Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's revelations about the Iraq war are no real surprise. It is, however, the first time we've heard from a former Cabinet member on how the nation was misled on Iraq.
President Bush's response, that the administration was continuing the Clinton policy of "regime change" in Iraq, is false. Clinton policy was to contain Iraq through international sanctions, embargoes and no-fly zones, not war and futile occupation. Al Gore made that clear in opposing Bush's war.
Imagine the attack on Clinton and Gore by presidential candidate Bush had the Clinton administration undertaken war, occupation and costly "nation-building" in Iraq.
Bush policy has been based on deceptions only now coming to light. Last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell, the tragic figure of this administration, attempted to defend his role when confronted with two new reports on the war and its aftermath, by the Carnegie Endowment and Washington Post. Add to that a new report from the Army War College.
Richard Haass, Powell's head of policy planning, resigned when it became clear that Bush demands for Iraqi disarmament were only a pretext for war.
Haass, now head of the Council on Foreign Relations, calls Iraq a war of "choice," not "necessity." He recounts a meeting with NSC director Condoleezza Rice in July 2002, two months before Iraq hit the headlines and three months before Bush went to the U.N. Security Council putatively to seek a resolution on Iraqi disarmament.
As head of State's policy planning, Haass' mission to the NSC was, he says, to discuss "the pros and cons" of escalating toward war with Iraq. Says Haass: "Basically, she (Rice) cut me off and said, 'Save your breath – the president has already decided what he's going to do on this.' "
That was 18 months after O'Neill heard the first Cabinet discussions on Saddam Hussein's removal, in January 2001. Those discussions began eight months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Bush cited as a primary cause for invading Iraq. In October 2002, at the United Nations, Bush cited Iraq's "imminent threat" to America because of its weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda.
Those allegations have proven false as new information emerges on the war and occupation. The Army War College study labeled the war a "strategic error of the first order," one that has "created a new front in the Middle East for Islamic terrorism."
Facts about wars are difficult to keep secret in democracies. The Nixon administration assembled an "enemies list," broke into offices and went to the Supreme Court in futile attempts to suppress information about the Vietnam war.
The Bush administration already is investigating whether O'Neill used classified documents as a basis for his revelations, a charge he denies.
An FBI investigation is under way into alleged administration leaks concerning the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Shortly after Wilson revealed that no evidence existed to substantiate Bush allegations about Iraq's attempts to buy uranium from Africa, someone leaked that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent. That is a crime.
Before we know those FBI results, we will know, by early next month, the conclusions of Britain's Hutton Inquiry, the most thorough investigation done to date on government deception on Iraq. Prime Minister Tony Blair, with his on-the-record denials, is in for tough sledding.
Thanks to my Internet friends, I can now identify the source of the bogus 1945 Reuters news dispatch I wrote about Monday. That forgery likely served as the basis for White House and Pentagon comparisons of Iraqi resistance to German resistance in 1945, part of its sorry attempts to compare Iraq to World War II.
The source for the bogus news (one should have known) is Fox News.
A Fox contributor named Rand Simberg, described as "consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security" made up the Reuters dispatch for Fox on July 30 (posting it on his own Web site two days later). This was only a week before the first Bush references were made to German "werewolves" in one of several inept comparisons to World War II.
Rice claimed German werewolves "engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces" and cooperating Germans, "much like today's Baathist and Fedayeen remnants."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld embellished the story still further. Werewolves, he said, "plotted sabotage of factories, power plants, rail lines. They blew up police stations and government buildings. Does this sound familiar," he asked?
Only in Rice's and Rumsfeld's minds. The total number of post-conflict U.S. combat casualties in Germany was zero. In Iraq, that number is, so far, 357. Some comparison.
"The first casualty of war," said Hiram Johnson a century ago, "is truth." It is one thing, however, to manipulate truth to fool the enemy, and quite another to try to fool your own people. Since the Pentagon Papers, Americans should be determined that it never happens again.
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