New War Lies
By Robert Parry
September 10, 2003
a healthy democracy, the grave act of going to war wouldnt be justified
under false pretenses and false impressions. Plus, government officials
responsible for spreading false rationales wouldnt be allowed to slide away
from the first batch of lies and distortions to begin offering a new set of
But the United States is not a healthy democracy at
this time. It is dominated by a politician who chooses to manipulate
rather than lead; who would rather trick the people into following him
than engage them in a meaningful debate; who has demonstrated such a
shallow regard for democracy that he took office despite losing the
national popular vote and then only by blocking a full counting of
ballots in one key state.
A healthy democracy wouldnt put up with this
trifling of the peoples will. But in todays United States, there
appears to be little shame in gullibility. Indeed, for some, it is a
mark of patriotism. Others just act oblivious to their duties as
citizens to be informed about even basic facts, even when the
consequences are as severe as those of wartime.
This sad state of affairs was highlighted in a new
Washington Post poll, which found that seven in 10 Americans still
believe that Iraqs ousted leader Saddam Hussein was involved in the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks although U.S. investigators have found no
evidence of a connection.
As the Post notes, this widely held public
misperception explains why many Americans continue to support the U.S.
occupation of Iraq even as the other principal casus belli
trigger-ready weapons of mass destruction has collapsed. [For more
details on the poll, see the Washington Post, Sept. 6, 2003.]
The search for Iraq's WMD apparently has become
such a farce that George W. Bush barely mentioned it during his
nationally televised speech on Sunday.
He slipped into the past tense in saying the former
regime "possessed and used weapons of mass destruction," without
attaching a year or a decade to his statement. Iraq's alleged use of
chemical weapons dates back to the 1980s and its possession of effective
WMD may have ended in the 1990s, according to some information that U.S.
intelligence has received from former senior Iraqi officials.
While downplaying the WMD case, however, Bush
continued to work the subliminal connection between the Sept. 11th
murders and Iraq.
Indeed, after listening to Bush on Sunday juxtapose
references to the Sept. 11th murders, their al-Qaeda perpetrators and
Iraq, it shouldnt be surprising how seven out of 10 Americans got the
wrong idea. Its pretty clear that Bush intended them to get the wrong
In speech after speech, Bush has sought to create
public confusion over these connections. Though no Iraqis were involved
in the terror attacks two years ago and though Osama bin Laden and
most of the attackers were Saudis Bush and his top aides routinely
have inserted references about Iraq and the Sept. 11 terror attacks in
the same paragraphs. They often used unsubstantiated assertions that
Iraq was sharing or planning to share WMD with Osama bin Ladens al-Qaeda
as the connection.
That practice of blending Sept. 11 with Iraq
continued into Bushs speech Sunday night defending the U.S. occupation
of Iraq and asking for $87 billion more to pay for it. Since America
put out the fires of September the 11th, and mourned our dead, and went
to war, history has taken a different turn, Bush said. We have carried
the fight to the enemy.
Given that Iraq was the context of the speech, a
casual listener would assume that Iraq attacked the United States on
Sept. 11, 2001, and the United States was simply hitting back. An
average American, who wasnt steeped in the facts of the Middle East,
would be left with the impression that Saddam Husseins government and
Osama bin Ladens al-Qaeda were allies.
The reality is that Hussein and bin Laden were
bitter rivals. Hussein ran a secular state that brutally suppressed the
Islamic fundamentalism that drives al-Qaeda. Indeed, many of the
atrocities committed by Husseins government were done to suppress
Islamic fundamentalists, particularly from Iraqs large Shia population.
Bin Laden despised Hussein as an infidel who was repressing bin
Laden's supporters and corrupting the Islamic world with Western ways.
Other inconvenient facts that Bush has left out of
all his speeches about Iraq include that his father, George H.W. Bush,
was one of the U.S. officials in the 1980s who was assisting and
encouraging Hussein in his bloody war with Iran to contain the spread of
The younger Bush also doesnt mention that the CIA
and its allies in Pakistani intelligence not Iraqis were involved in
training al-Qaeda fundamentalists in the arts of explosives and other
skills useful to terrorists. That was part of the U.S. covert operation
against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Bush also trusts that the American people will have
forgotten that other little embarrassment of the Iran-Contra Affair,
when the elder Bush and President Reagan were involved in a secret
policy of shipping missiles to Irans government. At the time, Iran's
Islamic fundamentalist regime was designated a terrorist state by the
Nor does the public hear much about how the U.S.
government taught the dictators of Saudi Arabia techniques of
suppressing political dissent to keep that oil-rich kingdom in pro-U.S.
hands. Saudi leaders also financed Islamic fundamentalists in
Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East as part of the Saudi
strategy for buying protection for their dictatorial powers. Out of this
mix of repression and corruption emerged an embittered Osama bin Laden,
a scion of a leading Saudi family who turned against his former patrons.
If Americans knew more about this convoluted
history, they might draw a very different conclusion than the one George
W. Bush wants them to draw. Rather than seeing black-hatted villains who
need a taste of Bushs Western-style justice, the American people might
conclude that Bushs father and other top U.S. officials were at least
as implicated in supporting Osama bin Laden and other international
terrorists as Saddam Hussein was.
Indeed, if the full history were known, Hussein
might appear less like a rogue leader than a U.S. client who was useful
during his violent rise to power but then went awry. Not only did the
CIA collaborate with Husseins Baathist Party as a bulwark against
communism in the 1960s and 1970s, but Hussein personally sought U.S.
advice at key moments from the 1980s to as late as 1990.
In ordering invasions of two neighboring countries
Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990 Hussein may well have believed he
had received green lights from the United States. [For details, see
U.S. intelligence also understood the
implausibility of Hussein sharing WMD with his arch Islamic
fundamentalist rivals. A year ago, a CIA assessment was released
acknowledging this reality. The CIA told Congress that Hussein would not
share weapons of mass destruction with Islamic terrorists unless he saw
a U.S. invasion as inevitable. [For details, see Consortiumnews.coms "Misleading
the Nation to War."]
In seeking to manipulate U.S. public opinion now,
however, the Bush administration has done all it can to lose this
history and these nuances. With a few exceptions, the U.S. news media
has gone along, as journalists appear more interested in proving their
patriotism and keeping their high-paying jobs than telling the
full story. The American people have been fed a steady diet of false
impressions and misleading arguments.
New Half Truths
Now, as the bloody reality of conquering Iraq
intrudes on the pre-war fantasies of happy Iraqis showering U.S. troops
with rose petals, the administrations misleading rhetoric has switched
from exaggerating the danger posed by Saddam Husseins government to
exaggerating the gains attributable to the invasion.
New half-truths and lies are quickly replacing the
old ones, lest Americans begin to wonder how they got fooled by the
earlier bogus rationales. In Bushs speech Sunday night, he highlighted
two of these new arguments for a long-term military occupation of Iraq.
One of the new reasons is that the resistance to
the U.S. occupation can be attributed to two groups die-hard Hussein
loyalists and foreign terrorists slipping into Iraq. Some of the
attackers are members of the old Saddam regime who fled the battlefield
and now fight in the shadows, Bush said. Some of the attackers are
foreign terrorists who have come to Iraq to pursue their war on America
and other free nations.
But what Bush leaves out is that there is a third
force in Iraq: nationalist Iraqis who resent foreign occupation of their
country. Many of them had no fondness for Hussein and may have welcomed
the overthrow of the brutal dictator.
Some of these nationalists may have served in
Iraqs army while others appear to be young Iraqis who have begun
fighting the U.S. occupation of Iraq much as young Palestinians have
battled the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Other Iraqi fighters
may be driven by revenge for the thousands of Iraqis killed in the U.S.
This likelihood of widespread resistance was known
by Bush and his advisers before the war. U.S. intelligence agencies
warned Bush administration policymakers before the war in Iraq that
there would be significant armed opposition to a U.S.-led occupation,
according to administration and congressional sources familiar with the
reports, the Washington Post reported on Sept. 9, 2003.
But this information shared the fate of other facts
that didn't support Bush's propaganda themes. It disappeared. The
American people now are supposed to believe that the resistance is only
a mixture of Saddam dead-enders and foreign terrorists.
The second new myth is that by killing terrorists
in Iraq and elsewhere, the U.S. homeland will be made safer. The surest
way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he
lives and plans, Bush said Sunday night. We are fighting that enemy in
Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own
streets, in our own cities.
While this argument is another not-so-subtle appeal
to the residual fears from Sept. 11, 2001, and Americas hunger for
revenge, it is not a logical formulation. Indeed, there is no reason to
believe that killing Iraqis and other Middle Easterners in Iraq wont
incite other people to attack Americans in the United States or
elsewhere. Indeed, many savvy U.S. military analysts expect just such a
response as revenge for the deaths inflicted by Bushs invasion of Iraq.
It also is clear that Bush still is resisting the
time-tested lessons of counterinsurgency -- that blunt force is no more
likely to achieve peace than is abject cowardice, that peace and
security are achieved through a combination of factors: a measured
application of force combined with a sensible strategy for achieving
political justice and economic improvements.
History also teaches that there are limits of
national power no matter how noble a cause might be, that in geopolitics
as in personal lives, the road to hell is often paved with good
In Bush's televised speech, however, he presented
the ongoing war as a choice of weakness or strength, good or evil, with
no sense of the subtleties of history or the gray areas of past
diplomacy. We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the
use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness, Bush
Beyond the speech, the Bush administration has
issued reports that engage in such obvious P.R. tricks that they must
assume the American people have the sophistication of pre-schoolers.
For instance, to commemorate Aug. 8, the 100th day
since Bush donned his flight suit and declared mission accomplished,
the White House released a report entitled Results in Iraq: 100 Days
Toward Security and Freedom. The paper, which offered 10 reasons in 10
categories to support the thesis, declared substantial progress is
being made on all fronts.
The artificial construct, requiring 10 reasons in
each of the 10 categories, led to much stretching of facts and some
repetition of examples. For instance, Reason No. 9 under signs of
cultural rebirth used a quote from a member of Baghdads city council
declaring that if you want to civilize society, you must care about
education. The same trite-and-true quote crops up again three pages
later as another example in another category.
But more significantly, the report repeats much of
the elliptical reasoning and selective intelligence used before the war
to exaggerate Iraqs WMD threat and to connect Iraq with al-Qaeda.
Saddam Husseins regime posed a threat to the
security of the United States and the world, the report asserts. The
old Iraqi regime defied the international community and 17 U.N.
resolutions for 12 years and gave every indication that it would never
disarm and never comply with the just demands of the world.
There is no acknowledgment in the report that U.S.
troops have failed to find any WMD. Nor is there any reference to the
fact that U.N. weapons inspectors, such as Hans Blix, believed that Iraq
was demonstrating greater compliance in the weeks before the U.S.
invasion or that the invasion was carried out in defiance of a majority
on the U.N. Security Council.
The White House report also continues to use
selective information to support the administrations case, while
leaving out contrary facts or a fuller context.
For instance, the report states that a senior al-Qaeda
terrorist, now detained, who had been responsible for al-Qaeda training
camps in Afghanistan, reports that al-Qaeda was intent on obtaining WMD
assistance from Iraq. The report leaves out the fact that nothing
resulted from this overture.
The report also repeats the story that an al-Qaeda
associate, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, went to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical
treatment, but leaves out that no evidence has surfaced that the Iraqi
government was aware of his presence or cooperated with him.
Similarly, the report notes that a safe haven in
Iraq belonging to Ansar al-Islam a terrorist group closely associated
with Zarqawi and al-Qaeda was destroyed during Operation Iraqi
Freedom. Left out is that the Ansar al-Islam base was in a northern
section of Iraq that was outside the control of the Baghdad government
and under the protection of a U.S. no-fly zone.
But the report, like Bushs Sunday speech, is just
another indication that the administration never wanted a real debate
about its war policy in Iraq. The goal has always been to tilt the
evidence often with a dose of public abuse for anyone who asks too
many questions so the American people can be herded like sheep into
Bushs desired direction.
As the nation plunges deeper into a costly and
bloody war, there is little about this process that resembles a healthy
or even meaningful democracy. Though Bush claims that his goal is to
bring democracy to Iraq, he apparently thinks very little of the process
at home. Rather than invite a full debate, he tries to rig the process
to manufacture consent.
Bushs contempt for an informed electorate on the
issue of war in the Middle East also doesnt stand alone. In December
2000, his respect for democracy didnt even extend to the basic
principle that in a democracy, the candidate with the most votes wins.
Not only did Bush lose the popular vote to Al Gore
by more than a half million ballots, Bush blocked a full and fair
counting of votes in Florida for the simple reason that he was afraid of
losing. Instead, he ran to his fathers powerful friends on the U.S.
Supreme Court and got them to shut down the troublesome recount, which
had been ordered by the state supreme court. [For details, see
Bush Did Steal the White House."]
But Bush is only partly to blame for this steep
decline in American democratic traditions and for the nation's stumble
into the dangerous quicksand of a Middle East occupation.
As in any democracy even a troubled one it
remains the ultimate responsibility of the people to shoulder the burden
of citizenship, which includes getting the facts and acting on them.
That responsibility also demands that the people hold politicians
accountable when they lead the country to war with lies and distortions.