Presidential Honesty on Iraq

Often the day after a midterm exam a student will come by my office, apologizing for his or her absence at the exam, with an explanation carefully prepared in advance. If he or she says, “I’m sorry. I was so hung over from the frat party the night before that I just overslept,” I’m inclined to appreciate the student’s honesty and allow him/her to take a makeup with slight penalty. But if the student says, “My grandma died, and my car broke down, and I had food-poisoning,” the multiplicity of excuses suggests dishonesty, and I don’t react well to that.

Since Sept. 11, many in the U.S. power structure (in and out of government) have been offering multiple and implausible explanations for the supposed necessity—urgent necessity—for the U.S. to attack Iraq. First they seized upon the story, which initially surfaced in a Newsweek report Sept. 19, that there had been a meeting between hijacker Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence officers, including Farouk Hijazi, Iraq’s ambassador to Turkey, in Prague in June 2000. (This might have provided a casus belli for an Iraq attack, but it turned out to be bogus, refuted by both British and Czech intelligence services. The latter have indeed noted candidly that it may have been US-sponsored disinformation.) Then there was the effort to trace the anthrax to Iraqi laboratories. In October, German public television reported that Egyptian authorities had arrested two suspected members of al-Qaeda who claimed their organization had obtained vials of anthrax in the Czech Republic. Richard Butler, the former head of the UN weapons inspections program in Iraq who collaborated with US and British espionage efforts there, assured CNN that Iraq was probably behind the anthrax letters, and the Washington Post editorialized that Iraq was surely to blame. Citing the putative anthrax connection, senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman advocated attacking Iraq. But it was all nonsense; the Czech Interior Minister said, “No way,” and then the FBI, CIA and Federation of American Scientists concluded that the anthrax strain found in the letters was probably from a U.S. lab. (Indeed, the CIA reported February 5 no evidence of Iraq-sponsored terrorism directed at the U.S. or its allies since 1993.)

Then in March, mysteriously enough, both the Christian Science Monitor and the New Yorker reported the existence of Ansar al-Islam, “an Islamic group with possible links to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein,” which had seized several villages peopled by 4000 civilians. The group is supposed to consist of 700 Jordanians, Moroccans, Palestinians and Afghans had seized several villages with 4000 civilians. Jeff Goldberg of New Yorker cited statements from the pro-U.S. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda jointly run the organization, and that Baghdad had hosted an Egyptian al-Qaeda leader in 1992. Former CIA director James Woolsey, a leading proponent of an Iraq attack, hailed the article as a “blockbuster,” and said the CIA “got beat on this story by the New Yorker and Jeff Goldberg.” Give me a break. How likely is that, and who is likely to be feeding whom here-the CIA Mr. Goldberg, or Mr. Goldberg the CIA? (Iraq for its part has acknowledged an al-Qaeda presence in a region outside of Baghdad’s control, and says it has provided the local Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani, with arms, at his request, to fight the outsiders. Those knowledgeable about the Iraqi government and its secular Ba’ath Party very much doubt that it would have any common doings with a movement that hates them nearly as much as they do the U.S.)

Meanwhile, we’re told, a USAF pilot reported killed in action on the first day of the Gulf War has now been re-categorized as an MIA. The implication is that he’s being held, maybe tortured. Given the timing, it sounds like disinformation to me. The thing about disinformation (like the classic, “Iraqi soldiers removed premature babies from incubators in a Baghdad hospital” story that circulated widely in 1990 as the US prepared for the first Iraq war) is that it needn’t have a long shelf life. Even if refuted by honest researchers down the road, it serves its purpose at the time. Using these stories—these all too many excuses—the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz cabal has sought to legitimate, and generate enthusiasm for, the attack that’s had them salivating for so long. But the ruling class is sufficiently complex and divided–and the press, while generally compliant, still sufficiently free–so as to prevent a few choice bits of disinfo from solidifying into the casus belli the chickenhawks so urgently seek. Too many reporters will ask questions. So instead, with a sleight of hand designed to distract the audience’s attention from logic and reason, they posit the following connection between Iraq and Sept. 11 (and it’s a big scary one): We have classified informationt—that we will reveal at the right time—that Iraq has (or is developing) weapons of mass destruction, that might fall into the hands of al-Qaeda (or other) terrorists. Weapons that threaten the U.S. and its friends and allies (and maybe lead to another Sept. 11-type attack).

