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Monday, June 16, 2003

Our Opinion

Perpetual Lies for Perpetual War

It’s been an open secret for some time, although most people were either too embarrassed (supporters of the war) or incredulous at the deception’s sheer audacity (the war’s opponents) to openly discuss what now appears indisputable: namely, that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction to speak of — and certainly none that would have constituted any clear and present danger to the United States or United Kingdom, the two horsemen of this egregiously non-apocalyptic apocalypse for the Iraqi people. It seems that everyone was waiting for someone else to initiate the public debate. Pandora (she of all gifts) has finally opened her box, however, and what’s flown out, naturally — including deceit, disorder, and gratuitous devastation — has not been pretty.

US general James Conway was at least blunt (if considerably disingenuous) in stating that US intelligence was “simply wrong” in asserting that there were chemical and biological weapons in Iraq ready to be deployed against invading US and British troops. (Even assuming that US and UK intelligence were “simply wrong” before the invasion, following it — when the Coalition of the Wheeler-Dealers had total control of the air and therefore was free to continually reassess, update, and upgrade its intelligence — this “simple” error takes on the appearance more and more of an elaborate, highly staged, and deliberate fraud. Which, by the way, is exactly what an “embellished intelligence report” — of which so much discussion lately — is (just like an “embellished” financial statement).

And then, of course, we have the recent “revelations” — the term begs the question, revelations to whom — of the arrested leaders of Al-Qaeda, who not only deny any collaboration between their organization and the former Iraqi regime, but stress Osama bin Laden’s disdain for Saddam Hussein. Is this supposed to be news, or just a facile opportunity for the morally indigent to salve their consciences? In a recent article by New York Times reporter Steven R. Weisman (“The Whys of War: Truth Is the First Casualty. Is Credibility the Second?” June 8), Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the “intellectual force” behind the invasion of Iraq, pointed to terrorism and the brutality of the Saddamite regime as the main motivating factors for war. But even Mr. Wolfowitz had to concede that dictatorship, and a horribly brutalized Iraqi people, “would have not justified war.”

That seems cruel, but, on this point at least, Mr. Wolfowitz speaks the truth. He knows the law. The world would truly be a nasty and brutish place if any nation were at the mercy of any other. That is why presumably the “civilized” world, which now goes by the increasingly inapt term of international community, has created international organizations — the United Nations first and foremost — to apply pressure on repugnant regimes. The hope, and the actual strategy, is to make them a little less repugnant and even occasionally, when real pressure is really and finally applied (as in the case of South Africa just a few years ago), to liberate them entirely.

It is now patently obvious that a united United Nations — as opposed to one systematically demeaned and purposely sabotaged by the United States and its accomplices — could have dealt with Saddam Hussein in a rigorous, focused, and uncompromising manner that would not only have elicited concessions from him, but, again with apartheid’s collapse as the model, would have provoked his regime’s implosion. Mr. Bush did not want to go the route of international legality or international cooperation and equality, however, so he concocted an idiot’s tale called “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” quickly invented a sequel, “Saddam and Osama,” and managed on the basis of these manifestly inane confections to invade a country. Every day in every way, our Republic seems sadder, and weaker, and its debilities self-inflicted.

And so, the public’s general reaction to the news that the CIA and the administration were the chief manufacturers of Iraq’s baleful and massively destructive weapons has been, unsurprisingly, tepid, even indifferent, and certainly passive. Support for Mr. Bush’s war policies remains high and solid. People in general are indifferent to the fact that there have been no chemical or biological weapons found in Iraq so far (the nuclear lie was exposed by Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, even before the conflict started). The war was a spectacle so far removed from the reality of most Americans that the reasons we fought it never mattered, and do not now. Electronic war games need no justification, after all. (It is even more distressing to compare our apathy to our government’s untruths with the outrage in Britain, particularly among his own party, to Tony Blair’s prevarications.)

As for the political establishment in general and the Democrats in particular, their pitiable retreat to “consensus” — which used to be called complicity — is unworthy of comment. Most Democratic presidential candidates see only political damage in raising the weapons issue. Even worse, Messrs. Gephardt and Lieberman find nothing wrong with the administration’s smokeless guns and energetically defend “our president.” The Democrats’ silence has been amplified by that of the media. Regarding the latter, our only question is when the hoary myth of the “liberal media” will finally be put to rest. The erstwhile “fourth estate” was long ago bought and parceled out among themselves by the other three, and especially the imperial executive.

Meanwhile, Patriot Act II is ready to follow upon Patriot Act I, and, at last count, we are threatening, in alphabetical order, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria. “Weapons of mass destruction” have something to do with some of it, “freedom” has something to do with the rest, and neither weapons nor freedom really have anything to do with any of it. We’ll end this episode of “As the Empire Turns” by citing Gore Vidal on Benjamin Franklin on the United States of America (see “We Are the Patriots,” The Nation, June 2). “It was Benjamin Franklin, of all people,” Vidal writes, “who saw our future most clearly back in 1787, when, as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, he read for the first time the proposed Constitution.” And his conclusion? Vidal quotes the Sage of Philadelphia: “There is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.” Vidal comments that Franklin’s “is so dark a statement that most school history books omit his key words.” We don’t wonder why.

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