Those Who ride Bush’s Back

Carl Senna

Those who ride Bush’s back

By Carl Senna, 2006, all rights reserved

In the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice arrived this week, October 1, pursued by controversy. In Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel she was denying reports in the Washington Post that CIA director George Tenet had warned her that terrorists were planning an attack on the U.S. two months before the 9/11/2001 attack occurred. Two days later, she has had her spokesperson reverse her previous denial and concede that she had received the warning as reported in a new book by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, State of Denial. ( See “State Dept. Confirms Rice-Tenet Meeting,” Report by Anne Gearan, Washington Post and The Associated Press, Tuesday, October 3, 2006; 11:58 AM )The Secretary has long been suspect in the U.S. of false denials on many other policies. The U.S. , for instance, denies intimidating Pakistan over its refusal to let the U.S. use it as a proxy security force in the Afghanistan War. But seasoned observers of U.S. foreign policy know that the contrary is true.
When I was writing editorials for an American newspaper (The Providence Journal) in 1999, I wrote an editorial that was published on the absurdity of the Clinton administration sanctioning Pakistan and India for their nuclear weapons. Not long after that our paper’s editorial board had an off-the-record visit from Strobe Talbot, a deputy assistant at the State Dept. One of the things he was concerned about was Pakistan’s reaction to US sanctions, involving possible Pakistani trade in nuclear know-how to offset economic losses imposed by American sanctions. My editorial had raised that possibility, and Talbot seemed eager to learn about my interest in the subject, which was raised in no other general newspaper editorial pages to my knowledge at the time. But having just returned from Singapore, I knew that economic causes of nuclear weapons proliferation were a concern among Asian officials whom I had interviewed.

At the editorial board meeting, I recall Talbot emphatically telling us that were Pakistan found to have traded nuclear weapons to Iran or to terrorists, the US would react harshly and punish Pakistan, and that Pakistan would deeply regret its trade. He spoke of direct military intervention in Pakistan, risky as that would be against a nuclear armed state. And he said that the US had the capability of monitoring and tracking Pakistani nuclear weapons and know-how on the black market. Musharraf overthrew the previous government. Following standard diplomatic denunciations of the Musharraf coup, which at the time were as empty and cynical as they were insincere and toothless, the US soon made the Musharraf government a strategic ally in the war on terrorism.

Following 9/11, President Bush not only threatened governments in the Islamic world with an ultimatum, “either you’re with us, or you’re against us,” but he had Armitage and Secretary Powell directly threaten governments like Iraq for giving safe passage to Usama Bin Laden’s family.

I firmly believe that when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein refused to turn over the family of Usama bin Laden to the US, following the 9/11 attacks, President Bush and his staff resolved to punish Iraq’s leadership and to replace it. That was when Bush made the decision to go to war. All that one knew at the time from press reports was that “Bush was hopping mad” when he learned that the Iraqi leader would not turn over bin Laden’s wife and children passing through Iraq to be interrogated by the FBI and CIA, or to be held as hostages by the Americans. I also believe that, consistent with the threats against Pakistan uttered by Talbot, that Armitage did indeed threaten to bomb Pakistan back into the stone age, notwithstanding the denials of Secretary Rice. Indeed, the phrase “to bomb them back into the stone age” was the language at the Pentagon regarding a number of countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. Whether the US had a hand in Pakistan’s regime change, following my editorial on nuclear know-how trading there, I cannot say. But in light of what subsequently emerged publicly regarding the nuclear bomb commerce of manufacturer, A. Q. Khan, I am certain that the US, even under President Clinton, was more deeply involved in clandestine surveillance of Pakistan than most people suspected. And one of the hallmarks of that surveillance was the purchase of so-called Pakistani or Urdu speaking “humanint,” or military spies within Pakistan to keep tabs on Pakistan’s military potential. So I take the remarks of Secretary Rice with a grain of salt. “,1] ); //–>
In light of the controversy over the alleged threats to Pakistan by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, following 9/11, the reported Armitage threats are consistent with what Talbot said seven years ago to my editorial board colleagues and myself. Within a few weeks of the editorial’s publication, General Pervez Musharraf overthrew the previous government and came to power. Following standard diplomatic denunciations of the Musharraf coup, which at the time were as empty and cynical as they were insincere and toothless, the US soon made his government a strategic ally in the war on terrorism.

Following 9/11, President Bush not only threatened governments in the Islamic world with an ultimatum, “either you’re with us, or you’re against us,” but he had Armitage and Secretary Powell directly threaten governments like Iraq for giving safe passage to Usama Bin Laden’s family. I firmly believe that when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein refused to turn over the family of Usama bin Laden to the US, following the 9/11 attacks, President Bush and his staff resolved to punish Iraqi’s leadership and to replace it. That was when Bush made the decision to go to war. All that one knew at the time from press reports was that “Bush was hopping mad” when he learned that the Iraqi leader would not turn over bin Laden’s wife and children passing through Iraq then to be interrogated by the FBI and CIA, or to be held as hostages by the Americans. I also believe that, consistent with the threats against Pakistan uttered by Talbot, that Armitage did indeed threaten to bomb Pakistan back into the stone age, notwithstanding the denials of Secretary Rice. Indeed, the phrase “to bomb them back into the stone age” was then current at the Pentagon regarding a number of countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. Whether the US had a hand in Pakistan’s regime change, following my editorial on nuclear know-how trading there, I cannot say. But in light of what subsequently emerged publicly regarding the nuclear bomb commerce of Pakistani manufacturer, A. Q. Khan, I am certain that the US, even under President Clinton, was more deeply involved in clandestine surveillance of Pakistan than most people suspected. And one of the hallmarks of that surveillance was the purchase of so-called Pakistani or Urdu speaking “humanint,” or military spies within Pakistan to keep tabs on Pakistan’s military potential. So I take the remarks of Secretary Rice with a grain of salt. plays to public sympathy by citing her childhood under racial segregation, .

But there is something else about Rice that has always bothered me about her, beyond her mendacity and self-promotion. And that has to do with the way she distorts her past. She has always been a kind of window dressing or propaganda tool for the Bush administration, rather than a true policy maker. Bush, of course, makes policy, others implement it, but this is moreso true of Rice than any other Bush Cabinet Minister. And former President Bush, the father of the current President, is deeply involved in the “foreign policy emphasis” of his son’s administration.

I do not agree with former Conservative Prime Minister Kim Campbell, who once remarked at a private dinner I attended in 2003, that Rice is as “dumb as dishwater.” But since I was partly raised in the same African American community of Birmingham, Alabama, as was Ms. Rice,I do not doubt Rice’s intelligence. At the same time I cannot but note how she often plays to public sympathy by citing her childhood under racial segregation. Most of her listeners today would never know that she once held in contempt activists who were deeply involved in Civil Rights such as Martin Luther King, Malik Shabazz and Angela Davis, her neighbor. The truth is that Rice has no Civil Rights protest record, such as former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, a lieutenant of Martin Luther King; indeed, all of life she has shunned anything to do with activist protest organizations fighting racial segregation. One has the feeling from observing her today that she has never raised her objections to the decisions or actions of any person in direct authority over her.

As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote: ‘Nobody can go back and reinvent the past,’ Condoleezza Rice told Katie Couric on “60 Minutes” Sunday night. But this nugget of truth came amid a flood of retrospective reinvention in which Rice equated the war in Iraq with the civil rights struggle of the 1960s — and left me wondering whether I was hearing polished sophistry or a case of total denial. (“Baghdad Isn’t Birmingham,” By Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, Tuesday, September 26, 2006; Page A21)When Rice denies, therefore, that Armitage made threats to Pakistan following 9/11, she is behaving as anyone who knows her background would expect. There is not a shred of moral integrity in anything she says about the Armitage quote, and she is never to be trusted about such things. At least Colin Powell had shown some backbone opposing Bush, which is why, Bush, who wanted the highly admired, famous African American in a foreign policy position to use for propaganda purposes, held Rice as an African American backup replacement in the event that he and Powell would have a falling out, as they subsequently did.
The caveat that President John F. Kennedy expressed in a metaphor to Third World countries nearly a half-century ago, that those who ride the back of the tiger could well end up inside the tiger ‘s belly—-the tiger then being the Soviet Union—-should be applied now to the Third World allies of the Bush administration.
Journalist Carl Senna is the author of a biography of Colin Powell (Colin Powell: A Man of War and Peace, Walker Publishing, 1992) and he writes on foreign affairs for several newspapers in the United States and other countries.

This commentary available for reprint and syndication. Contact snowbirdcanada@gmail.com

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