Weapons of mass deception
Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2003
By Matthew Riemer, yellowtimes.org
Perhaps no other catchphrase bandied about by Washington powerbrokers and their well-connected network of supporters is as abused, misunderstood, and just plain lied about as the infamous verbal slight of hand "weapons of mass destruction."
Ostensibly, the term refers to nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, but symbolically, as framed by White House and Pentagon rhetoric, it has come to represent something far more sinister and apocalyptic. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice spoke dramatically of "mushroom clouds" over major U.S. cities when addressing the need to police the ownership of such weapons. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned of terrorists snatching up Saddam Hussein's WMD and then secreting them into the United States. The barbarity of chemical attacks and the horrors of biological ones are a constant media theme, the latter inspiring mythical notions of plagues loosed upon mankind.
Thus, the concept of WMD -- weapons, apparently, which are infinitely destructive and evil -- has come to serve many purposes and was one of the Bush administration's key marketing successes during their war drive. It was one reason from among an arsenal of other justifications for a preemptive invasion of Iraq -- invoked ad naseum by everyone from George Bush and his Cabinet to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other less well-known European leaders from countries whom Washington could generally care less about, like Bulgaria. Many Americans also feel that the war was fought so that "Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction couldn't harm us in the future."
This sensationalization of Iraq's WMD was a key element in the creation of what came to be an impossibly evil and omnipotently powerful Saddam Hussein who threatened the globe with imminent attacks using the world's most destructive weapons -- essentially, Iraq was painted as a global hegemon.
Inherent in such a portrayal by the Bush administration and the corporate media is the complete lack of perspective regarding WMD: that the U.S. possesses enough nuclear warheads to destroy civilization several times over as well as a collection of "conventional" weapons capable of killing millions with ease is not worth anyone's time and is essentially a moot point.
In fact, the appellation is really a misnomer. "Weapons of mass destruction" refers to those weapons that have been deemed inappropriate or unethical by the world's nations, insofar that the phrase refers to nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons whose use is governable by an international body. This says nothing of their inherent destructive power, however, though the name explicitly seems to say otherwise. The fact that one needs large quantities of WMD to actually achieve "mass destruction" is a point rarely, if ever, articulated in the mainstream. Contingencies, such as the delivery systems for nuclear weapons, the brief shelflife of many chemicals weapons, and the extreme difficulty of effectively "weaponizing" biological agents, are typically not given due consideration by those responsible for presenting information to the public.
The result is a misleading term that has served to exaggerate and demonize certain kinds of weapons while others, the so-called "conventional" ones, are further legitimized even when those of, say, the United States, are capable of far more "mass destruction" than most other countries' WMD. So in the end, a small quantity of mustard gas capable of only killing a dozen people is classified as a WMD, but an air force capable of launching thousands of cluster bombs in minutes is not, simply because it is considered "conventional." (Though this is clearly just one of the reasons.)
Iraq's history of WMD is also consistently lied about by various members of the pro-war camp. Repeated incessantly, probably tens of thousands of times, is the idea that Iraq was noncompliant with weapons inspections throughout the '90s. The picture of an Iraq that evaded, misled, and duped inspectors while retaining its destructive potential is the standard one painted. One often hears, "Iraq's had 12 years to disarm, and they haven't yet complied." Or perhaps, "Iraq has consistently evaded inspections, and we're sick of playing this game." Yet Iraq was extremely compliant on many occasions and was, overall, far from uncooperative. This is usually pointed out by former U.N. officials who worked directly with Iraq, like Scott Ritter, Dennis Halliday, and Hans von Sponeck. But the American media has been largely uninterested in what these experts have to say.
Occasionally, this most crucial point is offered up by the mainstream media. On March 16, 2003, the Washington Post reported: "Despite the Bush administration's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, U.S. intelligence agencies have been unable to give Congress or the Pentagon specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden. ... Senior intelligence analysts say they feel caught between the demands from White House, Pentagon and other government policymakers for intelligence that would make the administration's case."
The article continues: "Administration officials, in making the case against Iraq, repeatedly have failed to mention the considerable amount of documented weapons destruction that took place in Iraq between 1991 and 1998. … In that period, under U.N. supervision, Iraq destroyed 817 of 819 proscribed medium-range missiles, 14 launchers, 9 trailers and 56 fixed missile-launch sites. It also destroyed 73 of 75 chemical or biological warheads and 163 warheads for conventional explosives. U.N. inspectors also supervised destruction of 88,000 filled and unfilled chemical munitions, more than 600 tons of weaponized and bulk chemical weapons agents, 4,000 tons of precursor chemicals and 980 pieces of equipment considered key to production of such weapons."
The amounts described here and corroborated by the United Nations would seem to constitute a large percentage of Iraq's WMD or, at least, significant disarmament. Yet over the past year, Iraq's noncompliance was one of the Bush administration's key arguments in support of its invasion plans. In fact, President Bush has referred to WMD at least 200 times in public appearances in the last 16 months alone, invariably mentioning Iraq's reticence to cooperate with the United Nations and the United States. On March 17th, addressing the nation, Bush said, "Since then [the Gulf War] … We have sent hundreds of weapons inspectors to oversee the disarmament of Iraq. Our good faith has not been returned. ... Peaceful efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime have failed again and again -- because we are not dealing with peaceful men." But such powerful words seem to contradict the fact that Iraq has significantly disarmed since the Gulf War, even if it wasn't "completely" in Washington's eyes.
Now, as the memory of the U.S.' invasion of Iraq is fading and the supposed process of rebuilding has begun, many in the media -- including National Public Radio -- are asking whether or not it's important if the U.S. (or someone) finds WMD in Iraq. It seems the obvious, almost reflexive, response to this is: "Wasn't this one of the major pretexts for the fighting of this war, if not the most significant one. How, under any circumstances, could this issue become unimportant?" It's like asking the relevance of whether or not someone has actually committed the crime for which they have been found guilty as they are being incarcerated. Yet the conclusion the pundits seem to be reaching is that WMD are now indeed irrelevant. In fact, the NPR news show "Here and Now" was so excited about it that they emphasized the fact by stating that this is how Thomas Friedman feels.
Washington's expert use of the term "weapons of mass destruction," then, has, through exaggeration and manipulation, created a distorted picture of Iraq's military capability, which then created a much-needed pretext for war -- a preemptive war at that -- and has now proven to be disposable as, suddenly, the phrase that used to be on everyone's lips has become the hottest non-topic.
[Matthew Riemer has written for years about a myriad of topics, such as: philosophy, religion, psychology, culture, and politics. He studied Russian language and culture for five years and traveled in the former Soviet Union in 1990. In the midst of a larger autobiographical/cultural work, Matthew is the Director of Operations at YellowTimes.org. He lives in the United States.]
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