Many of the clues have been apparent for three
years – and some were reported in outlets such as our own
Consortiumnews.com in real time – but only recently have new
revelations clarified this obvious reality for the slow-witted
mainstream U.S. news media.
The latest piece of the puzzle was reported by
Charles J. Hanley of the Associated Press in an article on June 4
describing how Bush’s Undersecretary of State John Bolton orchestrated
the ouster of global arms control official Jose Bustani in early 2002
because Bustani’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW]
was making progress toward getting arms inspectors back into Iraq.
If Bustani had succeeded in gaining Iraq’s
compliance with international inspection demands, Bush would have been
denied his chief rationale for war, even before U.S. military divisions
were deployed to the Persian Gulf. Bustani had made himself an obstacle
to war, so he had to go.
On the surface, the Bush administration needed
other reasons for ousting Bustani. So the arms control official was
accused of mismanagement and Washington threatened to withhold dues to
the OPCW if Bustani remained.
Even at the time,
skeptics of Bush’s motives charged that the real reason for Washington’s
bullying was the threat that Bustani posed to Bush’s war plans. But a
senior U.S. official dismissed those suspicions as “an atrocious red
herring.” [Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2002]
So, U.S. officials called
an unprecedented special session of the OPCW to vote Bustani out, only a
year after he had been unanimously reelected to a five-year term. A vote
of just one-third of the member states was enough to boot Bustani on
April 22, 2002.
Three years later, former
U.S. officials have stepped forward to tell the AP that Bustani’s
firing indeed was sparked by his insistence on pushing Iraq and other
Arab states to accept a ban on chemical weapons, which would have opened
those countries to international inspections.
“It was that that made Bolton decide he [Bustani]
had to go,” said retired career diplomat Avis Bohlen, who served as
Bolton’s deputy. (Bolton is now Bush’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to
“By dismissing me,”
Bustani told the UN-sponsored OPCW in a failed plea for his job, “an
international precedent will have been established whereby any duly
elected head of any international organization would at any point during
his or her tenure remain vulnerable to the whims of one or a few major
Bustani warned that
“genuine multilateralism” then would succumb to “unilateralism in a
Bustani’s words proved prophetic. With Bustani and
the OPCW out of the way, Bush and his advisers pressed ahead with their
invasion plans based on assertions to the American people that Hussein
was hiding dangerous weapons of mass destruction and defying
international demands for inspections.
Hanley noted that if Bustani’s Iraq plan had worked
out in 2002, “Bustani’s inspectors would have found nothing, because
Iraq’s chemical weapons were destroyed in the early 1990s. That would
have undercut the U.S. rationale for war.” [AP, June 4, 2005]
Another recent disclosure has added more new pieces
to the puzzle of Bush’s pre-war deceptions.
According to the so-called Downing Street Memo,
British Prime Minister Tony Blair – two weeks before Bustani’s firing –
secretly agreed to Bush’s plan for invading Iraq. In other words, the
die had already been cast for war, said the
memo, which recounted a meeting on July 23, 2002, between Blair and
his top national security officials.
At that Downing Street meeting, Richard Dearlove,
chief of the British intelligence agency MI6, also described his trip to
Washington in July 2002 to discuss Iraq with Bush’s National Security
“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,” Dearlove
The memo added, “It seemed clear that Bush had made
up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet
decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his
neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North
Korea or Iran.”
Recognizing that an unprovoked invasion would
violate international law, Blair and his advisers in July 2002 favored
first pursuing arms inspections, the route that the Bush administration
had already obstructed when sought by Bustani.
“We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to
Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help
with the legal justification for the use of force,” said the Downing
Street Memo, which was disclosed by the London Sunday Times on May 1,
2005. “The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference
politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN
So, to appease Bush’s hunger for war while seeming
to respect international law, Blair counted on Hussein’s defiance of a
new UN demand for WMD inspections.
But Hussein didn’t fall into that trap. In November
2002, Hussein let UN inspectors back into Iraq where they searched
dozens of sites – including some suggested by U.S. intelligence – but
found no WMD.
The Bush administration reacted to the negative WMD
findings by instigating war hysteria inside the United States. The UN
inspectors were ridiculed as incompetent; Bush’s domestic critics were
called traitors; European allies urging patience were denounced as the
“axis of weasels”; French wine was poured into gutters; and “French
fries” were renamed “Freedom fries” in flag-waving diners across
As Bush’s followers were lusting for war in March
2003, however, UN inspectors were citing good cooperation from the
Iraqis as the search for WMD continued. The inspectors’ greater obstacle
soon became Bush’s insistence on an invasion.
“Although the inspection organization was now
operating at full strength and Iraq seemed determined to give it prompt
access everywhere, the United States appeared as determined to replace
our inspection force with an invasion army,” the UN’s chief weapons
inspector, Hans Blix, wrote in his memoir, Disarming Iraq.
Despite the UN inspectors’ negative WMD findings
and Bush’s failure to win a war resolution from the UN Security Council,
Bush launched the invasion on March 19, 2003. After three weeks of
fighting, U.S.-led forces toppled Hussein’s government and Bush’s
popularity ratings soared.
