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A Bodyguard of Lies

All governments oursue a disinformation policy under the rubric of communication.. Governments spread unverified rumors, half-truths and lies.. War is presented as just, inevitable and as a case of defense.. War becomes preventive war.. Disinformation has its rules.
A Bodyguard of Lies

By Eric Rouleau

[This article by journalist Eric Rouleau originally published in Le Monde diplomatique February 14, 2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.taz.de/pt/2003/02/14.nf/mondeText.artikel,a0046.idx,14.]

All governments pursue a disinformation policy under the rubric of "communication". Manipulation of information occurs in times of war when any means is right for mobilizing the population. Governments spread unverified rumors, half-truths and lies arising out of partial concealment of facts. War is presented as "just", "inevitable" and a "case of defense". War becomes "preventive war" when a state seizes the initiative for military confrontation and violates those international conventions intent on banishing the right of the powerful from international relations.

Disinformation has its rules. The crisis preceding the conflict is drastically intensified and the hostile state demonized. Its head is presented as a thoroughly malicious being, an "adventurer", "psychopath", "communist" or "Nazi". The Iran Mossadegh (1), the Egyptian Nassar, the Libyan Ghaddafi and the Palestinian Arafat, all come in the genus of these hardly endearing terms.

Saddam Hussein, once a valued ally of the United States and France, was exposed as the "new Hitler". Whoever protests resists the propaganda and advocates a diplomatic solution is immediately labeled "Munich appeaser" (2) or "na´ve", Thus the debate is quickly ended.

Never since the end of the Cold War were such massive resources used to prepare public opinion for a military confrontation. The United States, undisputed master of information technology, showed how well they commanded their trade. A vast number of "communication centers" within the administration from the White House, the CIA, the State department to the Pentagon including the PR-advisors purchased for good money set to work to win "hearts and minds" for the strategic goal of President Bush, according to the official terminology, "normalizing" Iraq with violence.

This did not happen without problems. There was a scandal when a leak in February 2002 disclosed that the Pentagon under the strictest secrecy had created an Office for Strategic Influence the preceding fall. Public opinion was to be indoctrinated through non-American press agencies, especially the Agence France Preies (afp) and Reuters. In view of the indignation that broke out over this in Congress and the press, Defense secretary Rumsfeld saw himself forced to a public apology and announced the closing of this department office - which he promptly replaced with the unspectacular4 "Office for Special Affairs".

The clever trick or sleight of hand upset the taste of all neoconservative vassals of the government. One of the most exposed "hawks" in Washington, a close friend of Rumsfeld, Frank Gaffney, published a scathing article against the "left" who tried to rob America of an essential war instrument. (3) The chairperson of the Center for Security Policy with the motto "Promoting Peace with Force" appealed to Winston Churchill and quoted his sentence "The truth is so precious that it should always be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies."

On first view, the lies administered in high doses did not have the desired therapeutic effects. Contrary to all expectation, a war plan has seldom provoked so many questions and so much opposition. Never before were the Arab states so united in condemning a project that aimed at liberating them from Saddam Hussein whom most fear or despise. Must this strange consensus really be ascribed to a worldwide anti-American wave?

The answer is Yes but this is not decisive as the development of public opinion in the US confirms. Traumatized by the assassinations in New York and Washington, people first followed their president when he announced the crusade against Iraq two months later. Nevertheless surveys show that the percentage of Americans who support the war has fallen continuously since then.

In December 2002, 68 percent said that war should be resisted as long as the Security Council of the United Nations has not given its consent. Even more significant, 72 percent of Americans including 60 percent of the members or sympathizers of the Republican party were convinced that their government had not provided "sufficient evidence" to justify a war. (4)

Thus they didn't believe president George W. Bush when he insisted that the "Iraqi danger was serious" and "immediately threatening". The implicit or explicit opposition against the war expressed by high officials of the Pentagon, several officials in the State department, in economic circles and by the bosses of the film industry in Hollywood showed the extent of the American public's rejection of war. The product was obviously not saleable.

The attempts at connecting Iraq with the attacks of September 11, 2001 and with international terrorism in general have come to nothing. Last year president Bush had to make sharp disclaimers after declaring that Iraq could produce nuclear warheads within six months and already has drones (aircraft without pilots). Opposite statements came from the International Nuclear Energy agency (IAEA) and from the CIA. The reproach that Baghdad was involved in sending anthrax letters to different personalities and businesses proved to be unsubstantiated. That the investigation brought to light that the anthrax bacteria and other biological weapons were produced in mass in the United States was even more unpleasant.

Mistrust was provoked by the assertion that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. US Secretary of State Powell did not present evidence that could justify a war to the Security Council on February 5, 2003. US Defense secretary Rumsfeld initiated Iraqi and American cooperation at the beginning of the 1980s and facilitated importing those chemical weapons during the war between Iraq and Iran with which Saddam Hussein then gassed the population and soldiers of the Islamic republic and the Kurds in Iraq. (5)

The pious rhetoric of George W. Bush of wanting to liberate the Iraqi people from tyranny was also not a smashing success. Remembering the numerous dictatorships supported by Washington today and in the last decades, the public opinion of many countries only sees another hypocrisy. Even the US media asked why Saddam Hussein's regime should be removed and not Kim Jong I's much more bloody regime in North Korea which has nuclear warheads and long-range missiles. Why should "our youths" be sacrificed to assume a role that falls to the Iraqi people?

Disinformation can also exist in what remains unsaid. The silence of the American leadership regarding the economic and geopolitical intentions speaks for itself. Advnatages of a satellite Iraqi state or the future political importance of the country in the Gulf region do not appear either from official explanations or studies of think tanks.

Silence also prevails about the fantastic reconstruction contracts which could certainly benefit US industry in the shadows of a "democratic" government. Most large US media do not analyze either the expansion and fortification of Washington's hegemony in the Middle East or Israel's growing significance in view of a weakened Arab world.

The secret US strategy is revealed in analyzing the documents of the "Project for a New American Century" (6). The Bush doctrine faithfully reflects this project. Studies from the Clinton time that date from June 1997 and September 2000 and have the character of manifestos define the ideological, political, military and economic fundamentals on which the foreign policy of the United States must be grounded. A battery of neoconservatives and representatives of the military-industrial complex contributed. These studies bear the signatures of Vice-president Cheney, Defense secretary Rumsfeld and his deputy secretary Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, Middle East coordinator in the White House and Richard Perle, head of the influential commission for defense policy in the Pentagon.

The expressed goal of the signatories is assuring "worldwide supremacy" to the United States and explicitly hindering any other industrial power from playing an oppositional role on the international or regional planes. They recommend a policy of unilateralism, refusing bonds in an international system and possible recourse to preventive wars to "defend the values and interests" of the United States. The UN is represented as a "forum for the left, anti-Zionists and anti-imperialists" that should only be supported when the world organization supports Washington's policy.

The Iraqi problem is treated exclusively from the vantage point of the strategic interests of the United States. The necessity of maintaining US bases in the Gulf for an unlimited time "whether Saddam Hussein is in power or not" is central, not the dictatorship in Baghdad, the violation of human rights, the possession of weapons of mass destruction or the secret intrigues of terrorists. Finally the signatories warn: "The only global superpower" runs the risk of not doing justice to its historical appointment if it doesn't grasp its "opportunities".

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