Thurs. March 6, 2003
They give us what they say are their reasons; numerous and ever-shifting pretexts for conflict, and, time and time again, the evidence they advance for these various pretexts is deflated. A potpourri:
Vice President Dick Cheney, from August:
"...containment [of the terrorist threat] is not possible when dictators obtain weapons of mass destruction and are prepared to share them with terrorists who intend to inflict catastrophic losses on the United States."
The truth: The Iraqis are first known to have acquired weapons of mass destruction more than two decades ago, and have never, on even a single occasion, demonstrated any willingness to share them with anyone. The Iraqis haven't used such weapons themselves in 14 years, not even against the United States during Operation Desert Storm (though that was easily their most desperate hour).
The "President," from September:
"I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied--finally denied--access, a report came out of the Atomic... the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don't know what more evidence we need."
This incident raised a particularly red warning flag--the "President," with the whole of the United States intelligence community at his fingertips, was being forced to rely on obscure reports by international agencies to defend his own claims. And then the truth came out, and the flag grew even redder: The IAEA never issued any such report with any such conclusion at any time. Ever. They did, however, issue a report in 1998--the year to which Bush referred--stating that, "based on all credible information available to date, ... the IAEA has found no indication of Iraq having achieved its programme goal of producing nuclear weapons or of Iraq having retained a physical capability for the production of weapon-useable nuclear material or having clandestinely obtained such material."
In the State of the Union address last month, the speechwriters for the "President" wrote: "Our intelligence sources tell us that he [Saddam Hussein] has attempted to purchase high strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production." This was a tale first floated by the "President" before the United Nations in September, at which time it was immediately disputed by experts at the IAEA and the Institute for Science and International Security. The Iraqis claimed the tubes were for use in ordinary rockets, and the specifications for the tubes were, in fact, perfectly consistent with this. The Washington Post reported that one consignment was even explicitly labeled "rocket." Bush National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice went on television to claim that the tubes "are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs," but the specs used for the tubes, while ideal for the Iraqi rocket program, render them useless for this purpose unless they are significantly modified. In a Jan. 8 report to the UN Security Council, IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei said that "while it would be possible to modify such tubes for the manufacture of centrifuges, they are not directly suitable for it." In an interview with the Associated Press, ElBaradai said any such modification process would be, in the words of the AP, "expensive, time-consuming and detectable."
In April, it was the administration making a show of condemning Iraq for its program of relief assistance to victims of Israeli violence in the occupied territories--a program that provides substantial sums to, among others, the families of suicide bombers. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "Here is an individual [Saddam Hussein] who is the head of a country, Iraq, who has proudly, publicly made a decision to go out and actively promote and finance human sacrifice for families that will have their youngsters kill innocent men, women, and children. That is an example of what it is we're dealing with." Within days, the press began documenting the fact that Saudi Arabia--the homeland of 15 of the 19 terrorists who carried out the attacks on the U.S., a major source of al Qaeda funding, and the Bush administration's "ally" in the War On Terrorism--provides exactly the same sort of assistance. Rumsfeld, as had become his habit in such situations, played dumb: "I have no information whatsoever that suggests that the government of Saudi Arabia is doing what Iraq is." Though that's exactly what the Saudis were and are doing, this still resurfaces from time to time in administration rhetoric as a reason to attack Iraq.
In September, then in October--prior to the return of UN weapons inspectors--the Bush administration and the British government began identifying what were referred to as "facilities of concern" inside Iraq; facilities, most of which had been used as part of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs in the past, which they contended were being used for the production of illicit weapons. These facilities became a primary focus of the UNMOVIC inspection regime when it returned to Iraq in December. The AP reported, on Jan. 18, that nearly two months of sustained surprise inspections at these sites had resulted in "no signs of revived weapons building." Inspectors had picked through some of the sites nearly a dozen times. The Los Angeles Times, on Jan. 26, offered even more details. Inspectors, the Times reported, had gone over these facilities with a fine-tooth comb, carrying out numerous surprise inspections that employed every sort of high-tech detection equipment imaginable--they've found nothing illicit at any of the facilities. The Times quotes Mark Gwozdecky of the IAEA: "We have systematically followed up on not only the indications from our own satellite imagery but others provided by other countries or allegations by other countries about particular sites... We have followed up systematically and have not found signs of prohibited activity so far."
