As even the mass media begin to ask why we went to war, the accounting of George W. Bush’s stated justifications for war has begun in earnest.
“Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised (March 17, 2003 address to the nation and the people of Iraq),” intoned Bush in a typical pitch.
In fact, the lack of found WMDs is cause for enormous doubt that Bush spoke truthfully, and his diminished character is on display for all to see.
Even that atonal noise that the war drums along the Potomac beat through the corporate mass media may finally be abated, as Bush faces the music for his lies and half-truths.
One can look on with disbelief at the contortions now made to defend Bush’s stated case for war, as they get sillier with each passing day.
Last Sunday’s New York Times has a letter (“Iraq’s Weapons,” June 8, 2003) to the editor written by Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Responding to a Times column by Paul Krugman (“Standard Operating Procedure,” June 3, 2003) in which Krugman essentially calls a Bush a liar, Clarke spins: “Clearly, [Krugman] prefers placing his trust in Saddam Hussein rather than in United States officials who acted in good faith on the best information available…. The threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction is a documented fact.”
In other words if you do not believe Bush, you trust Saddam Hussein. And Bush did not lie because Bush did not lie, he acted in good faith, on the best information and a documented fact. I guess Clarke never had a decent sixth-grade English teacher to advise her that simply stating her conclusion over and over is not an argument. Then again, repetition of message is what passes for administration argument.
(Memo to Ms. Clarke: There is no serious nuclear weapons program in Iraq, there are not 1000s of “tons” of chemical or biological agents. There has never been collusion between the secular Hussein and the fundamentalist bin Laden. And the most that we will find is a skeleton chemical and biological program, proving the lie that there was an urgent need to invade Iraq to wipe out the threat. A potential “mushroom cloud” over Manhattan and so forth are lies intended to frighten. Your boss is a liar and so are you. Sorry.)
What really kills is Clarke’s admonition that “It is far too early to make any judgments. We have an extensive effort under way. Let’s allow our team to finish the job before drawing conclusions.” She must watch the comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert a lot; they made the same ironic point asserting that the anti-war activists calling for the United Nations inspectors to be allowed to do their job were right after all, but the butt of their joke was Bush.
The New Republic
The New Republic has been pounding the war drums as hard as the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal, and it has vigorously taken up the administration’s defense. After Paul Wolfowitz admitted in Vanity Fair that the administration had focused on the threat that Iraq posed using WMDs on the United States as the reason to go to war because of “bureaucratic reasons” to reach consensus, Robert Lane Greene (The New Republic Online, “Bureaucratic Screw Up,” June 3, 2003) rushed to Wolfowitz’ defense. “If, as Wolfowitz suggests, the only thing the various squabbling members of the American foreign policy establishment could agree on about Iraq was that it possessed WMD, then the evidence that they saw must have been pretty compelling.”
Greene is apparently serious.
One wonders whether Greene really believes there was no political pressure from the White House to simply find a casus belli for policy that was stated as explicitly desired by Bush policymakers years before and during their current service in the administration.
Curiously, Greene continues in the next paragraph: “As Iraqi WMD remain conspicuously absent some six weeks after the war’s end, it is growing increasingly plausible that Americans were misled into thinking the WMD threat was more imminent than it was. It goes without saying that it would be devastating to the credibility of our intelligence apparatus if it turned out that certain intelligence officials played up the WMD risk to tell George W. Bush and the Pentagon what they wanted to hear.”
Was the evidence viewed by Defense and State “pretty compelling” or not? If not pretty compelling, Defense, State and the White House all lied.
