August 14, 2002
Raimondo is on vacation. Today we present an appropriate classic from last year.
February 2, 2001
THE MYTH OF THE SADDAM BOMB
And other fairy tales for grown-up children
The no-nonsense military affairs columnist Colonel David Hackworth, who gives his readers a grunt's-eye view of what the perfumed princes of the Pentagon are up to, writes that "war is in the wind. But you wouldn't know it if you get your news from Brokaw, Jennings and Rather." Ah, but you would know it if you get your news from Antiwar.com: we've been covering the developing story of the coming Mideast war for weeks, in our news section as well as in this column, and Hackworth confirms rumors of war with the news that US troops are on the move.
"The Israelis are leaning forward in their foxholes," writes Hackworth. "Their troops are locked and cocked, and their logistical types have been roving the world with checkbooks at high port, buying bombs and bullets aplenty." All of it paid for by you, the American taxpayer, but I digress: "Now," says Hackworth, "the USA is rushing to the rescue." Europe has been stripped of Patriot missiles, which have been deployed to Israel: "But while we're providing that troubled country with theater missile-protection," he opines, "we've left our soldiers stark naked, unable to stop a single Scud." Our policymakers think this is a small price to pay for the protection of Israel, although the families and friends of our servicemen and women stationed overseas might have a different opinion.
According to Hackworth's sources, "'Our ground combat forces in Germany a complete armored corps have moved out in to the field 'to train.' An insider there says, 'Training, hell. We're contingency planning for a fight in the Middle East.'" The process started while Clinton was still desecrating the White House, and seems to have escalated sharply since Dubya took the reins. I kind of like the way Hackworth puts it: "The Bush bunch was presented with the problem on Jan. 20. Just the way JFK inherited the Bay of Pigs debacle from Ike, and Clinton had the Somali disaster dumped in his lap by Bush the Elder." While Hackworth is careful not to over-editorialize, the clear implication is that US intervention on the side of Israel will end in a debacle but that it won't really be Dubya's fault. After all, he "inherited" the problem. Besides, Hackworth avers, we can "thank our lucky starts he has Colin Powell and Dick Cheney" by his side: they, perhaps, can avert what is sure to be a disaster of epic proportions.
I don't think so. While Powell is said to be a closet isolationist, he was the first to step up to the plate in the administration's right-off-the-bat rhetorical offensive against Saddam Hussein, and Cheney soon chimed in. In case you haven't noticed, the propaganda campaign of the War Party has already shifted into high gear, and you can tell they're serious because they're hauling out the big guns. Instead of just making vague statements about how Saddam would like to recreate his "weapons of mass destruction," a series of recent polemics disguised as news stories claim that he already has nuclear weapons two nukes, to be exact, according to an anonymous "defector" cited in the London Telegraph.
When all else fails, and the War Party cannot garner enough interest in having yet another go at our favorite Mideast punching bag, they bring up the question of the Saddam Bomb. Having Satanized the Iraqi leader to the point where people are bound to believe anything about him, they evoke the image of a nuclear-armed madman burning with hatred and ready, willing, and able to incinerate his two least favorite Israeli cities. (Never mind that he hasn't got a delivery system capable of reaching that far: grade-B movie scenarios such as this are rife with loose ends, but usually you're supposed to be too entertained to notice.) "There are at least two nuclear bombs which are ready for use," our mysterious "defector" said last week. "Before the UN inspectors came, there were 47 factories involved in the project. Now there are 64."
Now, wait a minute: are there even that many factories still operating in Iraq? With a strict embargo on any items of "strategic" value, no matter how remotely connected it may be to any possible military use, how are these factories supplied, and, more obviously, how have they escaped satellite surveillance, not to mention detection by constant overflights of US and British warplanes? The construction of a nuclear device would require the creation of a distinctive industrial complex, including a huge source of electric power, a railroad siding, and a network of access roads, all of which would make the plant highly visible and instantly detectable. If Saddam already has not one but two nukes ready to be lobbed in Israel's general direction, how in heck did we miss it? "They're digging shelters there," our "defector" raves, as if the Iraqis have no reason to build air-raid shelters after suffering a full decade of continuous bombing. But there is, unfortunately, no shelter from the constant barrage of war propaganda that we have been subjected to this bitter season: it inundates us like the snow that has enveloped much of the Northeast, and even as far south as Georgia and Alabama, this winter. As the lights go out in California and the heating bill arrives, war is in the icy wind.
