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Pepe Escobar, Asia Times
In the end, Darth Vader did not eat Robin alive (no Batman to the rescue). Much to the contrary. The cyclopic spinning machine is ruling that the only vice-presidential debate in the US election, between incumbent Dick Cheney and challenger John Edwards in Cincinnati on Tuesday, was a tie - but not if you consider the numerous Darth Vader instances of, euphemistically, “stretching the truth”.
Dick Cheney played a snarling, almost lethargic Darth Vader, sliding toward the downright nasty - as usual - against an initially stumbling, but then very alert and sprightly, Robin/John Edwards. Not to mention hawkish: many will be alarmed that the Kerry-Edwards ticket is actually proposing four more US Army divisions, lots more non-Arabic-speaking Special Forces, more power to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and an even harder line on Iran.
The Iraq war is Dick Cheney’s war, as much as Donald Rumsfeld’s, Paul Wolfowitz’s, Douglas Feith’s and other fellow neo-cons’. All eyes were on Cheney. And he actually spoke as though someone named George W Bush didn’t even exist. For untold millions in the United States and around the world, this is the actual president-in-charge; the man who had “other priorities” besides fighting in Vietnam; the man who always maintained - and still maintains - that Osama bin Laden was sleeping with Saddam Hussein, that Saddam had or was on his way to obtaining weapons of mass destruction, and that the US would be greeted as “liberators” in Iraq; the man whose - ongoing - ties with Halliburton have elevated crony capitalism to new levels; and the man who now says a United States under John Kerry and John Edwards - but not under George W Bush and Dick Cheney - will certainly be attacked again on its own soil.
It’s an open question whether US corporate media will decide to do some research and decapitate Cheney’s fallacies once again hammered out during the debate. A brand-new US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report has found there’s no conclusive evidence that Saddam was protecting the new bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, before the invasion of Iraq (in fact, if he was alive, he was in no-fly zone Iraqi Kurdistan, closely monitored by F-16s). Cheney said Zarqawi “was in Baghdad before the war” (false) and is now in Baghdad beheading hostages (instead, there’s ample suspicion that “Zarqawi” may now be a cipher used by a number of Iraqi guerrilla groups).
When cornered by Edwards, Cheney denied he had made a link between Saddam and the attacks of September 11, 2001. False: he’s always made the connection, in ways so emphatic that in a recent Gallup poll 62% of Republicans still believe that Saddam was personally involved on September 11. Fellow neo-con Donald Rumsfeld himself refuted his “unknown unknowns” to admit to a “known known”: this week he said there’s no “strong, hard evidence” of an al-Qaeda-Saddam link.
Cheney insisted on an “Iraqi track record of terror”. False: for 12 years Saddam’s regime was incapacitated under harsh United Nations sanctions; terror attacks started after the US invasion, against the occupation.
Cheney said the Bush administration “captured or killed thousands of al-Qaeda”. False: real, hardcore al-Qaeda fighters captured or killed are a little more than a hundred, and most were captured by Pakistan. Cheney said 16,000 US troops will remain in Afghanistan “as long as it’s necessary” - which is a clever way of camouflaging the fact that without them Hamid Karzai’s client regime cannot hold on to power. Cheney also praised dancing bear Prime-Minister-without-a-parliament Iyad Allawi in Iraq - without mentioning (nor did Edwards) that Allawi’s recent speech to Congress in Washington was written by Bush administration officials.
Some of Cheney’s assertions were pure Theater of the Absurd, such as suicide bombers in Palestine owing their existence to Saddam Hussein, or scandal-plagued Halliburton being mentioned only as a “smokescreen” to “confuse the voters”. Edwards may not have been enough of a foreign-policy connoisseur to challenge Cheney, and many questions may have been frankly inane. But it’s astonishing that in such a crucial debate there was no mention whatsoever of the key intersection between Cheney’s oil connections and the “war on terror”.
Bush created the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG) in January 2001, right after his inauguration. The group was directed by Cheney. As soon as it published the so-called Cheney Report, its point was made: the priority for the Bush administration was never the “war on terror”, but America’s dependence on energy sources. The Cheney Report was not strategic analysis. But it was published during the Enron scandal - with Bush-supporting Enron executives working as NEPDG members.
Something really fishy was afoot. In July 2003 the Department of Commerce was forced by the US Supreme Court to unveil the documents used by the Cheney Energy Task Force. Among these documents were maps of oilfields in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as well as charts detailing which foreign companies had closed deals with Saddam for oil exploitation in Iraq. These documents are definitive proof that long before September 11, 2001, regime change in Iraq was the No 1 priority on the Bush administration agenda. Edwards would have made a killing establishing this connection - if only a relevant question had been on the table.
The eighth chapter of the Cheney Report, titled “Strengthening Global Alliances”, says it’s imperative for the US to get rid of strategic, political and economic obstacles in its quest to ensure the extra 7.5 million barrels of oil a day it will need by 2020. This is the equivalent of the current total consumption of India and China put together. As most of the countries that are part of these “obstacles” are politically and socially unstable, this means that secure supplies to the US imply the presence of US troops. Thus the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the bases in Central Asia, the pressure on Iran.
The Cheney Report makes no bones about stressing the crucial, and growing, US - as well as Asian and Western European - dependence on Middle East oil. As the solution for the energy problem, it proposes a military option. This is the ultimate meaning of retired General Tommy Franks saying on the record that “we will be in Afghanistan for years”, and the meaning of the 14 US military bases to be built in Iraq.
At the time, the Cheney Energy Task Force also had to refer to the UN sanctions imposed on Iraq. Lifting the sanctions on Iraq would mean the go-ahead for contracts frozen by the sanctions - most with Russian and European companies and not with US companies, since Saddam was not in business with the US. So war was the only option to get the big prize - the second-largest oil reserves in the world, which come as well with very low production costs (if the Iraqi resistance allows it ...).
The “Bush-Cheney junta”, as Gore Vidal describes it, has always maintained that “the terrorists” want to destroy the American way of life. But the whole proposition may be turned upside down. To preserve an American way of life that guzzles - and wastes - tremendous amounts of energy, Washington is forced to go military all the way, under the pretext of the “war on terror”. And the process, on top of it, feeds on itself. Who is the largest world consumer of energy? It’s the US Army.
Dick Cheney, especially when distilling the most incredible fallacy, loves to start by saying “the fact of the matter is ...” It’s highly unlikely the next two final presidential debates will go after the utmost “fact of the matter”: the real reasons behind the “war on terror”.