Updated: A decade ago, President George W. Bush launched an unprovoked invasion of Iraq and probably no one person could have stopped him. But one who might have given Bush pause was Colin Powell, who instead joined the war chorus, prompting a debate between his ex-chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson and anti-war activist David Swanson.
By David Swanson (Updated with comment from ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern on Feb. 21, 2013)
When I wrote about MSNBC’s documentary, Hubris, on Iraq war lies this week, I linked to an earlier blog post of mine that drew heavily on a House Judiciary Committee report on the same topic, as well as to Lawrence Wilkerson’s recent debate with Norman Solomon on Democracy Now!
When Brad Friedman reposted my Hubris review, he suggested I ask Wilkerson for a response. I did and here it is:
“Several misleading and even spurious bullets and headlines that make strong claims that are not supported in the surrounding narrative. For example, no one ever DID warn [then-Secretary of State Colin] Powell about Curveball, in fact quite the opposite. This particular source — billed as an Iraqi engineer who had defected — was George Tenet’s — the DCI’s–strongest weapon. And incidentally, the title “Curveball” was never heard until well after the 5 Feb  presentation [before the United Nations Security Council by Powell].
“Your use of [the State Department’s intelligence unit] INR’s assessment of ‘weak’ [intelligence to support the Iraq War] repeatedly, is weak itself. INR was at the time one of 15 intelligence entities in the US intelligence architecture at the federal level. (Add Israel France, the UK, Jordan, Germany, et al, and of course you get even more).
“INR’s assessments were often viewed — indeed still are — as maverick within that group (and were particularly so viewed by George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin. Indeed, INR’s insistence on putting a footnote in the October 2002 NIE with regard to its doubts about Saddam’s having an active nuclear weapons program was only grudgingly acknowledged and allowed by Tenet. And in truth, INR itself concurred in the overall NIE’s finding that chems and bios [chemical and biological weapons] existed (and the NIE was the root document of Powell’s 5 Feb presentation).
“I have admitted what a hoax we perpetrated. But it actually spoils or desecrates a fair condemnation of what is already a bad enough set of misstatements, very poor intelligence analysis, and — I am increasingly convinced, outright lies — to take the matter to absurdity with one man, in this case Powell.
“To see my point dramatically, one must realize that whether Powell had given his presentation or not, the President [George W. Bush] would have gone to war with Iraq. That doesn’t relieve Powell or me or any of us who participated in preparing Powell of responsibility; it simply places the bulk of that responsibility squarely where it should rest.
“You, Ray McGovern, and I will never reach accord on this I’m certain; but I must say that just as I may have biases from my long association with Powell, I believe both of you should examine your biases with regard to the man. Just as it was very difficult for me to face the fact I had participated in a hoax, it probably is just as difficult that you two admit you may be too aggressively critical of Powell. Both our conditions are recognizably human and yours more forgiveable than mine to be sure. Lawrence Wilkerson
Here’s my reply:
“Larry, Thanks for this response. … Here’s my reply to your reply.
“Whether or not anyone told Powell of Curveball’s reputation, Powell’s own staff, the INR, told him the claims were weak, the claims that came from Curveball and from numerous other sources. The INR told him the claims were weak and questionable and even implausible.
“Powell used fabricated dialogue [in his UN presentation]. He used evidence from a source who had admitted all the weapons had been destroyed years ago, but failed to mention that bit. Again, here is the catalog of bogus claims: http://www.consortiumnews.com/2011/021811a.html
“You yourself in Hubris state that claims you’d rejected were put back in. That is a moment to resign in protest, not to move forward and dismiss the INR, the State Department’s own experts, as ‘maverick.’
“When the Pentagon and the White House build a transparently fraudulent case for war, rejected by countless experts, many nations, and much of the public, the State Department’s job is to support fact-based analysis regardless of whether it is ‘maverick.’
“You recently accused Norman Solomon on DemocracyNow! and all other truth tellers of that time of having failed to warn you — as if we weren’t shouting into every available microphone. If word had slipped through to you, it seems you would have rejected it as ‘maverick.’
“This is highly discouraging. If analysis within our government consciously engages in groupthink, where will we find the whistleblowers necessary to prevent the next war?
“Please do not imagine that any of us suppose the President wasn’t intent on going to war at all costs. It was the transparency of that intention that created the largest public protest in world history. But to suggest that Powell and you did no harm by supporting a war that might have gone ahead even if you’d resisted is a complete breakdown in morality.
“I don’t believe blame works that way. Blaming Bush more doesn’t blame Powell or you less. It just blames Bush more. Blame is not a finite quantity born of a drive for vengeance and distributable to a limited number of people. Blame is what we each deserve when we fail to take the best actions available, as explained here. David Swanson.
Update: Response from Ray McGovern
There are very few people still around with the kind of integrity that leads me to give them virtually implicit trust (allowing for the fact that all of us are nonetheless human). One such person is Larry Wilkerson.
It seems to me that a lot hinges on whether Powell and Wilkerson could bring themselves to believe that [CIA Director George] Tenet and [his deputy John] McLaughlin would lie to their faces about Curveball. Tenet is the mother of all con men, and one can argue that Powell and Wilkerson should have been quite aware of that.
Still, I can readily believe that Powell and Wilkerson found it difficult to conclude that Tenet was making stuff up on such a critical issue, that — assured of backing by Cheney — Tenet and McLaughlin would feel free to let Powell dangle softly in the wind … for the greater cause, of course.
Sizing up Powell, Tenet and McLaughlin might well have concluded that, as long as Cheney was around to protect them (and that he would badmouth Powell to the President if Powell stepped out of line), Powell would not dare accuse them of outright lying. If that was part of their calculation, they appear to have been right.
What incredible fear Cheney inspires — still! Let’s see what Powell says if Cheney ever dies!
I looked into all this at some length earlier this month. For what it’s worth, this is how I came out:
David Swanson’s books include “War Is A Lie.” He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook.