Revolutionary Worker #1208, July 27, 2003, posted at rwor.org
In September 2002, the U.S. government started a campaign to whip up a war with Iraq. When she was asked what "smoking gun" evidence the U.S. had against Iraq, Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice argued on September 8, 2002: "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." Such ominous phrases were repeated over and over for six months, including by Bush in his major Cincinnatti war speech.
The fear of nuclear attack they generated is a major reason why some sections of people in the U.S. supported a war. In October 2002, Congress voted to give Bush the power to launch his war. And, according to Time magazine, over 180 members of Congress explicitly cited the threat of Iraqi nuclear weapons as a reason for their yes vote.
The charges were a lie. In March 2003, just before the U.S. invasion started, UN inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that the only public "evidence" for the charge that Iraq had tried to buy raw uranium was crude cut-and-paste forgeries riddled with factual errors. Someone manufactured "evidence" to suggest that Iraq was buying raw uranium "yellow cake" from the African country of Niger--and the British and American governments were using these forgeries to justify their war plans. Most people did not notice the exposure of this forgery--it was reported in the small print of the mainstream media. And meanwhile the general public was fed a river of war hype and hysteria.
But now, after the war, it is hard for the U.S. government to hide that they have not been able to produce any sign of these alleged weapons. And so there are mounting questions around the world, especially in Britain, about all the claims of "evidence" and "certainty" about danger from Iraq. The scandal is threatening to topple Britain's Prime Minister Blair.
On July 6, a career U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson IV revealed in a prominent piece in the New York Times editorial pages that he had traveled to Niger in February 2002 to investigate this claim of Iraqi uranium purchases. He reported to his superiors (including Vice President Cheney) that "it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place."
Niger is an African neocolony heavily dominated by France. Among the things Wilson reported is that Niger's uranium is tightly controlled by a foreign "consortium" that includes representatives from Germany, France, and Japan. No negotiations for raw uranium yellow cake could have gone down without their knowledge.
The day after Wilson's column blew the whistle, the Bush White House had to admit (finally, reluctantly) that the Niger charges were false. And after they admitted it was untrue, they quickly started saying it really didn't matter, and perhaps it really was true.
On July 13, Condoleeza Rice said, "It is unfortunate that this one sentence, this sixteen words, remained in the State of the Union. But this in no way has any effect on the president's larger case about Iraqi efforts to reconstitute the nuclear program and, most importantly, the bigger picture of Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction program."
In fact, there is no "larger case" documenting Iraqi nuclear efforts. The Bush team inserted the Niger charge and the aluminum tube fantasies into their speeches because they had nothing else , and because hyping nuclear fears seemed the single most potent argument to convince many people to support the war.
After insisting they had hard reliable "evidence" (before the war), they are now reduced to lame and unbelievable "maybes." British Prime Minister Blair literally made the British parliament gasp when he recently argued that his Niger charges are "not beyond the bounds of possibility." Secretary of State Powell tried a similar argument, saying that Bush's claims about Iraqi negotiating were, at the time, "not totally outrageous." ( CBS News , July 12)
Bush's own attempt at a defense has been to say the intelligence he receives is "darn good"--which, we assume, is between "kinda good" and "really really good."
Now, each day of scandal is producing new details about who in the government was involved in creating a web of lies about Iraq. Top U.S. officials were, one after another, month after month, making speeches charging Iraq with making nukes. Meanwhile, we now know, U.S. intelligence experts were reporting behind the scene that such charges were almost certainly not true.
All this is building as a controversy inside the ruling class. The issue (in their inner- ruling class family feud) is whether this war was handled right, and whether the people in charge are being careful enough with so-called "presidential credibility."
One after another, Democratic senators who supported the war now timidly ask, How did such an obviously false statement about African uranium make it into a Presidential State of the Union speech?
Meanwhile the question of whether this war was "justified" is being gently handled with kid gloves. The Democratic senators carefully repeat that they still support both the war and the occupation -- and think it all was justified. And they carefully avoid the word "lie" (referring instead to "errors" and "exaggerations").
They ask: Who pressured the intelligence services to accept that questionable charge in Bush's speech? And they say that, since (in their shamelessly pro-war view) this attack on Iraq was well justified, why did someone in power think it was necessary to exaggerate?
Well, in fact, those questions themselves are a coverup for this war and this government-- because the answer to those questions is well documented and should be rather obvious. The U.S. government lied about reasons for attacking Iraq because it could not have mobilized support for the war based on its real motives.
"For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on."
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Vanity Fair , July 2003
The clique around President Bush argued for conquering Iraq for over a decade--since 1992 when it became clear that Saddam Hussein was not going to be overthrown by a military coup after Iraq's defeat in the first Gulf War.
Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his top assistant Paul Wolfowitz had planned and lobbied for that war inside the ruling class. When the ruling class put these men in supreme power in 2001, and when the September 11 attacks happened, they got their chance to carry out their strategic plans.
But to win public support for this attack on Iraq, they needed to make the broad public in the U.S. believe the invasion was an act of defense. They had to turn reality upside-down--convince the world that Iraq was about to attack the U.S., when in fact this U.S. government was preparing to attack Iraq. They had to portray Iraq as strong and belligerent, when in reality its military was weak and besieged.
"They just cut the toes to fit the shoes," as the saying goes. They lied.
When the Bush government started its public campaign for war, in the summer of 2002, it claimed over and over that Saddam Hussein could use incredibly powerful weapons to devastate the U.S. In particular, they had to claim he probably had nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons (i.e., the famous "weapons of mass destruction"--WMD)--and that he had the means of delivering such weapons to U.S. soil (including especially "links to terrorists" like al-Qaeda). In fact, many of their charges were not true. And the essence of their case was a Big Lie. (A detailed analysis of these lies is in the four-part RW series "Lies the Government Told Us," available online at rwor.org/resistance.)
The Iraqi government had tried to develop various modern weapons systems in the past. It was (and still is) possible that the Iraqi military had some rudimentary stockpiles or raw ingredients left over from such weapons programs.
But the truth is that Iraq was never a serious real-world threat to the U.S. "homeland"--and had not threatened any neighbor for over a decade. Iraq had been seriously weakened by defeat in 1991 and by a decade of brutal sanctions. It had been inspected by hostile teams sent by the UN, and many kinds of weapons had been publicly destroyed. And everyone watching (including U.S. intelligence and UN inspectors) knew that Iraq now lacked major components for creating and deploying WMDs.
For example, even if Iraq had gotten uranium yellow cake from Niger, it lacked the massive and sophisticated factories needed to turn raw materials into bomb components.
But the U.S. government needed people to be afraid of Iraq, so they lied about Iraq's nuclear program. And, as we have documented in these pages, they lied about every detail of their "case" when they claimed they had "evidence" of significant chemical or biological stockpiles. British Prime Minister Blair lied when he claimed that the Iraqi military could launch such weapons "in 45 minutes." And, in particular, they lied about nukes: Iraq had no credible nuclear weapons program, no nuclear bomb material, and certainly no bomb.
The U.S. had zero evidence that Iraq was building nukes, so they crudely invented some. Bush promoted the phony Niger claims. Both Bush and Powell claimed that some orders for aluminum tubes (designed for mortar-like battlefield launchers) had to be for some non-existent nuclear centrifuge that could turn yellow cake into enriched uranium. They all lied about the Iraqi ability to "deliver" weapons.
"It is 16 words, and it has become an enormously overblown issue."
Condoleezza Rice, White House National Security Adviser, CNN, July 13
"The President of the United States is not a fact-checker."
Senior administration official speaking to reporters, July 18
As their "case for war" unravels, the question is being asked: "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" The White House has responded with a blizzard of lame excuses.
The latest argument is that Bush just wasn't paying close attention to evidence--he isn't (it is said) some detail-oriented "fact-checker." Apparently, if Bush didn't bother to study his own arguments for war, no one should blame him for mouthing lies approved by others.
CIA Director Tenet then announced he was responsible for not forcefully insisting that the Niger charges be removed from the president's January speech. But it is leaking out that Tenet's "confession" is just a ploy to protect the top war planners, like Condoleezza Rice and Dick Cheney, who knew perfectly well the Niger claims were baseless. Tenet reportedly told senators that the White House insisted the lie be inserted, despite the evidence that it was false.
Meanwhile, government partisans in the media claim that Bush's statement can be seen as "technically true"--since he said that "the British government has learned..." It is the same "Clintonian parsing of words" that Republicans say was proof of a government without any "moral core."
The U.S. government has declared their right to launch wars "pre-emptively" and even secretly without giving reasons. Going to war, they say, does not have to be based on anything a country has actually done -- but can be based on U.S. "intelligence claims" of about foreign motives and potential threats.
But now the world can see that all their talk of "darn good intelligence" is just the name for useful lies. They invented a justification for an unjust war. Hyped fears of attack from Iraq were intended to build public support for war--and among some sections of the people it did. And these war makers fully intend to cover up this scandal--all the better to make new threats and launch new wars. Everyone, including especially those who were hoodwinked and manipulated by these worldclass liars, need to look closely at the facts and make sure they can't be fooled again.