the latest sign of a troubled American democracy, a large majority of U.S.
citizens now say they wouldnt mind if no weapons of mass destruction
are found in Iraq, though it was George W. Bushs chief rationale for
war. Americans also dont seem to mind that Bush appears to have
deceived them for months when he claimed he hadnt made up his mind
about invading Iraq.
As he marched the nation to war, Bush presented
himself as a Christian man of peace who saw war only as a last resort. But
in a remarkable though little noted disclosure, Time magazine reported
that in March 2002 a full year before the invasion Bush outlined
his real thinking to three U.S. senators, Fuck Saddam, Bush said.
Were taking him out.
Time actually didnt report the quote exactly that
way. Apparently not to offend readers who admire Bushs moral clarity,
Time printed the quote as F--- Saddam. Were taking him out.
Bush offered his pithy judgment after sticking his
head in the door of a White House meeting between National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice and three senators who had been discussing
strategies for dealing with Iraq through the United Nations. The senators
laughed uncomfortably at Bushs remark, Time reported. [Time story
posted March 23, 2003]
It now is clear that Bush never intended to avoid a
war in Iraq, a conflict which has so far claimed the lives of at least 85
American soldiers and possibly thousands of Iraqis.
As of Monday, April 7, the U.S. military had located
two suspicious caches of chemicals that were undergoing tests, but still
had not confirmed any chemical or biological weapons. Whatever those
ultimate findings, however, there's little doubt that the long-running
drama over United Nations inspections to ensure that Iraq had rid itself
of weapons of mass destruction was a charade designed to mask Bushs
predetermined course of action -- to test out his new doctrine of
Much of the world from Canada to Cameroon
caught on to the administrations game as it sought to manipulate
international support for an invasion. Bush's lack of credibility on the
world stage left him with only four out of 15 votes on the U.N.
Security Council for a war resolution.
The Bush administrations deceit was so obvious
that even Washington Post columnist David Broder spotted it. Broder, who
has built a career ignoring unpleasant realities about Washingtons
powerful, observed how Bush had choreographed the march to war.
Looking back, the major landmarks of the past year
appear to have been carefully designed to leave no alternative but war
with Iraq or an unlikely capitulation and abdication by Hussein,
Broder wrote on the eve of the war. Noting Bushs post-Sept. 11th
doctrine of waging preemptive war against any nation that he deemed a
potential threat, Broder said, It quickly became clear that Iraq had
been chosen as the test case of the new doctrine. [Washington Post,
March 18, 2003]
Once Bush had chosen the site, there was virtually
nothing the Iraqi government could do to avoid war, short of total
capitulation. As a demonstration of both Americas military might and
his own itchy trigger finger, Bush had decided to make Iraq his Alderaan,
the hapless planet in the original Star Wars movie that was picked to show
off the power of the Death Star.
Fear will keep the local systems in line, fear of
this battle station, explained Death Star commander Tarkin in the
movie. No star system will dare oppose the emperor now.
Similarly, the slaughter of the outmatched Iraqi
military is meant to send a message to other countries that might try to
resist Bushs dictates. At a Central Command briefing, Brig. Gen.
Vincent Brooks took note of this awesome power on display as he described
the decimation or degrading of Iraqi forces south of
Theyre in serious trouble, Brooks said.
They remain in contact now with the most powerful force on earth.
Using the unsavory Saddam Hussein as a foil, Bush was unleashing hell on
This new emphasis on military might to bring other
countries into line -- occurring in tandem with the cheapening of the
democratic debate inside the United States -- may have been described best
by U.S. diplomat John Brady Kiesling, who resigned earlier this year
rather than help give diplomatic cover to the war strategy.
"We have not seen such systematic distortion of
intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the
war in Vietnam," Kiesling wrote in a resignation letter on Feb. 27.
"We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind,
arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq."
Kiesling also grasped the shift to empire away
from republic that is underpinning Bush's policies. The career
diplomat asked, "Has 'oderint dum metuant' really become our
motto?" citing a favorite saying of the mad Roman emperor Caligula,
which means "Let them hate so long as they fear."
"The policies we are now asked to advance are
incompatible not only with American values but also with American
interests," Kiesling wrote. "When our friends are afraid of us
rather than for us, it is time to worry."
