by Walter C. Uhler
Reprinted with permission of the author.
In my article "Democracy or dominion?" (recently republished in Annual Editions: World Politics 05/06), much attention was devoted to the severely impoverished civic education that impairs most Americans, and thus their democracy. Putting aside the thoughtless, often inbred, devotion of so many rightwing Republican Party stalwarts, such tenacious civic impairment constitutes the most formidable barrier preventing the impeachment of President George W. Bush.
Americans are famous for their disdain of any education or learning that isn't practical or doesn't lead to a job. Unfortunately, it shows -- often as civic impairment. Perhaps the most persuasive and depressing evidence of such civic impairment came from a 1996 study published by Delli Caprini, Michael X. and Scott Keeter.
Having examined more than 2000 factual "pop quiz" political knowledge questions given to the American public since the 1930s, these researchers found that "only 13 percent of the adult public could correctly answer 75 percent or more of the questions, and only 41 percent of the public could correctly answer 50 percent or more of the items." 1 Thus, when it came to political knowledge, most Americans flunked. Unfortunately, the authors also concluded: "Americans are no better informed about political matters than they were 50 years ago."2
Want specifics? According to a study published in 1969 "two in every three Americans would not recognize the Bill of Rights even if it were read to them." 3 Another study, published in 1985, found that "nearly 40 percent of one survey sample believed Israel to be an Arab nation."4
In 1987 only 8 percent of Americans could identify the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1990 only 34 percent could identify America's Secretary of State. In 1995 only 27 percent knew that America spent more of its budget on Medicare than foreign aid. In 1999 only 12 percent knew who presided over the impeachment trial of President Clinton. 5
"Perhaps the most disturbing of all poll results, however, was revealed in March 2003, the month the United States invaded Iraq. An astounding 51 percent of those polled answered in the affirmative when CNN/USA Today pollsters asked: 'Do you think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks, or not?'" 6 Where were they two months earlier, when President Bush admitted that he could not claim a direct link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terrorists?
Unfortunately for all of those 1,700 plus American soldiers and up to 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians subsequently killed in Iraq, no less than 84 percent of that ignorant 51 percent supported America's illegal and immoral invasion. Thus, Americans' civic impairment has proven to be a menace--to themselves and the world.
Moreover, one cannot explain Bush's reelection--given his administration's first term of lies and incompetence concerning Iraq--without turning to America's civic impairment. It appears to have produced the perfect storm predicted by H.L. Mencken in 1920: "As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be occupied by a downright moron." 7
Unfortunately, by abandoning its watchdog role after 9/11, America's mainstream news media played a major role in abetting Bush's reelection. Although news articles did report the incompetence undermining the Bush administration's occupation of Iraq, few news organizations conducted serious investigations into the mountain of lies Bush officials told to justify Iraq's invasion.
Even now, with the publication of a "smoking gun" (Great Britain's secret Downing Street Memo of 23 July 2002, which asserts "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy" 8 [author's emphasis]), few newspapers have seen fit to report on it, let alone publish it. 9
The performance of The Philadelphia Inquirer is not atypical. Although the Downing Street memo story was first published by the Sunday Times on May 1, 2005 and reported by the Inquirer's parent company, Knight Ridder, on May 6th, the poor saps who rely solely on "The Stinky Inky" 10 for their news didn't read about it until June 8, 2005.
Worse still, the Inky's front-page article on that date, "'02 memo on Iraq is rebutted," must have caused countless readers to ask: "What memo?" Thus it undercut the memo's significance by first reporting it in the context of a news conference where President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair disavowed its content. Curious Inky readers might have asked why the memo wasn't considered newsworthy until Bush and Blair were forced to address it at a nationally televised news conference. Why didn't Inky's newsroom or the opinion page editors see fit to write about it earlier?
Predictably, on June 12th, three days after David Lindorff (writing for Counterpunch) exposed the Inky's bootlicking negligence, the Inky finally ran both a competent news article on the memo and an incompetent opinion piece by Chris Satullo.
Satullo's column would have his Inky readers believe that the Downing Street memo has gained no traction because, "after Sept 11, people were angry and they were scared. They wanted a leader who would not dither, who would just go out and kick some butt. Bush was that guy, in spades. If it turns out he kicked the wrong butt, then screwed up the aftermath to a bloody fare-thee-well, well, to many people that matters less than how he made them feel when they were reeling."
That's quite an indictment of the American public. But it doesn't wash. The obvious response to such nonsense is: "What about the international law that places the burden of justifying any preemptive war on the country about to initiate such a war?" Doesn't it place a high standard on pre-war intelligence? And doesn't the news media have an obligation, in a democracy, to inform the American people, in order that they might prevent their president from kicking the "wrong" butt!
