As news of the first anthrax cases began to come out of Florida, most were too horrified and numbed by the specter of bio-terrorism to draw out the implications all that clearly. But it didn't take long for the ghouls of war to start speculating and, yes, hoping that it would give them the opening they sorely need. I'm talking about Bill Kristol, of course, editor of the Weekly Standard and Grand Strategist of the War Party, whose editorial, "Other States," was as ghoulish, in its way, as any videotaped pronouncement by Bin Laden & Co. Just as Osama reveled in the 9/11 atrocity, and promised many more to come, so Kristol could barely contain his glee that the anthrax attacks might mean curtains for Iraq. "President Bush has left himself room to broaden the conflict," the teaser subhead breathlessly averred. "Does an outbreak of anthrax in Florida have anything to do with it?" The unspoken addendum might have been: I hope. I hope, I hope! Except it was spoken quite openly and explicitly.
Citing the vaguely sinister comment of UN Ambassador John Negroponte that "we may find that our self-defense requires further actions with respect to other organizations and other states," Kristol excitedly asked: "Has the administration come around thanks to repeated efforts at persuasion by The Weekly Standard (and a few other hawks)?"
Well, uh, probably not, but "a likelier explanation is that they have come to believe we'll have to take the war beyond Afghanistan to Iraq and other state sponsors of terror because they've found evidence of support by 'other states' for very recent and sinister bin Laden-related activities." Kristol was among the first to immediately pose a series of "what if" questions, all of which pointed to one and only one culprit: "The discovery in a Florida office building of anthrax the Iraq-favored biological agent may be all the explanation we need for why the administration is beginning to warn that actions could be required against 'other states.'"
In this brief editorial note, there was not a word of sorrow, or horror, or even moral outrage just a cold, calculating argument, and a subliminal gloating. Brrrrrrr! Now that's cold .
Michael Barone chimed in with a call for opening up a "second front" in the war on anthrax-wielding terrorists. Extending the World War II theme from the far-fetched to the patently ridiculous, Barone compared the debates going on within the administration to the "behind the scenes debates among national and military leaders over issues like the second front, whether and when 1942? 1943? 1944? to launch an invasion on the coast of France."
With Osama in the role of a Muslim Hitler, and the dark specter of "Islamo-fascism" whipped up for a quasi-convincing backdrop, Barone and the talking heads division of our armed forces are all geared up for "The Greatest Generation, II." But is the police action now occurring in Afghanistan really comparable to a world war in which millions died? It will be if the War Party has anything to say about it .
The idea is to appeal to the boomers who, by now, have reexamined and in many cases reacquired all the prejudices and ideological tics that once made them disdain (if not actually hate) their own parents. In the wake of 9/11, these people are saying: "Give peace a chance? Give me a break!" If the War Party can take this inchoate and as-yet-unfocussed anger, and channel it in a certain direction specifically, in the direction of Baghdad they can achieve one of their long-term policy goals: the military conquest of the Middle East by the US. (Coincidentally or not this all-out war will pit the US and Israel against the Arab world.) But they must strike while the anger is white-hot: for them, it is now or never.
Since October 4, when this anthrax story began to crowd out news of the Afghan war, the War Party's battalions have performed with admirable precision. A real journalistic blitzkrieg has been executed with ruthless efficiency, and each division has played its part.
Barone chronicles the story, putting the pieces of the puzzle together for his readers before coming to the preordained conclusion. The story of mysterious meetings between Faruk Hijazi, an alleged Iraqi spook, and Al Qaeda, including Mohammed Atta's supposed rendezvous in Prague with Iraqi spies, is trotted out, along with newer "reporting" by William Safire, who claims to have information about Saddam's patronage of Al Qaeda from Iraqis captured by Kurdish rebels.
Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post offered his own "inside" information, retailing the tall tales of the US-funded and directed Iraqi "opposition," the Iraqi National Congress, to the effect that Al Qaeda operatives had been seen in Iraq last year, where they supposedly underwent hijack training, using an old Boeing 707 as a kind of rehearsal studio.
Ex-CIA director James Woolsey opined, in the Wall Street Journal, that the CIA pooh-poohed the story because it has an "institutional bias" against defectors and other "volunteers" who aren't on the payroll. One such volunteer is Laurie Mylroie, a writer who claims that Ramzi Yussef, leader of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, was acting under orders from Iraq. Ah, but the clear implication is that US government is somehow blocking the verification of Mylroie's convoluted theory, or at least not looking too strenuously at the evidence. Or perhaps, suggests Barone, they are merely holding the evidence, waiting for it to accumulate to the point where it can be revealed in all its eerie awfulness.
During the first wave of speculation, the anthrax delivered to Senator Tom Daschle's office was described as "weaponized," meaning that it could have only been produced by some government which has the equipment and the trained personnel to create the spores and deliver them efficiently. The assumption was that this pointed to either Iraq, or the former Soviet Union the latter doing it for money, and the former motivated by revenge.
