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Saturday, June 18, 2005 

Why did we go to war--the 2001 Anthrax attacks?

Why did we invade Iraq? The question has never been answered definitively, since the justifications given in public have mutated over time...a long time, in fact. At some stage in 2002 the administration decided to use allegations regarding WMDs as the lead justification in public; as Paul Wolfowitz later said, they settled upon WMDs because that was the one reason for invading Iraq that everyone involved in preparing the war could agree upon.

But long before that George Bush was fixated upon invading Iraq, as many sources indicate. Time Magazine reported in March of 2002 that President Bush announced "[crude explitive] Saddam, we're taking him out!" We also hear that Bush asked Rumsfeld to draw up a plan of attack immediately after the September 11 attacks (though there was never any credible evidence that Hussein was involved). But the obsession goes even farther back, we're told. Treasury Secretary O'Neill said that George Bush began discussing an Iraq invasion in the first Cabinet Meeting in January 2001. And we now learn that Bush told his ghostwriter in 1999 (in conversations for a biography that later was cancelled because the initial draft was not sufficiently flattering to the Presidential candidate) that he would grab the opportunity to invade Iraq if he could, since he believed that a successful war would allow him to push his domestic agenda.

All of these pieces of evidence reveal a duplicitous President who, in private, was looking for any opportunity to invade Iraq, but in public was trying out an evolving litany of reasons why Saddam's regime was an imminent danger to the world. None of that is new, of course, to those who have been following the news carefully (by which I mean, going beyond what the mainstream media in the US has been willing to talk about except in whispers).

But it may be news to some (I had forgotten this until blogger Plutonium Page reminded us) that the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001 were also grist to the mill for the Bush administration. In May she posted a very important piece at The Next Hurrah on the anthrax investigation in 2001 and its relation to DSM. It has gotten far too little attention, so I'm bringing it forward again and urging people to read it.

Her main point is that the Bush administration wanted rather desperately to prove that the anthrax came from Saddam's Iraq, such that they kept government employees dogging that trail long after scientists had proven that the Anthrax was an American strain, and there was virtually no possiblity that Iraq was involved in the matter. Why this mania over proving a link to Iraw? Because as contemporary witnesses said in a Dec. 22 2001 article in the New York Times, President Bush was looking for an excuse to invade Iraq and the (unfounded) allegation that Hussein was behind the anthrax was too good to let go of.

She also draws attention to this Time magazine piece of proganda from Oct. 29, 2001, which shows how the Bush administration was spinning the anthrax investigation so as to prepare the public to accept a connection to Hussein.

Ultimately, the case for linking Saddam to the anthrax fell through completely. The investigation of the anthrax attacks has gone almost nowhere in the meantime, though it's hard to tell exactly why, given the prominence of the politicians whose offices were targeted (many of them prominent critics of the administration's abuses of civil liberties in that period).

The case for war, however, continued to mutate long after the anthrax fiasco had been dropped by the wayside. In March of 2002, we now know from one of the leaked British memos, Tony Blair's Political Director was giving him an unflattering assessment of George Bush's justification for the proposed invasion. On March 22, 2002 Peter Ricketts wrote a memo to Blair in which he analyzed two problems that they faced in going along with this war. I'll quote extensively (the emphasis is mine):

"First, the THREAT. ..I am relieved that you decided to postpone publication of the unclassified document. My meeting yesterday showed that there is more work to do to ensure that the figures are accurate and consistent with those of the US. But even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW fronts...US scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and Al Qaida is so far frankly unconvincing....The second problem is the END STATE. Military operations need clear and compelling military objectives...For Iraq, "regime change" does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam. Much better, as you have suggested, to make the objective ending the threat to the internationalcommunity from Iraqi WMD before Saddam uses it or gives it to terrorists."

Now that is about a good evidence as anybody could ask for, that the British at least were already going along with what we see the Bush administration doing in DSM (and related evidence): They were searching for the right justification for the war, and they were manipulating evidence to try to make that justification look more credible. Why try to "ensure that the figures are accurate AND consistent with those of the US"? Wouldn't accurate figures be good enough, whether or not they were the figures being promulgated by the Bush administration?

This statement is one measure of lengths to which these two governments were going to justify an invasion of Iraq. The brief obsession with linking Saddam to anthrax attacks is another.

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