Yet the apparent enthusiasm of the American people
for the war in Iraq and their lightly considered acquiescence to this
crossover to imperial power have sent a chilling message to the rest
of the world. That message is that the American people and their
increasingly enfeebled democratic process will not serve as a check on
George W. Bush.
Bush apparently sees his mission in messianic terms,
believing that he is the instrument of God as he strikes at Saddam Hussein
and other U.S. adversaries. In a
profile of Bush at war, USA Today cited Commerce Secretary Don Evans, one
of Bushs closest friends, describing Bushs belief that he was called
on by God to do what hes doing.
Bushs obsession with Hussein also was traced to a
personal loathing for the dictator. Bush is convinced that the Iraqi
leader is literally insane and would gladly give terrorists weapons to use
to launch another attack on the United States, the newspaper reported.
In that conviction, however, Bush is at odds with CIA analysts who
concluded last year that the secular Hussein would only share weapons with
Islamic terrorists if the United States invaded Iraq.
While assessing Hussein as nuts, Bush has not proven
to be a model of psychological stability either. As he readied himself for
the speech announcing the start of the war, he was behaving more like a
frat boy than a world leader undertaking a grave act that would end the
lives of thousands. He pumped his fist and exclaimed about himself,
In private, Bush is even more peevish than usual, USA
Today reported. He rarely jokes with staffers these days and
occasionally startles them with sarcastic put-downs, the newspaper
wrote. Hes a critic who sees himself as the aggrieved victim of the
news media and second-guessers. [USA Today, April 2, 2003]
Bush's behavior seems to be tracking with the
imperial style he unveiled last year to Bob Woodward in an interview for
the book, Bush at War. "That's the interesting thing about
being the president," Bush said. "Maybe somebody needs to
explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody
Still, Bush has succeeded at a central task. Aided by
a U.S. news media that sees ratings gold in its red-white-and-blue
coverage of the war, Bush has taught the American people to relish this
one-sided annihilation of thousands of Iraqi soldiers resisting what they
and much of the world see as an unprovoked invasion of their country.
Bush has orchestrated a fundamental change in the
historic American spirit. Since the days of the Revolutionary War,
Americans have rooted for the underdog. But now, apparently by wide
majorities, the American people are cheering as U.S. troops mow down Iraqi
soldiers today like British imperial forces used modern rifles to cut down
Zulu tribesmen fighting with spears a century ago.
This change in spirit has been picked up in recent
polls, as Americans show little regard for international law except
when its needed to protect U.S. POWs and care little about the
deaths of Iraqis. Many respondents saw no problem in the possibility that
Bush had misled the nation in justifying the war.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 69 percent
of Americans endorsing the war even if no weapons of mass destruction are
found. I would not feel that I had been sold a bill of goods by the
Bush administration, 27-year-old law student Brad Stephens said.
[Washington Post, April 5, 2003]
By contrast, people all over the world are outraged
at the U.S. invasion of Iraq, with opinion polls registering opposition
often exceeding 90 percent.
U.S. public sentiment could change if a low-level
guerrilla conflict drags on inflicting a growing number of American
casualties. But so far the American people seem to be buying into the war
as a kind of ultimate reality TV show.
The TV networks have responded by trying to associate
their news products with Americas fighting men and women. On MSNBC,
there is Americas Bravest, mini-profiles of citizen soldiers. On
Fox News, the pro-war propaganda is unrelenting and unapologetic. CNN,
too, puts a pro-U.S. spin on nearly every piece of war news.
Even when American forces kill innocent civilians
as happened near Najaf where seven women and children were shot to death
amid confusion at a U.S. checkpoint the Iraqi government is held to
blame, for allegedly putting women and children in harms way.
Yet what is disturbing to many war critics about the
American reaction to the war is that Bush secured majority backing by
misleading the U.S. public about key facts and the majority of
American people don't seem to care.
As Lewis H. Lapham, editor of Harpers Magazine,
observed, the pre-war debate in the U.S. was less a reasoned discussion
about a profound redirection of America from a republic toward an empire
than it was agitprop, the intelligence term for propaganda intended
to agitate a population into a pre-determined course of action.