Satullo's thinking implies that the newspapers didn't report the news about the memo, because the American public wasn't interested. Yet, everyone knows that the news media is supposed to serve as the public's watchdog. Moreover, Satullo's thinking ignores the relentless and assiduous attempts by the White House to shape what the news media reports. Is it any wonder that, with lame cover-ups like Satullo's, the public's trust in newspapers and television news has reached "an all-time low this year." 11
Yet, if poor civic education and a supine news media render Americans incapable of preventing political malfeasance, American democracy still appears capable of correcting the mistakes it couldn't prevent. After all, it took only 250 plus years to correct the evil of slavery. But now Americans know better. So, too, do many Americans now regret the three centuries of genocidal war that whites conducted against Native Americans.
Given that record of glacial movement toward self-correction, we might count ourselves fortunate that, a mere two years after the invasion of Iraq, polls already suggest that a majority of Americans believe the Bush administration's invasion was a mistake. Unfortunately, there's little evidence to suggest popular support for impeaching President Bush, removing him from office, and putting him on trial for war crimes. Yet, notwithstanding the best efforts of the mainstream news media to ignore or bury it, the evidence supports precisely that course of action.
According to Mickey Herskowitz (a friend of the Bush family, biographer of Prescott Bush and former ghostwriter for George W. Bush), Dubya "was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999." 12 "Bush and his advisers were sold on the idea that it was difficult for a president to accomplish an electoral agenda without the record-high approval numbers that accompany successful if modest wars." 13
A second source, publisher and editor Osama Siblani, substantiated Herskowitz's claim. In May 2000, Mr. Siblani met Mr. Bush in Michigan and heard him claim that he was "going to take him [Saddam] out," after he became president." 14
Thus, after the US Supreme Court handed him the presidency and despite numerous warnings from CIA Director George Tenet and counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke about the danger posed by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorists, Bush and the "principals" of his National Security Council (NSC) proceeded to hold numerous meetings devoted to "regime change" in Iraq.
National security advisor Condoleezza Rice told the very first meeting of Bush's NSC: "Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region [i.e., the Middle East]." 15 Two days later, on February 1, 2001, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld told the NSC principals: "Imagine what the region would look like without Saddam and with a regime that aligned with U.S. interests." 16 When the NSC met again, on February 5th, each department "principal" was tasked with increasing its collection of intelligence concerning Iraq's WMD.
Nevertheless, as late as May 16, 2001 CIA Director Tenet was telling the NSC: "It was still only speculation whether Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or was starting any weapons-building programs." 17 According to one of the "principals," Paul O'Neill, CIA Director "Tenet was clearly being very careful to say here's the little we know and the great deal we don't. That wouldn't change, 'and I read those CIA reports for two years.'" 18
Yet, notwithstanding O'Neill's assertion that the Bush administration lacked hard intelligence about both Iraq's WMD and ties to al Qaeda, in late February 2001, "documents were being prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency...mapping Iraq's oil fields and exploration areas and listing companies that might be interested in leveraging this precious asset." 19
In fact, many of the 32 meetings held by Bush's "principals" before 9/11 were devoted to Iraq. But, just one was devoted to Osama bin Landen and al Qaeda. Moreover, "between May 31 and July 26, 2001, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley convened the [NSC] deputies four times to work the Iraq policy.... On August 1, the group presented a Top Secret paper to the principals entitled, "A Liberation Strategy." 20
Consequently, who's surprised to discover that, when al Qeada's terrorists struck America on September 11th, Bush administration officials immediately would use the attack as a pretext for war against Iraq?
On September 11th, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, demanded "the best info fast. Judge whether good enough to hit S. H. [Saddam Hussein]" Then, ominously, he added: "Go massive...Sweep it all up. Things related and not." 21 Thus commenced the dishonesty. The very next day, after hearing Richard Clarke's doubts about Saddam's involvement, an irritated President Bush ordered him to look at the evidence again.
On September 15, 2001 Ms. Rice asked NSC members whether the US should plan to attack elsewhere "as an insurance policy in case things in Afghanistan went bad." 22 Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz jumped on the question to recommend attacking Iraq. It "was a brittle, oppressive regime that might break easily." 23 (For that and other similarly horrendous errors in judgment, Bush subsequently awarded Wolfowitz the position of president of the World Bank)
Having yet to lose his integrity, Secretary of State Colin Powell objected: "Nobody could look at Iraq and say it was responsible for September 11." 24 Nevertheless, on September 17th, Bush told the NSC principals: "I believe Iraq was involved [in September 11]." 25 (Remember, in January 2003, Bush admitted he could not make such a claim.)
