W. Bush made his winning case for a congressional war resolution against Iraq by playing
up the nation's lingering fear from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. His argument for
preemptive war boiled down to the old adage: "better safe than sorry," better to
take out Saddam Hussein now before he gives biological or chemical weapons to terrorists
or develops a nuclear bomb.
"Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to
a terrorist group or individual terrorists," Bush said in his Oct. 7 speech in
Cincinnati. Reiterating the theme two days later, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer
said, "If Saddam Hussein holds a gun to someones head, while he denies he even
owns a gun, do you really want to take a chance that hell never use it." [NYT,
Oct. 10, 2002]
But what Bush and his aides have left out of their one-sided risk equation is the
possibility that the administrations actions may increase the danger to Americans,
not reduce or eliminate it. The truncated national debate has barely touched on this other
reality that Bushs belligerence might speed up the timetable for terrorist
groups getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction, a point acknowledged in a new
CIA threat assessment.
Meanwhile, another danger looms that Bushs policies will transform
anti-Americanism into the worlds common language of protest, what journalist Fareed
Zakaria has called the emerging "default ideology of opposition."
Both prospects carry grave dangers for the United States and for individual Americans,
at home and abroad. Yet, with war just over the horizon, these risks have gotten little
more than passing reference in a debate almost exclusively focused on how thuggish Saddam
In his national address, Bush stressed the "clear evidence of peril" from
Iraq possibly giving chemical and biological weapons to terrorists. But on the day of
Bushs speech, the CIA offered a sharply different evaluation of the risk.
The CIA judged the likelihood of Iraq attacking the United States without U.S.
provocation as "low" but rising dramatically if the U.S. prepared for a
preemptive strike. In other words, Bushs strategy might touch off precisely the
nightmare scenario that he says he is countering.
"Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist
attacks with conventional or C.B.W. [chemical or biological warfare] against the United
States," wrote CIA director George Tenet in an Oct. 7 letter to Congress.
"Should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he
probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions."
Eliminating the threat from Iraq also is not an isolated event whose consequences
necessarily stay within Iraq's borders.
While a successful U.S. invasion might remove Saddam Hussein from power and enable Bush
to dictate the shape of a successor regime, a preemptive war on Iraq is fraught with other
dangers. Government leaders on the front lines of the Middle East have warned that a U.S.
assault on Baghdad could set the region ablaze, spread Islamic fundamentalism and endanger
those who have supported the U.S. war on terror.
Those red flags went up again as the results rolled in from provincial and
parliamentary elections in nuclear-armed Pakistan a week ago. Though the pro-U.S.
dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, used heavy-handed pre-election tactics to guarantee
victory for his supporters, his party was stunned when both secular and Islamic opposition
parties made strong showings.
Islamic fundamentalists won at least 39 seats in the National Assembly compared
to four seats in 1997 and gained control of the strategic North-West Frontier
Province. Thats where U.S. and Pakistani forces have been hunting down al-Qaeda
leaders and their Taliban allies from Afghanistan. The change in provincial leadership
means more trouble for the search.
"We will stop the ongoing pursuit of Taliban and al-Qaeda when we form the
government," Munnawar Hasan, secretary general of the Islamic party, told Reuters.
"Taliban and al-Qaeda members are our brothers." [NYT, Oct. 12, 2002]
With Islamic fundamentalist sympathizers also holding influential positions inside the
Pakistani government, Bushs assault on Iraq especially if it kills large
numbers of civilians could drive Pakistan into political anarchy. Keeping
Pakistans existing nuclear bombs out of the hands of Islamic terrorists could prove
a more immediate danger than preventing Iraq from hypothetically building one sometime in
Bush's military strategy could boomerang in another way. Watching how Bush has
exaggerated the threat from Iraq moving to attack even when Iraq was doing what it
could not to threaten the U.S. other Middle Eastern candidates for "regime
change" might choose another course, embarking on crash programs for weapons of mass
destruction with a new readiness to use them.
Bush has counted Iran as part of his "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North
Korea. Syria, which has backed Palestinian militants for years, is another high-profile
candidate for Bushs "crusade" to rid the world of "evil." Those
governments may judge that their only hope of holding off a future U.S. attack is to take
action while Washington has its hands full with Iraq.
U.S. officials already are noting renewed activity by terrorist cells as al-Qaeda
leaders have begun citing Bush's Iraq policy to rally support for attacks on Americans and
their allies. "The campaign against Iraq has an objective that is far beyond Iraq to
reach the Arab and Islamic world," said Osama bin Laden's lieutenant Ayman
al-Zawahiri in one recent tape recording. [NYT, Oct. 13, 2002]
"Senior [U.S.] government officials also say that an attack that crippled a French
oil tanker near Yemen and another that killed a United States marine in Kuwait showed that
the terror network had reconstituted itself, with smaller groups prompted to begin new
attacks by inflammatory new messages from Qaeda leaders," reported the New York
Last week's bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, which killed more than 180
people, is also thought to be connected to the al Qaeda network.
