What's Left

February 6, 2003

Web of lies

By Stephen Gowans

One newspaper got it right, though unintentionally. "Web of Lies" it shouted, summing up how Iraq is said to have failed in complying with UN Resolution 1441, as detailed in US Secretary of State Colin Powell's brief to the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

But "web of lies" may be more fitting as a description of Powell's evidence.

Of course, no one but the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon know how much of Powell's evidence is based on outright deception, but motive and history suggest that much of it, if not all of it, is a web of lies.


It's no secret that Washington has been looking for a casus belli to invade Iraq for more than a year. Key Bush cabinet members had been pushing for a take-over of Iraq and its oil fields for some time.

In September, 2000, Dick Cheney, now vice-president, along with his current chief of staff Lewis Libby, and Donald Rumsfeld, now Secretary of Defense, along with his current deputy Paul Wolfowitz, laid out a plan to create a new American century, in which the United States would be supreme in the world, the first truly global empire.

The plan adumbrated regime change in Iraq, that is, the installation of a US puppet regime in Baghdad.

The events of 9/11 were pressed into service to provide the trigger.

Within hours of hijacked jets careening into the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, Rumsfeld was ordering his staff to find something that could be used to pin the blame on Iraq.

National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice ordered her staff to consider the opportunities 9/11 provided, as if the grim events of that day were a sliver lining that could justify the vigorous extension of US hegemony over the world.

In his book The White House in The Right Time: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush,  former presidential speechwriter David Frum recalls that in late December, 2001 he was asked to "to provide a justification for a war."

Frum spent two days dreaming up a pretext for "going after Iraq," eventually hitting on the "axis of evil" idea.

Since then politicians, ex-politicians, statesmen, newspaper columnists and the president have run through various justifications for war, from Saddam may be behind the anthrax attacks to Saddam is connected to 9/11 to Iraq must be attacked to defend the legitimacy of the UN.

But with polls showing a substantial level of doubt about Bush making his case for war, it's clear that Washington has been having a difficult time justifying an attack.

It needed something compelling. What was to stop it from fabricating transcripts and confessions?

History of deceit

Having a motive to lie, does not, however, mean that Powell's brief is based on lies. But a consistent pattern of deceit, on top of a motive, calls the veracity of the brief into question. And respect for the truth -- especially where it concerns Iraq -- is hardly one of the Bush administration's strong suits.

In an 22 October 2002 Washington Post article, staff writer Dana Milbank pointed to a "presidential tradition of embroidering key assertions," adding "for Bush, facts are malleable," and noting that the administration's statements on Iraq have been "dubious, if not wrong."

What's more, Milbank pointed out that Bush is guilty of "distortions and exaggerations," but chalked it up to "presidential embroidery [being] a hoary tradition."

In other words, Bush, as presidents before him, is lying.

How do we know Powell's evidence is genuine?

Under the best of circumstances, the question is a reasonable one to ask. And given a long history of deceit when it comes to war (remember the arms for hostages scandal, the secret bombing of Cambodia, the Gulf of Tonkin affair, the 100,000 ethnic Albanian corpses that forensic pathologists could never find, and dozens of other instances of presidential mendacity?) the question is one only a sucker would avoid.

What's more, with Washington having a motive to lie, and a track record of deception on Iraq, asking the question is absolutely vital. It would be criminal not to.

But that's the problem. We can ask the question, but there's no independent means of assessing the evidence. We have to rely on Powell's word, which is like trusting P.T. Barnum.

Hence, based on motive and history, and the absence of any means to independently assess the veracity of Powell's claims, there are good reasons to doubt Powell's brief, and very good reasons to suspect it of being a web of lies.

But even if it isn't a web of lies, Washington hasn't a just reason to invade Iraq. The only just basis for war is to repel an attack in progress, or to pre-empt an imminent attack --  a basic point often lost in the hullabaloo over the red herring of whether Iraq does or doesn't have weapons of mass destruction.

Clearly, Iraq isn't attacking the US, and an Iraqi attack isn't imminent. There is, therefore, no just cause for war on Iraq, even in the event a US-led attack is sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

On the other hand, Washington has made crystal clear that it plans to wage wars of the sort that got Nazis tossed into a prison at Nuremberg, and which, were there any real justice, would get the Bush cabinet tossed into a prison for the same reasons.

But there is no real justice, only victor's justice, which means the only people who will be tossed into prisons will be the victims of Washington's serial aggressions.

Next up after Iraq: North Korea.

Crime: Seeking to defend itself.

Pretext: To be based on another web of lies.


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