Harper’s Magazine: “THE NEXT WAR”, By Daniel Ellsberg


Richard Moore

From: "Rights Action" <•••@••.•••>
To: <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Article - "The Next War" (Iran), by Daniel Ellsberg
Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2006 11:25:57 -0400


US and western interventionism and power abuse in the "middle east" today (and 
over the past decades) are not that different than US and western 
interventionism and power-control in "latin america" and "africa" of yesterday 
and tomorrow.  It is the very nature and processes of global power accumulation 
and power abuse, and injustice and impunity that must be identified, denounced 
and ended.

In this light, Rights Action re-distributes "The Next War", by Daniel Ellsberg, 
shedding critical attention on US intentions and actions in Iran.

If you want on-off this elist: •••@••.•••.  Carry it on . 


"THE NEXT WAR", By Daniel Ellsberg
Harper's Magazine, October 2006

[Daniel Ellsberg, a former official in the State and Defense departments who 
released the Pentagon Papers, is the author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and 
the Pentagon Papers.]

A hidden crisis is under way. Many government insiders are aware of serious 
plans for war with Iran, but Congress and the public remain largely in the dark.
The current situation is very like that of 1964, the year preceding our overt, 
open-ended escalation of the Vietnam War, and 2002, the year leading up to the 
U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In both cases, if one or more conscientious insiders had closed the information 
gap with unauthorized disclosures to the public, a disastrous war might have 
been averted entirely.


My own failure to act, in time, to that effect in 1964 was pointed out to me by 
Wayne Morse thirty-five years ago. Morse had been one of only two U.S. senators 
to vote against the Tonkin Gulf resolution on August 7, 1964. He had believed, 
correctly, that President Lyndon Johnson would treat the resolution as a 
congressional declaration of war.

His colleagues, however, accepted White House assurances that the president 
sought "no wider war" and had no intention of expanding hostilities without 
further consulting them. They believed that they were simply expressing 
bipartisan support for U.S. air attacks on North Vietnam three days earlier, 
which the president and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had told them were 
in "retaliation" for the "unequivocal," "unprovoked attack by North Vietnamese 
torpedo boats on U.S. destroyers "on routine patrol" in "international waters."

Each of the assurances above had been false, a conscious lie.

That they were lies, though, had only been revealed to the public seven years 
later with the publication of the Pentagon Papers, several thousand pages of 
top-secret documents on U.S. decision-making in Vietnam that I had released to 
the press.


The very first installment, published by the New York Times on June 13, 1971, 
had proven the official account of the Tonkin Gulf episode to be a deliberate 

When we met in September, Morse had just heard me mention to an audience that 
all of that evidence of fraud had been in my own Pentagon safe at the time of 
the Tonkin Gulf vote. (By coincidence, I had started work as a special assistant
to an assistant secretary of defense the day of the alleged attack - which had 
not, in fact, occurred at all.)

After my talk, Morse, who had been a senior member of the Senate Foreign 
Relations Committee in 1964, said to me, "If you had given those documents to me
at the time, the Tonkin Gulf resolution would never have gotten our of 
committee. And if it had somehow been brought up on the floor of the Senate for 
a vote, it would never have passed."


He was telling me, it seemed, that it had been in my power, seven years earlier,
to avert the deaths so far of 50,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese, with 
many more to come. It was not something I was eager to hear. After all, I had 
just been indicted on what eventually were twelve federal felony counts, with a 
possible sentence of 115 years in prison, for releasing the Pentagon Papers to 
the public.

I had consciously accepted that prospect in some small hope of shortening the 
war. Morse was saying that I had missed a real opportunity to prevent the war 

My first reaction was that Morse had overestimated the significance of the 
Tonkin Gulf resolution and, therefore, the alleged consequences of my not 
blocking it in August. After all, I felt, Johnson would have found another 
occasion to get such a resolution passed, or gone ahead without one, even if 
someone had exposed the fraud in early August.

Years later, though, the thought hit me: What if I had told Congress and the 
public, later in the fall of 1964, the whole truth about what was coming, with 
all the documents I had acquired in my job by September, October, or November? 
Not just, as Morse had suggested, the contents of a few files on the events 
surrounding the Tonkin Gulf incident - all that I had in early August - but the 
drawerfulls of critical working papers, memos, estimates, and detailed 
escalation options revealing the evolving plans of the Johnson Administration 
for a wider war, expected to commence soon after the election.

In short, what if I had put out before the end of the year, whether before or 
after the November election, all of the classified papers from that period that 
I did eventually disclose in 1971?

If I had done so, the public and Congress would have learned that Johnson's 
campaign theme, "we seek no wider war," was a hoax. They would have learned, in 
fact, that the Johnson Administration had been heading in secret toward 
essentially the same policy of expanded war that his presidential rival, Senator
Barry Goldwater, openly advocated - a policy that the voters overwhelmingly 
repudiated at the polls.

I would have been indicted then, as I was seven years later, and probably 
imprisoned. But America would have been at peace during those years. It was only
with that reflection, perhaps a decade after the carnage finally ended, that I 
recognized Morse had been right about my personal share of responsibility for 
the whole war.


