Only by Swallowing Big Lies Can Powell Justify a War
by Robert Scheer
We know in advance that Colin Powell's performance will be flawless. His
military career has prepared him well to execute the orders of his commander
in chief, no matter what his doubts as to their morality, efficacy or logic.
Making a seamless case for preemptive war on Iraq to the United Nations, the
secretary of State can draw on his decade of wartime experience in which he
publicly justified the deaths of more than a million Vietnamese, tens of
thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Laotians and Cambodians.
It took two decades for Powell, in his autobiography "My American Journey,"
to acknowledge that all the destruction brought down upon Indochina by the
U.S. was based on an uneducated, unfocused and enormously costly policy that
he and other military leaders had known to be "bankrupt."
But duty, apparently, required they not tell the public the truth.
"War should be the politics of last resort. And when we go to war, we should
have a purpose that our people understand and support," he wrote, summarizing
Does anybody outside of the extremist claque of think-tank warriors bending
the president's ear really think we are at the point of "last resort" with
Iraq, a poor country half a world away that is already divvied up into
"no-fly" zones, crawling with U.N. inspectors and still shattered
economically and militarily from two previous wars? Or that the American
people, so divided and apathetic in polls on the subject, "understand and
support" why we would start a firestorm in Baghdad and then send our young
men and women to fight in its streets?
Regardless of Saddam Hussein's record of cruelty and regional power
ambitions, as a military man Powell should be employing a straightforward
equation: Does the target pose a direct threat to U.S. security? In the case
of Iraq in 2003, the answer can be yes only if Powell is prepared to swallow
a trio of Big Lies, the first of which is that Iraq possesses weapons of mass
destruction that pose a real threat to the U.S. or our allies.
"There is no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear program since the
elimination of the program in the 1990s," said the U.N.'s chief nuclear
weapons inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei.
Less clear is whether Iraq has made at least token efforts to replenish
stocks of biological and chemical weapons. In any case, Iraq can deliver
payloads only to regional enemies, and the most likely target, Israel, is
armed with nuclear weapons.
However, Powell has gone way beyond these facts, claiming U.N. inspectors
found that Iraq was concealing and moving illicit material. The U.N.'s chief
weapons inspector, Hans Blix, categorically denied this in an interview last
week with the New York Times, part of a comprehensive rebuke to White House
exploitation and media misinterpretation of his balanced, dispassionate
Similarly, Powell and the president have employed an irresponsible pattern of
exaggeration and innuendo in an attempt to link Iraq to Al Qaeda. This
shameful canard molds a few extremely fuzzy and circumstantial bits of
proto-evidence into an absurdly convenient "proof" that taking over Iraq will
help prevent anti-American terrorism.
In a New York Times report Sunday, sources inside U.S. intelligence agencies
"said they were baffled by the Bush administration's insistence on a solid
link between Iraq and Osama bin Laden's network," they were upset that "the
intelligence is obviously being politicized" and that "we've been looking at
this hard for more than a year and you know what, we just don't think it's
there." Blix also said there was no evidence Iraq had or planned to supply
weapons to Al Qaeda.
All of which brings us to the most outrageous Big Lie of the Bush
administration: that delaying an invasion to wait for the U.N. to complete
inspections would endanger the U.S. The fact is that for more than a decade
the military containment of Iraq has effectively neutered Hussein, and there
is no reason to believe that can't continue.
Of course, there is a case to be made for keeping up pressure on Iraq to
cooperate further with the U.N. It is, however, counterproductive to
transparently lie to a skeptical world and immoral to denigrate the
inspection process because we are afraid it will undermine our
cobbled-together rationale for going to war.
As Powell knows from his Vietnam experience, lies have a way of catching up
with you. Years from now, if the U.S. is still spending billions trying to
micromanage the Middle East and reaping its rewards in blood, Bush will be
marked indelibly, like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon before him, as a
leader who went to war on a lie.