For weeks, the U.S. triumphalism from the Iraq
victory trumped any lingering questions about the invasion. But as Iraq
slid into chaos and insurgents began to kill American soldiers, Bush
started reconstructing the war’s history to justify his actions.
On July 14, 2003, Bush
said about Hussein, “we gave him
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
In the following months, Bush repeated this claim
in slightly varied forms. On Jan. 27, 2004, Bush said, “We went to the
United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution – 1441 –
unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy
your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such
programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not
let us in.”
Though the U.S. national press corps had witnessed
Blix’s UN inspections of Iraq and certainly knew that Bush’s historical
revisionism was false, American reporters failed, repeatedly, to
challenge Bush’s account.
Even ABC’s veteran newsman Ted Koppel fell for the
administration’s spin, using it to explain why he – Koppel – thought the
invasion was justified.
“It did not make logical sense that Saddam Hussein,
whose armies had been defeated once before by the United States and the
Coalition, would be prepared to lose control over his country if all he
had to do was say, ‘All right, UN, come on in, check it out,” Koppel
said in a July 2004 interview with Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now.”
As Koppel obviously was aware, Hussein had told the
UN to “come on in, check it out,” but even prominent journalists were
ready to put on blinders.
Not even disclosures by administration insiders
seemed to matter. When former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and
ex-counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke described Bush’s early
obsession with invading Iraq, Bush’s defenders fended off the accounts
by questioning the motives of the witnesses. O’Neill and Clarke must be
bitter or jealous or delusional or simply liars, the Bush defenders
In this climate of deception and self-deception,
Bush was free to continue presenting his false version of history to the
American people, as he did during the presidential debate with Sen. John
Kerry on Sept. 30, 2004.
“I went there [the United Nations] hoping that once
and for all the free world would act in concert to get Saddam Hussein to
listen to our demands,” Bush said. “They [the Security Council] passed a
resolution that said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. I
believe when an international body speaks, it must mean what it says.
“But Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming.
Why should he? He had 16 other resolutions and nothing took place. As a
matter of fact, my opponent talks about inspectors. The facts are that
he [Hussein] was systematically deceiving the inspectors. That wasn’t
going to work. That’s kind of a pre-Sept. 10 mentality, the hope that
somehow resolutions and failed inspections would make this world a more
Virtually every point in Bush’s war justification
was wrong. Hussein indeed had disarmed. The UN resolutions had achieved
their goal of a WMD-free Iraq. The UN inspectors weren’t finding WMD
because the stockpiles weren’t there. Bush’s own post-invasion
inspection teams didn’t find WMD either.
Yet, in contrast to how the U.S. news media pounced
on alleged distortions by Vice President Al Gore in
Campaign 2000, reporters exacted no meaningful penalty from Bush for
deceptive statements to tens of millions of Americans who had tuned in
This pattern has continued to the present.
Responding to the Downing Street Memo on May 16, 2005, White House
spokesman Scott McClellan got away with another reformulation about
Hussein’s “defiance,” as McClellan denied that Bush and Blair had a
secret pact in spring 2002 to go to war.
“Saddam Hussein was the one, in the end, who chose
McClellan said. “Only then was the
decision made, as a last resort, to go into Iraq.”
Bad ‘Clue’ Game
Observing the behavior of the national news media
over the past three years has been like watching incompetent players in
the mystery game “Clue” as they visit all the rooms and ask about all
the suspects and weapons, but still insist on guessing at combinations
that are transparently incorrect.
Indeed, the major U.S. news outlets appeared to
have been so cowed by the Bush White House that they only grudgingly
reported on the Downing Street Memo last month – and then only after the
leaked document had become a cause celebre in Great Britain and on the
So far, there’s also been next to no bounce on the
AP’s reporting about the real motive behind Bustani’s ouster in April
2002. That story would seem to be the final clue – if one were needed –
to prove that Bush has consistently lied about how and why the United
States went to war in Iraq.
At this point, a trickier question might be why the
mainstream U.S. news media has performed so badly for so long.
To some extent, the news media’s reluctance to
solve the Mystery of Bush’s Iraq War Lies may be explained by a
well-founded fear of retaliation from Bush’s powerful defense apparatus
– from the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page to the screamers on Fox
News and right-wing talk radio.
But there may be another motive, a fear of the
logical consequence that would follow a conclusion that Bush willfully
deceived the American people into a disastrous war that has killed
almost 1,700 American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis.
If that conclusion were to be accepted as true, it
would force mainstream editors into a tough decision about whether they
should join the supposedly fringe position advocating Bush’s
Certainly, the ignominy of impeachment would stand
out as a logical remedy for a leader who so grievously violated the
public trust and sent so many American soldiers to unnecessary deaths.
If Bush gets away unpunished for his lies, there’s
another risk to the future of the American political system: Bush’s
assertion of virtually unlimited authority for taking the nation to war
could be cited by future presidents as a precedent for their own
But, thus far, the U.S. news media has found it
much easier not to connect the dots.