Softening Public Opinion For All Out War On Iraq

by Stephen Gowans

October 29, 2001


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"I'm convinced that the American people will not only tolerate the casualties that would come from war, they will demand victory."
--Former CIA Director James Woolsey

Ex-CIA Boss Calls For War On Iraq
Absolute Destruction of Saddam Hussein Is Next Step In War On Terrorism: Top Advisor

If you read this, what would you think?

Something along these lines?

I guess the war on terrorism will be extended to Iraq. That's what a top US advisor says. And he's ex-CIA, so he probably has intelligence to show that Iraq's connected in some way to Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks.

Despite what the headline says -- and it's real -- there's no evidence that Iraq is any way connected to either the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, or the anthrax attacks that followed.

Which isn't to say that Iraq isn't involved, only that before you make allegations, it's a good idea to have a sound basis for making them. That's something US officials don't have.

In fact, careful reading of this particular story, suggests the headline should read:

Ex-US Official With Links To Iraq's Opposition Urges Stepped Up War On Iraq; Admits He Has No Evidence Iraq Involved In Terrorist Attacks

The headline's so-called top advisor is James Woolsey, director of the CIA from 1993-1995. Today, Woolsey holds no government position, but was reportedly assigned by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to determine whether Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

He's decided that Baghdad is involved. His evidence? He doesn't have any.

Wisps of smoke

In a speech to the American Jewish Congress, the ex-CIA chief cited "wisps of smoke" that point to Baghdad's complicity, but admitted he couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Iraq was involved.

In fact, so tenuous is Woolsey's evidence, it would get him flunked out of first year law school.

The first wisp of smoke wafting from Baghdad, says Woolsey, is the alleged meeting of Mohammed Atta with an Iraqi intelligence officer, in Prague. Atta is believed to have piloted one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.

Assuming Atta met with Iraqi intelligence, and we don't know that he did, so what? Atta met with a lot of other people too, including scores of Americans. Does that mean they're involved?

Probably not. But to Woolsey, that's beside the point. He hasn't much to go on, he says, but what he has, he points out, is good enough for him.

Taliban minimized

Another of Woolsey's wisps of smoke is Iraq's intelligence apparatus. "(I)t is quite likely that there is a government and intelligence service with Al-Qaeda in what has happened -- a government beyond the Taliban, because I don't regard the Taliban as a modern government that has an intelligence service with world-wide reach."

This is clearly at odds with the 70-point brief British Prime Minister Tony Blair made public to back up his country's decision to join Washington in waging war against Afghanistan. In that brief, Blair concluded that Al-Qaeda was the only organization with the resources to carry out the Sept. 11 attacks.

Now, Woolsey, and other hawks, are challenging Blair's view, downgrading Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, from resourceful, cunning terrorists, capable of planning and co-ordinating the New York and Washington attacks, to guys who live in caves. The developing view is that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda couldn't possibly have co-ordinated the attacks alone. Who does that leave? In a stunning leap of logic, Woolsey concludes it can only leave Iraq.

With the war against Afghanistan now well underway, this reversal of opinion on Al-Qaeda's capabilities seems conveniently timed to provide a justification for a stepped up war on a country Washington and London have subjected to a medieval blockade and almost daily bombing attacks for the last decade. The UN says well over a million Iraqi civilians have died from sanctions-related causes. (1) And political scientists John and Karl Mueller point out that the sanctions have contributed to more deaths than all the weapons of mass destruction throughout history. Sanctions of mass destruction, they call them. (2)

Today, Iraq is a burned out shell of its former self. Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter says the country has been effectively disarmed. (3) Its civilian infrastructure, destroyed by coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War, lays in ruins, victim of a kind of reverse-Marshall Plan, which prevents Iraq from rebuilding, and ensures that civilians continue to die from diseases linked to unsanitary conditions and untreated water. The country's military infrastructure is severely weakened. To describe Iraq as a modern state with a world-wide reaching intelligence service is a cruel joke, but if Iraq is behind the attacks, and not the Taliban, why is Kabul being reduced to rubble, why have hundreds, if not thousands, of Afghan civilians died in the bombing, and why, with the bombing disrupting the work of humanitarian relief agencies, are 7.5 million Afghans being put at risk of starvation? (4)

The official reason these days is that war is necessary to punish the Taliban for not handing over Osama bin Laden. But the Taliban offered to turn bin Laden over to a third country for prosecution, if Washington disclosed evidence the Saudi-born exile ordered the Sept. 11 attacks. "No negotiations," said President George W. Bush.

