Faith-Based Intelligence


The scandal over the Niger uranium intelligence, dismissed wishfully by high ranking Republicans in the House and Senate as a fuss about “a flaw here or there,” or “nothing but an absurd, media-driven, diversionary tactic,” is in fact just one fragment of a much broader Intel-gate scandal. That scandal is succinctly summed up by Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the private Arms Control Association: “the administration made its case for going to war by misrepresenting intelligence findings as well as citing discredited intelligence information.” Greg Thielmann, who worked until last fall as a proliferation expert in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, explains, “This administration has had a faith-based intelligence attitude: ‘We know the answers, give us the intelligence to support those answers.'” Vincent Cannistraro, former head of anti-terrorism operations and analysis at the CIA., says the neocon “cabal” leading the administration has “never been able to coalesce as they have now. September 11th gave them the opportunity, and now they’re in heaven. They believe the intelligence [justifying war on Iraq] is there. They want to believe it. It has to be there.”

They wanted to believe (and more importantly wanted us to believe) that Saddam was hunting for uranium in Africa. So Bush told us that, indeed, Saddam definitely was. They wanted to believe that the high strength aluminum tubes apprehended en route to Iraq last year, which IAEA as well as the U.S. State and Energy Departments say are intended to build launch tubes for artillery rockets, were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs,” as Condoleezza Rice put it last September. They wanted us to accept specific allegations, not yet proven during three months of occupation, such as: Iraq “has stocked at least 100 metric tons, and possibly as much as 500 metric tons” of chemical agents “much of it added in the last year.”

The neocons wanted us to be terrorized by the threat of Iraq, to associate Iraq with terrorist groups, and to view war with Iraq not as a distraction from the war on terrorism focused on al-Qaeda but as part and parcel of an endless terror war waged against disparate objects. Thus we were advised that the Boeing 707 and Tupolev 154 fuselages at Salman Pak, which the Iraqi’s describe as an anti-terrorism training base, were used for training terrorists (including al-Qaeda) in hijacking. The most egregious piece of disinformation circulated by the administration was that al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were in cahoots. An intimate operational connection was highly unlikely, and the Bush charge immediately raised the eyebrows of Middle East scholars aware of the historical mutual hatred between the fundamentalist terrorist group and the secular Baathist state. But (banking on ignorance and anti-Arab racism), the neocons were able to blur the distinction between the two and, as Rice put it, “exploit new opportunities” to implement longstanding plans for regime change in Iraq. If there’s to be a thorough investigation into the “faith-based intelligence” that produced the current quagmire, it should focus on the effort, underway within hours of the Sept. 11 attacks, to link bin Laden and Saddam, to thus prepare the country for war on Iraq.

They wanted us to believe that, as Rumsfeld told the press in the summer of 2002, “There are al-Qaeda in a number of locations in Iraq,” the implication being that they were there enjoying Saddam’s hospitality. Iraq has “clear ties to terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda,” Powell told world leaders in Switzerland last January.

They wanted us to believe that Ansar al-Islam, a group of hundreds of Kurds and Arabs controlling several villages in northern Iraq and accused of al-Qaeda links, was operating with Saddam’s blessing. (But it operated in a Kurdish-controlled zone, where it skirmished with U.S.-backed Kurdish forces. Tariq Aziz claimed that Baghdad had actually provided weapons to the latter for use against Ansar al-Islam.) They wanted us to believe that Ansar with Saddam’s blessing was producing chemical weapons; the obliterated sites of the group’s activity provide no evidence for that.

They asked us to believe that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (who heads a group called Jund al-Shams, or Soldiers of the Levant, which operates in Syria and Jordan; who is accused of masterminding the assassination of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan last October; and who specializes in chemical and biological terrorism) is a ranking al-Qaeda working with Saddam’s regime. But as one exasperated U.S. intelligence source told The Age, “the intelligence is practically non-existent It is impossible to support the bald conclusions being made by the White House and the Pentagon given the poor quantity and quality of the intelligence available. There is uproar within the intelligence community on all of these points, but the Bush White House has quashed dissent and written out those analysts who don’t agree with their views.”

