Boyd that however well-intentioned their inspection plan might be, there was "no middle way in this crisis." In other words, one way – the antiwar, non-interventionist way – wasn't even represented among those specially lined up to testify. You had a choice between military intervention and military intervention "lite." Very few reps were going to risk appearing "lite" in their loafers. It was all stitched up.

A handful of Democrats and one Republican held up the losing side when the odious Colin Powell appeared in the afternoon. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), recent casualty of a hatchet job by her own party that caused her to lose the Democratic primary in her district, came out swinging, noting "with some sadness" the coup attempt in Cote d'Ivoire, whose oil reserves made it a "target for intrigue and subversion." How odd, she said, that the US should be so concerned about Iraqi human rights that it would intervene militarily in the Arab state. There seemed to be no such concern during mass atrocities in Sudan, Congo, East Timor, and Sierra Leone, where – she noted – children were getting their hands and feet hacked off at one stage. She had evidently come into possession of a two-year-old plan by the administration for "regime change" in Iraq involving US troops being deployed to guard oil installations in and around Basra. She read that James Woolsey was already divvying up the oil spoils among his company's clients, and deciding who would be left out.

Er… uh… "I'm troubled by some reports in the press suggesting this is all about oil." It was really all about "human rights," said the Secretary. As for the countries she mentioned, "we've been working with all of them." The report about Mr. Woolsey: "I don't know what that is." Mr. Woolsey, like Mr. Perle, was appearing before the committee primarily in the capacity of a concerned American citizen. Of course Woolsey was concerned about revenue from Iraqi oilfields accruing to other American citizens – corporations on Booz Allen's client list – but that was still a legitimate sort of concern for an American citizen, wasn't it?

Jim Davis (D-FL) and William Delahunt (D-MA) both wanted to know why America was going to attack Iraq now when the government apparently had all this information about how dangerous Saddam Hussein was long ago. No connection had been made between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, so why had the standard changed? What was the urgency? What were they supposed to tell their angry constituents? Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY) wanted to know what made Iraq such an imminent threat now when he had supposedly been building up his "weapons of mass destruction" for so many years. The Secretary was reciting "everything that happened in the past as justification for a sudden invasion." Yet there was a perception among Congress and the public that this was "too sudden," added Adam Schiff (D-CA). We weren't attacked on September 11th with chemical or biological weapons, so where is the "irrefutable evidence" that Saddam Hussein poses such a threat? Why are we doing this now?

"But… why wait another year?" asked the Secretary.

Barbara Lee (D-CA) raised concerns about the discussion draft of the White House resolution she had received earlier in the day. The resolution implied that Congress had already expressed its support for "regime change" by reference to a couple of public laws, neither of which she voted for. The White House had tried to sneak these laws in the back door, because – as Ms. Lee found out later by talking to a few colleagues – several members of the House had no idea they were voting to authorize the use of force. To them, "regime change" in Iraq meant: "We would like it if the regime changed." It didn't mean: "Let's go in and change it." Is the Secretary trying to say that the US would have reacted differently last time if the Iraqis had refused inspectors?

"ER… I don't know that it would have been any different… I don't have the two public laws you cite in front of me."

"Why are we so hated?" demanded Diane Watson (D-CA). "What did we do to incur such hatred?" Presumably, the chief diplomat should have had some idea. "I'm from California," she went on, "and I haven't heard yet what I could tell voters about why we should have a preemptive attack." Why should Congress authorize "all the force the President deems necessary"?

"Uh… some people don't like our system and think we support the wrong side in the Palestinian conflict… There's a lot of resentment."

Ron Paul (R-TX) – always sensible, always level-headed – made the salient point that Soviet ballistic missiles had been "ninety miles off our shores" when he had been called up during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, yet the US never actually went to war. Iraq was six thousand miles away, half the size of Texas, and had a GDP less than Idaho's. "A lot of people," he said, referring to thousands of letters he had received from people concerned about going to war, "don't believe in war as a solution." Were we really going to "liberate" the Iraqis? Twenty Arab nations had voted to condemn the US war plans, and in Egypt human rights groups were standing up for Egypt and attacking America – even the political prisoner on whose behalf the US was trying intervene!

