What Carl Bildt did for Iraq

Corpses lie side by side in endless rows. Ensconced in the green zone, the liberators of Baghdad spread their Hellfire missiles, phosphorus bombs, and death patrols across the country. Use of ammunition is so extensive that it can’t be manufactured fast enough. But the government declaration of the new Swedish far right cabinet mentions nothing of this mass destruction. Can this be due to a lack of interest? Hardly. The war in Iraq is a personal matter for foreign minister Carl Bildt. He’s one of those responsible. In the early months of 2003, he helped the war hawks in government positions and private think tanks in the US with their mobilisation for the march to Baghdad they’d been planning for so long.

Things didn’t look good for the military industrial complex back in the autumn of 2002. Despite the cultivated hysteria after 9/11, opinion polls showed a faltering support for a military attack. So the White House hired on an agency dedicated to turning public opinion: the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. The committee had three commanders from the 1991 gulf war, amongst them Buster Glosson, the strategist behind the successful destruction of the Iraqi civil infrastructure, with collateral damage in tens of thousands of sick and dead children under the years after. Also involved were leading politicians like Joe Lieberman, John McCain, Newt Gingrich; oriental expert Bernard Lewis; union boss James P Hoffa; and an assortment of neocons. Many in the group had connections with the intel agencies and the weapons manufacturers. One of the leaders, Bruce Jackson, was from Lockheed Martin. Former secretary of state George Schulz now sat in management for Bechtel.

Iraq was ’a clear and present danger for her neighbours, for the United States, and for free peoples all over’, according to their manifest. So the US and her allies had to effect a regime change in Baghdad. The committee were committed to reconstruction of the country after a successful attack, lucrative business for Bechtel and the other private corporations.

Formally the organisation was independent, but their work with the government was intense. This was about working on public infrastructure, winning over opinion builders and journalists, and then, when the time was right, marketing the war on a massive scale. Ahmed Chalabi, and other exiled Iraqis with roots in the monarchy that was overthrown in the Iraqi revolution of 1958, continually fed the campaign with new and always wilder ’information’ about Saddam Hussein’s arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, as well as his conspiracies with Al Qaeda.

The peoples of Europe took part in massive demonstrations against the plans of the White House, and the leaders in Paris and Berlin were spiteful. They’d gone along with defying UN rules in the Kosovo conflict, so now they demanded a vote in the security council. The likelihood of support for the war was definitely small. The war hawks in the US wouldn’t hesitate to run over the UN again, but the image of the champions of freedom chasing terrorists and WMDs twixt the Tigris and Euphrates would be difficult to maintain without support from a ’world organisation’.

So here’s where a former Swedish PM, a coming Swedish FM, would prove useful.

Randy Scheunemann, director of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and former adviser to Donald Rumsfeld, asked Carl Bildt if he’d help with the war campaign. Carl Bildt was keen to help. In January 2003, the committee was established in Europe with an international panel of consultants. Amongst them could be found two former presidents and three former foreign ministers from the Baltic states and central Europe, a former head of the German war machine, the English journalists Christopher Hitchens and Misha Glenny, a palestinian businessman living in New York, along with further assorted politicians and writers. Bildt shared the chairmanship with former Polish dissident Adam Michnik.

Gary Schmitt, secretary at committee headquarters in the US, explained.

’One of our goals is to show people here and in Europe that there are many prominent Europeans who understand what a threat Saddam Hussein is, and that there’s a need to do something, whether or not the US will act.’

If the UN and international law wouldn’t let the US invade, there were others who’d volunteer.

’The work of our committee was decisive for establishing a coalition against Saddam Hussein’, says Randy Scheunemann. ’Someone of Carl’s stature, with his background, and also being from Sweden, was of course vital. Through his network and the fact that he joined us, we were able to recruit many others to the council.’

The advisers had no formal meetings and weren’t responsible for organised operations as is common with think tanks in the US.

’What they did’, continues Scheunemann, ’was supply us with further voices in further languages in further capital cities in Europe. We never counted how many interviews each of our members gave, but there were a lot. Our task was to be a public mouthpiece and a sort of control centre for the media that reporters could turn to when they wanted to cover developments in Iraq. Carl was deeply involved in this work and was a strong voice in the debate.’

