On Saturday October 21st, 2006 I spoke with Ray McGovern. McGovern worked as an analyst for the CIA for 27 years and co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
In part two of our interview, McGovern discusses the Israeli war against Lebanon and it’s implications for Iran, VIPS, and concrete ways to combat the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East.
CB: In your opinion, did the U.S. see the Israeli war in Lebanon as a pretext to support a war with Iran?
RM: Well it’s a very good question. It’s rather bizarre that the President of the United States would receive a visit from Israeli Prime Minister Olmert a month before the Israelis decided to attack Lebanon’s infrastructure on the pretext that two of their soldiers had been captured.
What was the motivation behind this bizarre approval, not only approval but the egging on of the Israelis to do this; and then refuse to call for a ceasefire as so many Lebanese, as well as Israelis were being killed?
Well, it’s part and parcel of this perceived identification of interests between Israel and the United States. These men, and they’re all men, Condoleezza Rice is just and executive secretary; they have great difficulty in what they perceive to be the strategic interests of Israel on one hand, and the strategic interests of the United States on the other.
This is a classic example of what President George Washington warned about as he left office: he said that the main thing to be aware of is when you call it “dangling alliances” when a perceived interest of one party become unthinkingly identified with perceived interests of the ally; and how deleterious that can be. This is on par with another warning by a President, who just happened to be a General, General Eisenhower, talking about the military Industrial Complex.
In any case, we have a very unhealthy relationship with Israel where people running our policy consider Israel’s interests to be on par with ours.
Now, I care greatly about what happens to the Israeli people, I also care what happens to the Palestinian people; but my problem with all of this, besides the moral imperative not to condone people unnecessarily, is that Israel, in my view, is in a more dangerous situation right now than it has been since 1948.
Why do I say that?
I say; why don’t you just look at Lebanon. Over the last year, the Lebanese government was taking a form, which suggested very strongly that they were going to form a multi-confessional state, Jews, Arabs, Christians living together which Lebanon use to be able to do.
And it was coming together.
Now look at it!
The aftermath of the Israeli bombing of it’s infrastructure (Lebanon’s) and the inability, on the part of the Israelis, to destroy Hizbollah, there’s virtually no chance, in my view, that a peaceful neighborly neighbor such was envisioned before the attack, a multi-confessional state…that’s not going to be possible.
Now they’re going to have an Islamist state. That’s just, over the long run, going to pose all kinds of problems of safety and security to the Israeli people.
And look at Iraq.
Now it has always been my contention that part of the rational for attacking Iraq, after the need for oil and after the imperial design of creating permanent military bases in that country, which we’re still working on, after those two major considerations, mostly behind a perceived need to make that area safer for the state of Israel.
Now, I think most Americans have forgotten, that before we invaded Iraq, there was no Iraqi sponsorship of terrorism, there were no terrorists in Iraq! But all the propaganda that the president said that; “we have to catapult the propaganda.”
So all the propaganda coming out of the White House, I dare say maybe ten percent of the American people realize that Saddam Hussein was not sponsoring any kind of terrorist activities. He had given some sort of house arrests privilege to Abu Nidal and a couple of aging terrorists who were allowed to die in Baghdad. But the whole extent for his support for terrorism came, and I don’t condone this for one minute, for support of families of suicide terrorists in Palestine. He was offering a certain amount to those families. But that was the whole extent of sponsorship for terrorist activities.
So, there were no terrorists in Iraq, and there were no suicide bombers. There were no, before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, suicide bombings.
Now look at Iraq!
Iraq is teeming with terrorists, even some al Qaeda terrorists. These are people who wish Israel ill. These are people pretty close to the Israeli border now and Israel is in much more danger now than before.
So what I’m suggesting here is that this is a very myopic approach not only on the part of the U.S., but also on the part of the Israeli leaders. And if they think they can, by violence, preserve their country by threatening a country like Iran by saying; ‘Look, you may be five or ten years away from developing a nuclear weapon, but you might be able to get the knowledge to construct one; we’re not going to let you do that. We’re going to bomb you, bomb you back to the Stone Age.’ Which I’m sure is what our leaders are thinking, but in much more diplomatic language from the State department.
I care about the Israelis. I care about they’re short sided approach to this problem. Coming out of the Judaic Christian Tradition, and like George Bush I read the Bible, but I came up with very different conclusions.
