Wednesday, September 18, 2002
Edited by Susan Thompson (email@example.com)
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INTRODUCTION: BUYER BEWARE
The Bush administration is doing its best to sell the US and the world on a new attack on Iraq. The promise is that this time, the US will do what it couldn't or wouldn't the first time around, and go all the way to Baghdad to take out Saddam Hussein himself.
The reasons for a new attack on Iraq have been presented in a series of press-friendly promotional moments that have been long on promises and short on facts. Timing has been a critical factor -- it is no coincidence, for example, that the climax of the push has come immediately after the anniversary of Sept. 11, despite the fact that there is still no proven link between Iraq and the terrorist attacks of last year.
Given the big-business origins of most of the Bush Administration, it should come as no surprise that a new attack on Iraq is being promoted much like toothpaste or a soft drink. The Bush administration is planning on launching a $200 million dollar PR blitz this week that will be aimed at convincing US and international audiences to support a US-led attack on Iraq. The campaign will be overseen by the Office of Global Communications, and will "use advertising techniques to persuade crucial target groups that the Iraqi leader must be ousted" (see link in section 1 below).
The problem with marketing campaigns is that they're not about facts -- advertising usually centers around an emotional pitch that can have little to do with the product itself. But given the gravity of the situation, it's critical that we read the fine print. After all, even though many people in the world will agree that Saddam Hussein is a fearsome and despotic leader, there is still slim evidence the explains why he is suddenly so much more of a threat now than before. And the Bush Administration has offered little solid evidence indicating a clear and present danger to the US or the west.
A war on Iraq is not inevitable and, right now, there's no evidence that it's necessary. It's time to cut through the marketing and ask the President some hard questions about what the real costs and aims of this war are. After all, if we buy Bush's rhetoric, we're going to be stuck with the bill.
ONE LINK: FIGHTING MARKETING WITH FACTS
The US campaign to launch a major attack on Saddam Hussein has been based on a few common justifications. These include:
THE MARKETING CAMPAIGN AT HOME AND ABROAD
The prelude to the current aggressive marketing campaign on the Iraq issue began almost immediately after the attacks on Sept. 11. In this short timeline, the Guardian chronicles the strategic positioning on Iraq that occurred between Sept. 14, 2001 and July 29 of this year, including a number of apparently baseless insinuations that Iraq had something to do with the WTC attacks.
The key issue upon which the entire Iraq campaign seems to hinge is weapons
of mass destruction. The Bush administration insists that either Hussein has
them, or that he could create them quickly enough to be a threat. But former
weapons inspector Scott Ritter makes the case that Iraq does not actually
possess any weapons of mass destruction. He explains his position in this
Despite his first-hand experience and military service fighting Iraq, Ritter
has been demonized in the US press. Meanwhile, as the author of this article
sardonically notes, "the Bush bunch, including wife Laura, Powell,
vice-president Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National
Security adviser Condoleeza Rice, [have been] promoting an attack on Iraq as if
they were actors flogging their latest project on Leno and Letterman."
As Robert Jensen and Rahul Mahajan point out, although the mainstream debate
about Iraq is framed as a debate between hawks and doves, it is in fact a debate
between hawks and ultra-hawks. Even those opposed to all-out regime change still
support "containment," which means continuing the punishing sanctions and air
strikes that have been ongoing for the past 11 years.
Bush's speech on Sept. 11 was a carefully orchestrated PR stunt, engineered
to help officially launch a campaign against Iraq. The location was chosen for
maximum visual impact. Nor could there have been a better day than the
anniversary of Sept. 11 to make a public statement on Iraq.
Psychic and political numbing may be another important method that the Bush
administration has used to manufacture consent among the American people, both
for the war on terrorism and the impending war on Iraq.
Many members of the international community have thus far been unsupportive
of the idea of a new war on Iraq. As this article notes, it will be a "tough
sell" to the rest of the world, because such an attack has little to do with the
war on terrorism, because it is a preemptive attack, and because of a sense that
the US would be acting unilaterally. Still, that's not to say that the
international community can't be convinced to support the attack: "In fact it
would be relatively easy [for Washington] to make the case and line up the
necessary political support, though maybe not military support, for a strike
against the Iraqi regime," says Klaus Becher, a transatlantic expert at the
International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "But the key is to use
the Security Council."
