Column: Yesterday's Emergency Has Been Cancelled Due to Political Inconvenience

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Mr. Carpenter is working on a book about American demagoguery. He is a columnist for HNN.

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Yesterday's Emergency Has Been Cancelled Due to Political Inconvenience

There are some things any hardcore political junkie is compelled to admire about this administration. For instance when it comes to propaganda, the Bushies outdo with ease the wiliest of opposing spin rascals, and that includes the wiliest of them all -- Iraq's information ministry, which defiantly declared the absence of U.S. forces near Baghdad even as the 7th Cavalry was pummeling the city's elite guard. The Iraqi leadership's brand of earnest fiction requires a certain P.R. panache rarely seen, yet Bush II has managed to top it.

Remember when the White House thundered about unavoidable war because Saddam Hussein's secreted weapons of mass destruction posed an intolerable threat to our national security? Remember its verbal pounding on that point? Remember its incessant claims of knowing the whereabouts and wherefores of Iraq's seemingly vast WMD, evidence of which the administration could not then responsibly disclose? Remember its repeated avowals that Iraq would not hesitate to use these weapons against us, even during a faux peace? Remember all that?

Well, forget it.

Since Saddam chose not to unleash so much as a can of pepper spray against invading American forces, invading British forces, the hated Kurds or hated Shi'ites during the onset of hostilities, the White House has leapt to an altogether different dish of propaganda. Sure, Centcom issues occasional warnings about possible chemical attacks just to keep the inspirational Old Testament alive. And such an attack may yet come. If so, the White House will leap back to its original fundamentalism. But by and large, that once-imposing danger is no longer mentioned by the White House. It simply melted away, quite literally without a word, when the chemical nasties and biological bugs failed to arrive as advertised.

Ain't that the damnedest thing?

To fill the nagging void, George W. Bush now speechifies that his chief objective all along has been to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam's long reign of terror. This -- not the protection of national security in the face of clear and present danger -- is why war could not wait, why the United Nations could not stall us any longer, why $75 billion in requested funding was purportedly incalculable a month ago, and why untold young American lives must be put at risk -- now, and not a minute later. This political sleight of hand has been far trickier than Dick and slicker than Willie, and the "in-bedded" media report nary a word.

No one disputes that the sadistic reptile Saddam Hussein has administered said reign of terror. No one, assuredly, will miss His Bloated Pomposity when he's blown to pieces and dispatched to wherever dead dictators go. And naturally anyone possessing the slightest compassion is heartened by the prospect of truly liberating an oppressed people. Excepting the Saddams of this world, we all desire freedom and a democratic voice. Yet those are givens, thus hardly the point.

The point, rather, is that Bush's initial casus belli has been replaced without comment by what the White House propaganda machine, in these ever-changing opportunistic times, now considers the more easily salable: the Iraqi regime's brutality. The administration expected (correctly so far) that by applying proper diversionary tactics the public would simply forget what the selfsame administration emphasized only weeks ago; that is, America's desperate security straights. With characteristic nonchalance, George has opted to erase history. As brazen propagandistic ploys go, this one has been a beaut; one made especially comely by a televised-tragedies-distracted, hypomaniacally patriotic American public buying the president's political gamesmanship in wholesale quantities.

And gamesmanship it is, for if oppressed peoples' liberation was indeed the administration's principal -- and principled -- objective at any cost, then we'd be lobbing cruise missiles and deploying khakied teenagers around the world this very day. There is no shortage of oppression to be relieved, and some of the oppressors possess infinitely more destructive weapons of mass destruction than Saddam Hussein has ever socked away or was too stupid to R&D effectively.

The barely submerged truth, of course, is that neither biochemical bugbears or humanitarian outrage led the administration to drag us all to the brink of global bedlam. It dwells instead in the realm of relentless ideology. Those resolute folks laying siege to the weak and easily impressionable presidential mind have yearned for this war since 41 wimped out, be it to redraw geopolitical maps or assert intimidating military muscle at will. The titular strongman might wish to permanently erase recent history, but reality is stubbornly, inherently indelible. In fact, the above-referenced resolute folks have made little to no effort to conceal their underlying motivations. The public record alone is littered with the frank and open bellicosity long advocated by the Dick Cheneys and Donald Rumsfelds of official Washington and assorted right-wing think tanks.

Another truth is that by any conscientiously observed rules of rhetorical engagement, the unsure among us should not take the antiwar commentariat's word for these things any more than they should accept the administration's word without question. They instead should turn off the propagandistic tube and indulge in some honest cramming. Alternatively, they can just stay tuned for tomorrow's new-and-improved emergency message, which could very well be the real thing.

