'The Fact They Believe Our Lies Is Good Enough for Me,' Pundit Claims

In defense of his position that most Americans favor an attack on Iraq, Andrew Sullivan writes: “I’d say 81 percent [the support shown in a Newsweek poll from October 2001] is pretty decisive. The notion that Americans need to be apprised of Saddam’s threat, have not thought about the pros and cons of war, and need a thorough from-scratch debate about this is self-evidently silly.”

There is a curious phenomenon at work here. The neoconservative/neoliberal press and the Bush administration hawks run a campaign to link Iraq to the September 11 and the anthrax attacks, whether or not the evidence shows such a link. They exaggerate the threat Iraq presents to the US. Sullivan pitches in regularly to assist this propaganda campaign. The campaign having succeeded, he then cites the opinions of the people he and his friends have deceived to illustrate that there is no need for further debate on the subject!

Where is my evidence? Look at this story on a recent opinion poll:

The poll, published in USA Today, showed 53% of Americans answering yes to the question “Should ground troops be sent to the Persian Gulf to remove Saddam Hussein from power?” and 41% against. This contrasts with the majority of 61-31 when the question was asked two months ago and 74-20 in November. Some analysts believe this is still provides a satisfactory base on which to swing support behind the president, as is traditional when war actually breaks out. The poll also showed that 94% believe that President Saddam either has weapons of mass destruction or is developing them, 86% believe he is supporting terrorist groups intending to attack the US, and 53% believe he was involved in the September 11 attacks.

So most Americans believe Hussein has or will soon have “weapons of mass destruction.”* But what about the opinion of someone who has actually been in Iraq for a great length of time? Someone whose activities give him better knowledge of Iraq’s threat than anyone but Iraqi military leaders? Someone who has no reason to be biased in favor of Iraq or against the Bush administration, having fought for America in the Gulf War and voted for Bush? That man, Scott Ritter, says:

But all of this [knowledge of how to build weapons] is useless…unless Iraq has access to the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars required to rebuild the industrial infrastructure (necessary) to build these weapons. They didn’t have it in 1998. They don’t have it today. This paranoia about what Iraq is doing now that there aren’t weapons inspectors reflects a lack of understanding of the reality in Iraq…. I, for one, believe that a.) Iraq represents a threat to no one, and b.) Iraq will not represent a threat to anyone if we can get weapons inspectors back in. Iraq will accept these inspectors if we agree to the immediate lifting of economic sanctions.

So, oops, it seems most Americans are wrong on that one! But of course, the war hawks keep telling them that Iraq either has, or is just on the verge of having, some terrible weapon or another, so it’s not all that surprising they are confused.

How about the 53% who think Iraq was involved in the September 11th attacks? The obvious question would be, “Believe it based on what evidence?” The only evidence I’ve seen, and the only evidence I believe most Americans have seen, is, curiously enough, mere assertions and innuendoes from… the Iraq war hawks, like Sullivan. There was, for instance, the infamous day that the NY Post ran a headline implying that it had been definitely discovered that the anthrax attacks originated in Iraq, when the story behind the headline turned out to be pure speculation. There is the vague rumor of a meeting between Atta and some Iraqi agent in Prague. And there is the repeated assertion that Iraq must be involved: Hey, Saddam is bad, isn’t he?

Sullivan has enthusiastically participated in this campaign of yellow journalism. Look at this post, written before there was any evidence whatsoever of where the anthrax attacks had originated:

At this point, it seems to me that a refusal to extend the war to Iraq is not even an option. We have to extend it to Iraq. It is by far the most likely source of this weapon; it is clearly willing to use such weapons in the future; and no war against terrorism of this kind can be won without dealing decisively with the Iraqi threat. We no longer have any choice in the matter. Slowly, incrementally, a Rubicon has been crossed. The terrorists have launched a biological weapon against the United States. They have therefore made biological warfare thinkable and thus repeatable. We once had a doctrine that such a Rubicon would be answered with a nuclear response. We backed down on that threat in the Gulf War but Saddam didn’t dare use biological weapons then. Someone has dared to use them now. Our response must be as grave as this new threat.

Consider the “logic” of the above paragraph: We must attack Iraq. They probably just attacked us. Anyway, I know (somehow) that they will attack us even if they didn’t attack us. Someone used a biological weapon against the United States. We once would have “answered with a nuclear response.” But we backed down on that in the Gulf War, and even though I know Saddam will use biological weapons against us, he didn’t use them against us when he had a chance. But someone has used them now. Therefore we must attack Iraq.

Can Sullivan really be so confused that he thinks the above is a line of reasoning? Or is he just attempting to baffle the reader so that the reader is sure that he has seen some sort of argument for attacking Iraq, which must be somewhat sophisticated, since he can’t make heads or tails of it and it uses words like “Rubicon”?

Moreover, since last year the reason we had to attack Iraq was that it was the likely source of the anthrax attacks, logically enough, when all evidence points to a domestic source, Sullivan should apologize and back down. What? Do you take him for some sort of pansy? If Iraq didn’t cross that stinkin’ Rubicon, there must be some other stinkin’ Rubicon it did cross. So we’d better attack anyway.

When confronted with the tenuous nature of any ties between Iraq and the September 11th attacks, Sullivan sputters and simply reasserts the link, with no evidence: “This is preposterous. The only reason invading Iraq is being discussed at all is because of September 11 and what it taught us.”

Well, the war hawks certainly discussed invading Iraq before September 11th, and then simply seized on those attacks to forward what was already their agenda. But Sullivan does have a point. The repeated lies and innuendo the neocon press has fed the American public, attempting to connect Iraq to September 11th directly (its agents met Atta) and indirectly (if they didn’t meet Atta, Iraq will probably attack us soon anyway), is the only reason the public is tolerant of the idea of an attack.

So it seems to me that a “thorough from-scratch debate” is exactly what is called for.

* Jim Henley writes:

I am saying that “weapons of mass destruction” is on the way to being a voodoo phrase, and that the enthusiasts of allegedly prophylactic war use it for the same reason left-wing pressure groups invoke “the children” – as a political soporific. The phrase is being used to anesthetize the critical faculties of the body politic, when our critical faculties are what the problem most calls for.

August 30, 2002