Spinning the War

13 Oct 2003

Paul R. Potts

You know, some days I wake up and think that maybe everything I know is wrong. I mean, our leaders must have our best interests at heart, right? Their policies must make sense. They’re going to leave our country in better shape than they found it, and make the world a safer and saner place. Maybe it’s just that I’m confused, or flooded with too much propaganda from the left-wing media.

Then something makes me shake it off. Today it was Andrew Sullivan, and the realization that the Bush administration doesn’t even need to make sense or show any consistency. They’ve got plenty of people who are trying to make sense out of their policies: literally, trying to spin them into something that seems rational and reasonable, even though they aren’t. Andrew is one of them. He’ll defend the war in Iraq, even to the point of coming up with justifications for it that were never made, and denying that the justifications the administration did give us for the war really happened. It’s this kind of spinning that makes my head spin and makes me wonder if I’m losing my memory. But I’m not.

Did you hear the one about how the war was not about Iraq posing an imminent threat to the U.S. and to the world?

Andrew is still harping on that theme. But he’s making a mistake. He’s claiming that “imminent threat” is a meme, but then what he points out is the literal use of the term “imminent” by the critics of the war, and that administration officials didn’t use that specific term. This leads to nonsense like:

“So we get the baldfaced untruth that the war was because Iraq posed an”imminent” threat. It wasn’t…”

That’s news to me. It doesn’t seem to jibe with Bush’s State of the Union address, either, in which he made the case for the war as follows:

Today, the gravest danger in the war on terror, the gravest danger facing America and the world, is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. These regimes could use such weapons for blackmail, terror, and mass murder. They could also give or sell those weapons to terrorist allies, who would use them without the least hesitation.

(And then he gave us the laundry list… 500 tons of sarin, mustard, and VX… 29,984 unaccounted-for munitions capable of delivering chemical agents… mobile biological weapons labs).

Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.

The “money quote,” to use Sullivan’s term:

The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq’s ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi’s legal – Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.

We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him. (Applause.)

There is just no denying that the war was sold to the American public exactly on the basis of “imminent threat.” Just look at the words: “gravest danger,” “gravest danger facing America and the world,” “blackmail, terror, and mass murder,” and “for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world.”

Sulivan goes on:

The casus belli was not proof of Saddam’s existing weapons, but proof of his refusal to cooperate fully with U.N. inspectors or account fully for his WMD research…

Bush didn’t use the term “casus belli,” but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one; he didn’t use it because his audience wouldn’t have understood it and would have perceived, rightly, that Bush was putting on a pompous pose (casus belli, An act or event that provokes or is used to justify war.)

Does anyone but me remember Colin Powell holding up that vial, used to represent the threat of Iraqui anthrax, before the U.N.? They were trying to scare us. Remember Blair’s sexed-up “45-minute” claim? Is 45 minutes “imminent” if you don’t use the word “imminent?” Are 29,984 unaccounted-for munitions capable of delivering chemical agents “imminent?” What about if they don’t exist? (Perhaps the debate should really be over the threat that was “immanent” — that is, existing in the material universe or human consciousness).

“Imminent” to me means “we don’t have time to wait around debating this.” And that is exactly the case Bush himself and his administration made, as Sullivan himself quotes:

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

Of course, Saddam was not cooperative. One just has to read Scott Ritter’s account in his book Endgame to be convinced of this. I’m not defending Saddam, and I’m not trying to convince anyone that he was cooperating with the U.N. Inspections regime as fully as he was required to. But we must ask ourselves: who do we trust more? I was very impressed with Hans Blix’s work. I believe that the Iraqui regime was beginning to show cooperation. This was what truly scared the Bush administration: if Saddam was cooperating, there was no good case for invasion. There was also a lot of evidence of American involvement in Saddam’s weapons programs to hide. We apparently had to censor Iraq’s weapons declaration so that we could continue to declare Saddam an uncooperative madman and America blameless. See [Project Censored){http://www.projectcensored.org/publications/2004/3.html), The Baltimore Chronicle, and The Sunday Herald.

According to Project Censored:

Throughout the winter of 2002, the Bush administration publicly accused Iraqi weapons declarations of being incomplete. The almost unbelievable reality of this situation is that it was the United States itself that had removed over 8,000 pages of the 11,800 page original report.

And from The Sunday Herald:

The full extent of Washington’s complete control over who sees what in the crucial Iraqi dossier calls into question the allegations made by US Secretary of State Colin Powell that ‘omissions’ in the document constituted a ‘material breach’ of the latest UN resolution on Iraq.

Well, yeah.

Sullivan also writes:

The anti-war left sees a real advantage in stripping down the claims in people’s receding memories to ones that were not made but which can now be debunked… It’s propaganda, to which the media in particular seems alarmingly prone to parroting. We have to resist it at every stop — because this war has not yet been won, and the really crucial battle, now as before, is at home.

And I couldn’t agree more. We have to resist the use of propaganda and remember how the war was sold. And we have to be aware of the sea of propaganda we swim in daily, and keep in mind that retroactive justification for some good that may come from Saddam Hussein’s removal from power cannot justify one sovereign nation invading and occupying another that did not pose a credible threat. Not “imminent,” credible. And no amount of nitpicking can make that that justification true.

Creative Commons Licence
This work by Paul R. Potts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The CSS framework is stylize.css, Copyright © 2014 by Jack Crawford.

Blog IndexWriting Archive