The administration's most significant effort at providing an evidentiary basis for its claims was Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5th presentation to the United Nations. Virtually universally praised in the corporate press at the time, the presentation, in the weeks following it, has been quietly shot to pieces, its "evidence" exposed as fraudulent. "My colleagues," Powell told the UN, "every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions." Oh, really? Powell used, as a source, a British intelligence dossier, described, during his presentation, as "the fine paper that the United Kingdom distributed yesterday which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities." While the report in question purports to be an "intelligence" dossier featuring "up to date" information, it was revealed, within days, that it had actually been cut-and-pasted together by the British government from pieces of old academic articles, without attribution--plagiarized, in other words. Some of the "up to date" information it contained predated Operation Desert Storm, and even the plagiarized texts had been "modified" in order to exaggerate the alleged threat posed by Iraq. The most damning piece of evidence offered by Powell was a recording of a pair of telephone conversation, alleged to be between two Iraqi military officers. The two appear to discuss concealing items from U.N. inspectors. They, of course, speak in Arabic, and Powell offered what was alleged to be a translation. Gilbert Cranberg, writing in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, revealed that Powell had "embellished" the State Department's translation in order to make the exchange more sinister:
"When Powell referred to this conversation, he quoted one of the parties as ostensibly saying, 'And we sent you a message yesterday to clean out all of the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas. Make sure there is nothing there.'
"The State Department's transcript of the actual conversation makes it evident that Powell had embellished the quote to make it appear much more incriminating. Instead of being a directive to 'clean out all of the areas, the scrap areas and the abandoned areas,' as Powell claimed, the transcript shows the message from headquarters was merely 'to inspect the scrap areas and the abandoned areas.' The damaging admonition that Powell said he quoted, 'Make sure there is nothing there' is not in the transcript and appears to be an invention."
And so on. The "President" and his men have spent months hauling out new allegations of this sort against Iraq, and, though you'd barely know it from the bulk of the coverage in the corporate press, these allegations have, in nearly every instance, blown up in their faces in similar fashion.
In the State of the Union address last month, all of the various pretexts for launching a war are boiled down to one:
"Almost three months ago, the United Nations Security Council gave Saddam Hussein his final chance to disarm. He has shown instead his utter contempt for the United Nations, and for the opinion of the world."
At the same time, however, the "President" himself has shown precisely the same "utter contempt for the United Nations and for the opinion of the world"--a fact which completely undercuts his attempt to use the UN as his rationale for launching an invasion. From the same speech:
"All free nations have a stake in preventing sudden and catastrophic attack. We are asking them to join us, and many are doing so. Yet the course of this Nation does not depend on the decisions of others. Whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people."
Replace the word "American" in that statement with "Iraqi" and you have
the position of Saddam Hussein; the same position the "President" had just
denounced. The stated view of the "President"--that the UN is "an ineffective,
irrelevant debating society" if it exists for any larger purpose than to
rubber-stamp his ambitions of conquest--is untenable on every level. Clearly,
if the UN is to be the rationale, it's up to the UN to decide if Iraq is
in violation, judge the severity of that violation, and determine what
should be done in light of it. The "President" just as clearly doesn't
believe this, and that precludes him from hiding behind the UN as his
rationale for war.
Some observations: War is an ugly business; as ugly a business as there is. It involves mass murder, largescale destruction, huge economic costs, and can have repercussions on world events for generations to come. The question of war is quite literally the most important question a nation can contemplate. The President is a public servant--the single highest ranking public servant in the United States, in fact. On a matter of such seminal importance, he has a duty to explain to the public in an honest, forthright, and sober manner, the action he wants to undertake. This is particularly true in the case of a preemptive war aimed only at an alleged potential future threat, and it is even more particularly true in the case of "President" Bush, who was placed in office after receiving only a minority of the vote. In the State of the Union address, the speechwriters for the "President" gave some indication of their awareness of this:
"Sending Americans into battle is the most profound decision a president can make. The technologies of war have changed. The risks and suffering of war have not. For the brave Americans who bear the risk, no victory is free from sorrow. This Nation fights reluctantly, because we know the cost, and we dread the days of mourning that always come."
