Scandal

July 22nd, 2004

As far as I can see, the Right seems to be winning the scandal wars just at the moment. I didn’t follow the Plame-Wilson scandal the first time around, so I can’t really tell how damaging or otherwise the latest claims from US and British intelligence may be to Wilson’s credibility. Similarly, although it seems clear that Sandy Berger has made a fool of himself , I have no idea what this means for anything that might possibly matter. Finally, it appears that last Thanksgiving in Iraq, Bush posed not with a fake turkey, but with a display turkey, never intended for carving but to adorn the buffet line. I’m glad that’s been cleared up.

All this confirms me in the view that the kind of “smoking gun” or “what did X know and when did s/he know it” scandal that has dominated politics since Watergate is a waste of everybody’s time. The real scandals are those that are, for the most part, on the public record.

Looking specifically at Iraq, I’m amazed at the continuing focus on intelligence reports about WMDs. It seems to me as if people on both sides of the debate have excised from their memories everything that happened between December 2002 and the outbreak of the war, with the exception of some speeches given by Bush, Blair and Powell. In particular, it seems as if judgements about the threat posed by Saddam’s regime depended primarily on intelligence reports from places like Niger.

To remind anyone who might have forgotten, from December 2002 onwards, anyone who watched the news could acquire all the evidence they needed to conclude that Saddam did not have nuclear weapons and was not close to getting them, and that he probably didn’t have a germ warfare program either. This is because UN inspectors had (with trivial exceptions) unhindered access to any site that US or British intelligence reports indicated might be suspicious. In particular, they were able to visit old nuclear sites like Tuweitha where both Blair and Bush claimed that suspicious rebuilding activity had gone on. They found nothing, for the very good reason that nothing was happening. A much more thorough search would have been needed to rule out the possibility of a stockpile of poison gas, but we now know it would have come to the same conclusion.

Of course, this was not enough to convince those who were bent on war in any case. But even for these people, the intelligence reports should have been irrelevant once the inspections commenced. At this point it became clear that whatever was in the intelligence reports, it was not information that could be given to the inspectors to say go and look at place X, take up the floor and you’ll find the evidence you need. I saw various more or less desperate explanations of why this might be the case during the leadup to the war, but I find it hard to believe that anyone actually relied on intelligence reports, as opposed to longheld beliefs, in concluding that Saddam must have WMDs.

Either way, it doesn’t matter much whether and how the intelligence reports were cooked, over-egged, sexed up or whatever. The main question is how, having agreed on a UN resolution that required either inspections or war, we ended up with both[1].

fn1. I can’t stop people posting absurd legal quibbles about the meaning of “active compliance” and so on, but I won’t respond to them.

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  1. July 22nd, 2004 at 22:32 | #1

    hey…finally youve come round to posting my point of view…

    the answer to your question is that:

    1) war was better than the alternative (continuing sanctions) for everyone concerned, except the then ruling party of iraq.

    2) the silly/apathetic public was swayed by the rhetoric, enough that they didnt, in the main, oppose the war

    it was the best option. stupid people were lied to, but i can live with that.

  2. July 23rd, 2004 at 02:41 | #2

    Sure John, that may be the main question for philosophers, historians, and political scientists etc, in the sense of the most ‘puzzling’ question. In the meantime, is there not an issue of democratic accountability, to which the official intel reports are relevant? I’d be interested in any thoughts you may have on citizen risk here (both ways), if the Iraq discourse of public proof is to be a standard according to what’s permissable, should the issue be retrospectively voted up (or able to be argued as having been voted up) as acceptable. It strikes me as elementary that the easiest way to help toughen the process that let through this debacle, and thus lessen citizen risk (of not going to necessary, as well as going to, unnecessary wars, and their equivalents) is to vote the perps down.

  3. July 23rd, 2004 at 10:47 | #3

    <stating-the-obvious>
    I don’t suppose it could have something to do with deflecting scrutiny away from the appalling judgement calls of our elected leadership, would it?
    </stating-the-obvious>

  4. RoD
    July 23rd, 2004 at 11:27 | #4

    I’d call treason a ‘real scandal.’ Valerie Plame’s name was leaked to the media whilst she was covert for the CIA. If revealing her name can be shown to have endangered any CIA operatives’ lives then its an automatic death sentence under US law. Criminal charges are coming soon in this case – probably against people very close to Cheney’s office.

