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ON THE HOME FRONT, TRUTH IS FIRST VICTIM


> Author(s): JOHN R. MACARTHUR Date: March 9, 2003 Page: D12 Section: Ideas 
> 
The other day, a US military spokesman was asked to expound on the Pentagon's 
propaganda campaign to frighten Iraqis into overthrowing Saddam Hussein. 
Describing the latest in weapons of mass persuasion, the spokesman explained 
to a reporter that "the goal of information warfare is to win without ever 
firing a shot."
The Bush administration has launched an extraordinary "psy-ops" assault - via 
e-mail, radio, cellphone and leaflets - to convince the Iraqi people that 
their wisest course is to abandon President Hussein and avoid a bloody war. 
But, to my mind, the gentleman might just as well have been describing the 
"information" war now being waged by the government against the American 
people, a propaganda campaign intended to start a war. To paraphrase the 
Pentagon, it seems the goal of White House public relations is to win without 
ever making a truly factual statement. Government manipulation of public 
opinion is an old story, of course, but the two President Bushes seem 
especially gifted in the black arts of advertising and sloganeering. In 1990, 
Bush the First - with brilliant support from the public relations firm of 
Hill and Knowlton and a Kuwaiti "witness" named Nayirah - harnessed a fake 
baby killing atrocity (Iraqi soldiers accused of pulling hundreds of newborns 
from Kuwait City incubators) to help drive a reluctant Senate and public into 
approving military action.
The "liberation" of a tiny emirate that had never known liberty remains one 
of the great propaganda coups of recent times, and its lessons were not lost 
on Bush the Second. But in seeking to "liberate" Iraq from Saddam Hussein, 
Bush and his counselors have shown themselves every bit the equals of the 
father.
Twelve years ago the case for war was easier to make - Saddam had invaded 
Kuwait. George W. Bush had no such advantage. Except for the far-fetched (now 
refuted) connection between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and the Iraqi 
government, President Bush's team began its race for congressional war 
authorization from a standing start. But on Sept. 7, 2002, they accelerated 
quickly, launching their campaign with a near total fabrication that was 
nothing more than a calculated scare story.
It was then that the president and British Prime Minister Tony Blair 
announced that the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency had 
issued a "new" report describing a revived nuclear weapons project in Iraq, 
built on the foundations of the old. Inarticulate to a fault, Bush 
backtracked a bit from "new" and stated that "when inspectors first went into 
Iraq and were . . . finally denied access, a report came out of . . . the 
IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don't know 
what more evidence we need."
Effective propaganda relies on half-truths and the conflation of disparate 
"facts," so the notion of new IAEA evidence at least sounded plausible. 
Saddam almost certainly harbored ambitions to build an A-Bomb - it was this 
that caused Israel to bomb Iraq's first and only nuclear reactor in 1981 (a 
preemptive act of war that drew unanimous condemnation from the UN Security 
Council, a move endorsed by the Reagan administration.) The trouble was that 
no such "new" report existed. Nor had there ever been an IAEA report 
containing the "six months away" assertion - not in 1991 after the war; not 
in December 1998 when the UN weapons inspectors pulled out of Iraq; not in 
September 2001.
More than three weeks elapsed before the Bush administration acknowledged 
that it was citing a 1991 news story quoting an American expert working for 
the UN and not anyone at the IAEA. (But the expert was referring to enriched 
uranium, not a weapon.) But by then the administration was well on its way to 
panicking Congress into voting for war. The day after the Bush-Blair 
confidence trick, the newspapers and talk shows were flooded with an 
administration leak about Iraq's attempt to buy special aluminum tubes, 
allegedly destined for its "six months away" nuclear program. Suddenly (along 
with the IAEA phantom report), aluminum tubes had brought the world to the 
brink of nuclear Armageddon.
Not until Dec. 8, when "60 Minutes" broadcast an interview with former UN 
weapons inspector David Albright, did any expert point out publicly that the 
aluminum tubes were probably meant for conventional weapons. Not until Jan. 
9, did Mohammed El Baradei, head of the IAEA, finally bury the aluminum tubes 
(and the Iraqi nuclear weapons program) by confirming Albright's supposition.
Those aluminum tubes were recently resurrected by Colin Powell in a speech to 
the Security Council on Feb. 5, when he claimed that such finally calibrated 
tubes would never be used merely for conventional bombs. But just two days 
ago, El Baradei stated before the Security Council that there was no evidence 
the 81mm tubes could have been used for anything other than conventional 
weapons. It hardly matters; Congress long ago gave Bush carte blanche to 
attack Iraq, with its open-ended war resolution of Oct. 11.
Such propaganda success breeds contempt for the old-fashioned notion that 
politicians require the informed consent of the people before they go to war. 
The media are partly to blame; they have been so slow in refuting 
administration double talk that Karl Rove can count on a fairly long interval 
between propaganda declaration and contradiction or bet that the 
contradiction will be so muted as to be insignificant. Thus could the 
president brazenly include the controversial aluminum tubes in his State of 
the Union address.
Meanwhile, stories designed to frighten the public on to a war footing 
proliferate. Powell tells the Security Council of a "poison factory" linked 
to Al Qaeda in northern Iraq. Reporters visit a compound of crude structures 
and find nothing of the kind, so an unidentified State Department official 
responds by saying "a poison factory is a term of art."
Powell cites new "British intelligence" on Saddam's "spying" capabilities; 
British Channel 4 reveals that this new dossier is plagiarized from an 
article by a graduate student in California.
The administration raises its terrorist threat level to orange, causing 
widespread anxiety and duct tape purchases (a placebo to distract from a 
faltering economy); ABC News reports (at last a rapid response) that the 
latest terror alert was largely based on "fabricated" information provided by 
a captured Al Qaeda informant who subsequently failed a lie detector test.
The question is, why do they get away with it? Herman Goering, for one, said 
it's easy. "Why, of course, the people don't want to go to war," he told US 
intelligence officer Gustave Gilbert at the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal. 
"But, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of 
the leaders . . . All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and 
denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to 
danger. It works the same way in any country."  
    

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