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Elizabeth on the War in Iraq

I grew up with the Vietnam War. It began when I was in 8th grade at St. Joseph’s Grammar School in Mountain View, California. It continued throughout my four years of high school, throughout my years of college, and into graduate school. It began with John F. Kennedy sending “advisors” into that country. It ended with Richard Nixon and the fall of Saigon. The Vietnam War served as backdrop to the most important years of my life, so I have very strong feelings about sending young people off to fight anywhere.

The night before the invasion of Iraq, I was meeting with my writing students. I made a remark—doubtless with much eyeball-rolling—about our soldiers going off to seek “those nasty little weapons of mass destruction at the behest of our mighty President.” I tend to get sarcastic sometimes, and from the reaction I got from one of my students, I knew that I must have outdone myself. She’s an intelligent and well-read woman, however, so her reaction surprised me. “How can you be so cynical?” she demanded, and I realized, to my astonishment, that she believed there were weapons of mass destruction hidden somewhere in that pitiful country, despite the best efforts of over 800 U.N. inspectors to find them. She was not alone in her belief. Another student pointed out to me that Iraq is a large country and the weapons “could be anywhere.”

We were not there to discuss the matter and I hate that sort of swords-drawn-at-each-other thing anyway, so I said nothing more, save to make a remark on the cynicism of the Bush administration—if we were going to speak of cynicism—which I doubt went down well with either of my students. I did not say then what I actually believed about George W. Bush: I believed that he was lying.

I’ve generally had good instincts about people, and I’ve learned to trust my gut feeling. When I haven’t done so over the years, believe me, I’ve paid the price. What my instincts were telling me in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq was not that the President of the United States was mistaken about the weapons of mass destruction. My instincts were telling me that he knew there were no such weapons and that he was lying about it because he wanted to go to war. You’ll ask why I didn’t do something with these wonderful instincts of mine. I did what I could: I wrote to Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, my two senators at that time, and I wrote to Mr. Bush himself, whose father I have known since early 2001. In my letter to the senators, I begged them not to vote to give Bush unprecedented powers for war. In my letter to Mr. Bush, I said “Surely you do not want to be the President responsible for the diminution of America as a global power?” None of these three took me particularly seriously, as you might expect. Diane Feinstein was the only one who replied, foolishly telling me that Mr. Bush had assured her that he would return to the Senate for their approval if he actually intended to go to war. Caramba, I thought at the time. We’re in big trouble.

You may well wonder how on earth I could possibly think that the President of the United States would lie to us. You would be well within your rights to ask why he would do that. What on earth could his motivation possibly have been? In response I would have to say that I have no clue as to what Mr. Bush’s real motivation was except that it has from the first appeared to me that he wanted a war because he wanted a war and he simply did not care that it would cost lives if he had one.
Now, I do realize that if I’m going to suggest that the President of the United States cold-bloodedly lied to the American people, I might want to have some proof of this, and the truth of the matter is that there’s actually a great deal out there through which one can sift. Because I wish this piece to be readable in a short period of time, I’m going to offer only a small portion of it. This portion will deal first with the nature of the actual “threat” Saddam Hussein allegedly posed to the United States and second with the reality behind the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein allegedly possessed at the time we invaded. Let me say that I know this will be difficult reading for some people in that they will have to take a look at a man for whom they voted and in whom they placed their trust. I understand this even though I did not vote for Mr. Bush. I urge you to continue reading, though, no matter how you voted in 2004.

First, the nature of the threat that Saddam Hussein posed to the United States:

On October 7, 2002, Mr. Bush spoke to the nation from Cincinnati, Ohio. In this speech he said that on “any given day” Saddam Hussein could use “unmanned aerial vehicles” with “chemical or biological” payloads on them “for missions targeting the United States.” On any given day were his words. Yet he said these words despite the fact that on that same day of October 7th, he’d received a letter from CIA director George Tenet telling him that the CIA had concluded that Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat to the security of the U.S. at all and would use chemical or biological weapons against the U.S. only if we attacked him first. (Of course the entire subject of biological weapons ultimately became inarguable since there were no biological weapons at all. But even supposing there were, in his letter Mr. Tenet was telling Mr. Bush that Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat, so to suggest that “on any given day” Saddam Hussein might use them against us stretches what Mr. Bush knew very well was the truth of the matter.)

Yet five months later, Mr. Bush was still asserting that danger was imminent when two days before the invasion, on March 17, 2003, he said to the nation that “when evil men plot chemical, biological, and nuclear terror, a policy of appeasement could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on this earth. Terrorists and terror states do not reveal these threats with fair notice in formal declarations. And responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense. It is suicide. The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now.” Now. Not later. Not when we have found those weapons that did not exist and could not be located by the 800 inspectors sent there to do the job.

Since the truth of the matter appears to be that the CIA told Mr. Bush that there was no reason to be in a rush about war, the logical question to ask is whether Mr. Bush believed there were weapons in Iraq that had to be dealt with anyway. This takes us to our second matter: the Weapons of Mass Destruction themselves.

Second: Did Mr. Bush actually know there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq?

The Bush Administration used a CIA report to justify its actions in going to war against Iraq. This report the Administration received on October 1, 2002. It was the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a prewar intelligence report, compiled by the CIA using intelligence from every intelligence agency in the Federal Government. Classified at the time, the report was eventually declassified in part in July 2003 and April 2004. Declassifying this report allowed comparisons to be made between it—the original—and the version that was issued by Mr. Bush to Congress and to the public. This latter version became known as the White Paper.

In the original document, when it comes to the question of Weapons of Mass Destruction the CIA uses terms to indicate that the agency is offering an opinion only. These are terms like “we judge that,” “we assess that,” and “although we have little specific information.” In the version that the Bush Administration presented to Congress and to the people—the White Paper—these terms have been removed and, in one case, the frightening words “including potentially against the U.S. homeland” have been added by the White House to heighten the sense of risk and danger.

Yet even this could be argued away if Mr. Bush himself actually believed there were weapons. After all, as the President, he is charged with our safety. He cannot hesitate when American lives are at stake. For the White Paper said that “all intelligence experts agree that Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons,” and we are taught to believe that no American President would lead us into war on a lie.

Unfortunately, the White Paper left out the dissenting opinions about nuclear weapons that were in the original intelligence report. For example, one of the dissenting opinions deleted from the report given to Congress and the public was the opinion of the Intelligence and Research Bureau of the State Department that “the activities we have detected do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons.” This same bureau also said that any claims that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from Niger to reconstitute its nuclear program were “highly dubious.”

You might argue that the 16 agencies involved in gathering the data for the report could have been wrong and the President could not take that risk. As one of my students said, Iraq is a big country, and the weapons could be anywhere. Indeed, you no doubt can remember Colin Powell speaking to the United Nations and showing those aerial photographs of alleged mobile labs that were producing biological weapons. The White House, we were told, had confirmation of the use of these mobile labs and this confirmation had been provided to them by Ahmed Hussein Mohammed—identified as “Curveball” by his original German handlers—who was present when such weapons were being made and present also when an accident with these weapons occurred in 1998 and 12 technicians died. This, indeed, was compelling evidence as to the presence of weapons of mass destruction, and it became one of the pillars used to justify the war. But there were two problems with Colin Powell’s facts:

The first was that there was no Ahmed Hussein Mohammed at all. This was an alias used by one Rafid Ahmed Alwan who was not even in Iraq at the time of the alleged accident that killed 12 technicians. Either as Ahmed Hussein Mohammed or as Rafid Ahmed Alwan, this gentleman did not—as he also claimed—graduate in chemistry at the top of his class at the University of Baghdad.

Next, and far more damning, the CIA never interviewed the man in the first place. He had only been interviewed by German Intelligence (the BND). Indeed, Tyler Drumheller—head of clandestine services in the CIA’s European division—met the BND station chief at the German embassy in Washington, where he was told that the Germans thought “Curveball”, Ahmed Hussein Mohammed, Rafid Ahmed Alwan, or whoever he was was “crazy. Principally, we think he’s probably a fabricator.” None of what he said had been proven, the German Intelligence Agency said. And none of it could be verified.

We might give Mr. Bush a pass on this, saying that he was duped along with the rest of us because of “Curveball’s” ability to fabricate a tall tale. But what became known as the “Downing Street Memo”, which ultimately brought Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister of Great Britain to a premature close, sheds compelling light on who was duped and who was doing the duping. This memo constituted the minutes of a meeting between Tony Blair and his war cabinet on the subject of the impending Iraqi war, and it contains notes on Sir Richard Dearlove’s report on his meetings in Washington with the Bush Administration officials. Dearlove was, at the time, chief of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (their CIA). He said that it was obvious from his meetings that “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy.”

What does this mean? It means that the policy came first. The policy was to take Saddam Hussein out through means of an invasion. The facts came later. The facts were the supposed chemical weapons, biological weapons, and nuclear weapons, none of which existed.

Now, you can argue that it’s the Senate’s fault. The Senate abdicated its responsibility the moment it voted to give Mr. Bush unprecedented powers to make war on Iraq. And you’ll get no argument on that topic from me. Every senator who voted to give Mr. Bush power—and in effect voted for war—bears some of the responsibility here. To pretend otherwise is to add dishonor on top of the lies that began it all. Indeed, every senator who continues to support the war in the face of compelling evidence that it was based from the first on a lie bears upon himself or herself the weight of the thousands of deaths that have come about because of it.

I’d like to draw this to a conclusion by mentioning just a little of what has been wrought out of this policy of preemptive war against supposed enemies, which is now referred to as the Bush Doctrine:

No one knows the exact number of people dead so far. We can get numbers of American dead—over 4,000 and counting—but the numbers of Iraqi dead are more difficult to come by. At the low it appears to be 100,000. At the high and in conjunction with the numbers of wounded and maimed, it is 650,000. Many of these are women and children. In the case of the Americans, most of them are kids in their twenties. Fourteen million people have been displaced in Iraq. Iraq itself is a country in rubble.

The cost to our own country is measured in the lives of the soldiers and civilians who have died, in the impact of the loss of them upon their families, in the psychological and physical problems they face upon their return, in the debt that we have incurred and continue to incur. Our standing in the world has been reduced. Generations of goodwill have been squandered. Internationally our President is derided as a buffoon and loathed as a killer. And for what? I have no idea.

For me, when someone announces that someone else was w-r-o-n-g because “the Surge” is working after all, my stomach turns. And when people declare that we’ve gone to war to protect our “American values” and our “way of life,” I want to lift my head and howl.

Forgive the emotion that exists in the underpinning of this fourth position paper. I feel strongly about this. I hope you feel strongly too.

- Elizabeth George
Whidbey Island, Washington


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