The Left Hook! Archive


Wed., Oct. 9, 2002

"President" Beats the Drum of War

Without Any Sticks

The "President" on Monday went to Cincinnati to, in the words of his speechwriters, "take a few minutes to discuss a grave threat to peace, and America's determination to lead the world in confronting that threat." That threat, of course, is Iraq, and though the "President"'s speechwriters keep telling us it is an imminent enough threat to warrant an invasion to counter, they still refuse to substantiate that threat in any meaningful way.

Reporting today by several news outlets suggests that the reason for this is the most elementary one of all: they can't.

The Manchester Guardian reports today that Bush's case Monday "relied on a slanted and sometimes entirely false reading of the available U.S. intelligence." Speaking to several government officials and analysts, the Guardian's Julian Borger discovered that "officials in the CIA, FBI and energy department are being put under intense pressure to produce reports which back the administration's line."

This conclusion is in line with earlier reporting from other sources, previously noted by Left Hook! Newsweek, in August, 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 an alleged meeting in Prague between one of the 9-11 terrorists (Mohamed Atta) and an Iraqi intelligence agent. When the feds told Wolfowitz that no evidence exists to support the allegation and that they found it "unlikely" to have occured, Wolfowitz reportedly exploded, demanding that they at least admit such a meeting was possible.[1]  Last month,[2] the Washington Post reported that "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." The officials were under the impression that, due to this lack of evidence, the administration was going to drop all the talk about terrorism and focus on the potential threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Not so. Those in the administration, in fact, never missed a beat, and they were back at it in Monday's presentation by the "President"'s speechwriters:

"Over the years, Iraq has provided safe haven to terrorists such as Abu Nidal, whose terror organization carried out more than 90 terrorist attacks in 20 countries that killed or injured nearly 900 people, including 12 Americans. Iraq has also provided safe haven to Abu Abbas, who was responsible for seizing the Achille Lauro and killing an American passenger. And we know that Iraq is continuing to finance terror and gives assistance to groups that use terrorism to undermine Middle East peace."

Start with the first two allegations:

Both of them are true. It's also true, however--but, of course, unmentioned by the "President"'s speechwriters--that, while those events occured, the Reagan administration, fully aware of them, had removed Iraq from the State Dept. list of nations that support terrorism. Iraq was removed in 1982 and remained off of it year after year right up until Operation Desert Storm. Officially, in other words, Iraq was not a sponsor of terrorism then.[3]  It's also noteworthy that both of these examples involve terrorists who haven't commited an act of terror in a decade or more. Abu Abbas, who made his organization's headquarters in Baghdad only briefly in the 1980s, renounced terrorism years ago, and the U.S. warrant for his arrest in the 1985 Achille Lauro incident was dropped over two years ago. According to the Bush administration's own State Dept., Abu Nidal, who died a few months ago, hadn't been involved in an act of terrorism in a decade, and had "not attacked Western targets since the late 1980s."[4]

The third allegation is couched in absurdly euphamistic rhetoric, and for good reason. It refers to Iraq's practice of offering relief money to the families of those killed and injured by Israeli violence in the occupied territories--that same money is also offered to the families of those who have commited suicide bombings. The good reason, from the administration's standpoint, to couch this allegation in euphamism is that U.S. ally Saudi Arabia also does this. This was reported in April, after the Bush administration had condemned the Iraqi regime for the practice:

"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."

The words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. A week later, after the press published the fact that Saudi Arabia does the same thing, Rumsfeld was asked about it again at a news conference, and, as per his usual habit, immediately switched into "don't know nuthin'" mode: "I have no information whatsoever that suggests that the government of Saudi Arabia is doing what Iraq is." At this point, your humble editor marvels at how Rumsfeld is somehow able to do his job without ever knowing anything about it.

Bush's speechwriters made some other allegations about Iraqi ties to al Qaida:

"We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks. We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases."

Bob Baer, described by the Guardian as "a former CIA agent who tracked al-Qaida's rise," confirms that there were contacts in Sudan between al Qaida and the Iraqi government in the early 1990s and again in 1998, "but there is no evidence that a strategic partnership came out of it. I'm unaware of any evidence of Saddam Hussein pursuing terrorism against the United States." It's incredible that Bush's speechwriters would bring up the fact that "some al Qaida leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq"; while true, the only ones known to have done this fled to northern Iraq, which is militarily controlled by Kurdish factions courtesy of the U.S.-enforced no-fly zone. In other words, they are harbored by the Bush administration, not the Hussein regime.[5] Intelligence sources told both the Guardian and ABC News today that the "senior al Qaeda leader" mentioned by Bush's speechwriters was Abu Musab Zarqawi, who'd been involved in a bombing plot in Jordan and who once went to Baghdad in search of medical treatment. Intelligence officials told ABC News that there was no evidence that the Iraqi government even knew Zarqawi was in Iraq. The Guardian reports that Zarqawi's "intercepted telephone calls did not mention any cooperation with the Iraqi government," and ABC reports that Zarqawi fled Iraq.

