Interview with Karen Kwiatkowski

In July, 2003, Karen Kwiatkowski retired as a lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Air Force, having served since 1978. From May, 2002, to February, 2003, Karen Kwiatkowski served in the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia directorate (NESA). Dr. Kwiatkowski presently teaches at James Madison University, and writes regularly for

Interviewed by Omar Khan for, read the interview of Dr. Kwiatkowski’s blistering and revealing comments about the neo-conservatives, Bolsheviks, fascism and the Bush Administration agenda in Iraq and beyond.

OK: Could you say something about your reasons for joining the Air Force some 20 years ago?

KK: Basically, they gave me a full ROTC scholarship, and I needed money to go to college. That was the deal. I was happy to do it actually. I had applied for navy and army, and the one that I got was Air Force.

My dad had served in the navy for 4 years in, I guess, the late 50s. And he used to always talk about how great the military was. So we were pretty disposed to the military, but I joined the Air Force because they’re the ones that coughed up the money for college.

OK: So military service has been a tradition in your family for at least two generations.

KK: It’s definitely looked highly upon in my family. Actually, I have two brothers, both—one was for his career in the navy, just retired. The other was in the marines for about seven or eight years.

OK: What do you mean when you’ve elsewhere referred to the military as an apolitical institution?

KK: When I refer to the military as apolitical, that’s because, as an institution, it’s supposed to be. But it’s kind of political in the sense that if you’re what’s called a conservative—usually you’re in good company when you’re in the military. You’re around a lot of people that care about some of those basic things. So there’s that aspect. But technically apolitical.

We swear an oath to the constitution—to defend it against enemies, both foreign and domestic. They’re words, but every time you get promoted you have to retake the oath. So it does make you think about the constitution. You’re reminded of it in a way that other people in other jobs are not reminded of it. So we have this constant idea—it’s kind of reinforced to us throughout our careers: what we’re supposed to be doing, what we’re all about.

OK: How did you see whistleblowing in terms of these values?

KK: You’re oath is not to a political party, it’s not to an institution, but to an idea: to a constitutional republic. So we have a president who serves for 4-8 years.

And he has—according to the constitution—limited duties that he takes care of. We have a legislature; and a judiciary. So if you care about those things, and you’re out to preserve that balance—to respect that balance rather than persons—you don’t think of it as whistleblowing, you think of it as, you know, my loyalty is to what is right, to how these things are supposed to work. I was working pretty closely with those who lied to the American people into buying an unnecessary war, an illegal war, I think. But my loyalty is not to those people—whether those people are the president, Republican or Democrat, whether those people political appointees, whether those people are civil servants. The loyalty is to the system, and the system is set up in such a way to prevent stupid things from happening in foreign policy.

OK: What do you mean when you characterize neoconservatism as a dead philosophy of anticommunism?

KK: In 2002, before I was actually working with people doing Near East policy and seeing and meeting these neoconservatives—I didn’t even know what a neoconservative was. I began to look at who these individuals were, what they were doing before in our government, and what they cared about politically. These are the same guys that are responsible for Iran-Contra. They don’t care about the law. They are liberals at home—very much not a traditional conservative political perspective domestically, but closer to the more Social Democratic approach, somewhat like our Democratic party used to be, domestically; but, in terms of foreign policy, very hawkish, extremely hawkish, extremely aggressive—black and white, murder, death, kill basically. I hate to say that, but that’s what it is: they have to die so we can live. Intervention oriented foreign policy, which is not conservative either. This is kind of the political home of neoconservatives.

The Cold War was perfect for this crowd; and this crowd made their political bones during that time. These guys were the hardcore anticommunists even within the Reagan administration. Richard Perle actually left the administration in 1986 based on Reagan’s overtures and receptivity to Gorbachev. Perle, Wolfowitz, Armitage, Rumsfeld, Cheney—all these guys, though not always in the exact same way, had a place in the Reagan administration as hardline hawks, even though many of them were not Republicans. In fact Richard Perle to this day is a registered Democrat.

OK: What is your view of the legacy to which the neocons are heirs?

KK: The intellectual fathers of neoconservatism—what shapes their approach internationally—are the Bolsheviks. International revolution, international change—radical change, global revolution. And these same terms, these same ideas—of international change, revolution, transformation—these are the words of Michael Ledeen and some of the other articulators of neoconservatism. And the actual people, and they’re not ashamed to really say this, but guys like Irving Crystal and other intellectuals of the 30s had actually been Bolsheviks.

One of the characterizations of neocons today is that they are neo-Jacobins—philosophically, this idea that people are the same, all want the same thing, and should have the same thing. That ‘same thing’ in a modern neoconservative view is this idea of ‘democracy.’ But is it really democracy that they want, or is democracy simply a trojan horse. Certainly for Iraq, George Bush has been left with one story as to why we went in

If they had democracy, they’d take a vote, and we’d be kicked out of there immediately.

Certainly we don’t want them to have democracy, because then they’ll make us leave. So it’s unclear that democracy is a goal, but that’s what they talk about: the God of Democracy. So it’s not like Trotskyism in the sense that they’re not advocating global communism but they are advocating universal, radical—and in effect, catastrophic—change. And this is kind of a clear thread for many years.