Committee chairman Bruce Jackson had previously been an officer in military intelligence, and during his time at Lockheed had led a lobby group for NATO expansion into Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. An additional ten states in east Europe had applied for NATO membership. Jackson explained to them that their prospects would be vastly improved if they supported president Bush in the march to Baghdad. He also helped them formulate a collective letter in support of the invasion. The White House distributed the letter to the world’s MSM through the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq the same day that Colin Powell, before the security council, cited the supposed ’incontrovertible evidence’ that Saddam Hussein had WMDs.

The statement from ’the new Europe’ was a diplomatic success for the White House, but support in those countries was lukewarm. The prime minister of Slovenia declared soon after that it was a mistake to undersign the letter.

But Carl Bildt didn’t hesitate. In an article for the one-year anniversary of 9/11, he warned of the fast growing, all the more marginalised and desperate populations of northern Africa and the middle east. ’Detonations’ threatened the oil the ’world’ depended on. So Sweden, wrote Bildt, must now abandon the last vestiges of her centuries-old neutrality and come to all the international councils and ’take our responsibility, even in situations where there are no easy solutions’. Of course he meant Iraq, NATO, and a fully armed EU.

Carl Bildt was in the groups of strategists from both sides of the Atlantic who shaped developments. He was aware of how state agencies and think tanks in the US reckoned with an increasing dependence on the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He knew that before 9/11, a political retreat had been considered, easing the economic sanctions against Iraq, in order to promote oil investments in the country. But things were different now. Neocons were promoting grandiose plans for the region.

Bildt was no common liberal who with an illusory righteousness honoured the one side’s cheapest rhetoric. He was worried about the unlimited belief of his colleagues in the US in their own power and their connections with the Likud government in Israel, he kept his distance to the more hysterical din about WMDs, and he warned of the complications that were to come. But as for the march to Baghdad, he never hesitated.

The rights of sovereign states must be set aside, he wrote in Expressen in November 2002: ’we can hardly be indifferent if regimes, in violation of agreements and international demands, develop weapons of mass destruction’. Of course Saddam Hussein wasn’t a clear and present danger, Carl Bildt admitted to the International Herald Tribune in January 2003. The economic sanctions ordered by the UN were, he said, both ineffective and morally dubious. But there were no prospects for lifting them as long as Saddam Hussein remained in power. Because the White House had decided it to be so. Consequently there was ’no turning back’.

Carl Bildt hit here on the real rupture in the ongoing diplomacy. Iraq had long since abandoned their weapons of mass destruction, we all know this today. But the US had, with support from Great Britain, made it clear that the state of emergency they’d pushed the country into would stand as long as Saddam Hussein remained, no matter what the weapons inspectors and others had to say. They used their power of veto to block all attempts to lift the embargo. All that was left for those running Baghdad was to use smuggling and political manoeuvres to get past the sanctions. So the White House prepared for another war.

Iraq was already in a state of war, said Carl Bildt. So it was just as well that they let the yankees finish the job in Baghdad.

’Overthrowing Saddam Hussein is the only path to peace. The coming weeks should be the beginning of the end of decades of war for the people of Iraq and for the region.’

Three and a half years later, the liberators sit in their bunkers in Baghdad and send death and destruction up the shores of the Tigris and Euphrates. Correspondent Robert Frisk asks an Iraqi friend if he’s still not happy the US and a few allies overthrew Saddam Hussein. ’You supported him!’ says the friend. ’You supported him when he invaded Iran and thousands of us perished! Then, after the invasion of Kuwait, you started sanctions that took the lives of tens of thousands of our children! And now you push Iraq into anarchy! And you want us to be grateful?’

Our newly appointed minister for foreign affairs is, like all of them behind the war enterprise, concerned over developments. In a post to his blog in the summer of 2005, he cites his experienced friend Henry Kissinger: ’Victory over the insurrection is the only meaningful strategy for recovery’. Carl Bildt agrees. What will the government do?

Mikael Nyberg, Aftonbladet, October 27, 2006

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