Massive attention has now been given - and rightly so - to
the reasons why Britain went to war against Iraq. But far too little attention
has focused on why the US went to war, and that throws light on British
motives too. The conventional explanation is that after the Twin Towers
were hit, retaliation against al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan was a natural
first step in launching a global war against terrorism. Then, because Saddam
Hussein was alleged by the US and UK governments to retain weapons of mass
destruction, the war could be extended to Iraq as well. However this theory
does not fit all the facts. The truth may be a great deal murkier.
We now know that a blueprint for the creation of a global
Pax Americana was drawn up for Dick Cheney (now vice-president), Donald
Rumsfeld (defence secretary), Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld's deputy), Jeb Bush
(George Bush's younger brother) and Lewis Libby (Cheney's chief of staff).
The document, entitled Rebuilding America's Defences, was written in September
2000 by the neoconservative think tank, Project for the New American Century
The plan shows Bush's cabinet intended to take military control
of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power. It says "while
the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification,
the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends
the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."
The PNAC blueprint supports an earlier document attributed
to Wolfowitz and Libby which said the US must "discourage advanced
industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a
larger regional or global role". It refers to key allies such as the
UK as "the most effective and efficient means of exercising American
global leadership". It describes peacekeeping missions as "demanding
American political leadership rather than that of the UN". It says
"even should Saddam pass from the scene", US bases in Saudi Arabia
and Kuwait will remain permanently... as "Iran may well prove as large
a threat to US interests as Iraq has". It spotlights China for "regime
change", saying "it is time to increase the presence of American
forces in SE Asia".
The document also calls for the creation of "US space
forces" to dominate space, and the total control of cyberspace to prevent
"enemies" using the internet against the US. It also hints that
the US may consider developing biological weapons "that can target
specific genotypes [and] may transform biological warfare from the realm
of terror to a politically useful tool".
Finally - written a year before 9/11 - it pinpoints North
Korea, Syria and Iran as dangerous regimes, and says their existence justifies
the creation of a "worldwide command and control system". This
is a blueprint for US world domination. But before it is dismissed as an
agenda for rightwing fantasists, it is clear it provides a much better explanation
of what actually happened before, during and after 9/11 than the global
war on terrorism thesis. This can be seen in several ways.
First, it is clear the US authorities did little or nothing
to pre-empt the events of 9/11. It is known that at least 11 countries provided
advance warning to the US of the 9/11 attacks. Two senior Mossad experts
were sent to Washington in August 2001 to alert the CIA and FBI to a cell
of 200 terrorists said to be preparing a big operation (Daily Telegraph,
September 16 2001). The list they provided included the names of four of
the 9/11 hijackers, none of whom was arrested.
It had been known as early as 1996 that there were plans to
hit Washington targets with aeroplanes. Then in 1999 a US national intelligence
council report noted that "al-Qaida suicide bombers could crash-land
an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters
of the CIA, or the White House".
Fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers obtained their visas in Saudi
Arabia. Michael Springman, the former head of the American visa bureau in
Jeddah, has stated that since 1987 the CIA had been illicitly issuing visas
to unqualified applicants from the Middle East and bringing them to the
US for training in terrorism for the Afghan war in collaboration with Bin
Laden (BBC, November 6 2001). It seems this operation continued after the
Afghan war for other purposes. It is also reported that five of the hijackers
received training at secure US military installations in the 1990s (Newsweek,
September 15 2001).
Instructive leads prior to 9/11 were not followed up. French
Moroccan flight student Zacarias Moussaoui (now thought to be the 20th hijacker)
was arrested in August 2001 after an instructor reported he showed a suspicious
interest in learning how to steer large airliners. When US agents learned
from French intelligence he had radical Islamist ties, they sought a warrant
to search his computer, which contained clues to the September 11 mission
(Times, November 3 2001). But they were turned down by the FBI. One agent
wrote, a month before 9/11, that Moussaoui might be planning to crash into
the Twin Towers (Newsweek, May 20 2002).
All of this makes it all the more astonishing - on the war
on terrorism perspective - that there was such slow reaction on September
11 itself. The first hijacking was suspected at not later than 8.20am, and
the last hijacked aircraft crashed in Pennsylvania at 10.06am. Not a single
fighter plane was scrambled to investigate from the US Andrews airforce
base, just 10 miles from Washington DC, until after the third plane had
hit the Pentagon at 9.38 am. Why not? There were standard FAA intercept
procedures for hijacked aircraft before 9/11. Between September 2000 and
June 2001 the US military launched fighter aircraft on 67 occasions to chase
suspicious aircraft (AP, August 13 2002). It is a US legal requirement that
once an aircraft has moved significantly off its flight plan, fighter planes
are sent up to investigate.
Was this inaction simply the result of key people disregarding,
or being ignorant of, the evidence? Or could US air security operations
have been deliberately stood down on September 11? If so, why, and on whose
authority? The former US federal crimes prosecutor, John Loftus, has said:
"The information provided by European intelligence services prior to
9/11 was so extensive that it is no longer possible for either the CIA or
FBI to assert a defence of incompetence."
Nor is the US response after 9/11 any better. No serious attempt
has ever been made to catch Bin Laden. In late September and early October
2001, leaders of Pakistan's two Islamist parties negotiated Bin Laden's
extradition to Pakistan to stand trial for 9/11. However, a US official
said, significantly, that "casting our objectives too narrowly"
risked "a premature collapse of the international effort if by some
lucky chance Mr Bin Laden was captured". The US chairman of the joint
chiefs of staff, General Myers, went so far as to say that "the goal
has never been to get Bin Laden" (AP, April 5 2002). The whistleblowing
FBI agent Robert Wright told ABC News (December 19 2002) that FBI headquarters
wanted no arrests. And in November 2001 the US airforce complained it had
had al-Qaida and Taliban leaders in its sights as many as 10 times over
the previous six weeks, but had been unable to attack because they did not
receive permission quickly enough (Time Magazine, May 13 2002). None of
this assembled evidence, all of which comes from sources already in the
public domain, is compatible with the idea of a real, determined war on
The catalogue of evidence does, however, fall into place when
set against the PNAC blueprint. From this it seems that the so-called "war
on terrorism" is being used largely as bogus cover for achieving wider
US strategic geopolitical objectives. Indeed Tony Blair himself hinted at
this when he said to the Commons liaison committee: "To be truthful
about it, there was no way we could have got the public consent to have
suddenly launched a campaign on Afghanistan but for what happened on September
11" (Times, July 17 2002). Similarly Rumsfeld was so determined to
obtain a rationale for an attack on Iraq that on 10 separate occasions he
asked the CIA to find evidence linking Iraq to 9/11; the CIA repeatedly
came back empty-handed (Time Magazine, May 13 2002).
In fact, 9/11 offered an extremely convenient pretext to put
the PNAC plan into action. The evidence again is quite clear that plans
for military action against Afghanistan and Iraq were in hand well before
9/11. A report prepared for the US government from the Baker Institute of
Public Policy stated in April 2001 that "the US remains a prisoner
of its energy dilemma. Iraq remains a destabilising influence to... the
flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East". Submitted
to Vice-President Cheney's energy task group, the report recommended that
because this was an unacceptable risk to the US, "military intervention"
was necessary (Sunday Herald, October 6 2002).
Similar evidence exists in regard to Afghanistan. The BBC
reported (September 18 2001) that Niaz Niak, a former Pakistan foreign secretary,
was told by senior American officials at a meeting in Berlin in mid-July
2001 that "military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by the
middle of October". Until July 2001 the US government saw the Taliban
regime as a source of stability in Central Asia that would enable the construction
of hydrocarbon pipelines from the oil and gas fields in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan,
Kazakhstan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Indian Ocean. But,
confronted with the Taliban's refusal to accept US conditions, the US representatives
told them "either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury
you under a carpet of bombs" (Inter Press Service, November 15 2001).
Given this background, it is not surprising that some have
seen the US failure to avert the 9/11 attacks as creating an invaluable
pretext for attacking Afghanistan in a war that had clearly already been
well planned in advance. There is a possible precedent for this. The US
national archives reveal that President Roosevelt used exactly this approach
in relation to Pearl Harbor on December 7 1941. Some advance warning of
the attacks was received, but the information never reached the US fleet.
The ensuing national outrage persuaded a reluctant US public to join the
second world war. Similarly the PNAC blueprint of September 2000 states
that the process of transforming the US into "tomorrow's dominant force"
is likely to be a long one in the absence of "some catastrophic and
catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor". The 9/11 attacks allowed
the US to press the "go" button for a strategy in accordance with
the PNAC agenda which it would otherwise have been politically impossible
The overriding motivation for this political smokescreen is
that the US and the UK are beginning to run out of secure hydrocarbon energy
supplies. By 2010 the Muslim world will control as much as 60% of the world's
oil production and, even more importantly, 95% of remaining global oil export
capacity. As demand is increasing, so supply is decreasing, continually
since the 1960s.
This is leading to increasing dependence on foreign oil supplies
for both the US and the UK. The US, which in 1990 produced domestically
57% of its total energy demand, is predicted to produce only 39% of its
needs by 2010. A DTI minister has admitted that the UK could be facing "severe"
gas shortages by 2005. The UK government has confirmed that 70% of our electricity
will come from gas by 2020, and 90% of that will be imported. In that context
it should be noted that Iraq has 110 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves
in addition to its oil.
A report from the commission on America's national interests
in July 2000 noted that the most promising new source of world supplies
was the Caspian region, and this would relieve US dependence on Saudi Arabia.
To diversify supply routes from the Caspian, one pipeline would run westward
via Azerbaijan and Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Another would
extend eastwards through Afghanistan and Pakistan and terminate near the
Indian border. This would rescue Enron's beleaguered power plant at Dabhol
on India's west coast, in which Enron had sunk $3bn investment and whose
economic survival was dependent on access to cheap gas.
Nor has the UK been disinterested in this scramble for the
remaining world supplies of hydrocarbons, and this may partly explain British
participation in US military actions. Lord Browne, chief executive of BP,
warned Washington not to carve up Iraq for its own oil companies in the
aftermath of war (Guardian, October 30 2002). And when a British foreign
minister met Gadaffi in his desert tent in August 2002, it was said that
"the UK does not want to lose out to other European nations already
jostling for advantage when it comes to potentially lucrative oil contracts"
with Libya (BBC Online, August 10 2002).
The conclusion of all this analysis must surely be that the
"global war on terrorism" has the hallmarks of a political myth
propagated to pave the way for a wholly different agenda - the US goal of
world hegemony, built around securing by force command over the oil supplies
required to drive the whole project. Is collusion in this myth and junior
participation in this project really a proper aspiration for British foreign
policy? If there was ever need to justify a more objective British stance,
driven by our own independent goals, this whole depressing saga surely provides
all the evidence needed for a radical change of course.
· Michael Meacher MP was environment minister from
May 1997 to June 2003
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