Zarqawi received medical treatment (a leg amputation) in a Baghdad hospital in 2002 after fleeing Afghanistan via Iran (from which he may have been expelled), and then apparently disappeared by August. His presence in Iraq is known because of intercepted phone calls to his family in Jordan, which give no indication that the Saddam regime knew of his presence or was providing him any support. U.S. intelligence sources in fact downplay his importance to the al-Qaeda network; in February the New York Times quoted unnamed administration officials as saying many in the FBI and CIA were upset about the way Zarqawi’s ties to Baghdad were being played up to bolster the case for war. Meanwhile Colin Powell in his second speech to the United Nations Security Council called Zarqawi a “deadly terrorist.” He referred to “Al-Qaeda affiliates, [which] based in Baghdad, now coordinate the movement of people, money and supplies into and throughout Iraq for [Zarqawi’s] network, and they’ve now been operating freely in the capital for more than eight months.”

In his May 1 speech declaring victory in Iraq, Bush described Iraq as an “ally” of al-Qaeda. Fortunately more and more politicians and journalists say otherwise: “There was and is no evidence,” declares Sen. Edward Kennedy, “that Saddam was conspiring with al-Qaeda.” And on the WMDs: “It appears,” says John W. Dean, “that not only the Niger uranium hoax, but most everything else that Bush said about Saddam Hussein’s weapons was false, fabricated, exaggerated, or phony.”

The fact is sinking in: They lied to us. How many people are now thinking: We were willing to support attacking Iraq as a way of getting even with the 9-11 terrorists, and to defend ourselves. Turns out Iraq was no threat, and it’s not connected to al-Qaeda anyway. The people just want us out of their country, and we’re losing another soldier every day trying to keep the peace, but we don’t have enough troops in there, and the GIs hate it there and want to come home, the world doesn’t want to help us because they opposed the war and don’t agree with the occupation… Why do we have to be there anyway?

While hoping for the day when Donald Rumsfeld, under oath, explains whether he really believes in the Iraq-al Qaeda connection, I am in the meantime trying to grasp the flow of events involving this lesser if still pretty damning affair of the Niger letters, and understand it in context. What follows is a chronology based upon numerous internet sources, indicating the key players who constructed the argument for war, and suggesting that several neocons in the Defense Department, Vice President’s office, and the White House (Abram Shulsky, Robert G. Joseph, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby , Stephen Hadley) are worth particular attention.



According to some, the Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See (or to Italy) visited a number of African countries, including Niger, in 1999. Others speak of an “Iraqi trade delegation” to Niger, which might be a confused reference to the ambassador’s visit. Thereafter Italian intelligence investigated the trip to insure that Iraq was not seeking enriched uranium from Niger. (Given that Niger receives 65% of its export income from uranium ore, reference to that product might well have entered any talks about trade, formal or informal, between Niger and Iraq. But when Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program, up to 1991, it used Iraqi uranium.)

In January 2001, someone broke into Niger’s embassy in Rome, stealing some items of value and ransacking the office. Italian officials speculate that the burglars may have sought letterhead stationary and seals to forge documents. Six months later, the Italian intelligence service SISME obtained a stack of official-looking documents from an African diplomat. These included the Niger uranium letters. According to some accounts, the Italians sent summaries of their content to London and Washington in the fall of 2002, but Rome denies that it acquired such letters during its investigation or passed any on to other countries. Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba, who writes for the news weekly Panorama, said that she acquired the letters from a source in the Italian intelligence community and passed them to the U.S. embassy in October 2002. Newsweek reports the ambassador “tossed them out, rather than send them to [CIA] analysts at Langley,” but the Washington Post says that by October 19 copies had been distributed to intelligence officials. Another report states that Britain’s MI6 passed information about the letters (or copies) to Vice President Cheney’s office. (A congressional intelligence-committee staff member told Seymour Hersh that “the Brits” initially “placed more stock in them than we did.”) This would have been months before Burba’s visit to the U.S. embassy; Cheney’s Chief of Staff Lewis Libby told Time, “The Vice President heard about the possibility of Iraq trying to acquire uranium from Niger in February 2002. As part of his regular intelligence briefing, the Vice President asked a question about the implication of the report.” We must assume the administration had knowledge of the documents by this time.

One of the letters purports to document a deal in 2000 between Niger and Iraq whereby the former would supply 500 tons of uranium oxide. Analysts at the Department of Energy and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research raised questions at some point about the documents’ authenticity. By early 2002 U.S. Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick was asked about Iraq-Niger uranium trade; she informed Washington that there was no basis to suspect any link. Then Cheney’s office decided to investigate the letters’ substance. Former U.S. ambassador to Gabon, Joseph C. Wilson (a man of exceptionally distinguished diplomatic career), was (in his words) “invited out to meet with a group of people at the CIA who were interested in this subject” and agreed to investigate the content of the documents, which he had not seen. He left for Niger in February, and made an oral report in March. “Although I did not file a written report,” Wilson declares, “there should be at least four documents in U.S. government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador’s report of my debriefing in Niamey [capital of Niger], a separate report written by the embassy staff, a CIA report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally).” One must imagine that they came to Libby’s attention. The documents’ gist is: there was no evidence that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Niger.

Meanwhile, during the same month, a four-star U.S. general, Marine Gen. Carlton W. Fulford Jr., deputy commander of the U-S European Command (the headquarters responsible for military relations with most of sub-Saharan Africa) also visited Niger at the request of the U.S. ambassador. He met with Niger’s president February 24 and emphasized the importance of tight controls over its uranium ore deposits. According to MSNBC, he also visited the country two months later. This year, Fulford told the Washington Post that he had come away convinced that Niger’s uranium stocks were secure. His report went to European Command Commander, General Joseph Ralston, who passed it along to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. The Post reports that “it is unclear whether they reached officials in the White House.”


As of summer 2002, both Wilson and Fulford had reported that there was no evidence for Iraqi efforts to import uranium from Niger. But that same summer, Secretary Rumsfeld established the Office of Special Plans, headed by Paul Wolfowitz, Abram Shulsky, Undersecretary of Defense for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs William Luti, and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. Its official purpose was to collect intelligence relating to terrorism and interpret it. Its very establishment reflected the disappointment felt by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz over the CIA’s “failure” to find sufficient dirt on Iraq. They had asked for evidence of an Iraq-al Qaeda link; instead, in May 2002 both the CIA and FBI reported that, despite an exhaustive search, no evidence had been found for such a connection.

So Rumsfeld instructed the new OSP “to search for information on Iraq’s hostile intentions or links to terrorists” that might have been overlooked by the CIA. It received in particular much information from Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, a group held in contempt by the State Department but favored by the Defense Department neocons. (Simultaneously, in Israel, Ariel Sharon created a similar committee outside the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad; this organization was in close touch with Rumsfeld’s operation.) The OSP was designed to justify an attack on Iraq. Patrick Lang, former director of Middle East analysis at the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the New Yorker the OSP “started picking out things that supported their thesis and stringing them into arguments that they could use with the President. [That’s] not intelligence. It’s political propaganda.” The agency was quietly disbanded in March, on the eve of the war, its (very special) mission accomplished.

The Defense Department, committed to war, was willing to ignore intelligence that conflicted with war preparations and to shrewdly deploy disinformation to promote support for an attack. So too was the Vice President’s office. Having received Wilson’s report, Cheney made frequent trips to CIA offices to help shape the intelligence to favor war with Iraq. Meanwhile the Vice President became the leading proponent of the view that Iraq was a growing nuclear threat to the U.S. and its allies: “now we know,” he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in August 2002, “Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons [emphasis added]” (The Guardian, 8/27/02).

On September 24, the British government published a white paper that made use of the Niger uranium connection discredited by Wilson and Fulford months earlier. It stated that Iraq “had recently ‘sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.'” The mass media accepted the report; the London Guardian headlined: “African gangs offer route to uranium.” The still-skeptical CIA contacted the British, questioning the intelligence and suggesting the passage be dropped from the report. (The British have since stated that their assertion rests on intelligence aside from the discredited letters, but they have not provided any details.) But the Office for Special Plans wanted to exploit the specter of Iraqi nuclear attack for all it was worth. Thus the Niger report was included in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, a key intelligence document to which only the president and a handful of other officials are privy. This document noted that there were different interpretations of the significance of the Niger documents, and that the State Department regarded them as “highly dubious,” but it implicitly recommended reference to an African uranium link as part of a case for war.

Meanwhile, top-ranking government spokespersons continued to warn of Iraqi nukes. In September National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice told CNN, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” and the next month Bush exploited the same image in Cincinnati. “Facing clear evidence of peril,” he boomed, “we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, appearing before a closed hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 26, also cited Iraq’s attempt to obtain uranium from Niger as evidence of its persistent nuclear ambitions. By this time the Office of Special Plans was steering the dissemination of (dis)information about Iraq, but meeting with some State Department and CIA resistance. While warning the British about the Niger letters, the CIA (George Tenet in particular) also urged that references to efforts by Iraq to purchase 500 tons of uranium from Niger be dropped from Bush’s Cincinnati speech. Rice aide and deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley in fact jettisoned them, after two memos and a phone call from Tenet.

