The news media has spent a lot of time lately questioning those sixteen words in President Bush’s State of the Union speech, in which he claimed that Iraq had purchased uranium from Africa to make a nuclear weapon. I wonder why it’s taken them so long to seriously question a false statement made by President Bush regarding Iraq when there have been so many of them.
When I heard President Bush give his state of the union speech on January 29th of this year, I didn’t know that the CIA had requested the uranium claim be deleted from an earlier speech because it was not credible enough to be used (Washington Post, July 13, 2003). It wasn’t reported until early March – before the start of the war – that the claim was based on a forged document.
Still, I scratched my head in bewilderment while listening to the President’s speech. I was particularly surprised to hear him state that Iraq had attempted to purchase high strength aluminum tubes suitable for a nuclear weapons program, because two days earlier, chief UN nuclear inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, reported this to the UN Security counsel: “From our analysis to date, it appears that the aluminum tubes would be consistent with the purpose stated by Iraq (for conventional rocket production)…” Elbaradei also said, “To conclude, we have found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons program since the elimination of the program in the 1990s.” Later, in a March 7th statement and after a thorough investigation, Elbaradei concluded that the aluminum tubes were not related to the manufacturing of a nuclear weapon. An independent panel made up of two American physicists, two British experts and a German expert, agreed.
Bush’s tactic of claiming something unequivocally before it has been confirmed was used throughout the administration’s campaign to rally support for war. It’s a pattern that continues to this day. In Poland, when questioned about the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush responded, “…for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong. We found them.” He was referring to the two trailers found in Iraq that were alleged to be mobile weapons labs. No chemical or biological residue was found on the trailers and, after much investigation, no evidence has come forth to substantiate that they could have been used as weapons labs.
More recently, while speaking to reporters with Kofi Annan by his side, Bush made this unbelievable statement in an attempt to justify the invasion of Iraq: “…we gave him (Saddam) a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.” (Is this what Nelson Mandela meant when he said that Bush can’t think properly?) The whole world knows that Iraq did let the inspectors in, that the inspectors were making good progress and that it was the U.S. who cut their work short by going ahead with a pre-emptive war on Iraq, defying the UN Security Council and ignoring world opinion.
False, premature, sensationalized statements, a plagiarized outdated dossier, a forged document were all part of the Bush administration’s evidence to indict Iraq. “Most of what Washington and London knew about Saddam Hussein’s suspected weapons programs before the war was based on old intelligence,” The Associated Press reported on July 13 in a story titled “What little intelligence was new on Iraq’s suspected weapons has been called into question.”
Some Americans don’t care that weapons of mass destruction (which are now referred to as “weapons programs) haven’t been found in Iraq, or that they likely never existed at the time, or not even close to the extent that the Bush Administration insisted they did. Some Americans feel that overthrowing a brutal dictator was reason enough to attack Iraq, and they cite the mass graves discovered in Iraq as justification. But even the evidence to support a humanitarian overthrow of Saddam is based on old information. There was no active mass killing in Iraq like there is now in Liberia. In a Washington Post article titled “Bush Reverts to Liberal Rationale for Iraq War,” Terry M. Neal reports that Human Rights Watch has been trying in vain to draw U.S. attention to the human rights violations of the Hussein government for the last decade. The group remains skeptical of the administration’s recent rationale for war, because, “if there were a time for war, based solely on human rights concern, it would have been 15 years ago…”
When President Bush states that Saddam gassed his own people (The Kurds), he is speaking of an atrocity that happened when Ronald Reagan was president. Bush doesn’t mention that U.S. ties to Iraq were strengthened after such atrocities. He never talks about how the U.S. helped to arm and finance Saddam, or that Vice President Cheney, as a corporation head, signed deals with Saddam even after Iraq invaded Kuwait and in spite of sanctions (Washington Post 6/23/01 by Colum Lynch). Neither Bush nor the media remind the public that one of the largest mass graves was created after the first Gulf war, when Bush Sr. encouraged a Shiite uprising against Saddam, but then chose not to support it.
I find it unbelievable that the Bush administration could be so inept as to forget that the claim that Iraq purchased uranium from Africa was stricken from a previous speech, because it was unsubstantiated. Similarly, I find it highly suspicious that they would use the claim in such an important speech, knowing it had previously been stricken. Whether the Bush administration is inept or coldly calculating, neither scenario is a pretty picture. Which is it? If the Republican-led Congress under the Clinton administration can spend an outrageous $80 million of taxpayer’s money (CNN 4/99) to expose Clinton’s sex lie, which didn’t result in the loss of one single life, surely they can get to the bottom of this.
The Bush Administration asserted without a doubt that Iraq’s weapons were an immediate threat, but they were unable to produce concrete evidence to demonstrate that. They were also unable – as hard as they tried – to link Iraq with al-Qaeda, which is why they are now in the position of still trying to justify the war, after the fact. And the fact is that many thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed, over 200 young U.S. soldiers are gone and more are expected to die, Saddam is still alive, there is no indication that the world is any safer, and U.S. credibility in the world is in question.
War is the gravest of all foreign policy measures and should only be undertaken for the most compelling reason. Evidence is coming forward nearly every day that the Bush Administration hyped the reason for going to war with Iraq to make their case sound more compelling. What were the real unstated, ulterior motives for the war? To those journalists, congress members, and citizens who are investigating how and why those sixteen words got into President Bush’s speech, and to those who are pressing for a formal independent investigation, I say: Bring it on.
Colleen Redman, writer and poet living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia