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Iraq, Anthrax, and the Hawks
Published on Monday, October 22, 2001 on The Progressive
Iraq, Anthrax, and the Hawks
by Matthew Rothschild
 
It didn't take long for the hawks to seize on the anthrax scare as a justification for the United States to go bomb Iraq.

"By far the likeliest supplier is Saddam Hussein," The Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial on Oct. 18.

James Woolsey, former CIA director, said almost the exact same thing in the Journal's adjacent guest column. After speculating about Iran's involvement, he said: "But by far the more likely candidate for involvement with al Qaeda is Iraq."

Richard Butler, the bellicose leader of U.N. inspections in Iraq in the late 1990s, took to the op-ed page of The New York Times the same day to insinuate that Iraq was behind the attacks: "If the scientific path leads to Iraq as the supporter of the anthrax used by the terrorist mailers, no one should be surprised."

Three things need to be noted about this "Let's Go Get Iraq" chant.

First, the hawks wanted to get Iraq even before any anthrax was delivered.

Second, the evidence against Iraq is not overwhelming.

Third, it makes no political sense for Iraq to be behind the anthrax attacks.

To get a glimpse of the anti-Iraq crowd, look no further than The Weekly Standard of Oct. 1. The cover had a WANTED sign on it with two pictures underneath: one of Osama bid Laden, the other of Saddam Hussein.

An open letter to Bush inside, signed by editor William Kristol, Gary Bauer, William Bennett, Midge Decter, Francis Fukuyama, Frank Gaffney, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Charles Krauthammer, Martin Peretz, Richard Perle, Norman Podhoretz, and other hawks on the wing, said: "It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power."

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz has also been gung-ho in this "Get Saddam" campaign from the start, as have many has-beens of the foreign policy establishment.

On Sept. 19 and 20, the Defense Policy Board, which includes Woolsey, Henry Kissinger, Harold Brown, and James Schlesinger, came out for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, according to Elaine Sciolino and Patrick E. Tyler, writing in the Times on Oct. 12.

Much of the case for the Iraq connection rests on two claims: first, Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague last year; and second, the anthrax sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was "weapons grade" or "weaponized."

Both those claims are now being questioned: The anthrax, according to several reports, was not of the highly weaponized variety originally mentioned.

And Atta may never have met with that Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague, at least according to an article by John Tagliabue in The New York Times of Oct. 20. "Czech officials say they do not believe that Mohamed Atta . . . met with any Iraqi officials during a brief stop he made in Prague last year," the story said.

(The truth is hard to piece together on this one, though. The Wall Street Journal reported on Oct. 22 that "officials claim Atta met with one or more intelligence agents" in Prague in June 2000 and with an Iraqi diplomat in Prague in April 2001.)

One piece of anthrax evidence strongly indicates that Iraq was not involved: The type of anthrax used in the U.S. mail attacks, the so-called Ames strain, is one that Iraq doesn't seem to have.

"Federal scientists examining the anthrax used in the Florida and New York attacks have tentatively concluded that it is a domestic strain that bears no resemblance to the strains Russia and Iraq turned into biological weapons," David Johnston and William J. Broad reported for the Times on October 19. "To the best of their knowledge, Baghdad was unable to obtain the Ames strain."

Scott Ritter, the U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998 who was a strong advocate for military action against Saddam Hussein in the days leading up to the Gulf War, discounts the Iraq link.

"Fears that that hidden hand of Saddam Hussein lies behind these attacks are based on rumor and speculation that, under close scrutiny, fail to support the weight of the charge," he wrote in the London Guardian on October 19.

Ritter confirms that Iraq did not have the Ames strain, and he notes that "Iraq's biological weapons programs were dismantled, destroyed, or rendered harmless during the course of hundreds of no-notice inspections."

Ritter denounces his former boss, Richard Butler, for getting on the "Get Baghdad" bandwagon. "Those who have suggested that Iraq is the source of the anthrax used in the current attacks-including Richard Butler, a former chairman of the U.N. weapons inspection effort-merely fan the flames of fear and panic. There is no verifiable link whatever, and it is irresponsible for someone of Mr. Butler's stature to be involved in unsubstantiated speculation."

Hans von Sponeck, the head of the U.N. humanitarian effort in Iraq from 1998-2000, agrees with Ritter. "To connect the 11 September tragedy and the anthrax crime to Iraq is a malicious attempt to find a justification to attack Iraq to finish what is perceived as 'unfinished business,' he told me in an e-mail on Oct. 19. "I find these conjectures outrageous."

The Iraq connection, while impossible to rule out, doesn't make sense on political grounds. For one thing, as Ritter points out, "It makes absolutely no sense for Iraq to be involved in a bio-terror attack that, in one fell swoop, undermines what has been Iraq's number one priority over the past decade: the lifting of economic sanctions."

And for another, why would Iraq use biological weapons now on just a handful of Americans when it could have used them on tens of thousands of U.S. troops back in 1991? Hussein didn't use the weapons during the Gulf War because Bush the Elder had warned him that the United States would drop nuclear weapons on him if he did. Surely, he must realize that his fate would be sealed if he were tied to the latest anthrax scare. If he were suicidal, which he has shown clearly that he's not, he could have wreaked much more havoc ten years ago.

Despite the doubts on Iraq, the politicians, pundits, and the Pentagon are moving forward with plans to take the war there next. George Will banged the drum on ABC's "This Week."

Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate in 2000, said on "Meet the Press" Sunday that the United States should attack Baghdad.

And the Pentagon is prepared to do so. "For the first time since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the United States deployed additional forces to bases within easy striking distance of Iraq, senior military officials said. The deployment . . . included 12 F-15E fighter-bombers, nearly doubling the number of strike fighters on the ground in the Persian Gulf," according to Steven Lee Myers and Thom Shanker in the Times of Oct. 17.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave a foreboding response to a question at a press conference on the 19th. Asked if the United States would be waging war in another country before the anti-terror campaign was through, he replied: "I have no doubt in my mind."

Rumsfeld and Bush are preparing to wage war against Iraq on the flimsiest of evidence.

If they do, they will show the world community how reckless they are.

Copyright 2001 The Progressive, Madison, WI

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