Thus, on November 21, 2001, Bush asked Rumsfeld, "What kind of war plan do you have for Iraq?" 26 He then ordered Rumsfeld to prepare to attack Iraq, but also requested: "Could this be done on a basis that would not be terribly noticeable?" 27
As Bob Woodward demonstrates in his book, Plan of Attack, General Tommy Franks spent much of 2002 refining just such a war plan. After all, on February 16, 2002, President Bush signed a Top Secret intelligence order for regime change. 28 Three days later Franks revealed just how determined Bush was, when he told Senator Bob Graham: "Senator, we are not engaged in a war in Afghanistan" because "military and intelligence personnel are being redeployed to prepare for an action in Iraq." 29 Franks then added: "The Predators are being relocated." 30
Thus, as early as February 2002, the Bush administration was so committed to a war with Iraq that it was willing to withdraw from Afghanistan critical resources necessary to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, and capture Osama bin Laden. As Senator Graham had concluded: "someone in the White House had put Saddam Hussein ahead of Osama bin Laden." 31
While General Franks was refining plans for an invasion, the Bush administration unleashed a massive two-part campaign to mobilize American support for the invasion. First was Bush's "axis of evil" speech, delivered in January. Although Iraq was Bush's objective, "Rice and Hadley were aware of the secret war planning on Iraq, and they worried that singling out Iraq ... would appear a declaration of war." 32 "So she and Hadley suggested adding other countries." 33
Nevertheless, conservative columnist, Charles Krauthammer correctly understood the real message: "Iraq is what this speech was about. If there was a serious internal debate within the administration over what to do about Iraq, that debate is over. The speech was just short of a declaration of war." 34 (Recall that, only a month later, resources were being shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq).
In April, Bush publicly committed himself to "regime change" in Iraq. Yet, who in America's corridors of power had the courage to suggest, as did the British Attorney General in the Downing Street memo, that "the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action." 35 Yet, it was in April that Tony Blair visited Crawford Texas and signed on to "military action to bring about regime change." 36
Blair set conditions for British military action: "Efforts had to be made to construct a coalition... [and] shape public opinion, the Israel-Palestine Crisis was quiescent, and the options for action to eliminate Iraq's WMD through UN weapons inspectors had been exhausted." 37
With Blair in harness, the Royal Air Force and U.S. aircraft "doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq." 38 According to an article by Michael Smith in The Sunday Times UK, "the attacks were intensified in May, six months before the United Nations resolution that Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, argued gave the coalition the legal basis for war." 39
The "allies dropped twice as many bombs on Iraq in the second half of 2002 as they did during the whole of 2001." 40 The primary objective was "to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war," but Tommy Franks "has since admitted this operation was designed to 'degrade' Iraqi air defense in the same way as the air attacks that began the 1991 Gulf War." 41
Thus, when Sir Richard Dearlove (the head of MI6, Britain's CIA) reported on July 23, 2002 that "there was a perceptible change of attitude" in Washington; one in which "military action was now seen as inevitable;" 42 presumably he was signaling something more massive than the secret intelligence operations Bush approved in February and the massive bombing that commenced in May.
The Bush administration had reached the same conclusion as Britain's head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, John Scarlett: "The only way to overthrow it [Saddam's regime] was likely to be by massive military action." 43
Based on the devastating information contained in the July 23, 2002, secret Downing Street memo (which updated and corrected the Cabinet Office Paper of July 21, 2002), we now know that Tony Blair and his principals knew that the Bush administration believed massive military action was inevitable. "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." 44
Unfortunately, the fixing of intelligence and facts was just beginning. First, came the horrendous legal advice in mid-August from White Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who "concluded that the authority to invade Iraq rested on three legs: the 1991 [Congressional] resolution endorsing the Persian Gulf war, a Congressional resolution enacted just after the Sept. 11 attacks and the president's role as commander in chief." 45
Gonzales' legal advice contrasted sharply with Lord Goldsmith's. Not only did the British attorney general conclude, "the desire for regime change was not a legal basis for military action," he also asserted that "there were three legal bases: self-defense, humanitarian intervention and UNSC [United Nations Security Council] authorization." 46
Although the Bush administration subsequently employed both self-defense and humanitarian intervention (to bring freedom to Iraq) as justifications for its invasion, in July 2002, Lord Goldsmith had concluded that neither applied.47
Even worse was the fixing of intelligence by Vice President Cheney. It commenced the second stage of the Bush administration's massive propaganda campaign and certainly answered Britain's objection that "little thought has been given to creating the political conditions for military action." 48
As Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman reported in "The Radical" (The New Republic, Dec. 1 & 8, 2003), "Cheney came to see the intelligence establishment as flawed and corrupted by political biases hopelessly at odds with his goals." Moreover, from the perspective of the Office of the Vice President, "the CIA--with its caveat-riddled position on Iraqi WMD and its refusal to connect Saddam to al Qaeda--was an outright obstacle to the invasion of Iraq." 49
Cheney was determined "to go beyond the typical information channels in the bureaucracy." 50 And he did. Speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on August 26, 2002, Cheney informed his audience: "The Iraq regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents." Post-invasion searches for weapons proved him wrong, which is bad enough. But did he lie?
Cheney also asserted: "We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons." Again, post-invasion searches for such efforts proved Cheney to be dead wrong, which is bad enough. But did he lie?
Consider the evidence Cheney used for his assertions. Cheney cited the first-hand testimony of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel Hassan. But note, Kamel could not have provided any testimony to support Cheney's assertion of "now," because Kamel had been executed in 1996.
More seriously, Cheney provided his VFW listeners with an incomplete and dishonest account of Kamel's testimony. Cheney failed to tell them that Kamel also claimed: "All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered the destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons--biological, chemical, missile, nuclear--were destroyed." 51 Post-invasion searches found no weapons and, thus, lent credence to this crucial testimony.
But, then, Cheney was a serial abuser of intelligence. First, he eagerly swallowed the bogus intelligence provided by "sources" associated with Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC). In fact, in the fall of 2002, he was complaining that "We're getting ready to go to war, and we're nickel-and-diming the INC at a time when they're providing us with unique intelligence on Iraqi WMD." 52
Because such bogus intelligence fit with Cheney's obsession for regime change, he used it to badger the professional intelligence analysts who had long discounted such INC sources. Thus, in mid-2002 Cheney made unprecedented trips to the CIA and other intelligence agencies. And when analysts wrote something about Iraq's WMD that didn't suit him, he bombarded them "with a thousand questions," including "Why are you disregarding sources that are saying the opposite." 53
More problematic was the special intelligence briefing that Cheney and Tenet gave to senior member of Congress in September 2002. Using flimsy evidence (still being debated then within the intelligence community), which indicated that an Iraqi procurement agent intended to include the purchase of topographic mapping software of the U.S. in his larger purchase of autopilots and gyroscopes to outfit Hussein's unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), Cheney and Tenet characterized that evidence as the "smoking gun" that demonstrated Iraq's intention to target America with its UAV's.54
Members of Congress might have been less impressed, had the two visitors mentioned the questions still surrounding this piece of intelligence. And they might have been curious to know that the Air Force (perhaps best equipped to speak to such matters) dissented, claiming: "the small size of Iraq's new UAV strongly suggests a primary role of reconnaissance." 55
Americans need to keep Cheney's abuses in mind whenever Bush administration officials, or Republican-controlled investigative committees, blame duly constituted U.S. intelligence agencies for all the bad intelligence concerning Iraq's WMD.
They also should keep in mind that, in September 2002, Condoleezza Rice exaggerated (or lied) when she falsely asserted that aluminum tubes sought by Iraq could "only" be used in uranium centrifuges. In fact, Rice already knew that experts in some government agencies doubted that the tubes were intended for centrifuges.
Yet, she compounded her false assertion by warning Americans that they should not wait for "smoking gun" evidence of Iraq's WMD, lest it come in the form of a mushroom cloud.
More false assertions--about Iraq's ties to al Qaeda, unmanned aerial vehicles capable of dispersing chemical or biological agents, mobile labs producing germ agents, and uranium from Africa--would be made by administration officials up until the eve of America's invasion. The crowning moment, however, came on February 5, 2003 when Colin Powell regaled the United Nations and the world with one false assertion after another
Thus, the sad reality was this: Official intelligence, often qualified and measured, but occasionally half-baked, was supplemented or exaggerated--in a word, "fixed"--by members of the Bush administration, especially Cheney. One only needs to compare the classified version of the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate with unclassified 25-page abridgement, the so-called "White Paper," to see how the latter was fixed.
