Can We Doubt Him? Let Me Count the Ways

Just after Wolfowitz’s bizarre and crass pronouncement that growing numbers of deaths of occupation troops and Iraqis are evidence that “US efforts are succeeding” in that chaotic country, there were other surreal utterances by his commander-in-chief concerning struggles, success, leadership and all those good things. It is always a matter for deep suspicion when the name of Winston Churchill is mentioned by a politician because you know that the person who dredges it up has his back to the wall and is desperately seeking justification for some particularly sleazy activity. In Britain the ploy is rarely used because the public laugh at it, but it seems the desire to be linked with Churchill is still an obsession in the Oval Office.

Bush leapt at the chance to talk about Churchill at a Library of Congress exhibition of the great man’s memorabilia last week but instead of sticking to historical fact, which would have been appropriate and dignified, he couldn’t resist bringing Churchill up-to-date with the topsy-turvy tawdry world of Bush. “In some ways, our current struggles or challenges are similar to those Churchill knew . . .We are the heirs of the tradition of liberty, defenders of the freedom, the conscience and the dignity of every person . . . I see the spirit of Churchill in Prime Minister Tony Blair.”

Pass the sick bag, Alice.

The “current struggles or challenges” (why the ‘or’?) in no way resemble those faced by Churchill’s Britain. It is absurd to try to draw parallels between the war on Iraq and the war against the Axis Powers of fascism (a real Axis, unlike the silly axis of evil nonsense) that Churchill waged so fiercely with the total backing of his friend Roosevelt. The Bush ‘war on terror’ can in no way be compared with any war declared in recorded history, for nobody has ever started a war without having an objective to be attained. Many conflicts took a long time — but the ‘war on terror’ can never be won, because terrorism can never be eradicated. There will be no Yorktown, no Waterloo, no D-Day in the Bush Crusade.

For Bush to exclaim, in his peculiar whining cadences, that “I see the spirit of Churchill in Prime Minister Tony Blair” has probably reduced the British prime minister’s domestic approval rating by a couple of points, as well as causing much amusement in Britain, but one wonders if Bush realises how far his own utterances are from anything Churchill ever said.

One main point at issue for the moment is the Bush administration posture about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The evidence appears to show that they did not exist save in the febrile minds of the zealots. Yet in May last year Bush declared that “You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world and he said Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build chemical weapons? They’re illegal. They’re against the United Nations resolutions, and we’ve so far discovered two . . . And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong. We found them.”

Of course one can imagine Winston Churchill making a speech that might be a trifle cavalier with the truth. It was he, after all, who invented the term ‘terminological inexactitude’ to define a lie. But in the case of Bush’s statement there was no shade of grey, because Bush assured the world that banned weapons were discovered in Iraq, and there was no equivocation about his pronouncement. Let me emphasise that the president of the United States of America said to you and me and the whole world, with his hand on his heart, that “We found them”, meaning that his investigators had discovered weapons of mass destruction. So why, then, has he agreed on an inquiry? His intelligence organisations told him, he says, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Then he announced that weapons had been discovered. So what’s all the fuss about? Surely, if the president of the United States believes something to be true, there is no need for him to have an inquiry into whether it is true or not?

Perhaps we should pay more attention to Britney Spears. After all, she is the expert on political and international affairs who has advised the American people that “Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes and we should just support that.” She supports marriage, too. But perhaps not the marriage of truth with power that is incumbent on ‘her president’, because that particular hitching seems to have suffered a fatal divorce. Fatal for truth, that is, because his power to try to deceive the world remains undiluted.

When Bush announced on 27 January that Saddam Hussein had refused to allow UN inspectors into Iraq, many of us imagined he had simply misspoken. The shoulders were shrugged. After all, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and if he doesn’t have a prepared speech in front of him or been briefed down to the wire on matters likely to be raised by the press, he can get himself into tangles. What he said was “And then we went to the United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution, 1441, unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, “You must disclose and destroy your weapons programs,” which obviously meant the world felt he had such programs. He chose defiance–it was his choice to make–and he did not let us in.” .

No matter the problems Bush seems to have with conveying his thoughts in answer to unscripted questions it is difficult to see how “he did not let us in” could be interpreted as meaning “he did let us in”. In fact Iraq not only accepted entry of UN inspectors but was prepared to allow them to be accompanied by US intelligence officials to examine the alleged sites of weapons of mass destruction. Here is the Guardian (UK) of 23 December 2002 on the offer : “We have told the world we are not producing these kind of weapons, but it seems that the world is drugged, absent or in a weak position,” President Saddam Hussein said. At a press conference in Baghdad yesterday, General Amir al-Saadi [see below], scientific adviser to the president, issued a challenge to the US and British intelligence to offer up hard evidence that Iraq has any biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. “We do not even have any objections if the CIA sent somebody with the inspectors to show them the suspected sites,” General Sadi said.

