After two long years of dodging and weaving, the Bush administration is finally being held to account for fixing, twisting, exaggerating and cherry picking pre-war WMD intelligence. So far, the White House has responded to these charges with pleas of innocence and assertions that hostilities were initiated only as a last resort and based on the best information available at the time. Since the Libby indictment, the administration and its media cronies have launched an aggressive campaign to convince an increasingly skeptical public that Bush honestly believed that Saddam possessed WMD stockpiles and was behind the 9/11 atrocities.
One positive aspect of this new White House strategy is that Dick Cheney is no longer free to insinuate that Iraq had lethal arsenals of unconventional weapons. Until very recently, Cheney continued to propagate the ridiculous notion that Saddam was involved in the planning and execution of the 9/11 terrorist assaults. This is no small retreat for a man who claimed that “It's been pretty well confirmed that [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack.” This, after all, is the very same Cheney who told us on Aug. 26, 2002 that “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”
We should all be thankful for small favors but there remains the single most important question: did the administration get the intelligence wrong or did they deliberately and systematically cook the books?
When George Bush claims both ignorance and naiveté -- who amongst us can provide convincing evidence to prove a contrarian thesis? To make a case that Bush and Cheney systematically lied us into a war of choice, one has to provide iron clad proof that the pre-war intelligence was fabricated, manipulated and distorted and that both men were fully aware of the cherry picking operation going on in their front yard.
By all accounts, Cheney was personally involved in the intelligence gathering process and spent an inordinate amount of time in Langley. The CIA analysts -- despite enormous pressure -- refused to give credibility to the neocon contention that Saddam was behind 9/11 or in any way connected to Al Qaeda. So, why then did our President of Vice and Torture continue to spread the unfounded and incredible idea that Iraq was providing aid and comfort to Bin Laden and that Saddam had set up WMD training camps for Al Qaeda terrorists? More to the point, why is it so reprehensible and irresponsible to call Cheney a serial liar?
Despite the daily accumulation of evidence that the pre-war intelligence was deliberately corrupted, the White House continues to market the Rovian spin de jure which goes something like this. “We had credible intelligence that Saddam had WMD stockpiles. After 9/11, we couldn’t take the chance that he might hand them over to Bin Laden. Other intelligence agencies around the world concurred with our assessments and we shared all available information with Congress before they voted to support the invasion. If we were wrong, so was the rest of the world. We were taken in by the Chalabi crowd and had no reason to suspect that they were duping us. In any case, what’s done is done. We have to look forward -- not rehash the past and waste time on revisionist history. Our mission is to defeat the insurgents and we will not waiver until we achieve a decisive victory. We can’t publicly define the parameters of victory because that will only embolden the enemy. If we falter, Iraq will fall in the hands of Al Zarqawi and become a base for exporting terrorism. It is irresponsible and reprehensible to suggest that this administration lied to the American people. We intend to vigorously contest this vicious slander which originated from the usual suspects on the radical left coast. Trust us. We did not deliberately fix the intelligence to make a case for a war of choice. We went to war as a last resort and only after all other options had been exhausted. This smear campaign is providing aid and comfort to the enemy and confusing our brave lads who are fighting the good fight to spread the blessings of democracy to the people of the Middle East.”
You have to give Karl Rove and his cronies credit for their sheer audacity and their Stalinist discipline in communicating the party line. Even when their defense strategy rests entirely on a claim of stupidity and ignorance, they like to show off their talents for spin. It doesn’t hurt that they have legions of embedded pundits to amplify their message. Time will prove that Bob Woodward and Judith Miller were no aberrations. Even as you read these words, dozens of Woodward and Miller clones are busy doing stenography chores for Rove in yet another campaign to evade answering some very basic questions. In the CNN and FOX accounts, you might detect a few slight deviations from Rove’s talking points. But inevitably, these neocon media operatives will all deliver the same essential message that “it is an outrageous canard to suggest that the president deliberately and systematically deceived the American people.”
When senior public officials make insistent and repetitive assertions about any given subject, people assume that they know what they’re talking about. When their point of view is reinforced by the politicians of the ‘loyal opposition’, their contentions become unassailable. Add to the mix a few dozen mass media operatives who act as uncritical conduits for their message and you end up with the gospel truth.
