Monday, September 22, 2003

12 Years of Diplomacy
Was the invasion of Iraq really a last resort or just unfinished business?
By David McNair

In a speech to the United Nations on the day after the first anniversary of 9/11, President Bush officially demonized and targeted Saddam Hussein in the war on terror. He called the dictator a "grave and gathering danger" to world peace and security and demanded that the nations of the world deal with him immediately. Bush suggested that Iraq might have links to groups like Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda and said that America's greatest fear was that terrorists would "find a short cut to their mad ambitions when an outlaw regime supplies them with the technologies to kill on a massive scale." But President Bush didn't stop there. "Should Iraq acquire fissile material," he went on to say, " would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year."

Thus began the massive build-up of arms and rhetoric around Iraq. Ships were deployed to the Gulf, and Bush Administration officials were deployed to the news talk shows to talk about the clear and present danger that Saddam posed. Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. was charged with forming the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) to set up a strategy for selling the war against Iraq. Asked by reporters why the President was waiting until September to emphasize the Iraq problem, Card famously replied, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." To push their product, Card formed a "strategic communications" task force and began emphasizing two main themes: Iraq's nuclear capabilities and its ties to al Qaeda. To those who wanted more evidence of this supposed threat, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said we couldn't wait for a smoking gun because we "don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." And even before Bush raised the nuclear specter in his U.N. speech, Vice President Dick Cheney said he foresaw a time in which Hussein could "subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail." Later on, Cheney said, "We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we've gotten this from firsthand testimony from defectors, including Saddam's own son-in-law." (But according to official U.N. transcripts of the son-in-law's testimony, the opposite was true. He said all efforts to acquire nuclear weapons had ceased before the start of the Gulf War in 1991.) Then Cheney said definitively, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld asked listeners on CBS's Face the Nation to "imagine a September 11th with weapons of mass destruction," which would kill "tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children." In November 2002, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, Chief of U.S. Central Command, said that failing to act might bring "the sight of the first mushroom cloud on one of the major population centers on this planet." As we moved closer to war, the Bush Administration became even more confident. "We know for a fact there are weapons there," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. And then, of course, came the infamous 16 words in Bush's State of the Union speech about Iraq acquiring uranium from Africa, which turned out to be false.

Along with summoning the image of a mushroom cloud over America, the Bush Administration also continued to link Hussein with al Qaeda at every opportunity, often in the same breath. "Both of them need to be dealt with," Bush told reporters at the White House in September 2002. "You can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror." When Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was asked by reporters traveling with him in Warsaw if there was a connection between al Qaeda and Iraq, he said, "I have no desire to go beyond saying the answer is yes." Shortly after Bush's speech to the U.N., National Security Advisor Rice told reporters there was evidence that Saddam Hussein had sheltered al Qaeda terrorists in Baghdad and helped train some members in chemical weapons development, even though various intelligence officials admitted there was no definitive evidence to support that claim. Between his U.N. speech in Sept. 2002 and his State of the Union address in Jan. 2003, President Bush claimed there was a direct connection between Iraq and al Qaeda in speeches and appearances in Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico, Colorado, New Hampshire, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri, and Arkansas. And in the State of the Union, Bush said, "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda." Although careful never to directly assert that Saddam had anything to do with 9/11, the Bush Administration strongly alluded to that possibility in the months leading up to the President's State of the Union address. But all this was only a prelude to Bush's prime-time address to the nation on March 17, 2003, in which the President announced the decision to invade 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 declared. "Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed."

Suddenly, after a 12-year hiatus, Saddam was again the world's Hitler, miraculously replacing Osama bin Laden as our public enemy number one.

Six months and one invasion later, U.S. soldiers in Iraq asked Defense Secretary Rumsfeld how the search for these lethal weapons was going. An evasive Rumsfeld, who was on a 5-day trip to Iraq and Afghanistan and who had always insisted that such weapons existed, told the troops that they would continue to "work the problem" and that "there were several hundreds of suspected WMD sites. Nothing actionable in the way of intelligence, but suspected." That's a long way from mushroom clouds and "leaves no doubt." In fact, it tends to leave little doubt that the Bush Administration wildly exaggerated the threat that Saddam posed.

The question is, why?

Read more