The citizens of a democratic society have a right to a strong rationale for this sort of military adventure, and, further, they should demand one. Unfortunately, those of us who have been demanding one have been stymied by those running this administration time and time again. They simply lie to us. When the lie blows up in their face, they abandon it for a time and move on to another. Even more unfortunately, those who are supporting the administration on this matter are doing so without any strong rationale. The "strong" part is, of course, a judgment call, but, as this article attests, a sustainable one, in the view of this writer. Supporters of the "President," whether acting out of blind allegiance or simply ignorance, are, in the final evaluation, willing to take it on faith from him that this invasion is necessary. On a matter of such import, this is a totally irresponsible abdication of their duty as a citizen in a democratic society. It's simply too weighty a matter to take on faith. Those of us who are skeptical of the "President" and his underlings are particularly offended by any willingness to place so great a faith in this particular administration, an administration that has proven itself to be fundamentally untrustworthy on matters of even minor importance.
It's been disheartening, in the last several months, to see so many people embrace such a fundamental dereliction of their duty as citizens. If the opinion polls are to be taken seriously, the tide is beginning to change on this, but it's far too little and far too late to to make any difference. War is upon us, and even most of the skepticism that has amassed during the six months since the administration made the final decision to invade will likely evaporate the instant the invasion begins. Unmasked, then, this is what America has come to. The cancerous deference to officialdom on display during the darkest days of Operation Desert Storm--a loathsome deference this writer had hoped to never see again--is still with us, and has, from all appearances, only grown stronger. It permeates virtually every level of society and, make no mistake about it, is a poison that is dilligently murdering the heart of the American experiment. If it isn't counteracted, it will be the end of us, and probably much sooner than even the most cynical among us could imagine.
 It was revealed last month that the administration only opened an office of planning for a post-invasion Iraq at the end of January--an afterthought, after six months of unremitting belligerence.
 This is a scenario frequently advanced by the administration. In the State of the Union address, for example, the speechwriters for the "President" wrote:
"...chemical agents and lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons, and other plans - this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take just one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known."
While the "President" said "we will do everything in our power to make sure that day never comes, his own CIA told him months ago that this scenario, which the agency regards as extremely unlikely under normal circumstances, was made much more likely by a U.S. attack. CIA director George Tenet identifies this as the agencies' "classified judgments on Saddam's decisionmaking regarding the use of weapons of mass destruction":
Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions. Such terrorism might involve conventional means, as with Iraq's unsuccessful attempt at a terrorist offensive in 1991, or CBW.[Chemical and biological weapons]
Saddam might decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamist terrorists in conducting a WMD attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.
Under the guise of preventing his speechwriters' nightmare scenario, then, the "President" is, in fact, creating the only conditions under which the professionals in his own administration feel such a scenario is possible. All of this, of course, presumes that Iraq actually retains a functional WMD capability.
 AP 1/30/2002
 The lone exception, discovered after the article was published, was the al Samoud missile, which, in tests, manages to exceed the range limitation imposed after Operation Desert Storm if launched without its guidance system. At present, Iraq is destroying their al Samoud fleet, under UN supervision.
 Gilbert Cranberg, writing in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Feb. 24, 2003
 The "President" has said, on different occasions, that the U.S. will lead a "coalition of the willing" against Iraq; a rhetorical flourish meant to diffuse criticism of his essentially unilateral approach. On Feb. 26, the Institute for Policy Studies released a report showing that the "willing" in the matter of Iraq are, in fact, mostly nations who have been bribed, coerced, and threatened by the Bush administration into joining the "coalition." At the Feb. 25 press briefing, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked about the administration's bribery of Mexico and other nations. He responded:
"...the President is not offering quid pro quos. This is a time for nations to do what they estimate is the right thing to do to promote the peace... [W]e have, on this issue, a matter of diplomacy and a matter of the merits. We ask each nation on the Security Council to weigh the merits and make a decision about war and peace. And if anybody thinks that there are nations like Mexico, whose vote could be bought on the basis of a trade issue or something else like that, I think you're giving--doing grave injustice to the independence and the judgment of the leaders of other nations."
When a reporter persisted in his questioning, Flescher came out with this:
"...think about the implications of what you're saying. You're saying that the leaders of other nations are buyable. And that is not an acceptable proposition."
...at which point the entire press room burst into raucous laughter. Fleischer, clearly flustered, abruptly ended the briefing and stalked off.
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