“F--- Saddam,” Bush said. “We’re taking him out.” March 2002
By Robert Parry
April 8, 2003
In the latest sign of a troubled American democracy, a large majority of U.S. citizens now say they wouldn’t mind if no weapons of mass destruction are found in Iraq, though it was George W. Bush’s chief rationale for war. Americans also don’t seem to mind that Bush appears to have deceived them for months when he claimed he hadn’t made up his mind about invading Iraq.
As he marched the nation to war, Bush presented himself as a Christian man of peace who saw war only as a last resort. But in a remarkable though little noted disclosure, Time magazine reported that in March 2002 – a full year before the invasion – Bush outlined his real thinking to three U.S. senators, “Fuck Saddam,” Bush said. “We’re taking him out.”
Time actually didn’t report the quote exactly that way. Apparently not to offend readers who admire Bush’s moral clarity, Time printed the quote as “F--- Saddam. We’re taking him out.”
Bush offered his pithy judgment after sticking his head in the door of a White House meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and three senators who had been discussing strategies for dealing with Iraq through the United Nations. The senators laughed uncomfortably at Bush’s remark, Time reported. [Time story posted March 23, 2003]
It now is clear that Bush never intended to avoid a war in Iraq, a conflict which has so far claimed the lives of at least 85 American soldiers and possibly thousands of Iraqis.
As of Monday, April 7, the U.S. military had located two suspicious caches of chemicals that were undergoing tests, but still had not confirmed any chemical or biological weapons. Whatever those ultimate findings, however, there's little doubt that the long-running drama over United Nations inspections to ensure that Iraq had rid itself of weapons of mass destruction was a charade designed to mask Bush’s predetermined course of action -- to test out his new doctrine of preemptive war.
Much of the world – from Canada to Cameroon – caught on to the administration’s game as it sought to manipulate international support for an invasion. Bush's lack of credibility on the world stage left him with only four out of 15 votes on the U.N. Security Council for a war resolution.
The Bush administration’s deceit was so obvious that even Washington Post columnist David Broder spotted it. Broder, who has built a career ignoring unpleasant realities about Washington’s powerful, observed how Bush had choreographed the march to war.
“Looking back, the major landmarks of the past year appear to have been carefully designed to leave no alternative but war with Iraq – or an unlikely capitulation and abdication by Hussein,” Broder wrote on the eve of the war. Noting Bush’s post-Sept. 11th doctrine of waging preemptive war against any nation that he deemed a potential threat, Broder said, “It quickly became clear that Iraq had been chosen as the test case of the new doctrine.” [Washington Post, March 18, 2003]
Once Bush had chosen the site, there was virtually nothing the Iraqi government could do to avoid war, short of total capitulation. As a demonstration of both America’s military might and his own itchy trigger finger, Bush had decided to make Iraq his Alderaan, the hapless planet in the original Star Wars movie that was picked to show off the power of the Death Star.
“Fear will keep the local systems in line, fear of this battle station,” explained Death Star commander Tarkin in the movie. “No star system will dare oppose the emperor now.”
Similarly, the slaughter of the outmatched Iraqi military is meant to send a message to other countries that might try to resist Bush’s dictates. At a Central Command briefing, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks took note of this awesome power on display as he described the decimation – or “degrading” – of Iraqi forces south of Baghdad.
“They’re in serious trouble,” Brooks said. “They remain in contact now with the most powerful force on earth.” Using the unsavory Saddam Hussein as a foil, Bush was unleashing hell on the Iraqis.
This new emphasis on military might to bring other countries into line -- occurring in tandem with the cheapening of the democratic debate inside the United States -- may have been described best by U.S. diplomat John Brady Kiesling, who resigned earlier this year rather than help give diplomatic cover to the war strategy.
"We have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the war in Vietnam," Kiesling wrote in a resignation letter on Feb. 27. "We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq."
Kiesling also grasped the shift to empire – away from republic – that is underpinning Bush's policies. The career diplomat asked, "Has 'oderint dum metuant' really become our motto?" citing a favorite saying of the mad Roman emperor Caligula, which means "Let them hate so long as they fear."
