SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
It’s reassuring, isn’t it, to learn that at an insiders’ conference of young conservative activists, former House Speaker and G.O.P. presidential wannabe Newt Gingrich is spreading the word that the Bush Administration’s war on terror is a sham, and that the current struggle is all really just about oil.
Here’s Bob Dean’s report in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Thursday the Bush administration is waging a “phony war” on terrorism, warning that the country is losing ground against the kind of Islamic radicals who attacked the country on Sept. 11, 2001. A more effective approach, said Gingrich, would begin with a national energy strategy aimed at weaning the country from its reliance on imported oil and some of the regimes that petro-dollars support.
“None of you should believe we are winning this war. There is no evidence that we are winning this war,” the ex-Georgian told a group of about 300 students attending a conference for collegiate conservatives. Gingrich, who led the so-called Republican Revolution that won the GOP control of both houses of Congress in 1994 midterm elections, said more must be done to marshal national resources to combat Islamic militants at home and abroad and to prepare the country for future attack. He was unstinting in his criticism of his fellow Republicans, in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
“We were in charge for six years,” he said, referring to the period between 2001 and early 2007, when the GOP controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. “I don’t think you can look and say that was a great success.”
Newt always struck me as a fascinating creature. A multilingual former college professor and the author of a fascinating study of the cruelty of the making of King Leopold’s Congo, he’s the smartest of the G.O.P. contenders by a mile. But you wouldn’t necessarily know this from his public rhetoric, which is often geared to the lowest common denominator (and when we’re talking about the Republican “base,” that’s pretty low). Put him in a room with bright young college kids, however, and he expresses himself well, offering some real insights and the sort of honesty that has been remarkably absent from conservative corners of late. (The exceptions to that sweeping generalization: George Will and Andrew Sullivan.) I give Newt strong points for candor and daring in these remarks.
But then–can one be too harsh in condemning a leadership team that takes the nation to war based on false premises? That manipulates the nation’s fear and hate senses in such an extreme way for such dubious purposes? The correct response to such misconduct should be political exile. Why should the public even listen to people who have engaged in such reprehensible conduct? Why should they fill our television screens? Newt was on the periphery of this team–but he was there, egging them along.
Reading these remarks brought two scenes into my mind. The first was from a recent conference I attended in Italy with a group of European and American counterterrorism experts. A large team of U.S. Department of Justice officials, drawn from its uppermost echelons, was there, including three of the principal architects of the legal policies for the war on terror. In not-for-attribution comments, one openly acknowledged that the war on terror was cast in the first instance as a political ploy and that it was a conceptual failure. It was now essential for the Americans to move on to something else, he argued. None of the others challenged that view; indeed, two of them said that they agreed with it. So even inside of the Bush Administration, the war on terror has been written off as a scam that served its limited political purpose and is finished. However, this intellectual refuse continues to be the policy of the U.S. government: people suffer in prison and are tortured and abused because of it. That’s intellectual bankruptcy.
The second incident is from the winter of 2003, in the lead-up to the war. I remember walking to class across the quadrangle at Columbia University and coming across some students protesting with a “no blood for oil” banner.
“Isn’t that just a bit cynical?” I asked them. “Do you honestly believe that the country is going to war over oil, and not for the reasons that the government has cited?”
“Yes,” they replied.
These young leftists turn out to have been right on the money. In the last couple of weeks, Gingrich, Cheney, and several other major architects have “revealed” that the war was always just about oil. And you thought it was weapons of mass destruction . . .
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.
The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.
Number of Turkish college students detained in the last year for requesting Kurdish-language classes:
Turkey was funding a search for Suleiman the Magnificent’s heart.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”