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W.'s War on the Environment
Behind Colin Powell's Legend
The Clinton Scandals
The Dark Side of Rev. Moon
The October Surprise
New War Lies
By Robert Parry
September 10, 2003
In a healthy democracy, the grave act of going to war wouldn’t be justified under false pretenses and false impressions. Plus, government officials responsible for spreading false rationales wouldn’t be allowed to slide away from the first batch of lies and distortions to begin offering a new set of slippery excuses.
But the United States is not a healthy democracy at this time. It is dominated by a politician who chooses to manipulate rather than lead; who would rather trick the people into following him than engage them in a meaningful debate; who has demonstrated such a shallow regard for democracy that he took office despite losing the national popular vote and then only by blocking a full counting of ballots in one key state.
A healthy democracy wouldn’t put up with this trifling of the people’s will. But in today’s United States, there appears to be little shame in gullibility. Indeed, for some, it is a mark of patriotism. Others just act oblivious to their duties as citizens to be informed about even basic facts, even when the consequences are as severe as those of wartime.
This sad state of affairs was highlighted in a new Washington Post poll, which found that seven in 10 Americans still believe that Iraq’s ousted leader Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks although U.S. investigators have found no evidence of a connection.
As the Post notes, this widely held public misperception explains why many Americans continue to support the U.S. occupation of Iraq even as the other principal casus belli – trigger-ready weapons of mass destruction – has collapsed. [For more details on the poll, see the Washington Post, Sept. 6, 2003.]
The search for Iraq's WMD apparently has become such a farce that George W. Bush barely mentioned it during his nationally televised speech on Sunday.
He slipped into the past tense in saying the former regime "possessed and used weapons of mass destruction," without attaching a year or a decade to his statement. Iraq's alleged use of chemical weapons dates back to the 1980s and its possession of effective WMD may have ended in the 1990s, according to some information that U.S. intelligence has received from former senior Iraqi officials.
While downplaying the WMD case, however, Bush continued to work the subliminal connection between the Sept. 11th murders and Iraq.
Indeed, after listening to Bush on Sunday juxtapose references to the Sept. 11th murders, their al-Qaeda perpetrators and Iraq, it shouldn’t be surprising how seven out of 10 Americans got the wrong idea. It’s pretty clear that Bush intended them to get the wrong idea.
In speech after speech, Bush has sought to create public confusion over these connections. Though no Iraqis were involved in the terror attacks two years ago – and though Osama bin Laden and most of the attackers were Saudis – Bush and his top aides routinely have inserted references about Iraq and the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the same paragraphs. They often used unsubstantiated assertions that Iraq was sharing or planning to share WMD with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda as the connection.
That practice of blending Sept. 11 with Iraq continued into Bush’s speech Sunday night defending the U.S. occupation of Iraq and asking for $87 billion more to pay for it. “Since America put out the fires of September the 11th, and mourned our dead, and went to war, history has taken a different turn,” Bush said. “We have carried the fight to the enemy.”
Given that Iraq was the context of the speech, a casual listener would assume that Iraq attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and the United States was simply hitting back. An average American, who wasn’t steeped in the facts of the Middle East, would be left with the impression that Saddam Hussein’s government and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda were allies.
The reality is that Hussein and bin Laden were bitter rivals. Hussein ran a secular state that brutally suppressed the Islamic fundamentalism that drives al-Qaeda. Indeed, many of the atrocities committed by Hussein’s government were done to suppress Islamic fundamentalists, particularly from Iraq’s large Shia population. Bin Laden despised Hussein as an “infidel” who was repressing bin Laden's supporters and corrupting the Islamic world with Western ways.
Other inconvenient facts that Bush has left out of all his speeches about Iraq include that his father, George H.W. Bush, was one of the U.S. officials in the 1980s who was assisting and encouraging Hussein in his bloody war with Iran to contain the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.
The younger Bush also doesn’t mention that the CIA and its allies in Pakistani intelligence – not Iraqis – were involved in training al-Qaeda fundamentalists in the arts of explosives and other skills useful to terrorists. That was part of the U.S. covert operation against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Bush also trusts that the American people will have forgotten that other little embarrassment of the Iran-Contra Affair, when the elder Bush and President Reagan were involved in a secret policy of shipping missiles to Iran’s government. At the time, Iran's Islamic fundamentalist regime was designated a terrorist state by the U.S. government.
Nor does the public hear much about how the U.S. government taught the dictators of Saudi Arabia techniques of suppressing political dissent to keep that oil-rich kingdom in pro-U.S. hands. Saudi leaders also financed Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East as part of the Saudi strategy for buying protection for their dictatorial powers. Out of this mix of repression and corruption emerged an embittered Osama bin Laden, a scion of a leading Saudi family who turned against his former patrons.
If Americans knew more about this convoluted history, they might draw a very different conclusion than the one George W. Bush wants them to draw. Rather than seeing black-hatted villains who need a taste of Bush’s Western-style justice, the American people might conclude that Bush’s father and other top U.S. officials were at least as implicated in supporting Osama bin Laden and other international terrorists as Saddam Hussein was.
Indeed, if the full history were known, Hussein might appear less like a rogue leader than a U.S. client who was useful during his violent rise to power but then went awry. Not only did the CIA collaborate with Hussein’s Baathist Party as a bulwark against communism in the 1960s and 1970s, but Hussein personally sought U.S. advice at key moments from the 1980s to as late as 1990.
In ordering invasions of two neighboring countries – Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990 – Hussein may well have believed he had received “green lights” from the United States. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s "Missing U.S.-Iraq History."]
U.S. intelligence also understood the implausibility of Hussein sharing WMD with his arch Islamic fundamentalist rivals. A year ago, a CIA assessment was released acknowledging this reality. The CIA told Congress that Hussein would not share weapons of mass destruction with Islamic terrorists unless he saw a U.S. invasion as inevitable. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s "Misleading the Nation to War."]
In seeking to manipulate U.S. public opinion now, however, the Bush administration has done all it can to “lose” this history and these nuances. With a few exceptions, the U.S. news media has gone along, as journalists appear more interested in proving their “patriotism” – and keeping their high-paying jobs – than telling the full story. The American people have been fed a steady diet of false impressions and misleading arguments.
New Half Truths
Now, as the bloody reality of conquering Iraq intrudes on the pre-war fantasies of happy Iraqis showering U.S. troops with rose petals, the administration’s misleading rhetoric has switched from exaggerating the danger posed by Saddam Hussein’s government to exaggerating the gains attributable to the invasion.
New half-truths and lies are quickly replacing the old ones, lest Americans begin to wonder how they got fooled by the earlier bogus rationales. In Bush’s speech Sunday night, he highlighted two of these new arguments for a long-term military occupation of Iraq.
One of the new reasons is that the resistance to the U.S. occupation can be attributed to two groups – die-hard Hussein loyalists and foreign terrorists slipping into Iraq. “Some of the attackers are members of the old Saddam regime who fled the battlefield and now fight in the shadows,” Bush said. “Some of the attackers are foreign terrorists who have come to Iraq to pursue their war on America and other free nations.”
But what Bush leaves out is that there is a third force in Iraq: nationalist Iraqis who resent foreign occupation of their country. Many of them had no fondness for Hussein and may have welcomed the overthrow of the brutal dictator.
Some of these nationalists may have served in Iraq’s army while others appear to be young Iraqis who have begun fighting the U.S. occupation of Iraq much as young Palestinians have battled the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Other Iraqi fighters may be driven by revenge for the thousands of Iraqis killed in the U.S. invasion.
This likelihood of widespread resistance was known by Bush and his advisers before the war. “U.S. intelligence agencies warned Bush administration policymakers before the war in Iraq that there would be significant armed opposition to a U.S.-led occupation, according to administration and congressional sources familiar with the reports,” the Washington Post reported on Sept. 9, 2003.
But this information shared the fate of other facts that didn't support Bush's propaganda themes. It disappeared. The American people now are supposed to believe that the resistance is only a mixture of Saddam “dead-enders” and “foreign terrorists.”
The second new myth is that by killing “terrorists” in Iraq and elsewhere, the U.S. homeland will be made safer. “The surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans,” Bush said Sunday night. “We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.”
While this argument is another not-so-subtle appeal to the residual fears from Sept. 11, 2001, and America’s hunger for revenge, it is not a logical formulation. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that killing Iraqis and other Middle Easterners in Iraq won’t incite other people to attack Americans in the United States or elsewhere. Indeed, many savvy U.S. military analysts expect just such a response as revenge for the deaths inflicted by Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
It also is clear that Bush still is resisting the time-tested lessons of counterinsurgency -- that blunt force is no more likely to achieve peace than is abject cowardice, that peace and security are achieved through a combination of factors: a measured application of force combined with a sensible strategy for achieving political justice and economic improvements.
