Exclusive: In Washington, retired Gen. Jack Keane is widely praised for his role in promoting the Iraq War “surge” in 2007 – and he is now seeking an escalation of tensions with Iran. However, at a Fordham event in New York, he was challenged by former CIA analyst (and Fordham alum) Ray McGovern.
By Ray McGovern
June 5, 2011
Celebrating a reunion with close friends of Fordham College (class of 1961) on a perfect June day in New York should be a time of little or no stress. So I should have avoided a long lecture by a retired four-star general from the class of 1966, Jack Keane.
Keane, now on Fordham University’s Board of Trustees, has been the go-to general for the neoconservatives in recent years. He said he was speaking to us before catching a flight to Europe where he would lobby leaders of the 41 NATO countries who, except for three, have been “unwilling to ask their people to sacrifice” in places like Afghanistan.
(By all indications, Keane has apparently given no thought to the possibility that the Europeans have been far quicker to understand that the war in Afghanistan – aka Vietnamistan – is a fool’s errand.)
In the lecture, Keane mentioned that he had asked top UK military leaders at Sandhurst why even the British seem to be going wobbly on Afghanistan. He said that over cocktails, British generals commiserated with Keane, asking him, “Have you Americans lost confidence in us?”
“Yes we have,” Keane said he answered. He bemoaned increasing U.S. isolation — even from its closest allies — on matters of war and peace.
Keane indicated that he was a very frequent traveler to Europe – as well as to the Middle East and Southwest Asia – and would continue trying to transplant some of the U.S. “strength of character” into European backbones.
Keane suggested that the two world wars had weakened the fiber and resolve of most Europeans, but another “ingredient” in what he described as the lamentable “unwillingness of European leaders to ask their people to sacrifice” was the continent’s reliance on Social Democracy.
One of Keane’s listeners threw up his hand to ask what sacrifices most Americans have been asked to make during ten years of war in Afghanistan — especially the relatively wealthy white Americans like, sadly, all of us in the audience.
On such a beautiful spring day, only a skunk at the garden party would mention the relatively few Americans being sent off to kill and be killed.
Keane and his Establishment colleagues are quite okay with asking those Americans to sacrifice, especially since more than half of the U.S. Army is drawn, via a poverty draft, from the inner cities and the small towns of less than 50,000 – places with few jobs and even fewer educational opportunities.
Keane pretended not to see the waving hand of my classmate.
And, although most of my classmates proved to be malnourished by the thin gruel of information served up by the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM), there were a few like me who were deeply troubled that our alma mater would lionize Gen. Keane.
After all, Keane was a key figure in promoting the so-called “surge” of over 30,000 U.S. troops in 2007 that helped the Shia complete the “ethnic cleansing” of much of Baghdad, which went from being a predominantly Sunni city into an overwhelmingly Shiite city.
I had expected Keane to brag about the “success” of the surge – and I had prepared questions on that topic – but his hour-long lecture had a broader sweep. What Keane had to say about the “threat” from Iran occupied center stage of his talk.
Keane portrayed Iran as part of an “ideological” struggle to create an Islamic Caliphate by defeating America’s moral fiber, with the first step of this assault the attack on 9/11.
According to Keane, not only is the Iranian “dictatorship” intent on acquiring “regional hegemony,” it is trying to “fundamentally change the world” by acquiring nuclear weapons.
The United States is rightly concerned, continued Keane, with the repression of civil rights in Iran and the suffering there, but the “fundamental concern” is that the Iranians “are acquiring nuclear weapons” and that they are “thugs and killers.”
My hand went up, but I had to wait until Keane finished his global sweep. He reassured his audience that America has little to fear from a resurgent China.
When I finally got my turn, I prefaced my question by noting that I shared his Fordham ROTC background and was a Distinguished Military Graduate myself.
(I should point out that Keane attended the Fordham Business School, lest his freewheeling comments and insights reflect poorly on the quality of the college’s courses on history and international relations during the Sixties.)
After my active duty in the Army, I had spent 27 years as a CIA analyst. I then thanked him for warning us at the outset that he was a direct, open person with strong opinions, and that some of what he would say was his opinion.
Then I alluded to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous dictum that everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.
Could he be unaware that in late 2007, the 16 agencies of the U.S. intelligence community had concluded — unanimously, and “with high confidence” — that Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in mid-2003?
Did he miss that National Intelligence Estimate, or the testimony of National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who told Congress in March of this year that there was no change in that judgment?
It was like waving a red flag before a four-star bull. “What’s your question?” he barked.
I said, “My questions: Why do you join with those neoconservatives who have such difficulty distinguishing between the strategic needs of Israel on the one hand and those of the U.S. on the other? Why do you keep claiming the Iranians ‘are acquiring nuclear weapons,’ when you know that is not true.
“How can you possibly say with a straight face that Iran is our ‘main strategic enemy?’ That is also not true, and you know it.”
I then suggested that he find time at the airport to pick up Sy Hersh’s investigative article on this issue in the current New Yorker magazine.
I might have guessed that Keane’s response would be not only unresponsive but also disingenuous.
“There is evidence that was available starting in 2006, even before that National Intelligence Estimate was drafted, that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon,” he said.
That was it. I lost it. Knowing that to be not only a whopper, but also one that could end up getting thousands more killed, I said, “That’s a lie.”
Some of my classmates told me later that at a Gala Jubilee Reunion it is very much frowned upon to call a wealthy Trustee of the university — and a four-star general to boot — a liar. Even if he is.
(I had felt I could risk going to hear Keane speak in the first place because, prior to my upcoming Mediterranean cruise to Gaza, my cardiologist had pronounced my blood pressure under control. I felt as good, and energized, as 50 years ago.)