According to Senator Bob Graham, "It was as if the unclassified version selectively put forward all the arguments in favor of invading Iraq, while leaving the concerns to the much smaller audience of people with access to the classified version. In fact...it was two different messages, directed at two different audiences." 56
But that's not all. Cheney's VFW kickoff of stage two of the massive propaganda campaign came just three days before President Bush signed a top secret National Security Presidential Directive ("Iraq: Goals, Objectives, and Strategy") that formally committed the U.S. to the invasion of Iraq.
One element of the strategy was "to work with the Iraqi opposition to demonstrate that we are liberating, not invading Iraq." The final element of the strategy was "to demonstrate that the United States is prepared to play a sustained role in the reconstruction of a post-Saddam Iraq." 57
Consequently, when one considers the actual shifting of resources from Afghanistan to Iraq in February, Blair's April buy-in to military action, the stepped up bombing in May, the Bush administration's July shift to a massive invasion and President Bush's top secret National Security Presidential Directive in August (which mentions an invasion); it not only appears that Donald Rumsfeld lied to Congress on September 19, 2002, when he denied that the Bush administration had already decided that Saddam had to be overthrown, it also appears that President Bush lied as well.
On October 2, 2002, while addressing Congressional leaders who had just presented their resolution on Iraq, Bush asserted: "None of us here today desire to see military conflict." He lied. Who can forget that, in the moments "before he gave his national address announcing that the war had begun, a camera caught Bush pumping his fist as though instead of initiating a war he had kicked a winning field goal or hit a home run. 'Feels good,' he said" 58
On October 7, 2002, President Bush attempted to influence Congress as it was deliberating what became Public Law 107-243, "Authorization for Use of Military Forces against Iraq Resolution." Bush falsely linked Iraq and al Qeada (which the intelligence community heatedly disputed) and cited Iraq's chemical weapons, unmanned aerial vehicles and high strength aluminum tubes for nuclear weapons as reasons why Saddam Hussein must disarm, by force if necessary. In fact, Saddam had none of these weapons of mass destruction.
But he also said, "I hope this will not require military action." Once again he lied. And he lied yet again on October 16, 2002 when he told the American people: "I have not ordered the use of force. I hope the use of force will not become necessary." 59
If intentionally deceiving the U.S. Congress is an impeachable offence, then President Bush deserves impeachment--because every time he assured congressmen that he hoped to avoid war, he deceived them. And if commencing war without receiving Congressional approval is an impeachable offense--which it certainly is--then President Bush merits impeachment. For, strictly speaking, Bush took America to war in May 2002 when he authorized the intense bombings designed to degrade Iraq defense capacity, if not provoke a response by Saddam.
Finally, as the August 2002 top secret National Security Presidential Directive proves, Bush had committed America to an invasion of Iraq before seeking Congressional approval.
The evidence presented above contains examples demonstrating "fixed" intelligence. Moreover, we know the following:
- Cheney had contempt for the intelligence establishment,
- Cheney abused intelligence,
- Cheney and his crew in the Office of the Vice President pressured intelligence analysts,
- Notwithstanding its obsession with Iraq, the Bush administration never requested the CIA to conduct a full blown National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (the October NIE on Iraq's WMD was conducted at the request of three U.S. Senators),
- Although the secret October NIE was hastily crafted, it contained many caveats not found in the alarmist unclassified White Paper and
- When, on December 21, 2002, Bush was given "'The Case' on WMD as it might be presented to a jury with Top Secret security clearance," he turned to Tenet and said: "I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we've got?" 60 Which compels two questions: "Why another intelligence briefing after the NIE?" and "What did Bush make of the NIE intelligence used to persuade Congress to agree to war?"
All six pieces of evidence indicate contempt for serious intelligence. And that contempt freed the "principals" to "fix" the intelligence according to their own preconceived biases. To the extent that such "fixed" intelligence influenced Congress to vote for war, Bush must be impeached.
The decision to go to war also was made before President Bush sought the approval of the United Nations. Absent an imminent threat or actual attack, going to war without UN approval is a war crime. Thus it's important to recall Lord Goldsmith's warning that "if the sponsors of the U.S.-UK draft resolution sought a vote at the [UN Security] council and failed to get it, serious doubts would be cast on the legality of military action against Iraq. This explained the joint decision of Blair, Bush and [Spain's] Aznar to withdraw their draft resolution from council."61 Better to be suspected of war crimes than branded a flagrant war criminal.
Given the information provided above, who can doubt that talk about the threat posed by Iraq's WMD was a smokescreen to disguise Bush and Cheney's long-held obsession to take Saddam out. Consequently, after his impeachment and removal from office, President Bush and his co-conspirators should be prosecuted for war crimes.
Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). Endnotes to this article will be provided upon request.