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For Neocons, 9/11 More Than a Smokescreen

by Jesse Lee


            One by one it seems, journalists and political figures are discovering to their shock and horror the intellectual backdrop of America 's invasion of Iraq.  Neoconservatism, as it calls itself, still finds its most poignant articulation at the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a behind-the-scenes think tank that has been affiliated with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and at least a dozen other administration figures.  Reading through the materials on their site paints an ugly picture of an invasion planned for almost purely strategic purposes, rationalized by a dubiously sincere belief that Iraqis would welcome the US with open arms.

            When one first comprehends that serious American imperialism might not be nearly as abstract or fantastic as it might have seemed, many things begin to fall into place.  Securing Iraq 's oil, forcing open Iraq 's markets, and establishing a military stronghold in the Middle East seem much more tenable as motivations for the severe risks that the US administration has run for its own reelection (the 2004 election is of course the only real check on the administration 's power).  Looking back on the run-up to war through the neoconservative lens, it also becomes clear that what was portrayed as bungling diplomacy was in fact a rather carefully enacted sabotage of negotiations by figures such as Rumsfeld (who helped marginalize the opinions of opponents with phrases like "Old Europe "), Cheney (who favored bypassing the UN altogether), and Perle (who wrote an op-ed afterwards entitled "Thank God for the Death of the UN ").  George W. Bush 's blustering arrogance (including the constant reiteration of the irrelevance of the UN 's judgment) was undoubtedly projected at the suggestion of these same advisors.  After all, if there had been a strong coalition on par with the first Gulf War, Halliburton would not have gotten a no-bid contract to put its tentacles in Iraq 's oil, establishing a long-term military presence would have been considerably more difficult if not impossible, and in general the emptying of the US treasury into the enormous corporate pockets with which the neocons are inextricably entwined would have been prevented.  These motivations have since been exposed for all to see by the administration 's stubborn refusal to share authority in Iraq despite obvious and massive costs in both dollars and American lives.

            The most staggering single fact for most journalists though is the overwhelming evidence that the invasion of Iraq was planned long before 9/11, the ostensible catalyst given to the American public and the world by the US administration.  And indeed, as Robert Dreyfuss convincingly demonstrated some time ago, the plans for military domination of the Middle East have their origins in the era of the OPEC embargo of the early 1970 's and come from the Kissinger clique, quite possibly from Kissinger himself.  But to say that 9/11 was nothing more than a smokescreen for a plan that had nothing to do with those events is a dramatic mistake.  Imagining what 9/11 must have meant to a neoconservative ideologue believing in US power as the measure of all things reveals that the invasion of Iraq, including the risk of the presidency itself, was at least in part motivated by a potentially very real threat- just not from Iraq.

            While distinctions are made by political scientists, the neoconservatives are essentially political realists, believing not only that power politics dictate international relations, but that as lone superpower, America has a vested interest in keeping it so.  9/11 was a piercing blow to this paradigm, which is premised on the assumption that whomever has the most powerful military will always win.  The "New American Century " as conceived by the neocons rested solidly on the preposition that America would be able to dictate terms to the rest of the world without fear of repercussions, since no army would dare stand up to US military might.  Terrorism on the scale of 9/11 bursts this bubble, because it threatens to deal blows that far exceed what American voters might regard as acceptable, and therefore might serve as a successful deterrent to the uninhibited expression of American power.  This realization serves as a far greater motivation than any other to establish a military stronghold in the Middle East, and to invoke Sharon 's madman theory of deterrence (making one 's enemies believe that there is no limit to what one will do).

            But the most striking aspect of the 9/11 attacks was successfully ignored and downplayed in what has evolved into perhaps the most comprehensive cover up in US history, namely that 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.  While this fact is well known, hardly anybody has granted it the momentous importance it deserves.  For the neoconservatives, though, it must have been a wake up call of epic proportions.  The ragtag, troublesome network of undemocratic regimes in the Middle East, which the US had supported for decades as the surest way to create a stable environment for oil exportation and exploitation, had finally begun to crumble as a reliable system.  Saudi Arabia, by far the most important player, had spawned a massive attack on the US, and there seemed to be very little the US could do to prevent further attacks in the future.

            To understand the bind in which the administration found itself, it is necessary to understand how perilous the rule of the House of Saud has become.  The well-documented payoffs from the Saudi royal family to fundamentalist, terrorist-inclined groups reflect not so much a subversive aggression towards the US as they do a desperate clinging to power.  In Saudi Arabia, where Wahabi fundamentalism thrives in numbers and intensity not found anywhere else in the world, religious figures already hold at least as much power as the state itself.  The pay-offs have been nothing more than attempts to keep a full-scale revolution at bay.  Robert Baer, an ex-CIA analyst in the Middle East, argues in his recently released book Sleeping with the Devil, that the Saudi royal family is doomed within a decade, and probably before.  With the pincers closing in of escalating fundamentalism on the one hand, and the lingering threat of US pressure to crack down on the other, Baer 's claim is not difficult to believe.

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            The implications of the fall of the House of Saud cannot be overstated.  Whether it is a result of revolution or democratic reform, something approaching 35% of the world 's oil would fall directly into the hands of America 's declared enemies.  Polls indicate that favorable views of the United States hover between two and three percent amongst Saudi citizens, and the ascent of a staunch anti-Western, anti-American fundamentalist would be a virtual certainty. 

Baer further argues that explosions at only a few central points in the Saudi oil infrastructure could cause a shortage "roughly equal to what all of the OPEC partners were able to effect during their 1973 embargo ".  Such a threat would arguably have the deterrent power of a nuclear bomb, particularly for an administration holding and representing energy and corporate interests.  If Saudi oil fell into Wahabi hands, it would bring a prompt end to the current US policy of domination without concession, and would place fundamentalists at the helm of what would arguably be a considerable world power (the current regime has lost much of its power due to a crippling and corrput addiction to US petro-dollars).  The fact that the oil could be held hostage also means that for the US to wait until the Saudi royals fall would be too late; if ever they conceived of a threat necessitating preemption, this is the one.

And although the administration has done a sensational job of keeping Saudi Arabia out of the public consciousness, there have been a handful of crucial leaks.  The 28 redacted pages regarding Saudi Arabia in the recent 9/11 report have gathered the most media attention, but they constitute only one of several damning pieces of evidence.  Documents recently dragged out of Cheney 's office regarding his (pre-9/11) energy task force, following a suit by the conservative group Judicial Watch, include maps of not only Iraqi oil fields, but Saudi fields as well.

Most disturbing though, was a private Defense Policy Board briefing given by Laurent Murawiec of RAND Corporation at the request of Richard Perle.  According to the Washington Post (August 6, 2002), the briefing "recommended that U.S. officials give [Saudi Arabia] an ultimatum to stop backing terrorism or face seizure of its oil fields and its financial assets invested in the United States ". Murawiec described Saudi Arabia as "the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent " in the Middle East.

"I think it is a mistake to consider Saudi Arabia a friendly country, " added Kenneth Adelman, a steady neocon and former aide to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.  The briefing was also held around the same time that The Weekly Standard, financed by Rupert Murdoch and edited by William Kristol (chairman of PNAC), published a piece entitled "The Coming Saudi Showdown."

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There is good reason to believe that the idea of military action against Saudi Arabia is so grand and risky that even the neocons would go knock-kneed at the prospect.  The perilous state of Iraq at the moment would serve only as a microcosm of the disaster waiting should the US military attempt to occupy Saudi Arabia.  But the administration 's bogus line about Iraq, that "the risks of action are less than the risks of inaction " may actually apply to Saudi Arabia.  It is debatable to what degree various members of the administration actually believe that the Iraq project will eventually turn the entire Middle East into loyal followers of the United States, but there is absolutely no certainty that even if that does happen, it will happen before the fall of the Saudi royals.  And while the occupation of the entire country might be impossible, some may believe that occupation limited to the oil fields could be fortified well enough to survive. 

For now, though, it is clear that the administration will go to great lengths to keep the royals in power.  The embarrassment of the redacted pages was a significant political hit for an administration that former speechwriter David Frum described as "dominated by the political wing ".  But an even greater sign of the centrality of Saudi Arabia to the administration 's thinking came when Paul Wolfowitz admitted that amongst many reasons for invading Iraq, removing troops from Saudi territory (and thereby easing Islamist tensions) was "a big one ".  It is also noteworthy that only months earlier, some in the Saudi royal family had proposed instituting democratic reforms in exchange for this exact concession, but in the end, the US apparently declined and gave them their wish free of charge.  This should give pause to those who insist that the neocons ' only real secret is that they want to spread democracy in the Middle East.  In any case, propping up the corrupt House of Saud has played no small part in incurring the hatred of Saudi citizens, and even this temporary relief brings confrontation closer.

With all of this in mind, one gets a vivid picture of the neocon perspective on 9/11.  Here was an attack by a well-funded, powerful terrorist group with fertile ground for recruitment and operation not only in Afghanistan, but throughout the Middle East and especially in Saudi Arabia.  And as much as one might want to crack down on the Saudi royal family, to do so would put their rule in peril, with only fundamentalists waiting to take the reins.  The Bush administration includes 41 members with ties to big  oil, which indicates if nothing else that oil is a top political priority, and that they are well aware that oil is America 's Achilles heel.  And so now America 's two greatest percieved threats lay in the same region, and to be honest, the same country.  The administration was faced with two basic choices: begin serious negotiations and make a serious attempt at winning over the "hearts and minds " of the Middle East, or begin a brutal policy of domination, invading Iraq to secure potentially 20% of the world 's oil in friendly hands dependent on US infrastructure, and establishing a fierce military presence in the heart of the region ready to deal with whatever problems might arise.  The neoconservative ideology dictated that the administration choose the latter, which they may have well known was a collision course with Saudi Arabia.  But as the bulk of the great American army remains bogged down in an occupation which is still too chaotic for Halliburton or anyone else to consider business there, the theoretical sophistry of the neocons is crumbling before their eyes.  The only question remaining is whether it is too late to change paths.

Jesse Lee is a regular columnist for opednews.com and operates Common Sense, a printable newsletter designed for distribution by online readers.  He is also a founding contributor to the platform of 2020 Democrats.  To receive Common Sense, or comment on this column,  email him at commonsense@opednews.com.


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