But top-ranking officials’ references to Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Africa continued. A publicly circulated State Department “fact sheet” released December 19 mentioned Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Niger, and asked rhetorically, “Why is the Iraqi regime hiding their uranium procurement?” (Both Iraq and Niger denied any procurement.) The charge was included in the President’s Daily Brief (P.D.B.), seen by the President and only a few other senior officials. On January 23, Rice wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times (“Why We Know Iraq is Lying”) charging that, “Iraq has a high-level political commitment to maintain and conceal its weapons For example, [Iraq’s] declaration [on its weapons programs] fails to account for or explain Iraq’s efforts to get uranium from abroad, its manufacture of specific fuel for ballistic missiles it claims not to have, and the gaps previously identified by the United Nations in Iraq’s accounting for more than two tons of the raw materials needed to produce thousands of gallons of anthrax and other biological weapons”

In December, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) requested from the State Department copies of the Niger letters. They were not handed over until February.


Throughout this period, the Office of Special Plans seems to have enjoyed the upper hand, although it skirmished with the State Department and CIA from time to time over the utility of specific intelligence. The key exchange occurred just before President Bush delivered his State of the Union speech January 28, when one Robert G. Joseph, director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council, asked Alan Foley, a C.I.A. expert on weapons of mass destruction, whether the president’s address could include a reference to Iraq’s seeking uranium from Niger. Foley recommended that the reference be removed, since the intelligence was of uncertain credibility. Joseph then asked if it would be accurate to cite the British white paper as the source of the information. Foley replied that the CIA had actually informed British intelligence that it doubted the Niger materials, but he apparently agreed that it would be technically accurate to say that the British had a report that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa. Hence the infamous line in the January 28 address: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” (The quality of British intelligence came under scrutiny when, in early February, 10 Downing Street issued the paper, “Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception, and Intimidation.” The article was supposedly based on high-level British intelligence, but at least 11 of the 16 pages were lifted, verbatim, from two articles published in the September 2002 edition of Middle East Review of International Affairs, an Israeli journal.)

When Colin Powell made his presentation to the UN February 5, he dropped the African uranium reference entirely. (He has explained recently that the story “had not stood the test of time.”) Meanwhile the U.S., after months’ delay, turned over copies of the Niger letters to the IAEA. In March IAEA director general Mohamed El Baradei announced they were indeed “not authentic,” but rather childish forgeries. “These documents are so bad,” a senior IAEA official told the New Yorker, “that I cannot imagine that they came from a serious intelligence agency. It depresses me, given the low quality of the documents, that it was not stopped. At the level it reached, I would have expected more checking.” “These were blatant forgeries,” said IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming. A “former high-level intelligence official” interviewed by the New Yorker suggested that it had been an inside job. “Somebody deliberately let something false get in there. It could not have gotten into the system without the agency being involved. Therefore it was an internal intention. Someone set someone up.”

Powell, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” took the news in stride. “It was the information that we had. We provided it. If that information is inaccurate, fine.”

Nevertheless, administration officials (most notably, Cheney) continued to link Iraq with an active nuclear program. On March 17, Bush repeated that, “Iraq continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised,” and the next day, on “Meet the Press,” Cheney reiterated: “We believe [Saddam] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” Ray McGovern, former spook and member of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, notes that “if you look at Cheney’s speeches, he’s way out ahead” in claiming Saddam has “a reconstituted nuclear capability.” But, McGovern adds, the vice president has “no evidence to support that.”

As the ground war began, the mainstream press and some politicians had finally begun to raise the kinds of questions that the antiwar activists had been asking for months. “There is a possibility that the fabrication of these [Niger] documents may be part of a larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq,” concluded Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). He wrote FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III March 21 requesting an investigation of the letters. Meanwhile investigative journalism, largely stymied since 9-11, began to revive: on June 12, The Washington Post revealed that an unnamed ambassador had traveled to Niger and reported back that there was no Iraq-African uranium connection. Soon Mr. Wilson identified himself through a New York Times op-ed piece (July 6), inveighing against the Bush administration for hyping the intelligence to support war with Iraq. “Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war,” he wrote, “I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” He told “Meet the Press” that “Either the administration has information that it has not shared with the public or … they were using the selective use of facts and intelligence to bolster a decision that had already been made to go to war.”

