FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Was Iraq a Mutual Charade?

by HAROLD A. GOULD

A recent article by a Washington Post staff writer (Dana Priest, July 12th) provides vivid evidence to support what most astute observers and analysts of the causes for the Iraq War always knew down deep in their hearts to be true. That the invasion was essentially a put-up job concocted by a Bush administration eager to enhance its shaky legitimacy in the eyes of the American public following its dubious victory in the 2000 presidential election, and the shattering impact of 9/11.

Based upon a comparison between the content of a classified report on the Iraqi regime which the CIA provided to the US Congress in September, 2002, and a White Paper released to the public in October of that year, Priest concludes that the CIA exaggerated and distorted the evidence it had given to Congress just days earlier… The documents and their interpretation make it painfully clear that, despite pious denials to the contrary emanating from the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and indeed the CIA itself, cooked the data in such a manner as to make Saddam Hussain appear to be the greatest danger to Western Civilization since Attila the Hun, or perhaps more contemporaneously, Josef Stalin. Basically, this was accomplished by parsing words between the confidential and public reports. Repeatedly, notes Priest, the CIA hedged its bets in the confidential report on how solid the evidence really was on whether the Iraqis possessed WMD, had stockpiles of chemical warfare substances, were really close to achieving a nuclear capability, had substantial links to Al Qaeda, or indeed had sufficiently rebuilt their armed forces following Iraq s defeat in the First Gulf War to constitute a significant military threat to her immediate neighbors let alone the United States.

Put simply, the CIA s doubts and hedges in the form of such qualifiers as we judge or we assess had the effect in the public report of making the best estimates appear as facts. Testimony by other witnesses to the events leading up to the Iraq war clearly confirm these perceptions of caveat manipulation employed as a means of telling an administration that had made up its mind to wage a preemptive war against Iraq what it wanted to hear. Richard Clark, in his public testimony and in his powerful book, Against all Enemies, describes President Bush and Vice-President Cheney pressuring intelligence operatives to come up with evidence of significant conspiratorial links between bin Laden and Hussein despite repeated insistence that none had been found and indeed none existed. But Mr. President, Al Qaeda did this, declared Clark right after 9/11. I know, I know, Mr. Bush replied, but see if Saddam was involved.

The obvious point is that the top ranks of the Bush administration, certainly Mr. Bush himself, were obsessed with establishing a publically acceptable basis for launching a preemptive war against Iraq, and if this required distorting and falsifying the evidence, then so be it. Undoubtedly, there was a smug assumption that subsequent disparities between fact and fiction, should they arise, could be fixed . Mr. Bush s current campaign rhetoric is attempting to accomplish this very purpose even as we speak,

The rest is history, as the time-worn cliche goes.

But there is an angle to this almost Shakespearean saga of tragedy and evil which thus far seems to have eluded everyone. There is strong evidence that Saddam Hussain clearly engaged in a colossal bluff; that in fact he was attempting to have his strategic cake and eat it. It was successful for nearly a decade because American intelligence, and indeed the UN s as well, was so abominable that they were unable to expose it. If this turns out to be true, as I believe it will, Saddam s bluff worked very well indeed up to a point, but in the end it turned out to be the most counterproductive charade in history. For it proved to be so successful that it set him up for George Bush s counter-charade namely, handing Bush the justification he sought for launching a preemptive war on Iraq!

Let it be recalled that following Iraq s capitulation in 1991, Saddam Hussein agreed to limited disarmament, most particularly with respect to whatever Weapons of Mass Destruction he allegedly possessed. The process of WMD destruction was to take place under the auspices of United Nations supervision. The agency created for this purpose was the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). The long and short of this undertaking was that no matter how many tons of weapons and missiles were unearthed and destroyed, Saddam continued to sustain an atmosphere of obstruction and grudging acquiescence.

From 1991 until UN inspectors were withdrawn, just prior to President Clinton s punitive missile strikes, designed to punish the Hussain regime for refusing to cooperate fully with the inspection process, a large quantity of WMD ordinance had already been successfully unearthed and destroyed. This was attested by numerous inspectors even while nevertheless complaining that the Iraqis continued to deny access to sites, such as Saddam s palaces, where it was alleged that more banned materials might be concealed. Men like Richard Butler, the outspoken Australian official on the inspection team, no doubt abetted the mounting anxieties of the Clinton administration until it drove them to take some form of military action.

Saddam kept the pot boiling as it were by making it appear that he remained a dangerous adversary even as his capacity to be really dangerous was substantially melting away. What made it possible for him to have it both ways was his success in convincing the US and his Middle East neighborhood generally that he still had stocks of weaponry salted away in remote caves and other secret places. So successfully, in fact, that U.S. and British intelligence indicated that Iraq was hiding other programs, notably its nuclear weapons effort. (Clarke, p. 67.)

The point is that this by-play between Saddam Hussain, the US, and the UN perpetuated an atmosphere of doubt and ambiguity concerning how much of a regional military threat Iraq actually was. By adopting this defiant posture toward the regimen of inspections and sanctions deemed essential by the international community, while apparently not in fact either retaining or acquiring significant quantities of WMD, Saddam, to repeat, was able to have his strategic cake and eat it. His intransigence, his defiance, his token saber-rattling (e.g., firing at the allied aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones ), against the background of his earlier use of WMD against the Iranians and the Kurds, and despite his defeat in the first Gulf war, enabled him to carry out this colossal bluff. He was willing to pay the price in the form of lost oil revenues, economic sanctions and great suffering by his people in order to maintain a posture that garnered what to him were two worthwhile assets: It enabled him to sustain the image of Iraq as a regional power, and it enabled him to retain his image as a leading figure in the radical Arab movement.

9/11 and the ascendancy of George W. Bush and his neo-conservative entourage in Washington were destined to transform Saddam s carefully nurtured fantasy world into a house of horrors. Saddam suddenly was confronted with a regime that had singled him out for destruction from the moment it assumed office and immediately set out to find excuses for doing so. The fact is that even had the Bush administration either known or suspected that Saddam was deceiving everybody, and indeed they might have known had their intelligence capabilities not been so inept, it would not have mattered to them. However the actual situation came about, they wanted it that way. Richard Clarke, who served at the highest levels in the Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations as a counter-terrorism specialist, says that he learned to his horror that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz [from the outset] were going to take advantage of this national tragedy [9/11] to promote their agenda about Iraq. He was told by friends in the Pentagon that we would be invading Iraq sometime in 2002. (p. 30)

Saddam Hussain’s vaunted guile simply played into the hands, or shall we say the heads, of people who matched his own guile with a vengeance! There is a saying in India which I once heard in the gangetic countryside: A fool and a horn are both played by blowing on them! What led to Iraq was a cacophonic symphony of mutual horn-blowing !

Harold Gould is a Visiting Scholar in the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Virginia.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail