Thursday, August 28, 2008

King PlayStation, the Lebanese journalist, Naji Sabri, and Mr. Habbush. Ron Suskind's The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in An Age of Extremism has some important revelations. But for a book that is 400 pages long, it is not well-edited or organized. But you wonder: during the Vietnam war there were some courageous American journalists who worked for mainstream media and who defied conventions and resisted political pressures. This time around, in the era of Bush's popular wars, we can't speak of many courageous reporters or correspondents. Patriotic journalism is now the norm. You can think of a handful of courageous reporters and Suskind is one of them. While he is no Middle East or foreign policy expert, he can write independently of the political climate of Washington, DC. But one wishes that he checked and verified before he made some observations on the Middle East, although his stories about ethnic profiling of Muslims in the U.S. are quite powerful. But Suskind should have known better than to refer to the Sunni-Shi`ite split as a "blood feud" (p. 67); or that Muslims--all Muslims avoid dogs (p. 65) when there are Muslims (especially farmers and peasants) who do take dogs as pets; or that King PlayStation of Jordan managed to "retain currency and respect among Muslims" (p. 155). But the book has some really important revelations that the press glossed over or may not have thought that it was important. For example, you learn that Israeli intelligence "helped" in the security management for Benazir Bhutto (p. 266), that Hamid Karzai "strong-armed" Arab investors to build the Serena Hotel in Kabul (p. 340); that Iyad `Allawi was used to authenticate a forged document to "prove" the link between Saddam and Al-Qa`idah (p. 374 and 378); and you read that Rumsfeld and Feith are still giving advice to Bush. And the portrayal of Bush is damning but not surprising. And then there are important revelations. This about King `Abdullah of Jordan: "Bob Richer, who, after several stints in the Middle East, had been stations in Amman, Jordan, in the late 80s. Early on in the tour, Richer was asked, improbably, by Jordan's king Hussein to spend some time with the king's son, Abdullah--a smart, free-spirited kid whose mother happened to be English, and who was therefore a long-shot for the throne. Richer, who has always managed to fuse entrepreneurial zeal with clandestine work, took to the task with gusto. By 1999, Richer--a former marine with a flair for quick thinking and quicker action--had helped guide the king's son into manhood. Richer was Abdullah's Karl Rove."(p. 153). And then you read this on Saddam's last foreign minister, Naji Sabri (now living in a Gulf country--most of Saddam's officials (who are approved by the Americans either live in Amman or in Gulf countries): "Along the way, [Naji Sabri] had also established a relationship with French intelligence as a paid spy. Though there were surface tensions between the United States and France in those prewar years, the countries' intelligence agencies maintained a good working relationship. CIA's Paris station chief, Bill Murray, was one of the more experienced field bosses in the clandestine service, having run five stations across a thirty-year career...Back in Washignton, Bush, Cheney, and Rice were briefed on the development, and agreed that Sabri seemed very promising indeed. Langley concurred, and coughed up an initial payment for the high-ranking Iraqi: $200,000...Direct contact was too dangerous. Arrangements were made for Sabri to meet with an intermediary--a Lebanese journalist trusted by both sides--while in New York. The intermediary would pose questions on behalf of CIA and then follow up with Murray. The plan went off smoothly: Sabri passed along what he knew, Murray debriefed the journalist in a New York hotel, and for his adress to the General Assembly, Sabri even wore a specific type of suit requested by Murray as a good-faith signal...(p. 179-180) In January, Murray discovered that the Lebanese intermediary had made off with Sabri's $200,000..."(p. 182). And then there is the very disturbing story of Saddam's intelligence chief (and killer) Taher Habbush, who was paid $5 million by the U.S. government and allowed to resettle in Amman, Jordan. The U.S. government was telling the press that it was searching for him, while it had helped whisk him out of Iraq after the invasion.