Not just mine alone. Any one of a hundred officials - some of whom foresaw the 
whole catastrophe - could have told the hidden truth to Congress, with 
documents. Instead, our silence made us all accomplices in the, ensuing 

The run-up to the 1964 Tonkin Gulf resolution was almost exactly parallel to the
run-up to the 2002 Iraq war resolution.


In both cases, the president and his top Cabinet officers consciously deceived 
Congress and the public about a supposed short-run threat in order to justify 
and win support for carrying out pre-existing offensive plans against a country 
that was not a near-term danger to the United States.

In both cases, the deception was essential to the political feasibility of the 
program precisely because expert opinion inside the government foresaw costs, 
dangers, and low prospects of success that would have doomed the project 
politically if there had been truly informed public discussion beforehand.

And, in both cases, that necessary deception could not have succeeded without 
the obedient silence of hundreds of insiders who knew full well both the 
deception and the folly of acting upon it.

One insider aware of the Iraq plans, and knowledgeable about the inevitably 
disastrous result of executing those plans, was Richard Clarke, chief of 
counterterrorism for George W. Bush and adviser to three presidents before him. 
He had spent September 11, 2001, in the White House, coordinating the nation's 
response to the attacks. He reports in his memoir, Against All Enemies, 
discovering the next morning, to his amazement, that most discussions there were
about attacking Iraq.

Clarke told Bush and Rumsfeld that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, or with its
perpetrator, Al Qaeda. As Clarke said to Secretary of State Colin Powell that 
afternoon, "Having been attacked by al Qaeda, for us now to go bombing Iraq in 
response" - which Rumsfeld was already urging - "would he like our invading 
Mexico after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor."

Actually, Clarke foresaw that it would be much worse than that. Attacking Iraq 
not only would be a crippling distraction from the task of pursuing the real 
enemy but would in fact aid that enemy: "Nothing America could have done would 
have provided al Qaeda and its new generation of cloned groups a better 
recruitment device than our unprovoked invasion of an oil-rich Arab country."

I single out Clarke - by all accounts among the best of the best of public 
servants - only because of his unique role in counterterrorism and because, 
thanks to his illuminating 2004 memoir, we know his thoughts at that time, and, 
in particular, the intensity of his anguish and frustration.

Such a memoir allows us, as we read each new revelation, to ask a simple 
question: What difference might it have made to events if he had told us this at
the time?

Clarke was not, of course, the only one who could have told us, or told 
Congress. We know from other accounts that both of his key judgments - the 
absence of linkage between Al Qaeda and Saddam and his correct prediction that 
"attacking Iraq would actually make America less secure and strengthen the 
broader radical Islamic terrorist movement" - were shared by many professionals 
in the CIA, the State Department, and the military.

Yet neither of these crucial, expert conclusions was made available to Congress 
or the public, by Clarke or anyone else, in the eighteen-month run-up to the 
war. Even as they heard the president lead the country to the opposite, false 
impressions, toward what these officials saw as a disastrous, unjustified war, 
they felt obliged to keep their silence.


Costly as their silence was to their country and its victims, I feel I know 
their mind-set. I had long prized my own identity as a keeper of the president's
secrets. In 1964 it never even occurred to me to break the many secrecy 
agreements I had signed, in the Marines, at the Rand Corporation, in the 

Although I already knew the Vietnam War was a mistake and based on lies, my 
loyalties then were to the secretary of defense and the president (and to my 
promises of secrecy, on which my own career as a president's man depended).

I'm not proud that it took me years of war to awaken to the higher loyalties 
owed by every government official to the rule of law, to our soldiers in harm's 
way, to our fellow citizens, and, explicitly, to the Constitution, which every 
one of us had sworn an oath "to support and uphold."

It took me that long to recognize that the secrecy agreements we had signed 
frequently conflicted with our oath to uphold the Constitution.

That conflict arose almost daily, unnoticed by me or other officials, whenever 
we were secretly aware that the president or other executive officers were lying
to or misleading Congress. In giving priority, in effect, to my promise of 
secrecy - ignoring my constitutional obligation - I was no worse or better than 
any of my Vietnam-era colleagues, or those who later saw the Iraq war 
approaching and failed to warn anyone outside the executive branch.

Ironically, Clarke told Vanity Fair in 2004 that in his own youth he had 
ardently protested "the complete folly" of the Vietnam War and that he "wanted 
to get involved in national security in 1973 as a career so that Vietnam didn't 
happen again."

He is left today with a sense of failure:  It's an arrogant thing to think, 
Could I have ever stopped another Vietnam? But it really filled me with 
frustration that when I saw Iraq coming I wasn't able to do anything.  After 
having spent thirty years in national security and having been in some 
senior-level positions you would think that I might be able to have some 
influence, some tiny influence. But I couldn't have any.

But it was not too arrogant, I believe, for Clarke to aspire to stop this second
Vietnam personally. He actually had a good chance to do so, throughout 2002, the
same one Senator Morse had pointed out to me.

