The American Lobby

A friend once asked me whether I might be able to find any of the records of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services' hearings into the "Crisis in the Persian Gulf Region," chaired by Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, and dating from the Second Session of the 101st Congress, in late 1990.  Of course the answer was Yes.  I was able to find Federal News Service transcripts for each of the five days of hearings. "We are lighting our own fuse," Georgia's Nunn said of the constant American troop buildup in the region.  "[T]hose of us representing this nation have the obligation to ask these fundamental questions," he added. "The question, as I view it, is not whether military action is justified, I believe it is; the question is whether military action is wise at this time and in our own national interest." 

The Senate Armed Services Committee hearings ran for five consecutive working days, November 27, 28, 29, 30, and December 3.  Testimony was given by the Ford Administration’s Secretary of Defense, James Schlesinger (Nov. 27); by Nixon’s and Ford’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger (Nov. 28); by two former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Air Force General David Jones and the Navy Admiral, William Crowe (Nov. 28); by the former Secretary of the Navy, James Webb (Nov. 29); by the then-former Assistance Secretary of Defense under Reagan, Richard Perle (Nov. 29); by the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Edward Luttwak (Nov. 29); by Lieut. General William Odom, a former Director of the National Security Agency (Nov. 30); by Gary Milhollin, the Director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control (Nov. 30); by William Graham, a "Star Wars" guru and former science adviser to the White House under Reagan (Nov. 30); by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Leonard Spector (Nov. 30); and, last but not least, by the Bush Administration’s Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell (Dec. 3). 

The day after the hearings began, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 678.  This was the resolution that authorized Member States, "Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter,…to use all necessary means to uphold and implement Resolution 660 [August 2, 1990] and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area" (operative par. 2).  Some 13 years later, both the Bush and Blair regimes repeatedly would refer to Resolution 678 in asserting the right to launch their war of aggression over the defenseless Iraq. 

I am not sure what the very best passage from all of these tens-of-thousands of words of testimony was.  But surely one candidate for the prize came from the then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, who, on December 3, 1990, explained to the Senate and to the world what I believe to have been the core of the American position, then as much as it already had been for decades.  As much as it remained straight through March 2003.  And as much as it still remains today.  The main difference being that in early December 1990, no one had yet to start misattributing this enduring American position to the rise of some faction from the fringes of American Power, known as the “Neoconservatives.”  Much less to the crippling powers of the “Israel Lobby” within American life.

As Cheney explained the unchanging point of view of American Power (December 3, 1990): 

What was new and different on August 2nd, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, was that whereas before we had always assumed that in order to threaten our strategic interests in the area what was required was for someone to threaten Saudi Arabia, but on August 2nd it became clear that once Saddam Hussein had taken Kuwait and deployed the biggest army in the region, and the world's sixth largest army, and was unopposed, that there was no counterbalancing force there, that, in effect, he put himself in the position to dominate the Persian Gulf, to dominate the Middle East, and obviously also to put a choke hold on the world's economy.

The situation with respect to our strategic interest is vital in part because of energy, and there is a chart that I think captures, in my mind, what's significant about the Persian Gulf from the standpoint of oil. If you look at the chart there, you'll see outlined in blue the percentage of the world's proven oil reserves that reside in the Persian Gulf. Those are reserves that are proven out; that is, we know what's there, we've been able to measure it. But the fact is that if you include the reserves in Saudi Arabia, 28 percent, in Iraq and Kuwait, 22 percent, and in the other regions, the other nations of the Gulf, in the Emirates and in Iran, et cetera, you come up to in excess of 70 percent of the world's proven oil reserves reside in the Persian Gulf. As contrasted with some 3 percent in the United States, 6 percent in the Soviet Union.

There shouldn't be any doubt about the consequences of allowing a man like Saddam Hussein to control the world's supply of energy. Obviously, were he to do so, he'd have a choke hold on the world's economy, he would be able to control production levels and price, he'd be in a position to blackmail any nation which chose not to do his bidding.