    The rest of the ‘headless chook’ and smoke up our a**es behaviour is trying to obfuscate this very major scandal, which should be the final nail in the Bush administration’s coffin.

    Just keep a grip on what we know and ignore the distractions. (eg. did her husband get a trip to the paradise that is Niger out of nepotism!).

  5. July 23rd, 2004 at 11:37 | #5

    The WMDs were only a pretext that was selected because the US needed a legal fig-leaf to mask its military aggression. Wolfowitz admitted this in his Vanity Fair interview.

    The UN fig leaf was needed owing to the complicated domestic political constraints of the US-UK “special relationship”.

    The US needed the UK on-side to legitimate the invasion for the US people (who trust the UK in matters imperial-military).

    The UK needed UN authorisation to legitimate the invasion for the UK people (who trust the UN in matters imerial-military).

    And the UN needed an Iraqi violation of its Security Council WMD resolutions before it was prepared to sanction the war (since the UN does not trust the US to do its own imperial military thing).

    The content of US intelligence reports and the results of UN inspections were irrelevant. The invasion was a “done deal” well before WMDs became a key issue. (see below)

    Thus WMDs were made decisive issue because the British people trusted the UN’s institutional processes more than GWB’s individual whims.

    A wise choice in retrospect.

  6. July 23rd, 2004 at 11:55 | #6

    The Iraq invasion was a “done deal” as soon as Kabul fell without a shot being fired in Dec 2001, Bush saw his poll numbers climb to the low nineties and the main force of the US Army was free for a Mesopotamian expedition.

    The Bush admin thought that invading and regime changing Iraq would be a cakewalk that would simulataneously solve all their policy problems in one Clausewitzian-Machiavellian political stroke:
    in the US: the peacenik-inclined Democrats would get slaughtered at the polls by a triumphantly militant public (victory in Iraq would be a “dove career-destroying vindication” of the hawks, according to one Republican strategist
    in the ME: Baathist and Wahhabi control of Gulf oil revenues would be ceded to an oil-glutting Chalabi-ruled US client state, the DoD could shift its military bases from Saudi to Iraqi and the Likudniks would be free to sort the Palestinians out anyway they cared to.
    in the UN: the French resistance would collapse and the USE and PRC would kowtow to the US hyper-power

    War on Terror angle: The US hoped that ditching the Saudis and hitching the Iraqis would destroy the insitutional basis for fundamentalist terrorism. The US Right believes that Saudi oil gluts in the eighties were the key to weakening oil-based Soviet economic power. It hoped to repeat the same trick against its old Saudi ally by arranging for Iraqi oil gluts in the naughties. These would weaken Saudi and OPEC economic power and hence destroy the funding base of terrorism.

    All old scores settled against foes and all spoils divvied up between friends. A master stroke that would entrench the militant Republican ascendancy forever, at home and abroad.

    Unfortunately, the Republicans forgot the first rule of military tactics: the enemy gets a vote.

  7. Don Wigan
    July 23rd, 2004 at 13:32 | #7

    Summed it up well, Jack.

    The WMD, the Al Qaida connection, even the later adopted rationalisation of overthrowing a lethal regime were all just furphies. It was always opportunism. Maybe you can’t get much morality in international affairs, but this one really stank, especially because of the continuing efforts to confuse the public.

    Even the current strategy of pretending how badly the intelligence agencies stuffed up (as distinct from agencies telling them what they wanted to hear) is just an attempt to avoid responsibility.

    The fact that intelligence really did stuff up (as shown in the civilians needlessly taken out in attempts to murder Saddam and sons, and in the unfriendly Iraqi attitude towards occupation) was always a secondary matter.

  8. Michael Burgess
    July 23rd, 2004 at 14:53 | #8

    Come on folks, the main reason why Bush intervened was to burst the terrorist bubble by basically saying you f**k with us and we will f**k with you. Crude, but in the present context, quite justified.

