Last week, Bishop Desmond Tutu was to sit beside former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair at the cringingly named Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa. Tutu, one of the main moral voices in the anti-Apartheid struggle, decided to withdraw. He could not stand to sit next to Blair, or to Tony’s mate, George W. Bush because they had “fabricated the grounds [for war on Iraq] to behave like playground bullies.” Stingingly, in The Observer (September 1), Tutu recounted how he had called the White House a few days before the 2003 invasion, spoke to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and asked her to give the UN weapons inspectors more time to do their work. But “Ms. Rice demurred, saying there was too much risk and the president would not postpone any longer.” The US and UK went to war, and according to Tutu, “More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.”
Amnesia over Iraq has already set in. President Obama refused to countenance any prosecution for Bush era officials (and Bush himself) for the fabrications that Tutu alleges. In the UK, the Chilcot Inquiry on the Iraq War has finished its deliberations, but Sir John Chilcot has delayed the release of the final report for a full year because of wrangling to prevent Blair’s private letters to Bush from being revealed (he perhaps does not want to allow validation that in a July 2002 note he wrote, “You know, George, whatever you decide to do, I’m with you). At his appearances at the Inquiry, Blair admitted that the Iraqis were continuing to allow weapons inspectors, and that, as Sir Lawrence Freedman suggested, they had “started to reap dividends.” However, Blair worried that Saddam was “back to his old games” and was not capable of a “change of heart.” In his paper-thin memoirs, A Journey, Blair notes the question of regret for the war should not be a public question, but it can only be asked and answered “in the quiet reflection of the soul.”
If this were a universal standard, then Syria’s Bashar Assad can relax, and so should all those who are threatened with arrest and trial at the International Criminal Court. They too should be allowed to claim that retrospective analysis of war crimes is a matter of the “quiet reflection of the soul,” not public, legal accountability.
The flimsy thread of evidence presented to the UN on February 5, 2003, by an increasingly chagrined Colin Powell has now been resoundingly debunked. Not one of the claims remains aloft: the aluminum tubes were for legal missiles; the desert trailers were hydrogen gas generators; the Decontamination Vehicles were firefighting equipment; the fabled Yellowcake Uranium from Niger entered the dossier through a “black ops” mission run through the Italian military intelligence service, SISMI, and the neo-conservatives in the various institutions of US intelligence. Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s Chief of Staff, told Craig Unger (Vanity Fair, July 2006) that the neo-conservatives would not let the Yellowcake seep out of Powell’s statement, “You would take it out and they would stick it back in. That was their favorite bureaucratic technique—ruthless relentlessness.” This was the heart of the fabrication that took the US and the UK into the war, and rendered a bewildered UN mute.
Ambassador Joseph Wilson went to Niger on February 26, 2002, met the Prime Minister and the Minister of Mines and confirmed that the faxes and documents in the Italian folder were all forged. This was known inside the State Department a year before Powell went to the UN and before the US and UK went to war. By September 2002, despite these warnings, the UK government published a fifty page, fourteen-point report that relied on the view that “Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” On September 24, Blair referred to this “dossier of death” in his condemnation of Iraqi regime. These were lies that had been repeated so often that they had earned the aura of truth. But they were lies nonetheless (the “dossier of death” is now called the “dodgy dossier,” sexed up to fit the facts, as one UK official told the BBC in May 2003). No one has been prosecuted for the Yellowcake Uranium forgeries.
Out of the bowels of the CIA, extracted by the relentlessness of the National Security Archives, comes a document this week with a remarkable title: Misreading Intentions: Iraq’s Reaction to Inspections Created Picture of Deception (5 January 2006). This report was part of the CIA’s Iraq WMD Retrospective Series, produced by the Office of Iraq Analysis. Most of the declassified document is censored, but that does not stop at least two remarkable conclusions to emerge from it:
That the US misjudged the suspicious behavior of the Saddam Hussein regime. “Ironically, even at key junctures when the regime attempted to partially or fully comply with UN resolutions,” the CIA noted in 2006, “its suspicious behavior and destruction of authenticating documentation only reinforced the perception that Iraq was being deceptive.” When Iraq was “clumsy” in its attempt to shield itself from UN or US scrutiny, rather than read this as an attempt to protect state sovereignty (a cardinal view of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath ideology), the CIA read it as guilt that they had nuclear and biological weapons in the desert. What trapped the CIA, in other words, was that it could not sufficiently analyze the behavior of what it saw as a serial deceiver. Or as they put it in their own jargon, “A liability of intelligence analysis is that once a party has been proven to be an effective deceiver, that knowledge becomes a heavy factor in the calculations of the analytical observer.”
At one point, the report acknowledges that this is not so much a problem of deception and analysis but a problem of cultural assessment. Here is the CIA report: “Analysts tend to focus on what was most important to us – the hunt for WMD – and less on what would be most important for a paranoid dictatorship to protect. Viewed through an Iraqi prism, their reputation, their security, their overall technological capabilities, and their status needed to be preserved. Deceptions were perpetrated and detected, but the reasons for those deceptions were misread.” In other words, the CIA was right to identify evidence of deception, but wrong in its analysis of why Iraq was being deceptive: not to hide WMDs, but to protect its own sovereignty and to provide ambiguous signals to its principal threats (Iran and Israel). Analysts understood that Iraq’s regime had a different “logic system,” but these same analysts did not grasp how the differences manifest themselves.
The Iraqis were right. Anyone on the anti-war side in 2002-03 will remember how hard it was to make the case that it might well be the situation that the Iraqis have no WMDs. This is what the former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter had tried to do (in detail in War on Iraq, 2002, an extended interview with Ritter conducted by William Rivers Pitt), and this is what so many broadsheets and pamphlets tried to argue (as did many writers at Counterpunch). It appears now that the CIA in 2006 thinks that not only were we right on the facts (that there were no WMDs) but that our assessment of the data available at that time was correct. This is a very important distinction. There is no way that that anti-war left could have proved a counterfactual (if there are no WMDs, what can one show to establish this?). What we can see, in retrospect, is that given the kinds of evidence available through the UN reports and given our own sense of the historical behavior of the Saddam Hussein regime, we could see that it was likely that there were no WMDs. The CIA’s assessment notes, “Given Iraq’s extensive history of deception and only small changes in outward behavior, [CIA] analysts did not spend adequate time examining the premise that the Iraqis had undergone a change in their behavior, and that what Iraq was saying by the end of 1995 was, for the most part, accurate.” For the eight years prior to the US-UK war that finished off the regime, it was the Iraqis who were telling the truth. This should be front-page news in the major newspapers. It is as likely as not to be utterly ignored.
In July 2003, Blair’s former National Security Advisor, Sir Rodric Braithwaite wrote in the Financial Times, “Fishmongers sell fish; warmongers sell war.” That is what Blair and Bush did: they sold the war based on intelligence that was very badly assessed and obscenely poorly analyzed to a public terrified by the exaggerations and inflamed by jingoism. Given that there has been no public accounting of the falsehoods and no legal procedures against those who betrayed their public offices, no lessons have been learned.
Much the same garbled nonsense is on offer with Iran, with exaggerations and omissions leading the way forward. August has been a bad month for this. On August 9, 2012, Barak Ravid wrote a piece based on what “Western diplomats and Israeli officials” told his newspaper, Ha’aretz. The headline was “Obama gets new US NIE: Iran making surprising progress toward nuclear capability.” There has been little follow-through on this National Intelligence Estimate. This was all smoke and mirrors. On August 30, 2012, the New York Times ran a story on the new IAEA report on Iran with the headline, “Inspectors Confirm New Work by Iran at Secure Nuclear Site.” The word work played the devil’s role. In fact, the IAEA report noted of the processed fuel, “Some of the 20 percent fuel is in a form that is extremely difficult to use in a bomb, and most of the stockpile is composed of a fuel enriched at a lower level that would take considerably longer to process for weapons use.” Once more the warmongers are selling war. It is in their nature.
It is also in the nature of people like Bishop Tutu to stand firm against mendacity. It is a pity that his call for an investigation will be mockingly dismissed.