The easy answer: George W. Bush. But that’s too easy. It’s highly unlikely the President of the United States got up there and knowingly fibbed about the existence of weapons that would surely not be found. No doubt he fully expected the evidence to turn up, verifying what he and other members of his administration had been saying all along: that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction capable of posing a regional threat. When no such evidence was forthcoming, however, the President’s partisan critics in Congress most of whom supported the war, and voted for the authorization to use force were quick to jump on this administration’s growing credibility gap.
The case for war was made on many grounds, but WMD was surely the most convincing, at least to the general public. Tony Blair regaled the Brits with tales of how Saddam could order the deployment of terror weapons “within 45 minutes,” and Bush, not to be outdone, declared that the contiental U.S. was in danger from unmanned Iraqi drones capable of wreaking destruction on American cities. Clouds of deadly anthrax, chemical weapons, and other bioengineered horrors were conjured by the War Party as imminent threats, but the argument that Saddam was on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons was the trump card in the President’s deck, and he played it in his 2003 state of the union address
“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.”
This assertion that the U.S. had to act to avert a nuclear catastrophe was echoed by Vice President Dick Cheney, who said of Saddam on the eve of war
“We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”
Three months later, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was backpedaling as fast as he could:
“I don’t know anybody that I can think of who has contended that the Iraqis had nuclear weapons.”
Yet Cheney’s definitive assertion was the culmination of a long string of public statements by the President and his top officials that Saddam could acquire and deploy nukes in the near future. In a Cincinnati speech last year, Bush averred that Saddam “is moving ever closer to developing a nuclear weapon,” a line of argument prefigured by Condoleeza Rice‘s pronouncement on CNN the day after the first anniversary of 9/11:
“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
It turns out that the only smoking gun is the one left in the hands of the President after he shot off his mouth and propounded what the White House now acknowledges was inaccurate information. But who supplied the ammunition? What was the source of the intelligence that convinced White House speechwriters to include the reference to uranium?
The aluminum tubes were soon shown to be unsuited to producing nuclear materials. But this uranium business is particularly embarrassing for the President, who faces a rising chorus of questions about the course and conduct of the continuing war in Iraq, since the whole thing turns out to have been a crude hoax.
The submission of outright forgeries to the United Nations inspection team, purporting to show that the Iraqis had tried to buy uranium in the African country of Niger, was the last straw as far as the Europeans were concerned. It was the crudeness of the forgeries that seemed to underscore Washington’s contempt for its former allies. The documents referenced individuals who hadn’t work for Niger’s government for years, the letterheads were odd, and there were any number of other errors that marked them as pretty obviously phony.
Anyone with elementary computer skills and a few minutes to spare could have debunked the Niger uranium story: yet the White House was bamboozled. Bush-haters of a partisan hue are inclined to believe the forgery was concocted by the President’s men, but the Washington Post report on the official investigation took a different and far more interesting tack:
“The FBI is looking into the forgery of a key piece of evidence linking Iraq to a nuclear weapons program, including the possibility that a foreign government is using a deception campaign to foster support for military action against Iraq.”
The author of the Post piece was silent on the question of which foreign government. However, CNN was quick to cite government officials who said:
“They got the documents from the intelligence service of another country, which was not Britain and was not Israel, which they will not name.”
That was another lie.
The source of much disinformation seems to have been a unit of the Defense Department set up by Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and lorded over by his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, the “Office of Special Plans.” But Robert Dreyfuss, writing in The Nation, cites a former U.S. ambassador with strong ties to the CIA who says there is another layer to the onion
“According to the former official, also feeding information to the Office of Special Plans was a secret, rump unit established last year in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel. This unit, which paralleled Shulsky’s and which has not previously been reported prepared intelligence reports on Iraq in English (not Hebrew) and forwarded them to the Office of Special Plans. It was created in Sharon’s office, not inside Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, because the Mossad which prides itself on extreme professionalism had views closer to the CIA’s, not the Pentagon’s, on Iraq. This secretive unit, and not the Mossad, may well have been the source of the forged documents purporting to show that Iraq tried to purchase yellowcake uranium for weapons from Niger in West Africa, according to the former official.”
What could be plainer?
This war has, from the beginning, been a war for Israel’s sake. In spite of the President’s rather comic bookish scenario of unmanned drones catching NORAD unawares, Saddam’s WMD, if they ever existed, never represented a credible threat to the U.S. Our massive and ongoing projection of military power in the region is clearly meant to secure some breathing space for our beleaguered ally.
Yet the idea of a war launched in order to divert the Intifada away from Israel and toward ourselves would have been a hard sell, except to Jerry Falwell and his dispensationalist flock. What amounted to a covert operation had to be undertaken by the Israelis, in cooperation with the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Perle faction in the U.S. government, in order to deceive the American people and, apparently, even the White House into believing war was necessary and inevitable.
Without ignoring the other factors that went into the making of this fateful war, it seems clear that Israel and its American amen corner were chiefly responsible for taking active measures that led to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The Niger uranium story is but a single thread in the mosaic of lies. If we go down the trail of deception, however, from the White House to the Defense Department to the Office of Special Plans we’ll find the same liars at the end of the road.