The Left Hook! Archive


Tues., Sept. 10, 2002

Bush & Iraq:

If A Bombshell Explodes in the Forest,

Does It Make A Sound?

Though it certainly wasn't treated as such, Saturday saw the publication, in the New York Times, of a major story chock full of potentially explosive implications about the administration's Iraq policy. Apparently, the recent public maneuvering by those in the administration to convince America and its allies to go along with an attack upon Iraq is part of a marketing campaign--described as "meticulously planned"--that's been in the works for some time. The story, by Elisabeth Bumiller, doesn't precisely pinpoint its origin, but does say it "was planned long before President Bush's vacation in Texas last month."  The campaign has, so far, involved major lobbying of key congressional leaders:

On the day after Labor Day, the opening of Washington's political new year, Bush summoned a skeptical congressional leadership to the White House to enlist their support for action against Iraq.

The next day, two dozen senators from both parties were invited to the Pentagon to discuss Iraqi policy with Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and George Tenet, the director of central intelligence.

ater in the day, Cheney and Tenet gave evidence of Iraqi military capability to the top four congressional leaders, some of whom have said the administration has provided no proof that the threat from Saddam is imminent.

For the general public, the administration is saving its most cynical con. The article revealed that Bush, as many already suspected, is planning to use his public remarks at the Sept. 11 memorial events in New York to beat the drums of war against Iraq. Ellis Island was chosen as the site for these remarks because "the television camera angles were more spectacular from Ellis Island, where the Statue of Liberty will be seen aglow behind Bush."

The goal of all this: "The White House wants a resolution approving the use of force in Iraq to be approved in the next four to five weeks." An unnamed senior administration official is quoted: "In the end, it will be difficult for someone to vote against it."

Though the frankness with which those in the administration talked about this was surprising, such a breathtakingly cynical marketing campaign isn't, in itself, that unusual. The potentially explosive element of the story emerges from the implication, lurking between the lines unstated and perhaps even unrecognized by Bumiller, that this amounts to a concerted effort on the part of the administration to use the Iraq "situation" (which they, themselves, have invented) to manipulate the November elections.

The White House has been very anxious about the elections, and with good reason. Democrats now control the Senate by a single seat, and Republicans hold control of the House by only 12. Historically, the party in the White House loses congressional seats during the first mid-term. This has been the case, without exception, since the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. The last 10 presidents have averaged a 27-seat loss. A loss of even half that size would be nothing short of devastating for Republicans now. Throughout this year, the administration has openly expressed its anxiety over the elections. Bush political advisor Karl Rove recently compared it to "one of those great high school basketball games where the outcome is in doubt to the very last second of the game." The incredible prodigiousness of the "President's" fund-raising activities on behalf of his party seems to suggest an "anxiety" more akin to blind terror, one which stretches back almost to the beginning of his administration. Last month, USA Today reported that Bush "has traveled to more political fundraisers and collected more than twice as much money as Clinton in the same period" (the first 19 months of his administration). In terms of money, Bush has raised over $100 million for the Republicans, compared to less than $39 million raised for the Democrats by Clinton in the same period of his administration. To understate matters, the "President" seems rather concerned with the election's outcome.

As the "President" and his advisors are well aware, nothing rallies the public like war. It turned the "President" himself from an innocuous, unelected lame-duck space-filler to a serious political prospect. It's an explosive question, but the Times story, while never asking it, now makes it unavoidable: Are electoral concerns dictating the administration's Iraq policy?

Consider a few things:

Why, nearly four years after UN inspectors left the country, is there suddenly such an emphasis on the necessity to immediately attack Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power? The explanation offered by the administration has been Iraq's imminent development of a nuclear capability. The Times article, however, documents how the administration intentionally delayed, until nearly September, its long-planned marketing offensive aimed at trying to sell the idea of an attack to congress and the allies. If there is any justification for the haste with which the administration is now seeking to gain approval for an invasion, a delay of this sort is absolutely inexplicable. Such a threat would demand immediate action, and the administration's delay, combined with its inability to offer any significant evidence of its allegations about Iraq's nuclear capability, equal a very strong case that those in the administration don't even believe their own claims on the subject.

The administration's delaying raises another issue. While those in the administration were saving their marketing offensive for the home-stretch of the election season, they were also rejecting every Iraqi attempt at diplomatic engagement in recent months--including repeated offers to allow UN inspectors to return. Specifically, they dismissed such efforts as a "stalling tactic" designed to stave off military action. When this sentiment was echoed by many in the press last month, columnist Norman Solomon contemptuously labeled the dismal practice "fending off the threat of peace." If the Iraqi offers were genuine, they could have led to a non-military solution to the problem. If they were just a bluff, no harm could be done in calling the Iraqis on them. What would be the harm, even if they were a stalling tactic? The administration's own delaying strongly suggests the "President" and his advisors don't believe the time element is any real concern here. What does this say, then, about their dismissal of diplomatic engagment? It doesn't strain credulity to suggest that the message in this is simply that the "President" wants a military action, and won't accept anything that doesn't lead inevitably to that end.

There's plenty of other evidence to support this conclusion, as well. If those in the administration truly believed there was a genuine threat from Iraq, insofar as weapons of mass destruction are concerned, engineering the return of weapons inspectors would have been made a priority and an immediate one [1].  Not only did this not occur, the administration has now adopted "regime change" as a policy. John Bolton, undersecretary for arms control, told the press in August, "Let there be no mistake. While we also insist on the reintroduction of the weapons inspectors, our policy at the same time insists on regime change in Baghdad--and that policy will not be altered, whether inspectors go in or not." This, of course, removes all incentive for the Iraqi regime to cooperate. More troubling, Vice-President Dick Cheney has publicly dismissed the idea of returning inspectors, even suggesting that doing so would be dangerous because their presence would provide what he described as a false sense of security.

The policy, then, is one of war-at-all-costs, and the administration waited until the eve of the elections to concentrate on trying to sell it to us. The delay hasn't seemed to have improved their case. One by one, their proffered justifications for an invasion have melted away. Three days ago, the "President" and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, with the largest intelligence apparatus in the world at their fingertips, were forced to rely, for their "evidence" of an Iraqi nuclear threat, on information from the International Atomic Enegy Agency [2]. As bad as this sounds by itself, even this information, it turned out, didn't, in one case, support their characterization of it [3], and, in the other, directly contradicted it. The idea that Iraq is a threat to others in the region is undercut by the fact that, with the exception of Israel, no one else in the region--not even stauch U.S. allies--are supporting an attack. The Arab League chose to underscore this point Thursday, issuing a resolution expressing their "total rejection of the threat of aggression on Arab nations, especially Iraq." That doesn't mean, of course, that Iraq isn't a threat--it just puts the "President's" alleged concern for these other nations' safety in the proper context. Today saw the administration abandon yet another major aspect of their case. The Washington Post reports today that "...the Bush administration has for now dropped what had been one of the central arguments presented by supporters of a military campaign against Baghdad: Iraq's links to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations." One almost feels sorry for the administration when reading passages like this:

"...the CIA has yet to find convincing evidence [tying Hussein to global terrorism] despite having combed its files and redoubled its efforts to collect and analyze information related to Iraq, according to senior intelligence officials and outside experts with knowledge of discussions within the U.S. government."

This is consistent with what we, at Left Hook! have been pointing out all along. Saddam Hussein has always been an enemy of the extremist Islamist elements. Among the allegations that have now been abandoned by the administration: the notion that one of the Sept. 11 hijackers met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence agent. This was the story the administration had used to tie Iraq to Sept. 11, and it now appears to have been baseless. [4] Another now-defunct allegation; the idea that there "links between Hussein and al Qaeda members who have taken refuge in northern Iraq." This story was reported a few weeks ago. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others in the administration suggested that Hussein was tied to a Taliban-style group, Ansar al Islam, in which al Qaida members had integrated themselves. Had the press shown any interest in the story, this would have become a major embarassment to the Bush administration, because Ansar al Islam is, in fact, a Kurdish opposition group, operating in a part of northern Iraq that is militarily controlled by the U.S.-allied Kurdish PUK. Safe under the protection of the Bush administration's allies (and ignored by the U.S. press), Ansar al Islam continues to operate to this day.

The administration's marketing campaign has only begun, and already there's literally nothing left of its case. Something else may develop in the future, but the decision to invade seems to have already been made and anything that does can't legitimately be used as a justification after the fact.

What is this all about?

Political commentators have become overly fond of suggesting that this-or-that bit of foreign adventurism is a matter of "wagging the dog." That is, fabricating a military action to serve a political end. Such suggestions are, as a rule, patently absurd. This sort of thing has happened, though. The evidence raising this question with regard to Iraq is beginning to pile up. An attack on Iraq can cause all manner of problems, both regionally and within Iraq itself, but, from a military standpoint, an initial invasion could be accomplished very easily, and with relatively lightning speed. Such a consideration certainly plays a role in White House thinking. This and other facts mean there's no real risk involved in trying to make Iraq the dominant issue in the elections, as the administration clearly seems to be doing. No military action will occur prior to the elections, and, when it does occur, it will be a cakewalk. The administration doesn't seem to have any real reason to attack Iraq, and I suspect it won't offer any. When Bush takes the podium beneath the Statue of Liberty tomorrow night and, moreso, when he goes before the UN on Thursday, he will speak in the same empty generalities he always has about potential threats from weapons of mass destruction in the hands of regimes that may share them with terrorists, using the mere weight of his office as his sales pitch. Such talk (and, in the case of the UN, some backroom arm-twisting) may be all that is required to sell America and the world on military action. One would hope for a world in which such a strategy wouldn't work--I don't think this is such a world, though.


[1]  The Clinton administration, in spite of a lot of bluster, obviously hadn't believed there was any such threat--it sabotaged the arms inspection process by using it for intelligence gathering, the dispute that had kept the inspectors out of Iraq since 1998. When the Bush administration came into office, the "President" had the opportunity to write this off as the bumbling incompetence of a previous administration and make some sort of arrangement that would get the inspectors back into Iraq. He chose not to do so.

[2] See Left Hook! Sunday for more on the incident.

[3] Bush and Blair had used, as a piece of evidence, a commercial sattelite photo showing new construction at a site previously involved with the development of the Iraqi nuclear capacity. The Iraqi government took reporters on a tour of the complex in question on Monday. Big surprise--there was no one working on nukes there.

[4] The story actually fell apart in April and May of this year, with reports in Newsweek and the Washington Post that strongly challenged its validity. In what is perhaps a sign of how desperate the administration has been to dig up some rationale for an attack on Iraq, Newsweek, only last month, reported that Deputy Defense Secretary (and war-hawk) Paul Wolfowitz summoned FBI counterterrorism chief Pat D'Amuro and another agent to brief him on the status of the investigation into the allegation. When they told him no evidence exists to support it and they found it "unlikely" to have occured, Wolfowitz reportedly berated them.

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