The New York Times weighed in with a slight variation on what is essentially the same story, a piece by Steven Lee Meyers and Eric Schmitt that reads like a Department of Defense press release printed verbatim: the authors report the assertions of US government officials that Iraq has rebuilt its weapons factories as if they were fact. Their story brings to mind Truman Capote's crack about Jack Kerouac's stream-of-conscousness writing style: "That's not writing, that's typing!"
While the Telegraph's "defector" pinpointed the town of Hemrin, in northeast Iraq, near the Iranian border, as the site of the Saddam Bombs, the Times version takes us West of Bagdhad, to the Falluja industrial complex, where the Iraqis are reportedly cooking up a witch's brew of chemical and biological weapons. The article notes that outgoing defense secretary William Cohen released a warning, a few days before his departure, about the reconstruction of two key factories in the Falluja complex, one of which makes brake fluid but could also produce ricin, a deadly biological toxin. "There is no smoking gun," one official is quoted as saying, but, as we all know, the Iraqis are guilty until proven innocent. Why should they use chlorine to disinfect the water supply which, in its present untreated state, is spreading disease throughout Iraq when they can use it to make "weapons of mass destruction"? Answering questions like this is what the weapons inspection program was all about. But the inspections aren't happening as long as the sanctions stay in place, in spite of the assurances of former arms inspector Scott Ritter that Iraq has been effectively disarmed since 1998.
It is interesting to note that, in the article in Arms Control Today [June 2000] referenced in the above link, Ritter discusses the claims of a "defector" who fled Iraq in 1995 and said he had evidence that the Saddam Bomb existed: it was, he averred, a "20-kiloton nuclear bomb," but the inspectors could find no evidence. Indeed, what they found was that Iraq did not even have the components, let alone a finished bomb and the means to deliver it. As Ritter put it:
"It is highly unlikely that the defector's claims concerning an Iraqi nuclear bomb are accurate. Unfortunately, speculation that Iraq has retained some nuclear capability simply will not go away. It is conceivable that Iraq could have retained certain components of a nuclear device. However, there is no credible evidence of this, and even if such material were retained, it would be of no use to Iraq, given the extent to which Iraq's nuclear program was dismantled by the IAEA. The best way to ensure that Iraq does not reconstitute its nuclear weapons program is to get IAEA inspectors back into Iraq, where they can resume their task of monitoring Iraqi compliance."
Where do they get these defectors who come out of the woodwork at crucial times? Who wants to bet it's the same "defector," recycling different versions of the same old story when needed. For just when the verbal pyrotechnics on both sides reach a fever pitch and war looms on the horizon, up pops yet another Iraqi "defector," eager for his fifteen minutes of fame and none with any proof whatsoever. But the myth of the Saddam Bomb will never die. No matter how much UN nuclear inspectors praise Iraq as the Associated Press headline put it for its full cooperation, the War Party is determined to keep this one alive. The only problem for them is that, each time it is raised, and then dismissed as arrant nonsense, the myth of the Saddam Bomb seems less credible.
This fits in with a theme I've been pursuing in this space recently: what's up with the really low grade war propaganda that we've been exposed to recently? I've been thinking a lot about this question lately, as the lies I've had to debunk in the past few weeks have gotten steadily more outrageous. It is, I believe, indicative of a coarsening or perceived coarsening of the public's sensibilities, and that the oddly unconvincing, one-dimensional nature of the stories we've been hearing Carla Del Ponte's ludicrous charge that Milosevic killed his own propagandists, the completely fabricated National Public Radio story of the alleged Serbian "crematorium" at Trepca, Reason magazine's recent screed about how "depleted" uranium is good for you is due to this cultural phenomenon, which some might call decadence. A foreign policy for a people attuned to "reality TV" might, in this respect, be compared to an episode of "Gladiators," or the cartoonish spectacles of the WWF. This cultural trend, in tandem with the general dumbing-down of virtually all public discourse, is Imperial America at its worst: it is a culture that a citizen of the late Roman Empire would have recognized. While mystified by the intricacies of the cell phone, our ancient Roman time traveler would find our mindless hedonism all too familiar. The politics of spectacle and sensation, which reduces foreign policy to a gladiatorial contest, is an ancient theme recovered and replayed here at the "end" of history.
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