The backlash was immediate. Ari Fleischer suggested that “Wilson’s own report [shows] that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales.” (According to Wilson, he mentioned only “an Algerian-Nigerien intermediary” who had asked about “commercial” sales, a query Niger had ignored. “That then translates into an Iraqi effort to import a significant quantity of uranium as the President alleged?” asks Wilson. “These guys really need to get serious.”) The White House “outed” Wilson’s wife, who apparently had CIA ties and who, following her identification, was obliged to leave her post. In any case, the White House was suddenly on the defensive. On July 7, it admitted the obvious: “A senior Bush administration official said in a statement authorized by the White House” that “Knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq’s attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech.” Immediately, journalists and politicians began to aggressively question the pre-war intelligence on Iraq. (And to some extent, more importantly, the production and use of “intelligence” to generate support for the Iraq war.) “This is a very important admission,” Tom Daschle, Democratic leader in the Senate, declared. “It’s a recognition that we were provided with faulty information. And I think it’s all the more reason why a full investigation of all the facts surrounding this situation be undertaken.” By the 10th the controversy was everywhere front-page news. David S. Broder wrote in the Washington Post, “If President Bush is not reelected, we may look back on last Thursday, July 10, 2003, as the day the shadow of defeat first crossed his political horizon.”

The House and Senate intelligence committees began closed-door hearings on pre-war intelligence. On July 17, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Il.) told the press that the Senate hearing had so far discovered the identity of “the person was who was insistent on putting this language in which the CIA knew to be incredible, this language about the uranium shipment from Africa.” The press has identified the individual as the above-mentioned Robert G. Joseph, a top aide to Condoleeza Rice, a Special Assistant to the President, and Senior Director for Proliferation Strategy, Counterproliferation and Homeland Defense. He serves on the National Security Council, and is an adviser of the pro-Israel Center for Security Policy. He coordinates nuclear non-proliferation policy on the NSC, while advocating “counter-proliferation” (the use of banned weapons as the pretext for war.) Joseph has taught at Carleton College and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University and an M.A. from the University of Chicago. He was a Professor of National Security Studies, and Director of the Center for Counterproliferation Research, at the National Defense University.

As noted above, Joseph had sought Alan Foley’s approval of the wording of the uranium reference in the State of the Union speech. “It is inconceivable,” writes Robert Scheer, “that in reviewing draft after draft of the State of the Union speech, NSC staffers Hadley and Joseph failed to tell Rice that the president was about to spread a big lie to justify going to war.” They should both be questioned. Hadley, after initially denying that the White House had received any caution from the CIA about the African uranium reference, has now taken responsibility for it, just Tenet had earlier. He says, “It is now clear to me that I failed in [the] responsibility” to delete the passage, and declares that he should have remembered that the CIA had objected to the story earlier. “Had I done so, this would have avoided the whole current controversy” (Boston Globe, July 23). But Bush’s director of communications Dan Bartlett insists that the bogus Africa report the State of the Union address was “not at the specific request of anyone” but something “one of the speechwriters had come up with” after reviewing the intelligence. Hadley brings us to Condoleeza Rice and the White House. But even more attention should go to Abram Shulsky and William Luti, leaders of the Defense Department’s short-lived OSP, alongside Wolfowitz and Feith.

Shulsky, the program’s director, received his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1972, having (like Paul Wolfowitz who received his doctorate the same year) studied under Leo Strauss. An expert on Strauss’ thought, he got his start in politics working in Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson’s office alongside Elliott Abrams in the 1970s. He joined the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee in the early 1980s and served in the Pentagon under Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle during the Reagan Administration. Later he worked at RAND, where, along with other neocons, including I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby (now Cheney’s chief of staff—a man who should be asked about the Wilson report), Shulsky authored an essay entitled “From Containment to Global Leadership: America and the World after the Cold War.” This advocated preemptive war if necessary to insure U.S. global hegemony. In 1999, he coauthored (with Gary Schmitt) an essay on “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence,” arguing that deception is among the most vital tools in diplomacy and intelligence. (A former CIA official, quoted by Seymour Hersh in a NYT article, described the Shulsky group as “outsiders” in the intelligence community, having “a high degree of paranoia. They’ve convinced themselves that they’re on the side of angels, and everybody else in the government is a fool.”) A key element of Strauss’s thought is that “a political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat. Following Machiavelli, he maintained that if no external threat exists then one has to be manufactured” (Shadia Drury, Leo Strauss and the American Right, 1996). One can legitimately raise the question; did Shulsky and other paranoid neo-cons manufacture the Iraqi WMD threat?

