8 June 2003

Empire of lies
From the Washington Post:

The latest vogue in Washington is the proposition that it really doesn't matter whether Saddam Hussein maintained an arsenal of unconventional weapons in recent years. American troops may not have uncovered any evidence of the weapons of mass destruction the Bush administration was warning about, the argument goes. But they have found plenty of proof that Iraq suffered under a brutal dictator who slaughtered thousands, perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands of his own people, and that is reason enough to justify the invasion. We disagree. We are as pleased as anyone to see Saddam Hussein removed from power, but the United States cannot now simply erase from the record the Bush administration's dire warnings about the Iraqi weapons threat. The good word of the United States is too central to America's leadership abroad ? and to President Bush's dubious doctrine of pre-emptive warfare ? to be treated so cavalierly.

Like most Americans, we believed the government's repeated warnings that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction threatened the security of the world. The urgent need to disarm Saddam Hussein was the primary reason invoked for going to war in March rather than waiting to see if weapons inspectors could bring Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs under control.

It would still be premature to conclude that Iraq abandoned its efforts to manufacture and stockpile unconventional arms after the first Persian Gulf war in 1991. But after weeks of futile searching by American teams, it seems clear that Iraq was not bristling with horrific arms and that chemical and biological weapons were not readily available to frontline Iraqi forces.

Like most Australians, I shared the expectation of most Americans that WMDs would be found. I thought the war was wrong, for various reasons, but I am astonished that there is no sign of the vast arsenal ready to go on 45 minutes' notice. Even if the outcome for the Iraqi people is desirable that does not excuse those leaders who appear to have shown either duplicity or incompetence in dealing with intelligence issues.

The US is not popular in the world and that popularity is falling dramatically as a direct result of this war. Before we listen too gently to those voices who claim what the hell, we did over an evil tyrant we should ask them about the Congo, about Burma, about Aceh. Without the WMDs what distinguishes those places from Iraq and if liberation is a good and sufficient cause to go to war when will the coalitions of the willing assemble?

Worse than that, the US armed forces are already dramatically over-stretched. We now know that US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld deliberately reduced boots on the ground to prove a point. We now know that prewar estimates of a 250 000 troops to maintain the occupation were not, as the war party claimed at the time, exaggerated.

In his rage and impatience for an easy solution George Bush told the US Congress that the US is not subject to the decisions of others. Because of the over-stretch the US needs allies to maintain the occupation. Those who would promote lying as an act of state should think long and hard. The lies make it difficult to persuade allies to contribute troops. And the lies make it difficult for the Iraqi people to believe anything the coalition tells them. Lying costs.

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