GEORGE W. BUSH said that he had an airtight case for war on Iraq. “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,” Bush said in his pre-invasion ultimatum to Saddam Hussein.
Months later–with Washingtonâ€™s brutal war over, and its brutal occupation just beginning–Bushâ€™s airtight case for war has sprung a leak. Even the intelligence community is casting doubt on the reports the Bush gang used to whip up its war drive. ANTHONY ARNOVE, editor of the book Iraq Under Siege, spoke to Socialist Worker about the lies they told to sell their war on Iraq.
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BUSHâ€™S MOST loyal ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair presented documents last September which supposedly proved that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction–including the ability to “deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so.” What do we know now about these claims?
WE KNOW now, as we suspected all along, that this was a complete fabrication. The BBC has reported that the Blair government last September ordered that the claim about Iraqâ€™s capacity to deploy biological and chemical weapons within 45 minutes be “transformed” and made “sexier.” That was done against the judgment of the intelligence services.
Bush cited this supposed British evidence in his State of the Union address in January when he referred to proof that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Niger. It has now come out that, as early as February 2002, intelligence sources knew that the document Bush was citing was a complete forgery. In fact, the minister from Niger whose signature appeared on the forged document hadnâ€™t been in public office in more than a decade!
Even loyal members of the U.S. and British intelligence community are upset that this information was cited as evidence. There were internal debates at the time in which people were saying that the evidence wasnâ€™t credible. Yet the decision had clearly been made to attack Iraq and impose an occupation government on the country–so only information that served that end was going to be delivered to the public and packaged to sell this unjust and illegal war.
Lt. Gen. James Conway, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force told reporters on May 30: “It was a surprise to me then–it remains a surprise to me now–that we have not uncovered weapons, as you say, in some of the forward dispersal sites. Again, believe me, itâ€™s not for lack of trying. What the regime was intending to do in terms of its use of weapons we thought we understood. We were simply wrong.”
SOME IN the CIA are now saying that they were under pressure from the Bush administration to come up with a smoking gun.
THE BUSH administration–under the direction of Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld–created alternative so-called intelligence agencies, including the Defense Departmentâ€™s Office of Special Plans, in order to do an end run around those people in the intelligence community who were not producing evidence and information that served the propaganda aims of the Bush war drive. Then they used pressure to make sure that the intelligence community was falling into line–and that people loyal to the war drive would be feeding the information that they could use to exaggerate, distort and lie about Iraqâ€™s weapons of mass destruction capacity.
Itâ€™s also important to say that the media is only talking about this now, even though it was patently obvious that this manipulation was taking place. The media served as an echo chamber for the most outrageous lies of the Bush administration and the Blair government, with its front-page stories about the awful threat Iraq posed, featuring the Niger connection and these completely dubious claims about Iraqâ€™s weapons. Only now are they beginning to look at the obvious lies and distortions that they used to sell this war.
WHAT DOES all this tell us about the real reason for war on Iraq?
DEPUTY DEFENSE Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has given away the game. In a recent Vanity Fair magazine interview, he acknowledged that all of this discussion about needing to go to war on Iraq in order to disarm the country was just, as he called it, “bureaucratic.”
It was a way of selling the war because it was a goal that different parts of the government and allies of the U.S. could agree on. But it was just a public relations lie in order to get people on board for a war that was being fought for other reasons.
If you look at public support for the war, it was based on a deliberate lie that there was a connection between Iraq and the September 11 attacks. Public opinion polls show that nearly half of the U.S. population believed there was a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, when absolutely no evidence exists for this claim.
The Bush and Blair governments repeatedly talked about the ties between Iraq and international terrorism generally–and specifically al-Qaeda, even though al-Qaeda has a long history of hostility toward the government of Iraq. The intelligence community in the U.S. and Britain consistently said that they had no evidence to link the two.
On May 30, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof quoted an anonymous Defense Intelligence Agency source who was “privy to all the intelligence there on Iraq.” He told Kristof, “The American people were manipulated. The Al-Qaeda connection and nuclear weapons issue were the only two ways that you could link Iraq to an imminent security threat to the U.S.”
Greg Thielmann, who retired last September after 25 years in the State Department–the last four in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research–said, “The administration was grossly distorting the intelligence on both things.” Interestingly, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedmanâ€™s reaction to all this is to say itâ€™s perfectly okay that the U.S. can get away with these kinds of lies and arrogance.
Control of oil is the primary motivation for this war. Itâ€™s why Iraq was a target for war. Itâ€™s why the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein in the 1970s and â€™80s when he was an ally and a friend–when Donald Rumsfeld met with him in Baghdad. Itâ€™s why the U.S. is going to occupy Iraq until it can impose a government thatâ€™s suitable to U.S. interests. And itâ€™s why Iran and Syria are now in the crosshairs.
BUSH HAS claimed that the U.S. has already found the evidence–the mobile trailers that were supposedly used to create weapons of mass destruction.
THE MOBILE units story is such a joke. The fact is that no traces of biological agents have been detected in these trailers. On June 1, the New York Times wrote: “No traces of bio-agents have been detected so far in the trailers, and search teams have yet to find the additional trailers that would be needed to convert the slurry produced by these trailers into useable weapons.” The same article goes on to say: “Intelligence analysts told reporters last week that the configuration of equipment in the trailers would not work efficiently as a biological production plant, is not a design used by anyone else and would not lead anyone to link the trailers intuitively with biological weapons.”
Theyâ€™re just grasping at straws. Thereâ€™s no evidence that these are bio-weapons facilities. When you compare the evidence that theyâ€™re putting forward now with the claims that Colin Powell made in his presentation to the United Nations–his arrogance, his certainty–itâ€™s stunning.
ALL THIS has caused an uproar in Britainâ€™s House of Commons–and, to a much lesser extent in Congress here. What do you think will be the outcome?
YOU NOW have the CIA saying that itâ€™s going to look into abuses of intelligence for political ends. I think that we have to be skeptical about the extent to which the fox is going to guard the hen house and really reveal how far the U.S. and British governments went in manipulating intelligence in order to drive this war.
As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd put it on May 25: “By the time the CIA delivers its report, it will be time to investigate how our intelligence was hyped in the prelude to the strike on Iran. We canâ€™t rely on the CIA or a congressional committee to expose what really is a profound scandal.
This is especially true, given that the media played such a cynical role in this–and has an interest in trying to quickly move on to the next war and the next story, not allowing the public to find out about how much they themselves were involved in this propaganda campaign. Itâ€™s going to take public pressure and activists in the antiwar movement exposing these lies, confronting the media and putting pressure on the Bush administration.
Itâ€™s important to remember that the Watergate scandal took place in the context of mass protests and civil disobedience against the war in Vietnam. The extent to which we can organize against the occupation of Iraq, expose the lies that were told to justify this war and raise greater public awareness will be decisive in whether the story gets heard.
More articles by Anthony Arnove