“Iraq had no stockpile, no biological agents, no chemical feedstocks, no plants to manufacture them and no delivery systems to fire them. Saddam was no threat to us and had no weapons of mass destruction to pass to terrorists. Brushing the UN inspectors aside in order to go to war on false intelligence was a colossal blunder."
-- Robin Cook, the British Foreign Minister who resigned to protest the Iraq war
How many “gotcha” articles have you read lately? Unless you’ve spent the last year on Gilligan’s island -- it should now be clear that Bush lied. Unfortunately, a lot of people who “get it” are missing the point. The question is no longer whether Bush lied but so what if he did. It’s no longer a matter of whether we should trust the president. Rather, the emphasis should be on how Bush dodged his WMD credibility problem and whether he used public funds in the process.
Charitable folks are still inclined to believe that Bush lied only to protect the great unwashed from dealing with imperial realities. As Irving Kristol, the godfather of the neo-cons, would say: “There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work.”
Listen up, children. If the President is guilty of anything -- it is faulty judgment. He just made a bad call based on his best instincts and faulty risk/reward calculations tabulated by the CIA. He meant no harm to the empire and he is in no position to turn back the clock.
That above line of reasoning depends entirely on the proposition that there was an “intelligence failure” -- not an “intelligence fix”. That proposition was blown out of the water with the recent publication of a pre-invasion British memo that clearly establishes that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
This could be the start of a very messy affair. Rep. John Conyers and 87 other members of Congress are already demanding answers from the White House. If this story takes its natural course, we are about to discover that Bush not only lied about the WMDs, not only fixed intelligence but also misappropriated public funds to cover up his lie and pass it off as an “intelligence failure”. In the process, revelations of great import are going to become part of the public record. Get ready for some startling headlines about the role of the mass media in both fixing intelligence and the subsequent cover-up. Prepare yourself for a long parade of complicit politicians from both major parties knee deep in the muck of bamboozling the American people. Bush’s conspiracy was not the work of one man or one party or one paper. This was a family affair.
The makings of this conspiracy started with a faith based foreign policy outlook that projected a short “cakewalk” in Iraq followed by a triumphant victory parade that would drown out any further discussion of the phantom WMD stockpiles. Invading Iraq was expected to be a brief and inexpensive project in terms of both blood and treasure. The architects of the war were certain that the outcome would dazzle all the cynics who doubted the invincibility of the indispensable nation.
For starters, Bush was counting on an operation that ran up a leaner tab than his father’s Gulf war. Mitch Daniels -- the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget -- forecast a total cost of “between $50 billion and $60 billion” for the entire quagmire. Bush got similar estimates from Dov Zakheim, the Comptroller of the Defense Department. By comparison, the bill for the first Gulf War in 1991 was $80 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.
Of course, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia paid the bill for daddy’s war. But even on that count, many neo-cons were certain that a grateful Iraq -- under American administration -- would be more than happy to reimburse the United States on some kind of “oil-for-invasion” program.
So much for the dollar estimates. One can only speculate on the Pentagon’s worst-case scenario for the cost in American lives. They certainly didn’t count on losing over 1,600 soldiers and carrying home 15,000 of their wounded comrades. In all probability, they calculated potential casualties by looking backwards at recent conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and the first Gulf war. The war against Serbia resulted in one or two casualties. Kosovo was probably the first major military encounter in history where the victor didn’t lose a single soldier. As for Afghanistan, the initial casualty list was 13 American casualties -- mostly special forces and CIA agents. Less than 300 American soldiers and marines gave their lives in the first Gulf War -- when the Iraqi army was reputed to be the fourth largest military in the world.
It is often said that generals plan for the last war. So, based on recent conflicts, how many men did the Pentagon expect to lose? That remains an official secret. An intelligent guess would be less than 150 -- half of them lost to accidents and friendly fire. As for Iraqi lives, the Pentagon continues to maintain that they “don’t do body counts.” If they can’t be bothered to keep a tally of actual verifiable Iraqi victims -- it follows that no estimates of potential Iraqi casualties were made before unleashing the “shock and awe” campaign.
