What's Left

June 25, 2003

US departure from Iraq can't come too soon

By Stephen Gowans

A furore was raised over Bill Clinton's lies about his trivial dalliances with Monica Lewinski, but the immense crime of undertaking a war of aggression against Iraq, on entirely specious grounds, has been met with something far less than a furore, and, for the most part, with apologies.

The apologies, of which there are many, range from the absurd (Bush was only exaggerating) to the predictable (maybe there weren't any banned weapons, but at least a brutal dictator was swept away) to the pusillanimous (moveon.org's charge that Bush is a "misleader" who stooped to "distortion of evidence" when what is really meant is that he is a "liar" who made things up to smooth the way for a war that had nothing whatever to do with protecting Americans.)

Why there is a reluctance to label Bush a "liar" is unclear. The Washington Post couldn't bring itself to use the L word, preferring "a hoary presidential tradition of embroidery" to "Bush lied." Maybe it's because Americans trust their president to tell the truth, and believe that, if he's mistaken, he's at least sincere. Presidents never lie, or conceal their true motives, it's believed ... at least, that's what it's politic to pretend you believe. So you settle on "misleader." But it's not as if Bush committed a venial sin, a Clintonesque dalliance with a flighty intern. He committed the gravest of all crimes, according to the Nuremberg Principles. He started a war. And he lied about his reasons for doing so. We shouldn't mince words. He's a liar, the perpetrator of a horrible crime, the same crime for which leading Nazis were executed at Nuremberg.

It shouldn't come as a shock that Bush lied. It's not as if his lies were particularly convincing, and it's not as if presidents haven't lied before, especially about reasons for going to war (there's the "hoary presidential tradition" to live up to.) The aphorism, "truth is the first casualty of war," while widely known, is almost never heeded. More's the pity.

NATO's 1999 war of aggression against Yugoslavia was also based on a lie: that tens of thousands -- some NAT0 reports said 100,000 -- ethnic Albanians had been slaughtered by Serb forces. Tony Blair, whose lies over Iraq's WMD's are deplored, told a whopper just as large about Kosovo. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Blair said, had "set on a Hitler-style genocide equivalent to the extermination of the Jews during World War Two." {1} After the war, as forensic pathologists scoured Kosovo in search of a Hitler-style genocide, it became clear that the entire basis for the war was a sham. Some 3,000 bodies were found, including those of combatants and Serb civilians -- hardly a minuscule number -- but a far cry from the 100,000 ethnic Albanian civilians people like Blair and Clinton said were scattered across the Serb province in mass graves.

Today, neither Clinton or Blair are held to account for their lies over Kosovo. Instead, the genocide claims are excused as exaggeration. Paul Buteux, a political scientist at the University of Manitoba, called the stories about tens of thousands of corpses littering Kosovo the work of "spin doctors," called in "to put things in the worst possible light." But the difference between 3,000 killed in a civil war and 100,000 dead in a Hitler-style genocide seems to be less an exaggeration based on spin, and more a colossal lie.

Likewise, it's difficult to see how there's any exaggeration in the pronouncements of the Bush administration over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. Repeatedly, administration officials insisted they had unequivocal knowledge that Saddam was hiding banned weapons. But how could they have unequivocal knowledge of weapons that -- it now seems almost certainly -- didn't exist?

On August 26, 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney told the Veterans of Foreign Wars, "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us." On January 7, 2003 he said, "There's no doubt in my mind but that [the Iraqi's] currently have chemical and biological weapons." And on March 16, 2003, Cheney told NBC's Meet the Press, "We believe [Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." {2}

For his part, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee on September 18, 2002, "We do know that the Iraqi regime has chemical and biological weapons." Ten days into the war, on March 30, 2003, he told ABC's "This Week" program, "We know where [the WMDs] are." {3}

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, echoing the "we have no doubt" line, claimed on January 9, 2003 that the administration knew "for a fact that there are weapons there." {4}

As for Bush, he told a national TV audience on October 7, 2002 that Iraq "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons," and "is seeking nuclear weapons "  On the eve of the war, Bush expressed absolute confidence that Iraq was hiding banned weapons. "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." {5}

So, where are they? Bush would have been closer to the mark had he said, "An intelligent analysis leaves no doubt that this and other governments have contrived a phoney case for war to press some of the most lethal weapons ever devised into service to conquer Iraq for reasons we prefer to conceal."

