There is a common saying, so common that it is broadly accepted as a valid reason for burying the past and, in the process, excusing past leaders and decision-makers responsible for actions that not only “haunt” us today, but continue to have a very real bearing on our national security: “old news is no news”.  President Barack Obama is no less guilty in this respect than is the general public or the Foreign Service community, active and retired, having clearly adopted the strategy of looking forward, not back, of focusing on the future and letting the past recede into dim memory.  If he cannot be said to have explicitly endorsed such a strategy, his apparent willingness since taking office to let his predecessor’s crimes fade into oblivion is clear enough. Those crimes, labeled as such with no exaggeration and some restraint, include the deliberate lying to the American public and the world at large about the responsibility for the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001 and using the lies as justification for going to war against an innocent party.

Two media events, a film to be aired on television this very evening (March 15) all over America and an interview appearing recently in a French journal, may serve to revive both national and international interest in those crimes.  The first, previewed in today’s New York Times, is “The World According to Dick Cheney,” best characterized in the following excerpt:  “The film asserts that Mr. Cheney masterminded the march to war, building the case, since debunked, that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and links to Qaeda terrorists. It goes into some detail about how Mr. Cheney snookered Representative Dick Armey, the House Republican majority leader and an ally, who nonetheless did not believe that Hussein presented an imminent threat to the United States…. Mr. Cheney privately misled his friend, telling Mr. Armey that the top-secret evidence was actually worse than he had said publicly and that Iraq was close to developing a suitcase nuke that could be used by Qaeda terrorists. Mr. Armey changed his position and voted for war.”  There is much more and even worse, and the NYT preview offers hope that the film will be widely and repeatedly viewed all over the world.

The related media event noted above is an interview of Colin Powell, George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, published in the French journal, Le Nouvel Observateur of February 28-March 6, 2013, apparently inspired by Powell’s 2012 memoir, It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership, but concentrating on his assigned presentation to the United Nations of the justification for the Bush decision to invade Iraq.  Powell admits that he was traduced by Bush, Cheney and CIA Director George Tenet, and that his success in convincing Tenet to appear beside him at the UN for the sake of credibility turned out to be meaningless: Tenet has never acknowledged what he knew then or knows now to be the case, i.e., that the most extreme claims about Saddam Hussein’s plans and capabilities were totally false.  Most painful for Powell, it seems, is that the “evidence” he was given was produced not by intelligence services but by one of Cheney’s own underlings.

To repeat, American national security interests can only benefit by renewed attention to the crimes committed in the past, no matter how long ago.  We can only hope that the Cheney film and Powell’s interview gain traction.

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!

The Self-Inflicted Wounds of 9/11

This article was originally posted on t r u t h o u t on September 11, 2010

The attacks on Washington and New York City nine years ago extracted a terrible price in terms of blood and treasure. Unfortunately, the adverse US reaction to 9/11 has also extracted a terrible price with no end in sight. Although al-Qaeda is no longer a sophisticated terrorist organization capable of launching large-scale operations and is merely one of many jihadist groups based in Pakistan, the United States has thrown itself into the briar patch called Afghanistan.

Nearly twice as many Americans have died fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than were lost in the 9/11 attacks. The total cost of these long wars will be in the trillions of dollars. When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the cost of oil was less than $25 a barrel; the price reached $140 a barrel in 2008 and, currently, the price is still three times the 2001 levels. The entire national security system has suffered as a result of the wrong-headed actions of the Bush administration in Iraq and the Obama administration in Afghanistan. The Iraq war marked the greatest travesty of all, based on a series of official lies that linked Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden and Iraq to weapons of mass destruction. As we knew seven years ago, there were no such links and no such weapons.

President Barack Obama declared last week that the US combat role in Iraq was over, but Americans continue to die in military action there, and 50,000 American servicemen and women will remain at least until the end of next year. President Obama inherited the war in Afghanistan, but last year he unwisely redefined and expanded it when he bowed to the demands of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Pentagon to send more than 30,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan. The president has defended this action as being part of the struggle against bin Laden and al-Qaeda, but we have been told authoritatively that there are only 50-100 al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan. In both wars, we have aligned ourselves with corrupt governments that are dysfunctional.

These wars have been used to dramatically increase the size of the defense and intelligence budgets, which find the United States now spending more than the rest of the world in both categories. The $708 billion defense budget for FY 2011 is higher than at any point in our post-World War II history. In constant dollars it is 16 percent higher than the 1952 Korean War budget peak and 36 percent higher than the 1968 Vietnam War budget peak. Secretary of Defense Gates argues that the budget plan “rebalances” spending by putting an emphasis on the near-term challenges of counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and stabilization operations, but the plan makes no effort to prioritize these near-term commitments against funding for long-term commitments. The Pentagon’s role in so-called nation building assures continued high defense budgets, and already we hear demands for an increased military role in Yemen and Somalia.

The defense budget is, in fact, out of control, increasing funding for both near-term and long-term programs and activities. Overall procurement spending would rise by nearly eight percent in the 2011 budget, buying virtually all of the equipment the services want. Historically, the costs to operate and maintain the US military tend to grow at about 2.5 percent a year. Not this year! The defense budget request for Operations and Maintenance is more than $200 billion, which represents an 8.5 percent increase. President Dwight David Eisenhower’s warnings about the military-industrial complex and the need for commanders in chief who actually understand the Pentagon’s clarion calls have never been more germane. Continue reading