The following statement appeared in an article on the opinion page of The Japan Times in July 2003: “The main result of the U.S. action (in Iraq) will probably be to turn a nation free from al-Qaida links into yet another hotbed of anti-U.S. ‘terrorism,’ and to push one of the few secular Middle Eastern societies into the embrace of Islamic extremists.”

I don’t want to sound like an “I told you so” pundit. But having authored the above and having also predicted in these pages that claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaida connections would prove false, I think I have some credentials.

I also predicted that, as in Vietnam, having large numbers of gun-happy, culture-ignorant U.S. troops in an Iraq controlled by America’s cumbrous, cowboy (good guy vs. bad guy) and body count-obsessed military bureaucracy would guarantee eventual defeat. For every person killed, three more would want to take his or her place. It would also delight al-Qaida militants who would no longer have to go all the way to the U.S. to wreak hatred on Americans.

In all of these predictions I was relying entirely on common sense and publicly available information. So if, like quite a few others, I could get it right, why did the combined weight of a $40 billion U.S. intelligence operation get it so wrong?

In the wake of revelations by former CIA chief George Tenet, many are blaming the “yes” men (and women) in the U.S. bureaucracy — people who seek power and promotion by going along with their bosses. But often the bosses have no idea of where they are going.

The problem goes deeper. Ultimately it is the ability of sane human beings to believe nonsense simply because it is stamped “secret” and is being waved before their eyes. It is the people with the “secret” stamp that control things, and we all know where they want to be going.

Take for example the claims that Iraq was seeking to make nuclear weapons — the famous “mushroom cloud” warning by Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser. To anyone who knew anything about nuclear weapons, the likelihood that sanction-bound Iraq could develop nuclear weapons was zero. Yet an intelligent former university academic was willing to risk her name and reputation to support this nonsense.

To anyone who knew anything about the reports of the U.N. inspectors in Iraq, the idea that Baghdad was secretly preparing other WMD was equally ludicrous. To anyone who knew about the open hostility between al-Qaida and Iraq, the claim that Iraq was harboring al-Qaida “terrorists” was equally ridiculous. Yet even an experienced soldier in the shape of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was prepared to go along with this nonsense simply because it was being pumped in by dubious intelligence sources. As he later admitted, he had been duped.

Over in Vietnam in the 1960s we saw much of the same — in that case the claims that the civil war there was Beijing inspired and the first step in China’s plan to take over the rest of Asia.

To anyone who knew anything about traditional Chinese-Vietnamese hostility (the two nations were later to go to war with each other) and Vietnam’s pro-Moscow tilt in the Sino-Soviet dispute at the time, it was obvious that if Hanoi was acting on behalf of any outside power (also unlikely), it would be Moscow rather than Beijing. Yet in October 1964 I found myself sitting behind one of those green baize tables in the Kremlin while an Australian foreign minister, Paul Hasluck, unveiled a strategy developed in the deranged minds of Canberra and Washington planners to persuade Moscow to join the West in restraining Chinese “aggression” in Vietnam.

The reply from Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin was classic. Far from restraining Beijing, he said, he would be delighted if his Chinese colleagues would do much more to support the Vietnamese people in their very legitimate struggle against U.S. imperialism. But this knockback did little to dent Hasluck’s or Canberra’s delusions. After all, they had all those secret briefings and documents confirming Beijing’s evil intentions. The war continued 10 more years. Two to 3 million had to die before reality could set in.

Currently Canberra is celebrating the 50th anniversary of a 1957 trade agreement opening Australia to Japanese imports. Yet in 1975 the same Canberra, on the basis of blatantly spurious spy information, rejected a draft agreement of friendship and commerce proposed by Tokyo. The spies had said they had inside information that a sentence in the draft calling for both sides to provide “fair and equitable” treatment was in fact part of a Japanese plot to gain control of Australian resources. On the committee to consider the draft, I was in a minority of one in trying to point out the nonsense involved in this claim. Later Canberra did sign a treaty that included the same sentence and, so far, it has not suffered any Japanese plots.

Australia’s former ambassador to Japan, John Menadue, later summed it up well in his memoirs: “They (the spies) are, however, adept in doling out juicy bits of information that are often untested but draw one into the inner circle of people with privileged information, a twilight world of secrets and gossip.”

This “inner circle” complex — the belief that the insiders have all the secret information and tools required for success and do not need any input of common sense from outside — helps explain the irresponsibility with which the Iraq situation has been handled.

Who remembers the name of the man sent by Washington to run Iraq in the crucial few months after its “shock and awe” victory? Clue: He was a former run-of-the-mill soldier turned consultant to a large U.S. arms company. More clues: His only seeming qualification for the job was close friendship with the Pentagon neocon inner circle and the then Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld.

Final clue: His name has been entirely forgettable — Jay Garner. He survived only one month in his job. Iraq collapsed into chaos soon after, as some of us had predicted.

Gregory Clark is a former Australian diplomat and consultant, undersecretary status, in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra. A translation of this article will appear at www.gregoryclark.net E-mail Clark: clarkinjapan@gmail.com

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