© Copyright 2003 P. M. Carpenter

Mr. Carpenter's column is published weekly by History News Network and

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More Comments:

Tom Kellum - 4/15/2003

Saddam agreed to go into exile. That left Bush with no plausible reason to invade. So, a deal was struck. Saddam is told to tell his troops to back off. He (and others from his family and regime) goes to Syria. Bush sends the troops in. They meet little resistance (as per the agreement). Bush gets to look like a hero (to some).

Now, a question for the warmongers: In light of the fact that the U.S. supported Saddam during the time when he is alleged to have committed all kinds of dastardly deeds, wouldn't it have made more sense (and be seen as more genuine) to encourage and assist IRAN to invade Iraq...if the ostensible motivation was to liberate the Iraqi people?

Alec Lloyd - 4/15/2003

I find it interesting that the same people who said Hans Blix should be given as many months as needed--indeed rejected any deadline for weapons inspections to conclude--now point to the "failure" of US forces to find WMD in less than a month while engaged in extensive combat operations.

Give the inspections more time.

Akira - 4/14/2003

Faber has it right, when will right-wing idealogues get some basic reading comprehension skills.

You can not deny that the Bush Administration's FIRST AND FOREMOST REASON for pursuing this war was hi stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and his (alleged) ties and state support for Al-Queada and other terrorist organizations. They tried desperately to tie Hussein and Bin Laden, only to have the air let out of that bag.

Then they tried to scare Americans into believing his WMD was going to be given away to terrorists so they can strike the US. They have repeatedly harped on that topic for months and months. Indeed, I have no recollection nor any record of Powell's numerous visits to thr UN to secure their approval to invade Iraq to free that population to enjoy freedom and a new government. The story was the same : WMD, he has them and he will use them against the US. We must eliminate the threat NOW.

Nowhere was the thought of humanitarian purposes injected into that debat until AFTER POLLS showed basically ZERO support for the administrations' claims of WMD.

Open your eyes.......Iraqi Freedom was the soundbite they came up with only when it became painfully obvious there was no support for this war.

Suetonius - 4/13/2003

would it be possible to bump this discussion of Syria over into its own thread so that it doesn't drop off the radar screen when this column pushed back into the archives?

Suetonius - 4/13/2003

An interesting question you raise, Mr. Kellum. I did see reports of a fierce firefight at that border town between Iraq and Syria between U.S./coalition special forces and elements of the Ba'athist forces. The implication was that there was someone or something there worth protecting at all costs.

Letting Hussein escape into Syria, though, would require knowing both he was alive and well and knowing just where he was. Granted, we in the public can't know exactly what's really going on, but it would not at all seem to be in line with the successive attempts to hit him (both on the first night of the war and at the restaurant/safe house last week).

I'll posit that two things are going on, in general:
(1) the U.S. is bringing the pressure on the Syrians more to get any weapons of mass destruction that have moved into the country (as well as pressure the Syrians on their own stocks) than to get the senior Iraqi leadership (although they do want the senior Iraqi leadership), because we want to make sure that any weapons do not move through the Damascus arms bazaars into the hands of the al Qaeda members there and in Lebanon, and...

(2) to bring pressure on the Syrians in such a way that either Bashar begins to relax political and economic control in Syria _or_ cracks the defacto monarchy and moves Syria towards democracy and liberal reforms. The generals and senior Syrian Ba'athists aren't too pleased about this, for it would mean a dwindling of their influence and power.

(3) there are other benefits to reining in Syria that come to mind but none worth directly engaging just yet (i.e. Israel).

I'm not a middle east specialist, but I've been trying to follow this closely. I think invading Syria is the last thing the Bush administration has any interest in doing. The United States _could_ do it, but just has to appear crazy enough about doing it that the Syrians take all this tough talk seriously. The continued discovery of Syrian mercenaries in Baghdad and the anger in CENTCOM over finding these guys has to be frightening to Damascus.

Can anyone add to this?

Tom Kellum - 4/13/2003

Did the bush regime set a trap for SH by agreeing to let him "escape" to Syria? Is THAT where the "Final Solution" will be finalized?

Herodotus - 4/12/2003

Sky news | 4/12/03

It is too early conclude that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction just because Baghdad has not used any, UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has said.

"It's a little early to draw the conclusion that there aren't any (such weapons)", Dr Blix told Swedish daily Aftonbladet.

He said President Saddam Hussein may well have decided that world opinion would have swung behind the United States had Iraq used weapons of mass destruction.

"This has to do with the sharp criticism against the war all over the world," he said.

"It is certain that if they had used weapons of mass destruction then the criticism would have become much weaker.

"People would have said: 'In any case, they had weapons of mass destruction, and they lied about them all along'."

The inspector believes Saddam would not have used WMD even as the very existence of his regime came under threat.

"It may be important for Saddam what kind of obituaries he gets," he explained.

"He sees himself himself as an Arab hero and he would rather be remembered as a hero than as a liar."

Dr Blix retires from his job in June and said his future projects include writing books about Iraq and North Korea.

