Bush's Desolate Imperium, Copyright © Bernard Chazelle, Princeton, December 2003


I don't think that Iraq is especially eager in the biological and chemical area to produce such weapons for storage (Former UNSCOM chief, Rolf Ekeus, 3/00).
When I left Iraq in 1998... the [nuclear] infrastructure and facilities had been 100% eliminated. There's no debate about that. All of their instruments and facilities had been destroyed. The weapons design facility had been destroyed. The production equipment had been hunted down and destroyed (Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, 9/02).

Britain compiled a "dossier" that led Tony Blair to declare the level of threat "serious and current." And yet his own chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, wrote in an email:
The dossier does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat. [23]
According to Ha'aretz columnist Gideon Levy, Israel's previous director of Military Intelligence, Amos Malka, declared in Fall 2002 that "he was more concerned about traffic accidents" in Israel than WMD in Iraq [24]. As we all know now, the terrorist threat from Iraq was equally nonexistent (today, of course, thanks to Bush, it is a different story). A review of the prewar intelligence revealed an astonishing level of doubt and uncertainty. The Nation's David Corn has revealed that these doubts were acknowledged by no less than a former deputy CIA director, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House intelligence committee, the chief weapons hunter, and the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee [25]. And yet Bush had no compunction about saying:
You can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror (George W. Bush, 09/02 [26]).
We've learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases... Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints (George W. Bush, 10/7/03 [27]).
It worked. In August 2003, up to 82% of Americans believed that Saddam provided assistance to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, and 69% of them found it likely that Saddam was "personally involved" in 9/11 [28]. (All those Elvis sightings are beginning to make sense, aren't they?) Was it the trauma of 9/11 that allowed such brainwashing to take place in a vacuum of media criticism? What happened to the proud institutions that gave us the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate investigations? Why such abject subservience of the national media to the powers in Washington? Why such spinelessness? A story for another day.

The obvious question: Why would the Bush administration choose to humiliate Blix and his team, cherry-pick intelligence, hype the threat of WMD, and dream up imaginary Saddam-al Qaeda links? The Rumsfeld outburst mentioned earlier holds the answer. Regime change in Iraq was high on the neocon agenda throughout the nineties. After 9/11 Bush was sold on the idea. The first indication that he would take us to war regardless of the outcome of any future weapons inspections came in March 2002 [29]. Referring to Saddam, Bush bellowed to a group of senators: "We're taking him out!" Dispelling any doubt about the president's intentions, Cheney reiterated the same message shortly after. The decision having been made, the only job left was to sell it to the public. Since remaking the Middle East to conform to Bush's imperial dreams was likely to sell as briskly as an Edsel, the White House decided to play to 9/11 anxieties instead; hence, the WMD threat, terror links, etc.
The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the US government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction, as the core reason (Paul Wolfowitz [30]).
Britain's insistence in Fall 2002 on going to the UN and getting Resolution 1441 passed was welcome by the US as a convenient way of appearing conciliatory while buying time for a military assault not yet ready for launch. Richard Perle has recently revealed that a last-ditch attempt by Iraqi officials to avoid military confrontation in March 2003 was rebuffed by the US [31]. Nothing was to stand in the way of war.

Not only was Bush determined to go to war regardless of the sideshow at the UN, he literally rushed into it. The evidence is abundant and incontrovertible. The UN weapons inspection team reported progress and protested its dismissal in March 2003. With hindsight it did an excellent job in not finding what did not exist. A British draft of a UN resolution authorizing war was certain to garner at least 10 votes (enough to pass), thus leaving France with the dreaded option of vetoing it. As Clinton's former Assistant Secretary of State James P. Rubin explains [32],
Merely offering several more weeks would likely have yielded ten votes for the British resolution, but Bush refused.
Rubin also refutes the canard that France forced Bush into war by its uncompromising refusal to entertain a military outcome.
... Chirac would have gone along with the use of force if a nine-month schedule had been set at the beginning.
Nine extra months? You must surely be joking! Now that we know how close we came to nuclear annihilation at the hands of Saddam, blessed be Bush's soul for ignoring Chirac's craven advice...

The White House's burning desire to attack Iraq required a new language of certitude and foreboding. Public support for the war might not have survived a candid presentation of the available intelligence, based as it was on conflicting reports, dubious testimonies by Iraqi defectors, plagiarized PhD theses, forged documentation of uranium sales, misidentification of aluminum tubes, etc. The lack of any smoking gun did not help either. Faced with this conundrum, the White House pulled out all the stops and launched what may go down in history as the most egregious, guileful, sedulous, systematic campaign of lies ever orchestrated by a US administration. There we have it, the hype, the fabricated trepidation, the faked certainty of the uncertain:

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction (Dick Cheney, 8/26/02).
There is no doubt that [Saddam] has chemical weapons stocks (Colin Powell, 9/8/02).
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 (George W. Bush, 3/17/03).
Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly... (Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, 3/21/03).
There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction, (Head of US Central Command Gen. Tommy Franks, 3/22/03).
I have no doubt we're going to find big stores of weapons of mass destruction (Defense Policy Board member, Kenneth Adelman, 3/23/03).
I'm absolutely sure that there are weapons of mass destruction there and the evidence will be forthcoming. We're just getting it just now (Colin Powell, 5/4/03).
I have absolutely no doubt at all about the existence of weapons of mass destruction (Tony Blair, 5/29/03).

Never in the field of human conflict was so much bunk served by so few to so many.

While no terrorist link between Saddam and Osama has been established, unfortunately the same cannot be said of the US government and the Taliban. This is the story of an intrepid Texan congressman named Charlie Wilson and a belly-dancer, former Miss World contender, named Joanne Herring, convincing the US government to arm the Afghan Mujahideen with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to help them defeat the Russians [33]. The sequel, entitled "freedom fighter today, terrorist tomorrow," is about the most spectacular case of blowback the US has ever suffered, featuring a certain Osama bin Laden in the role of the snake that we thought was a pet. Meanwhile, Bush's obsession with Saddam led him to drop the ball in Afghanistan and move the war on terror to the back burner.

Another story, less well known but just as riveting, is the Bush administration's bestowing $43 million on the Taliban just a few months before 9/11. Those nasty hand choppers might be reviled for their enslavement of women, their theocratic subjugation of men, their destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, and their virulent brand of anti-Americanism. But, you see, the Taliban frown on drugs as much as Bush fancied them in his youth; and they are just so much better at drug law enforcement than our own DEA (they do chop hands after all). So, what more natural than for Colin Powell to declare in May 2001 that the US would reward their efficiency by becoming the single largest sponsor of the Taliban? Savor, and shudder at, Robert Scheer's prescient words in the Los Angeles Times [34]:
The Taliban may suddenly be the dream regime of our own drug war zealots, but in the end this alliance will prove a costly failure. Our long sad history of signing up dictators in the war on drugs demonstrates the futility of building a foreign policy on a domestic obsession.


[23] The Economist, October 4, 2003.

[24] A deafening silence, by Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz, October 6, 2002.

[25] Bush's Unreliable Intelligence, by David Corn, The Nation, November 12, 2003.

[26] Rice: Iraq trained al Qaeda in chemical weapons, CNN, September 26, 2002.

[27] President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat, by George W. Bush, Cincinnati, October 7, 2002.

[28] Saddam Hussein and the Sept. 11 Attacks, Washington Post Poll, September 6, 2003.

[29] We're Taking Him Out, CNN, May 6, 2002.

[30] May 9, 2003 interview of Paul Wolfowitz by Sam Tannenbaus, published in Vanity Fair, July 2003.

[31] Iraq Said to Have Tried to Reach Last-Minute Deal to Avert War, by James Risen, The New York Times, November 6, 2003. Original article.

[32] Stumbling into War, by James P. Rubin, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2003.

[33] Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, by George Crile, Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2003.

[34] Bush's Faustian Deal With the Taliban, by Robert Scheer, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2001.