And President Bush has in fact presented his case at the UN, asking for a
security council resolution on Iraq, on the very strategic date of Sept. 12.
After his speech at the UN, he was immediately praised for his new-found
multilateralism. His conversion to multilateralism may be superficial -- meant
only to get the international support that has been lacking -- but it's still
Weapons inspections are the cornerstone of Bush's new "multilateral"
approach. However, the mainstream media has conveniently forgotten that weapons
inspections were originally discredited because it turned out the the US was
using them to spy on Iraq.
Since Bush's UN speech, the Secretary General of the UN has announced that
Iraq has sent the UN a letter agreeing to comply with weapons inspections.
Despite this, the US is pressing ahead with trying to get a security council
resolution against Iraq.
In order to garner more support, the Bush administration is planning a
multimillion dollar PR blitz -- paid for by taxpayers -- about Iraq. It will be
aimed at US and international audiences and will be launched this week.
LESSONS IN PR FROM PREVIOUS WARS
There are many historical reasons to be suspicious of the current marketing campaign. In the past, the US government has used some very flimsy evidence as justification for war. In fact, in a few notorious cases this evidence has turned out to be completely manufactured -- pure PR, meant to garner support.
Perhaps the most well-known example of this involves the first Gulf War. At the time, it was widely publicized that Iraqi soldiers had taken Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and left them to die. A young woman testified that she had seen it happen. Many members of the government specifically cited this story when making speeches in support of the Gulf War. The only problem: it wasn't true. The young woman was the daughter of an ambassador, and the whole story had been created by a public relations firm.
This excellent article traces the genesis and collapse of the story, and its
probable impact on the first Gulf War.
Another major justification for the original Gulf War which was later
disproved was the supposed massive buildup of Iraqi troops along the border of
Saudi Arabia. The evidence for this buildup was allegedly provided by top secret
satellite photos. However, commercial Soviet satellite images of the same area
showed only empty desert. Experts familiar with this incident and with the baby
incubator story are concerned that similar disinformation could be used to
justify another attack on Iraq.
Interestingly, President Bush and Tony Blair both referred to a set of satellite photos that allegedly showed construction on nuclear sites at a meeting between the two leaders on September 7. Bush also referred to a report by weapons inspectors in 1998 that said that Iraq was six months away from developing nuclear weapons, saying, "I don't know what more evidence we need." The President then went on to note that "he would try to convince the American public of the importance of pursuing Iraq by recalling the Sept. 11 attacks."
However, the satellite photos that Blair and Bush were referring to don't
necessarily show construction related to a new weapons program, and even the UN
inspectors who raised concerns about them made it clear that "We can't draw any
conclusions from a new building or a new road."
In response to a report by Robert Windrem of NBC, the White House issued a
retraction of the erroneous conclusions Bush drew from both the satellite photos
and the UN report, which it turned out did not actually state that Hussein was
six months away from developing weapons -- rather, he was six to twenty-four
months away from developing weapons before the first Gulf War and the subsequent
What other compelling evidence is there that Iraq has the capability to build
nuclear weapons? Aluminum tubes. "The administration says Iraq has tried several
times to buy aluminum tubes for use in centrifuge equipment to make bomb-grade
uranium. While the attempts were thwarted, the specialists note that such
materials have other uses." This and the other vague and erroneous examples of
"evidence" of Iraq's danger to the world are causing experts and officials to
ask for more specific evidence before launching a preemptive strike.
Perhaps one of the most suspicious recent examples of journalism related to
Iraq involves the recent interviews given by a woman who claims to be Saddam's
former mistress. ABC reported on the woman's claims that Hussein loves Frank
Sinatra music and that he met with bin Laden in the late 80's. Many other news
agencies and popular programs, including Entertainment Tonight (which placed her
in a section on celebrities), have featured her story.
AN ONGOING WAR THAT IS ALREADY ESCALATING
The most basic assumption repeated again and again in the media is that an attack on Iraq would be a "new" war, a war that has not yet started. But billing an attack on Iraq in this way is more marketing than truth.
