by Stephen Gowans
For weeks, politicians,
ex-politicians, government officials, and the media, have been softening
up public opinion for an escalated war on Iraq. It started with broad
suggestions that Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks, and that Al-Qaeda
and the Taliban couldn’t have engineered the Sept. 11 atrocities without
Iraq’s help. And then, when the weight of evidence pointed to the US as
the source of the anthrax used in the attacks, the story quietly faded.
Next followed a brief period in which
Washington’s hawks were said to favour moving beyond the almost daily US
and UK bombing raids on Iraq to finish the job left unfinished in the
Gulf War -- ousting Saddam Hussein and installing a US puppet regime in
his place. This was a brief glimpse into Washington’s true motivations,
before the veil of propaganda was drawn down once again, to mask the
real aims of what appears to be a war in waiting.
And now the propaganda machine is
being kicked into high gear anew, Washington’s geopolitical goals in
Afghanistan nearly secured, and round two in Operation Enduring Justice
about to begin. Paul Koring’s (Toronto) Globe and Mail article, Bush
directs grim warning at Hussein, is a good example of how the media,
either knowingly, or by dint of criminal stupidity, bamboozles the
public. Koring’s article calls to mind H.L Menken’s famous quip about
practical politics being the art of continually menacing the population
with hobgoblins, most of them unreal, except Koring goes one step
further, turning everything on its head, making the bully into a victim
and the victim into a bully.
Koring’s Nov. 27, 2001 article is set
around a photograph of a long standing hobgoblin, Iraqi president Saddam
Hussein, shown in battle fatigues, wearing a baleful grimace, a
rocket-propelled grenade launcher resting on his shoulder, finger on the
trigger, the weapon aimed at the photographer, or rather, the reader.
But not a recent photograph. This one, the caption tells us, was taken
sometime in the 80’s, inviting the question, why, of an almost limitless
supply of photographs taken of the Iraqi president since, was one chosen
that’s some 15 years out of date, if not to get the right message
across? Saddam Hussein is a menace. Look at him. Fatigues. Baleful
grimace. Aiming death your way.
Of course, Koring buttresses with
words, what the photograph conveys so well without words. He begins with
an oft-repeated mistake, or is it a deliberate lie? "UN arms
inspectors," he writes, "were kicked out by the Iraqi regime in 1998."
As a veteran journalist, Koring should know that in 1998 the UN withdrew
its inspectors from Iraq after US president Bill Clinton announced he
would launch air strikes on Baghdad as punishment for Iraq failing to
fully comply with arms inspections. Critics -- indeed, at one point
Clinton himself -- argued that air strikes would be counterproductive.
All that would be accomplished, they pointed out, was that arms
inspectors would never be allowed back in once they were withdrawn. And
indeed, that has happened.
Baghdad’s beef with the arms
inspections -- and Iraq complied with over 90 percent of them -- was
that some inspectors were working as spies on behalf of Washington. At
the time, Baghdad’s charges were dismissed. Later, the charges were
revealed to be true.
Having started with a lie, Koring
moves to innuendo:
"Iraq is among a handful of states
known to have attempted to develop anthrax spores for use as a weapon."
"Mohamed Atta, supposed ringleader of
the Sept. 11 hijackers, met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Praque
The case Koring is making is plain:
Iraq could very well be involved in the Sept. 11 terror and subsequent
anthrax attacks. But as evidence linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks or
establishing Iraq as a sponsor of terrorism, this is anaemic. Iraq being
among a handful of states known to have attempted to develop anthrax
spores is beside the point, since the weight of evidence now points to
anthrax of domestic origin being used in the attacks that followed Sept.
11. Moreover, possessing anthrax is not by itself evidence of anything.
If it were, you would have to accuse Russia (one such state that has
anthrax) and the US itself (which has the largest stockpile of anthrax
in the world) of engineering the attacks. On what grounds is Iraq
singled out, if not the requirement to build a casus belli?
And as to Mohamed Atta meeting with
an Iraqi intelligence agent in Praque, so what? Atta met with hundreds
of people. Does that link all of them to the Sept. 11 attacks? On what
grounds is an Iraqi singled out? You might as well say Saudi Arabia was
behind the attacks because most of the hijackers were Saudi. Indeed, you
can make a stronger case for a Saudi link, but Koring sticks with the
approved story that singles out Iraq.
And how does Koring know Atta met
with Iraqi intelligence? He only knows what sources inside the US
government, not renowned for truth-telling, have said. Does he say the
reports are unconfirmed? Does he ask, "What did Atta and Iraqi
intelligence talk about, if, indeed, they met"? Does he acknowledge that
it’s a large leap from "Atta and an Iraqi agent met," to "Atta and an
Iraqi agent met to plan Sept. 11"? For all of journalists’
self-congratulatory folderol about sifting through the chaff, asking
tough questions, and scrutinizing carefully, Koring does none of those
things. It’s as if Koring has said to US officials, "If you want to
deceive the public, let me help you."
Indeed, none of the facts Koring
presents points to Iraq any more strongly than they point to the US
military orchestrating the anthrax attacks (because the strain of
anthrax used in the attacks is US military in origin) or implicate Saudi
Arabia in the terror attacks on New York and Washington (because most of
the hijackers were Saudi.)
Still, while you can use conjecture,
leaps of logic, guilt by association, and sophistry to build equally
weak cases for dozens of other countries being implicated, including the
US government itself, Koring settles on Iraq.
The photograph reminds us that Saddam
Hussein is menacing. We’re told he kicked UN arms inspectors out of the
country, and then this, with the lie about Iraq sending UN arms
inspectors packing repeated for a second time for emphasis: "Former UN
inspectors believe Baghdad re-launched its weapons-of-mass-destruction
program as soon as the last inspectors were forced out." Koring should
have asked, as journalists are supposed to, "How do they know? If
they’re not on the ground, how could they possibly tell?" Instead, he
tells us what "most" former inspectors "believe," without scrutinizing
His defense might be that he’s just
reporting what most former inspectors believe, but he never would have
said, "The Taliban says one hundred civilians were killed in the US
attack," without attaching the rider, "but the Taliban claims are
unconfirmed." So why doesn’t he say, "Most former inspectors believe
Iraq is rebuilding its weapons of mass destruction" without adding "but
this claim is unconfirmed and can’t be verified"?
Nor would Koring let a Taliban claim
of civilian deaths go without adding the Pentagon’s counterclaim. Yet,
while he tells us "most" arms inspectors believe Iraq is rebuilding its
arsenal, he doesn’t say anything about the arms inspectors who doubt the
claim or their reasons for dismissing it. Nor does he ask the question,
"How could Iraq possibly build weapons of mass destruction when the US
enforced sanctions regime prevents all military-use goods, including
those also used for civilian purposes, from entering the country?" It
would be truly a feat of astonishing proportions to be able to rebuild
an arsenal of weapons over the last three years when Iraq has been in
the grips of a devastating embargo for over a decade.
Nevertheless, this is what we’re to
believe: Saddam Hussein, a menacing man, who we’ve just seen holding a
rocket-propelled grenade launcher, kicks inspectors out of Iraq so that
he can build weapons of mass destruction. Iraq had stockpiles of anthrax
and anthrax was used in terror attacks against the US. Mohamed Atta, the
presumed hijacking ringleader, met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in
Prague in the spring. Therefore, Iraq needs to be attacked, because it’s
probably behind the Sept. 11 and subsequent anthrax attacks in some way,
and even if it isn’t, Saddam Hussein is a menace, and one day he may
launch a terrorist attack on the US or its allies.
Let’s try this again. Saddam Hussein,
a menacing man, who we’ve just seen holding a rocket-propelled grenade
launcher (from a photograph that’s some 15 years old), kicks inspectors
out of Iraq (inspectors were withdrawn by the UN so they wouldn’t become
casualties in US bombing raids on Baghdad) so that he can build weapons
of mass destruction (there’s no evidence that Iraq has reconstituted its
program of building weapons of mass destruction, and, given the embargo
on military use goods entering Iraq, it’s highly unlikely Baghdad has.)
Iraq had stockpiles of anthrax and anthrax was used in terror attacks
against the US (the type of anthrax used was not the type Iraq once
had.) Mohamed Atta, the presumed hijacking ringleader, met with an Iraqi
intelligence agent (and with hundreds of other people, too, of various
nationalities. What he talked about is unknown, and indeed, whether he
actually met the Iraqi agent, is unconfirmed.)
Koring’s only mention of sanctions,
which the UN says have killed over a million Iraqis, is that "Washington
has long demanded that the sanctions against Iraq be toughened." Nothing
about the cruel embargo having been branded a biological weapon of mass
destruction. Nothing about sanctions having consigned to the grave many
times more people than have died in all terrorist attacks since the end
of WW II, including the Sept. 11 atrocities. Nothing about Baghdad’s
offer to allow inspectors to return if the sanctions are removed.
Nothing that in any way shows Iraq and ordinary Iraqis to be victims of
a grim, belligerent and genocidal US policy. Nothing in any way that
acknowledges that arms inspectors could return to Iraq and the ongoing
misery of ordinary Iraqis be brought to an end today if not for an
American arrogance that insists negotiation be reduced to the other side
capitulating to all US demands.
But then that’s what makes Koring’s
article such a fine piece of propaganda. It turns reality on its head.
Iraq, its water treatment facilities, pumping stations, damns,
electrical power plants, pulverized by coalition forces in the Gulf War,
its people battered by over a decade of sanctions, its population
menaced by US and UK bombing raids on an almost daily basis (rarely
mentioned by the media), is very much a victim of the United States, and
yet, through omission, that story is never told. Instead, through the
clever use of innuendo and image another story is told: the US has been,
or may become, a victim of Iraq.
Nazi Germany always presented itself
as a victim too, as has almost every other country that has launched
wars of aggression. The media willingly makes the case.
Mr. Steve Gowans is a
writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.