Glenn Greenwald Needs To Stop Being A Cheerleader

Glenn Greenwald likes to call people tribalists and cheerleaders. He should know, he used to be one in praise of George W Bush. Now, he is a tribalist where everything comes back to the evil of Bush and Blair. I engage with his desire to say that Tony Blair, rather than Saddam Hussein, is the one to blame for innocent people being killed.

Glenn Greenwald chose the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 bombing to write a piece criticizing the terrorism that killed over fifty people and injured over 700 civilians as they commuted on the tube and a bus in London. He also mentioned the brutal terrorist attack in Tunisia days ago where about thirty British tourists were killed by a gunman.

Well, no, he did not once mention any of that. In his piece: TONY BLAIR AND THE SELF-EXALTING MINDSET OF THE WEST: IN TWO PARAGRAPHS his focus was on Tony Blair saying he had chosen to “exploit” the anniversary “by casting blame on “radical Islam” for the world’s violence while exempting himself.”

How is Tony Blair to blame for violence like 7/7?:

[Tony Blair:] “This is a global problem … we’re not going to allow anyone to excuse themselves by saying that the slaughter of totally innocent people is somehow a response to any decision by any government” [original emphasis]

The proposition Blair just decreed invalid — “the slaughter of totally innocent people is somehow a response to any decision by any government” — is exactly the rationale that he himself repeatedly invoked, and to this day still invokes, to justify the invasion and destruction of Iraq, as in this example from December 2009:

Tony Blair has said he would have invaded Iraq even without evidence of weapons of mass destruction and would have found a way to justify the war to parliament and the public. . . . “If you had known then that there were no WMDs, would you still have gone on?” Blair was asked. He replied: “I would still have thought it right to remove him [Saddam Hussein]”. . . . He explained it was “the notion of him as a threat to the region” because Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons against his own people.

One may be forgiven for thinking Glenn Greenwald was exploiting the tenth anniversary of 7/7 to have a go at Tony Blair. Glenn goes on:

“Excusing the slaughter of totally innocent people” — whether in Fallujah or Gaza or Yemen — is a staple of Western elite discourse to justify the militarism of the U.S., the U.K. and their most special allies. It only suddenly becomes inexcusable when carried out by Muslims against the West. It is a stunning testament to Western self-delusion that one of the prime architects and salesmen of the most destructive political crime of this generation — the invasion of Iraq — can stand up with a straight face and to applause and declare: “we’re not going to allow anyone to excuse themselves by saying that the slaughter of totally innocent people is somehow a response to any decision by any government.”

The problem we have here is that Saddam “a koran written in his blood” Hussein (worth reading, the article not the bloody calligraphy, for anyone that told you his Baathist party was strictly secular) was more than happy to invade Muslim neighbours, and launch chemical weapons at them. Deliberately targeting civilians. Shall we talk about the up to half a million muslim innocents Saddam killed? It seemed appropriate to mention, so this tweet initiated the following exchange with a link to Greenwald’s above piece..

The problem is yourself not mentioning the innocents Saddam used WMD on, tortured and killed in region

He did that while the US and the UK Governments supported and embraced him. Then they pretended to oppose it to attack him.

are you saying the US and UK governments supported the use of chemical weapons on the Kurds by Saddam?

Sorry to shatter your illusions – hope you have people around who can support you through it

Chemical Weapons

This was off the point I was trying to make – why are we not focusing on Saddam Hussein committing genocide against the Kurds, nor taking into account Tony Blair was not in political power till 1997? The sleight of hand used, how dare the US/UK support Saddam Hussein when he was a Chemical Weapon using genocide – becoming –  how dare twenty years later different leaders in US/UK think he needed removing as a danger to the region.

It was a pity that Greenwald did not use a recent Guardian piece this month on the UK Foreign Office ‘did not stop Iraq making chemical weapons’. Go beyond the headline, and the article reveals (my emphasis):

In April 1983, at the height of the Iran-Iraq war, the ambassador in Baghdad, Sir John Moberly, telegrammed the FCO and defence intelligence sections about the “manufacture and use of mustard gas by the Iraqi army”.