The next questioner asked Keane, “Why not a nuclear free zone in the Middle East?”
The questioner, a classmate of Keane, was cut off as he tried to point out that only Israel is opposed to such a zone, with Washington’s full support. Another questioner asked about the influence of the Israel lobby. Keane’s response, “Sorry, we’re out of time.”
Not Just Debating Points
The possibility of an attack on Iran seems to be on the front burner again, thanks to folks like Keane. In Washington in the not-too-distant past, we used to call these neocon warmongers “the crazies” but they have since become the capital’s opinion leaders.
Yet, even some level-headed Israelis are doing their best to warn their countrymen that Israel’s right-wing government is again, dangerously, beating the drums for an attack on Iran. It has reached the point where former Mossad intelligence chief, Meir Dagan, stated publicly that Israeli leaders may be on the verge of doing something really dumb.
In a recent talk at Hebrew University, Dagan called a military attack on Iran “a stupid idea” that “would mean regional war” while giving “Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program.” Dagan said, “The regional challenge that Israel would face would be impossible.”
But many hard-line Israelis – like their neocon counterparts in the United States – don’t want to hear such warnings.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported: “Most of the politicians, and amazingly (and absurdly) enough, also a large number of journalists, want [Dagan] to be quiet. They don’t want him to get us upset with his fears or arouse us from our slumber with his warnings.
“We’ll just leave the fateful decision of whether to attack Iran to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to them alone, and let the storm over the issue subside. As if blind, we will follow them and be led by them straight into the midst of the danger.”
However, Haaretz commented that if Dagan “thinks it’s a matter of a threat to our existence at our doorstep, it is not only his right to make himself heard, it is his supreme duty. He should attempt to stop it, to act as a gatekeeper. If he acted otherwise, he would have been abusing his role as former Mossad director.”
Why Anger at Keane
I’ve had a day now to reflect on why I blurted out, “That’s a lie.” I mean, aside from the fact that it was a lie. I could have said something more polite, like “I don’t believe you have that right, general.”
I think I’ve pieced together the reasons for my bluntness. My umbrage derived mostly from the tens of thousands of human beings — Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Libyans and Americans – who have died because of lies like the one Keane told about Iran “acquiring nuclear weapons.”
And I confess that I am particularly outraged by Gen. Keane. In the Sixties, Fordham’s business school students were required to study moral theology/ethics.
Moreover, I regard Keane and his neocon friends as mostly responsible for the “surge” of some 30,000 additional U.S. troops into Iraq between February 2007 and July 2008. U.S. troop deaths spiked to over 900 in 2007 alone, making it the deadliest year of the U.S. since 2004.
As for Iraqi civilians, the first half-year of 2007 was the most deadly first six months of any year since the invasion of Iraq. The “surge” brought death and destruction on an industrial scale under the pretense of quelling Iraq’s violence.
What really happened during the “surge” was that the additional U.S. troops in Baghdad helped the Shiites disarm the Sunnis. Once the Sunnis were disarmed, the Shiite militias poured into Sunni neighborhoods at night and ethnically cleansed those neighborhoods.
Mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad ended up with virtually no Sunnis. In short, Baghdad went from a predominantly Sunni city to being overwhelmingly Shiite.
It is true that the horrific sectarian violence declined once the ethnic cleansing was far advanced, because there were far fewer mixed neighborhoods where Sunnis and Shiites could kill one another (although the butchery remains horrible even to this day).
As for what the violent “surge” did in terms of brutalizing American troops, one need look no further than the gun-barrel video taken from an Apache helicopter on July 12, 2007, in a southeastern neighborhood of Baghdad.
WikiLeaks, of course, released the video with sound and it can be accessed via collateralmurder.com in an 18-minute and a 39-minute versions. An excellent reporton the video was done by the German TV program Panorama, which translated its report into a 12-minute segment, with commentary, in English.
Before Keane chose to focus on Iran, I had jotted down a few questions to ask him about the “surge,” mostly to enlighten those of my classmates who still don’t know where to look for objective information and analysis.
I was confident that his answers or non-answers would be instructive regarding the widespread misunderstanding of what the “surge” in Iraq was really all about.
In the fall of 2006, CENCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid and the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, in formal testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, strongly advocated that the U.S. NOT send additional troops to Iraq.
They argued that keeping the U.S. footprint relatively small was the only way that Iraqi politicians would finally get the message that they must put their own house in order.
Just before the 2006 mid-term election, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld supported his commanders, or in the view of the neocon hardliners in George W. Bush’s administration, he went wobbly on the Iraq War. Immediately after the election, Rumsfeld was ousted and was replaced by Robert Gates in December 2006.
Also, in December 2006, James Baker, the former Secretary of State and White House Chief of Staff (under President George H. W. Bush), announced the results of the highly regarded Iraq Study Group. Rather than advocate sending more U.S. troops to Iraq, the study group did the opposite, urging a drawdown.
In addition, most, if not all, of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were against the “surge.” However, with Keane and the neocons ascendant, Bush cast aside the advice of his field commanders, the Iraq Study Group, and the top brass at the Pentagon. Soon, Abizaid and Casey were gone, too.
My planned question to Gen. Keane was to ask him to tell us why he and his neocon allies persuaded President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to ignore all that expert advice and rather heed the neocon plan for a “surge.”
And how do you answer those who say it was simply a case of postponing the day of definitive defeat in Iraq until Bush and Cheney could ride west into the sunset?
How do you justify the deaths of nearly 1,000 more U.S. soldiers and countless thousands of more Iraqis in exchange for sparing Bush, Cheney and the neocons the embarrassment of having the catastrophe in Iraq hung firmly around their necks?
Perhaps someone else can pose those questions to Gen. Keane sometime soon.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then for the next 27 years as a CIA analyst. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).