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Shifting Reasons
June 13, 2003
By Thomas Walker

February 15 of this year was a day that saw the turnout of millions of people worldwide to oppose a preemptive war on Iraq. Here in Knoxville, on the corner of Kingston Pike and Morrell Road, we had our own demonstration of roughly a thousand people - I among them - even in the rain. Several local news stations turned out to cover the event, including WBIR, which ran a piece containing two interviews, the lengthier one going to the lone counter-protestor, the shorter going to a woman holding a sign reading "Patriots For Peace."

Her name, now, is inconsequential and at any rate I don't remember it. I hope she reads this, though. I hope she knows, now, that I want to apologize for secretly scoffing at her when she announced that this was a war predicated on lies and falsehoods, and that the Administration had been deceiving us all from the outset. To go over why I opposed the war now would be unnecessary and frivolous, but I must say that I never felt that it was a war for strictly profit, and that I never felt we were being outright lied to by the hawks. I expected half-truths, of course, and careful manipulations of reality, but I never believed that any of it was a complete and utter fabrication. I'm beginning to change my mind.

On March 30, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that "we know where [the weapons of mass destruction] are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad." The President assured us on the 17th of that same month that there was "no doubt" the Iraqi regime at that time possessed some of the "most lethal weapons ever devised" (weapons that could have been effectively used against an invading army, but, for some bizarre reason, were not). Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clark spoke to the press of a "number of sites" that contained these weapons.

The Administration was absolute in its conviction. General Tommy Franks: "There is no doubt that the regime…has WMDs, and…[they] will be identified." Defense Policy Board member Kenneth Adleman: "I have no doubt we’re going to find big stores of weapons of mass destruction." And so it goes. In summary, speaking of WMDs, we knew that "big stores" of them were located in a "number of sites" in the "area around Tikrit and Baghdad" and that they would "be identified."

On May 4, the tone began to change. Rumsfeld, in an interview with FOX news, said that we never believed that "we’d just tumble over WMDs" in Iraq. Condoleeza Rice parroted the same excuse for the tardiness in finding the weapons in a Reuters interview when she said that "U.S. officials never expected that 'we were just going to open garages and find' weapons of mass destruction." I don't believe anyone ever expected that to happen, of course, but I did believe, as many people even among the war supporters believed, they would have found something - anything - at that point. Lt. Gen. James Conway of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force said that "it was a surprise to me then - it remains a surprise to me now - that we have not uncovered weapons…in some of the forward dispersal sites." He told the reporters, "Believe me, it’s not for lack of trying."

It would seem to me, as it would seem to most rational people, that the most technologically advanced, best trained army on the planet could have found weapons "we knew" were in “"the area around Tikrit and Baghdad," two cities roughly 125 miles apart; it would seem that we would could have found them with relative ease, especially considering we knew of a "number of sites," and that there were "big stores of WMDs" in Iraq. No, Secretary Rumsfeld, I don't expect you to just stumble over the WMDs, and no Ms. Rice, I don't expect you to just open a garage and find them, but I don't expect you to have a difficult time finding "500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent," either. Like Lt. Gen. Conway, I must say, I was surprised.

And then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz started talking. He told Vanity Fair that "for bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction [as justification for invading Iraq] because it was the one reason everyone could agree on." That's right: they chose a single issue to push as a reason for invading the nation of Iraq "for bureaucratic reasons."

On May 1, the President took a shameful flight to the USS Abraham Lincoln, where he announced that the coalition forces "had prevailed" and congratulated Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Tommy Franks, among others, for "a job well done," without ever having found a single weapon of mass destruction. Not one.

And then, like so many times before, there was a sudden change. The President rambled on about freedom and liberation, democracy, and the "fall of a tyrant." Suddenly, the war was one for human rights, and for democracy. The ends, meant to justify the most radical of means, had changed from when, 20 days earlier on April 10, Ari Fleischer had said that weapons of mass destruction "are what this war was and…is about."

Five years ago we impeached a President for lying under oath about marital transgressions and oral sex. Under oath, I understand, is key, but what else is key is that it was about oral sex. It was not about missiles and sarin and mustard gas and VX nerve agents. It was not about machine guns and soldiers and bombs. It was not about war and death. This time, though, it is.

This President has lied, or failed to prove to us what he and his Administration and their supporters promised to us they would prove. They have found no "big stores" in any of the "number of sites" they "knew were there" in the "area around Tikrit and Baghdad." They've found no 500 tons of anything. They have freed a country and a people, indeed, but that was always a matter of consequence and never one of focus. As Deputy Defense Sec. Paul Wolfowitz said, they chose one issue, and that issue was not human rights. And now, that issue has failed them.
Five years ago we impeached a President for lying under oath about oral sex, and now, on June 10, we remain silently loyal and forgiving of a President who has lied and deceived us, and whose lie has resulted in the deaths of thousands.

I want to say to that woman now, who stood before the camera on WBIR and bravely said that this was a war predicated on lies and falsehoods, I want to say to that woman now, who held the Patriots for Peace sign and said bravely that we were being lied to: I'm sorry for scoffing. You were right.

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