It is easy enough to prove that Cheney is a one man canard factory. But contesting the claim that Bush is just a gullible fool is a heavier burden. It doesn’t help that many of the president’s detractors on the left continue to lampoon the man as an idiot -- the kind of idiot who managed to convince 90 percent of Americans that they faced an imminent danger of witnessing Iraqi nuclear mushroom clouds from their front porch.
Caught between Iraq and a hard place, the administration is now challenging its critics to provide hard evidence that the president was a willingly and competent participant in the plan to deceive the public with false claims that Iraq posed a national security threat to the United States of America. Let me predict that their final point of retreat will be to claim that Bush was duped by a professional liar -- the most powerful President of Vice in American history.
Blaming the whole Iraqi mess on Cheney and his neocon advisers doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Let’s start with the fact that Bush had access to the same intelligence as the Brits. It’s fair to assume that the Robin Cook was privy to the same intelligence as Tony Blair. I single out the British Foreign Minister because the administration invariably places MI5 at the top of the list of foreign intelligence operatives that allegedly concluded that Iraq had WMD capabilities and posed an imminent threat to the “civilized world.” Let’s not forget that the president’s infamous “yellow cake” uranium claim was attributed to the British government.
To debunk the “every body thought Iraq had WMDs” argument, it is worth quoting the late Robin Cook at length.
It seems almost cruel to remind those who sold the case for the Iraq war of what they claimed at the time. But it is necessary, because they appear to be forgetting it themselves. President Bush was definite and apocalyptic: "Saddam is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to intimidate the civilized world." Donald Rumsfeld went one better: "We know where they are." On the eve of war, Tony Blair was equally specific that Saddam Hussein had the real thing: "Saddam has chemical and biological weapons."
The case that George Bush and Tony Blair made for war was that containment had failed and that we must launch a pre-emptive strike before Saddam used his imaginary weapons. Indeed, the claim that Saddam already had weapons of mass destruction ready for use was central to their argument that military action must be taken urgently. As Donald Rumsfeld warned in alarmist terms, "within a week, or a month, Saddam could give his WMD to al-Qaida."
If Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, there was no urgent need to invade Iraq. George Bush and Tony Blair could have given Hans Blix the extra few months for which he pleaded to finish his job and prove Saddam was no threat. What created real urgency in Washington to start the invasion may have been the dawning realisation that Hans Blix was about to remove their pretext for war.”
When the phantom WMD stockpiles failed to materialize, Robin Cook was fully entitled to point out that the exhaustive CIA search "establishes that 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."
Both George Bush and Tony Blair knew what Robin Cook knew. The president also had contrarians among his staff -- like Colin Powell -- who debunked most of the suspect intelligence cooked up by Scooter Libby and the neocon operatives in the Office of Special Plans. We now know that Bush set up the White House Iraq Group and specifically tasked it with the mission to market the war in August of 2002. We have the Downing Street Memos. And we have reports that the American and British military started escalating military strikes against Iraq long before the actual invasion.
Still, the President continues to maintain that he made his decision to go to war based on the same intelligence that was provided to Congress. It is not my purpose to defend Kerry, Clinton, Biden, Lieberman, or any of the other willing enablers in the “loyal opposition.” They are as deeply entrenched in the war party as Dick Cheney. Whether they were recipients of the same intelligence as Bush would hardly have made a difference. They supported the war for purely opportunistic reasons and because they march to the tune of the Likudnik neocons embedded in the Democratic Party. If you want to know why the Democratic Party ignores the overwhelming opposition to the war among its rank and file, educate yourself on the Democratic Leadership Committee, the neocon party within the party. The neocons in the DLC call themselves neo-liberals. Same difference. Until very recently, the Kerry-Clinton-Biden-Lieberman DLC cabal was prodding Bush to escalate the conflict in Iraq by sending more troops. Notice how quickly they distanced themselves from Rep. John Murtha when he proposed an orderly and swift withdrawal of American troops.
Even so, the claim that Congress had access to the same intelligence as the president is pure nonsense. Most of them apparently made their decision to authorize the war after reviewing a five-page summary of intelligence that had already been thoroughly corrupted by Douglas Feith, Lewis Libby, Paul Wolfowitz and the Office of Special Plans.
At this late date, why is it so important to prove that Bush was a key player in orchestrating the intelligence fixing operation? Because as the leader of the wrecking crew that created the disaster in Iraq -- he is hardly equipped to lead the clean up operations. In the effort to cover up his role in the WMD hoax, Bush continues to make discredited arguments about why we invaded Iraq. The president’s judgment about where we are and where to go from here is impaired by his desire to conjure up an end game that can be sold as a ‘victory.’
Consider Bush’s argument that casting a little light on the corruption of pre-war intelligence would undermine the military. Here is my two-word rebuttal: John Murtha. The congressman’s defection from the war party is significant precisely because the powers that be understand that he was talking for the brass. If the generals believe that this venture is going badly, we should all pay attention. As a general rule, military officers do not involve themselves in public policy debates. But their concerns about the folly of “staying the course” have obviously been communicated to Murtha -- who has a well deserved reputation of being a defense hawk and a voice for the rank and file. Murtha is also a man who keeps the company of generals and he is privy to their private assessments of the situation on the ground.
The president continues to pedal the silly notion that if American forces withdraw from Iraq -- Zarqawi and Bin Laden would move in to fill the vacuum. First of all, let’s not forget that we have a Jihadist element because we have an insurgency that came about as a result of the invasion. Even by Pentagon estimates, the foreign jihadists represent less than five per cent of the insurgents. If they choose to continue causing havoc after an American withdrawal, the prospect that they could eventually take over Iraq is too negligible to merit serious consideration. Their support among the population is very limited and directly tied to the presence of foreign occupation forces on Iraqi soil. Just like in Bosnia, the strength and role of these elements has been vastly exaggerated and they will most likely vanish from the scene once the occupation ends.
If there is one legitimate concern about what could eventually happens in Iraq -- it is the prospect of civil strife. It is not quite clear whether the continued presence of foreign troops increases or diminishes the chances of a civil war that might already be in progress. It doesn’t help matters that the coalition has allowed the police and army to be infiltrated by the Badr brigades and the Peshmerga. Entire units of the new Iraqi army are now made up of Shiites or Kurds. The Police moonlight as death squads and are brazen enough to operate torture centers right in the heart of Baghdad.
One of the obligations of an occupation army is to provide security for the population under their control. In Iraq, the British and American forces are mainly concerned with protecting their own soldiers. We have tens of thousands of soldiers in Iraq primarily because we have 160,000 military personnel to protect. The main mission of American forces in Iraq is ‘force protection’. It is a policy that has resulted in rules of engagement that contribute to high civilian casualties. That, in turn, ends up fueling the insurgency.
In any case, even at the risk of civil war, the Iraqis want an end to foreign occupation. According to a recent poll commissioned by the British government, 80% of Iraqis want an immediate end to the occupation. Which puts them on the same wave length as the 63% of Americans who want to bring the troops home. The recent Cairo meeting between representatives of all Iraqi factions also called for the withdrawal of coalition forces. So, just two weeks before a national elections, Iraqi politicians are competing for the votes of the vast majority of Iraqis who want an immediate end to the occupation. That should tell us something.
The bottom line is that Bush doesn’t have a leg to stand on. There was no good reason to invade and there is no sound rationale for the continued presence of foreign forces on Iraqi soil. The real fear in the Bush administration is that exiting now would leave Iran as the only winner in this conflict. Try to explain that to the American people.
Whether he likes it or not, Bush will have very little say in the final outcome of what transpires in Iraq. The leadership of the Shia community has long standing ties with Tehran. No amount of occupation is likely to dent such intimate relationships. These are connections that go back all the way to Ayatollah Khomeni who founded and funded SCIRI, an exile paramilitary organization that has emerged as the largest party in post-war Iraq. The SCIRI leadership and it military wing -- The Badr Brigades -- were recruited, trained and armed by Iran. I don’t think the prospect of leaving Iraq in the hands of Tehran’s Iraqi allies is exactly what Bush had in mind when he decided to topple Saddam. Just chalk it up as another one of those unintended consequences of ‘pre-emptive’ wars.
