February 8, 2003
hates sitting through a sales pitch. It's practically a modern
torture device, reserved for those unfortunate souls destined
for the 7th level of hell or out shopping for a mobile phone.
How much the worse when the pitch is eight pages long (8-point
font! Single spaced!) and supported by a series of audio/visual
aids that would make Ross Perot proud! Yet this is what I
faced when I sat down to examine Secretary of State Colin
Powell's February 5th speech to the United Nations.
Powell was responding to the the first update from Hans Blix
and Dr Mohamed Elbaradei, the head weapons inspectors in Iraq.
What Powell took eight pages to say could be summed up in
a single sentence: "The United States is of the opinion that
Iraq is in material breach of its disarmament obligations
laid out in UN Resolution 1441." This assertion is backed
by scanty new evidence: two intercepted conversations, satellite
photos of trucks, and the fact that some Iraqi scientists
had replaced the hard drives on their computers in the 4 years
since inspectors last set foot in Iraq.
The remainder of Mr. Powells speech was spent on belligerent
rhetoric, from describing the horrors of chemical and biological
weapons to building a tenuous web connecting Hussein to Al-Qaeda
(Did you know that an Al-Qaeda operative once recieved medical
treatment in Baghdad? The horror!), and repackaging the inspection
reports into pro-war soundbytes for American media to regurgitate.
I am not surprised that our Secretary of State would get
up in front of the diplomatic world to sell a war (word on
the street is that Powell needs to drop his advocacy of multilateralism
and diplomacy if he wants to keep his job). Nor am I particularly
surprised that the UN would waste its time listening to him.
What really surprises me is the lack of evidence available
to Powell to make his case.
I mean, come on, can't the CIA come up with something slightly
more damaging than a few new hard drives and some grainy photos
that even Powell admitted were hard for him to make sense
of? Didn't anyone keep reciepts from all the munitions we
supplied Hussein with in the '80s? It seems simple enough
to me, subtract the number of weapons used on the Kurds, Kuwaitis,
and American soldiers from the number we sold to him, and
that's how many he has to destroy. Who needs inspectors when
we have a paper trail as obvious as that?
All of this simply underscores the fact that the primary
function of Powells speech was as a media event. Powell steals
a page from Ken Starr's playbook by releasing a little new
information in order to spin damaging coverage into positive
headlines. By repackaging the basically balanced and optimistic
reports issued by Blix and Elbaradei and repeating the soundbyte
"one last chance" at least four times, the speech was able
to ensure that the front page headlines would be conducive
to American foreign policy.
Let's examine the differences between Powell's speech and
the report issued by the Director General of the International
Atomic Energy Association, Dr. Mohamed Elbaradei. Powell paints
a nightmarish scenario of "nuclear muhajaddin," and undercuts
the IAEA by repeating the story given to him by two Iraqi
defectors in 1991 and 1995, that Iraq has a "massive clandestine
nuclear weapons program that cost the Iraqis several billion
dollars." Somehow, even though they had inspected every nuclear
facility in Iraq, the inspectors had just missed this massive
program. Powell also ties some reinforced aluminum tubes and
a factory that produces magnets about the same size as those
in most speakers into "more than a decade of proof that Hussein
is determined to acquire nuclear weapons."
The IAEA report describes how inspectors had visited ever
single building built or modified since 1998 that could possibly
be used in developing nuclear weapons. They have also visited
every single site that the previous inspection program had
indicated could be used for weapons development. This amounts
unannounced, surprise visits to well over 100 diferent sites
all over the country. Not a single prohibited activit was
identified. Furthermore, the IAEA has taken soil, air, and
water samples and set up environmental monitering stations
to detect radioactive isotopes associated with nuclear weapons,
to no avail. They are currently setting up close circuit TV
systems to moniter certain civilian facilities that could
be used for weapons research. In the past two months of frenzied
inspections activities, the major complaint issued by the
inspectors concerned Iraq's attitude: rather than their present
stance of being passively helpful in responding to inspector's
needs and questions, Iraq should adopt a more proactive stance
and volunteer information without bein asked.
Now don't get me wrong, I am usually a fan of Powell and
I don't have any great love for Saddam Hussein. More to the
point, I don't trust anyone who has or desires weapons
designed to level cities or slaughter entire populations indiscriminately.
I am not strongly opposed to war as an institution: like the
International Red Cross, I accept it as one more dumb thing
people do to each other, and try to minimize the suffering
What I am strongly opposed to, however, is bullshit. The
argument that Powell puts forth, that the international community
has the obligation to enforce, by force if necessary, Resolution
1441 is insulting. If the Security Council started attacking
countries for ignoring their proclamations we'd be invading
ourselves and our allies with disturbing regularity. Furthermore,
nobody believes that we should go to war to deprive other
countries of the nasty weapons we sold them or they came up
with on their own. If we followed that policy we'd be invading
our biggest allies in the area, Israel, Pakistan, and India
(who, in case you've forgotten, moved the hands of the Doomsday
Clock last year).
No, the only real reason we have for attacking Iraq is that
we are Americans and we are pissed off and someone brown messed
with us and we don't put up with that kind of shit. And the
fact that Hussein is sitting atop of 10% of the world's remaining
confirmed oil reserves certainly doesn't hurt.
Message to Bush, Powell, and Company (TM): drop the bullshit.
Hell, you almost got elected, and that was before September
11th! Play democratic. I'd give you a better than 50/50 shot
at getting your war if you just asked the people you claim
to represent what they want.
From the MidnightGlobe