“Residents said the troops had appeared to fire randomly in the direction of the city center after coming under attack, killing two occupants of a white Nissan pickup truck traveling near the scene. The wreckage of the truck was still visible. ‘They went crazy, they fired everywhere,’ said one witness, Safi Jaber. The residents said the soldiers had stopped an ambulance trying to approach the scene, and that the U.S. armored vehicle had rammed the pickup. One of the victims was a 19-year-old man.’His wedding was supposed to be today,’ said Khalil Ibrahim, a local electrical engineer.”
“Saddam never ruined our shops. Is this the liberation Bush talks about?”
— Iyad Qubaisi, owner of a now demolished spare parts shop in Falluja, Iraq (May 22, 2003, Reuters)
OK, we liberated Iraq, whatever that means. Saddam is gone. But all is not exactly resolved. We read daily about the death and horror involved in colonial administration by inexperienced U.S. forces. “Perhaps we should have left that to our coalition partners, the British and Spanish, who have had centuries of experience in running occupied territories,” a national security wit commented to me.
Before assessing the aftermath of the war and before national memory atrophies completely, let’s review U.S. entry into the Iraq war. Some media now focus on the Pentagon’s apparently bogus staging of the Jessica Lynch rescue. But the implications of Bush’s actions reach beyond the public relations realm. They go to the very core of the ethos of U.S. government.
A colleague who calls himself a conservative and an ardent Bush supporter, although initially opposed to the war because conservatives don’t approve of wars without an exit strategy, told me that it didn’t matter whether we discover stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. “Saddam Hussein was a weapon of mass destruction unto himself,” he insisted, “and the Iraqi people are better off. Didn’t you see them dancing for joy when we liberated them? So a thousand or two died! That’s the price of freedom.” Similar arguments reverberate on right wing radio talk shows the milder ones, where opponents of war have not yet become traitors.
But, I asked my colleague, if the issue was bringing freedom to Iraqis why didn’t the President just say that. He shrugged. “Freedom has a price,” he insisted and walked away. “Do you believe in a government of law or of men?” I called after him. “Do you think a nation has the right to attack a weaker one without casus belli?”
Indeed, Bush didn’t emphasize this point when he launched war against Iraq. Instead, in his January 28, 2003 State of the Union speech he insisted that Iraq had “materials to produce as much as 500 tons of Sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.” Bush cited the “30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents,” a fact he attributed to U.S. intelligence.
Bush also repeated the line about Iraq as a nuclear threat. The chorus of Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and lesser potentates declared in a variety of fora, including the UN Security Council, that U.S. intelligence agencies had definitive knowledge of weapons of mass destruction, intimated that UN weapons inspectors were slow or incompetent because they hadn’t found them and, finally, that Saddam was in “material breach” of UN Security Council Resolution 1441. The world had the obligation to invade Iraq to stop him before he could either use these weapons himself or deliver them to the Al Qaeda terrorists, with whom U.S. intelligence assured he had close and secret links.
Thus far, neither weapons of mass destruction in the three categories mentioned, nor Iraqi government links to Al Qaeda terrorists have surfaced. The UN inspectors searched the locations that Powell described in his February 5, 2003, UN Security Council speech and slide show where he even flashed an anthrax vial. Just before the war on March 6, Bush claimed that “in some cases, these materials have been moved to different locations every 12 to 24 hours or placed in vehicles that are in residential neighborhoods.” Wasn’t Saddam Hussein clever to outwit the UN inspectors? As of May 27 (five plus weeks since Bush declared victory), U.S. inspectors also failed to find even traces of the infamous products despite claims by NY Times reporter Judith Miller that unnamed officials and experts were sure they still existed.
UN Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix, in the May 24, 2003 Guardian, said that “the main justification for the war was weapons of mass destruction, and it may turn out that in this respect the war was not justified.”
Even if some small traces are one day discovered, the facts now point to disturbing possibilities related to the start of the war. U.S. intelligence agencies didn’t know their butts from the proverbial hole in the wall; higher ups in the agencies distorted their evidence; or Bush and Cabinet Members lied for the purpose of garnering public support for war.
In September 2002, I traveled to Iraq with Congressman Nick Rahall (W-WV) and former Senator James Abourezk (D-SD). On September 19, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and Parliament Speaker Sa’doun Hamadi assured us that Iraq had no such weapons. I remained skeptical. After all, Saddam had used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. What happened to them?
Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter made a strong case for the fact that the inspectors had indeed found and destroyed much of what Saddam had of such weapons before their 1998 departure. Ritter insists that Saddam could not have accumulated what Bush alleges by 2002.
Yet, not one high U.S. official has vacillated about claims of Saddam’s perfidy in relation to weapons of mass destruction. We’re not talking about a long lapse of time. In his January 20 address to the Reserve Officers Association, Rumsfeld asserted that Saddam Hussein “has an active program to acquire and develop nuclear weapons.” Powell estimated conservatively to the UN Security Council that “Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical-weapons agent.”
“They sent them to Syria,” the first response to the failure of finding the hideous weapons, brought derisive laughter from critical members of the media. How could Saddam have sneaked such massive weaponry across the border, given U.S. spy satellites and other detection devices?
So, our leaders lied or they exaggerated the capabilities of our $40 billion a year intelligence apparatus. If Bush lied, then he or his advisers simply invented the WMD excuse as a pretext for something else: liberation of Iraq or to step one in a strategy of remaking the Middle East by force. This more elaborate plan would seek not only to destroy the Muslim terrorists, but offer permanent security to Israel and U.S. oil interests as well.
In the April 1, 2002 and February 17, 2003 New Yorker, on remaking the Middle East and bringing democracy to the region, Nicholas Lemann analyzes how the neo cons in the administration, like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, eschewed the idea of having this policy debated and fashioned instead a grandiose scheme to gull the public. The steps taken by Bush seem to have followed their plan and circumvented not only the debate itself, but the Constitutional provision that Congress declare war. So, what to conclude about our own system after the Iraq war? The conservatives, who once affirmed their belief of a government of laws and not men, have turned pragmatic on their one-time dogma. The former prudent and penny-pinching Republicans who abhorred the very concept of a national deficit have also morphed into missionaries of deficit spending on the domestic side.
Law itself, including the protection of our basic liberties, has become transformed into a malleable instrument of power that the powerful simply circumvent when it behooves them. In the 21st Century the law of power seems to have replaced the law of the statute. And power as the foundation for a republic replaces the time honored accountability system with secret plotting at top levels.
When doubt arises about the legality and virtue of the Iraq invasion and skeptics question motives of those who launched it, flag wavers appear to overwhelm the doubters. The last refuge of scoundrels, indeed!
SAUL LANDAU’s work also appears on www.rprogreso.com. He is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University. His films on Iraq and Cuba are distributed by Cinema Guild 800-723-5522. He can be reached at: email@example.com.