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Empire Notes"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been. I can't imagine why you'd even ask the question." Donald Rumsfeld, questioned by an al-Jazeera correspondent, April 29, 2003.
"No one can now doubt the word of America," George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 20, 2004.
A Blog by Rahul Mahajan
In the late 19th-century folk classics of Joel Chandler Harris, there is an episode where the wily Brer Rabbit, his main character, is caught by Brer Fox. He’s stuck to a “Tar Baby,” (the racism is palpable) and Brer Fox is going to eat him up. So Brer Rabbit repeatedly says, “Do anything. Roast me. Skin me. Eat me. Just don’t throw me in that briar patch.” After much importuning, the sadistic Brer Fox throws him in the briar patch and, of course, Brer Rabbit gets away.
We are now witnessing a replay, with the Bush administration as Brer Rabbit, the stunning lack of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as the Tar Baby, and an odd coalition of Democratic politicians and the last forlorn remnants of the middle-of-the-road mainstream press, usually referred to by conservative ideologues as “the liberal media.”
Within weeks of David Kay’s report that the
And now George W. Bush is right in the middle of the briar patch: a “bipartisan commission,” appointed by himself, that will investigate those intelligence failures.
And where, in all of this, is that ugly little three-letter word – lie (no, not oil – that’s for another day)?
The archipelago of lies about WMD is now too massive for mortal mind to comprehend, but let’s attempt a synoptic review.
First, a little background. Remember David Kay’s comment that having UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors on the ground in Iraq in the 1990’s was like “crack cocaine” for the CIA – i.e., an extremely powerful source for finding out about Iraq’s WMD, especially when combined with other U.S. intelligence sources and with the U.S. monitoring equipment that inspectors were induced to place, illegally, in sites they visited? Well, the inspectors were withdrawn at Bill Clinton’s behest in December 1998 in order to carry out the Desert Fox bombing campaign.
Although it was claimed that Desert Fox was because of lack of Iraqi cooperation with inspections, this is untrue. In fact, the UNSCOM report on the inspections that was sent to the Security Council bears no resemblance to the preface that Richard Butler wrote, in consultation with the White House. Looking at the targeting decisions in Desert Fox, as Kenneth Pollack did in The Threatening Storm, it’s clear that Desert Fox was a “regime change” operation. It was also clear to analysts that once the inspectors were withdrawn they wouldn’t be let back in.
No intelligence failure there; just a
deliberate decision to
sacrifice the best means of ensuring that
Now, on to what Howard Dean would call the
“red meat;” that
is, if he went this deep in his criticisms (which are still far beyond
those of the frontrunning candidates).
Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s son-in-law, defected
More important, however, is this fact: in
1995, Kamel told
inspectors, “I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons
biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed.” All that
said, was technical documentation and production molds. This testimony
deliberately covered up for eight years, and only exposed in a Newsweek
by John Barry on
Kamel was no paragon of honesty, although,
given the fact
that he wanted to tear down Saddam’s regime at the time, this statement
count as an admission against interest and should therefore be given
anyway. Still, the point is that part of his testimony was used and the
concealed. This, of course, is a lie that certain weapons inspectors,
And how about the much-famed aluminum tubes,
the heart of Colin Powell’s February 5, 2003, presentation to the
Council? His claims, repeated by numerous other officials before and
were that the tubes must be for use in centrifuges for uranium isotope
separation, not, as the Iraqis claimed, for artillery. In an August 9
Washington Post article by Walter Pincus and Barton Gellman, one can
Also in that speech, Powell claimed that
Dick Cheney, who has lied more, and more consistently, than anyone else, said on March 16, 2003, "We believe he [Saddam] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” If by “we” he meant himself and his own personal psychic astrologer, perhaps it was a true statement; but no analyst had ever said anything of the kind. In fact, since nuclear weapons activities give off radiation, they are very easily detected, and inspectors had been doing on-site visits for four months at the time he made this claim.