An internal letter pointed out that there was no “non-proliferation regime” banning chemical weapons, and noted: “Britain alone could take limited action to control exports, but this would do little good. Global action might eventually be effective but would probably require public presentation of our evidence and would be very slow. Given that the Iraqi programme is already far advanced, I am skeptical about the feasibility of effective action.”

An estimated 20,000 Iranians were killed by mustard gas and nerve agents during the war. Many more still suffer lingering after-effects. The Chemical Weapons Convention [CWC], which bans the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and precursors, did not come into force until 1997. International outrage over Iraqi use of poison gas was pivotal in changing attitudes.

On the FCO letter in April 1983, a senior official wrote that the UK should take no action at the UN security council or the international court of justice. The FCO did, however, begin to talk to its allies about the issue.

A later telegram to the Baghdad embassy recorded that the FCO intended to “at least slow down and perhaps frustrate Iraqi ambitions in this field”. By July that year, officials were expressing frustration about the US government’s reluctance to release intelligence on French and German companies involved in supplying chemicals to Iraq.

It is incredible to think stockpiling chemical weapons was fine – just do not use – in international law at the time. I found this piece by the Iran Chamber Society which states in an article on their site regarding the US (my emphasis):

One of the chemical-warfare instances reported by Iran, at Hoor-ul-Huzwaizeh on 13 March 1984, has since been conclusively verified by an international team of specialists dispatched to Iran by the United Nations Secretary General. The evidence adduced in the report by the UN team lends substantial credence to Iranian allegations of Iraqi chemical warfare on at least six other occasions during the period from 26 February to 17 March. 

The efficiency and dispatch with which this UN verification operation was mounted stand greatly to the credit of the Secretary General. His hand had presumably been strengthened by the announcement on 7 March by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that 160 cases of wounded combatants visited in Tehran hospitals by an ICRC team “presented a clinical picture whose nature leads to the presumption of the recent use of substances prohibited by international law”. The casualties visited were reportedly all victims of an incident on 27 February. The ICRC statement came two days after the US State Department had announced that “the US Government has concluded that the available evidence indicates that Iraq has used lethal chemical weapons”. Iraq had denounced the Washington statement as “political hypocrisy”, “full of lies”, a fabrication by the CIA, and had suggested that the hospital patients examined by the ICRC had “sustained the effects of these substances in places other than the war front”. On 17 March, at almost the same moment as the UN team was acquiring its most damning evidence, the general commanding the Iraqi Third Corps, then counter-attacking in the battle for the Majnoon Islands, spoke as follows to foreign reporters: “We have not used chemical weapons so far and I swear by God’s Word I have not seen any such weapons. But if I had to finish off the enemy, and if I am allowed to use them, I will not hesitate to do so”. 

Iraq complaining about a fabrication by the CIA they had used chemical weapons when it was reported by the UN team in 1984?  The same article mentions this on why Iraq’s chemical weapon capacity was well advanced:

“whether Iraq has or has not been receiving chemical weapons from abroad, it has been acquiring a development and production capability for them of its own. An official Iranian commentry [sic] dates the beginning of this effort back to 1976, claiming that information to that effect had been provided to Iran by West German intelligence officials. Unidentified US intelligence sources have been quoted as saying that Iraq began making mustard gas in the early 1970s.”

Saddam Hussein was stockpiling chemical weapons, and international law surprisingly was at that moment in time fine with that, as long as it was not used. The genie was out of the bottle with the Iraq and Iran war. Did Iran ever use chemical weapons itself? If  it did, it was not on the scale of Iraq. Here is Stephen C. Pelletiere,  CIA  senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war:

The [US Defense Intelligence] agency did find that each side used gas against the other in the battle around Halabja. The condition of the dead Kurds’ bodies, however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent — that is, a cyanide-based gas — which Iran was known to use. The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at the time.

These facts have long been in the public domain but, extraordinarily, as often as the Halabja affair is cited, they are rarely mentioned. A much-discussed article in The New Yorker last March did not make reference to the Defense Intelligence Agency report or consider that Iranian gas might have killed the Kurds. On the rare occasions the report is brought up, there is usually speculation, with no proof, that it was skewed out of American political favoritism toward Iraq in its war against Iran.