The Bush administration's interest in invading Iraq is well-documented. {6} 9/11 provided a welcome initial pretext, which, while eventually rejected in favor of the WMD claim (selected for bureaucratic reasons, revealed deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz in a Vanity Fair interview), is still pointed to by many Americans who can't seem to get Osama bin Laden (the alleged perpetrator of 9/11) and Saddam Hussein straight.

But then, neither can Rumsfeld. CBS Evening News reported on September 4, 2002 that, "Barely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, the secretary of defense was telling his aides to start thinking about striking Iraq, even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks."

Now, former U.S. General Wesley Clark, who led NATO forces in their assault on Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999, says that the White House urged him on September 11 to link the WTC and Pentagon attacks to Iraq. {7} Clark told NBC's Meet the Press on June 15, 2003, that, "There was a concerted effort during the fall of 2001, starting immediately after 9/11, to pin 9/11 and the terrorism problem on Saddam Hussein." Asked who led the effort, Clark replied, "Well, it came from the White House, it came from people around the White House. It came from all over. I got a call on 9/11. I was on CNN, and I got a call at my home saying, 'You got to say this is connected. This is state-sponsored terrorism. This has to be connected to Saddam Hussein.' I said, 'But--I'm willing to say it, but what's your evidence?' And I never got any evidence." {8}

A poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes says that 41 percent of Americans believe WMDs have been found in Iraq, and one in five believe Iraq used banned weapons during the war -- this, reported in a Canadian newspaper known for its Bush boosterism, under the headline, "War was not about WMDs: Wolfowitz." {9} If you're wondering what the war was about, if not WMDs, follow the headlines. From the June 4th edition of The Guardian (UK): "Wolfowitz: Iraq war was about oil."

Other reports point to many Americans believing Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11. A U.S. Army corporal, part of the occupation army in Iraq, told the London Evening Standard, "There's a picture of the World Trade Center hanging up by my bed and I keep one in my Kevlar [flak jacket]. Every time I feel sorry for these people I look at that. I think, 'They hit us at home and, now, it's our turn.' I don't want to say payback but, you know, it's pretty much payback." {10}

Payback it's not. What it is, is Washington getting to dominate the Middle East and its oil, and it's Bechtel, and companies like it, getting billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts, bankrolled by the sale of Iraqi oil.  Bechtel's chairman is former Secretary of State George Shultz, who heads up the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. That committee worked hard to get Washington to commit itself to war, for ostensibly selfless reasons -- to liberate Iraqis. But behind the noble rhetoric lay cold, hard, self-interest. What the committee really wanted was for Washington to liberate Iraqis of their resources, their economy, and their right to self-determination, so that companies, like Bechtel, could get richer. Jack Sheehan, a member of the Defense Policy Board, which advises the Pentagon, is a former Marine Corps general. He's also a senior vice president at Bechtel. And at least nine members of the advisory board, recently headed up by superhawk Richard Perle, have connections with companies that have received more than $76 billion in defense contracts in 2001 and 2002, according to the Center for Public Integrity. {11} These companies have an interest in war, and the connections in Washington to see they happen.

The invasion is also about implementing Bush's National Security Policy, hailed as a framework for safeguarding Americans from terrorist attack, but really a plan to use America's steriod-driven military to secure access to the labor, markets and resources of countries that--to use U.S. trade representative Robert B. Zoellick's words--"are clinging to failed socialist and bureaucratic models from the mid-20th century." {12} That is, they have failed to make US investors richer, by committing the unpardonable sin of refusing to throw their doors open to US trade and investment on terms benefiting US firms. That, under Bush's misnamed National Security Policy, will change.

So it is that US overlord in Iraq L. Paul Bremer III  is planning to "dismantle [Iraq's] state-run economy by selling off... more than 40 government-owned companies that make products ranging from packaged goods to steel...and writing laws to encourage foreign investment," while "drafting a modern commercial legal code that would protect investors and property rights." In short, he is creating "a blueprint for turning Iraq into a Middle East model of free trade and deregulation," doing to Iraq, what is already underway in one of Washington's latest conquests: Serbia. {13} Of course, Bremer, who is also supposed to be delivering democracy to the long-suffering Iraqis, won't be polling his charges. That's because, "Privatization is the right direction for 21st century Iraq," according to Tim Carney,  senior adviser to the Iraqi ministry of industry and minerals. {14} Apparently, in the competition for inclusion in the list of right directions for the 21st century, democracy didn't make it.

But that's what Iraqis need -- the right to make their own decisions. Will they get it? Not until they learn to avoid voting for the wrong people. Bremer cancelled an election in Najaf when it became clear that the likely winner was not to Washington's liking. {15} And with the Iraqi economy soon to be sold off, democracy will be reduced to an exercise in electing whoever gets to salute the latest edict from Wall Street and its champion, the White House.

Iraqis also need electricity, and other basic services, restored. And they need jobs. But army officers, dismissed from their jobs--while US officials, not Iraqis themselves, build a blueprint for a new army -- recently learned from Bremer that they "were thrown out of work by something called the freedom of Iraq." {16} Freedom, as conceived by Washington, also gave Iraqis looting and chaos and the plundering of some of their national treasures. Now, the country's riches, along with its economy, is about to be plundered, in the name of freedom.

The new army is to be trained by a US firm, possibly Cubic Corp or Military Resource Professionals, which will rake in hundreds of millions of dollars for its efforts, to be paid for out of proceeds from the sale of Iraqi oil. {17} Needless to say, Iraqis will have no say in the matter. A Washington genuinely interested in democracy would butt out, allowing the local population to organize its own society, as well as its armed forces, but that could conflict with the expansion of US trade and investment.

Washington's intention to plunder Iraq on behalf of its corporate class isn't lost on ordinary Iraqis, who've come face to face with the gulf between what Washington says and what it does. For all that Saddam Hussein's regime was loathed, it's not unusual these days to hear Iraqis say the Americans are worse. The gates to what used to be Saddam's palace, occupied by his successor Bremer, are "now more heavily defended than during Mr. Hussein's time," because they have become "the primary venue for Iraqis to vent their grievances," the New York Times reports. {18}

The Ba'athist regime was, in large measure, reprehensible, but anyone who believes the Anglo-American occupation regime has any genuine interest in democracy, is welcome by Iraqis, and cares one whit about the locals, is sorely mistaken. The best thing that could happen for the local population is for Americans, and their British acolytes, to be driven out.

1. Neil Clark, "How the battle lies were drawn," The Spectator, June 14, 2003 http://www.antiwar.com/spectator/spec15.html)

2. "Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq: Bush's "big lie" and the crisis of American imperialism," World Socialist Web Site, June 21, 2003

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. See, for example, The Project for a New American Century's "Rebuilding America's Defenses," http://www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf

7. FAIR MEDIA ADVISORY: Media Silent on Clark's 9/11 Comments: Gen. says White House pushed Saddam link without evidence, June 20, 2003. http://www.fair.org/press-releases/clark-iraq.html

8. Ibid.

9. The National Post, May 30, 2003.

10. "'I Just Pulled the Trigger." London Evening Standard, June 19, 2003.

11. "Spoils of war," The New York Times, April 10, 2003.

12. "At economic forum, Mideast peace diplomacy is pressed," The New York Times, June 23, 2003.

13. "Overseer in Iraq vows to sell off government-owned companies," The New York Times, June 23, 2003.

14. "US pushes for early privatization in Iraq", Middle East Online, June 12, 2003 http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=5937.

15. "US proconsul cancels municipal election in Iraq," World Socialist Web Site, June 23, 2003. Http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/jun2003/iraq-j23.shtml

16. "US to form new Iraqi army and pay soldiers of old one,"  The New York Times, June 23, 2003.

17. "US army seeks new contract bids for Iraqi oil fields," The Globe and Mail, June 25, 2003.

18. "Overseer in Iraq vows to sell off government-owned companies," The New York Times, June 23, 2003.

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What's Left