This was a little much for the Secretary, who wanted to make it clear that he was a soldier too, and the call-up process had also begun for him when the crisis broke. In a "don't pull that 'I served' routine on me, Congressman" response, Powell assumed a general-like demeanor as he made clear that the Cuban crisis had lasted a few weeks, while the Saddam problem had gone on for twelve whole years! Furthermore, Kennedy never took the time to pay a courtesy call on the UN the way George W. Bush had. In the end, he claimed, it was all about having the power to back up demands. Kennedy had the power, while Khrushchev…

"If I might just interrupt, Mr. Secretary," interjected the humble Dr. Paul. "We took our missiles out of Turkey." It had been a negotiated climb-down from the brink, done the civilized way. No bluster about "regime change."

"But… it wasn't just negotiations. It was backed by force."

The cringing and fidgety Colin Powell, once the only hope within the administration of averting war, had already shown what he was made of by compromising any principles he might have had for the sake, presumably, of keeping his job. From the time Chairman Hyde shut up Cynthia McKinney at the beginning of the morning session, the hearings were destined to become a first stage in rubber-stamping an unpopular war. Perle is leading the charge for Israel, while Woolsey picks up the sleazy oil business side of things.


I'm reminded of an op-ed I read in the March 17, 2000 edition of the Wall Street Journal by none other than James Woolsey himself. It was called "Why We Spy on Our Allies." Here is an excerpt:

What is the recent flap regarding Echelon and U.S. spying on European industries all about? We'll begin with some candor from the American side. Yes, my continental European friends, we have spied on you. And it's true that we use computers to sort through data by using keywords … That's right, my continental friends, we have spied on you because you bribe. Your companies' products are often more costly, less technically advanced or both, than your American competitors'. As a result you bribe a lot. So complicit are your governments that in several European countries bribes still are tax-deductible … When we have caught you at it, you might be interested, we haven't said a word to the US companies in the competition. Instead we go to the government you're bribing and tell its officials that we don't take kindly to such corruption. They often respond by giving the most meritorious bid (sometimes American, sometimes not) all or part of the contract. This upsets you, and sometimes creates recriminations between your bribers and the other country's bribees, and this occasionally becomes a public scandal. We love it.

This was written and published long after Woolsey had resigned from the Clinton administration, but it was so reassuring to know that we had such a principled man – such a paragon of virtue, uncorrupted by the sordid dealings of petty men – directing our nation's primary intelligence agency, even if only for a short while.

How disturbing, therefore, to read a short report recently about how Washington had been bribing foreign governments to get them on board in the Iraq invasion. After France and Russia suddenly did an about-face after a period of firm opposition, some malevolent writer had the temerity to suggest that this had something to do with American bribes. Of course, Jacques Chirac (dogged by corruption scandals when mayor of Paris) and Vladimir Putin (in charge of privatization and hard-currency operations as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg during the heyday of the city's corruption scandals) may have encountered the odd bribe here and there, but from America? Never.


Following is an excerpt from a note written by Lenin on March 19, 1922, dug out of the archives in Moscow. It concerns the famine that gripped Russia in 1921-22, and relates specifically to the small industrial town of Chuya in Ivanovo Region, where Bolshevik troops had just recently opened fire on a group of religious observers. It sums up the Bolshevik regard for human life rather effectively:

