Addressing Bush's state of disunion
By James Carroll, 1/20/2004
IN HIS STATE of the Union address tonight, President Bush will speak of the nightmare he has created in Iraq as if it is a dream come true. Yet the contrary facts of the American misadventure have begun to speak for themselves. When the awful story of the Iraq war is written, the two weeks just past may be recognized as a time when the deception and disarray of Bush's policy were made more clear than ever. These are events to which the president will not refer tonight, yet taken together, they reveal the true state of his disunion:
In the days before the State of the Union address one year ago, the Bush administration denigrated UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, dismissing the inspections and containment strategy favored at the United Nations. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld mocked what he called "old Europe." Secretary of State Colin Powell promised to provide compelling evidence of Saddam Hussein's imminent threat. The State Department published an indictment of Saddam entitled "Apparatus of Lies."
- On Jan. 4, the tape of a belligerent voice claiming to be Osama bin Laden was broadcast on Al Jazeera television. The next day the CIA confirmed that it was bin Laden, and that, made recently, the tape showed he is still alive.
- On Jan. 8, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace rebutted major Bush claims on Iraq, concluding that "administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq WMD and ballistic missile programs."
- On Jan. 11, on television, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill confirmed reports in Ron Suskind's "The Price of Loyalty" that the Bush administration planned war against Iraq before 9/11, "from the very beginning."
- On Jan. 12, a paper published at the Army War College described the war on terrorism as "strategically unfocused." The assessment from within the military itself blasted the Bush-led effort because it "promises more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate US military resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security."
- On Jan. 13, the Bush administration reversed itself to announce that Canada could participate in contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq. Washington's punitive rejection of countries that had opposed the war was not working.
- On Jan. 14, Human Rights Watch issued a report that held some US tactics in Iraq to be in violation of the Geneva Conventions, including home demolitions that "did not meet the test of military necessity." The report accused the army of arresting and holding Iraqi civilians simply because they were relatives of fugitives.
- On Jan. 14, it was reported that the captured Saddam Hussein was in possession of a letter he had written instructing his followers not to throw in with foreign fighters, further puncturing the myth that Hussein was in active alliance with Al Qaeda.
- On Jan. 14, a secret study conducted by the US Army Command in Baghdad was published. It faulted the army's tactics in Iraq as needlessly confrontational, and it asserted -- against the claims of the Bush administration -- that "the capture of Saddam will have nominal effect within Iraqi borders."
- On Jan. 15, responding to Shi'ite leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani, 30,000 Iraqis took to the streets to protest American plans for transition to Iraqi rule, making even more unlikely Washington's fantasy that Iraq will not join Iran as a Shi'ite dominated state. Will that put Iraq back on the axis of evil?
- On Jan. 15, the Bush administration was reported to be considering opening Iraq reconstruction contracts to France, Germany, and Russia, as it had to Canada. Washington is scrambling.
- By Jan. 19, yesterday, the Bush administration had reversed itself to press at the United Nations for urgent help with the transition to Iraqi self-government, the clearest sign yet that Washington's go-it-alone policy had failed.
In the State of the Union address itself, President Bush bragged that he had "liberated" Afghanistan -- a country which today, except for a small zone around Kabul, belongs to warlords. He boasted that "one by one terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice" -- thinking, perhaps, of the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, where American justice is mocked.
Bush detailed a long list of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. He said that Iraq had obtained "uranium from Africa," and he referred to certain metal tubes to suggest a nuclear weapons program. He said that Saddam Hussein "aids and protects" Al Qaeda, and, projecting into the future, he linked the 9/11 hijackers with Saddam. He promised that Colin Powell would provide evidence of the link between Saddam and the terrorists.
The president set a rigorous standard last year, constructing an apparatus of lies it will be hard to match tonight. One bald falsehood not even he will dare repeat: "We seek peace," Bush said a year ago, "We strive for peace."
James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.