So, when the president stood under the “mission accomplished” sign and declared an end to major hostilities, he had every reason to gloat. American troops had suffered 137 casualties and Baghdad had capitulated with hardly a shot fired. Up to that point, his calculations were right and most Americans lined up to march in his victory parade.
It’s hard to imagine that the existence or non-existence of WMDs would have remained an issue if the war had really ended on 5/01/2003. And that’s exactly what Bush was counting on. At that point, who bothered to notice that Saddam had no links to Osama Bin Laden? In the American press, even anti-war skeptics succumbed to triumphalism and began publishing their mea culpas and anointing Bush as a worthy reincarnation of Churchill.
An aura of invincibility surrounded the president as he delivered his V-day speech on board the Abraham Lincoln. At that precise moment in the Iraq saga, few Americans doubted that the president was on the right side of history. Fewer still ventured to ask why Saddam didn’t use his non-existent WMDs when his capital was under siege. After all, wasn’t he the same evil fella who was poised to attack major American cities with his fictional but deadly arsenal of inter-continental anthrax missiles? Hadn’t Tony Blair warned his British subjects that England could potentially come under attack in 45 minutes?
Yet, in the chaos that followed the fall of Baghdad, there was a curious lack of concern in Washington and London about Saddam’s fictional lethal arsenal. Couldn’t they have fallen in the wrong hands? Why didn’t Bush or Rumsfeld seem worried?
For those eccentric souls who continued to pay attention to the missing WMDs, there were early hints that the administration had told a big fib. A month after Bush told an ecstatic nation that the war was over, Lt. General James Conway confessed that, “It was a surprise to me then, it remains a surprise to me now, that we have not uncovered weapons. We were simply wrong.” Conway was the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. He honestly believed he was on a mission to protect the United States from imminent danger. Because of the 9/11 atrocity, many zealous young marines under Conway’s command marched into battle with vengeance in their heart -- certain that Saddam had planned the assault on the WTC and the Pentagon.
It is not clear if Conway was taken in by the preposterous notion that Saddam had links to Al Qaeda. But he obviously fell for the neo-con WMD hoax.
Conway was not alone. Many other senior officials were also victims of the WMD scam. An elaborate campaign of mass deception involving neo-con operatives in the Office of Special Plans and Judith Miller clones in the mass media had pretty much convinced the nation that the administration had concrete evidence to back up its WMD claims.
Individual experts like Hans Blix and Scott Ritter, both seasoned UN weapons inspectors, tried in vain to contradict the prevailing conventional wisdom. For their efforts, they were publicly defamed. Honorable men like Robin Cook made valiant attempts to alert the public to the WMD hoax. But even now -- after their assessments have proven correct -- their voices are still muzzled. Instead, the “experts” from the neo-con think tanks that sold the war are still paraded before CNN and FOX cameras to market more jingoistic mass media junk food.
In fact, the WMD hoax was so successful that many Americans continue to believe that chemical stockpiles have already been located. On the same day that General Conway confessed he was baffled by the absence of WMDs, George Bush was assuring the public that “those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them.”
These days, the administration rarely mentions WMDs. The new lie is that we launched the war as a noble mission to promote democracy in the Middle East and far off lands like Uzbekistan. Apparently, we invaded Iraq from American bases in Kuwait to set up a “democratic model” in Baghdad to convince the Emir of Kuwait to allow his female subjects to vote in sham elections for a rubber stamp parliament.
Confused? Here is more of this “democratic wave” nonsense. According to Bush, the Iraqi democratic experience was instrumental in convincing our Saudi allies that the time was ripe to experiment with a few municipal elections -- where only men can vote for half the council seats. Had it not been for George’s war, the male citizens of Saudi Arabia could never have dreamed of having half a say in how their garbage is collected.
Now, a few simpletons might be tempted to ask why we didn’t set up a “democratic model” in Kuwait after we liberated it in 1991. Simple questions and simple answers are never on the foreign policy menu -- especially when it comes to the Middle East.
In any case, we need to forget about Bush’s latest “democracy” distraction and remain focused on the WMD hoax. Before we resume our argument about whether Bush went to war for oil or whether he was motivated by the prospect of exporting a few more trillion “petrodollars”. Before we pile up another zillion articles proving that Bush had a secret agenda to make the “Greater Middle East” a Disney Land theme park for Ariel Sharon and to protect the absolute monarchs of the oil plantations. Before we move on -- we need to go back to the WMD scam.
If the non-existent WMDs were a hoax -- then the “intelligence failure” was also a scam. Which means all the subsequent investigations of “faulty intelligence” were very expensive diversionary tactics. Billions of dollars were wasted on congressional investigations, independent commissions and the post-invasion WMD searches conducted by David Kay. If you add it all up – you come up with a very hefty price tag for what amounts to a cover-up for the individual acts of a few deceptive and delusional policy makers. This amounts to a pre-meditated illicit misappropriation of public funds for the sole benefit of the miscreants who designed the WMD hoax to launch a disastrous war of choice. In essence, public funds were spent to protect the individual reputations of civil servants who -- at the very minimum -- were already guilty of total incompetence, gross negligence and ideological fanaticism.
Now, there is nothing illegal about a president getting the country into a quagmire or making a bad call on issues of war and peace. And there is nothing extraordinary about a politician who shades the truth or has a secret agenda that has nothing to do with his public pronouncement.
Lying about WMDs to launch an illegal and unnecessary war and committing war crimes in the process is par for the course. In that sense, Iraq is very similar to Vietnam. The WMD hoax is a carbon copy of the Gulf of Tonkin ruse. Abu Ghraib is no different from the notorious Tiger Cages. And Fallujah is a repeat of the Christmas bombing of Hanoi.
Because The United States has a very unique legal system, no American president has ever paid a price for rotten foreign policy decisions that result in the slaughter of innocents abroad. Such “executive misjudgments” don’t even qualify as misdemeanors. However, in our glorious litigious past, we have seen fit to impeach one president on account of a stain on a blue dress and another one on account of conspiracy to cover-up a third degree burglary at a posh hotel.
On balance, though, the American legal system continues to retain a fair amount of integrity. For example, even George Bush faces felony charges if he lays his paws on public funds to cover up the tracks of arrogant, ignorant and delusional policy makers. Consider the fact that some of these very expensive cover-up activities took place while Bush was running for re-election. Did Bush “sex up” his image and dodge his WMD credibility problems by manufacturing the “intelligence failure” hoax? If so, a reasonable case can be made that he used public funds to finance his re-election campaign.
It has taken two years to convince a vast majority of Americans that Iraq had no WMDs. Many of us, perhaps a critical mass, are now aware that there was an “intelligence fix” -- not an “intelligence failure”. That was no mean feat. Had it not been for a few dedicated alternative journalists who followed this story, the mass media bulldozers would long ago have shredded the WMD files.
For good reasons, the mainstream press is ignoring the London memo to make additional room for their latest Michael Jackson scoop. They are not trying to protect the president -- they are just taking care of business. Let’s not forget that the WMD hoax was essentially a propaganda campaign that would never have succeeded without the able assistance of key participants at the New York Times and the Washington Post. So, hold your breath if you expect any assistance from those quarters. By the time this gets to court, expect to see the fourth estate pleading the fifth.
This saga still has a few unwritten chapters. We can and should continue engaging in endless arguments with George Bush and his partisans about the costs and dubious benefits of his war policies. It is always worthwhile to have an honest public debate about whether a chief executive has sound judgment. If he has miscalculated -- and he has -- we might get a little satisfaction by proving that Bush doesn’t have a clue about the Middle East.
But at this point, we ought to get the legal system cranking to bring justice to those responsible for this “colossal blunder.” I am not a lawyer, but all those involved in this conspiracy are well advised to seek legal counsel. Lying about WMDs and launching a war of choice might not qualify as a crime. But it’s still a felony to misappropriate public funds to finance an “intelligence failure” cover-up. I say we sue the bastards.
Other Articles by Ahmed Amr
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