I dont know how else to characterize the Bush
administrations effort to convince the public, Lapham wrote. Citing
the paucity of evidence about Iraqi possession of weapons of mass
destruction. Lapham took note of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfelds
instant-classic rationale for war: The absence of evidence is not
evidence of absence. [Harpers Magazine, April 2003]
When Secretary of State Colin Powell took the
propaganda campaign to the U.N., that absence of evidence was padded with
references to unnamed sources and photos of trucks and buildings
that proved nothing. Powell played an intercepted phone call between two
Iraqis shouting Arabic at one another and then Powell added fictitious
words to the State Departments translation to make the case that the
Iraqis were cleaning out illegal weapons before a U.N. inspection.
Powell read from the supposed transcript of one
Iraqis words: We sent you a message yesterday to clean out all of
the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas. Make sure there is
What the full
State Department transcript said, however, was: We sent you a
message to inspect the scrap areas and the abandoned areas. In the full
transcript at the State Department's Web site, there was no order to
clean out all of the areas and there was no instruction to make
sure there is nothing there. [Powells apparent fabrication of the
transcript was first reported by Gilbert Cranberg, a former editor of the
Des Moines Registers editorial pages.]
In his U.N. presentation, Powell also hailed a
British dossier that he said described in exquisite detail Iraqi
deception activities. The British report, however, turned out to be
cribbed from an outdated student paper on the Internet. Powell further
shredded his personal credibility by insisting that a communique broadcast
by al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, which denounced both the
U.S. intentions to invade Iraq and the Iraqi government, was proof that
bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were in partnership.
Bush executed his own leaps of logic intended to
frighten the American people rather than engage them in a reasoned debate.
He repeatedly cited Sept. 11 in arguing that the terrorist attacks proved
that the U.S. no longer was protected by its two oceans. Yet for anyone
who grew up during the Cold War and remembers the images of nuclear-tipped
Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles, the loss of security from the
two oceans had not occurred in 2001 but more like half a century earlier.
In the days leading up to war, Bush and his
administration continued salting their speeches with bogus allegations,
some of which had been disproved by the U.N. and even U.S. intelligence
agencies. On March 16, Vice President Dick Cheney trotted out the canard
that Iraq had reconstituted nuclear weapons, though the
International Atomic Energy Agency had debunked that key element of the
The IAEA discovered that aluminum tubes that Bush had
argued were meant for centrifuges to produce enriched uranium would not
serve that function. The IAEA also reported that a document about Iraqi
attempts to purchase uranium in Niger was a forgery. It later turned out
that CIA analysts also had doubted the authenticity of the Niger document,
but it was still included in Bushs State of the Union address.
[Washington Post, March 18, 2003]
IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei said
inspections of Iraq had found no indication of resumed nuclear
activity. Yet Iraqs alleged nuclear program remained a scary part of
the case for war.
White Man's Burden
Ironically, as the American political debate is
shaped by endless agitprop, another one of the wars stated goals is to
make Iraq a model of democracy. This argument, promoted by Deputy Defense
Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, has given the bloodshed and destruction in Iraq
an idealistic tinge.
To the administrations critics, however, the
Wolfowitz scheme is possibly one of the most dangerous aspects of the war,
an ideological hubris that foretells other conflicts and the likely
creation of a new generation of anti-American terrorists who will be
determined to drive an imperial U.S. out of the Middle East.
Bestowing democracy on Iraq through war carries a
whiff of previous colonial rationales for empire, a kind of modern-day
White Mans Burden, the claim that imperialism was justified because it
brought civilization to dark corners of the world.
Yet given the deception and jingoism pervading the
American war debate, many in the world may no longer see the U.S.
political system as the preeminent model of democracy, that shining city
on the hill serving as a beacon of freedom and reason. Instead, the world
has the picture of a U.S. president making life-and-death decisions with
schoolboy declarations, such as "Fuck Saddam."
The agitprop, the crude lies and the other
public-relations techniques that have rallied the nation to war make the
beginning of Bushs "crusade" to rid the world of
"evil" look more like the Stupid White Mans Burden.
While at the Associated Press and Newsweek in
the 1980s, Robert Parry broke many of the stories now known as the
Iran-Contra Affair. His latest book is Lost History.