It was just about this time in 1994 that my wife, Robin, came home from her first day on the Senate Banking Committee waving a thin committee report from September 1993 and exclaiming "Read this; I think we got gassed." As I read the report I quickly realized that a then-unknown number of Desert Storm veterans had had their health and their lives forever altered by the toxins they'd been exposed to during the war. What only became clear later was how much our lives were changed by the decision to act upon the findings in that first report.
My first book, Gassed In The Gulf , chronicled in detail our joint investigation into how tens of thousands of Desert Storm veterans were exposed to Iraqi chemical agents and how the Pentagon and CIA tried to conceal those exposures from the veterans, the Congress, and the public. A concurrent battle that went on for several years after I very publicly left the CIA involved follow on lawsuits designed to bring still more information to light--not only about the war and its consequences, but how the Agency had dealt with me and Robin. The result of that struggle will be officially released on February 24, 2011, the 20th anniversary of the start of the Desert Storm ground war. Long Strange Journey: An Intelligence Memoir will be available in paperback and Kindle versions, and chronicles my entire tenure at CIA (1988-96) as well as the early years of my advocacy work for Desert Storm veterans (up through about 2003, shortly before I came to Capitol Hill).
As the actual publication date has drawn closer, I've experienced a series of emotions. Relief that it's finally done. Satisfaction that I managed to pull it off. Gratitude to the many people who helped make it possible. But the strongest feeling of all is the one that's been there from the beginning of this long strange journey: a sense of mission.
For the men and women of Desert Storm who returned to this country with illnesses they and their doctors did not understand and could not effectively treat, the war never ended. Too many have already perished to dreaded neurological diseases like ALS. Others linger daily in a netherworld of pain. And as I feared, there has been a paucity of media coverage about the 20th anniversary of this conflict; those who served in America's first Gulf War are in danger of becoming the new generation of "forgotten veterans."
I won't forget the ones I met along the way. Kristi Schurman, John Chavez, Paul Sullivan, Charles Sheehan-Miles, Michael Donnelly, Randy Hebert, and so many others whose lives changed my own and helped me to understand, at least in part, my duty to them. I have tried to keep faith with them through my veteran's advocacy work over the years. Long Strange Journey is another attempt to honor that commitment. This blog is intended to take that mission one step further.
During the researching and writing of this book over the last 13 years, I began to understand that Desert Storm had not simply wrecked the health of roughly one-third of the 697,000 who were deployed to the theater. The war truly ushered in a new imperial age for our nation, one in which the frequency and scope of our military interventions increased dramatically--and almost invariably to ill effect.
Desert Storm unleashed what has become a bipartisan penchant for the use of force as the default setting for our foreign policy, particularly in the Islamic world. That militarism reached new heights in the wake of Al Qaeda's September 11, 2001 attacks on our country, when former President George W. Bush and those around him used the attacks--which only succeeded because of the incompetence and infighting between the CIA, FBI, and NSA--to push through a cowed Congress the most sweeping grant of executive war-making power in American history.
On September 18, 2001, the Congress passed S. J. Res. 23, the so-called authorization for the use of military force (AUMF). Because the AUMF would subsequently be used to justify taking our nation into a second, far more disastrous war with Iraq, and to expand the war against Al Qaeda to Pakistan, Somalia, Ethiopia and elsewhere around the world, it's worth quoting the operative section of the law in full:"SEC. 2. AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.
- (a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
Notice how this grants e xclusive, non-reviewable authority to the President alone to determine who allegedly attacked us. Many Democrats who served in Congress in 1991 and opposed the AUMF to eject Saddam's forces from Kuwait were still being criticized for their 1991 AUMF votes years later. That fact, combined with the direct nature of Al Qaeda's assaults on New York and Washington, caused every Democrat but Barbara Lee of California to support the AUMF. This was the strategic political legacy of Desert Storm: Democrats who opposed what was viewed as a "just war" then could not possibly oppose an AUMF offered in response to the carnage of 9/11, even if that AUMF gave Bush and any president who followed him unfettered power to wage war on a global scale so long as the name "Al Qaeda" could be invoked to justify it.
There is no evidence that the Pakistani Taliban--who effectively did not exists prior to our escalation of combat operations into Pakistan--aided bin Laden's organization. The Somali Islamic fundamentalist group Al Shabab did not even exist prior to 9/11--yet the 2001 AUMF is what Bush, and now Obama, are using to justify combat operations in that country. It is the same AUMF that is being cited by Obama administration officials as the source of their authority to target Al Qaeda elements in Yemen. Congress has not declared war on any of these countries. It didn't have to--because it had given successive presidents the power to do it for them.
The Desert Storm experience laid the ground work for all of what has followed over the last two decades. In the years ahead, through this blog and other writing projects, I will explore the ongoing consequences of the war and offer some suggestions for ending our slide towards imperial tyranny, at home and abroad.