On February 5th, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, delivered his lengthy accusation of Iraqi attempts to build and retain weapons of mass destruction. The setting was eerily reminiscent of the presentation of the key propaganda event that justified the first Gulf War. At that time, also at the United Nations, the Hill & Knowlton propaganda specialists concocted the “throwing babies out of incubators” charade, starring the daughter of the Kuwait ambassador. If they needed to concoct such a lie in 1991 to change US public opinion when there was a clear case of Iraqi aggression, then one should be on guard now when the grounds for war are much more tenuous. A bit of historical context should perhaps guard us from lending too much credence to “evidence” concocted by the US and presented by Powell himself. We should also expect more fabrications and staged provocations; in fact, the US has never let a bit of truth stand in its way of a war.
One of the most important messages coming out of the Powell presentation was the reiterated threat against the UN. He stated that it should either play along with the US or it will be rendered meaningless; this threat almost drives a nail through the UN’s coffin. The post-War basis for international law would be overturned in favor of a world where the US would rule by the “might is right” principle–a principle one assumed had been totally discredited. Secretary General Kofi Annan looked on impassively throughout without uttering a statement afterwards. Perhaps his diminutive voice will from now be even further muted. He could hide in some of the bombproof cars that have been given to him by the US and Germany–but why the UN Secretary General would need such vehicles is a mystery.
In fact, the US has attained expertise in crafting UN resolutions or accords that will guarantee an outcome leading to war. During the Ramboulliet Conference about Kosovo, the conditions of the Accords were so onerous that they were certain to be rejected, and therefore an unnecessary war ensued. UN Resolution 1441 requiring inspections and that Iraq come clean seems also to have been crafted in such a way that it could provide the excuse for war. That was the open and shameless implication evident from Powell’s presentation. First of all, the UN resolution put the Iraqis in the impossible situation that they must prove that they do NOT have any weapons of mass destruction. Any proof proffered or any inspection will not enable them to satisfy the resolution–Americans will always state that Iraqis are hiding something. The Iraqis obviously had no choice other than to go along with the resolution, but either way the outcome seems to be war. Powell emphasized the importance of the satellite photographs proving that there were chemical or biological weapons. If the photos actually showed this, then why can’t the inspectors be flown to the locale? Furthermore, there are very good grounds for Iraqis to be moving around their assets given the impending war. They would be total idiots to let them sit in plain sight to be easily bombed by US planes. So, the motive attributed by Powell for hiding them is entirely legitimate given the perceived risk of the onset of war. The same explanation can be proffered if Iraqis are found trying to hide bunkers–this is called camouflage. Had the American buildup been delayed until after the inspectors had a chance to determine the status of the various weapons programs, then moving weapons around would have been suspicious. With tens of thousands of troops surrounding Iraq there are very good reasons to spread those weapons around, hide them, or to safeguard expensive equipment.
Powell stated that the Iraqis were spying on the UN inspection team and intimated that this somehow would be illegitimate. Since history is a useful guide, then we know that the previous inspection teams were used by the US to spy on Iraq. Scott Ritter, a former inspector, has said this much himself. If the US is building a massive military force around Iraq, and if it is likely using the UN inspection team for spying, then it is legitimate to take defensive measures. Again, the US buildup makes Iraqi countermeasures understandable, and not attributable to some perverse motive. Using this same argument it is also understandable why Iraqis don’t want US U2 spy plane over-flights. NB: the image of a U2 airplane shown during the presentation disingenuously showed a UN symbol on the airplane–this would be a rare sight indeed if it were true. How could data gathered from such an airplane be controlled by the UN?
Scott Ritter has stated that nuclear weapons and their radioactive components are very easy to spot. Airplanes flying over Iraq could detect these. So, Powell’s assertions about the silly aluminum tubes are dubious. The shelf life of both chemical and biological weapons is very short–extensive facilities are necessary to keep such weapons effective. Once again, Scott Ritter suggested that the existence of the large facilities needed for such an effort could easily be monitored. The only way Powell gets around this is to suggest the facilities are on trucks that assemble into mobile factories! This seems like a silly suggestion, but it also will guarantee that the Iraqis will trip over UN 1441. If they claim they don’t have such mobile factories, then the US will claim that they are deviously trying to hide them. If they were factories allegedly in a fixed location, then the inspectors could settle this issue (potentially averting war), but in their mobile form, the US can always claim that they are not accounted for.
Even if the Iraqis had the chemicals or biological agents, this still leaves the trickier issue of dispersing these weapons effectively over an area where their enemy is located. It is hard to imagine that such chemicals or biological agents could be elevated to weapons of “mass” destruction. It jars one’s imagination to think that a country living under crippling sanctions could have developed missiles or even radio controlled airplanes that would have posed a threat to US troops 500 km away.
Perhaps the poorest section of Powell’s speech was one that dealt with the association with “terrorists”. Even the major intelligence agencies dispute a link with Al Qaeda. Stating that somehow the Iraqis are responsible for terrorists in the Northern part of Iraq, which isn’t even under their control, should have seemed foolhardy enough to suggest. Furthermore, to taint groups like Hamas or other Palestinian resistance groups with the same brush as Al Qaeda should have alerted all of us that something fishy was afoot. Hamas is an Islamic-based political grouping that initially was fostered by the Israeli secret services–it has since then become a legitimate opposition force. Furthermore, the Israelis have a propensity of labeling anyone who doesn’t accept the narrow confines of their accepted political discourse as a “Hamas militant”–it is a vaguely defined catch-all label. It is odd to lump a legitimate resistance movement against Israeli occupation with the terrorists the US is currently railing against. The intercepted conversations over the radio are an insult to the audience’s intelligence. “Don’t talk about nerve agents, I repeat” Give us a break! Most likely, the clowns surrounding Powell didn’t have the Hill & Knowlton expertise to concoct a more effective story.
Powell suggested that a teaspoon-full of anthrax would cause havoc in the US. He stated that a few grams of the stuff had paralyzed the US Senate and Congress in 2001. Of course, he didn’t mention that the most likely source for the anthrax that caused this scare was one or another US scientist. Suggesting that Iraq was the origin of anthrax was a clear attempt to rekindle the fears most Americans were subjected to in 2001, and a less than honest presentation of the issue. Powell also personalized the alleged Iraqi prevarication. Instead of highlighting Iraqi mendacity, he always sought to personalize it as “Saddam’s lies”. This construct suggests that the US is only after Saddam, and that “one bullet” would do the trick as Ari Fleischer suggested some months ago. However, at the same time that the US is demonizing Saddam Hussein as an individual, it has been made abundantly clear that the war against Iraq is going to be massive and devastating. If Powell really was only going after Saddam Hussein, then the current war would seem to be unnecessary–a mere assassination is needed. Instead, the war that is being prepared will certainly harm millions of people in the area. This is an admission that Powell would not like to make–millions of people around the world would object. A rather transparent propaganda ploy was used to present the conflict as focusing on one demon–thus diminishing the implications of the horrors that actually await the region. 
Make no mistake–General Powell was trying to sell a war, and unless one takes into account recent history, then it could have been a decent performance. However, in 1968 Major Powell was involved in whitewashing the My Lai massacre in Vietnam–a clear attempt to keep that war running and lie to Americans that nothing out of the ordinary had happened there. During the Vietnam War Americans were lied to on a massive scale, and the man perpetrating one of the biggest lies about My Lai was today standing on the moral high ground justifying war against Iraq. For this type of performance, one is promoted to the rank of General–and certainly, Exxon will name their next oil tanker after him! Actually, General Powell is reputed to be one of the most moderate and sensible members of the Bush regime. If so, then imagine the rest of the gang. Just the thought makes one shudder.
One has difficulty finding a humorous angle to this sordid situation, but the UN and the US have provided one. Today, at the UN, a curtain was drawn over a replica of Picasso’s Guernica–a painting that is an indictment of war and the barbarity inflicted by man on man.  Throughout the spectacle, one became acutely aware that the whole event was stage-managed. The mere suggestion about the horrors of war would have been out of place, clashing with the case for war offered by Powell and the other dogs of war.
 If history is any guide, then we know that after the war–if there is one–then all of us will be treated to the public ridicule of Saddam Hussein by the purported find of tons of pornographic materials and oversize edible sexy underwear. Saddam Hussein’s intimate wardrobe may also come under the propaganda spotlight. Similar materials were planted in the house of Salvador Allende in 1973 to impugn the character of the man.
 One only wonders why Kofi Anan allowed the UN to be used in this way.
PAUL de ROOIJ is an economist living in London and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org