Which brings us back to why it is so vital to investigate the pre-war corruption of intelligence. The price of this quagmire in blood and treasure has been too high and the rewards are nowhere near the delusional expectations of the neocon prophets. To borrow a neocon phrase, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Lewis Libby, Michael Ledeen and Ken Adelman were ‘wildly off the mark.’ One of their patron saints and willing enablers was non other than Dick Cheney. Another was Donald Rumsfeld. Yet another was George Bush, the man ultimately responsible for their foul produce.
And then there is the small matter of how George Bush decided to conduct the war. Starting with the “Shock and Awe” campaign that incinerated thousands of innocent Iraqis, the president moved on to construct torture chambers in Abu Ghraib and then turned his attention to converting Fallujah into a modern day Guernica. The country is crawling with forty thousand foreign mercenaries who are a law unto themselves and are not subject to the Geneva Convention. Sectarian Shia and Kurdish militias have been empowered and allowed to infiltrate the ranks of the new Iraqi Army and the Police. They now roam the streets on death squad errands fully camouflaged in Iraqi army and police uniforms. After failing to find Iraqi WMD stockpiles, Bush imported American white phosphorus ammunition, depleted uranium shells, napalm and cluster bombs and used them as weapons of urban warfare. In the process he squandered the lives of over 2,100 young Americans and uncounted thousands of Iraqis.
Even at this late date, we have very little definitive information on why Bush really invaded Iraq. But we do know how he obtained a carte blanche license to create this catastrophe. He did it by convincing the American public that we were going to disarm Saddam of his WMD arsenal before he handed them to Bin Laden. It was the president who was the tip of the spear in the campaign to systematically bombard us with incessant lies about Iraq’s military capabilities. He consistently and consciously exploited the tragedy of 9/11 to scare the nation into war.
Let there be no doubt, that there is readily available hard evidence of Bush and Cheney’s culpability in corrupting the intelligence gathering process. As Lawrence Wilkerson has made clear, there are also paper trails to document how the American military was authorized to use torture and ignore the Geneva Convention. Unfortunately, much of the evidence is still locked up in the Office of Special Plans. For two years, the administration’s congressional allies have obstructed the investigation into this rogue Pentagon operation where the intelligence hoax was fabricated. For very good reasons, Bush has invested considerable effort derailing all inquiries into the activities of this WMD fib factory. Bush owns the OSP just as surly as he owns the broken Iraqi pottery. The OSP is the address where you will find answers to who fabricated the WMD hoax, why they felt the need to cook the books and who authorized the operation? There you will also find details of the elaborate propaganda campaign that involved wholesale leaks to neocon operatives in a few favored media outlets.
We won’t hear the fat lady sing until we see Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney testifying under oath about the OSP. When that day comes, the fat lady will sound a lot like George Bush.
Notes in the Margin: The cover-up of the OSP would not be possible without the active collaboration of Arthur Sulzberger, Donald Graham, Rupert Murdoch and other media tycoons. The fact that the OSP scandal is not playing 24/7 on CNN and FOX is certain proof that these lap dogs don’t hunt and won’t bark unless they are on patrol with an officially sanctioned war party. If anything good can come out of this useless war, let us hope that it will permanently cripple the monopoly media franchises held by the New York Times, The Washington Post, FOX and CNN. The Iraq war enriched the coffers of the embedded media barons who, along with Halliburton, stand accused of war profiteering. Does anybody seriously believe that Judith Miller and Bob Woodward were not intimately familiar with the Office of Special Plans or the White House Iraq Group? Is it even sane to assume that Woodward and Miller were the only mainstream “journalists” actively marketing the invasion of Iraq? Without naming a single source, Woodward and Miller can write entire books about the OSP and the systematic corruption of intelligence. But that’s not part of their job description.
* If you want to know what Judith Miller really does for a living, read this Rolling Stone article on Miller and James Bamford and how they sold the war.
Other Articles by