    The main reason why some of the left supported intervention was to overthrow an appalling oppressive regime. The Iraqi people have been given a major opportunity by Blair, Bush et al to have a better life. If sections of them are so infected with mindless anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment that they fail to seize the opportunity they have been offered they have only themselves to blame.

    As for the US etc being in breach of international law or failing to gain UN support etc etc. Well the UN admits the likes of Sudan to its humans rights committee and bans Israel from participating in most/all (?) aspects of the UN. Enough said on that issue I think.

    The reality of the world today is that the US is by far the dominant power. It is therefore important to analyse its use, and proposed use of power, intelligently and not simply respond in the usual reflexive anti-American way. The Vietnam War ended many years ago – get over it.

    [Comment edited for coarse language]

  9. Matt
    July 23rd, 2004 at 15:17 | #9

    “1) war was better than the alternative (continuing sanctions) for everyone concerned, except the then ruling party of iraq.”
    Yes? Including the Iraqi kid with a substantial part of his arm blown away? The 1000 or so soldiers killed and thousands more maimed? The many thousand Iraqi civilians killed and injured? Those American and Iraqi families grieving those lost?
    It’s very easy to say that sort of thing from the other side of the world. There were problems with sanctions, but surely with a committed effort they could have been adjusted to ease the burden on innocents without advantaging the regime. If the inspections were allowed to continue with no illegal weapons discovery the sanctions could well have been lifted.

  10. July 23rd, 2004 at 16:06 | #10

    Including the Iraqi kid with a substantial part of his arm blown away?

    Someone’s been watching F9/11… :-)

  11. Michael Burgess
    July 23rd, 2004 at 16:19 | #11

    And what about the large numbers of people killed, tortured and maimed by SH or, for that matter, the millions who suffer in Islamic regimes such as Sudan. So how come Matt, Robert et al you don’t exited about atrocities in these regimes. Is it because it does not involve bashing Blair, Bush or Howard.

  12. Don Wigan
    July 23rd, 2004 at 18:02 | #12

    Michael, some of us had plenty to say about Saddam Hussein, including taking a more humane approach towards refugees from that regime. The Tampa Raid and the Pacific Solution were far from the most stirring examples of human compassion.

    As for protest, it starts with regimes over which we have, or are led to believe we have, some control. Ours is a democracy by most measures. So it’s understandable that we should start with our government.

    The fact that the only pro-invasion action that could be conceived to be in our national interests was kowtowing to the Americans for future security concerns. This a defensible position, albeit not one I would support, but it has never been publicly put. Instead we have gone along with every conceivable lie, and gagged any person saying anything to the contrary.

  13. July 23rd, 2004 at 19:52 | #13

    One critical bit of political analysis that i neglected: the Iraq-attack is a foreign policy application of the Republican Southern Strategy – to get out the good ‘ole boy vote in the South.
    But, contra Nixon, this wedge strategy is now pursued on the basis of Christian Religion rather than Caucasian Race.
    Southern WASPs are a little tardy when it comes to civic participation. The best way to get them politically mobilised is to scare them with some alien menace, whether it be Race War with blacks or a Crusade against Muslims.

  14. Matt
    July 23rd, 2004 at 20:21 | #14

    “So how come Matt, Robert et al you don’t exited about atrocities in these regimes”
    I do. But at the time of invasion there really wasn’t good evidence of current or recent Saddam atrocities, only recycled propaganda. We (as in Westerners or Western governments) overlooked most of his atrocities a decade or two ago when we thought the advantage to us of having him in power outweighed the price to the Iraqi people.
    And I thoroughly disagree with the assumption that war’s the only way to deal with such cases. We should have continued inspections, revised sanctions and kept watch for new atrocities. Absent good evidence that Saddam had WMD or was embarking on new atrocities, I don’t think the human cost of the war can be justified.

  15. July 25th, 2004 at 18:28 | #15

    What I want to know is-if we did Iraq for the alliance,will we be doing taiwan for the alliance in a few years time when costello is in charge?
    Personally,as a west australian who sees our future linked to china,nah we’ll give that one a miss-what would costello say?

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