Greene offers an analogy to support the invasion of Iraq in the event that the weapons-of-mass-destruction rationale is proven vacuous:
“So, having knocked Saddam from power, it turns out that America may have done so for the wrong reasons. But imagine this, a scenario a thoughtful antiwar friend posed to me before the war: Your neighbor, you have good reason to believe but you cannot definitively prove, has purchased weapons that could be used against your family. You further believe, based on his history of violence, that he’s prone to using them. (He’s been arrested on a few aggravated assault charges over the years.) Would your going over and killing him be immoral, given your thin evidence? Possibly. But what if, upon having dispatched him, you find in his home grotesque evidence that he was a serial murderer, and that his victims had included his own family–meaning his capacity for violence is much deeper than even you suspected. You may initially feel guilt for having attacked him for the wrong reasons. But in the end, you have killed a vile murderer who would otherwise have escaped justice, perhaps to kill again. Are you a dangerous vigilante, or a hero?”
To respond to this inept analogy, imagine this: In a neighborhood far, far away lives a maniac who used to be your favored trading partner and to whom you used to give intelligence and other support, despite the fact that you knew violent history and you were aware of grotesque evidence that he was a serial murderer, and that his victims had included his own family. And suppose that you support this type of maniac in numerous other neighborhoods against the advice of human rights workers and most of the world. Do you say to yourself, “What the hell kind of policy do I have, and whom do I count as my friends?”
Say you invaded this particular maniac’s house 12 years ago after he killed his neighbors and occupied their houses. Your invasion killed 1,000’s of innocents living in the house, and instead of deposing the maniac then, you left him in charge after you departed. Subsequently, you blockaded the house and deprived the innocents of medical care and clean water killing 100,000s of children, and the innocents remained prisoners unable to leave their house for over a decade. But with the help of other neighborhoods, you instituted a policy of containment that effectively isolated and controlled the maniac.
After 12 years you hire some friends who have written that they wish to kill this maniac and be king of his neighborhood, using the killer’s house for their own purposes. So you express your intention to again invade the house. All of the man’s immediate neighbors formally say in effect: “No, there is no threat anymore. The man has no reach. We do not fear him,” and ask you not to invade. Many other households and neighborhoods tell you not to invade. Most of the entire world asks you not to invade, concerned about killing more of the innocents in the maniac’s house. You then lie and say that this maniac–with his dilapidated house and his decrepit war machine–is capable of launching nuclear, biological, and chemical bombs over far-away Manhattan, much to the world’s chagrin who think that you are just plain nuts.
Instead of treating the maniac as an isolated, deranged criminal, and trying to get help for the innocents trapped under his rule, you invade again, hurting decades-long relationships with other neighborhoods, killing 1,000s; and then demand to the long-suffering innocent house members that they do what you say, under threat of imprisonment and death. The innocent house members now ask you to leave. What do you do now?
Are you a dangerous vigilante, or a hero, or someone with a real problem concerning the type of friends you keep?
The Shrinking Bush
To return directly to the topic of the lack of WMDs giving the lie to claims that Iraqi military power posed a threat to the United States, it is clear that the Bush lies are a burgeoning threat to his presidency.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), a declared presidential candidate who does not back down from a fight, and 30 members of Congress introduced last week a Resolution of Inquiry in the House of Representatives to force the Administration to turn over the intelligence to back its unproven claims that Iraq has WMDs. For a president intent on riding the Iraq war to victory, this change of discussion could be catastrophic.
Bush has bet the future of his administration on the war. He found a way to sell the war by preying on the emotional and trusting mood of an entire country after 9/11, manipulating the tragedy to implement the geo-political dogma of a small band of right-wing radicals.
Bush basks in his short-term political success, as the media follows the Rove script and applauds him for his courage and grit, and speaks of how mighty he is now, certain to be re-elected.
But the adulation and image will not endure. The American public will not stand for a president who blatantly lies to them. And the peace movement as usual has been underestimated. Do not forget the peace movement took down Johnson, and ultimately Nixon who could not cope with it, resorting to dirty tricks and more lying.
Bush will soon be seen by a sufficient number of Americans for what he is–as Ralph McGill once wrote of another weak and miserable anti-minority governor–“a little man standing alone in his own diminishing circle.”
MICHAEL LEON has been published in The Progressive, In These Times, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at: email@example.com.