Celebrating a golden anniversary reunion with classmates from Fordham College (class of 1961) on a perfect June day in New York should be a time of pure Gaudeamus Igitur and little or no stress.
I should have known better that to attend a long lecture by Jack Keane, a retired four-star general of Fordham Business School’s class of 1966. Actually, I did know better; but I went anyway. I felt I could risk going to hear Keane’s slant on the world because, prior to my upcoming Mediterranean cruise to Gaza, my cardiologist had pronounced my blood pressure under control. I felt as good, and energized, as 50 years ago.
Keane, now a member of Fordham’s Board of Trustees, has been the go-to general for the neoconservatives in recent years. He indicated that he was about to catch a flight to Europe where he would lobby leaders of the 41 NATO countries who, except for three, have been “unwilling to ask their people to sacrifice” in places like Afghanistan. (It seems never to have crossed his mind that most Europeans have long since concluded that the war in Afghanistan – aka Vietnamistan – is a fool’s errand, and that they are less susceptible to misleading rhetoric about the so-called War on Terror.)
Proceeding from general to specific, Keane mentioned that he had asked top UK military leaders at Sandhurst why even the British seem to be going wobbly on Afghanistan. He said that over cocktails British generals commiserated with Keane, asking him sheepishly, “Have you Americans lost confidence in us?”
“Yes we have,” Keane said he answered. He told us he very much bemoaned increasing U.S. isolation — even from its closest allies — on crucial matters of war and peace, but assured us: “We’re better.” Keane said he was going to Europe to try to transplant some of the U.S. “strength of character” into European backbones.
Europe Unwilling to “Sacrifice” Like We Are
Keane suggested that the two world wars had weakened the moral fiber and resolve of most Europeans. He claimed that the “main ingredient” in the lamentable “unwillingness of European leaders to ask their people to sacrifice” was the prevalence of Social Democracy. At which point a Golden Jubilee classmate of mine threw up his hand in a vain attempt to ask what sacrifices most Americans have been asked to make during almost ten years of war in Afghanistan — especially relatively wealthy white Americans like, sadly, virtually all of us in the audience.
On such a beautiful spring day, only a skunk at the picnic would call attention to the reality that only a select few Americans are being asked to “sacrifice;” that is, are being sent off to kill and be killed.
Hundreds of Fordham alumni perished in WW-I and WW-II. During Korea and Vietnam respects were paid and prayers always offered for those fallen in battle. Not so this year. I found myself wondering if any alumni had died in Iraq or Afghanistan. (I should have asked, even at the risk of eliciting an embarrassed silence.)
I have felt from the outset that eliminating the draft merits a place toward the very top of the long list of President Richard Nixon’s missteps. Would Congress have voted to launch war on Iraq, if “important” people — like Representatives and Senators themselves and their children — would have been at risk to be sent into battle? I don’t think so.
Keane and his well-heeled Establishment colleagues are quite okay asking other Americans to sacrifice. Half of U.S. forces are drawn, via a poverty draft, from the inner cities and small American towns of less than 50,000 – places with few jobs and even fewer educational opportunities. This is, in my view, an important moral issue, however painful it might be to examine it closely. It is avoided like the plague.
Highly Educated but Ill-Informed
I found the situation at Fordham as bad as what I observed during our last class reunion five years ago. Sadly, most of my classmates and many of my closest friends — virtually all avid readers of the New York Times — are malnourished by the thin gruel dished out by the Times and the rest of the Fawning Corporate Media.
Those willing to take the trouble to navigate the Web and look for alternative media for full and accurate information still comprise a distinct minority. Like me, however, they were deeply troubled that our alma mater would lionize Gen. Keane. “Thou shalt not kill” seems to have become as “quaint” and “obsolete” as the Geneva Conventions.
Those in that minority were all too well aware that Keane was a key figure in promoting the so-called “surge” of over 30,000 U.S. troops in 2007 that helped the Shia complete the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad. In short, during the surge, the Iraqi capital of several million was transformed from a predominantly Sunni city into an overwhelmingly Shiite one.
I had expected Keane to echo Establishment encomia regarding the “success” of the surge — and I had thought about what I might ask on that topic during the Q & A — but his hour-long lecture on “Emerging Global Risks and Opportunities” had a more general sweep. If anything held center stage, it was the “threat” from Iran, which he portrayed as part of an “ideological” struggle to create an Islamic Caliphate by defeating America’s moral fiber, with the first step in this assault being the attack on 9/11. See how it all comes together?!
Iran: Main “Strategic Enemy” of the U.S.?
According to Keane, not only is the Iranian “dictatorship” intent on acquiring “regional hegemony,” it is trying to “fundamentally change the world” by acquiring nuclear weapons. The United States is rightly concerned, he said, with internal repression in Iran; he branded Iranian leaders as “thugs and killers.”
The “fundamental concern,” however, is that the Iranians “are acquiring nuclear weapons.” Here we go again, I thought. My hand shot up, but I had to wait until Keane finished his global survey. Finishing with the Far East, he reassured us that America has little to fear from a resurgent China.
When the Q and A began, I prefaced my question by highlighting the things we had in common, noting that I too was a Distinguished Military Graduate of Fordham’s ROTC program and had been offered a career commission in the regular Army.
I chose to take my commission in the Army Reserve and I mentioned that after two years on active duty I had served for the next 27 years as a CIA analyst. I then made a point to thank him for warning us at the outset that he was a direct, open person with strong opinions, and that some of what he would say would be precisely that — his opinion. It seemed appropriate at that point to allude to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous dictum that everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.
Could he be unaware, I asked, that in late 2007, the 16 agencies of the U.S. intelligence community had concluded — unanimously, and “with high confidence” — that Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in mid-2003? Did he somehow miss the key National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007? Did he also miss the March 2011 testimony of National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who told Congress there was no evidence warranting change in that judgment?
It was like waving a red flag before a four-star bull. “What’s your question?” he barked.
I asked: “Why do you join with those neoconservatives who have such difficulty distinguishing between the strategic needs of Israel on the one hand and those of the U.S. on the other? Why do you keep claiming the Iranians ‘are acquiring nuclear weapons,’ when you know that this is not true. How can you keep a straight face in telling us that Iran is our ‘main strategic enemy?’ That is also not true, and you know it.”
I then added a suggestion that he find time at the airport to pick up Seymour Hersh’s investigative article on Iran and nukes in the current issue of the New Yorker magazine.
Would that Fordham’s seal included the word Veritas, alongside Sapientia et Doctrina. For, somehow, the truth does not seem to hold much priority any more. I might have guessed that Keane’s response would be not only unresponsive but disingenuous.
“There is evidence that was available starting in 2006, even before that National Intelligence Estimate was drafted, that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon.”
That did it for me. I lost it. Convinced that this was not only a whopper, but the kind of whopper that could well end up getting thousands more killed, I blurted out, “That’s a lie.”
Some of my classmates told me later that at a Gala Jubilee Reunion it is very much frowned upon to call a wealthy Trustee of the university — and a four-star general to boot — a liar. Even if he is.
The next questioner, a former classmate of Keane, asked “Why not a nuclear free zone in the Middle East?” He was cut off when he tried to point out that Israel is the only regional country opposed, with full U.S. support, to a nuclear-free zone there. Another questioner asked about the influence of the Israel lobby. Keane’s response, “Sorry, we’re out of time.” (In fairness, we were out of time, but Keane could not disguise his relief that that he could gracefully side-step addressing the key issue the lobby.)
The Setting Aside, Iran Issue Hardly Academic
The possibility of an attack on Iran seems to be on the front burner again, thanks to neoconservatives like Keane. In Washington in the not-too-distant past, we used to call such aficionados of pre-emptive war “the crazies;” many have since become the capital’s opinion leaders.
Yet, even some level-headed Israelis are doing their best to warn their countrymen that Israel’s right-wing government is again, dangerously, beating the drums for an attack on Iran. It has reached the point where former Mossad intelligence chief, Meir Dagan, has stated publicly that Israeli leaders may be on the verge of doing something really dumb and extremely dangerous.
In a recent talk at Hebrew University, Dagan called a military attack on Iran “a stupid idea” that “would mean regional war.” Dagan said, “The regional challenge that Israel would face would be impossible.” But many hard-line Israelis – like their neocon counterparts in the United States – don’t want to hear such warnings. They are convinced – and see ample evidence — that, no matter what, in the end analysis the U.S. will pull Israel’s chestnuts out of the fire
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported:
“Most of the politicians, and amazingly (and absurdly) enough, also a large number of journalists, want [Dagan] to be quiet. They don’t want him to get us upset with his fears or arouse us from our slumber with his warnings. We’ll just leave the fateful decision of whether to attack Iran to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to them alone, and let the storm over the issue subside. As if blind, we will follow them and be led by them straight into the midst of the danger.”
As for Dagan himself, Haaretz commented that if he “thinks it’s a matter of a threat to our existence at our doorstep, it is not only his right to make himself heard, it is his supreme duty. He should attempt to stop it, to act as a gatekeeper. If he acted otherwise, he would have been abusing his role as former Mossad director.”
I’ve had a day now to reflect on why I blurted out, “That’s a lie.” I mean, aside from the fact that I am 99 percent certain it was, in fact, a lie. I could have followed Washington rather than Bronx etiquette and said something less caustic, like “I don’t believe you have that right, general.”
I’ve pieced together the reasons for my blunt, visceral reaction. My umbrage derived mostly from the tens of thousands of human beings — Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Libyans, as well as Americans – who have died because of misleading statements like the one Keane made about Iran “acquiring nuclear weapons.”
And I guess the setting had something to do with it, since I felt rather strongly that Keane should know better. You see, during the Sixties all undergraduates at Fordham were required to take a course in moral theology/ethics. Business School students were not exempt.
Moreover, I regard Keane and his neocon friends as mostly responsible for the death and destruction brought about by the surge of some 30,000 additional U.S. troops into Iraq between February 2007 and July 2008. U.S. troop deaths spiked to over 900 in 2007 alone, making it the deadliest year of the U.S. since 2004. As for Iraqi civilians, the first half-year of 2007 was the most deadly first six months of any year since the invasion of Iraq. In a word, the surge brought industrial scale violence to Iraq on the pretense of quelling it.
The most significant thing that happened during the surge was that the additional U.S. troops, most of whom were sent into Baghdad and its suburbs, enabled the Shiites to disarm the Sunnis. Once the Sunnis were disarmed, Shiite militias poured into Sunni neighborhoods at night and ethnically cleansed those neighborhoods. We could even observe from satellite imagery that the lights in Sunni districts literally went out.
Mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad ended up with virtually no Sunnis. In short, Baghdad went from a predominantly Sunni city to being overwhelmingly Shiite. Again, we’re talking millions.
It is true that the horrific sectarian violence declined once the ethnic cleansing was far advanced, but that was mostly because there were far fewer mixed neighborhoods where Sunnis and Shiites could kill one another, although sectarian butchery remains horrible even to this day.
Moreover, it is a mistake to think that those U.S. troops still in Iraq will be spared. Earlier today five more U.S. soldiers were killed in a rocket attack on an American base in the Baladiyat district of Baghdad. This appears to be a tangible sign that the Sunnis mean to “get even” not only with the Shia but with the U.S. troops who screened the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad in 2007-2008.
As for what the surge did in terms of brutalizing American troops, one need look no farther than the gun-barrel video and chatter from an Apache helicopter on July 12, 2007, in a southeastern neighborhood of Baghdad. WikiLeaks, you will recall, released the video and it can be accessed via collateralmurder.com in 18-minute and 39-minute versions.
An excellent report with short commentary on the video was produced earlier this year by the German TV program Panorama. Panorama was later persuaded to go back, “undub,” and provide a 12-minute video-cum-commentary in English, since the American Fawning Corporate Media have tended to avoid this horrific footage.
Before Keane chose to focus on Iran, I had jotted down a line of questioning about the surge, mostly as a way to help those of my classmates who still appear not to know where to look for objective information and analysis.
I was confident that his answers or non-answers would be instructive regarding the widespread misunderstanding of what the surge in Iraq was really all about.
In short, during the fall of 2006, CENCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid and the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, in formal testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, strongly advocated that the U.S. NOT send additional troops to Iraq. They argued that refusing to reinforce would be the only way to ensure that Iraqi politicians would finally get the message that they had to put their own house in order.
Just before the mid-term election in 2006, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld chose to support his commanders. In the view of the neocon hardliners in George W. Bush’s administration, Rumsfeld (of all people) was going wobbly on the Iraq War. Immediately after the election, Rumsfeld was ousted and was replaced by Robert Gates in December 2006.
Also, in December 2006, James Baker, the former Secretary of State and White House Chief of Staff under President George H. W. Bush, announced the results of the highly regarded Iraq Study Group. Rather than advocate sending more U.S. troops to Iraq, the ISG did the opposite, urging a drawdown.
In addition, most, if not all, of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were against the surge. However, with Keane and the neocons ascendant, and Gates and Gen. David Petraeus (an extremely close associate of Gen. Keane) waiting in the wings, Bush cast aside the advice of his field commanders, the Iraq Study Group, and the top brass at the Pentagon. Soon, Abizaid and Casey were gone, too. And Petraeus became, well, Petraeus ex machina.
My tentative plan at Fordham was to ask Gen. Keane how in the world he and his neocon allies succeeded in persuading President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to ignore the experts and opt rather for a surge. And how does he reply to those who say it was simply a case of postponing the day of definitive defeat in Iraq until Bush and Cheney could ride west into the sunset?
Gen. Keane, I would ask, How do you justify the deaths of more than 1,000 additional U.S. soldiers and countless thousands more Iraqis in exchange for sparing Bush, Cheney and the neocons the embarrassment of having the catastrophe in Iraq hung firmly around their necks?
Perhaps someone else will get a chance to pose such questions to Gen. Keane sometime soon.
A shorter version of this article appeared originally on Consortiumnews.com.