Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Gene Lyons: Taking Lying, "Cocksure" Chimp To Task In November is Voter's Job

Administration stampeded nation into war

Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, July 14, 2004

One aspect of Michael Moore’s documentary film, "Fahrenheit 9/11," that you won’t hear Republicans denouncing is a 2001 video clip of Colin Powell calling Saddam Hussein no threat. Audiences react with shocked murmurs. The film doesn’t explain the context, a Feb. 24, 2001, diplomatic meeting in Cairo. Pressed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about the Iraqi people’s suffering under U.S. economic sanctions, Powell reminded his audience that they existed to check Saddam’s ambitions. "And frankly," he added, "they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors."

Not only was Iraq no danger to the U.S., it had no capacity to menace such powerhouses as Jordan and Kuwait. So why are we reading news accounts like this in July 2004: "Saddam’s army posed little threat, Senate panel says." That’s how the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette—a Republican newspaper, for those keeping score at home—headlined a summary of the Senate’s report on prewar intelligence failures. The New York Times’ version read: "Panel Describes Long Weakening of Hussein Army."

Almost 1,000 American and an estimated 10,000 Iraqi deaths and a strategic nightmare later, we have come full circle. But Michael Moore had to tell you. So how come nobody important in what Eric Alterman calls the "so-called liberal media" pressed the secretary of state to explain himself before the war, when it might have made some difference? Good question.

Actually, the U.S. military’s low opinion of Iraqi martial prowess was obvious to anybody with a modicum of the skepticism that’s supposed to be a virtue among journalists. As this column noted, even as the Bush White House began its pre-war war sales campaign, U.S. forces mobilized openly along the Iraqi border as if Saddam’s army had no capacity to defend itself. Had the Pentagon truly believed Iraq possessed nuclear weapons, its actions would have been the equivalent of notifying Adolf Hitler in advance about the D-Day landings. A nuclear bomb smuggled into the U.S. encampment could have caused an unimaginable catastrophe.

So no, I’m not buying the oft-repeated anecdote from Bob Woodward’s book, "Plan of Attack," in which a skeptical President Bush tells CIA director George Tenet in December 2002 that his "slamdunk" case for Iraqi WMDs wasn’t good enough to sell "Joe Public" on war. By that time, White House spokesmen, Bush emphatically among them, had been scaring Americans for months with talk about "mushroom clouds" (Condi Rice) and "bulletproof" evidence (Donald Rumsfeld) of what both the Senate and the 9/11 Commission have concluded were nonexistent links between Iraq and al-Qa’ida. The administration had stampeded Bush’s war resolution through Congress two months earlier. As the Senate report demonstrates to me, the CIA had long since cooked the books according to the administration’s recipe. Assuming he actually made the "slam-dunk" remark, Bush must have wanted them parboiled.

The Republican majority on the Senate Intelligence Committee should be commended for its patriotic diligence in bringing its scathing report to public attention shortly before the most crucial presidential election of our times. Its attempts to shield Bush from political consequences by denying that White House pressure helped cause the intelligence debacle, however, shouldn’t fool an inquisitive child.

Not every American news organization ignored the obvious. As early as Oct. 8, 2002, Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay of the Knight-Ridder newspapers reported that "a growing number of military officers, intelligence professionals and diplomats in [Bush’s] own government privately have deep misgivings about the administration’s double-time march toward war.... They charge that the administration squelches dissenting views and that intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to produce reports supporting the White House’s argument that Saddam poses such an immediate threat to the United States that pre-emptive military action is necessary."

Among a dozen anonymous sources, they emphasized, "no one who was interviewed disagreed."

Meanwhile, an annex to the Senate report reveals that Pentagon civilian appointees secretly gave intelligence "counter-briefings" to White House officials without the CIA director’s knowledge. Headed by Douglas Feith, a neo-conservative hawk who’d advocated war with Iraq since long before 9/11, they evidently filled Bush’s eager ears with tales of Saddam’s imaginary alliance with Osama bin Laden.

Everybody who’s ever worked in a large organization knows the difficulty of moving unwelcome information up the chain of command inside hierarchical bureaucracies. Nobody’s eager to tell his boss’ boss something that person doesn’t want to hear. The stronger the command structure, i. e. military and quasi-military bureaucracies, the harder it gets to push bad news to the top. It’s one big reason communism never worked.

The only known antidote for such organized folly is democracy. And the question is whether voters will punish our callow, cocksure president for the terrible strategic debacle into which he has led the country.

Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.


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