Another problem for the U.S. is the international reaction to Bush's belligerent tone.
While his wanted-dead-or-alive rhetoric may play well with his conservative base, it is
offensive to many others in the U.S. and elsewhere. Around the world, the pages of leading
newspapers regard Bush as an arrogant buffoon, the archetypal Ugly American who knows
little about other cultures and treats them with contempt.
Bushs declarations about freedom and human rights also ring hollow to many.
"In keeping with our heritage and principles, we do not use our strength to press for
unilateral advantage," Bushs national security strategy report stated on Sept.
20. "We seek instead to create a balance of power that favors human freedom."
But the reports blunt goal of U.S. hegemony what Bush enthusiast Michael
Kelly has dubbed the "doctrine of armed evangelism" may require the
repeated use of American military might, with Afghanistan and Iraq just the first of many
battlegrounds, a prospect that unnerves many world leaders.
Bushs unapologetic goal of never-ending U.S. military domination as
described in his "national security strategy" report has added fuel to
the growing fire of anti-Americanism. Whether fairly or not, anti-Americanism has emerged
as a powerful political theme in Europe and Latin America, as well as in the Middle East.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder reversed his political fortunes in Germanys
parliamentary elections last month by opposing Bushs unilateral threats to attack
Iraq. Pakistan's elections are now the second example of political fallout from Bush and
his preemptive war strategy.
International resistance to Bush was underscored again when the Nobel committee gave
former President Jimmy Carter the Peace Prize and added a pointed rebuke to Bush's policy
toward Iraq. "In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power,"
the Nobel citation read, "Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as
far as possible be resolved through mediation and international cooperation based on
international law, respect for human rights and economic development." [NYT, Oct. 12,
As America's chief salesman, Bush also has complicated the U.S. cause by picking
unnecessary diplomatic fights with the rest of the world, often simply to please
conservative political interest groups back home.
Time and again, Bush has repudiated agreements on issues, including global warming, a
permanent war-crimes tribunal, nuclear arms control, the illicit trade of small arms, and
even the spread of chemical and biological warfare. "In its first two years, [the
Bush administration] has reneged on more international treaties than any previous
administration," wrote Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria. [New Yorker,
Oct. 14 & 21, 2002]
In this sense, Bush differs from former President Bill Clinton who effectively
cultivated world public opinion and from former President George H.W. Bush who built a
broad international coalition during the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91. By contrast, the
younger Bush has brushed aside the views of other nations and shown disdain for
international cooperation when it does not involve lining up behind him.
Bushs strategy of world domination also is quickly developing a domestic
corollary: silencing political criticism [see The Consortiumnews.com's "The Politics of Preemption"] and twisting
intelligence reports into whatever shape serves his agenda.
According to a variety of press reports, U.S. intelligence officials say the Bush
administration is pressuring them to "cook" the intelligence so Congress and the
American people won't hear information that might cause them to question Bush's
"Basically, cooked information is working its way into high-level pronouncements
and there's a lot of unhappiness about it in intelligence, especially among analysts at
the CIA," said Vincent Cannistraro, the former head of CIA's counter-intelligence. [The Guardian, Oct. 9,
"A growing number of military officers, intelligence professionals and diplomats
charge that administration hawks have exaggerated evidence of the threat that Iraqi
leader Saddam Hussein poses, including distorting his links to the al-Qaeda terrorist
network, have overstated the amount of international support for attacking Iraq and have
downplayed the potential repercussions of a new war in the Middle East," reported the
Knight-Ridder news service.
Besides exaggerating the Iraqi threat, the Bush administration is "squelch[ing]
dissenting views," the article said. "Analysts at the working level in the
intelligence community are feeling very strong pressure from the Pentagon to cook the
intelligence books," said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Of a
dozen other officials interviewed for the article, no one disagreed with that assessment.
[Knight-Ridder, Oct. 8, 2002]
In another article, the Los Angeles Times cited "an escalating war" within
U.S. intelligence circles in which "senior Bush administration officials are
pressuring CIA analysts to tailor their assessments of the Iraqi threat to help build a
case against Saddam Hussein."
Top Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top deputy
Paul Wolfowitz, "have bombarded CIA analysts with criticism and calls for revisions
on such key questions as whether Iraq has ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, sources
said," according to the Los Angeles Times.
"The sources stressed that CIA analysts who are supposed to be impartial
are fighting to resist the pressure. But they said analysts are increasingly
resentful of what they perceive as efforts to contaminate the intelligence process,"
the newspaper reported. "Analysts feel more politicized and more pushed than many of
them can ever remember," the Times quoted an intelligence official as saying. [LAT,
Oct. 11, 2002]
The New York Times reported that the intelligence community and the White House have
been at odds over Iraqi intelligence for months, but it wasnt until the CIA letter
to Congress was publicly released that these disagreements surfaced.
