consortiumnews.com

Wash Post Smears War Critics, Again

By Robert Parry
June 21, 2006

One might think that a newspaper which helped fan a war frenzy that got more than 2,500 American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed might show some remorse or at least some circumspection before attacking critics of that misadventure. But that is not the way of the Washington Post.

One also might think that a newspaper would have some interest in holding dishonest politicians accountable, especially when the consequences of their deceptions have been as grievous as George W. Bush’s Iraq War lies. But that also is not the way of the Post.

More than three years into the Iraq War, the Post’s top news executives remain steadfast defenders of Washington’s neoconservatives who pushed the dangerous doctrine that military invasion was the way to “democratize” Muslim countries in the Middle East. In 2002-2003, the Post’s senior editors cast Iraq War skeptics out of the polite opinion-page society – and are still at it.

After last week’s House debate on Iraq, here is how the lead Post editorial treated Bush’s critics for favoring a prompt U.S. military withdrawal:

“Many Democrats, looking to exploit bad news without appearing to rejoice in it, demagogued about presidential ‘lies,’ obtusely denied any relationship between Iraq and the war on terrorism and called for troop withdrawal without honestly facing the consequences of such a move.” [Washington Post, June 17, 2006]

If you parse the Post’s comment, you would have to conclude that Democratic war critics are truly despicable and crazy people. They eagerly exploit the “bad news” deaths and maiming of American soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, while concealing a private joy over this mayhem for crass political reasons.

These Democrats also slander President Bush via the suggestion that he lied about the reasons for the Iraq War. The verb “to demagogue” means to manipulate a population by appeals to emotions or prejudices, suggesting the use of illogical or false arguments.

The Post apparently buys into the administration’s defense that Bush may have made statements about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to be true, but that he believed the claims were true at the time and therefore didn’t lie.

And as for Bush’s misleading juxtapositions linking Iraq and al-Qaeda in speech after speech before the war, the Post is apparently accepting Bush’s explanation that he didn’t explicitly equate Iraq and al-Qaeda – even if he did plant that impression in the minds of most Americans, including the troops sent to Iraq.

Lies & Lies

But, as we have written repeatedly at Consortiumnews.com, even if one bends over backward to give Bush the benefit of every doubt – as the Post would not do for almost any other politician – there are clear cases in which Bush lied while knowing the facts.

For instance, in mid-July 2003, as the administration’s WMD case against Iraq was collapsing, Bush began altering the early history of the war to make his actions appear more reasonable.

On July 14, 2003, Bush claimed that Saddam Hussein had barred United Nations weapons inspectors from Iraq when, in fact, they were admitted in November 2002 and given free rein to search suspected Iraqi weapons sites. It was Bush who forced the U.N. inspectors to leave in March 2003 so the invasion could proceed.

But faced with growing doubts about his justifications for war – former Ambassador Joseph Wilson had challenged Bush’s nuclear weapons claims about Iraq a week earlier – Bush began rewriting the history of the U.N. weapons inspectors.

Apparently trusting in the weak memories of the American people and the timidity of the U.S. press, Bush told reporters:

“We gave him [Saddam Hussein] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.”

In the following months and years, Bush repeated this claim in slightly varied forms as part of his litany for defending the invasion on the grounds that it was Hussein who “chose war,” not Bush.

Meeting no protest from the Washington press corps, Bush continued repeating his lie about Hussein showing “defiance” on the inspections. Even three years into the war, Bush was still citing this bogus history as he did on March 21, 2006, in response to a question from veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas.

“I was hoping to solve this [Iraq] problem diplomatically,” Bush said. “The world said, ‘Disarm, disclose or face serious consequences.’ … We worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny the inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did.”

The significance of the repeated lie about Hussein denying the inspectors is that Bush can’t simply blame his advisers for giving him bad information. Bush was fully aware of the U.N. inspectors and what happened to them.

'Downing Street Memo'

Indeed, documentary evidence shows that Bush was determined to invade Iraq in 2002 and early 2003 regardless of what U.S. intelligence said about Iraq’s WMD or what the Iraqis did to cooperate with the U.N. inspectors.

The infamous “Downing Street Memo” recounted a secret meeting on July 23, 2002, involving British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top national security aides. At that meeting, Richard Dearlove, chief of the British intelligence agency MI6, described his discussions about Iraq with Bush’s top advisers in Washington.

Dearlove said, “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

Then, at an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 31, 2003, Bush and Blair discussed their determination to invade Iraq, though Bush still hoped that he might provoke the Iraqis into some violent act that would serve as political cover, according to minutes written by Blair’s top foreign policy aide David Manning.

So, while Bush still was telling the American people that he considered war with Iraq “a last resort,” he actually had decided to invade regardless of what positive steps Iraq might take, according to the five-page memo.

The memo also revealed Bush conniving to deceive the American people and the world community by trying to engineer a provocation that would portray Hussein as the aggressor. Bush suggested painting a U.S. plane up in U.N. colors and flying it over Iraq with the goal of drawing Iraqi fire, the meeting minutes said.

“The U.S. was thinking of flying U-2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours,” the memo said about Bush’s scheme. “If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Time to Talk War Crimes.”]

Regardless of whether any casus belli could be provoked, Bush already had “penciled in” March 10, 2003, as the start of the U.S. bombing of Iraq, according to the memo. “Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning,” Manning wrote.

According to the British memo, Bush and Blair acknowledged that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, nor were they likely to be found in the coming weeks, but that wouldn’t get in the way of the U.S.-led invasion. [NYT, March 27, 2006]

Ousting the Inspectors

So, Bush clearly knew that Hussein had permitted the inspectors into Iraq to search suspected weapons sites. Bush also knew that he was the one who forced the inspectors to leave so the invasion could proceed in March 2003. [For more on Bush's pretexts for war in Iraq, see Consortiumnews.com’s “President Bush, With the Candlestick…”]

Another Bush lie has been exposed in Ron Suskind's new book, The One Percent Doctrine. Suskind reports that U.S. intelligence informed Bush that captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zabaydah was mentally ill and a relatively insignificant figure, mostly responsible for arranging travel for al-Qaeda family members, but Bush still portrayed Zabaydah's capture as a major victory.

Two weeks after being informed of Zabaydah's minor role, Bush delivered a speech calling Zabaydah “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States,” Suskind reported.

Despite this body of evidence, the Post’s editors still accuse Democrats in Congress who dare cite Bush's lies as engaging in demagoguery.

According to the Post, these Democrats also “obtusely denied any relationship between Iraq and the war on terrorism.” Yet, in leveling that charge, the Post ignores the fact that U.S. intelligence has long acknowledged that it had no credible evidence of operational ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda before the war – which is the point that Democrats have been making.

Indeed, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his secular regime had ruthlessly repressed Islamic extremists. In the Muslim world, Hussein was viewed as a bitter enemy of Osama bin-Laden, not an ally.

The Post’s editors also must know that the Bush administration has misled the American people on this point by “cherry-picking” intelligence, such as arguing that Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had spent time in Baghdad before the invasion.

This argument resurfaced during a public confrontation between Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern in Atlanta on May 4, 2006. Trying to justify the Iraq invasion, Rumsfeld said, “Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the prewar period. That is a fact.”

McGovern countered, “Zarqawi? He was in the north of Iraq in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule. That’s also ...”

“He was also in Baghdad,” Rumsfeld interjected.

“Yes,” McGovern said, “when he needed to go to the hospital. Come on, these people aren’t idiots. They know the story.”

In this confrontation, Rumsfeld had reverted back to pre-war talking points that the administration had used to create the false impression of a link between Hussein’s government and al-Qaeda.

However, no serious intelligence professional believed that Zarqawi seeking medical treatment in Baghdad – with no indication that Hussein’s government even knew about the trip – proved an al-Qaeda tie-in to pre-war Iraq.

Yet, instead of upbraiding Bush for this and other deceptions, the Post’s editors lashed Democrats for doing what newspapers normally are expected to do: call public servants to account for misleading the public.

Long Record

But none of this behavior by the Post should come as any surprise.

The Post’s editors now have a long record of following the neocon line on Iraq and the Middle East, no matter how misguided or dishonest those positions. One Post editorial even repeated some of the Right’s personal smears against Joe Wilson who dared criticize Bush for “twisting” the WMD intelligence on Iraq. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Shame of the Post’s Editorial Page.”]

While refusing to tolerate challenges to Bush’s past words and deeds, the Post’s editors now insist that the United States continue to stand behind Bush as he presses ahead with an indefinite U.S. military occupation of Iraq.

In the editorial, the Post denigrated congressmen who favored a U.S. withdrawal as seeking cheap political gain “predictable in an election year.” The editorial then praised members of Congress who back Bush on keeping U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely as “willing to acknowledge such [hard] truths in the face of electoral risks.”

In other words, anyone who favors withdrawal is a political hack, but anyone who goes along with Bush – and the Post’s editors – is a profile in courage.

Yet, war critics, such as Democratic Rep. John  Murtha of Pennsylvania and Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, have never suggested that the options left by Bush’s disastrous polices are desirable; the selection must be made among the least awful.

But the Post’s editors are back to the same tricks they used before the Iraq invasion, demeaning anyone who offers alternatives to Bush’s approach and dismissing those people as foolish, opportunistic and dishonest. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Politics of Preemption”]

So, instead of creating a diverse environment for the difficult debate that is now needed, the Post’s editors instead continue funneling the decision-making into a narrow corridor leading to whatever the neocons want. As the U.S. death toll climbs past 2,500, there may come a point when the American people demand more from their news media than this manufactured consent.

After all, it’s likely that the Post’s editors don’t know many of the mostly working-class kids sent off to Iraq to kill and be killed. Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt and publisher Donald Graham certainly move in higher-brow circles where airy neoconservative theories remain in vogue.

But these young soldiers are the children of American mothers and fathers; they are the brothers and sisters of other Americans; they deserve better than to be cannon fodder for the egos of a misguided Washington elite.

[For more on the Post’s Iraq War coverage, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Washington’s Ricky Proehl Syndrome.”]


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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