It must be noted Pelletiere was sceptical of a human rights reason for war with Iraq “when there are so many other repressive regimes Washington supports?” Nor am I somehow excusing Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. There was none, though Pelletiere implies it was just an act of war.

Having been told by Glenn in a tweet “hope you have people around you who can support you” decided to repay that remark.

I said Kurds not Iranians – perhaps you could answer the question posed rather than one not asked? Ask a friend if it helps.

That US was supporting Saddam when he gassed the Kurds is the most basic history – helped protect Iraq

Greenwald links to “Halabja: America didn’t seem to mind poison gas.” The US claimed initially it was Iran, backing up Saddam, and two months later UN Resolution 612 was passed condemning the use of chemical weapons and urging that both sides refrain from future use as per Geneva Protocol. Iraq was seen as the lesser of two evils by US foreign policy. The piece concludes:

They have yet to account for their judgment that it was Iran, not Iraq, that posed the primary threat to the Gulf; for building up Iraq so that it thought it could invade Kuwait and get away with it; for encouraging Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs by giving the regime a de facto green light on chemical weapons use; and for turning a blind eye to Iraq’s worst atrocities, and then lying about it.

The Lesser of Two Evils?

Why was Iran considered worse than Iraq, and why given the evidence when collected showed it was Iraq, were both sides asked to refrain from using chemical weapons in the resolution. Rather than just Iraq? Javed Ali in his article Chemical Weapons and the Iran Iraq War: A Case Study in Non-Compliance mentions:


I cannot support the lesser enemy of humanity against the worse enemy of humanity is my friend logic – and Kuwait was of course waiting to happen. It is naive to discount those fears of Iran were genuinely based, as mentioned above. Regarding how quickly US knew it was Iraq (my emphasis):

In 1988, the U.S. was allied with Iraq, and was providing order of battle data about Iranian forces to the Iraqis, while turning a blind eye to what it knew were chemical attacks against Iranian troops, a serious and flagrant violation of international law.

“It was the only slightly better of two bad choices: stop helping the Iraqis and the Iranians would likely win the war, or continue to work with a country now using nerve agents on the battlefield,” writes Rick Francona this week on his blog. Francona was U.S. military liaison officer to the Iraqi forces in 1988.

Francona claims that the U.S. didn’t yet know that Saddam had ordered the chemical attack on Halabja, but he is now adamant that it was Iraq that perpetrated that atrocity.

However, there are still many people who believe the old U.S. argument, and the debate continues in some circles about what exactly killed, sickened and maimed the townspeople of Halabja.

I emphasised in my tweets the Kurds because of the Anfal counter insurgency campaigns that which are aptly referred to as a Kurdish genocide by Human Rights Watch. This occurred during and just after the Iraq Iran War ended.

This was no longer an ally in the region, no buttress. Saddam was a danger to stability. Having showed it with war with Iran, he then did so again by invading Kuwait. The international community, led by the US, declared war on Iraq in 1990.


As always, the most devoted My-Side-Is-Superior-&-Blameless Tribalists are found in UK: much historical practice

Glenn Greenwald in his article, and to me on twitter, has been using the word tribalist. He mentions in the Tony Blair article: (my emphasis):

While the leading lights of the West love to celebrate themselves as beacons of civilized, progressive rationality, their overriding mentality is just the crassest and most primitive form of tribalism: when Our Side does it, it is right, and when Their Side does it, it is wrong. No matter the esoteric finery in which it drapes itself, that is the primitive, banal formulation that lies at the heart of the vast, vast majority of foreign policy discourse in the West. So often, those who fancy themselves brave warriors for rationality and advancement by demonizing Islam are just rank tribalists whose own national, religious and cultural loyalties are served by doing so.

This is the same Glenn Greenwald who once wrote:

Embedded image permalink

I am grateful to Jeremy Duns for making me aware of this article by Glenn Greenwald. In that 2005 piece,  he defines anti-americanism:

If “anti-American” means anything, I’d say it means an inclination to blame America for every world problem, and to vigilantly search for America’s guilt while downplaying, ignoring, or excusing the guilt of its enemies.

