January 22, 2004
Trudging Though the Sludge along Memory Lane
by Maureen Farrell
Though former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's recent revelation that President Bush had been planning to attack Iraq months before Sept. 11 comes as no surprise to some (for more information, see "Bush planned Iraq 'regime change' before becoming President," the Sunday Herald, Sept. 15, 2002), chances are, it did come as a bit of a shock to those who actually believed the ever-constant invocation of 9/11 as part of the President's ever-changing rationale for war.
"Some citizens wonder, after 11 years of living with this problem [Iraq], why do we need to confront it now?" the President said in Oct. 2002. "And there's a reason. We've experienced the horror of September the 11th. We have seen that those who hate America are willing to crash airplanes into buildings full of innocent people. Our enemies would be no less willing, in fact, they would be eager, to use biological or chemical, or a nuclear weapon," Bush said. [WhiteHouse.gov] And so, seven in 10 Americans believed Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, while others believed war in Iraq would arrive at the last hour, as a last resort.
"You say we're headed for war in Iraq. I don't know why you say that. I'm the person who gets to decide, not you," Bush told a reporter in Jan. 2003. Yet according to O'Neill, that decision was made two years beforehand, and was discussed at the very first National Security Council meeting, a mere 10 days after Bush's inauguration. "From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," O'Neill told 60 Minutes. "It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying, 'Go find me a way to do this."
O'Neill expressed surprise that questions such as "Why Saddam?" and "Why now?" weren't asked. "For me, the notion of preemption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap," he said. Backed by memos such as the 'Plan for post-Saddam Iraq,' journalist Ron Suskind also revealed that the Bush administration was discussing an occupation of Iraq a full eight months before the Sept. 11 attacks. [CBSNews.com]
Though fabrications and exaggerations regarding WMD claims have long since been exposed, each time one rationale is discarded, another takes it place. By the time it became clear that the threat from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was based largely on cooked intelligence (and Paul Wolfowitz admitted that the administration "settled" on weapons of mass destruction for "bureaucratic reasons"), government officials declared that WMD hype was a "matter of emphasis" and said that Sept. 11 was actually "the main reason for war." [ABCNews.com].
Now that the public is learning that the invasion of Iraq was planned before Sept. 11, however, Bush is deflecting criticism by using an age-old trick -- he's blaming Bill Clinton. But given that the Bush administration has been less than forthright on, well, on just about everything, it might help to dissect some of the statements administration officials and its apologists are making. In other words, it's time to don a pair of deep waders and sift through the muck in an attempt to differentiate truth from spin. For your consideration, here are but a few of the assertions and half-truths making the rounds:
On the surface, this statement appears to be true, especially when one compares the Iraq Liberation Act passed by Congress in 1998 (which called for the U.S. "to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein") to the GOP's 2000 platform promise to "assist the opposition to Saddam Hussein" and implement "a comprehensive plan for the removal of Saddam Hussein." Then, too, a Feb. 8, 2002 article in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled ‘Nothing Saddam does can save him, says Powell,' spelled out the administration's policy early on. "Even if Baghdad readmits United Nations arms inspectors, the United States will still pursue a 'regime change' policy, with or without the support of its allies," the paper quoted the Secretary of State saying, nine months before U.N. inspectors returned to Iraq.
Given this administration's track record, however, it's not wise to blindly believe anything Bush says and far more prudent to consider inconsistencies in this saga. For example, the 2000 GOP platform also contained a statement by Gov. George Bush calling for the U.S. to "refuse the crown of empire" and to refrain from giving into the temptation to "dominate others with our power." And in what now reads like a parody, the GOP chided the Clinton administration's ineptitude. "The arrogance, inconsistency, and unreliability of the administration's diplomacy have undermined American alliances, alienated friends, and emboldened our adversaries," the document read. [PBS.org]
Most revealing, however, is the shift in the administration's stated policy on Iraq. "Two top Bush administration officials [Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice] said yesterday that America would accept the continuation of Saddam Hussein‘s regime if Iraq disarms, apparently backing away from the official U.S. policy of seeking the ouster of the dictator," the Washington Times reported in Oct. 2002, right about the time the U.S. was wooing, coercing and spying on allies in an attempt to get them to go along with a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.
"All we are interested in is getting rid of those weapons of mass destruction. We think the Iraqi people would be a lot better off with a different leader, a different regime, but the principal offense here are weapons of mass destruction," Powell said on Meet the Press, adding, "And remember where regime change came from. It came out of the previous administration; it came out of the Congress in 1998 when it was thought the only way to get rid of weapons of mass destruction was to change the regime." [USInfo.state.gov]
Picking up where Colin Powell left off last October, administration officials are also invoking the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act to deflect damage from O'Neill's revelations.
Once again, this statement, on the surface, is also technically correct. But it's also technically misleading. In a March 10, 2003 piece entitled, "Were Neo-Conservatives' 1998 Memos a Blueprint for Iraq War?" ABC News reported that, "Years before George W. Bush entered the White House, and years before the Sept. 11 attacks set the direction of his presidency, a group of influential neo-conservatives hatched a plan to get Saddam Hussein out of power."
That group, of course, was the Project for the New American Century, who, in 1998, wrote open letters to President Clinton and to GOP congressional leaders calling for "the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power" through the use of force, if necessary.
In other words, though they appear loathe to admit it, the government policy "since 1998," was established, in large part, thanks to efforts by members of the current administration. Out of the 18 people who signed the open letter to President Clinton in 1998, 10, including Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, are in the Bush administration.
And, as ABC News pointed out, in 2000, "the group predicted that the shift would come about slowly, unless there were "some catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor." [ABCNews.com]
This is also technically true. You can scan Bush's speeches and documents and you'll never see "Iraq is an imminent threat," anywhere. Take, for instance, The National Security Strategy of the United States, as laid out by President George W. Bush in Sept. 2002:
"For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. . . .We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today's adversaries. Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us using conventional means. They know such attacks would fail. Instead, they rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction-weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered covertly, and used without warning... . To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively."
"Imminent danger" and "imminent threat" are mentioned, alongside "rogue states" and "weapons of mass destruction," but Iraq isn't mentioned whatsoever.
When former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was asked by a reporter, "Well, we went to war, didn't we, to find these -- because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn't that true?" Fleischer replied, "Absolutely." But even so, you can wade through Bush's speeches regarding Iraq, and you'll not see the words "imminent threat" anywhere.
During a recent C-Span appearance, conservative pundit Laura Ingraham deemed the use of the term "imminent threat" an example of "liberal bias" in the media. "Why would it be?" she asked, "that David Sanger, on the front page of the New York Times, would report that President Bush made the pre-war assertion that Iraq posed an ‘imminent threat,' when President Bush never used that phrase – never said that." (Conservatives cite the President's 2003 State of the Union Address speech, which included the phrase, "Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent," as proof that the president didn't imply that the threat was immediate, while often conveniently ignoring Bush's follow-up line, "Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?")
Al Franken responded that Bush implied imminence repeatedly. "Other times he said things that would lead you to believe there was an imminent threat," he reminded.
"I don't think he ever said anything approaching that," Ingraham replied.
Of course, phrases like "growing and gathering danger," "mushroom cloud," "urgent duty," "any day," and "less than a year" popped up from time to time, and Bush actually cited a nonexistent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency saying that Iraq was "six months away from developing a weapon" (while adding "I don't know what more evidence we need"), but Ingraham and others stick to their guns. So did Bush deliberately try to make people believe there was an imminent threat? Or is Ms. Ingraham correct in saying that Bush never implied any such thing? Consider these statements from the President's Oct. 7, 2002 speech at the Cincinnati Museum Center:
Given that the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's recent study concluded that the Bush administration "systematically misrepresented" the threat from Saddam Hussein's weapons program and said Iraq did not "pose an immediate threat to the United States, to the region or to global security," it's easy to understand why right wing pundits are now saying that Bush never portrayed Iraq as an imminent threat. The study also concluded that Saddam's nuclear program had been dismantled, his chemical weapons capabilities had been destroyed and that "there was no solid evidence of a cooperative relationship between Saddam's government and Al Qaeda."
When Colin Powell was asked about the Carnegie report, he replied, "I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection, but I think the possibility of such connections did exist and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did." Yet just under a year ago, Colin Powell went before the United Nations with a laundry that went well beyond "consideration."
"This is evidence, not conjecture. This is true. This is all well documented," he said, while conjuring horrific visions of Saddam bearing nukes. "We have no indication that Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear weapons program. On the contrary, we have more than a decade of proof that he remains determined to acquire nuclear weapons," Powell said.
Oddly enough, Powell's boss seems to have flip-flopped a time or two himself. "If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're a humble nation but strong, they'll welcome us," Gov. Bush said in 2000. "You're either with us or against us," President Bush said in 2001.
"Let us not dominate others with our power," Gov. Bush said in 2000. "F**k Saddam! We're taking him out!" President Bush said in 2002.
"The modesty of true strength. The humility of real greatness. This is the strong heart of America. And this will be the spirit of my administration," Gov. George W. Bush advertised in 2000. "Bring 'em on," President Bush said in 2003.
Yes, this is the guy who was going to restore honor and integrity to the White House. Trudging though the sludge along Memory Lane, however, one thing is clear: Honor and integrity will just have to wait.
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell
otherwise noted, all original