As a million Shiite pilgrims streamed toward Karbala shouting, “No to America, no to Saddam, no to tyranny, no to Israel!” can’t you just imagine the plash of complacent I Told Him So’s from the lips of George Bush Sr., on the phone to Brent Scowcroft and other members of the old gang? Bush Sr.’s Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger recently took audible pleasure in telling the BBC that “if George Bush [Jr.] decided he was going to turn the troops loose on Syria and Iran after that he would last in office for about fifteen minutes. In fact if President Bush were to try that now even I would think that he ought to be impeached. You can’t get away with that sort of thing in this democracy.”
Until Judith Miller’s piece showed up on the front page of the New York Times on April 21, I’d thought the distillation of disingenuous US press coverage of the invasion came with the images of Iraqis cheering US troops in the Baghdad square in front of the Palestine Hotel on April 9 as they hauled down Saddam’s statue.
Remember, the photos of the statue going down, the flag on Saddam’s face, the cheering Iraqis, were billed as the images that showed It Was All Worthwhile, up there in the pantheon with Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the raising of the US flag on Iwo Jima and the news film of the Berlin wall going down.
Obviously, there were plenty of Iraqis delighted at the realization that the Age of Saddam was drawing to a close (though it turns out Baghdad will probably be run by the same cops, the same bureaucrats, the same torturers, all now proclaiming their fealty to the free market). And probably there were some Iraqis prepared to wave at Saddam’s conquerors riding in on their tanks.
All the same, the clamorous masses in the square never existed. I’ve yet to see the full image reproduced in any mainstream US newspaper, but I have seen photographs on the web of the entire square when that statue was being pulled down.
In one small portion of the square, itself sealed off by three US tanks, there’s a knot of maybe 150 people. Close-up photographs suggest that the active non-US participants were associates of Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, the exile group that rode in on the back of those US tanks. (Go to www.counterpunch.org/statue.html and see for yourself.)
So here, concocted by Pentagon or CIA news managers, we had a virtual demo in front of the Palestine Hotel, where the international press was housed. The “event” was obviously a huge political plus for the Bush Administration and gave Americans back home the false tidings that their troops were being greeted as liberators. Predictably, the media were somewhat coy in offering the news, soon thereafter, that US troops had shot at least ten in a crowd in Mosul that shook their fists instead of offering flowers. Promote a lie, and soon enough that lie comes home to roost.
The days passed, and each excited bellow of discovery of WMD caches on the road north from Kuwait yielded to disappointment. Then came Judith Miller’s story in the New York Times. The smoking gun at last!
Not exactly, as we shall see. But first a word about the reporter. If ever someone has an institutional interest in finding WMD in Iraq it’s surely Miller, who down the years has established a corner in creaking Tales of Terrorism, most of them bottle-fed to her by Israeli and US intelligence. It was Miller who served up Khidir Hamza, the self-proclaimed nuclear bomb maker for Saddam, later exposed as a fraud. It was Miller who last year whipped up an amazing confection in the Times, blind-sourced from top to toe, about a Russian biowar scientist (sounding suspiciously like Lotte Lenya in From Russia With Love, and since deceased) ferrying Russian smallpox to Saddam.
At least the Times‘s headline writer tried to keep it honest this time. “Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert.” What did who say and who did the asserting? It turns out that Miller, in bed with the entire 101st Airborne, was told by “American weapons experts” in a group called MET Alpha that they have been talking to “a scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq’s chemical weapons program,” that the Iraqis destroyed chemical weapons days before the war and that “Iraq had secretly sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, starting in the mid-1990’s, and that more recently Iraq was cooperating with Al Qaeda.” Now isn’t that just what you’d expect him to say?
Miller does concede that the MET Alpha group would not tell her who the scientist was and would not allow her to question him (assuming it wasn’t a “her,” maybe Lotte Lenya in a later incarnation) or do anything more than look at him from a great distance as he stood next to what was billed to Miller as a dump for “precursors” for chemical weapons (come to think about it, it’s probably a recycling facility for used cans of Roundup). Furthermore, she wasn’t allowed to write about the discovery of the unnamed Iraqi scientist for three days, and even then US military censors went over her copy line by line.
What convenient disclosures this Iraqi allegedly offers, tailor-made to buttress Rumsfeld’s fist-shaking at Syria and Bush and Powell’s claims that Saddam and Osama bin Laden worked hand in glove, a claim that depended originally on an article by Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker last year.
At least Goldberg talked to the man claiming Osama/Saddam ties, although he made no effort to check the man’s “evidence,” subsequently discredited by less gullible journalists. With Miller we sink to the level of straight press handout. I guess Miller, who’s apparently writing a sequel to her last book, on bioterror, needs to stay on the good side of MET Alpha. That’s the problem with embedfellows. Just one kiss is all it takes. And talking of embedfellows, I can’t imagine Laura Bush is too happy about Iraq’s national library being torched, even if the prime loss was a bunch of manuscript Korans. And what good Christian would care about them? As the joke went around the Pentagon after Franklin Graham held Good Friday services in the chapel normally used by the DoD’s Muslims, the scratches Graham found in the floor were the Devil’s fingernails.