Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

July 10, 2000


With Gore trailing badly in the polls, will the White House wag the dog? Scott Ritter. Ritter is the former UN arms inspector who quit after discovering that information covertly gathered by the UN was turned over to the US by the team's chief, Richard Butler. In London for a meeting of the Great Britain Iraq Society, he told the Independent that

"The new commission, Unmovic, will not be allowed into Iraq in August, three months away from the election. You have got a Vice-President, Al Gore, trailing behind in the polls and what better way to appear tough and switch attention away to a so-called foreign threat. The UN Security Council did not vote on Desert Fox and we can expect the same thing to happen again. The US would not like to take unilateral action, it needs Britain to give it in appearance of something multilateral. And sadly, when the US says jump, Tony Blair asks 'how high?'"


It's not like it hasn't happened before. Weapons of mass distraction are the biggest guns in any sitting President's arsenal, and if you think the most ravenously opportunistic politician in American history would balk at such a ruthless act of pure political calculation, then just ask the relatives of the poor night watchman killed when Clinton bombed that pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan. Remember when the CIA was swearing up and down that the El Shifa factory outside of Khartoum was the focal point of a nefarious terrorist plot – naturally spearheaded by all-purpose villain Osama bin Laden – to wreak biological and chemical havoc on the region? A year later, they admitted that it was all a "mistake" – and of course it was just a coincidence that Clinton gave the order to bomb on the night of Monica Lewinsky's return to the grand jury. Are we in for a repeat of those halcyon days?


With trouble for Gore brewing on the domestic front – at least until Larry Flynt releases those photos – both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are seemingly engaged in a chest-beating contest over the prostrate body politic of Iraq. Richard Perle, prominent neoconservative foreign policy maven and a Bush advisor, averred that

"Governor Bush has said ... he would fully implement the Iraq Liberation Act. We all understand what that means. It means a serious and sustained effort to assist the opposition with a view to bringing down Saddam's regime. In 31 years in Washington, I have not seen a sustained hypocrisy that parallels the current administration's public embrace of the Iraq Liberation Act and its dilatory tactics aimed at preventing any progress taking place under the act. That will not be the case in a Bush administration."


What better way to respond than to escalate the almost daily bombing of Iraq? Over a million Iraqis – most of them children – have died since the imposition of draconian sanctions, but this cannot matter to Bill Clinton – since he will burn in the deepest darkest province of Hell no matter what he does. After all, what difference will a few more dead Iraqis make to our sociopathic chief executive?


Perle understands the "Iraq Liberation Act" – but most ordinary Americans have never even heard of it. If they had, it might never have passed to begin with. For this is just another foreign aid boondoggle, a $97 million subsidy to the fractured and fractious Iraqi "opposition" – a motley crew of Islamic fundamentalists, revolutionary Marxists, professional opportunists, and frustrated democrats in exile who recently split into pro-US and anti-US factions. The Iraqi National Accord, made up of Iraqi military and dissident Baathist party cadre, broke away from the US-funded Iraqi National Congress (INC), the umbrella opposition group, on strategic grounds: the INC has no support inside Iraq because it is widely and accurately seen as the cat's-paw of a hostile foreign power. As a mother cradles her dying infant in her arms, cursing Uncle Sam for starving a baby to death, the father is unlikely to take up arms in the service of his child's killers. This is a public relations challenge that not even the Clintonian masters of "spin" have been able to surmount, but it hasn't stopped the Republicans from complaining that the Clinton administration has disbursed only $20,000 of the appropriations authorized by the Iraqi Liberation Act. A recent news item, however, has me wondering. . . .


In Amman, Jordan, a curious advertisement appeared in local newspapers: the US Army Corps of Engineers is soliciting bids for a "well" near the border town of Treibel, but a few miles from Iraqi territory. Printed in small type, it caused a large outcry as Islamic and leftist parties issued a joint declaration condemning the plan: "Digging an artesian well for the U.S. army usually happens on US territory or a US base. As Jordan is a sovereign Arab country, digging a well on its soil for US forces is a diminution of sovereignty." What a charmingly archaic conception these guys have: they actually believe that respect for Jordan's alleged "sovereignty" will in any way deter the US government from doing what it damn well wants to in that or any other region of the world. Now the exact need for a well in the middle of the desert, especially one so close to Iraq, may seem somewhat suspicious to inveterate conspiracy theorists and other paranoids, but you and I believe the explanation proffered by US embassy spokeswoman Danna Shell, who told Reuters the well project "was tied to funding of a clinic under a worldwide humanitarian assistance program by the US Department of Defense to the tune of $55 million" – don't we?


Like hell we do. The report also cited an unnamed diplomat, who remarked that "if the US was going to build a military installation on the Iraq border they would not advertise it in the papers." But why not advertise what everyone already knows anyway – that Jordan is a vassal state of the Americans, with no more right to assert its so-called "sovereignty" than it had under the Ottoman Turks, the Seljuks, the Parthian empire, or the Romans? Shell claims that this "humanitarian project" is being carried out "in cooperation with the Jordanian army," as it no doubt is, and it looks like some of that Iraqi "liberation" money is being spent – on Clinton's September surprise.


