July 03, 2003

Patrick Seale in the Nation

Patrick Seale in the Nation

Patrick Seale wrote an excellent, authoritative biography of former President Hafez Asad of Syria and is a long time observer of the Middle East scene. And I'm happy he's plugging Warren Bass' book which I've heard is a good read. But Seale's lengthy Nation piece trots out too many simplistic nostrums related to allegations that assorted neo-cons are running Washington on behalf of Israel. I think Seale knows better--that post 9/11 Washington is a much more complex place than he depicts. But the temptation to simplify the underlying factors driving U.S. Middle East policy are, it appears, just too great. Here's some sample language:

"War it had to be, the neocons said, to deal with the imminent threat from Saddam's fearsome weapons, which, as Tony Blair was rash enough to claim in his tragicomic role as Bush's "poodle," could be fired within forty-five minutes of a launch order. This flight of blood-curdling rhetoric has now come home to haunt him, earning him a headline (in The Economist, no less) of "Prime Minister Bliar."

Where did the information for his remarkable statement come from? How reliable was the prewar intelligence reaching Bush and Blair? The finger is increasingly being pointed at a special Pentagon intelligence cell, known as the Office of Special Plans, headed by Abram Shulsky. The office was created after 9/11 by two of the most fervent and determined neocons, Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Defense Secretary, and Douglas Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, to probe into Saddam's WMD programs and his links with Al Qaeda because, it is alleged, they did not trust other intelligence agencies of the US government to come up with the goods. It has been suggested that this special Pentagon intelligence cell relied heavily on the shifty Ahmad Chalabi's network of exiled informants. If evidence was indeed fabricated, this may well have been where it was done."

Seale neglects to mention the Economist headline cover was framed as an interrogatory, ie. "Prime Minister Bliar?," which is rather different than the Economist flat out calling Blair a liar. Note too the use of the word "cell" to describe the Pentagon's "Office of Special Plans." Almost sounds like a description of al-Qaeda's organizational structure, doesn't it?

UPDATE: Reader MD writes in:

"Regarding Patrick Seale, you give him a bit too much credit when you say that "he knows better" than to perpetuate conspiratorial notions of a neo-con
(Jewish) cabal. Just for fun, you might have another look at his biography of Abu Nidal, A GUN FOR HIRE, which argues that Abu Nidal was an Israeli agent provocateur. Seale, by the way, grew up in Syria, and he often functions as a quasi-official representative of the Asad regime."

Fair point. I'd only note that I've heard that Seale does not have the same access to Bashar Asad that he did with Hafez Asad.

Posted by Gregory at July 3, 2003 12:27 PM
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