"The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests," Kiesling wrote. "When our friends are afraid of us rather than for us, it is time to worry."
Yet the apparent enthusiasm of the American people for the war in Iraq – and their lightly considered acquiescence to this crossover to imperial power – have sent a chilling message to the rest of the world. That message is that the American people and their increasingly enfeebled democratic process will not serve as a check on George W. Bush.
Bush apparently sees his mission in messianic terms, believing that he is the instrument of God as he strikes at Saddam Hussein and other U.S. adversaries. In a profile of Bush at war, USA Today cited Commerce Secretary Don Evans, one of Bush’s closest friends, describing Bush’s belief that he was called on by God to do what he’s doing.
Bush’s obsession with Hussein also was traced to a personal loathing for the dictator. Bush “is convinced that the Iraqi leader is literally insane and would gladly give terrorists weapons to use to launch another attack on the United States,” the newspaper reported. In that conviction, however, Bush is at odds with CIA analysts who concluded last year that the secular Hussein would only share weapons with Islamic terrorists if the United States invaded Iraq.
While assessing Hussein as nuts, Bush has not proven to be a model of psychological stability either. As he readied himself for the speech announcing the start of the war, he was behaving more like a frat boy than a world leader undertaking a grave act that would end the lives of thousands. He pumped his fist and exclaimed about himself, “feel good.”
In private, Bush is even more peevish than usual, USA Today reported. “He rarely jokes with staffers these days and occasionally startles them with sarcastic put-downs,” the newspaper wrote. “He’s a critic who sees himself as the aggrieved victim of the news media and second-guessers.” [USA Today, April 2, 2003]
Bush's behavior seems to be tracking with the imperial style he unveiled last year to Bob Woodward in an interview for the book, Bush at War. "That's the interesting thing about being the president," Bush said. "Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
Still, Bush has succeeded at a central task. Aided by a U.S. news media that sees ratings gold in its red-white-and-blue coverage of the war, Bush has taught the American people to relish this one-sided annihilation of thousands of Iraqi soldiers resisting what they and much of the world see as an unprovoked invasion of their country.
Bush has orchestrated a fundamental change in the historic American spirit. Since the days of the Revolutionary War, Americans have rooted for the underdog. But now, apparently by wide majorities, the American people are cheering as U.S. troops mow down Iraqi soldiers today like British imperial forces used modern rifles to cut down Zulu tribesmen fighting with spears a century ago.
This change in spirit has been picked up in recent polls, as Americans show little regard for international law – except when it’s needed to protect U.S. POWs – and care little about the deaths of Iraqis. Many respondents saw no problem in the possibility that Bush had misled the nation in justifying the war.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 69 percent of Americans endorsing the war even if no weapons of mass destruction are found. “I would not feel that I had been sold a bill of goods by the Bush administration,” 27-year-old law student Brad Stephens said. [Washington Post, April 5, 2003]
By contrast, people all over the world are outraged at the U.S. invasion of Iraq, with opinion polls registering opposition often exceeding 90 percent.
U.S. public sentiment could change if a low-level guerrilla conflict drags on inflicting a growing number of American casualties. But so far the American people seem to be buying into the war as a kind of ultimate reality TV show.
The TV networks have responded by trying to associate their news products with America’s fighting men and women. On MSNBC, there is “America’s Bravest,” mini-profiles of citizen soldiers. On Fox News, the pro-war propaganda is unrelenting and unapologetic. CNN, too, puts a pro-U.S. spin on nearly every piece of war news.
Even when American forces kill innocent civilians – as happened near Najaf where seven women and children were shot to death amid confusion at a U.S. checkpoint – the Iraqi government is held to blame, for allegedly putting women and children in harm’s way.
Yet what is disturbing to many war critics about the American reaction to the war is that Bush secured majority backing by misleading the U.S. public about key facts – and the majority of American people don't seem to care.
As Lewis H. Lapham, editor of Harper’s Magazine, observed, the pre-war debate in the U.S. was less a reasoned discussion about a profound redirection of America from a republic toward an empire than it was “agitprop,” the intelligence term for propaganda intended to agitate a population into a pre-determined course of action.