The Hebrew Scriptures speak very eloquently too me of the need not to cause unnecessary violence. Not to take up the sword, and indeed when the Jews of the Old Testament violated that law, that’s when they ran into trouble.
CB: Could you talk about the organization you co-founded Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity?
RM: Many of us retired in the 90s and took up other pursuits. But we all followed the news and we saw the strange incidence of our President saying things that were not true. For example, that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), when he knew that these had been destroyed in 1991.
And so we started comparing notes by email, and writing the occasional Op Eds. And when it became clear that this corruption of the intelligence process was going to be used to start an unnecessary war, it was then that we decided that we needed to form a movement, which we truly hoped would become more than the sum of it’s parts; where we could speak corporately on these issues.
It began with former members of the CIA, but very quickly grew, and now we have members from all 16 intelligence agencies, and we are up to 57 members.
Or first substantive output was the memo written on the same day that Colin Powell spoke in the UN. We set ourselves the task of doing a same day critique, just as we would in the old days by Castro, Gorbachov or Brezhnev. We knew that this was going to be an important event, we’ll write it up and report by email and AP (Associated Press) said they would put it out on they’re wire at 5pm.
So, I was given primary drafting responsibilities and I got a draft to my colleagues around 3pm, and AP said we missed the deadline by fifteen minutes but they put it out anyway at 5:15pm.
And what did we say?
First off, Mr. President, we give Colin Powell and ‘A’ for performance, but in regards to the content, the evidence had been hyped. Then we said; Mr. President you need to realize, if you don’t already, that your senior officials, especially your Vice President, is leaning really hard on CIA analysts to cook up evidence to things that don’t exist, like WMD. And finally our last sentence read thusly:
“No one has a corner on the truth; nor do we harbor illusions that our analysis is irrefutable or undeniable. But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion beyond violations of Resolution 1441, and beyond the circle of those advisors clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”
We take no joy at all to write about that. In fact, the former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix was crying from the rooftops that there were no WMD!
And so we found it to be our duty to analyze speeches like this.
So, the President was told by us, and others, and he was aware that the evidence had been cooked. The most flagrant was this idea that Iraq had uranium from Niger. It couldn’t happen, and on the face of it everybody found out that it was forgery. Before the war people found out but after Congress had been misled on the basis of this report that Iraq was working on nuclear weapons.
Don’t take my word for that Henry Waxman and other Congressmen went to the President saying; ‘look, on the basis of the report that your people, Colin Powell and others are now saying is a forgery! Tell me how that can happen?’ And he never got an adequate answer.
So in short, we felt it out duty to speak out.
CB: Finally Ray McGovern, what are concrete steps that people can take to try and combat the overreaching hand of the Bush administration in the Middle East?
RM: They can hold they’re representatives and senators accountable.
I was in Missouri this month. So I brushed up on my Mark Twain; “There is no criminal class in America as such, except for Congress.”
Now, I use to think that was funny. It’s no longer funny.
This Congress has voted for laws that re clearly unconstitutional, not to mention against international law. They have given this President the right to eavesdrop, arrest, and even torture people. These congressmen need to be held accountable for what they did. They allowed themselves to be scared, just like they did four years ago.
Scared by whom?
Scared by Karl Rove. It was Rove four years ago who insisted that all these stories be brought to the American people, to the Congress, but the stories were based on cooked reports.
Because he wanted to force he Democrats to face up to the unsavory place of voting against a war that was authorized against a brutal dictator who threatened us with WMD and was partly responsible for 9/11. A choice between voting for that war and voting against it. A lot of the Democrats even caved.
Well because they remember when fellow Democrats tried to vote against the Gulf War in 1990. They really took it on the chin; some people saw that as a glorious war.
So, fours years ago it happened, and now it’s happening again.
Who wants to appear soft on terrorists?
Who wants to be the subject of TV ads starting next week saying, ‘Rep. Jane Doe, voted against giving the President the tools he needs to fight terrorism!’
Well, that’s silly, but a lot of people get taken in by that. And that’s why they forced this vote, before the election, and anybody who voted against that bill (The Military Commission Act) will be subjected to criticism.
John Bayner from the mid-west, he’s the Republican leader of the House. He said two weeks ago, ‘you know the democrats care more about protecting terrorists than protecting Americans!’
You know, I’m old enough to remember Joe McCarthy, and Joe McCarthy wasn’t that dumb.