The Chile-an - 4/12/2003

Can you show a link to one credible article showing the discovery of WMDs in Iraq since the war's beginning?

I'd truly be interested to know.

For the moment, note:
newswire report at:

Saddam's science adviser surrenders

By Hamza Hendawi

April 12, 2003 | BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Saddam Hussein's science adviser surrendered to U.S. military authorities Saturday, insisting that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and the U.S.-led invasion was unjustified.

Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi arranged his surrender with the help of Germany's ZDF television network, which filmed him leaving his Baghdad villa with his German wife, Helga, and presenting himself to an American warrant officer, who escorted him away.

Al-Saadi told ZDF that he had no information on what happened to Saddam and repeated his assertion, made often in news conferences before the U.S.-led invasion, that Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction.

In Doha, Qatar, the U.S. Central Command said it had no information on al-Saadi's surrender.

The elegant, British-educated al-Saadi is believed to be the first of 55 regime figures sought by the coalition to be taken into custody. He had been wanted because he was a special weapons adviser to Saddam and oversaw Iraq's chemical program in the past. He is believed to have in-depth knowledge of other weapons program as well.

He was among the key figures who worked with U.N. weapons inspectors and often spoke for the Iraqi government in news conferences between the resumption of inspections in November and their end last month.

After Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council in February, al-Saadi suggested that monitored Iraqi conversations Powell played were fabricated, that defector informants were unreliable, and that satellite photographs "proved nothing."

Al-Saadi had also defended the regime's longtime practice of insisting that Iraqi officials be present during meetings between U.N. weapons inspectors and Iraqi scientists, saying that otherwise the scientists' remarks might be distorted.

(what reason would he have to lie now?)

Herodotus - 4/12/2003

and thus another sign that this website drifts farther and farther away from 'history' past 'news' and on into irrelevance.

A pity, really.

Jack Greeley - 4/12/2003

Another incisive analysis by P. Carpenter. And then, as surely as night follows day, out comes the chorus of HNN jackals to nip at his heels. What would Herodotus, Plato, Zorba, Suetonius, and Lloydsoflondonus do without him ? Their transparent bias and relentlessly fallacious distortions would never be accepted by the Bush in 2004 campaign, no matter how loudly these two-bit partisans try to howl the party line (which, as Carpenter rightly points out, is a fast-moving target).

Herodotus - 4/11/2003

Your caution is well taken. The variety of sources that I have seen that lead me to believe that the weapons have been found encompasses the wire services and the major daily newspapers.

While any individual case may turn out to be a false positive, the cumulative discoveries thus far look pretty bad for the Hussein regime's claims that they had nothing.

Alec Lloyd - 4/11/2003

Somehow, I don't think we'd see Mr. Carpenter on the morrow of a smallpox outbreak defending the Bush Administration for not adequately protecting the American people.

Nor do I think he'd be sympathetic if American troops were gassed and failed to have their MOPP suits handy.

Mr. Carpenter's hatred of the Bush administration is all-encompassing. It can, to his mind, do nothing right.

Suetonius - 4/10/2003

Mr Schmidt cited Carpenter's:

"Remember its repeated avowals that Iraq would not hesitate to use these weapons against us, even during a faux peace?"

Repeated warnings that Iraq might use these weapons is a prudent preparation for the war. It would be remiss of any battlefield commander to fail to prepare his soldiers for coping with these things. It was very clearly part of the administration's interest to prepare the general public for the possibility of their use (and the horror that would result) while at the same time make very public to the Iraqis what would happen if the weapons were used.

Would Mr. Schmidt care to explain why the Bush administration has chosen to innoculate thousands of health care workers against smallpox if the threat were simply a manufactured one by the Bush administration that has been set by the wayside?

Alec Lloyd - 4/9/2003

Perhaps Mr. Schmidt, we will begin a fuller examination of Iraq AFTER the fighting has stopped?

Or should our troops ignore the snipers firing at them and start reading Iraqi paperwork?

A better question (for both you and Mr. Carpenter) would be that if Saddam had no forbidden weapons, why did he act as if he did?

Why the obstructions?

Why the intimitation of Iraqi scientists?

If it is found that Saddam was in complete compliance he will go down in history as the most idiotic ruler ever, bar none.

He could have had the sanctions lifted, not to mention maintaining his murderous regime, simply by filing an accurate report and providing full accountability.

Instead he chose to play a shell game, full of deceit and bluster. He successfully convinced us he had something to hide.

Mr. Carpenter comes off is irreconcilably bitter, eager to find any criticism to throw at the Bush administration. The Iraqi people are free. Is that so terrible? Would you see them returned to servitude?

Mr. Carpenter strikes me as a man who, on the occasion of the liberation of Paris in 1944, would point out that Germany wasn’t involved in Pearl Harbor and really didn’t have a quarrel with the US.

