The Truth About Powell

I'VE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO STOMACH our secretary of state. I think of him as Colon because he is so indigestible: For example, we’ve known for more than a decade that Colin Powell played a key role in covering up the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War (thanks to enterprising reporting by The New Republic). And now, this retread war criminal, this most political of generals — ever adept at climbing the greasy pole of Pentagon advancement by sucking up to whomever was in power in the White House — has made himself the chief spokesman for the Bush disinformation machine.

Powell’s U.N. speech was a great piece of theater, gobbled up by a majority of the gullible American public (according to the polls) as “proof” of the urgency of going to war against Iraq. The rest of the world, however, is either aghast or laughing at his lies. Powell’s speech relied in no small measure on a British government dossier, “Iraq — Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation.” But within hours of Colon’s speech, the BBC, the Associated Press and a raft of other establishment media revealed that huge chunks of this dossier were plagiarized from an outdated postgraduate thesis by a California student named Ibrahim al-Marashi that was based on material more than a decade old.

The entire $50 billion U.S. intelligence apparatus had labored for weeks at funneling material to Powell for his prosecutor’s brief. If there was any further proof needed of the incompetence and inaccuracy of our leaders’ assessments on Iraq, it was that they and Powell accepted without question the doctored British dossier and its inartful lifting of the student’s paper and some press clips. And the revelations of this blundering theft of prose punched a hole in his arguments big enough to fly Air Force One through.

Powell blathered on about “decades” of links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. “Decades” ago, of course, Osama bin Laden was working against the Russians for the CIA. Moreover, in reaction to Powell’s mendacities, there was a revolt by British intelligence officials against the disinformation campaign mounted in their name. They leaked to the BBC a secret Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) report which concluded that there are no current “links” between the despotic Ba’ath regime and al Qaeda — underscoring that, despite a few limited contacts in the past, “any fledgling relationship foundered due to mistrust and incompatible ideologies.” The DIS document went on to say that “We believe that bin Laden views the Ba’ath as an apostate regime. His aim of restoration of an Islamic caliphate, whose capital was Baghdad, is in ideological conflict with present-day Iraq.”

A Whitehall insider underscored the significance of this spook revolt to The Independent (a newspaper which twice supported Blair’s election): “A DIS document like this is highly secret. Whoever leaked it must have been quite senior and had unofficial approval from the highest levels of British intelligence,” the insider asserted.

In the week before Powell’s U.N. performance, The New York Times finally got around to noticing that CIA and Pentagon intelligence analysts were appalled at the exaggerations and distortions of their work on Iraq to fit the White House’s political agenda for war (this was hardly news to the alert; the Philadelphia Inquirer had published a thorough team report coming to the same conclusion four months earlier). Powell’s “proofs” were thus publicly disowned by knowledgeable U.S. spooks before the speech, and by British spooks after it. No wonder the world sneered.

Powell made much of what he claimed was a “chemical weapons site” at Khurmal in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq run by the paramilitary Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, which Powell proclaimed to be an al Qaeda front. But a group of Western journalists visited the site and, as the BBC’s correspondent reported, “saw no obvious evidence of chemical weapons production . . . nothing more sinister than small arms was on display.” Indeed, the site appeared primarily devoted to a radio and TV facility, lately unused.

Add to that a report by the respected Human Rights Watch, which found no evidence of links between the Ansar thugs and al Qaeda — but plenty of evidence that the group is being funded and run by Iran, Saddam’s sworn enemy. And the head of Ansar subsequently gave an interview to The Guardian in which he proclaimed his hatred for Saddam and his plan to replace the secular Ba’ath regime with an Islamic state.

Then there was Powell’s assertion that Iraq’s support for Hamas, the Palestinian paramilitary group, constituted “proof” of its support for “terror.” Well, Hamas has offices in Lebanon, Syria and Iran — but we’re not about to declare war on those countries the last time I looked.

How about that vial of “anthrax” Powell waved around when he hinted — without proof — that Iraq was somehow linked to the anthrax attacks in Washington in 2001? This was perhaps the biggest lie in the speech — for it’s well known here in the States that the FBI long ago concluded the anthrax attacker(s) were homegrown products with access to U.S. chemical-and-biological-warfare facilities, not footholds for either al Qaeda or Baghdad.

So much for the highlights of Powell’s disinfo discourse.

Bush’s “coalition of the willing” is, in fact, a coalition of the bought — and while Dubya and Powell may yet succeed in purchasing a U.N. majority for war, despite the laudable and eminently sensible Franco-German initiative, now supported by Russia, to triple the number of inspectors in Iraq and put the entire country under virtual U.N. supervision. The reason? The French and Russian role on the world stage is institutionalized by their veto power in the Security Council.

But if those countries veto a war resolution — and nothing is less certain — and the U.S. goes to war anyway, that would spell the end of the U.N. as the ultimate arbiter of international law. Unlike his father, Dubya comes out of the Goldwater-Reagan brand of southwestern U.S. conservatism, which has always hated the U.N. In the primitive collection of prejudices, half-truths and lies which constitute the presidential world-view, seeing the U.N. reduced to “irrelevance” is hardly the worst thing in the world. The froggies and the Russkies know this — and so may eventually allow themselves to be hired for the war with oil guarantees and a piece of the lucrative postwar Iraqi reconstruction business, to preserve the U.N. as a stage on which they can strut their stuff. Vladimir Putin told France’s TF1 network on February 11 that he saw “no necessity” for Russia to use its veto, while at the moment the French strategy is to avoid at all costs using its own by recruiting a bloc of six Security Council members, just enough to obstruct passage of a new war resolution without a veto.

And these days, as the old Russian proverb has it, an optimist is only a pessimist who has not yet heard the bad news.

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