Thursday, March 09, 2006

[Iraq War]

Was Iraq Any Threat?

On February 5, 2003 Colin Powell made a 10,800-word case to the UN that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It was, more than anything else the administration did in the run-up to the war, the moment that convinced the nation (if not the world). Powell mustered a battalion of convincing looking satellite photos, and then offered what sounded like facts:
"Look at the image on the left. On the left is a close-up of one of the four chemical bunkers. The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions. The arrow at the top that says security points to a facility that is the signature item for this kind of bunker. Inside that facility are special guards and special equipment to monitor any leakage that might come out of the bunker." [italics added]
Of course, it was all a scam, as reality has brutally demonstrated. Powell should have been dressed up in a cheap suit: when he waved a vial of white powder at the UN, he was no more reliable than a used-car salesman screaming about overpriced lemons.

Following the invasion, the US found no WMD and the administration kept asserting that "no one could have known." It had been a gamble to invade--the US thought that despite weak evidence, they'd probably turn up enough to justify the invasion. Neocons, having spent the better part of a decade arguing Iraq was bristling with nukes, had also effectively convinced most Americans he probably did. (I was one.)

In the intervening years, we've learned that the administration rigged the intelligence--Richard Clarke reported that in the hours following 9/11, Bush was looking to invade Iraq. The Bushies relied on Ahmed Chalabi, who had his own agenda and supplied bogus informants to the US to provoke an attack. (Chalabi was the dog; Bush his wagging tail.) And of course, there were the neocons within the administration who didn't care what the justification was--they just wanted an invasion so they could (pick one) seize oilfields/spread democracy. Everyone was willing to believe lies.

But then, there was a whole lot of evidence, readily and publicly-available, to suggest that Iraq wasn't a threat, and hadn't been for a decade. It came from Hans Blix's inspection team, which as a part of UN resolution 1441, had been in Iraq for 11 weeks.

So 12 days after Powell, Blix visited the UN himself, and delivered a presentation emphasizing the following points:
  • the inspections were effective and caught Iraqis off guard;
  • inspectors (obviously) had found no WMD;
  • Iraq was prepared to discuss disarmament with a third party (South Africa);
  • Blix felt that Powell's presentation was pretty bogus, and gave examples of cooked intelligence.
Blix was, everyone recalls, roundly mocked for his "unrealistic" view. As the US marched to war, Blix became the symbol of the weak-willed Europeans whom the US had already had to liberate twice. (Bush will henceforth represent a certain symbol in European imagination, thanks to his stupidity and hubris.) But he was, of course, right on every point. There was evidence, even on the eve of the war, of what Iraq really was: a weakened, nonthreatening nation run by an blowhard who was an inveterate liar and couldn't stomach the thought of admitting his country's own weakness.

(As a final parenthetical, this war koan. We don't invade North Korea--obviously a far more evil country and greater threat to the US--because we know they have a kick-ass army and lots of WMD. Yet that was what Bush claimed Saddam had, and yet he wasn't scared of invading Iraq. I ask rhetorically: why?)

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