With the help of all those starving people who are starting to eat each other, who are dying by the millions, and whose bodies litter the roadside all over the country, it is now and only now that we can – and therefore must – confiscate all church property with all the ruthless energy we can still muster. This is precisely the moment when the masses will support us most fervently, and rise up against the reactionary machinations of the petit-bourgeois Black Hundred religious conspirators… we must therefore amass a treasure of hundreds of millions of rubles (think how rich some of those monasteries are!)… All evidence suggests that we could not do this at any other moment, because our only hope is the despair engendered in the masses by the famine, which will cause them to look at us in a favorable light or, at the very least, with indifference…[A] large number of members of the clergy, of bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie, several dozen at least, [ ] will be accused of direct or indirect participation in violent resistance against the decree regarding the confiscation of church goods… [T]he Politburo… will issue precise instructions to the judicial authorities, to the effect that the trial of the Chuya rebels is to be expedited as rapidly as possible. The result of the trial is to be execution, by public shooting, of a large number of the Chuya Black Hundreds as well as the shooting of as many as possible from Moscow and other important religious centers… The more representatives from the reactionary clergy and the recalcitrant bourgeoisie we shoot, the better it will be for us. We must teach these people a lesson as quickly as possible, so that the thought of protesting again doesn't occur to them for decades to come.

The run-up to the war and the control over the process by such a small cabal has much in common with the exploits of the Bolsheviks, another small band of conspirators. Like the Bolsheviks, the Perle-Woolsey cabal is neither popular nor widely known among the people at large. Like the Bolsheviks, they disdain democracy and believe human life is largely expendable in the interests of a privileged elite. And, finally, like the Bolsheviks, they have unshakable faith in one self-evident, universal principle: Humanity must lose.

Key to the War Party's aims is that Congress and the UN pass resolutions quickly, before anyone has time to realize what's going on. Hurry, hurry, hurry. As Colin Powell was hurrying out of the hearing room, he was surrounded by half a dozen secret service agents, and even as he smiled at the crowds that were slowly rising and moving toward the aisle like zombies in Night of the Living Dead, I could see something unmistakable in his eyes: fear. The popular chief diplomat of a popular government in a democratic country was reaching forward to put his arm on the shoulder of one of the secret service officers to let him know he was right behind him and they could proceed out, away from the rabble. "Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!" one of the agents was saying to his colleagues. After all, it wasn't just al-Qaeda that might want to get Gen. Powell. It might be some of these… "people." Got to move fast. Got to make a quick exit and get into that armored limousine. What a popular guy.

It is now clear – and not just from Cynthia McKinney's very credible charges about a "secret plan" of two years ago – that the plan to invade Iraq has been brewing in the mind of our boy president since long before he came to office. It's now easy to imagine the boy president-to-be nursing his desire all those years to avenge the Iraqi assassination attempt (alleged by the Clinton administration) on his father in 1993, and to take care of his dad's "unfinished business" from the Gulf War of 1991. Like a child playing with toy soldiers, tanks and airplanes, George Jr. envisions ridding the world of this "evil man" and turning Baghdad into Houston, while the unremarkable Stalinist dictator Saddam Hussein attracts opinion on the Arab street to his side and against America's corrupt Gulf client regimes, setting the region ablaze politically and otherwise with minimal effort. By next week we should have the Congressional stamp of approval on a war very few Americans really want, and which – if it doesn't prove to be chicken-hawk Ken Adelman's "cakewalk" – could see bodies coming home in boxes. This is what we have to look forward to until Vietnam-sized demonstrations materialize in the streets of Washington.

– Chad Nagle

Write to Chad Nagle

Chad Nagle is a professional writer and lawyer. He has been published in the Wall Street Journal Europe, the Washington Times, and several other periodicals. Mr. Nagle traveled extensively throughout the ex-USSR from 1992-97 as a research consultant. Since mid-1999, he has traveled widely in the former Communist bloc on behalf of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group.

Previous articles by Chad Nagle

Will Congress Rubber-stamp an Unpopular War?

A Sensible China Policy For The American People

Hainan Dim-Sum: Feeding a Bully's Sinister Agenda

The Revolution Comes to Ukraine

Red Dawn in Moldova?

Musings On The New Imperialism and Post-Western World Government

Soros: False Prophet-At-Large

Belarus: Oasis In The Heart Of Europe

Serbia Joins the West

Death of a Patriot

The Twilight of Sovereignty in Azerbaijan

The Ukrainian Model of Democracy

The Slow Strangulation of Democracy in Slovakia

Patrick Buchanan and the American Reformation

The Betrayal of Democracy in Post-Soviet Georgia

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