Weapons of mass deception/bullet points
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."
The bullet points in the Bush administration's message on Iraq are easy to summarize. Each point has been carefully "focused" to appeal in a misleading fashion to legitimate public aspirations for peace, safety, freedom, human rights and democracy:
- "Iraq is in cahoots with international terrorism."
- The Bush administration has not hesitated to use outright disinformation to deliver this message. In December, CBS 60 Minutes debunked an often-mentioned report that Al Qaeda hijacker Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague prior to the deadly attacks on September 11. Despite the absence of evidence that the meeting took place, administration officials as senior as Vice President Dick Cheney continue to repeat it. The very idea of such an alliance is far-fetched, since Osama bin Laden has called for the destruction of the "infidel" Saddam Hussein's regime.
- Still, the Bush and Blair administrations seem to feel the need to attempt to fabricate links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. This lay at the heart of the scandal in England in February following the disclosure that much of its published dossier on Iraq was actually plagiarized from the Internet. Touted as an analysis by the British MI6 spy agency, the document was actually cobbled together by junior aides to Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's top spin doctor. Several pages had been cut and pasted, right down to the typographical errors, from the Internet version of an article by a post-doctorate student.
- The dossier was "obviously part of the Prime Minister's propaganda campaign," said Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies. "The intelligence services were not involved - I've had two people phoning me today to say, 'Look, we had nothing to do with it.'" 
- In fact, a leaked report from British intelligence explicitly contradicts the government's official position, saying there "are no known links between the Iraqi regime and the al-Qaeda network." 
- "Iraq has weapons of mass destruction."
- Iraq did possess weapons of mass destruction at the time of Operation Desert Storm (many of them supplied by the United States and other western nations). International sanctions forced the destruction of many weapons in the Iraqi arsenal, and it is true that the regime has failed to document their complete destruction, so it it possible that some such weapons remain. However, the Bush administration's paranoid warnings of imminent danger are contradicted by prominent analysts within the Western intelligence community. The main reason that this claim continues to circulate is that the U.S. administration has been relentless about demanding "message consistency" from government officials.
- "Even as it prepares for war against Iraq, the Pentagon is already engaged on a second front: its war against the Central Intelligence Agency," reported Robert Dreyfuss in the December 16, 2002 issue of American Prospect. "Morale inside the U.S. national-security apparatus is said to be low, with career staffers feeling intimidated and pressured to justify the push for war." 
- In July, Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), who houses the Senate Intelligence Committee, was so baffled by the contradictory assessments of Iraq coming from different agencies that he asked the CIA to come up with a report on the likelihood that Saddam Hussein would use weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The CIA concluded that the likelihood of Hussein using such weapons was "low" for the "foreseeable future."  However, the CIA analysis added, "Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions. ... Saddam might decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamist terrorists in conducting a WMD attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him." 
- The gap between rhetoric and reality about Iraq's weaponry became evident with the launch of war in March 2003. As U.S. forces blew past Iraq's military, U.S. and Kuwaiti officials talked ominously about reports that Iraq had allegedly fired two banned Scud missiles at U.S. positions inside Kuwait. Neither missile produced any casualties, but hundreds of newspapers and other media reported ominously on the alleged Scud attack. "The very missiles Saddam Hussein fired at U.S. forces in Kuwait appear to have been the same weapons he either claimed not to possess or agreed to destroy," reported the Associated Press on March 21. "The first salvos were both a telling sign of Iraq's hidden weapons and a reminder that Saddam still has the capability of delivering chemical or biological warheads." This triumphant line ended when Kuwaiti and U.S. officials had to withdraw their claim that Scuds had been used.
- As late as September 2002, a British report said that Iraq might have as many as 20 banned Scud missiles, about one-fourth of the 88 Scuds that Iraq actually fired during Desert Storm. And even if Hussein still possesses Scuds, weapons specialist John Clearwater said it was doubtful that they still function, noting that Iraqis have not been able to fire and test the missiles or obtain replacement parts for them for more than a decade. "These missiles have a short shelf life," said Clearwater, who has written three books on nuclear weapons and cruise missiles. "The longer you go without testing, the lower confidence you have in them."
- A hypothetical arsenal of 20 Scuds also pales in comparison with the hundreds of real Tomahawk cruise missiles that the United States launched directly into Baghdad on the first day of its "shock and awe" bombing campaign.
- "Iraq has a nuclear weapons program."