As the news is confirmed that the strain of anthrax transmitted via mail is the "Ames" strain, born and bred not in Iraq, or the Soviet Union, but right here in the good old US of A, the gasps of disappointment are practically audible. With one blow, the carefully constructed edifice of circumstantial and highly questionable "evidence" dug up by the "On to Baghdad" crowd has come crashing down. It's kind of sad, in a way: all that careful work the complex conspiracy theories, so meticulously constructed, the chorus of voices perfectly attuned has come to naught.
The New York Post, itself the victim of the anthrax terror, had been trumpeting the story of some mad female Iraqi scientist, "Dr. Germ," as the evil mastermind behind the outbreak. However, practically the next day the Post was forced to turn on a dime and report that the FBI probe had shifted away from foreign terrorists and toward homegrown hate groups.
Instead of Osama bin Laden, the FBI is pursuing "antigovernment hate groups" and, according to the Post, they even have a particular West Coast-based group in mind. The anthrax, law enforcement authorities seem convinced, was produced in US laboratories, not in Iraq or the former Soviet Union. The New Scientist writes that the fine milling of the anthrax in the envelopes received so far could be achieved with readily available equipment, and the final nail in the coffin of the state-involvement school of thought is pounded in with the news that tests show this strain of anthrax is "naturally occurring" and not the product of bioengineering. Furthermore, says Ken Alibek, former head of the Soviet bioterror project, it isn't "rocket science" to produce and disseminate this strain.
The evidence is not only in the substance itself, but in the accompanying letters: the similar handwriting, the existence of several "hoax" letters with the same style of lettering and content; the rather stilted invocations of Allah and ritualized anti-Israeli sloganeering, which is all a little too obvious for a serious terrorist outfit like Al Qaeda. One would have expected a long and bitter disquisition on "the tragedy of Andalusia." The Post quotes an unnamed source in law enforcement as saying:
"Our feeling is the anthrax does not point to an international terrorist group. The only way it could be is if they are purposely writing letters that point away from them as a ruse and using anthrax that we believe was manufactured here."
This same "highly-placed" source claims that there are several "strong leads," all of which point in a single direction: the anthrax attack is a case of domestic terrorism, a crime of convenience timed to look like the work of Bin Laden.
Given what we now know, including the scientific evidence, this is the most credible theory, and there is, in addition, a lot of circumstantial evidence that points to a homegrown enemy rather than a foreign one. To begin with, the first anthrax letter received was dated 9/11, but postmarked the 18th, indicating that it may have been an attempt to piggyback one horror on top of another. Secondly, look at the targets: I'm not sure what anti-Semitic, ultra-right extremists have against the Mirror and the National Enquirer, but Tom Daschle, Tom Brokaw, and the adamantly pro-Israel New York Post seem like prime targets for such groups.
In any case, the preponderance of the evidence we know about so far points, not to the involvement of any state, but to an amateur effort: one that could have been pulled off by Al Qaeda acting alone, or any number of other nut-ball groups originating right here in America.
So call off the dogs of perpetual war, Bill Kristol and Michael Barone and somebody puh-leeze tell Andrew Sullivan to chill out, willya? Candy Andy was his usual fun-loving self the other day, averring that in the past the US has wielded the threat of nuclear retaliation against biological warfare, and demanding that the Bushies "act now" and "draw a line." This, we are assured, "need not mean nuclear weapons" but, then again, it just might be a good idea, anyway. Oh, Sullivan is an expert on everything: even before the scientific evidence was in, he just knew it was Iraq all along:
"At this point, it seems to me that a refusal to extend the war to Iraq is not even an option. We have to extend it to Iraq. It is by far the most likely source of this weapon; it is clearly willing to use such weapons in the future; and no war against terrorism of this kind can be won without dealing decisively with the Iraqi threat. We no longer have any choice in the matter."
~ Andrew Sullivan, 10/17/01
Wrong, Andy, dead wrong: but of course we'll never see any acknowledgment of his error. Never mind that, if he'd had his way, the US would have nuked Iraq last week. Being the fair-haired neocon boy-pundit of both the London and the New York Times means never having to say you're sorry.
It kind of reminds me of the idiot who killed a turban-wearing immigrant from India, because, as he told his wife, "all Arabs should be shot." When the cops came to his Phoenix home to arrest him, he reportedly said: "I'm an American. Arrest me and let those terrorists run wild?" The differences between this drunken sub-literate wife-beating fool and the literary wonder boy of the neocon set are superficial: morally, they are brothers under the skin though at least the Arizona knuckle-dragger had the courage to act on his murderous convictions. All Sullivan can do is write in his little weblog and thank God for that!
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