American Hawks will give any excuse to justify war. “See, we are the good guys!”

I didn’t support the war – but Tony Blair was no Saddam Hussein nor did he give Iraq WMD. Wish go 4 those who did

You Got Mail

That more or less ended the twitter conversation between myself and Glenn on the 7 July – but he sent me this tweet and two photos on the 8 July, which he sent to my “I didn’t support the war” tweet.

Hey John. I got an email – 2 pics:

Pic 1

Pic 2:

I should be flattered, that in demolishing Tony Blair in two paragraphs, he has turned his attention to doing the same to me in two pics. Just one slight problem, is when you read what I wrote in those 2007 posts. I was against the war because Parliament was being misled, and I would have voted no, but I am committed to the overthrow of genocide chemical weapon using tyrants. I would rather hope most people would be, preferably before they get to commit genocide. That is a huge criticism of government policies: Rwanda, Srebrenica, Syria. We must add Iraq, and the resolve that we never find ourselves on the side of those that commit genocide in war again.

Pic 1

I am a humanitarian interventionist. But I prefer we take such military action with a proper debate and parliamentary approval. I do mention the Kurds and whole lot of other things on Iraq, while saying we should not have gone to war on a lie.

From the first article linked to in pic (my emphasis):

Saddam had to be dealt with. Mass genocide, flouting of international law, a quest to buy WMD from the Koreans, satellite TV punishable by the death of the whole family. It is pie in the sky to believe that Saddam was a non issue and the Middle East would be fine with him still in power until he died of natural causes. His track record, his conduct suggest otherwise.

After 9/11 one thing did change – that was the risk of doing nothing, but waiting for something to happen. That would be unforgivable for any government that could perceive a threat but did nothing to act until something happened. In the case of WMD used on civilians it needed to be shown that any state proving a threat would be subject not to appeasement, but action.

That is separate from how the case was made. It was made on the basis that Saddam had WMD and was prepared to use it/give it to groups that meant the West ill. That was an overstatement of what intelligence actually revealed – a downright lie at worst.

I mention genocide again, but far from being tribal I am downright critical of how international community are doing things in Iraq:

The law on genocide is clear – the sovereignty of a state is null and void. Saddam should have been brought down after the liberation of Kuwait – but no one seemed to be prepared for the aftermath. It took over ten years for the political will for Saddam’s overthrow to happen and rather than being prepared, there has been error after error, lack of planning, not enough international consensus to put the resources into trying to stabilise Iraq. The aftermath has been made worse than it was going to be due to this.

In 2008 post I reiterate that parliament should not have voted for war given what we were told (my emphasis):

I know that quite a few people I get on with do have disagreement with my position on Iraq. Which in a nutshell was a realisation that we were being lied to about going in, but the case should have been made on humanitarian reasons and that the world could not risk allowing tyrants that threatened peace and security to die peacefully in their sleep when they murdered whole families for having satellite television. But in all cases it should be for a society to have the facts, and agree to the aims if their children’s lives are to be sent to die.The cause must be true, and the sacrifice though painfully felt considered to the good of humanity.

Pic 2

Let us go to the second article also written in 2007, the clincher in the second photo than I am a tribalist cheerleading the west:

On the other hand I do have difficulty trying to understand what the mission is. From the USA the term “strategic relationship” is mentioned – that there will always be a USA military presence in Iraq, which will no doubt have an impact on the domestic politics in Iraq. The issue is will that be for a politically just Iraq or one that serves the foreign policy of the USA at all costs? For example that seems to [be] the basis of support for the tyrant in Pakistan – which may well actually be counter productive (a free democratic Pakistan has never chosen Islamic parties to rule; under a dictator they just might).

It is a no brainer if a matter of principle means going against my party line – the issue really is why is the USA administration making the whole darn thing a bloody mess? Increasingly it seems people like myself that want us to be involved in creating and supporting a democratic Iraq are being marginalised by those that want us out and those that want us there for our own gains (strategic and resource led).