- No one disputes that Saddam desires to have nuclear weapons and made active attempts to develop them before the first Gulf War. However, the 1991 Gulf War led to the destruction of whatever facilities he did have along with subsequent weapons inspections making it difficult for Saddam to restart the program.
- In the push for the 2003 war with Iraq, Bush administration officials, including the President himself in his Spring 2003 State of the Union speech, cited evidence that Saddam attempted to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger. However, officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) looked at the evidence and stated that it was obviously forged.  Also, the CIA a year earlier found the evidence to be unreliable. 
- Congressman Henry A. Waxman, who approved Bush's war initiative, is concerned that such a mishap could have occurred. "It is hard to imagine how this situation could have developed," he stated in a letter to the President. " The two most obvious explanations — knowing deception or unfathomable incompetence — both have immediate and serious implications." Waxman added, "These facts raise troubling questions. It appears that at the same time you, Secretary Rumsfeld, and State Department officials were citing Iraq's efforts to obtain uranium from Africa as a crucial part of the case against Iraq, U.S. intelligence officials regarded this very same evidence as unreliable. If true, this is deeply disturbing: it would mean that your Administration asked the U.N. Security Council, the Congress, and the American people to rely on information that your own experts knew was not credible." 
- The Bush administration has failed to provide adequate explanation for this situation, and the national media has failed to pursue the matter.
- "Iraq brutalizes its own people."
- There is no question that this is true, but nevertheless, the Administration has resorted to lying about Iraqi atrocities. During the buildup to Operation Desert Storm in 1990, the first Bush administration, working closely with the Hill & Knowlton PR firm, circulated false claims that Iraqi soldiers had bayoneted pregnant women and pulled newborn infants from hospital incubators, leaving the babies to die on the cold hospital floor.
- Why tell lies about Iraqi atrocities when there are so many true stories to showcase? One reason is that many of Saddam Hussein's worst crimes were committed with U.S. support, both before and after Operation Desert Storm. In the 1980s, Donald Rumsfeld and other officials in the first Bush administration treated Hussein as a valued ally while he gassed Kurds and launched human wave assaults against Iran. Rather than face these realities about Iraqi human rights violations, the White House prefers to dwell on false stories or on stories that are selectively told to omit mention of the U.S. role.
- The National Security Archive, a nonprofit research institute on international affairs, recently published a series of declassified U.S. documents detailing the U.S. embrace of Saddam Hussein in the early 1980s, including a photo and video footage of Donald Rumsfeld personally shaking Hussein's hand. More important than the handshake, the documents show that the United States supported Saddam even though he had invaded neighboring Iran and even though the United States knew that Iraq had long-range nuclear aspirations, abused the human rights of its citizens, and used chemical weapons on Iranians and Kurds.  As the Washington Post reported in December 2002, "The administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush authorized the sale to Iraq of numerous items that had both military and civilian applications, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, such as anthrax and bubonic plague." 
|Iraqi President Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983.|
- "This war is not about oil."
- The Bush administration constantly repeats that war with Iraq is not about oil. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed on a 2002 Infinity Radio call-in program, "It has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil."  However, this goes contrary to history and Rumsfeld's own involvement with Iraq during the Reagan administration.
- As shown in declassified documents published by the National Security Archive, Rumsfeld and the administration openly embraced Saddam Hussein in the 1980's. The Institute for Policy Studies investigative report, Crude Vision, shows how this embrace was all about oil and the Aqaba pipeline project for then-Secretary of State George P. Shultz's former company Bechtel, a project that would have provided more oil to Western markets at lower costs.  Many of the officials involved with the failed deal, Donald Rumsfeld, Edwin Meese, George P. Shultz, James R. Schlesinger, Robert McFarlane, Lawrence S. Eagleburger, and Judge William Clark, helped craft George Walker Bush's policy towards Iraq. The report concludes, "The break in US-Iraq relations occurred not after Iraq used chemical weapons on the Iranians, nor after Iraq gassed its own Kurdish people, nor even after Iraq invaded Kuwait, but rather, followed Saddam's rejection of the Aqaba pipeline deal." 
- In the April of 2001, a report, called Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century and sponsored by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University and the Council on Foreign Relations, was submitted to Vice President Dick Cheney. The report emphasis the problems Iraq can cause to the U.S. and worlds oil supply, "Over the past year, Iraq has effectively become a swing producer, turning its taps on and off when it has felt such action was in its strategic interest to do so." Since the U.S. imported over $6 billion worth of crude oil from Iraq (and subsequently $5.8 billion in 2001 and $3.5 billion in 2002)  there existed great concern that Saddam's ability to control Iraqi oil could be used as an economic weapon.
