When Amnesty International described the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay as "the gulag of our times," the Bush administration and its supporters took extreme offense. They decried Amnesty for daring to compare Guantanamo to Stalin's camps where political prisoners were either summarily executed or slowly starved and worked to death. Guantanamo, the Bush administration claimed, was a bastion of human rights and necessary for the protection of the U.S.
Regardless of whether Amnesty abused its creative license in describing Guantanamo as a gulag, it is interesting how literally Bush and his apologists took the remark. Applying an interpretive standard of strict construction, Bush & Co. were aghast that a heretofore respectable human rights organization would relegate itself to the dust bin of irrelevance by leveling such incendiary and unwarranted criticism at Bush and his stalwart defense of these United States.
If, however, one applies that same standard of strict construction to Bush's remarks leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, an unfortunate picture emerges. It is a picture of the President of the United States employing the tools of deception and exaggeration to trick a wounded nation into embarking upon an unnecessary, unwarranted, and unwinnable war against a nation that had not done us any demonstrable harm and was incapable of doing so.
Recently released British documents created in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq reveal that, as far as the British were concerned, there was nothing particularly ominous about Saddam's regime. For instance, in a March 22, 2002, memorandum to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Peter Ricketts, the Political Director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, explained, "The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programmes, but our tolerance of them post-11 September." In fact, Ricketts advised Straw that "even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW fronts."
Ricketts' assessments of Iraq's threat to the world was echoed by Straw in a March 25, 2002, memo to Prime Minister Tony Blair. According to Straw, "If 11 September had not happened, it is doubtful that the US would now be considering military action against Iraq." Furthermore, according to Straw, "Objectively, the threat from Iraq has not worsened as a result of 11 September."
Keep in mind, as the Bush administration repeatedly claimed both before and after the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the British, like Congress and the U.N., saw the same intelligence as the U.S. In other words, based upon the same intelligence that was available to the U.S., Britain determined that the threat posed by Iraq had not objectively worsened. Nevertheless, despite Britain's assessment that nothing had changed regarding the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, in the United States, Bush made it sound as though our obliteration by Iraq was at hand.
For instance, in his State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002, Bush classified Iraq as a "growing danger." Throughout September, October, and December of 2002, Bush repeatedly described the Iraqi regime as a "growing" or "gathering" threat. For instance, remarking upon his signing of the Congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, Bush characterized Iraq as a "growing threat" and a "gathering danger." Similarly, in February 2003, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Bush referred to Iraq as a "direct and growing threat." At a nationally televised press conference on March 6, 2003, Bush again referred to Iraq as a "gathering threat."
This is but a sampling of Bush's fear-mongering regarding the threat posed by Iraq.
Strictly construing Bush's remarks about Iraq, and comparing those remarks to Britain's threat assessments of Iraq, the inescapable conclusion is that Bush lied about Iraq's threat to U.S. security. If Iraq was a growing and gathering threat, why did the British conclude that Iraq's threat had not objectively worsened? The British, having reviewed the same intelligence as the Bush administration, came to the conclusion that Iraq had not changed; all that had changed was Britain's and America's tolerance for the Iraqi regime.
Bush's determination that Iraq was a growing and gathering threat, therefore, was not a failure of intelligence. Rather, the failure was in the Bush administration's interpretation and marketing of that intelligence. Regardless of how bad the intelligence on Iraq turned out to be, Bush still falsely sold that intelligence to the American public. In short, the Bush administration reviewed the intelligence regarding Iraq's WMD and then made the conscious decision to exaggerate that intelligence and characterize Iraq as a gathering and growing threat to American security.
While the lies and exaggerations by the Blair administration (acknowledging as it did that Iraq's threat had not worsened) certainly seem to eclipse the Bush administration's, it bears remembering that Britain's assessment of the Iraqi threat was, in the end, far more accurate than that of the Bush administration. As has been well-established by numerous sources since the invasion, Iraq neither possessed WMD nor retained the capacity to produce such weapons. Saddam may have had the desire to restart his WMD programs, but desire without means does not a growing threat make.
From the leaked British documents, it is clear that Bush's impetus for invading Iraq was not really the threat posed by Iraq. Bush's decision to invade Iraq was prompted by September 11. Indeed, as the British noted, without the events of September 11, the U.S. would not have considered military action against Iraq.
Bush saw a country reeling from a horrific attack, hungry for retribution. Exploiting the country's fear, anger, and grief, Bush went after a country ruled by a ruthless despot, but which posed no real threat to the United States. Indeed, Bush knew at the time that the regimes of North Korea and Iran were at least as ruthless and demonstrably more dangerous to U.S. security interests. Thus, Bush's decision to invade Iraq could not have been to protect America or to liberate an oppressed people.
Whether the decision to invade Iraq was based upon a wish to settle old scores, increase Bush's political clout, secure Iraq's oil reserves, or demonstrate America's military might, the evidence simply does not support the Bush administration's stated justifications. Knowing, however, that the country would never support invading a country for such petty reasons, Bush did the only thing he could do to get what he wanted:
Ken Sanders is a writer based in Tucson, Arizona. Visit his weblog at: www.politicsofdissent.blogspot.com/.
Other Articles by Ken Sanders
Other Articles by Ken Sanders