Interview with Karen Kwiatkowski by Tugrul Keskin
Interview with Karen Kwiatkowski
November 8, 2004
Karen Kwiatkowski recently retired from the active duty USAF as a Lieutenant Colonel. Her final assignment was as a political-military affairs officer in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Under Secretary for Policy, in the Sub-Saharan Africa and Near East South Asia (NESA) Policy directorates. During Col. Kwiatkowski's time at NESA, she worked the North Africa desk, in the sister office to the Office of Special Plans. Prior to the Office of Secretary of Defense assignment, she served on the Air Force Staff, Operations Directorate at the Pentagon, the staff of the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade, Maryland, and served tours in Alaska, Massachusetts, Spain and Italy. Col. Kwiatkowski has an MA in Government from Harvard, and MS in Science Management from the University of Alaska, and has completed both Air Command and Staff College and the Naval War College seminar programs. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Catholic University in World Politics (ABD), pursuing a dissertation on Overt/Covert War In Angola: A Case Study of the Implementation of the Reagan Doctrine. Col. Kwiatkowski has authored two recent books on African issues, African Crisis Response Initiative: Past Present and Future (US Army Peacekeeping Institute, 2000) and Expeditionary Air Operations in Africa: Challenges and Solutions (Air University Press, 2001) and several papers. She teaches online classes with the University of Maryland University College and American Public University System, and is an adjunct faculty in Political Science with James Madison University. Col. Kwiatkowski lives on a small farm in western Virginia with the husband and four children. She is a regular contributor to LewRockwell.com and Militaryweek.com, and has had articles about her work with the Department of Defense published in the American Conservative and Salon.com, among others.
Keskin: Do you think neoconservatives have a different political agenda than the agenda held in the American interest?
Karen Kwiatkowski: Yes, I do. American interests, in terms of foreign policy were last democratically polled in November 2000. At that time, they were evenly split between the trade and peaceful interventionism of candidate Al Gore and the trade and humble non-interventionism offered by candidate George W. Bush. After 9-11, Americans were fearful and many sought retaliation against the perpetrators, considered to be Osama bin Laden, his al Qaeda terrorist network around the world, and the Taliban who were offering bin Laden safe harbor. Initially, George Bush pursued this route, supported and desired by most Americans – while simultaneously listening to his neoconservative advisors insisting that now was the time to strike – not Osma bin Laden, but Saddam Hussein. False statements that made no distinction between 9-11, terrorism against America and Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship were pumped unrelentingly into the mainstream American media by Bush, Cheney, neoconservatives in government, neoconservative thinktanks and a very lazy and unaccountable American media.
Neoconservatives envision a Middle East that is politically divided, ethnically aroused and U.S.-compliant. This kind of Middle East is most susceptible to outside economic and political manipulation, and is thought to pose less of a military or political threat to Israel. On the other hand, most Americans just want to buy oil on competitive market prices (and lots of it), improve our own border security, and to have the worlds’ nations do a better job of policing their own backyards and reducing terrorism. But most Americans are not making American foreign policy. Neoconservatives are, and thus we see a policy that is inconsistent with broader American interests. This inconsistency is part of what is fueling growing political divisiveness in this country, as more and more average American’s realize we have a problem in the path the neoconservatives have chosen.
Keskin: I personally believe that there was no relation between the Al Qaeda terrorist network and Saddam Hussein. One is a religious network, the other one is a repressive secular dictatorship. Neoconservatives in Washington disregard American national security interests, and mislead the American people. Can we say that neoconservatives had a plan to invade Iraq long before September 11?