But it wasn't negotiations the Taliban asked for. It was evidence. They got bombs instead. We, on the other hand, get innuendo, leaps of logic, conjecture -- all good enough for the likes of Tony Blair, Paul Wolfowitz and James Woolsey -- but not good enough to stand even one moment of scrutiny in a court of law.

Is there an emerging pattern here? First Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are fingered for the Sept. 11 attacks, so war is waged on Afghanistan. Then the Taliban are said to be without sufficient resources to have co-ordinated the attacks alone, that Iraq is also to blame, so Iraq must be attacked. What next? Will the US finish the job it didn't complete in the Persian Gulf War, march on Baghdad, oust Saddam Hussein, and then declare that Iraq was too weak to have been the only other state involved in the Sept. 11 atrocities and follow-up anthrax attacks? Will Syria become the new suspect, to be attacked on the basis of evidence that can't stand up in court, but is good enough for US officials? At what point in this war that Washington says could last a lifetime will Cuba be bombarded? Before of after American lives are put on the line to wipe out Iran, Libya and North Korea, the other "states of concern?"

Iraq's biological weapons program

Iraq's biological weapons program also suggests the Middle Eastern country could be involved in the anthrax scares, Woolsey says.

But former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, says "it would be irresponsible to speculate about a Baghdad involvement." (5)

Ritter points out that Iraq's anthrax program was based on the Vollum strain of the bacteria, procured from American Type Culture Collection, a Rockville, Maryland based company. Iraq used the Vollum strain to mass-produce weapons grade anthrax, before UN inspectors blew up Iraq's major biological production facility -- al Hakum.

But federal investigators believe the strain found in New York and Florida is the Ames strain, while the strain used in Washington was non-weapons grade.

Despite the obviously tenuous evidence -- not even wisps of smoke, but will-o'-the-wisps -- Woolsey is urging the administration to wage war "ruthlessly" against Iraq, "if we find we have a reasonable target."

"I'm convinced that the American people will not only tolerate the casualties that would come from war, they will demand victory," Woolsey said.

Whether Americans are prepared to accept US casualties seems to be frequently on the minds of US officials. The hope is that Americans will regard the events of Sept. 11 and after as so flagrantly provocative that they'll be able to put "the Vietnam Syndrome" behind them, freeing the Pentagon to unleash the American military to engage in large scale campaigns that send thousands of American GIs back home in flag-draped caskets, without having to run the risk of a public opinion backlash.

Reporters wondered whether Woolsey has already made up his mind that Iraq is behind the Sept. 11 attacks and anthrax incidents, and is now trying to amass evidence to back up his conclusion. Woolsey didn't deny the charge.

Links to exiled Iraqi National Congress

Woolsey has a vested interest in backing a stepped up war on Iraq aimed at ousting Saddam Hussein and his Baath party. Woolsey is a partner in the Washington law firm Shea and Gardner, which represents the exiled opposition Iraqi National Congress. The Iraqi National Congress is likely to be installed as the new government if the Baath party is destroyed.

That makes Woolsey a private citizen who stands to gain personally from a war to destroy Saddam Hussein, not a top government advisor, as the headline says. In fact, Woolsey concedes he's not in a position to make formal recommendations to President Bush or to Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz.

That raises the question of why the views of a private citizen with no formal government role, but with links to an opposition group that would benefit from an all out assault on Iraq, are presented as the lead story in a newspaper.

Would the views of a former government official who opposes Bush's war on terrorism be given similar prominence? If so, when has it happened?

"Mr. Woolsey appears to be softening public opinion for a post Afghanistan assault on Iraq," said the newspaper.

What it didn't say is that Woolsey's -- and others' -- softening of public opinion couldn't be carried out without the eager assistance of the main media.

[The Woolsey story appeared in the Oct. 24 edition of The Ottawa Citizen, the major broadsheet newspaper in Canada's capital.]



1.  UNICEF and Government of Iraq Ministry of Health, Child and Maternal Mortality Survey 1999: Preliminary Report (Baghdad: UNICEF, 1999).  (back)
2.  John and Karl Mueller, "Sanctions of Mass Destruction," Foreign Affairs, May 1999.  (back)
3.  Scott Ritter, "The Case for Iraq's Qualitative Disarmament," Arms Control Today, June, 2000.  (back)
4.  Krista Foss, "Cash floods New York, but Afghan relief lags," The Globe and Mail, Oct. 23, 2001.  (back)
5.  Scott Ritter, "Don't blame Saddam for this one," The Guardian, Oct. 19, 2001.  (back)


       Stephen Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Stephen Gowans 2001. All rights reserved.

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Published October 29, 2001
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