For one thing, in many ways the original Gulf War has never ended. The devastating sanctions that have deprived the Iraqi civilian population of essential items such as food continue to this day. It is estimated that over a million people have died due to the sanctions, roughly half of them children. The ultimate goal of the sanctions was to weaken the Iraqi regime, but after over a decade, it is his people who are weakened the most. When questioned about the human cost of these sanctions, and specifically the death of a half million children, Madeleine Albright said in a now infamous television interview: "It’s a hard choice, but I think, we think, it’s worth it."
This well-referenced article by Voices in the Wilderness exposes the top lies
and misunderstandings about sanctions.
This article calls the sanctions against Iraq the "Silent Hiroshima".
Along with the sanctions, air strikes have also been mounted regularly in
Iraq for years. Most of these have occurred in the "no-fly zones" that were set
up after the first Gulf War, but in practice what this means is that the US
military has never stopped bombing Iraq. They've just stopped bombing in certain
parts of it. (For more on the continued bombing, see the bulletins on "The US vs
Iraq" at http://www.peace.moveon.org/bulletin8.php3
and "The Gulf War Revisited" at
The Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace maintains a site that lists every
incident of US bombing of Iraq. There are over twenty entries for this year
alone. This page is highly recommended -- it's an eye opener.
Perhaps the most well-known example of the periodic attacks on Iraq is Desert
Fox, the code name for a series of US air strikes on Iraq which occurred while
President Clinton was caught up in the Lewinsky scandal.
President Bush is not waiting for the approval of the US Congress or American citizens before involving the US military in the region. Even without the formal declaration of war, the US is escalating the conflict with Hussein.
The Guardian reports a slow but significant build-up in the region, which
this article terms, "a series of low-key moves on the Gulf chessboard designed
to put all the pieces in place for a rapid US assault should the UN route now
being pursued by Washington fail." According to this article there are 30,000
troops in the region, and based on this deployment, it is estimated that "It
would take 10 days to bring in the additional equipment, 10 days to airlift the
troops and 10 days to get to Baghdad." Perhaps the most significant fact here is
that the US central command will move its headquarters to Qatar in November,
"perhaps indefinitely." It seems that members of the administration are counting
on a war, even though the issue has not technically been decided.
Other reports indicate an even more aggressive approach to the conflict. The
Asia Times lists over 50,000 more troops that have been moved to the region
since the beginning of the year. That means that somewhere around 100,000 troops
are already posted in and around Iraq. And at least according to this article,
they are already engaged in actions along the lines of those provided in Bush's
presidential speech on ousting Saddam Hussein. In other words, by some reports,
the war on Iraq has already begun in all but name.
Meanwhile, there are also indications that the air war against Iraq is
escalating. On September 5, over 100 jets reportedly took part in a large
bombing raid on Iraq, the largest in four years. Both British and American jets
took part in the raid, which seemed designed to "destroy air defenses to allow
easy access for special forces helicopters to fly into Iraq via Jordan or Saudi
Arabia to hunt down Scud missiles before a possible war within the next few
So not only is the Bush administration trying to make the war appear inevitable through rhetoric, it is making it inevitable in reality by quietly but steadily moving resources to the region and escalating the attack. This despite the fact that debate continues to rage about the issue at home and abroad.
THE COSTS OF REGIME-CHANGE
A discussion of how the Bush administration is selling war on Iraq to the US public wouldn't be complete without a quick rundown of the possible costs.
The President's economic advisor has said that a war with Iraq would be good
for the economy, and would drive down oil prices.
However, he also estimates that a new attack on Iraq will cost a whopping
$200 billion, which would only add to the budget deficit that the Bush
administration has incurred due to the economic slowdown and the astronomical
costs of the war on Afghanistan. Other experts also worry that the last four
recessions came after oil prices jumped, which could conceivably happen again if
Iraqi oil is removed from the market or other oil supplies are
Oil is, of course, a major factor in the coming war. According to the
Washington Post, "The importance of Iraq's oil has made it potentially one of
the administration's biggest bargaining chips in negotiations to win backing
from the U.N. Security Council and Western allies for President Bush's call for
tough international action against Hussein. All five permanent members of the
Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- have
international oil companies with major stakes in a change of leadership in
Baghdad." In other words, while regular people will probably have to foot the
bill for an attack on Iraq, anyone with ties to the oil companies ( Bush and
Cheney for example) will probably profit immensely.
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