So much for me cheering the neocons.

If parliament is going to vote on war, it has to be based on actual intelligence which include misgivings, and give an accurate representation of the situation, and we should not choose to give the benefit of the doubt or defer to government to decide if the evidence is in doubt. Unlike a certain Glenn Greenwald, who wrote in his 2006 book “How Would A Patriot Act?”

I had not abandoned my trust in the Bush administration. Between the president’s performance in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the swift removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the fact that I wanted the president to succeed, because my loyalty is to my country and he was the leader of my country, I still gave the administration the benefit of the doubt. I believed then that the president was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to, and to the extent that I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.

There, I rest my case, though there are more posts to see here. In the end, Saddam Hussein was hanged for his crimes against humanity, and the many hundreds of thousands of Muslims he killed. The mistakes in Iraq, sectarianism and the rise of ISIS, have been woeful. To blame Tony Blair for the murder of innocents in the way we must hold Saddam Hussein to account is nonsensical. We are though in danger of making the same mistakes if we think people like Assad or Sisi are allies against Islamic extremism that need our support and no questions asked. Much of what I have written here casts a shadow on us today: how do we deal with Assad, and the use of Chemical Weapons, how we respond to the militaristic actions and extremist religious ideology of ISIS, how can we stop people wanting to join the Islamic State, how human rights abuses are dealt with by strategic allies.

We need a debate on this. It would help if Greenwald put his pom poms away first.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under Iraq

8 responses to “Glenn Greenwald Needs To Stop Being A Cheerleader

  1. Reblogged this on iramramzan and commented:
    John Sar

  2. * “Nothing more emotionally stunted than tribalists yelling WE’RE WORSE!!!! over and over: like cheerleaders.”

  3. Clearly, Mr Greenwald read Notes On Nationalism, and saw it as an “How To” guide, rather than a warning. To paraphrase said tract, “What remains constant in the tribalist is his own state of mind: the object is changeable.” I suspect Mr Greenwald likes to cheerlead, in the end, the team he cheers for is irrelevant to him.

  4. If you don’t know it yet, you’ll soon find that Glenn and his defenders move more goalposts than the staff at a World Cup. They act as if a 10 years was a millennium. They come back at you with their cliched retort about ‘haven’t you ever changed your mind?’ Well, yes, but not 180 degrees in the blink of an eye on such huge issues.

    Meanwhile, he has no compunction about attacking people for things they did decades ago. In the Preface of his first book, he talks about his transformation somewhere between late 2001 and 2003, and that he had changed “completely,” and yet, somehow he was defending Bush and writing xenophobic screeds against immigrants in late 2005.

    I could go on and on with Greenwald’s utter hypocrisy on so many issues, but at heart I think he’s never changed from the guy who defended neo-Nazis while attacking their victims and real civil rights lawyers.

    And oh yeah, he LOVES to bring in the green. That’s why he makes so much noise about fear of being persecuted if he comes to the United States and makes so many book signing appearances here.

    And oh yeah, he supported the Iraq war because he wanted “vengeance,” on those dastardly Muslims after 9/11. Enough said.

    • Yes, as I said at some point during twitter storm that followed “I change my mind when the facts change” which is different from being an all out right wing to suddenly all out left wing. Thanks for adding those points, which at near 4,000 words did not have space for.

      Enough said.

  5. devorah marks

    glenn articulates the truths that those in power or subservient to government propaganda just dont want nto hear.

    • It also helps giving the historical context, even if they get in the way of the narrative you want to lay out. Both those articles he linked failed to show why there was concern over Iran, and how self sufficient Iraq’s chemical weapons programme was for the Iraq-Iran war. Let alone it was (ridiculously) not illegal to stockpile chemical weapons.

      We either learn from history or we do not. The 20th anniversary of Srebrenica clear reminder national governments have to be reminded to take genocide seriously. Yet non interventionists like Glenn Greenwald would be against, so Assad gets away with using chemical weapons, and attacking civilians. While Glenn claims the moral high ground, as ISIS gain ground.

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