“I don’t know how else to characterize the Bush administration’s effort to convince the public,” Lapham wrote. Citing the paucity of evidence about Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction. Lapham took note of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s instant-classic rationale for war: “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” [Harper’s Magazine, April 2003]
When Secretary of State Colin Powell took the propaganda campaign to the U.N., that absence of evidence was padded with references to unnamed “sources” and photos of trucks and buildings that proved nothing. Powell played an intercepted phone call between two Iraqis shouting Arabic at one another and then Powell added fictitious words to the State Department’s translation to make the case that the Iraqis were cleaning out illegal weapons before a U.N. inspection.
Powell read from the supposed transcript of one Iraqi’s words: “We sent you a message yesterday to clean out all of the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas. Make sure there is nothing there.”
What the full State Department transcript said, however, was: “We sent you a message to inspect the scrap areas and the abandoned areas.” In the full transcript at the State Department's Web site, there was no order to “clean out all of the areas” and there was no instruction to “make sure there is nothing there.” [Powell’s apparent fabrication of the transcript was first reported by Gilbert Cranberg, a former editor of the Des Moines Register’s editorial pages.]
In his U.N. presentation, Powell also hailed a British dossier that he said described in “exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities.” The British report, however, turned out to be cribbed from an outdated student paper on the Internet. Powell further shredded his personal credibility by insisting that a communique broadcast by al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, which denounced both the U.S. intentions to invade Iraq and the Iraqi government, was proof that bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were “in partnership.”
Bush executed his own leaps of logic intended to frighten the American people rather than engage them in a reasoned debate. He repeatedly cited Sept. 11 in arguing that the terrorist attacks proved that the U.S. no longer was protected by its two oceans. Yet for anyone who grew up during the Cold War and remembers the images of nuclear-tipped Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles, the loss of security from the two oceans had not occurred in 2001 but more like half a century earlier.
In the days leading up to war, Bush and his administration continued salting their speeches with bogus allegations, some of which had been disproved by the U.N. and even U.S. intelligence agencies. On March 16, Vice President Dick Cheney trotted out the canard that Iraq had “reconstituted nuclear weapons,” though the International Atomic Energy Agency had debunked that key element of the U.S. case.
The IAEA discovered that aluminum tubes that Bush had argued were meant for centrifuges to produce enriched uranium would not serve that function. The IAEA also reported that a document about Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium in Niger was a forgery. It later turned out that CIA analysts also had doubted the authenticity of the Niger document, but it was still included in Bush’s State of the Union address. [Washington Post, March 18, 2003]
IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei said inspections of Iraq had found “no indication of resumed nuclear activity.” Yet Iraq’s alleged nuclear program remained a scary part of the case for war.
White Man's Burden
Ironically, as the American political debate is shaped by endless agitprop, another one of the war’s stated goals is to make Iraq a model of democracy. This argument, promoted by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, has given the bloodshed and destruction in Iraq an idealistic tinge.
To the administration’s critics, however, the Wolfowitz scheme is possibly one of the most dangerous aspects of the war, an ideological hubris that foretells other conflicts and the likely creation of a new generation of anti-American terrorists who will be determined to drive an imperial U.S. out of the Middle East.
Bestowing democracy on Iraq through war carries a whiff of previous colonial rationales for empire, a kind of modern-day White Man’s Burden, the claim that imperialism was justified because it brought civilization to dark corners of the world.
Yet given the deception and jingoism pervading the American war debate, many in the world may no longer see the U.S. political system as the preeminent model of democracy, that shining city on the hill serving as a beacon of freedom and reason. Instead, the world has the picture of a U.S. president making life-and-death decisions with schoolboy declarations, such as "Fuck Saddam."
The agitprop, the crude lies and the other public-relations techniques that have rallied the nation to war make the beginning of Bush’s "crusade" to rid the world of "evil" look more like the Stupid White Man’s Burden.
While at the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s, Robert Parry broke many of the stories now known as the Iran-Contra Affair. His latest book is Lost History.