George W. Bush has done Cheney one better,
that the United States went to war because Saddam wouldn’t let
the media has treated this as not really a lie because it’s so
untrue. He also told us about the famed attempts to buy uranium from
claim that was based on a crude forgery that, an IAEA inspector said,
debunked in a few hours on Google (among the errors: the wrong name for
Foreign Minister). He also told us, in a speech on October 7, 2002,
was evidence that there were plans for Iraq’s“unmanned aerial
“could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons,” to be used
“missions targeting the United States.” Experts in Air Force
at the idea of those vehicles being able to dispense biological agents
damaging way, but more important, the maximum range of the vehicles is
miles; perhaps the State Department’s geography experts could have told
And one can go on and on. The exercise gets
boring after a
while. In addition to all the details, administration officials had a
consistent pattern of stating as absolute fact things that were at best
vaguest of conjectures. As was reported by the U.N. in 1999, there were
discrepancies when inspectors tried to reconcile
There was also deliberate manipulation of
the truth without
outright lying. For example, Powell said that
Bush said, in his famous 16 words, “The
has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities
And through it all, there was the constantly repeated implication that they had far more evidence, they just couldn’t reveal it for “national security” reasons.
In fact, the lies of the administration are too well established for there to be any doubt. Sometimes they lied outright; sometimes they came up with a claim and pressured intelligence analysts to sign off on them. As early as October 2002, Vincent Cannistraro, former CIA head of counterintelligence, said, “Basically, cooked information is working its way into high-level pronouncements.” Although the CIA didn’t have much of a way to gather useful intelligence on the ground (contrary to popular opinion, intelligence-gathering is not the primary function of the CIA – the lion’s share of the budget goes to “operations”), there was plenty of intelligence from U.N. monitoring, both up to 1998 and from November 2002. There was no intelligence failure, period.
What’s happening to the press is very
Pincus, who co-wrote the earlier mentioned article laying out the
administration’s nuclear lies, more recently wrote, “even
hawks who had backed the administration on Iraq said it is not credible
administration to deny that there was an intelligence failure." As
out by Joshua Micah Marshall, Jim Hoagland, a columnist for the
Post, recently wrote that the Administration is guilty of “credulity,
chicanery;” i.e., the administration was deceived by the CIA. Earlier,
“Bush has until now relied little on the
Journalists critical of Bush, like Pincus,
for Bush, like Hoagland, are coming together around a systematic
the selling of the
And, at the end of the day, the result will
be exactly what the
administration wants. In
Here, there’s no BBC to put on the rack; the
is so supine that there’s no point in disciplining them. The Bush
administration does, however, hate the idea of impartial analysts who
evaluate the facts and then report on them so that rightwing ideologues
decide what to do; they want rightwing ideologues reporting to them on
as well. And this is true even though the CIA is not exactly a group of
bunny-huggers; overthrowing democratically elected governments, funding
murdering thugs like the contras in
The formation of this new commission will become the next step in the mission of the administration to dismantle all institutions, inside and outside government, and reshape them in the image of the radical right. This is so even though many of the institutions they’re attacking are already conservative. They’ve almost finished the job with the broadcast media; “compassionate conservatism” is about doing the same with the institutions of the social safety net; they’ve done it with corporate lobbyists (see “Welcome to the Machine,” by Nicholas Confessore, http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0307.confessore.html); they want to do it with the CIA and the military; and, scariest of all, they’re doing it with the very infrastructure of democracy, the counting of the vote.
Just as we have seen spectacular recantations by past insider critics of the Bush administration, like John DiIulio, Newsweek recently mentioned a partial recantation by Alan Foley, a CIA analyst, who reportedly (The New Republic, December 1-8, 2003) was “bullied and intimidated” on the question of Iraq’s attempts to get uranium from Niger. Now he says he wasn’t pressured. Expect much more of this to come as the investigation evolves.
It’s not as if all of this evolving brouhaha was planned from the beginning by the administration so that they’d get to the point of a presidentially-appointed commission to reshape the CIA. It’s just that the administration knows its long-term plans and is confident in its ability to respond opportunistically to crises as they arise and to spin them in the right way, knowing, as it does, that its spin will be uncritically broadcast far and wide and drown out everything else.
The real intelligence failure is ours, in allowing all of this to happen. After months of the truth about the administration’s lies coming out, an October poll showed that 60% of the nation thought of Bush as “honest and trustworthy.” That’s an intelligence failure among the media, among the political opposition, and among all of us who watch passively as a very dark new world order is ushered in, not with a bang but a whimper.
Rahul Mahajan is publisher of Empire Notes. His latest book, “Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond,” covers U.S. policy on Iraq, deceptions about weapons of mass destruction, the plans of the neoconservatives, and the face of the new Bush imperial policies. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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