Dilip Hiro on a timeline of lies

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Quotes for the first anniversary of our most recent Iraqi War:

Donald Rumsfeld on the handing over of “sovereignty” to Iraqis on June 30: “Will it happen for sure? Who knows? I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.” (Reuters)

On the week when casualties soared, a Baghdad hotel came down, and the “coalition” in Iraq began to fray and fall away, “This was planned as ‘Iraq week,’ one [Bush administration] official said.” The question, of course, was: Who exactly was doing the planning? (The San Francisco Chronicle)

Paul Wolfowitz, leading neocon and deputy secretary of defense, becomes a revisionist historian on the eve of the first anniversary of the war. In an interview with Howard Arenstein of CBS radio:

Q: But also it’s been without finding those stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that you told everybody were there.

“Wolfowitz: Sorry. We never said there were stockpiles. What we said was that after 12 years and 17 UN resolutions, 12 years of this regime defying the United Nations and at a very high price to his regime which suggests he had something to hide and we found some of what he was hiding, that it was time to come clean. There was the unanimous resolution of the Security Council that said it’s time to come clean.”

I guess “never having said it” means never having to say you’re sorry.

“Wolfowitz: Sorry. We never said there were stockpiles. What we said was that after 12 years and 17 UN resolutions, 12 years of this regime defying the United Nations and at a very high price to his regime which suggests he had something to hide and we found some of what he was hiding, that it was time to come clean. There was the unanimous resolution of the Security Council that said it’s time to come clean.”

I guess “never having said it” means never having to say you’re sorry.

Finally, on the first anniversary of the Vietnam (oops, Iraqi) War, this “light at the end of the tunnel” comment from U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey, overall commander of U.S. operations in Baghdad. While predicting violence without end in Iraq, he concludes: “We are winning. And the enemy is evolving in a way that is somewhat predictable.”

One year too late

So let’s do a little round-up of first anniversary developments. It looks like the Spanish vote and the decision of the new Spanish prime minister to follow his party’s long-term position on the Iraqi war and occupation by withdrawing his country’s troops at the end of June (barring a major UN takeover) were a bit like yelling “Fire!” in your classic crowded theater. Fastest to the exit were the Hondurans with 370 troops. (“The decision was announced by Defense Secretary Federico Breve only one day after Honduran President Ricardo Maduro said the troops would stay. Breve said the Honduran decision ‘coincides with the decision of the prime minister elect of the Spanish government.'”) It is rumored that El Salvador and Guatemala may soon follow suit.

Next came the Dutch. The opposition Labor Party called last Tuesday for a July withdrawal of their contingent of troops (while a Dutch civilian died in ambush in Baghdad this week). When Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende met with President Bush later in the week, he refused in person to commit his country’s troops beyond July.

Almost immediately, the South Koreans rushed for the doors, announcing that they would not, as had been planned, send several thousand troops to the northern city of Kirkuk, a flashpoint of Kurdish desire. They are, claimed the government, looking for a new, safer place to put their troops. (Is there an offshore island around?) The Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, the staunchest of staunch “coalition” allies, promptly claimed his country had been hoodwinked — the actual word he used was “misled” — on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. (What his government was really hoodwinked on was its share of the spoils of Iraq’s “reconstruction” and this may be but a warning shot across the bow of the all-American reconstruction effort.)

The German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer promptly announced that NATO was far too overstretched to consider future deployment to Iraq. While that truly staunch, if seldom noticed, coalition ally Prime Minister John Howard of Australia began to publicly fret about how developments in Iraq would affect his election prospects next year. And so it went among the “allies.”

In Iraq itself, blood continues to flow. American casualties have again risen precipitously. Only yesterday three American soldiers died in a mortar attack and today two Marines were reportedly killed, bringing the number of GIs who died in the last week to 15 (and that’s not counting the two who died yesterday in a firefight in Afghanistan) according to Foreign and Iraqi civilians — translators, missionaries, aid workers, CPA officials, cleaning women at American bases, Iraqi journalists, Arab businessmen — have also died in the last week or so, along with ordinary civilians, victims of brutal car bombings and simply of the atmosphere of mayhem and violence. It was announced that ten Iraqis had died yesterday — ten being about as high as Americans can count when it’s Iraqi dead we’re dealing with. Last weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Sunday Insight section created our first “Iraq Wall,” a full section of the Sunday paper with little photos of all the American military dead in Iraq. (These can be viewed in somewhat different form by clicking here.) It was sobering indeed and should give us all pause on this anniversary date.

As I’ve said for a long time, the irony of all this is that the Bush administration’s strategists planned to drive through the soft underbelly of the Middle East — the Iraqi military was known to be in a desperate state before the war — and consequently change the “map” of the area. And so they have. But the unexpected result has been the rise of a ragtag insurgency with a plethora of groups and undoubtedly individuals, including Baathist thugs and killers as well perhaps as outsiders and Iraqis who simply hate the idea of being occupied, who find themselves in the driver’s seat and are driving this administration into a hole. (Vice President Cheney’s recent “Iraq Week” speech, attacking Senator Kerry’s national security credentials, for instance, played on some TV channels on a split screen with the destroyed and smoking Lebanon Hotel.)
Among the most eloquent statements on the one-year anniversary of the launching of the Iraq War was James Carroll’s Boston Globe column, The Bushes’ New World Disorder in which he concludes, “Whatever happens from this week forward in Iraq, the main outcome of the war for the United States is clear. We have defeated ourselves.” He wrote in part:

“The situation hardly needs rehearsing. In Iraq, many thousands are dead, including 564 Americans. Civil war threatens. Afghanistan, meanwhile, is choked by drug-running warlords. Islamic jihadists have been empowered. The nuclear profiteering of Pakistan has been exposed but not necessarily stopped. Al Qaeda’s elusiveness has reinforced its mythic malevolence. The Atlantic Alliance is in ruins. The United States has never been more isolated. A pattern of deception has destroyed its credibility abroad and at home. Disorder spreads from Washington to Israel to Haiti to Spain. Whether the concern is subduing resistance fighters far away or making Americans feel safer, the Pentagon’s unprecedented military dominance, the costs of which stifle the US economy, is shown to be essentially impotent.”

And oh yes, just to put that special exclamation point on the week, according to the New York Times today, the globe’s preeminent shop-till-you-drop nuclear proliferator, Pakistan, has officially been designated by Secretary of State Colin Powell as “a major non-Nato ally,” so we can proliferate a little more of our “military technology” and “surplus weaponry” its way.

At this moment, when, for the first time in a year, demonstrators are again in some numbers planning to take to the streets of major cities tomorrow, it’s good to be reminded of exactly what a pack of lies and manipulations got us where we are today. Dilip Hiro, an expert on Iraq’s long and catastrophic modern history as on Iran’s, and on Islamist terrorism, offers below a reminder of several salient moments in the Bush administration’s quick-march to war that should have driven several Polish presidents and most of the rest of us crazy. Hiro has been an admirable chronicler of our sorry relations with Iraq since the days when we supported Saddam Hussein as a regional bulwark in the Middle East. Among his many books, his most recent — and right now most relevant — is Secrets and Lies: Operation “Iraqi Freedom” and After, A Prelude to the Fall of U.S. Power in the Middle East? As for me, I’ll be out marching tomorrow with a sign that, in honor of the Spanish voters and with a nod to Dilip Hiro, will simply read, “Lies!” Tom

Timeline of Lies
Reconstructing the Anglo-American Rationale for Invading Iraq Reveals Gaping Holes in Their Arguments
By Dilip Hiro

Enough hard facts have surfaced since the war on Iraq a year ago to enable us to plot fairly accurately the path that President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair followed, culminating in the Anglo-American invasion of a country that posed no imminent threat to the United States, Britain, or any of its neighbors.

In the blame game currently being played in Washington, members of the Bush team are pointing their fingers at Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress for providing misleading or exaggerated intelligence about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But the responsibility for propping up Chalabi and his cohorts rests with the very same officials who are now feigning anger at their own henchmen.

It was the U.S. government that funded the INC’s Intelligence Clearance Project. And it was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who set up his Office of Special Plans (OSP), which provided a channel outside of the established intelligence agencies, for the INC to feed its information directly to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney, who is for all practical purposes the executive prime minister to a president uninterested in and incapable of running the day-to-day administration of his government.

Out of this incestuous amplification arose the myth of Iraq’s WMD stockpiles. It was an example of political judgment and decision-making preceding actual hard intelligence.

The source of what has happened in Iraq is none other than President Bush himself and his obsession with regime change in Baghdad from the day he assumed office. According to The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill, written by Ron Suskind, based on his interviews with former Treasury Secretary O’Neill and 19,000 official documents, at the first National Security Council meeting on January 30, 2001,Bush asked “Condi [Rice], what are we going to talk about today?” In her seemingly pre-scripted response, she said, “How Iraq is destabilizing the region, Mr President.”

Then followed a presentation by CIA director George Tenet in which he rolled out a large, grainy aerial photograph of an Iraqi factory on a table: “A plant that produces either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture.” The NSC members hovered over the picture, nodding. But O’Neill, a former Chief Executive Officer of Alcoa, an aluminum manufacturing company, said, “I’ve seen a lot of factories around the world that look a lot like this one. What makes us suspect that this one is producing chemical or biological agents for weapons?” All that Tenet could offer was circumstantial evidence.

“From the very first instance, it was [Bush’s obsession] about Iraq,” O’Neill told Sixty Minutes, “It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The President was saying, ‘Go, find me a way to do it.'”

As soon as the Pentagon’s Afghanistan war ended in January 2002, Bush turned to Iraq. According to Rowan Scarborough, the Washington Times‘ Pentagon correspondent, and the author of Rumsfeld’s War, Bush signed a secret National Security Council directive establishing the goals and objectives for a war on Iraq, one of the classified documents Scarborough obtained, on February 16, 2002.

Little wonder that, soon after, Bush would tell three senators having a meeting with Rice at the White House, “We are taking him [Saddam Hussein] out.” And he purportedly said the same thing to Blair when the British leader visited him in early April.

It was in the course of their talks on September 6-7 at Camp David that Blair formally agreed to participate in a war against Iraq, provided Bush sought endorsement for military action from the United Nations Security Council without giving up his option to act unilaterally if that failed.

They also decided that in order to focus world attention on Iraq’s WMD and pressure Iraq to allow the UN to resume inspections, Britain should publish a dossier to show that the threat of Iraq’s WMD was real. The task fell to Blair because both leaders agreed that a British document would carry more credibility in the Arab and Muslim world than an American one. Such a dossier would also assist Bush in securing a Congressional vote in early October for the authority to declare war on Iraq.

Three days later a draft of the British dossier, Iraq’s Programme of Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government, was sent to Tenet in Washington. On September 13, Tenet expressed reservations to the statement: “Iraq continues to work on developing nuclear weapons… Uranium to be used for the production of fissile material has been purchased from Africa.” This led to a modified version, whereby “recent intelligence… indicates” that “Iraq has purchased large quantities of uranium ore, despite having no civil nuclear program that would require it.”

But suddenly, on September 16, the Iraqi government said that UN inspectors could return to Iraq “without any conditions.” Once that happened, the raison d’etre for the British dossier disappeared. It had achieved its aim without being released. Any rational leader would then have aborted the project. But not Tony Blair.

Indeed, a new paragraph added to the dossier on September 19 claimed that, anticipating the arrival of UN inspectors, the Iraqi government had already started hiding its WMD. How Britain managed to collect raw information about Iraq’s instantaneous concealment activities, assess it, and draw a conclusion about it within 72 hours must remain a matter of wonderment and awe in the annals of intelligence.

The dossier that was released on September 24 was titled Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. What got many British politicians and citizens worked up was the claim in the document that Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons were ready to be fired within 45 minutes of an order being issued by Saddam. Given that the Iraqi dictator allegedly possessed up to 20 medium range missiles, his warheads could have reached two British bases in Cyprus. This would have constituted an attack on Britain.

In the hullabaloo that followed soon after and erupted again at the time of Lord Hutton’s Inquiry in August 2003, no witness or expert noticed that the Bush administration made no mention of this 45-minute scenario, even though the Pentagon had beefed its troop presence in neighboring Kuwait by tens of thousands in September 2002. All somebody had to say was: “How come the US, which has so many soldiers in Kuwait did not raise the fearsome scenario of them being hit by Iraq’s WMD, for which Iraq’s known, permissible short range missiles would have sufficed?”

The moral is that when two or more parties collude to concoct “facts,” it is not always possible for them to synchronize their misinformation/disinformation/lies. That is how those who have broken the law collectively often get caught: their individual stories do not tally.

Another major Bush-Blair statement — that they had exhausted all avenues of peaceful resolution of the crisis before declaring war on Baghdad — has now turned out to be a lie. On November 7, 2003 the New York Times and the Guardian reported that Saddam Hussein had offered a deal in February 2003 meant to satisfy Bush and Blair on all the important aspects of the crisis: weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Middle East peace process, access of American oil companies to Iraqi petroleum, and the democratization of Iraq.

According to these reports (confirmed by all the parties involved), Saddam proposed that up to 2,000 FBI and CIA agents be dispatched to Iraq to look for its WMD anywhere in the country. He pledged that he would go along with any deal to which Israel and the mainstream Palestinian leadership agreed. He promised to give US oil corporations a share in the exploration and extraction of oil in Iraq. And he promised free and fair multiparty elections in Iraq under international supervision in two years.

Imad Hage, acting on behalf of Saddam, met Richard Perle, then chairman of the US Defense Policy Advisory Committee Board, in the lobby of the Marlborough Hotel in central London on March 7, and then they went to an office nearby and there for two hours Hage outlined the Iraqi offer to Perle. But so determined was Bush to invade Iraq that he refused point blank to consider Saddam’s offer and resolve the crisis peacefully.

This was in stark contrast to the softly, softly manner in which the Bush administration had been handling — and continues to handle — the issue of the WMD of North Korea, another member of the so-called Axis of Evil. There has been remarkable delinquency on the part of politicians and pundits in pointing out this disparity

Equally absent has been an effort to compare and contrast Haiti and Iraq. Recent developments in Haiti show that democracy has failed to become established there. It is a small republic, occupying only a third of the island of Hispaniola, which is in the backyard of the United States. Yet, Washington’s efforts since 1971 — when dictator Francois Duvalier died — to install democracy there have proven futile.

If this is what the US has to show for its democratization mission, worldwide, in Haiti after 33 years of trying, what chance is there for democracy, planted by invading Anglo-American armies in faraway Iraq, to take root?

Dilip Hiro is the author of Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm. His latest book is Secrets and Lies: Operation “Iraqi Freedom” and After, A Prelude to the Fall of U.S. Power in the Middle East? (both Nation Books). He is based in London and writes regularly for the New York Times, the Observer, the Guardian, the Washington Post and the Nation, and is a frequent commentator on CNN, BBC, Sky TV, and various American and British radio channels. This piece will appear in print in Middle East International


Copyright C2004 Dilip Hiro