One of the most significant concerns isn't just the fact that if he were to control the Gulf, that he would be able to affect production and price; one of the most significant questions that we have to ask is what he does with his oil wells. One of our concerns isn't just that he would control the resource, but rather that he would use the revenues derived therefrom in ways that would be threatening to the rest of the world. And we've got a pattern of experience to look at.

The fact, of course, is that Iraq is not a "have not" nation. It is potentially one of the world's richest nations. That Iraq itself possesses second only to Saudi Arabia oil reserves, proven oil reserves, some 11 percent of reserves. It currently has about 5 percent of production. Iraq's oil income last year was $20 billion. During the period of time in the 1980s that we look at what happened to the wealth that's flowed to that part of the world to pay for oil, we see in Saudi Arabia a nation that's used the riches to develop their own economy, improve the standard of living of their people; Kuwait invested $50 billion in the 1980s in economic investments around the world; and of course Iraq earning revenues roughly comparable to Kuwait, spent $50 billion on armaments in the 1980s. So at the end of the decade instead of a strong, healthy economy and a high standard of living for his people, Saddam Hussein had acquired one of the world's largest military arsenals — thousands of tanks, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, and had embarked upon programs to acquire biological and nuclear capability. That's what he's done with the wealth that he already possesses and it doesn't take a great leap of imagination to know what he would do were he to succeed in his current effort to hold Kuwait and to be the beneficiary of the enormous wealth that's represented in that part of the world.

This was a pure case of projection, of course: Washington accusing Baghdad of attempting to carry out a long-term policy objective that Washington wanted to carry out all by itself.

But it does express quite concisely the reasoning behind American policy in the Middle East and elsewhere (e.g., to the northeast of Iraq, in the region of the Caspian Sea).  In particular during these first years of the 21st Century. 

"The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, Faculty Research Working Paper Series, No. RWP06-011, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, March, 2006

"The Israel Lobby?" Noam Chomsky, ZNet, March 28, 2006

Update (November 2): For some of the critical public documents and presentations that carry us through the official date of launch for Operation Iraqi Freedom, see below.

Notice that 100 percent of these documents (exclusive of the House and Senate votes of October 2002) are exemplary of the kind of “intelligence and facts [that] were being fixed around the policy,” to use the infamous phrase that scribe Matthew Rycroft used when reporting the July 23, 2002 meeting among the British mucky-mucks then hovering around Tony Blair.  (“SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL – UK EYES ONLY.”)  But comprising the public face of American policy, they are only indirectly relevant to the actual agenda on the Americans’ plate.  As Rycroft’s memo spelled out this relationship at some length between the public and the real ("The Secret Downing Street Memo," Sunday Times, May 1, 2005):

Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.  But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record.

For some more of the leaked and declassified documents dating from the pre-invasion period, also see "The Downing Street Memos" (ZNet, June 15, 2005).

President Bush Delivers Graduation Speech at West Point, White House Office of the Press Secretary, June 1, 2002
President Bush Calls for New Palestinian Leadership, White House Office of the Press Secretary, June 24, 2002
A Decade of Deception and Defiance, White House Office of the Press Secretary, September 12, 2002.  (For the
PDF version of the complete document.)
President's Remarks at the United Nations General Assembly, White House Office of the Press Secretary, September 12, 2002
The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September, 2002  (For the
PDF version of the complete document.) 
Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Program, U.S. Central Intelligence Organization, October, 2002.  (For the PDF version of the complete report.)
Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, White House Office of the Press Secretary, October 2, 2002
House Roll Call Vote, October 10, 2002
Senate Roll Call Vote, October 11, 2002
Radio Address by the President to the Nation, White House Office of the Press Secretary, October 12, 2002
President Delivers "State of the Union", White House Office of the Press Secretary, January 28, 2003
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Addresses the UN Security Council, February 5, 2003
President Discusses the Future of Iraq, White House Office of the Press Secretary, February 26, 2003
President Bush Addresses the Nation, White House Office of the Press Secretary, March 19, 2003 

Message To the Congress of the United States, White House Office of the Press Secretary, March 20, 2003

"Bush Discusses Freedom in Iraq and the Middle East," White House Office of the Press Secretary, November 6, 2003


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