Ritter, previously demonized by the Iraqis as American arrogance incarnate – a man who wanted to "kick down doors" to get the goods on Iraq's alleged weapons stockpile – has done a complete about-face since stepping down from his official duties. Here is a man who was at the very core of the American effort to disarm Saddam Hussein saying that it is time to not only lift the sanctions, but to rethink our entire policy toward Iraq's disarmament, and his recent article in Arms Control Today has caused a sensation. Ritter exposes how the US-British insistence on Iraq's complete and utter prostration has led, ironically, to a period of completely unmonitored Iraqi rearmament – setting up Saddam for another round of attacks. This is the self-perpetuating fraud at the very heart of the US-British policy: Iraq is a convenient punching bag, which is being pummeled more or less constantly, the punches coming faster and harder as Election Day 2000 approaches. As Ritter put it to the Independent:

"The ironic thing is that the longer the inspectors stay away from Iraq, the more time the hardliners there have to rebuild their weaponry. The intelligence services of the US, Britain and Israel realise, but there is nothing they can do while the US Administration wants to keep Iraq as the whipping boy they can wheel out at times of domestic difficulties."


Ritter, by the way, is facing an investigation into allegations that he passed on secret information to the Israelis. Naturally, his very public criticism of the Clinton's administration's Iraq policy has nothing to do with the FBI investigation, ongoing since 1996. It has cost him $120,000 so far. "I have nothing to hide," he says: on the other hand, his Clintonian pursuers have plenty to hide – but chances are they will never get called on it. Why aren't conservatives wearing "we believe you, Scott" buttons and starting up a defense fund – do you have to be involved in a sex scandal to get any sympathy around here?


Ritter makes a convincing and technically detailed argument that Iraqi weapons facilities have not only been largely destroyed but are beyond the possibility of regeneration any time in the foreseeable future. In the face of Ritter's inside knowledge of the subject, combined with a heroic determination to get the truth out, the US State Department is stepping up its propaganda campaign, whipping up a war scare over renewed accusations of Iraqi rearmament. While not disputing the perfect legality of Iraq testing short-range missiles – allowed under the terms of the UN's disarmament mandate – Washington clouds the issue with murky accusations about possible military applications of ordinary materials that have civilian uses. As long as the Americans reserve the unilateral right to invade Iraqi territory at will, and insist on utterly destroying not only Saddam but a whole generation of Iraqis who are being devastated by the murderous sanctions, then no arms inspection regime is possible. Ritter and his Unscom colleagues succeeded in defusing the threat of another war in Iraq as long as they had access – but American and British arrogance has prevented any resumption of the process begun by Ritter. This enables the US to maintain a cloud of mystery and suspicion over Iraq as a potential repository of biological, chemical and even nuclear weapons. As a recent wire story put it: "The State Department . . . said that in the absence of United Nations inspectors on the ground in Iraq, uncertainties about the significance of these activities will persist," said the US State Department in a written response to a New York Times report about Iraqi rearmament. "As time passes our concerns will increase."


These "concerns" are increasing exponentially as Election Day looms larger. Sometime in August, Ritter predicts, the US and Britain will demand that the arms inspection regime return – without even offering to discuss the lifting of sanctions. God help the Iraqis if Gore is still down in the polls. This would be the real test of the nominees this presidential election year, a trial-by-fire that would reveal the true moral character of the candidates, all four of them. We know what to expect of Gore, but if and when Clinton exercises his option to wag the dog, expect Dubya to wag his own tail in unison, following doglike in the wake of the conquering Democrats. Republicans always manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory – it's the kind of made-to-order opposition party that governments everywhere like to have around.


As for Ralph Nader, it is by no means certain that the candidate of the Greens would reflect his own party's antiwar stance; Nader has refused to join the Green party, and tends to ignore the party platform (for example: the party calls for a 50 percent reduction in military spending, whereas Nader says 25 percent). Nader has stubbornly evaded answered foreign policy questions so far, and it would be interesting to see his response to the question posed pointblank: War with Iraq – are you for it or against it?


There is only one visible candidate who has spoken out consistently and eloquently on this question since 1990, when Bush the Elder proclaimed his "New World Order" would rise over the shattered remnants of a devastated Iraq – Patrick J. Buchanan. His indictment of the murderous sanctions – which have been condemned by the Pope, the parliaments of Europe and Russia, and concerned people all over the world – alone entitles him to the support of anyone who doesn't care to be complicit with US war crimes. It was Buchanan who stood up, virtually alone, against the War Party during the first "Desert Storm" unleashed on the Iraqi people. As Barry McCaffrey's rampaging centurions were shooting down surrendering Iraqis in cold bold, Buchanan braved the war hysteria of the laptop bombardiers and dared to say that we have no real national interest in preserving the throne of Kuwait. Iraq threatened Israel, and the decrepit and repressive Saudis most of all, but for daring to point this out Buchanan became the favorite hate object of politically correct conservatives – and they spew their vitriol to this very day. Still, he bravely holds the banner of peace aloft, and is a standing reproach to the "amen corner" that says "yes" to every US military intervention, no matter how farfetched or far afield. The War Party is deathly afraid of this man, and will stop at nothing – nothing – to prevent him from gaining an audience. When I last saw Pat, in Colorado, we walked down a hallway, talking, in the company of two burly police officers, one on either side of us: there were cops all over the place, adding an ominous note to an otherwise festive occasion.


Is war imminent? Lots of unpleasant events are imminent, I fear, and we haven't seen the worst of it yet, not by a long shot. But I'll tell you this: the American people will not stand for it. Not this time. Let them pull their September surprise. Let the two major party candidates join hands in a war dance, and let them try to shut out all opposition in the debates. They are playing right into the hands of radicals like myself. For we are just waiting for an opening such as they will unwittingly provide, that will provoke a backlash of popular resentment against the arrogance of the elites. To the people that run this country – and you know who you are – here is my entirely unsolicited advice: don't do it in an election year. Heed my warning: you'll be sorry.

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