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What’s Proof Got To Do With It? 

The forced march to war

Thursday, Feb 13 2003
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SORRY,BUT I'M AMONG THOSE who were totally convinced by Colin Powell’s high-tech dog-and-pony show last week before the U.N. Security Council. Convinced that Saddam Hussein lies and cheats. And equally convinced that the Bush administration lies and cheats.

Make no mistake — I intend no moral symmetry here. Hussein wins the lying contest hands down. And as odious as George W. Bush is, he is not known to hang his opponents en masse from light poles, nor to hose them down with poison gas, nor to make his political rivals disappear after disemboweling their wives and children. That’s strictly Saddam’s style.

But that doesn’t mean that both men aren’t monumental trimmers.

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That’s why I believed some of what Powell presented and dismissed just as much.

Believing that Saddam Hussein might be hiding a few bottles of anthrax or VX, or that he might be building bigger rockets than a U.N. resolution allows, is hardly a stretch. We’ve always known that about Saddam — even back in the 1980s when Don Rumsfeld flew out to Baghdad to glad-hand the dictator and offer him U.S. support in his war with Iran. No reason to believe, then, that Saddam has changed his spots. I have little doubt that the feared and fearful operatives of his totalitarian regime are playing an ongoing game of three-card monte with Hans Blix and company.

I have just as few doubts that much of Powell’s presentation was plain phooey. There’s a long and proud tradition of the U.S. government’s fudging and faking evidence to rationalize its more imperial foreign adventures. It’s enough to remember the Gulf of Tonkin or — more recently — the now-infamous State Department “white papers” on Central America (seemingly written on thin stock provided by the folks over at Procter & Gamble).

In the current case, we now learn that the British government dossier cited by Secretary Powell last week to bolster his case against Iraq was in part plagiarized from a couple of student term papers. You can imagine the shock that California research associate Ibrahim al-Marashi felt when he saw that whole sections of an article he published 12 years ago on Iraq were copied into this dossier — original typographical errors and all. Other sections of this supposedly damning report were cadged from Jane’s Intelligence Review. “I don’t like to think that anything I wrote has been used for an argument for war,” said journalist Sean Boyne, who had originally penned the passages stolen from Jane’s. “I am concerned because I am against the war.”

Well, who isn’t? But no matter. For war there will be. And it has nothing to do with the “evidence” of weapons of mass destruction presented by Powell. Washington’s itch for war has never had anything to do with eliminating that sort of threat. If it did, we’d have to look no further than North Korea, or to our erstwhile Pakistani allies, to find two nuclear-brandishing countries worthy as targets.

Just as George W. Bush originally said, this is really about regime change and consequently it matters not a whit to him — it should be obvious by now — what the U.N. inspectors do or do not find. Nor does it matter that the NATO alliance is being torn asunder by American unilateralism. Nor does it matter that Saddam has not threatened another neighboring country for 12 and a half years. Nor that only the feeble-minded believe that he is a direct threat to the U.S. Nor that there is in fact no credible evidence that he has any nuclear capacity. Nor is there any sustainable proof of a link between Baghdad and al Qaeda.

Indeed, the only real threat Saddam Hussein poses to American lives is the unleashing of whatever chemical/biological weapons he has when he figures he has nothing to lose in the face of a U.S. invasion. But that isn’t much of a deterrent to the Bush family. Last time I looked, most of the younger Bushes were in rehab, not in boot camp.

The seeming inevitability of war should not stop anyone from swelling the ranks of the scheduled peace marches and rallies planned for this weekend (nor should the sometimes embarrassing nature of much of that movement’s self-appointed leadership). Coming out to protest this war is clearly the right thing to do.

But the peace movement now must face some unappetizing realities. First is the near certainty of the war. Read Bob Woodward’s new book and you’ll see how Bush advisers like Paul Wolfowitz had made the decision to go after Iraq within hours after September 11. If this administration is not going to be dissuaded from its plan by the protest of its most important NATO allies, neither will a couple of hundred thousand people singing “Give Peace a Chance” do the trick.

The peace movement, unfortunately, has to start thinking about the postwar period. It has to start thinking not only about building street demonstrations, but also about developing an “inside” strategy to gain political leverage within Congress. There’s been virtually no progress on that front — thanks mostly to the generalized cowardice of the Democrats.

The other challenge looming for the peace movement is that this war just might be relatively successful. I gave up tea-leaf reading some time ago, so I refuse to speculate. But it’s not impossible to believe that Saddam’s regime will quickly collapse, that scant resistance will produce few casualties, that whatever comes next will be better than Saddam, and that much of Iraqi society will support that outcome (remember that when we call for “peace,” there is no peace for those who suffer Saddam’s dictatorship, as they too believe “no justice — no peace”).

If the above should come to pass, then those of us in the peace movement today are going to have to weigh our words very carefully. Once this unnecessary war is actually consummated, “U.S. Troops Out Now!” may be the wrong slogan, and instead we’re going to have to find picket signs big enough to hold our complicated message of: We opposed this war, but now that it has happened, we insist the U.S. provide the money, the troops and the support to build something better than what was before.

When you figure out how to pull that off, let me know. In the meantime, I’ll be hoping for a miracle while I have that café au lait, split open that croissant, page through my morning copy of Le Monde and quietly repeat to myself, “Vive la France!

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