Instead of writing a memoir to be cleared for publication in 2004, a year after 
Iraq had been invaded, Clarke could have made his knowledge of the war to come, 
and its danger to our security, public before the war. He could have supported 
his testimony with hundreds of files of documents from his office safe and 
computer, to which he then still had access. He could have given these to both 
the media and the then Democratic-controlled Senate.

"If I had criticized the president to the press as a special assistant" in the 
summer of 2002, Clarke told Larry King in March 2004, "I would have been fired 
within an hour." That is undoubtedly true.

But should that be the last word on that course? To be sure, virtually all 
bureaucrats would agree with him, as he told King, that his only responsible 
options at that point were either to resign quietly or to "spin" for the White 
House to the press, as he did. But that is just the working norm I mean to 
question here.

His unperceived alternative, I wish to suggest, was precisely to court being 
fired for telling the truth to the public, with documentary evidence, in the 
summer of 2002. For doing that, Clarke would not only have lost his job, his 
clearance, and his career as an executive official; he would almost surely have 
been prosecuted, and he might have gone to prison. But the controversy that 
ensued would not have been about hindsight and blame. It would have been about 
whether war on Iraq would make the United States safer, and whether it was 
otherwise justified.

That debate did not occur in 2002 - just as a real debate about war in Vietnam 
did not occur in 1964 - thanks to the disciplined reticence of Clarke and many 
others. Whatever his personal fare, which might have been severe, his 
disclosures would have come before the war. Perhaps, instead of it.


We face today a crisis similar to those of 1964 and 2002, a crisis hidden once 
again from the public and most of Congress. Articles by Seymour Hersh and others
have revealed that, as in both those earlier cases, the president has secretly 
directed the completion, though not yet execution, of military operational plans
- not merely hypothetical "contingency plans" but constantly updated plans, with
movement of forces and high states of readiness, for prompt implementation on 
command - for attacking a country that, unless attacked itself, poses no threat 
to the United States: in this case, Iran.

According to these reports, many high-level officers and government officials 
are convinced that our president will attempt to bring about regime change in 
Iran by air attack; that he and his vice president have long been no less 
committed, secretly, to doing so than they were to attacking Iraq; and that his 
secretary of defense is as madly optimistic about the prospects for fast, cheap 
military success there as he was in Iraq.

Even more ominously, Philip Giraldi, a former CIA official, reported in The 
American Conservative a year ago that Vice President Cheney's office had 
directed contingency planning for "a large-scale air assault on Iran employing 
both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons" and that "several senior Air 
Force officers" involved in the planning were "appalled at the implications of 
what they are doing - that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack
- but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objection."

Several of Hersh's sources have confirmed both the detailed operational planning
for use of nuclear weapons against deep underground Iranian installations and 
military resistance to this prospect, which led several senior officials to 
consider resigning.

Hersh notes that opposition by the Joint Chiefs in April led to White House 
withdrawal of the "nuclear option" - for now, I would say. The operational plans
remain in existence, to be drawn upon for a "decisive" blow if the president 
deems it necessary.

Many of these sources regard the planned massive air attack - with or without 
nuclear weapons - as almost sure to be catastrophic for the Middle East, the 
position of the United States in the world, our troops in Iraq, the world 
economy, and U.S. domestic security.

Thus they are as deeply concerned about these prospects as many other insiders 
were in the year before the Iraq invasion. That is why, unlike in the lead-up to
Vietnam or Iraq, some insiders are leaking to reporters. But since these 
disclosures - so far without documents and without attribution - have not 
evidently had enough credibility to raise public alarm, the question is whether 
such officials have yet reached the limit of their responsibilities to our 

Assuming Hersh's so-far anonymous sources mean what they say - that this is, as 
one puts it, "a juggernaut that has to be stopped" - I believe it is time for 
one or more of them to go beyond fragmentary leaks unaccompanied by documents. 
That means doing what no other active official or consultant has ever done in a 
timely way: what neither Richard Clarke nor I nor anyone else thought of doing 
until we were no longer officials, no longer had access to current documents, 
after bombs had fallen and thousands had died, years into a war.

It means going outside executive channels, as officials with contemporary 
access, to expose the president's lies and oppose his war policy publicly before
the tear, with unequivocal evidence from inside.

Simply resigning in silence does not meet moral or political responsibilities of
officials rightly "appalled" by the thrust of secret policy.

I hope that one or more such persons will make the sober decision - accepting 
sacrifice of clearance and career, and risk of prison - to disclose 
comprehensive files that convey, irrefutably, official, secret estimates of 
costs and prospects and dangers of the military plans being considered.

What needs disclosure is the full internal controversy, the secret critiques as 
well as the arguments and claims of advocates of war and nuclear "options" - the
Pentagon Papers of the Middle East. But unlike in 1971, the ongoing secret 
debate should be made available before our war in the region expands to include 
Iran, before the sixty-one-year moratorium on nuclear war is ended violently, to
give our democracy a chance to foreclose either of those catastrophes.

The personal risks of doing this are very great. Yet they are not as great as 
the risks of bodies and lives we are asking daily of over 130,000 young 
Americans - with many yet to join them - in an unjust war. Our country has 
urgent need for comparable courage, moral and civil courage, from its public 
servants. They owe us the truth before the next war begins.


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