The letter made clear that the CIA believed that launching an attack against Iraq, or
even preparing for one, would increase, not decrease, the chance that Saddam Hussein would
unleash weapons of mass destruction against the United States. The finding turned
Bushs rationale for going to war on its head. Yet the administration has continued
to push the case for military action in spite of, not because of, the intelligence
The CIA's letter
included declassified information from closed-session hearings of the Senate Intelligence
Committee and cited an Oct. 2 exchange between Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and a senior
intelligence witness on the likelihood of Iraq attacking the U.S.
Levin: . . . If (Saddam) didn't feel threatened,
is it likely that he would
initiate an attack using a weapon of mass destruction?
Senior Intelligence Witness: . . . My judgment would be that the probability of him
initiating an attack let me put a time frame on it in the foreseeable
future, given the conditions we understand now, the likelihood I think would be low.
If we initiate an attack and he thought he was in extremis or otherwise
[sic], what's the likelihood in response to our attack that he would use chemical or
Senior Intelligence Witness: Pretty high, in my view.
Besides misrepresenting the CIA's threat assessment, the Bush administration has been
hyping other information to frighten the American people. In his Cincinnati speech, for
instance, Bush conjured up the image of Iraq sending unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on
chemical and biological warfare attacks against the United States.
Bush said Iraq "is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the
United States." The UAVs "could be used to disperse chemical or biological
weapons across broad areas," Bush said.
Though Iraq has been developing these drone aircraft, the prospect of them somehow
reaching the U.S. mainland is considered preposterous. "U.S. military experts
said that [the UAVs have] a maximum range of a few hundred miles" and are "no
threat to targets in the U.S.," reported the Guardian newspaper.
Bush also couldn't resist pushing the hot button of alleged links between al-Qaeda and
Iraq. "Some al-Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq," Bush said.
"These include one very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in
Baghdad this year and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological
The Guardian reported that Bush was referring to Abu Musab Zarqawi, "who was
arrested in Jordan in 2001 for his part in the millennium plot to bomb tourist
sites there." Zarqawi was subsequently released and did go to Iraq to receive medical
treatment, but that there was no evidence of any connection between him and the Iraqi
government, the newspaper said.
White House pressure has been especially intense on getting the U.S. intelligence
community to agree that Iraq and al-Qaeda are connected, the Guardian said. "The FBI
has been pounded on to make this link," said an unnamed source familiar with the
Sept. 11 investigation, the newspaper reported.
Bob Baer, a former CIA agent assigned to track al-Qaeda, said there were contacts
between Osama bin Laden and Iraq in the Sudan in the 1990s. But Baer stated, "There
is no evidence that a strategic partnership came out of it. I'm unaware of any evidence of
Saddam pursuing terrorism against the United States"
The Guardian also reported "profound skepticism among U.S. intelligence experts
about the presidents claim that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in
bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases."
The New York Times reported similar disagreements between the intelligence community
and the White House.
"The agency line is that it is basically unlikely that Iraq would give weapons of
mass destruction to terrorists under most circumstances," said Kenneth M. Pollack, a
former military analyst at the CIA and top aide for Persian Gulf affairs on Clintons
National Security Council. "The Bush administration is trying to make the case that
Iraq might try to give weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda under current
circumstances. But what the agency is saying is that Saddam is likely to give such weapons
to terrorists only under extreme circumstances, when he believes he is likely to be
toppled." [NYT, Oct. 10, 2002]
Taken together, the evidence seems clear that the Bush administration doesn't want a
full debate on the merits of the president's war policy. Bush and his aides simply want to
twist whatever information they can to bring the American people into line.
The irony of this manipulation of public opinion stands out against the glowing ideals
expressed in Bush's "national security strategy" report of Sept. 20. "The
great struggles of the Twentieth Century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a
decisive victory for the forces of freedom and a single sustainable model for
national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise," Bush's report said.
Yet that grand commitment to freedom and democracy apparently does not extend to the
concept of a free and open debate in the United States, even about life-and-death issues
such as whether the nation should send its soldiers off to war and potentially face
greater dangers as a consequence.
In opposing Bush's war resolution, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., argued that the Founding
Fathers proscribed the war-making powers of the executive out of clear-headed knowledge
about the destruction that can befall a people when a misguided leaders marches a nation
off to war.
"We are at the gravest of moments," Byrd said in an Op-Ed piece in the New
York Times. "We must not allow any president to unleash the dogs of war at his own
discretion and for an unlimited period of time." [NYT, Oct. 10. 2002]
Byrd lost the argument, as Congress less than a month before elections
gave Bush the powers he demanded. Bush carried the day after tilting the public debate
with misleading arguments repudiated even by his own intelligence services.
In Bush's brave new world, Americans are finding the meaning of democracy changed.
Rather than a system based on the decisions of an informed electorate, Bush and his
followers seem to be envisioning and implementing a future in which they
engineer acquiescence by misinforming a frightened people.
Bush's defenders may say that this constrained freedom is necessitated by the deeper
threat to freedom in a post-Sept. 11 world. They may argue that they and the president
know what's best for the country.
But even if one accepts Bush's sincerity that he is leading the nation to war in
Iraq for some greater good there is another old adage that seems increasingly
appropriate to the moment: "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."