So the neoconservatives are not new; during the Reagan era, the ‘Cold War’ was their vehicle for credibility—this evil enemy that we must face, or else the end of the world is coming. They cannot work without this global enemy, almost a kind of class warfare. You can’t just have a mere enemy; it has to be a monstrous enemy, something that can destroy us. They’ve found that in, or rather cultivated it, in what is called ‘Islamic Fascism.’ Unfortunately this doesn’t exist. No one advocates it. No one articulates it. In the 1930s, Hitler had fascism and he talked about it. Islamic Fascism is a made up thing. . But it doesn’t matter: what matters is that it’s useful in generating fear, and serves that same larger purpose—providing a platform from which to operate.

Now you can follow the money too. The neocon philosophy provides a construct within which we can—‘we,’ being the establishment, corporatism—can move. So you have this construct that talks of ‘fear’ ‘protection,’ ‘security.’ Which are used to advocate intervention—intervention for security, what Iraq was effectively sold as: ‘intervention for American security.’

OK: Please say a little bit about your experience in the Pentagon.

KK: I worked four and a half years for the Pentagon. Between May of 2002 and March of 2003, I worked in Near East South Asia (NESA) bureau in the Pentagon, which worked alongside The Office of Special Plans (OSP)—a group of twenty-five people or so in August 2002—under Bill Luti. It was dissolved in August 2003—about four months after the invasion and the mission accomplished declaration by the president.

Its job had been done.

The whole idea with Iraq was to destroy Iraq. It was not to rebuild it, turn it into a democracy. It was simply to take a country that had no navy, no airforce, and a very small—you know—fourth rate army and turn it into a country with no navy, no airforce, and no army. We did this, and OSP did its part in promoting that. Once it was done there was no need for OSP.

One of the amenities with which we were provided as staff officers were talking points—Saddam Hussein, WMD, and terrorism. If there is anything that you’d need to research on Iraq, you’d only need to take verbatim from the latest version of what OSP had produced on any one of these talking points. These same bullet points would of course be in presidential speeches. I can only assume—since they were producing them for us, on a very routine basis—I can only assume that OSP was the creative entity here in doing that.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had a staff of 6 or 7 people dedicated intelligence people who had no other job than to support our boss, Bill Luti (Deputy under NESA and OSP). Their only job was to answer Bill Luti’s questions and provide Bill Luti with the intelligence that the intelligence community had, particularly DIA intelligence. So the means by which a policy receives its information was perverted. It may have been perverted before then, but I know that it was perverted in the time that I was there, from May 2002 to March 2003. The DIA people were told: ‘no this is not what I want to hear, go back and do a better job’

This is what I saw as an observer. Not as a person inside DIA. But I can tell you, I talked to these guys—who’d come over to brief the lower level people on a routine basis:

They were always under pressure. OSP saying, ‘I don’t need that, give me what I need,’ and DIA saying, ‘I can’t give you something that doesn’t exist.’

I actually explained this to the Senate staffers during the Phase I investigation of intelligence. They were like: oh, whatever. Basically unwilling to entertain the possibility. But there was clearly a huge contempt for information; what they did, instead was to ask for exactly what they wanted to hear, probably about 95% of which was entirely false.

Anyone who talked of sanctions and continual bombing of Iraq over a dozen years, or said that there’s no evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Pentagon in 2002 was going to be told: I don’t want to hear that, go back and find me something I can use. And if you didn’t do that, like in the case of the DIA guy, who went back and looked and couldn’t find anything, he was then disinvited from meetings. Bill Luti had one briefing on Weapons of Mass Destruction, supposed to be prepared by the DIA—had been historically prepared by the DIA guy, had been historically prepared by the DIA guy. He didn’t like the way the DIA guy had done it, so transferred the responsibility to a policy office, that of course exaggerated, presented a threat that didn’t exist. But this made everybody happy, since Americans were getting excited for war. A noble lie taken as far as it can go.

OK: How does this fit into what you’ve called ‘grand plans’ that today ‘walk the corridors of the Pentagon’?

KK: This global enemy—‘Islamic fascism,’ ‘Islamic terrorism,’ or whatever it is—enables war in the Mideast. So the ‘grand plan’ is a Mideast transformation plan, which guys like Michael Ledeen have been talking about for a long time. Since we have this apocalyptic enemy, it’s either us or them. So in Iraq: the money goes for ‘security’— American bases, and police power to defend those bases. The things we’ve destroyed we have not rebuilt or fixed. The things that we have protected have been the Oil Ministry and the Finance Ministry. This is from the very beginning. Those bases in Iraq will be how we deal with (intimidate) the rest of the Middle East. Keep those other countries in line—politically, economically, and in every other way. This is clearly articulated, for example, in “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” actually written for Netanyahu: Iraq must first be changed, and from there we will be able to deal with our enemies—primarily, Syrians and Iranians. But this has nothing to do with America, or with American interests—in my opinion, anyway. Who benefits from this kind of foreign policy? This needs to become a topic that can be publicly discussed. If we can’t talk about it, then we shouldn’t be paying for it. What are they forecasting: something like 2 trillion dollars, or something, for this war? This is not an insignificant amount of money. So this question—Who benefits from this kind of foreign policy?—needs to become a topic that can be publicly discussed.