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War for Sale
February 8, 2003
By Johnny_Red

Everyone 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 it creates.

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 News Service.

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