The "powerful odor of mendacity" (to borrow Tennessee Williams' phrase) hung over George Bush's primetime virtual declaration of war Monday night [3/17/03].
When Bush proclaimed that "The Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised," that was a lie. What are the "most lethal weapons ever devised?" Why, nuclear weapons, of course. That Iraq possesses nukes, or is even close to making them, is something for which Bush has been unable to provide any evidence that would withstand scrutiny. The United Nations' inspectors have found none. And that which the administration has produced turned out to be fraudulent -- like the centerpiece documents about Nigerian uranium shipments to Iraq, which were childish forgeries.
Bush asserted that Iraq "has aided, trained, and harbored terrorists, including operatives of Al Qaeda." The last part of that was a lie. Pieces of the crucial document of U.S. "proof" that Saddam Hussein has aided his ideological enemy Al Qaeda -- a cut- and-paste British report assembled by Tony Blair's public relations strategist, and recommended heartily as the fundament for this assertion by Colin Powell in his prosecutor's brief at the United Nations -- turned out to have been plagiarized from a paper by a graduate student, based on data a decade old, and augmented by more plagiarizing from press cuttings.
Senior officials of both the British and U.S. intelligence services have told the press of their convictions that assertions of a Saddam/Al Qaeda connection are errant nonsense. For example, a British Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) report -- leaked to newspapers in the wake of Powell's speech by senior spooks appalled at the way their work was being distorted by their political masters -- concluded there were no such links, and added that "We believe that Bin Laden views the Ba'ath as an apostate regime; his aim of restoration of an Islamic caliphate, whose capital was Baghdad, is in ideological conflict with present-day Iraq."
In a reflection of the chimerical nature of Bush's "proofs," his speech did not even mention 9/11. And the day before the president spoke, the Baltimore Sun published a lengthy report showing that Bush's obsession with toppling Saddam preceded 9/11 by nearly a year: at the very first meeting of his National Security Council, the Sun reported (on testimony from participants) that Bush ordered plans to be drawn up "for both clandestine and military action to topple the regime."
Saddam has, of course, sent money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers; but so has our "ally" Saudi Arabia -- and we're not making war on the House of Saud.
Bush's assertion in the speech that, when we bring "democracy" to Iraq at gunpoint, this "will set an example to all the Middle East" has been proclaimed as "not credible" in a secret State Department report ("Iraq, the Middle East, and Change: No Dominoes") leaked to the Los Angeles Times and published on March 14. The report noted that "Electoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements." Where democratic elections have been tried in the region's Muslim countries, the results have been victories for Islamist parties in Algeria (a result abrogated by a military coup) and in Turkey, and a strong showing by Islamists in Morocco.
This is not an argument against democracy, but a reminder that international politics is not checkers, but chess: one has to think eight or 10 moves ahead. Bush is no chess-player. His war on Iraq is a gift to the Bin Ladens of this world and to the extremist theocrats; it will fuel the fiery preachments of the Islamist mullahs, facilitating recruitment by Islamist parties everywhere, and creating a climate in which the creation of new generations of terrorists will take a quantum leap.
"War criminals will be punished," Bush intoned, "and it will be no defense to say I was just following orders." This from a president who, in his first year in office, used the U.S. veto power at the United Nations to reject the International Criminal Court set up to prosecute war crimes (while asserting the U.S. military's right to be exempt from prosecution under international law).
Bush tried to blame France for causing the war by threatening to use its veto. What hypocrisy: since the United Nations creation, the United States has used its veto 76 times, and 41 of those vetoes in the last three decades concerned attempts by the United Nations to call Israel to account for its violations of multiple U.N. resolutions. Not just the Muslim world but many outside it find this record shockingly one-sided.
By asserting the United States' right to invade whomever it likes whenever it likes, Bush's speech brought the world to the most dangerous moment in its history since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. A first-strike on Iraq, unprovoked by any aggressive act on Saddam's part, will start a new nuclear arms race by countries that have nothing further to lose by creating a nuclear deterrent to the unchecked imperial power of Washington.
A first-strike on Iraq turns the United States into an aggressive power as a matter of policy, shreds the fragile framework of nascent international law and takes the global diplomacy back 70 years by making the United Nations as irrelevant as the League of Nations was in its ability to stop aggression.
Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Jackson, who was this country's representative to the International Conference on Military Trials in August 1945 and the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, told his colleagues then that "we must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it. And we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a trial of the causes of the war, for our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy."
Bush's Monday speech definitively threw that American principle into the trashcan of history. And that is ultimately more dangerous on a planetary scale than any depradation which Saddam has the means to accomplish.
[Doug Ireland is a New York-based media critic and commentator.]