In the real world, weapons experts like card-carrying Republican ex-Marine Scott Ritter and Swedish former arms inspector Rolf Ekeus have made it clear that in fact the U.S. is simply not threatened by Iraq. Madeleine Albright and Jimmy Carter have also said this, so I won’t linger long on the point. While North Korea might conceivably under extreme circumstances lob a Taepodong missile towards the Aleutians, nobody’s suggesting that any Iraqi missile fired from Iraqi territory could possibly reach the U.S. Iraqi Scuds, if there still are a few, could reach Moscow or Sicily, but the Russians and Italians aren’t worried. And they, by the way, think a U.S. attack on Iraq would be very foolish. The nations bordering Iraq, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, even Kuwait, have argued strongly against an attack and say Iraq does not pose a threat to them at this point. In a word, all the official justifications for an Iraq attack are spurious.

Europe knows that, and (except for Tony Blair’s Britain, which in fear and trembling, and with a queasy stomach, prepares for war as the price of its “special relationship” with the U.S.) is solidly against a second Gulf War. At last report, U.S. public support is down to 50-something percent. So I suggest it’s time for President George W. Bush to stop dissimulating and, like the errant student I mentioned above, speak honestly about his reasons for an Iraq attack, in his own appealing homely style. I suggest a televised speech, from the ranch, from a relaxed setting, without notes or a teleprompter. I’d expect something along the following lines:

“My fellow Americans.

“Y’all know I’m a straight-shooter. I’m from Texas, where, you know, we speak frankly ’cause that’s how we’re raised in Texas, as 100% Americans who know how to shoot straight. Now, we have had to do some of what they call-what we call in my administration-“psywar,” psycho war that’s not exactly the ‘truth’ but it has truth in it because it’s for the good, to confuse the enemy and help our people—and I know the American people are a good people— to understand why we stand against the evildoers. But now I’ve decided to level with you on a new, higher level. Forget about weapons of mass destruction an al-Qaeda in Iraq. As I said in my speech on the economy, and cookbooks, cooking the books, ‘there is no capitalism without conscience, and no wealth without character.’ And tonight I want to say to you, the American people, there’s no conscious capitalism with character without oil, and more and more of our oil imports are, in fact, coming from abroad.

“Now, I’m told Iraq has 20 percent of the world’s oil. We get 8 percent of our oil from Iraq even under the UN sanctions. Now just you imagine. If we take over, liberate, whatever you wanna call it, Iraq and have all that oil to ourselves, we wouldn’t need what I’ve just the other day called ‘our eternal friendship’ with Saudi Arabia anymore. We’d have all that oil, and we’re already gonna build pipelines from the Casablanca Sea to the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Ocean. Just imagine what the whiners in Europe will say, when we tell ’em: ‘You want oil? Start playin’ ball. Don’t mess with Texas.’

“So that’s the first reason for war. But that’s not all. When we invade-attack-whatever you wanna call it, Iraq, we’ll be helping our friend Israel, which means we’ll be helpin’ God’s plan, and I know that the American people love God’s plan. We have nothing against Muslims, which as I’ve said is a people, a religion, whatever you wanna call it, of peace. “Muslim” means “peace,” and as you know, Mohammed Ali is, for example, a peaceful man. We appreciate the contributions of our Muslim citizens who don’t commit acts of terrorism, and who come with children to the White House to celebrate Ramadan, which, I’m told is even more beautiful in Arabic. But we also believe in Israel-we share belief in the same God as Israel—and I’ve made it very clear, that God will not let Saddam Hussein acquire weapons of mass destruction that can be used by a new HITLER against our friends and allies in Israel.

“Finally, as I’ve said many times, you’re either for us or against us, and y’know almost every one of our allies and neutrals, whatever you wanna call them, don’t accept my doctrine-my statement-about the “Axis of Evil.” That’s just ’cause they don’t want us in charge of Iraq and Iran, and in North Vietnam where we’re calling on Mr. Kim Il-sung to just tear down those nuclear power plants of mass destruction. And so tonight, I call on our brave young men and women to prepare to just roll into those Ay-rab parts of the world. Now, the American people may be asking “Why? Why roll those folks?” Because we need to give them our values, our American values—-because I know the American people are a good people—while our European friends I am in consultation with during my phone calls pay for the state-building, peace-keeping, whatever you wanna call it.

“So to summarize this speech, address, whatever you wanna call it: Oil. Israel. America, leader of the world. It’s about freedom. They hate our freedoms. September 11 awakened our consciousness without character, and bein’ from Texas, I know what that means. That’s why we MUST have what I like to call ‘regime change’ in Iran, or Iraq, whatever you wanna call it. This must not stand!

“God bless the American people.”

Such a frank, sincere presidential statement would, in my view, help clarify the problem that faces us. As Bush Sr.’s vice-president, Dan Quayle, once in a pensive moment told the NAACP: “Losing one’s mind is a terrible thing.” Indeed. Let Dubya speak his thoughts honestly, showing the American people the terrible, tragic magnitude of such loss, so that we can mindfully consider and debate his war plans.

Gary Leupp is an an associate professor, Department of History, Tufts University and coordinator, Asian Studies Program. He can be reached at:


Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: