The Way of the World by Ron Suskind (Book Review)

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With all the competition from modern news outlets like twitter where information is doled out piecemeal and with such breathtaking pace as to make it almost impossible to verify the validity of sources traditional journalism has suffered and would seem a dead craft but for investigative journalists like Ron Suskind who seem to have carried on where legendary Watergate investigators Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein left off.

The Way of the World is Suskind’s 2008 book, which looks particularly at the Bush administration’s alleged reckless machinations as they made a case for going to war in Iraq. Amongst the allegations are two that if proven would most likely have led to the President’s impeachment, and they both involve Iraq’s then head of Intelligence, General Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti.

Allegation 1: Bush Knew There Were No WMD Before Going to War

In his book Suskind claims that the Bush administration, obsessed with going to war with Saddam Hussein, recklessly forged ahead with preparing for a military campaign even though a high-value informant MI6, Habbush, had informed the British that there were no WMD in Iraq.

According to Suskind the British, more adept at this kind of clandestine operation, had cultivated a relationship with the Iraqi Intelligence chief despite the obvious risks involved to both the informant, Habbush, and the spook who’d made contact.

Robert Richer, a CIA man and close to the Jordanian royal family, helped set up a meeting in Jordan with Habbush where he is said to have told his handlers that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction nor the capabilities or resources to acquire them.

There was reason to believe his claims: Saddam, feared in the region for using chemical weapons against his own people, was anxious to keep up the façade of a ruthless dictator with access to nuclear power who’d stop at nothing to gain dominance in the region.

Saddam was fearful of his neighbours Iran and knew how dangerous it would be for them to discover he was only blowing hot air, that he had no WMD, hence, he continued to play his deadly games with the United Nations and the United States all in a bid to cover his deception. It turns out there was nothing to the Wizard of Oz after all.

Suskind says that MI6 went to the White House with Habbush’s claims, but Bush didn’t believe their source. They wanted him to prove there were no WMD. But that is to prove a negative, something that you cannot do.

Meanwhile, the CIA was following up on another lead – that Saddam was attempting to acquire 500 tons of yellowcake Uranium from Niger’s mines – and made contact with an American diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson via their National Relations (NR) department.

 Allegation 2: The Forged Habbush Letter

The NR will make contact with Americans in the public or business sectors if they need something that would be much easier to acquire in the contact’s field of operations. Wilson was thus approached, as he was a former Ambassador to Gabon and still frequented the region for business.

Also a policy adviser for President Clinton in his role as Senior Director for African Affairs in the NSC (National Security Council), Wilson had vast experience in Africa, and so he agreed to help the CIA find out if the Iraqis had indeed attempted to buy any nuclear material from Niger.

Wilson’s investigations confirmed that there was no such purchase and that the claims were bogus for the very fact that Iraq already had huge amounts of unprocessed Uranium, but that also they just didn’t have the resources to pursue a nuclear program.

The White House and the Office of the Vice President (OVP) at this time were looking only for evidence to help them make their case for war, and Wilson’s findings were discounted. Afterwards they would out his wife, Mrs Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA case officer and claim she helped her husband get the Niger job, in an attempt to discredit his report as one made by an unqualified person who only went to Africa on the behest of a nepotistic wife.

Things were not looking good for war. Suskind claims the CIA was pressured by the OVP into bringing proof that Saddam had WMD. But there was no indisputable proof that would give the Bush administration their case for war. But the administration forged ahead in their preparations, and after the President’s 2003 State of the Union Address in which he included the 16 words that probably sent his nation into war: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” there was no turning back. And so this led to the second damning allegation in Suskind’s book: that a letter was forged to show a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

Any links between Saddam and al-Qaeda had always been tenuous, but a December 13 2003 (incidentally also the date of Saddam Hussein’s capture) article in the Daily Telegraph of London seemed to show indisputable proof that Saddam’s regime had not only had contact with but had also aided the September 11 New York attackers.

The author of the article, the Telegraph’s Foreign Editor, Con Coughlin, claimed to have received a document from a “senior member of the Iraqi interim government.” The document in question, a letter apparently written by Habbush in July 2001, contained the following incriminating lines:

 Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian national, came with Abu Ammer and we hosted him in Abu Nidal‘s house at al-Dora under our direct supervision.

We arranged a work program for him for three days with a team dedicated to working with him… He displayed extraordinary effort and showed a firm commitment to lead the team which will be responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy.

The timing of this document’s release was seen as somewhat fortuitous for the Bush administration who, after invading the country in March 2003, were yet to provide any WMD caches.

Conservatives quickly heralded the letter as proof the White House had been right all along, but it didn’t take long before the doubters stated emerging. A Newsweek article a few days afterward chronicled Mohammed Atta’s whereabouts in the period of 2001, according to FBI reports, and showed the 9/11 planner had been in the United States and not Iraq at the time.

Con Coughlin, while dismissive of Suskind’s claims, has gone on to admit that Ayad Allawi (then Iraqi interim Prime Minister) was his “senior member” source. Ayad Allawi is alleged to have visited CIA at Langley a few days before leaking the letter to Coughlin, according to reports by Joe Conason of Salon.com.

Suskind claims the letter was a forgery by the CIA on the behest of the OVP, though former CIA man, Phillip Giraldi, says this is incorrect and that the forgery was made by the Office of Special Plans, a Pentagon outfit created on the orders of then Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, to provide the White House with Intelligence on Iraq.

 Reactions to the Book

Amongst Suskind’s sources are Rob Richer (former CIA Deputy Director for Clandestine Operations), John Maguire, and Nigel Inkster of MI6. All men, while initially major contributors to the book, have since gone on to deny the books findings. Nigel Inkster called the book’s allegations “inaccurate and misleading”, and Rob Richer denied he ever received any orders from George Tenet to “fabricate a document… as outlined in Mr Suskind’s book.”

Meanwhile Tenet, the former Director of Central Intelligence, while initially stating of the alleged forgeries: “there was no such order from the White House to me nor, to the best of my knowledge, was anyone from CIA ever involved in any such effort”, adding: “The notion that I would suddenly reverse our stance and have created and planted false evidence that was contrary to our own beliefs is ridiculous.” – [Source from Wikipedia] – then went on to be severely critical of the Bush administrations handling of pre-war Intelligence in his 2007 published memoirs titled, At the Centre of the Storm: My Years at the CIA.

Suskind has since gone on to release partial transcripts of some of his conversations with Rob Richer that contradict the former deputy director’s denials. It seems to be telling that no legal action has been brought against Mr Suskind to date.

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the way of the world ron suskind

 Sources:
  • The Way of the World – A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism, by Ron Suskind
  • Wikipedia
  • Fair Game – My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, by Valerie Plame Wilson
  • Feature image from nydailynews.com

 

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