To justify the timing of the present push for war, the "President"'s speechwriters invoked the threat from weapons of mass destruction again:

"Some ask how urgent this danger is to America and the world. The danger is already significant, and it only grows worse with time. If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today--and we do--does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?"

If that's the case, why does it make any sense for the Bush administration to have done nothing for the last two years about this so-called growing threat? The degree of the administration's genuine commitment to the view that Iraq is somehow an imminent threat can be guaged by the fact, previously noted by Left Hook![6], that, many months ago, it created a marketing strategy designed to sell the public and the allies on war with Iraq, then delayed implementing it until nearly September--right in the final stretch of the congressional election campaign.[7] The only conclusions that can be drawn from this is that those in the administration either genuinely believe what they're saying and are criminally incompetent or really doesn't believe what they're saying at all.

Bush's speechwriters, keeping in their standard tune, dragged out the spectre of new construction at facilities inside Iraq that were previously used for work on weapons of mass destruction:

"...surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons."

And again:

"Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear program in the past."

That sounds like a good argument for getting weapons inspectors back into Iraq, but the administration has, instead, consistently ridiculed that idea. Bush's speechwriters did it Monday, calling it "the old approach" and presenting the inspections as ineffective. This sort of thing is, in no way, a rationale for a full-scale invasion--if the facilities in question are of genuine concern, they could be reduced to rubble by airstrikes within an hour of the "President" issuing the order. There's been no such order, of course, which is, once again, an indication of how serious the administration takes its own charges.

Bush's speechwriters gave us, once again, these historical chestnuts to chew on:

"Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant who has already used chemical weapons to kill thousands of people."

And again:

"Saddam Hussein also has experience in using chemical weapons. He has ordered chemical attacks on Iran, and on more than forty villages in his own country. These actions killed or injured at least 20,000 people, more than six times the number of people who died in the attacks of September the 11th."

All true, but lacking that crucial disclaimer at the end: "With Our Support." In fact, Iraq has never used weapons of mass destruction without the support of the U.S., a conclusion underscored by a CIA report on Iraq last week, which noted that the Hussein regime hasn't used such weapons since 1988. Didn't use them in Desert Storm. Hasn't used them in the decade since.

The CIA report also undermines essentially everything the "President"'s speechwriters wrote for Monday. Writing in Salon today, Robert Scheer characterizes the report:

"In its report, the CIA concludes that years of U.N. inspections combined with U.S. and British bombing of selected targets have left Iraq far weaker militarily than in the 1980s, when it was supported in its war against Iran by the United States."

The agency, while trying to be overly diplomatic in its assessment, admits there's no evidence that Iraq has nuclear weapons, admits that Iraq lost most of its "physical nuclear infrastructure" during and after Desert Storm, admits that the same is true for most of its ballistic missile capability, and concedes that Iraq's chemical capacity was "reduced during the UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) inspections and is probably more limited now than it was at the time of the Gulf War." Scheer:

"The report claims that Iraq may have converted some of its 'legitimate vaccine and biopesticide plants to biological warfare.' But since the CIA report provides maps pinpointing suspect Iraqi weapons sites, they could easily be taken out short of the antiseptic-sounding 'regime change' the Bush administration is aching to achieve."

Scheer makes passing reference to the fact that the report seems to have been written in such a way as to not directly challenge assertions by the administration. It was, he writes, "designed to bolster Bush's case for preemptive invasion," but it instead "provided clear evidence that Iraq poses less of a threat to the world than at any other time in the past decade." He notes that the report tries to spin away the fact that no evidence exists of Iraqi possession of nuclear weapons. Though Scheer doesn't comment on the possibility, this is probably the result of the pressure the administration higher-ups have been putting on the various intelligence agencies to back up the "President"'s nonsense.

And the "President" marches, his beating of the war drum undeterred for even a moment by the fact that he lacks any sticks.

[1] From the Newsweek story: "...the FBI can't find any evidence--such as airline or passport records--that Atta was in Prague that day (The bureau has found credit-card receipts putting Atta in Florida two days earlier.)."

[2] Washington Post, 9/10/02

[3] The present administration has recently tried to construct a false history of this period. On Aug. 29, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared at an event honoring veterans of the Korean war and said "We are, after all, dealing with the same dictator [Saddam Hussein] who... has been on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism for nearly two decades."

[4] Cited in the Washington Post, 9/10/02

[5] As noted in Left Hook!, 9/10/02

[6] 9/10/02

[7] Bush's remarks Monday, in fact, were almost certainly a part of that strategy.

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