My advice to him is: get over it.

JJ - 4/9/2003

It would be helpful if you'd post the counter-evidence. Otherwise it just sounds like a children's argument "Did not!"

Jim Schmidt - 4/9/2003

Alec Lloyd offers no substantive rebuttal to P. M. Carpenter's post.

Mr. Carpenter wrote the following:

"Remember its (the Bush Administration's) incessant claims of knowing the whereabouts and wherefores of Iraq's seemingly vast WMD, evidence of which the administration could not then responsibly disclose? Remember its repeated avowals that Iraq would not hesitate to use these weapons against us, even during a faux peace?"

Mr. Lloyd fails to address these issues. These are factual issues. The facts are not Mr. Lloyd's strong points.

Mr. Lloyd, when will you argue the facts? You can do so in many ways. For example, you might show us how our assumptions cause us to misinterpret the facts.

What is your excuse Mr. Lloyd?

Jim Schmidt

Alec Lloyd - 4/9/2003

Mr. Carpenter’s latest screed truly reaches new heights of sophomoric irrelevance.

At no point did the Bush administration ignore the humanitarian desire to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein. It was simply one of many reasons.

Would Mr. Carpenter prefer to have the inmates of Saddam’s prisons for children returned to their cells?

One would think given the celebrations now taking place across Iraq (and in exile communities across the world) Mr. Carpenter might credit the vision and courage of the Bush administration. But no, he has to throw a brick, so this the one his hand alights upon. And a feeble brick it is.

There are two glaring flaws with Mr. Carpenter’s logic (or pathetic excuse for it).

Firstly, he assumes that weapons useful for terrorists must somehow have a tactical use on the modern battlefield. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Biological agents have virtually no battlefield use; their effects aren’t immediate enough to be felt before the issue has been decided. It also isn’t exactly a wise idea to use them in one’s home country. However, as terrorist weapons, they have enormous destructive potential.

Similarly, chemical weapons don’t work well against trained troops. Coalition forces have better chem. warfare training and equipment than the Iraqis do. Using chemical weapons would most likely hurt the Iraqis more than help them—and ensure the punishment of the commanders responsible.

For terrorists, however, chemical weapons have enormous potential. A small plane spraying blister or nerve agent over a sports stadium doesn’t need to inflict much actual damage to cause widespread panic. One hundred thousand football fans trying frantically to escape from a perceived gas attack could provide as high a body count as any terrorist would want.

These were the dangers the world faced. Now they are lessened.

Secondly, Coalition forces put a great deal of effort into discouraging the use of WMD. The Iraqi command structure was subjected to intensive psychological pressure and physical attack. These operations seem to have been successful. Yet for Mr. Carpenter, no success goes uncriticized.

One cannot read Mr. Carpenter without a sense of disgust, particularly after seeing the jubilation in freed Iraq. But for the “warmongers” in Washington, those people would still be in prison. For all his glib rhetoric and forced light humor, the chief impression I get from reading this latest column is that Mr. Carpenter would rather see them languish in a prison state than acknowledge a Republican success.

Herodotus - 4/8/2003

Carpenter argues that the threat was not real, that it was fabricated and that having served its purpose another is employed in its place to keep our attention. He fails to engage the notion that the Ba'athists did not use the weapons as a result of a successful pre-war campaign to convince Ba'athist commanders it was smarter not to use them.

The threat was real. Sending U.S. soldiers into battle in the MOPP suits despite it being over 80+ degrees out is the last thing a commander who wants his soldiers to remain at the peak of their operational effectiveness would chose to do. The discovery of the chemical and nerve agents, once verified after exhautive tests but already confirmed by a variety of people in a variety of places, will bolster this.

Why is it that die-hard opponents of this war continue to employ single-track logic? Why is it that they cannot engage the notion that there are many reasons to support a war, and many reasons to go to war, and that in this instance quite a few of them are valid? Is it because Carpenter has a deeper agenda, of wanting an end to the Bush administration even at the expense of the necessary actions to protect the security of the country? If Carpenter offered a viable alternative, instead of pointlessly sniping, his work might be worth considering more closely.

Herodotus - 4/8/2003


dan - 4/8/2003


Faber - 4/8/2003

The thrust of the article cleary is that the Bush admin frightened the public with claims of an "intolerable threat," that Bush already knew there were weapons and he knew where they are, and that Iraq would not hesitate to use them against the US. But there was no imminent threat, we didn't know where the weapons were, and obviously Iraq never used them against us even during war time. The article does not deny that Iraq had wmd. In fact it admits Iraq probably does have them.
Why is there always a problem among Bush lovers with basic reading comprehension skills?

Herodotus - 4/8/2003

Since the chemical and nerve agents have been discovered, Mr. Carpenter's fundamental argument is fatally flawed.

Herodotus - 4/8/2003