Thursday, October 21, 2010

Runup to the Iraq War (3)

John Prados and Christopher Ames look at public relations/propaganda strategies of the American and British governments building support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq in Shaping the Debate 10/04/2010, the third and final in a series of articles looking at the runup to the Iraq War in light of the most current information available publicly. Their bottom-line conclusion in this one:

The more deeply the processes of creating the government reports on the alleged Iraqi threat are reconstructed—on both sides of the Atlantic—the more their products are revealed as explicitly aimed at building a basis for war. In the light of a decision process in which no serious consideration was given to any course other than war, the question of whether American and British leaders set out to wage aggressive war has to be squarely faced.
It bears emphasizing that the term "aggressive war" has a specific meaning in international law and diplomacy. Steven Ratner writes in the article on "Aggression" in Crimes of War 2.0: What the Public Should Know (2007):

Aggression in international law is defined as the use of force by one State against another, not justified by self-defense or other legally recognized exceptions. The illegality of aggression is perhaps the most fundamental norm of modern international law and its prevention the chief purpose of the United Nations. Even before the UN, the League of Nations made the prevention of aggression a core aim; and the post-World War II Allied tribunals regarded aggression as a crime under the rubric crimes against peace [my emphasis in italics].
Prados and Ames look in particular at the construction of the CIA's 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and White Paper and at the September 2002 WMD "dossier" on "weapons of mass destruction" of September 2002 prepared by Tony Blair's government that were used to generate public and international support for the invasion of Iraq. (The latter is different from the British government's infamous "dodgy dossier", Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation of February 2003.)

They write:

From March 2002, officials from the two governments discussed the need for "information" to be produced in support of plans for regime change in Iraq, leading to parallel white papers in the fall of that year. While it was the British government that pushed hardest for efforts to manipulate political and public opinion – making this a condition of its participation in war – the Bush administration went furthest in making exaggerated claims about Iraqi WMD, which the British duly matched. But the process also worked the other way.
They discuss the most famous of the "Downing Street documents", the contemporaneous record made by Sir Richard Dearlove of a meeting at 10 Downing Street on July 23, 2002:

This leaked document provides significant insight into the attitude of the Bush administration to regime change, the "UN route" and propaganda efforts – and into the British response to US views. At the meeting, At the meeting, Sir Richard Dearlove, then head of SIS [Britain's foreign intelligence unit], reported on his recent visit to Washington: "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the U.N. route and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record." ...

Significant though the Downing Street minute is, the Cabinet Office briefing paper that was produced in advance of the meeting is equally important. It records retrospectively that at Crawford [in April 2002 in a meeting with President Bush] Blair had agreed to support military action against Iraq "provided that certain conditions were met: efforts had been made to construct a coalition/shape public opinion, the Israel-Palestine Crisis was quiescent, and the options for action to eliminate Iraq's WMD through the U.N. weapons inspectors had been exhausted." In addition, the paper shows the Blair government’s unremitting focus on a transatlantic propaganda campaign. It invited ministers to: "Agree to the establishment of an ad hoc group of officials under Cabinet Office Chairmanship to consider the development of an information campaign to be agreed with the US." A further comment illustrates that war was not a possible outcome but an inevitable one: "Time will be required to prepare public opinion in the UK that it is necessary to take military action against Saddam Hussein." Not coincidentally, the Bush administration created its own White House Information Group to shape the public's perceptions of Iraq during this same timeframe. [my emphasis]
These historic deceptions are very important to remember. Al Gore wrote in The Assault on Reason (2007) of the Iraq War, which he explicitly opposed:

Now that the full extent of this historic fiasco is becoming clear, it is important to understand how such a horrible set of mistakes could have been made in a great democracy. And it is already obvious that the [Cheney-Bush] administration's abnormal and un-American [!!] approach to secrecy, censorship, and massive systematic deception is the principal explanation for how America embraced this catastrophe.

Five years after President Bush first made his case for an invasion of Iraq, it is now clear that virtually all the arguments he made were based on falsehoods. If we as the public knew then what we know now about Iraq, the list of tragic mistakes might not be so long. The president has chosen to ignore — and indeed often to suppress — studies, reports, and facts that were contrary to the false impressions he was in the process of fostering in the minds of the American people.

The administration has chosen instead to focus on convenient untruths presented with superficial, emotional, and manipulative appeals that are not worthy of American democracy. This group has exploited fears for partisan political gain and its members have postured themselves as bold defenders of our country while actually weakening, not strengthening, America.

We were told by the president that war was his last choice. But it is now clear that it was always his first preference. ...

We were told that the president would give the international system every opportunity to function, but we now know that he allowed that system to operate only briefly as a sop to his secretary of state and for cosmetic reasons.

The first rationale presented for the war was to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which of course turned out not to exist. We now know from the statements of Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense, that this rationale was cynically chosen after a careful analysis of American public opinion showed that this was the one argument likely to be most effective in persuading the voters to support an invasion.

It was as if the Bush White House had adopted Walter Lippmann's recommendation to decide in advance what policies it wanted to follow and then to construct a propagandistic mass persuasion campaign to "manufacture" the consent of the people to do what the "specialized governing class" had already made up its mind to do. [my emphasis]

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