Karen Kwiatkowski: I agree – al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq logically would have had nothing but wariness for each other, to put it mildly. The neoconservative agenda for many years has been marked by a desire for military resolution of international problems. It was this way during the Cold War years, with the Senator Scoop Jackson acolytes, and it is this way now with the same older but no wiser crowd, now associated with the American Enterprise Institute, Center for Security Policy, and the Project for a New American Century, and in the current administration. Neoconservatives have had a serious desire to deal in a substantive (regime changing) way with both Iran and Iraq, and also Syria, but not necessarily a serious plan to do it, in my opinion. Richard Perle and Doug Feith’s “A Clean Break” strategy paper, written by key Bush administration neoconservatives in 1996 for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud campaign, lays out the neoconservative desires pretty clearly. But they did not have a “plan” to invade Iraq until they arrived in the Bush administration, and were able to access and manipulate intelligence, and mobilize the American military machine as well as mobilize the all too willing George W. Bush.
9-11 did provide a sense of urgency and fear in America that made it easy for the neocons and the President to sell the invasion of Iraq. I do think without 9-11, they would have still pursued this option, because it was about geo-strategic military basing, oil control, and Saddam’s decision to sell oil on the Euro instead of the dollar, as well as a way of shifting US resources more in line with Israeli interests in the region.. 9-11 just made the propaganda campaign at home easier to conduct.
Keskin: Most of the pro Iraq war think-tanks in Washington are also pro-Jewish think-tanks, such as JINSA and Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In these think-tanks, Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle and other influential neoconsrevatives were either fellows or on the board of trustees. Do you think this neoconservative political elite played a crucial role in the Iraq War, and misled American national interests in the Middle East?
Karen Kwiatkowski: It is clear that this group of people played a critical role. Those think tanks, and also the neoconservative Project for a New American Century led by Bill Kristol and Gary Schmitt, had long written about the need for a U.S. friendly Iraq, a toppled Saddam Hussein, and using US military force to do it.. It is interesting to me that the Jewish political elite represented in the Bush Administration seem, to a man, to be pro-Likud, and I think that defines them more than any particular religious adherence. I wonder if we would be talking about this at all, or be in Iraq occupying that country, if they were all pro-Labor Party. Certainly the actions of the Office of Special Plans and guys like former Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle, promulgating lies and exaggerating of Saddam’s capabilities to threaten the US, were purposely done to get the invasion. But Bush himself had his own reasons to want to go after Saddam, and there was indeed some kind of magic between his ambiguity about his father’s own decision to leave Saddam in place in 1991 and the neocon strategic goal.
Did they mislead Americans as to American national interests in the Middle East? I believe they lied and promoted lies (and liars like Ahmad Chalabi) to get their war. But I think for many of these guys truly believe that what is good for Likud is good for America. This is wrong factually, and wrong philosophically, and is probably very close to being treason. But I don’t think many of them really understand that putting the wishes or interests of another country before your own is wrong, as they are so wrapped up in what they perceive to be the needs of Israel, economically, territorially, militarily and in terms of regional security. This is why most of them are still angry and emotional about the Jonathan Pollard case – they really don’t see that his espionage and selling of US secrets to Israel in the late 1980s was criminal.
Keskin: Do you think that the recent spy case in the Pentagon opens the old files, such as the Pollard case in 1985, or do you think this is a message to the neoconservatives by the American intelligence community? (No one has been arrested so far, and the American intelligence community basically warned the neoconservative political elite)
Karen Kwiatkowski: The spy case is a complicated set of multiple investigations into the role of key neoconservatives in transferring secrets to third parties, and the examination of Israel’s active work to influence American actions and foreign policies both through lobbying representatives and through contacts with administration officials and employees. It does relate and refer back to old cases of Israeli espionage, and the publicity of the current case reminds people that Israel continues to conduct operations against the United States, and use U.S. officials to further its own aims. The fact that there is an investigation at all (for two years) has already served as a warning of sorts to neoconservatives who may be putting another county’s politics before our own. It is not clear why Larry Franklin’s name was leaked now. I initially thought it was done by a neoconservative who knew about Larry’s cooperation with the FBI as a way of disrupting the investigation, and warning others that arrests were coming soon. It could have been done to send a message of seriousness to the neoconservatives by the security agencies. I have recently read that Attorney General Ashcroft has been less than aggressive in prosecuting the possibly treasonous influence peddling going on in the Pentagon and elsewhere in the administration. It is possible that the leak of Larry’s name was designed to send a message from security agencies -- not to administration appointees who certainly have know about the investigation for months, even years – but to the Bush/Cheney/Ashcroft power center to push it along.
