On Native Ground
SEARCHING FOR TRUTH ABOUT THIS WAR
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Sam Smith, editor of The Progressive Review (prorev.com), recently offered what he called the "Standardized Conflagration Competency Exam."
His 10 questions should be asked of everyone in the Bush administration.
Smith may be arch in the extreme with this little quiz, but the essential truth of this exercise is undeniable; namely, how much are the people who are gung ho for war willing to sacrifice?
As has been pointed out many times in the past few months, the architects of this war - President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Powell, National Security Advisor Rice and foreign policy underlings Wolfowitz, Perle and Armitage - have, with the exception of Powell, no direct experience with war. None of them have family members in the military. None of them have made any visible sacrifice in the "war on terror." Yet, they are determined to plunge this nation into war.
Yes, Saddam Hussein is evil and the world would be better off without him. But how many American and Iraqis will have to die in a preemptive, unprovoked war based on a threat that the U.S. created?
A reminder of the nonsense that was fed to us during the runup to the first Persian Gulf War in 1990-91 is needed here.
Begin with the unpleasant facts regarding relationship between the U.S. and Iraq in the 1980s. There was a reason why the U.S. decided to remove 8,000 pages from the dossier that Iraq presented to the UN Security Council before sharing it with the council's non-permanent members.
As reported in December by the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung, dozens of American companies and the U.S. government itself provided assistance to Iraq in developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. When Iraq used chemical weapons during its 1980-88 war with Iran, the U.S. looked the other way since the U.S. was hoping Iraq would destroy Iran, or even better, both sides would destroy each other.
There also wasn't much concern at first in the summer of 1990 when Iraq threatened to invade Kuwait. April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told Saddam Hussein in July 1990 that the U.S. had "no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border agreement with Kuwait." Not surprisingly, Saddam welcomed that statement and invaded Kuwait the following month.
President George H.W. Bush's national security team at first didn't make much of a fuss about Saddam's actions. But the hawk faction, led by then-Defense Secretary Cheney, recognized an opportunity. It had only been a few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Soviet control of Eastern Europe. With the Cold War ending, a war with Iraq would be the first step toward creating a "new world order" where the U.S. would be the unquestioned leader.
This meant two things had to happen. One was that any attempts at a diplomatic solution that would avert war must be discouraged. The other was that Saddam Hussein had to be demonized to the extent of becoming a second Adolf Hitler.
One of the lasting images from the propaganda campaign was the tearful testimony of a young Kuwaiti woman before a Congressional committee that Iraqi soldiers had tossed newborn babies out of hospital incubators in Kuwait and left them to die. It was a riveting tale; it just wasn't true.
It wasn't until after the war that we found out the young woman was really the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S., and that her testimony was arranged by the Washington-based public relations firm Hill & Knowlton as part of a PR campaign funded by Kuwait to bring the U.S. into the war.
But this was just the tip of the misinformation iceberg. You may recall the stories of Iraqi troops - anywhere between 200,000 and 500,000, depending on whose account you heard - that were massed on the Saudi Arabian border and poised to strike.
The U.S. satellite photos that allegedly showed these troops were part of the evidence used to justify a war with Iraq - except that Russian satellite photos taken of the same area at the same time showed no Iraqi troops. The U.S. photos are still classified, and you can probably deduce the reason why.
When the shooting war finally began on Jan. 16, 1991, the press was kept away and only a totally sanitized, heavily censored version of events was shown. The dominant image came from the gunsight cameras - video game-like footage of laser guided "smart bombs" hitting their targets. The reality was that more than 90 percent of the 142,000 tons of ordinance dropped on Iraq were old-fashioned, unguided dumb bombs.
One of those "dumb" bombs hit a factory in a Baghdad suburb that produced infant formula. The U.S. claimed it was a military installation. While the Iraqis may have been clumsy in their counter-propaganda (like the big sign out front of the plant that read "BABY MILK FACTORY" in English), the reality - according to declassified U.S. State Department documents - was that the plant did indeed produce baby milk.
But the U.S. won that propaganda battle and avoided the scrutiny that should have come from deliberately and systematically targeting civilian infrastructure in the bombing campaign - something that's in total violation of the Geneva Convention prohibitions.
Even the number of Iraqi causalities in Gulf War I have not been truthfully reported. Part of it is U.S. reluctance to admit the lopsidedness of the war. While there were only 79 U.S. soldiers killed in action, it's estimated that more than 45,000 Iraqi soldiers and civilians died during the war.
Then throw in the 100,000 Iraqis who died from the post-war violence and disease. Throw on top of that the more than 500,000 Iraqi children that have died from starvation and disease in the decade after the war. And don't forget the five million refugees the war produced.
Most of the cast of characters that shaped Gulf War I are on the national security team of George W. Bush and they have been planning for Gulf War II almost since the first war ended. And the lies from the first war are being amplified as we head into the second.
Have we seen an honest accounting of the extent that the U.S., Britain, Germany and other Western countries aided the Iraqi weapons program? Or of how many Iraqis died in the first Gulf War? Or of the extent of the damage done to Iraq by the war and the 11 years of economic sanctions and periodic bombings? Or why are there 160,000 U.S. veterans of Gulf War I receiving medical treatment for a variety of ailments related to the various toxins they were exposed to in the war?
The answer is no.
And then there are the fresh lies. For example, the Bush administration recently lowered the estimated cost of Gulf War II down to about $60 billion. Not because the cost has gone down, mind you. The new lower cost of the war is pure fiction dreamt up because the more realistic $200 billion cost we heard a few months ago was deemed to be too scary.
There is little debate that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein, but the big question remains unanswered by the people who are rushing us off to war. Is the effort to get rid of him is worth the price that other people - and not the architects of this new war - will have to pay?
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).