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9.11 investigation

Welcome to Kafka's world

The broad mass of a nation . . . will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.
- Adolf Hitler
Welcome to Kafka's world

June 22 2003

The claim that Iraq posed a clear and immediate threat was never proven. It is a claim that could not have been made seriously, except by a propagandist uttering the big lie, writes Ray Cassin.

The broad mass of a nation . . . will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.
- Adolf Hitler

Remember all the propagandistic effort that was devoted, during the months before the invasion of Iraq, to comparing Hitler with Saddam Hussein?

The aim was to make a further comparison. The equivalence of these two moral monsters, it was claimed by those calling for war, implied a further equivalence: those who opposed war, or at least wanted the UN, and not US strategic doctrine, to decide if and when war might be necessary, were effectively taking the same line as the appeasers of the 1930s. To delay in deposing the Iraqi dictator, it was argued, would be to allow another Hitler to threaten peace, in his region and the wider world.

The argument was a sham, even in terms of what was known at the time. Saddam Hussein, like Hitler, was undoubtedly a sadistic tyrant. But, unlike Germany after 1933, Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War was not a resurgent military power making territorial demands on its neighbours. It was a defeated, militarily weakened, impoverished and demoralised nation. What is more, it had been reduced to that state, and kept in that state, under the banner of the UN, an organisation that those throwing the "appeaser" tag around were comparing, bizarrely, with the impotent League of Nations.

There was evidence, reported by the UN weapons inspection team headed by Hans Blix, that Iraq had persisted in trying to manufacture weapons of mass destruction: stocks of toxins and chemical agents it was known to have possessed have not been accounted for. But missing - and, because of their age, probably degraded - chemical and biological agents are not the same as weapons capable of being deployed at short notice. And the case for invasion was built on the claim that Iraq did have such weapons. Whatever evasions of its commitment to the UN to dispose of all weapons of mass destruction that the Baathist regime indulged in, the claim that Iraq posed a clear and immediate threat was never proven.

It is a claim that could not have been made seriously, except by a propagandist uttering the big lie. Just how barefaced a lie it was is now becoming apparent.

It is not only because, two months after the downfall of the regime, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. They may yet be found, although the US is under such pressure to find them that the world is entitled to be sceptical of any "discovery" that is not independently verified. UN weapons inspectors have never been needed in Iraq more than now, when the US will not let them in. But the elusive WMDs are not the deepest cause for disquiet.

The US Deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfowitz, has airily dismissed the clamour about the WMDs, telling the Bush Administration's favourite glossy magazine, Vanity Fair, that the weapons had only been emphasised in making the case for war for "bureaucratic" reasons . . . "it was one reason that everyone could agree on". Bureaucratic reasons for war? This is a big-lie mentality so brazen that it outs itself and asks what all the fuss is about.

George Bush is hardly Hitler reborn; neither is Tony Blair and nor is John Howard. Fascism is not yet, as is sometimes hyperbolically asserted, poised to snuff out liberal democracy. That much is attested by the questions being asked about the WMDs Iraq was claimed to have, and by the inquiries that the US Congress and British and Australian parliaments have instituted into the intelligence assessments used in support of those claims. But it is not crazy hyperbole to say that we have entered a proto-fascist phase. How it develops will depend in part on whether we have the courage to hold governments to account for taking us to war by deception, or whether we prefer to obscure the big lie by comforting ourselves with the thought that at least there is now one less tyrant in the world.

Since September 11, 2001, governments in some of the Anglophone democracies, especially the US and Australia, have sought to turn the fear generated by terrorism to their advantage. This has taken all sorts of forms, from kitschy awareness campaigns beseeching us to be alert but not alarmed to the direct assault on fundamental freedoms contained in legislation such as the USA Patriot Act and the Howard Government's ASIO bill.

The latter is the greatest single curtailment of civil liberties in this country since Federation, and so successful has been the Government's manipulation of security fears that the Labor Party abandoned its opposition to the bill, allowing it to pass the Senate. It does not have the stomach for a double-dissolution election in which the Government would seek to portray it as soft on security. In consequence, ASIO will effectively be transformed from an intelligence service into a secret police force, able to request the detention and interrogation of people whom it believes may have information on terrorist activities, even though they are not suspects. The onus of proof will be reversed, so that those detained will have to prove that they do not have the information. It is Kafka's world.

The inevitable consequence of acquiescing in the loss of liberty will be a militarisation of our politics, not because the military will no longer be subordinate to elected civilians but because political discourse will be defined by a sense of threat. If that happens, the big lies will just keep on coming.

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