History also teaches that there are limits of national power no matter how noble a cause might be, that in geopolitics as in personal lives, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.
In Bush's televised speech, however, he presented the ongoing war as a choice of weakness or strength, good or evil, with no sense of the subtleties of history or the gray areas of past diplomacy. “We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness,” Bush said.
Beyond the speech, the Bush administration has issued reports that engage in such obvious P.R. tricks that they must assume the American people have the sophistication of pre-schoolers.
For instance, to commemorate Aug. 8, the 100th day since Bush donned his flight suit and declared “mission accomplished,” the White House released a report entitled “Results in Iraq: 100 Days Toward Security and Freedom.” The paper, which offered 10 reasons in 10 categories to support the thesis, declared “substantial progress is being made on all fronts.”
The artificial construct, requiring 10 reasons in each of the 10 categories, led to much stretching of facts and some repetition of examples. For instance, Reason No. 9 under “signs of cultural rebirth” used a quote from a member of Baghdad’s city council declaring that “if you want to civilize society, you must care about education.” The same trite-and-true quote crops up again three pages later as another example in another category.
But more significantly, the report repeats much of the elliptical reasoning and selective intelligence used before the war to exaggerate Iraq’s WMD threat and to connect Iraq with al-Qaeda.
“Saddam Hussein’s regime posed a threat to the security of the United States and the world,” the report asserts. “The old Iraqi regime defied the international community and 17 U.N. resolutions for 12 years and gave every indication that it would never disarm and never comply with the just demands of the world.”
There is no acknowledgment in the report that U.S. troops have failed to find any WMD. Nor is there any reference to the fact that U.N. weapons inspectors, such as Hans Blix, believed that Iraq was demonstrating greater compliance in the weeks before the U.S. invasion or that the invasion was carried out in defiance of a majority on the U.N. Security Council.
The White House report also continues to use selective information to support the administration’s case, while leaving out contrary facts or a fuller context.
For instance, the report states that “a senior al-Qaeda terrorist, now detained, who had been responsible for al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, reports that al-Qaeda was intent on obtaining WMD assistance from Iraq.” The report leaves out the fact that nothing resulted from this overture.
The report also repeats the story that an al-Qaeda associate, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, went to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical treatment, but leaves out that no evidence has surfaced that the Iraqi government was aware of his presence or cooperated with him.
Similarly, the report notes that “a safe haven in Iraq belonging to Ansar al-Islam – a terrorist group closely associated with Zarqawi and al-Qaeda – was destroyed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Left out is that the Ansar al-Islam base was in a northern section of Iraq that was outside the control of the Baghdad government and under the protection of a U.S. no-fly zone.
But the report, like Bush’s Sunday speech, is just another indication that the administration never wanted a real debate about its war policy in Iraq. The goal has always been to tilt the evidence – often with a dose of public abuse for anyone who asks too many questions – so the American people can be herded like sheep into Bush’s desired direction.
As the nation plunges deeper into a costly and bloody war, there is little about this process that resembles a healthy – or even meaningful – democracy. Though Bush claims that his goal is to bring democracy to Iraq, he apparently thinks very little of the process at home. Rather than invite a full debate, he tries to rig the process to manufacture consent.
Bush’s contempt for an informed electorate on the issue of war in the Middle East also doesn’t stand alone. In December 2000, his respect for democracy didn’t even extend to the basic principle that in a democracy, the candidate with the most votes wins.
Not only did Bush lose the popular vote to Al Gore by more than a half million ballots, Bush blocked a full and fair counting of votes in Florida for the simple reason that he was afraid of losing. Instead, he ran to his father’s powerful friends on the U.S. Supreme Court and got them to shut down the troublesome recount, which had been ordered by the state supreme court. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's "So Bush Did Steal the White House."]
But Bush is only partly to blame for this steep decline in American democratic traditions and for the nation's stumble into the dangerous quicksand of a Middle East occupation.
As in any democracy – even a troubled one – it remains the ultimate responsibility of the people to shoulder the burden of citizenship, which includes getting the facts and acting on them. That responsibility also demands that the people hold politicians accountable when they lead the country to war with lies and distortions.