The NYT and WMD

by GARY LEUPP

Some thoughts on Judith Miller’s piece "Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert" (New York Times, April 21). I recommend this article for everyone’s careful reading.

Imagine you are Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense [sic] and de facto Secretary of State. You (and that marionette, some of whose strings you pull, and some of whose strings Powell pulls, depending on the day) have insisted for many months that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction threatening me here in Boston. Your troops encountered no such weapons in their invasion, and have found none since the occupation began. This might strike some as embarrassing. You are a billionaire and so need have no need for shame, but Powell whines about international opinion, and some action seems in order to assure the world and even your own people that the pretext for war was valid. You apply yourself to that task with your wonted shrewdness and efficiency.

The last thing you want is for that Blix fellow, who you had Wolfowitz investigate early on in the Bush presidency, to go prowling around actually hunting for the weapons in a professional manner. You don’t want the U.N. in, conducting some unserviceable lame-ass investigation which, you’ve stated from the outset, will never find anything. One option is to simply fed-ex the anthrax to Iraq and stage its discovery, rather like you staged the jubilant welcome by kids waving U.S. flags on one or more streets in Baghdad as it was liberated. There are risks in that, which you’ve listed and mulled over carefully. A more refined approach would be to plant a story in the New York Times, a reliable vehicle in the past for such operations, somewhat along the following lines.

You announce that an unnamed Iraqi scientist (unnamed for his own security reasons, since he might face "reprisals" from some unnamed somebody in newly-free Iraq), a scientist unavailable for interview by reporters, has told U.S. authorities that on the eve of the U.S. invasion, Saddam’s regime "destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment" and that U.S. investigators have visited the site of destruction, and confirmed the scientist’s story. (So the Iraqis, facing immanent invasion, saw fit to destroy powerful weapons threatening the whole world, anticipating defeat but hoping to embarrass the victors by eliminating evidence for the pretext of that invasion. Makes good sense, don’t it?)

More. You have this scientist wax helpfully loquacious, informing you "that Iraq had secretly sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, starting in the mid-1990’s." This abets your faction in the ongoing discussion of the timing of the Syria regime change effort you’ve advocated for years. And have him also note "that more recently Iraq was cooperating with Al Qaeda," confirming a tie you announced the day after Sept. 11 to widespread and enduring, irksome skepticism.

You allow a New York Times reporter, who was not permitted to interview the scientist, nor visit his home, nor permitted to write about this momentous discovery for three days, whose copy was submitted for a check by military officials, to reveal this information to the world. You announce that this is the best evidence "to date" (as though one or more other shreds of evidence had been unearthed recently), adding that "it may be the discovery," so others might not be necessary.

Quite brilliant. You have to admire such audacity. But I think of the opening passage of the samurai epic, Heike Monogatari, that chronicles the inevitable downfall of a ruling circle less obnoxious that the one now wreaking havoc on Iraq. "The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind."

In the meantime, let us not let them throw dust in our eyes.

GARY LEUPP is an an associate professor, Department of History, Tufts University and coordinator, Asian Studies Program.

He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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