Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Courtesy of Groupthink Central comes a link to a transcript of last Wednesday's Donahue show, which features Phyllis Bennis and former UN Assistant Secretary General Hans Von Sponeck debunking a lot of the nonsense that has been surrounding Iraq. Bennis highlights the same questions I have about the enormity of the violation of international law were the United States to eliminate Saddam ("regime change" is a polite euphemism I like less and less"), and kills a lot of the warblogger-esque arguments being put forward by the National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru.

The biggest spectacle, though, is Sponeck, who has spent time in Iraq and reveals that according to what he's seen, heard, and witnessed, Iraq's WMD capacity is wildly overstated. I'll quote him:

...what we see and hear every day is an attempt really to provide the American public and also members of the U.S. Congress with information that isn’t even close to what the reality on the ground is.
I think your intelligence agencies, the State Department, the government in general, know very well that what is proclaimed to be the threat isn’t really the threat. But without creating this kind of a smokescreen... you would pull the carpet away from the entire U.S. policy in dealing with Iraq as... the U.S. government is moving away from its containment policy to an occupation policy.
And as an outsider-I’m not an American, but I’m also not a fanatic. I’m simply someone who has seen recently, most recently two and a half weeks ago, I was there. I am not an arms expert, I make no claim to be.
But when I go with a German television group to two sites which are described in “The New York Times” and British press and by statements from American officials as sites that have resumed the production of weapons of mass destruction substances, and you go there and they’re destroyed, then you begin to wonder, on what basis all these allegations are made that Iraq poses that threat, even to a distant country like the U.S.?

(In response to Donahue asking why Iraq doesn't just let the inspectors in)
Mr. Richard Butler should have mentioned that. If he had been honest today in the testimony in the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee, then he would have mentioned that his organization, for which he was responsible, was misused by lateral intelligence agencies.
So Iraq is worried. The foreign minister said to me, we will let the arms inspectors come in, but on the condition that we have guarantees from the United Nations that the inspection isn’t misused for intelligence that is simply preparing the ground for an ultimate attack against Iraq. Emphasis mine
I like this less and less. I've been wondering for a while whether the chicken isn't preceding the egg in this WMD thing, and outside of the hothouse environment of the American political culture there's a lot of questions going unanswered. Still, this is incredibly important, and somewhat enlightening. Iraq has said they're willing to let in the inspectors, and what was the American reaction? "No dice, we don't care, we want to invade anyway". This makes sense; the Bush administration has never really cared about WMD except as an excuse to "get Saddam". The warblogging community and the far right doesn't appear to be much different, and this "humiliation" argument makes a hell of a lot more sense now that it looks like Iraq isn't nearly as dangerous as people are saying it was. The humiliation argument doesn't rely on Iraq being dangerous to the United States or its neighbours, so it's the one being erected now that the "he'll invade his neighbours" and "he'll arm terrorist" justifications are slipping away. It's utterly mindless, of course (why Iraq, as opposed to anybody else?) but it's not intended to be a reason, just a justification- a flexible end to justify the means.

What's funny is that all this might be an accident; a byproduct of the intense effort to demonize Saddam as some sort of neo-Hitler in order to justify the Gulf War (which really didn't need it). The Gulf War ended, but the propaganda remained, and what we're seeing is fallout from that effort infecting the body politic. It wouldn't overly surprise me, and there's no doubt that Saddam would be seen as just another tinpot dictator had he not invaded Kuwait a while back, but it's disturbing to behold nonetheless, because it betrays a disturbing credulity on behalf of the intelligentsia.

Then again, maybe that isn't so surprising itself.

I'll leave the final word to Sponeck:

A war on Iraq is also a war on an institution that the United States has helped to create, and that’s the United Nations. We are marginalizing an institution because it’s there where this discussion about how to proceed with Iraq should take place, the U.N. Security Council.
Exactly, Hans.

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