Condoleeza Rice’s metaphor of choice—there was no “silver bullet” that could have prevented the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States—was meant to dismiss critics’ claim that the Bush administration had been negligent. But it was also intended to ridicule Richard Clarke.

Testifying April 8 before the independent US Congressional commission looking into the 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center that claimed over 3,000 lives, National Security Adviser Rice was taking an indirect dig at the former counter-terrorism adviser of the Bush administration.

Clarke had claimed in his earlier testimony before the Commission that the Bush administration had focused on Iraq instead of Al Qaeda in the aftermath of the attacks in which Islamic militants (none of them Iraqis) had hijacked and crashed two jets into the Center. They also crashed a third jet into the Pentagon. A fourth crashed into a Pennsylvania field before it could find its target, which Clarke claims was the White House itself.

Since going public on the failure of the Bush administration to immediately go after Al Qaeda and its decision to focus on Iraq, both Clarke’s character and his competence have been under attack by Bush partisans. He has been accused of using September 11 to push the sales of his book Against All Enemies: Inside

America’s War on Terror, and ridiculed for believing the supposedly impossible—that there was some way the attacks could have been prevented– in contrast to the pragmatic, feet-on-the-ground advisers of Bush (among them Rice). Thus the “silver bullet” metaphor, which makes it appear that people like Clarke believed that there was a magical formula that could have prevented the attacks.

And yet a recently declassified August 2001 memorandum Rice identified before the Commission reveals that the Bush administration had been warned about possible plane hijackings by Al Qaeda operatives in the United States. Although the memo “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the US” fell short of predicting that the hijacked planes would be used as weapons, the memo had been preceded by at least 12 warnings from US intelligence of such a plan, as reported by CBS News on May 5, 2002 (“Report Warned of Suicide Hijackings”). What’s more, said a Los Angeles Times report at the time, both Rice and Bush had been warned in July 2001 of the possibility of terrorists’ using a hijacked airliner to kill world leaders meeting in Genoa, Italy.

If true, the advanced warnings could have at least caused the Bush administration to go on high alert. But Rice’s testimony before the Commission—echoing the statements of other Bush government officials and Republican Party members—suggests that the August 2001 memo did not provide it enough cause to do so! This was also because the US was not on a war footing before September 11, said Rice. In addition, there were “structural flaws” in US intelligence which prevented the Bush administration from getting a clear picture of whatever threat there was.

Rice’s critics have argued that Rice and the White House are asking for specifics—the who, what,
where, when, and how– that could rarely be provided by the intelligence community. Clarke goes further. He argues that the Bush administration, rather than take reports of possible terrorist attacks on US soil seriously, instead ignored them, and was more focused on already stale Cold War issues.

“It was if they (Bush and his other advisers including his defense secretary and vice president) had been preserved in amber,” said Clarke, whose own metaphor suggests a Bush administration focus on Jurassic issues. As a result, Clarke claims in his book as in his testimony before the September 11 Commission, the Bush administration failed to protect Americans.

It has also failed to make them any safer in the aftermath of the attacks. Instead of going after Al Qaeda immediately, said Clarke, Bush and his closest advisers, specially Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard Cheney, had wanted to bomb Iraq. Bush himself had asked him to find a connection—a “shred” of evidence would do—between September 11 and Saddam Hussein to justify an attack on Iraq, said Clarke.

Clarke said he did not see Iraq as a priority target, and not only because the Saddam Hussein regime had nothing to do with either Al Qaeda or the September 11 attacks. An attack on Iraq would also have validated Osama bin Laden’s claim that the US would attack an oil-rich country and occupy it. This would result in wide-spread anti-US sentiments in the Islamic world, and more recruits for Al Qaeda.

Clarke could of course merely be benefiting from hindsight. But by attacking Iraq, the Bush government has neither made the US any safer nor any more respected. Not only are US soldiers dying in the resulting chaos and violence of the March 20, 2003 invasion and occupation. The whole enterprise has proven to be based on some of the most bare-faced lies, among them that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and that he could unleash them within 45 minutes.

None of these proven lies have prevented the United States from making other, equally brazen claims. One of the most repeated ones nowadays is the coming “transfer of power” to Iraqis and the “restoration of Iraqi sovereignty” on June 30.

The truth is that except for the ceremony, neither will be occurring on that date. Any “Iraqi” government that will be in place by June 30 will in be largely chosen by the occupying power. That government will have no other function except to draw up a budget and to prepare for the 2005 elections– the outcome of which the United States will largely decide

The “Coalition Provisional Authority”—alias the United States occupation forces—has also placed the Iraqi military, which it itself rebuilt, under US military command. As your professor in political science 101 will tell you, no government that has no control over its military component can ever claim to be sovereign. The interim “Iraqi” government will not have any power over the Special Tribunals that will try former members of the Baath Party either.

In the first place, the members of the same government will not be elected by the Iraqis, but most probably named by a committee created by the US-appointed and controlled Governing Council.

Meanwhile, the United States will retain control of the central bank law and companies law, says the British journalist Robert Fisk. The US has also created a Communications and Media Commission to license and regulate telecommunications, information and other media in Iraq– which, if the shutdown of newspapers critical of US occupation is any indication, means tight US control over Iraqi media and telecommunications even after “independence.”

With no time limit in sight for its presence, the US will tutor Iraqis in democratic governance (does that sound familiar?), even as it continues to be, for the foreseeable future, the real ruler of Iraq.

The future of Iraq thus looks disturbingly like the Philippine past and present– except worse. When the United States “granted” independence in 1946, its military, ensconced in several bases all over the country, did not have formal command over the Philippine military. They were kingdoms in themselves, operated under their own laws, and were extremely “influential” over their Philippine counterparts. But at least there was the fiction that the Philippine military was independent. And while Filipino politicians could be relied on to decide policy on the basis of what suited the US best, some of them were actually elected.

The Iraqis will get no such privileges. If they ever get to vote at all, they will do so in 2005 in the shadow of US military power and under strictly-controlled conditions meant to prevent “insurgents,” “radicals” and “rebels”—meaning anyone who disagrees with the US—from being elected.

So much for the “restoration of Iraqi sovereignty,” and so much for bringing democracy to Iraq. There may not have been a silver bullet before September 11, but there has been no lack of brazen lies after.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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