Proving A Negative
(Swans - February 2, 2004) To those of us who question the United States' motives for its global war on terrorism and specifically its war on Iraq and the faulty justification therein -- Saddam Hussein's support of terrorism and the imminent threat from his possession of weapons of mass destruction -- the Bush administration's lies and propagandist language are beyond comprehension. Yet the language was introduced September 11, 2001, and has been consistent in its dualistic message and carefully selected, emotionally-charged words ever since. Good/evil, right/wrong, freedom/terror, peace/danger...the American people are asked to make forced choices that by design support aggression. "We must choose between a world of fear, or a world of progress," alternatives presented to us by the president on September 14, 2002, (1) as his anti-Iraq rhetoric escalated in the preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom. In this New World Order, fear equals inaction equals fear; progress equals war equals progress.
The war on Afghanistan received little resistance in its immediate post-9-11 undertaking. The links between the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, and al Qaeda were unchallenged and the mission was unquestioned. "We're paving the way for friendly troops to defeat the Taliban and root out the al Qaeda parasites that the Taliban hosts and protects. We're enforcing the doctrine that says this: If you harbor the terrorists, you are guilty of terror. And like the terrorists, you will be held responsible," stated Mr. Bush on October 17, 2001. (2) The image of "friendly" troops stomping out "parasites" established the impression of a noble, altruistic mission to rid the world of evil people whose bodies need not even be counted. The public was emotionally drawn into the greater cause through an appeal to US children to send dollars to Afghan children, who had no access to education. American women were won over by the images of their Afghan counterparts shrouded in repressive burkhas and the new-found freedom our friendly troops were providing them.
But outside of the call for bin Laden's blood and revenge for the 9-11 attacks, Americans held a short-lived interest in a mysterious country of "cave dwellers," and empathy for the children and women quickly vanished from the scene.
From Afghanistan to Iraq
In October 2001, President Bush unveiled from FBI headquarters a list of the 22 most wanted terrorists, who "[did] not account for all the terrorist activity in the world, but they're among the most dangerous." (3) This list, (4) headed by Osama bin Laden, did not include Saddam Hussein (and only one has been located to date.)
Progress in the war on terrorism was needed, and an opportunity, perhaps with a few 'unintended' benefits, existed in Iraq. Among the appointed members of the "axis of evil," Iraq was the most familiar among Americans in light of the recent Gulf War I, and the name and face of its "evil dictator" had already been established in the public psyche. It was easy to arouse the preexisting disdain for Saddam Hussein and link it to the emotionally-charged response to 9-11 and the still unquenched thirst for retribution. Saddam and Iraq gave a face and venue to revenge; a focus for the previously intangible and omnipresent threat that lurked in caves, airplanes, and US mailboxes. The often repeated charges, "Saddam Hussein's regime continues to support terrorist groups and to oppress its civilian population;" "Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction," (5) and the association of Iraq with danger, evil, and threats readily shaped public opinion. Knowing what evildoers can do with simple box cutters, imagine the potential impact of WMDs...and many people did just that, with a little help from the government. Overwhelming US support for the war was granted, and we promptly succeeded in destroying another country.
Shades of Gray
As the black and white rhetoric began to reveal shades of gray, the dualistic vocabulary of the party line required some creative reasoning. When Diane Sawyer, in a December 16, 2003, interview, questioned Mr. Bush regarding whether it was fact that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, as opposed to the possibility of acquiring them, the president replied, "So what's the difference?" (6) Saddam was a threat before, therefore, he would have been a threat again. The war was justified and the world is now a safer place.
Unfortunately, without serious challenge to the legality of the war, this argument is a win-win approach for the administration. That the world is now a safer place without Saddam Hussein cannot be disproved, and his capture gave the US a sense of closure on September 11 and a manufactured victory over its instigators. So long as another attack does not occur on American soil, we are forced to try to prove a negative. As Bush pronounced in his declaration of the "end of the war" on May 1, 2003, "The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more." (7)
The only fact that is certain is that the regime is no more.
Reports that discredit the justification for the war on Iraq based on Hussein's alleged possession of WMD and al Qaeda ties are appearing in the main media. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, promoting Ron Suskind's book The Price of Loyalty, stated that the Bush administration had its sights on Iraq from the beginning. Additionally, "A document found with Saddam Hussein when he was captured by U.S. forces warned his supporters to be cautious about linking up with foreigners coming into Iraq to fight Americans," as reported January 14, 2004, (8) discrediting Bush's repeated claims that Hussein supported terrorism and orchestrated an upsurge of violence against Americans, attempting to thwart the installation of democracy in Iraq.
We were told from the beginning of the war on terror was that there are some things that we will not be told. Accordingly, Iraqi casualties are not disclosed, but are put into an acceptable context. As Mr. Bush stated from the USS Abraham Lincoln, "with new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians. No device of man can remove the tragedy from war; yet it is a great moral advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent." Thus we are lead to believe that the civilian casualities are minimal and those that do occur are morally acceptable. While we focus on the proper design for the site of the World Trade Center in New York, to include the names of each of the September 11 casualties, we don't do body counts in Iraq. Others do, and the tragic result to date is estimated between 7,968 and 9,801. (9)
With the 2004 US presidential election looming, Mr. Bush needs a successful exit strategy. In the meantime, he continues to tout victory in Iraq, the liberation of its people, the triumph of democracy, and the rebuilding efforts that are ongoing. Yet one does not have to look much beyond the continuing attacks in the 'post-war' Iraq to know that short of censorship, no amount of spin can disguise the violence, the suffering, the destroyed infrastructure and the political struggles that hardly resemble a move towards democracy. It is evocative of Afghanistan, where the ongoing battles and political fighting continue. Saddam Hussein has quickly joined Osama bin Laden on the missing pages of the newspapers.
Fighting the Moral Certitude
George W. Bush stated at a campaign visit to the tomb of Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote his faith-based programs, "Intractable problems, problems that seem impossible to solve, can be solved. There is the miracle of salvation that is real, that is tangible, that is available for all to see." (10)
To attempt to counter his ideology with rationality is futile. We, the people, need to focus on retaining our right to free speech, regaining our diminishing civil liberties, and increasing our challenge of destructive Western policies. We need to educate Americans on the fallacy of our own 'democracy' before we can hope to prevent additional wars being fought, falsely, in its name. We must learn to recognize the language of war and the propaganda that promotes it, and question the use of moral supremacy and faulty intelligence to wage wars "necessitated" by the results of that same lapse in intelligence. We should direct our protests toward the illegality of this 'pre-emptive' war, and the inhumanity of the great historical, societal, and personal losses wreaked upon the Iraqis.
Just as we destroyed Afghanistan in order to save it and headed for Iraq to do the same, patterns which connect suggest that it's only a matter of time before we spin the wheel of evil and decide which axis to attack next. Iraq will then join Afghanistan on the dusty shelves of our collective memory. We cannot let this happen. We owe it to the people of Iraq and the future innocents who will otherwise fall victim to US imperialism, nicely framed in lofty goals disguised by propaganda, lies, and a sense of invincibility that emanates from a belief in the miracle of salvation.
© Jan Baughman 2004. All rights reserved. Please DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work on the Web. See our reprint policy.
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Other Essays in this Special Issue
Or jump to any one author (in alphabetical order): Tanweer Akram || Justin Alexander || Anthony Arnove || Naseer Aruri || Jan Baughman || George Capaccio || Milo Clark || Gregory Elich || Sara Flounders & John Catalinotto || Manuel García || Denis J. Halliday || Edward S. Herman || Rania Masri || Thomas J. Nagy, et al. || Michael Parenti || Louis Proyect || John Sloboda || Gerard Donnelly Smith || Michael W. Stowell
Iraq on Swans (all articles regarding Iraq published on Swans)
Outside Resources on Iraq (Web sites of interest)
Additional Resources (compiled by Tanweer Akram)
2. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House. "President Outlines War Effort." Remarks by the President at the California Business Association Breakfast, Sacramento, California, October 17, 2001. (back)
3. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House. "President Unveils 'Most Wanted' Terrorists." Remarks by the President During Announcement at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Headquarters, October 10, 2001. (back)
7. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House. "President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended." Remarks by the President from the USS Abraham Lincoln At Sea Off the Coast of San Diego, California, May 1, 2003. (back)