“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”
– Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda
George W. Bush’s recent attempts to shift the blame for the absence of the oft-discussed “weapons of mass destruction” away from his own administration is only one of a number of such techniques these days. And as patently phony as it is, it may work.
The pattern is repeated around the world. Tony Blair was cleared last month of “sexing up” a dossier by a judge who chose to blame the BBC instead. Also across the pond, whistleblower Katherine Gun awaits trial for revealing U.S. spying on the U.N. Meanwhile in Pakistan, the scientist who developed the “Islamic bomb” is blamed for selling nuclear weapons technology to other countries, then pardoned and called a hero (see accompanying stories).
The evidence against the Bush administration is particularly damning. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld and his disciple Paul Wolfowitz have been talking about these weapons for the last three years while weapons inspectors have come up empty. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell has admitted they did not exist. In 2001, during a trip to Egypt, Powell told the media that Saddam “has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.”
The inspectors have spent $400 million in their fruitless search. Long after Powell reversed his opinion, then-Chief Weapons Inspector David Kay said inspectors were “very unlikely to find large stockpiles of weapons… I don’t think they exist.” This is what former U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix said in December 2003, that “both we U.N. inspectors and the American inspectors have been looking around and come to the conclusion that there aren’t any.” And before the war even started, Scott Ritter, who was Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq until 1998, warned: “no one has backed up any allegations that Iraq has reconstituted WMD capability with anything that remotely resembles substantive fact.” Mohamed El-Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency has had similar findings.
Some former military and intelligence officials have been remarkably candid about the deception. Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst for 30 years who briefed Bush senior on a daily basis from 1981 to 1985, told a German newspaper that “this current administration had decided by September 2002 to make war on Iraq… what was missing was the intelligence basis to justify the decision for war.”
As far as how this “intelligence” was created, a trail of dissenters is pointing back to the administration. After quitting her job for Under Secretary for Defense Douglas Feith last April, Pentagon Middle East specialist Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski began talking to the media about the questionable activities of the Office for Special Plans (OSP).
The OSP was created by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz to investigate possible links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. In OSP, she has said that “in terms of Israel and Iraq, all primary staff work was conducted by political appointees” resulting in an “uncritical acceptance of conformity to prevailing points of view.” Futher, OSP’s actions were a “a subversion of constitutional limits on executive power and a co-optation through deceit of a large segment of the Congress.”
The CIA, for its part, is not ready to accept guilt, but whether or not it was coerced is still questionable. On Feb. 5, CIA Director George Tenet said that the CIA “never called Iraq an imminent threat,” and also that “no one told us what to say or how to say it.” However, Vincent M. Cannistraro, former head of counterterrorism at the CIA, has told the New York Times that “there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the CIA to substantiate positions that have already been adopted by the administration.”
This is not a new trend. During the Iran-Contra scandal, Reagan made his infamous claim that he was “out of the loop.” This forever branded him as out of touch and even senile, but allowed him to maintain his image as the “teflon president.” In that instance, the scapegoats were Adm. John Pointdexter (who resigned this Bush administration in scandal last year over a “terrorism futures market”) and Lt. Col. Oliver North, who shredded critical documents to shield the investigation into involvement by senior administration officials. In retrospect, the cover-up was blatantly obvious, but it worked.
The question is how successful the shifting of blame will be this time. Even if the media conclude Bush was failed by his information, they are unlikely to emphasize that the information was manufactured by his own appointees to serve policies the administration was hell-bent on pursuing from day one. If presidents and prime ministers can not be held responsible, then who can?