Keskin: It is very interesting that most of the people in the recent spy case in the Pentagon are also related with the Turkish lobby in Washington, with people such as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Harold Rhode. As far as I remember, in 1992, Perle and Feith opened a lobby firm in Washington and they received $850.000 dolars for lobbying on behalf of Turkey. Do you think neocons manipulate ethnic lobbies in Washington for "third parties," interests as they have been doing for American Foreign Policy?
Karen Kwiatkowski: This is an interesting observation, and my impression of the link to Turkish lobbying was that any work done was on behalf of or in relation to Israel as much as directly Turkish-United States. My assumption reflects my own observations that many of those named (Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith) seem to have merged in their own minds loyalty to Israel with loyalty to the United States. I don’t know if these particular people make a habit of manipulating ethnic or other national lobbies for third party interests – but I believe that when a lobby or a country (like Turkey) hires one of these politically connected people, they are hiring the existing network – and for these particular names, that network centers on Israel.
Keskin: Today, Anti-Americanism is an increasing trend all over the world. I was in Turkey last June, and many people, from shcolars to journalists, ordinary citizens to military officials asked me the same question: "Does the US have a secret policy to divide Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria?" How do you answer this question as a retired government offical?
Karen Kwiatkowski: I am aware of no official secret U.S. policy to divide Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Officially, such a policy would be contrary to the published statements and national security strategy of the current American President, George W. Bush. However, the neoconservative position regarding the Middle East includes weakening and destabilizing Israel’s more hostile neighbors militarily, economically, and politically – these hostile countries would include Syria, Iraq and Iran. Various neoconservative thinktanks and pundits have written for many years openly about their goals for the Middle East, using terms like liberation and democracy with simultaneous objectives of creating countries friendly to the United States and Israel. A neoconservative foreign policy could in theory satisfy both aims by lending support to Kurdish independence under a democracy and liberation auspice, and also enjoying the domestic and regional reaction which would consume regional political and possibly military energy from Iran, Iraq and Turkey. Another problem is that “Democracy” and “U.S./Israel-friendly” may not go hand in hand, given past behavior of the United States and Israel which is seen throughout the region as hypocritical and exploitative. It’s clear that democracy, for example the Turkish democracy, in rejecting the request by Washington to utilize Turkish territory to launch the preemptive war on Saddam Hussein, has angered key neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and Dick Cheney. Yet these same players have been very pleased with the cooperative but non-democratic countries of Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia.
Keskin: Additionally, how can we reverse the increasing trend of Anti-Americanism in the Islamic world and regain those people?
Karen Kwiatkowski: I think the Islamic world as well as the rest of the world would appreciate a bit more honesty from America, a bit more of us living up to our own professed values. American values are based on individual liberty, rule of law, freedom of religious expression and a prohibition of a state religion, and constitutional restraints on governmental power. In my opinion, we have betrayed these values at home as well as abroad, with our domestic Patriot Act, the vast increase in the power of the American government to arrest and detain citizens on little evidence, the role of Christian evangelical theory to superficially justify our actions in the Middle East. We have conducted a military adventure in Iraq that was based on false and manufactured evidence (although it was conducted for real geostrategic reasons that had little to do with the professed rationale) and the executive was not restrained by the legislative or judicial parts of our government, effectively setting aside our own Constitution. Until America can behave as a member of a community of nations, guided by the words of Thomas Jefferson, seeking “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none,” then we Americans will not be seen as role models or as trusted friends. It cannot be only sweet words, it must be lived. I believe that George W. Bush squandered a huge opportunity to lead the world by example. Instead he has served as a well-publicized example of ignorance, impulsiveness and arrogance that is not a true part of our national character. Our Founding Fathers certainly warned repeatedly against all three characteristics.