The Office of Special Plans was overseen by Undersecretary of Defense William Luti, a retired Navy captain, Operation Desert Storm fighter pilot, former Cheney adviser, early advocate of military action against Iraq, head of Pentagon’s post-war Iraq planning group, and liaison after 9-11 to Iraqi exiles in Europe. In a speech in Washington in October 2002, he advocated the U.S. adopt a policy of “anticipatory self-defense.” But in this case “self-defense” requiring deception for its justification generated opposition from professional intelligence operatives. These were silenced. Hersh quotes an unnamed Pentagon policy adviser: “Shulsky and Luti won the policy debate They beat ’em-they cleaned up against State and the C.I.A. There’s no mystery why they won-because they were more effective in making their argument. Luti is smarter than the opposition. Wolfowitz is smarter. They out-argued them. It was a fair fight. They persuaded the President of the need to make a new security policy.”

Smart, effective, calculated liars emerged victorious from that “fair fight.” They achieved their objective: the occupation of Iraq. The Bush administration will now attempt to refashion Iraq as a U.S. ally in the Arab world, “democratic” and globalized, friendly to Israel, dotted with U.S. bases, open to foreign ideas, institutions, and missionary efforts. But the neocons’ Achilles heel is arrogance. They did not plan on the degree of Iraqi opposition, just as they did not anticipate the magnitude of the global antiwar movement in the months before the March attack. They don’t understand why the Germans, French and Indians, having opposed the war, aren’t eager right now to help the U.S. impose its occupation. Now, as what NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell calls “a war between the White House National Security Council and the CIA” heats up, they might underestimate the intelligence community’s indignation, and ability to reveal damning evidence about the neocons’ manipulation of public opinion to support war.

“Well, we’ve liberated people from a dictator, right?” That’s what they want us to think. “I’m not concerned about weapons of mass destruction,” Paul Wolfowitz told a group of reporters traveling with him from Iraq last week. “I’m concerned about getting Iraq on its feet. I didn’t come (to Iraq) on a search for weapons of mass destruction. If you could get in a relaxed conversation with Iraqis on that subject they’d say why on earth are you Americans fussing so much about this historical issue when we have real problems here, when Baathists are killing us and Baathists are threatening us and we don’t have electricity and we don’t have jobs. Those are the real issues. I’m not saying that getting to the bottom of this WMD issue isn’t important. It is important. But it is not of immediate consequence [emph. added].” Thus for Wolfowitz, “This historical issue” (of the justification for war, which he feverishly promoted) as opposed to the “real problems” (produced by that unjustified war) requires no further discussion. Such arrogance. He just can’t understand why Americans would be outraged that he, having contributed to the apparent disinformation leading up to the Iraq war, would now openly acknowledge his lack of concern with WMDs, discourage “fussing so much about” their lack and and the lies surrounding them, which to him are merely “historical” rather than “real issuesof immediate consequence.”

Wolfowitz is so smug that he assumes he can tell a reporter that the WMDs weren’t necessarily the main issue for attacking Iraq, and that the public will take it all in stride, happy to be (mis)led by the Straussian wise, those who make clever use of deception in intelligence and of manufactured external threats to stabilize the political order. “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because that was the one reason everyone could agree on,” says Wolfowitz (Vanity Fair, July 2003). Too hard to make the al-Qaeda link stick. And the real reasons (geopolitical advantage; control of oil; Israel’s security) not marketable. So we decided, let’s go with the WMDs, scare people, use the specter of another 9-11—only with an Iraqi nuke—and see if we can get 60-70% support for an attack Doesn’t that make beautiful sense?

People are supposed to be cool with that, three months after “victory,” as Iraq is looking like a quagmire?

Richard Perle, when asked by reporters in Moscow July 22 about the absence of WMDs, said, “There were of course many reasons for starting the war in Iraq,” but implied that Iraqi liberation was the most important. “We are clearly starting to see that up to 300,000 people were killed and buried” by Saddam’s regime, he declared. He is “absolutely certain” that weapons of mass destruction are hidden in Iraq, but he admits, “We don’t know where to look for them and we never did know where to look for them I hope this will take less than 200 years.” Does he imagine people will smile indulgently at his little joke?

Blair told Congress he’s “confident that history will forgive” the decision to invade Iraq, even if the weapons search is fruitless. Chances are the American people won’t forgive, as the truth about an unjustifiable invasion comes out, the bills of occupation mount, the national reputation plummets, the body bags come home, and the “liberated” people of Iraq keep saying, “GO HOME!”

GARY LEUPP is an an associate professor in the Department of History at Tufts University and coordinator of the 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: