Political controversies seem to be brewing in both the US and Britain about the evidence that the Bush and Blair governments used to justify their Iraq war. Bush was forced to admit on July 7 that his State of the Union speech in January contained false allegations about Iraq’s nuclear programme. CIA director George Tenet accepted responsibility for their inclusion in the speech, although it is known that CIA officials objected. He seems to be taking the blame to protect Bush, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and national security adviser Condoleeza Rice. Bush’s response was interesting: instead of apologising for lying on such a crucial issue, he was seemingly magnanimous towards Tenet, but accepted no responsibility for his own speech. Despite remarkably little pressure from America’s ‘free press’ or the opposition Democratic party, Bush’s position remains difficult, mainly because of the US’s inability to secure Iraq and the blatant falsehood of numerous other assertions, for example that the Iraqis would welcome American troops as liberators.
In Britain, Tony Blair’s administration also decided to concentrate on a single point to counter criticisms of their pre-war claims, selecting a BBC report to the effect that Blair’s office had deliberately exaggerated allegations about Iraq’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in two dossiers (September 2002 and February this year). The government’s deliberate blame of one man, Dr David Kelly, a weapons expert and senior ministry of defence official, for these reports, resulted in his apparently committing suicide early last month. The circumstances surrounding Kelly’s death are now the subject of a judicial inquiry, which could prove extremely damaging to Blair or members of his government. Nonetheless, their immediate object, to deflect attention from the issue of the grounds on which Blair took Britain to war, has been achieved.
Although both governments appear to be in some difficulty over these issues, in truth neither is being asked the really difficult questions. In each case, the government propaganda-machine has picked one allegation to address é albeit in different ways é to establish the broad tone of the response. For Bush, this tone is “okay, we made mistakes in the detail, but who cares?” Blair’s approach is simply to stick to his story, regardless of the evidence marshalled against it. In both cases, by focusing on one allegation, they have largely succeeded in obscuring the huge mass of incontrovertible evidence that they went to war for reasons very different from those they gave in public. The fact that they can get away with this, without key and unanswerable questions being asked, indicates that most of the media and political establishment, although officially in opposition, are not genuinely interested in establishing the truth.
For those really interested in the truth, crucial information is continuing to emerge regularly without being taken up. For example, in a briefing given to military commanders on July 19, reported in both the Washington Post and the New York Times, US air force General T. Michael Moseley revealed that the US air force launched operations against Iraq in June 2002: three months before Bush went to the UN to present his case for disarming Iraq, five months before UN resolution 1441 threatened Iraq with “serious consequences” if it did not disarm, and nine months before the war was officially launched. Moseley revealed that the US flew 21,736 operations against 391 targets before the war officially began, involving unprovoked attacks on key installations, including communications networks and civilian airports, all under the pretext of protecting the self-declared and illegal “no-fly zones”.
Another detail revealed in the same briefing was that, during the three-week invasion, American planners estimated in advance the numbers of civilians likely to be killed in each operation. Any attack that was expected to kill more than 30 needed Rumsfeld’s personal approval. More than 50 such attacks were referred to him; he approved every one. So much for minimalising civilian casualties.
If anyone were truly interested in bringing Bush and co. to account for their blatant dishonesty, or the murderous nature of their war, this briefing would have been dynamite, yet it passed with barely a comment. Such episodes reveal the reality that all debate about weapons of mass destruction and whether Bush and Blair lied are in truth nothing but political games within the West’s ruling elites, rather than the genuine processes of democratic accountability that they are portrayed as.
Mr. Iqbal Siddiqui is Editor of Crescent International and Research Fellow at the Institute of Islamic Contemporary Thought.