It could not be plainer. First of all, Saddam Hussein stated categorically that Iraq was not producing weapons of mass destruction ; secondly there was an offer made to Washington to send in its own people with UN inspectors to guide them to the sites that they claimed to have identified in detail and with great precision. After all Rumsfeld declared on March 30, 2003, on ABC’s ‘This Week with George Stephanopoulos’ that “We know where they [the weapons of mass destruction] are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” What could be clearer than that. So what’s all the fuss about?

The fuss, of course, is because much of the mainstream media, especially in the US, along with the Murdoch press in the UK, were doing a Britney for a long time. They appear to have trusted the president in every decision he makes, and only recently seem to have realised that his conduct may not have been exactly Churchillian in his frenzied determination to go to war.

Norman Solomon, in Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting records that “George W. Bush told a Cincinnati audience on October 7 (New York Times, 10/8/02): “Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding [nuclear weapons] facilities at sites that have been part of his nuclear program in the past.” When inspectors returned to Iraq, however, they visited the Al Tuwaitha site and found no evidence to support Bush’s claim. “Since December 4 inspectors from [the] International Atomic Energy Agency have scrutinized that vast complex almost a dozen times, and reported no violations,” according to an Associated Press report (1/18/03).”

Now wouldn’t it have been simpler for CIA experts to have accompanied UN inspectors, as offered by Iraq, to see for themselves that there was nothing at Al Tuwaitha? They could have reported directly back to Cheney or Rice or even George Tenet. But perhaps this would have upset plans that were already under way.

Bush appears to be trying to expunge the UN inspections from recorded history in order to encourage us to forget there was an alternative to his invasion of Iraq. There was no reaction from Washington concerning Iraq’s offer to accept US intelligence representatives alongside UN inspectors, except a statement by the CIA that it would make no comment. And now that people are more interested in the non-reasons for war, the Bush administration might claim that the offer was only a ploy by desperate Iraq to avoid invasion. But if that had been so, the obvious riposte was to call the bluff.

Such a claim wouldn’t wash, anyway, because UN inspectors were being given all necessary cooperation by Iraqi authorities who had every reason to cooperate with the UN or the CIA or anyone else who wanted to have a look. After all, Saddam Hussein himself stated categorically that “we are not producing these kind of weapons”, so he would hardly be worried about independent inspectors proving him right. There is little doubt he welcomed almost any move to show he had no WMD, because possession of such weapons was the reason — the only international legal justification — given by Bush for his invasion. No weapons : no invasion. But if Saddam Hussein were proved right, it would mean that George Bush would be proved to have been wrong.

Saddam Hussein’s chief scientific advisor told the world before he was hustled away by occupation forces, never to be seen again, that there were no weapons of mass destruction. General Amir Saadi waited at his home in Baghdad for a week after US forces reached the capital, and then gave himself up voluntarily. The Washington Post reported that “The night before he gave himself up, Saadi saw himself listed on BBC satellite television as one of the men being sought by U.S. forces. In a recent interview at her home in Baghdad, Helma Saadi [his wife] said that he told her, “I want to surrender. I want to cooperate. It will be just a matter of a few hours, and I’ll be back.” Just hours before his April 12 surrender, Saadi gave an interview to a German television reporter during which he said, “There were no weapons of mass destruction, and time will bear me out.” It is the same sentiment he sent to U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix in a message that arrived at U.N. headquarters on March 19.”

There is a pattern, here, and it doesn’t take much to see why it is an inconvenient one for Bush and the zealots. The Iraqis told everyone there were no weapons, but nobody in Washington would listen. The Iraqis wanted UN inspectors and CIA people to visit anywhere in Iraq in their search for WMD. Bush ignored the Iraqi offer to have CIA analysts or operatives accompany UN inspectors, then went ahead with the invasion, claiming that UN inspections were failing. (Now, of course, claiming absurdly that there were no inspections atall because the Iraqis “wouldn’t let them in”.) The day before ordering the invasion Bush said “He [Saddam Hussein] continues to possess and conceal some of most lethal weapons ever devised . . . Iraq has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including al-Qaida . . . Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed.”

What it comes down to is the question : Do you believe Saddam Hussein’s statement that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, or do you believe George Bush’s statement that Iraq possessed “some of the most lethal weapons ever devised”? This is what all the fuss should be about, but will the Bush inquiry be courageous enough to rock the boat? Or will it, like Britney Spears, “just trust our president in every decision that he makes”?

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes about defense issues for CounterPunch, the Nation (Pakistan), the Daily Times of Pakistan and other international publications. His writings are collected on his website:

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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.