- The report further iterates the concern of Saddam shutting of the tap:
- Still, the IEA must be assured of efficient joint decision-making in the event of a supply disruption under tight market conditions. This includes any possibility that Saddam Hussein may remove Iraqi oil from the market for an extended period of time and that Saudi Arabia will not or cannot replace all of the barrels. (This is a contingency that hangs over the market given the ability of Baghdad to continue to earn revenues through smuggling and other uncontrolled oil exports, even if it officially cuts off exports that are permitted through U.N. procedures.)
- Iraq remains a destabilizing influence to U.S. allies in the Middle East, as well as to regional and global order, and to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East. Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his own export program to manipulate oil markets. This would display his personal power, enhance his image as a "Pan Arab" leader supporting the Palestinians against Israel, and pressure others for a lifting of economic sanctions against his regime.
- It is worth noting that the report suggests a more multilateral approach to deal with Iraq, but all the recommendations are centered around controling Iraq oil supplies, and using force if needed. Neil Mackay for the Sunday Herald writes (along with quoting from the report):
- The [report] recommends using UN weapons inspectors as a means of controlling Iraqi oil. On one hand, 'military intervention' is supported; but the report also backs 'de-fanging' Saddam through weapons inspectors and then moving in to take control of Iraqi oil.
- 'Once an arms-control program is in place, the US could consider reducing restrictions [sanctions] on oil investment inside Iraq,' it reads. The reason for this is that 'Iraqi [oil] reserves represent a major asset that can quickly add capacity to world oil markets and inject a more competitive tenor to oil trade'. 
- This, however, may not be as effective as simply taking out Saddam. The report admits that an arms-control policy will be ' quite costly' as it will 'encourage Saddam Hussein to boast of his 'victory' against the United States, fuel his ambition and potentially strengthen his regime'. It adds: 'Once so encouraged, and if his access to oil revenues was to be increased by adjustments in oil sanctions, Saddam Hussein could be a greater security threat to US allies in the region if weapons of mass destruction, sanctions, weapons regimes and the coalition against him are not strengthened.'
- A key point made in the report is the failed U.S. energy policies of the past several decades and is a
- ...failure of both Democrats and Republicans to fashion a workable energy policy. Energy policy was allowed to drift by both political parties despite its centrality to America's domestic economy and to our nation's security. It was permitted to drift despite the fact that virtually every American recession since the late 1940s has been preceded by spikes in oil prices. The American people need to know about this situation and be told as well that there are no easy or quick solutions to today's energy problems.... So, we come to the report's central dilemma: the American people continue to demand plentiful and cheap energy without sacrifice or inconvenience. But emerging technologies are not yet commercially viable to fill shortages and will not be for some time. Nor is surplus energy capacity available at this time to meet such demands. Indeed, the situation is worse than the oil shocks of the past because in the present energy situation, the tight oil market condition is coupled with shortages of natural gas in the United States, heating fuels for the winter, and electricity supplies in certain localities.
- The report appears to provide a compelling reasons that oil was a key motive for administration hawks push for war with Iraq despite the administration's consistent downplaying of the oil card. But, as Neil Mackay states, "The report is linked to a veritable who's who of US hawks, oilmen and corporate bigwigs. It was commissioned by James Baker, the former US Secretary of State under George Bush Sr, and submitted to Vice-President Dick Cheney ... a full five months before September 11. Yet it advocates a policy of using military force against an enemy such as Iraq to secure US access to, and control of, Middle Eastern oil fields." 
- "This is not a war at all; it's a 'liberation' movement."
- This message is embodied in the very name of the latest White House PR front group, the " Committee for the Liberation of Iraq." However, this message too is a mixed bag.
- The Kurdish population of Iraq has learned through bitter experience not to trust U.S. promises of "liberation." In fact, U.S. policies have historically aligned it more closely with the Sunni Muslims who comprise the power base for Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party than with the Shiite Muslims and Kurds who comprise 80 percent of the country's population.
- During Desert Storm, the Bush administration called on the Kurds to rise up and rebel, but when they did, realpolitik took precedence over morality. The United States may hate Saddam Hussein, but it has no desire to see Kurdish aspirations realized, particularly when Turkey, an important U.S. ally, regards the Kurds as terrorists. The Kurds, who made the mistake of taking the Bush administration at its word, were shocked when it pulled back and allowed Hussein's regime to brutally crush their uprising. Is there any reason to expect a different result this time? As preparations for war neared completion in January 2003, "American officials angered representatives of the Iraqi opposition, much of which is Shia and Kurdish, at a meeting in Ankara, Turkey by revealing that America planned a military government for Iraq but would keep in place most of the Sunni establishment that had served President Hussein."
- Iraq's Shiite Muslims, who make up a majority of the country's total population, also distrust the United States. Mohammed Baqir Hakim heads the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), the main Shiite opposition movement in Iraq's south. SAIRI, which looks to Iran for leadership, began organizing public fight against the U.S. military occupation within days after Saddam was toppled. "In the absence of other major Shi'ite groups, religious or secular, with competing credentials and organization, SAIRI has a good chance of growing rapidly inside Iraq by filling the vacuum of power in the post-Saddam era," predicted international relations consultant Hooman Peimani on April 18, 203. "Secular Shi'ite leaders such as Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INI), do not seem to have much of a chance to emerge as popular leaders, despite well-publicized American backing. In fact, such backing serves as a negative point in the eyes of many Iraqis who see him as an American stooge. ... On Tuesday, the SAIRI refused to attend an American 'tent' conference held beside the ancient city of Ur outside Nasiriyah as a step for establishing a pro-American government under the leadership of a retired American general. ... The SAIRI has accepted the creation of a secular coalition government, but it opposes an American puppet government. While reflecting a genuine popular resentment towards American interference in Iraq's internal affairs, Tuesday's massive anti-American demonstration by SAIRI supporters in Nasiriyah who opposed the 'tent' conference indicated that the power struggle between Iran, the SAIRI's main regional supporter, and the United States over the long-term direction of Iraq has just started." 
- Many U.S. citizens, including soldiers currently in Iraq, genuinely believe that they are helping lead the Iraqi people into a better, more democratic regime where civil rights are respected. The people who live in the Middle East however, are well aware of the long and contradiction-filled history of U.S. government support for undemocratic regimes in the region and elsewhere. For the people in Arab nations, therefore, the attitude of this war slogan is seen as naivete at best, and at worst as arrogance and malign indifference.
- "We're not against Muslims."
- Officially, the Bush administration has taken pains to insist that Islam is a "religion of peace." The Council of American Muslims for Understanding, an organization created by the U.S. State Department, has been trying to impress Muslims abroad. It has a website and a glossy brochure titled "Muslim Life in America." However, these words belie the anti-Muslim vitriol coming from Bush's strongest supporters in the ultra-conservative Christian movement. On February 1, 2003, the Conservative Political Action Committee held its annual meeting in Washington while vendors at exhibition booths sold Islamaphobic paraphernalia such as a bumper sticker that said, "No Muslims - No Terrorism." 
- During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Bush was forced to issue a statement disavowing anti-Islamic comments by prominent conservative Christian leaders, supporters of the president, including his advisors, some of whom regard Muslims as "worse than the Nazis" because "what the Muslims want to do to the Jews is worse" (to use the words of Pat Robertson, whose Christian Coalition was a key source of voters that got Bush elected).   A prominent book in their circles is Islam Unveiled by Robert Spencer, which purports to prove that violence is taught at the root of the Qu'ran and that in time the extremists will win the argument and all Muslims take up violence.
- A February 15, 2003 CCA conference was dubbed an "Islamaphobic hate-fest" by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Speakers included Daniel Pipes, who said "increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American Muslims will present true dangers to American Jews," along with Joseph Farah, editor of WorldNetDaily.com, who said "Islam has been at war with the West, with Christianity, with Judaism … ever since the days of Muhammad." Another speaker at the forum, Boston Herald columnist Don Feder, expressed a common view about Islam as a religion which, "throughout its 1,400-year history, has lent itself well to fanaticism, terrorism, mass murder, oppression and conversion by the sword."  Many Christian fundamentalists also see conflict in the Middle East as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecies of Armageddon that predict war and mass slaughters of Jews and Muslims. Others speak of the need for converting Muslims to Christianity to end their "problem with violence" - talk that reminds Muslims of the Christian crusades and other past attempts at forcible conversion.
- It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Muslims are skeptical when the Bush administration talks of peace, love, and understanding. In December, Charlotte Beers launched an advertising campaign in Arab countries. Titled "Shared Values," the campaign tried to showcase the religious tolerance and friendly treatment of Muslims in the United States. The campaign was abruptly terminated after a month, however, when several Arab governments refused to run the ads and focus groups said the ads left them cold. 
Return to main article