Iraq handed UN officials a detailed dossier of its chemical, biological and nuclear research projects and facilities earlier this month, in accordance with last month’s UN resolution. As soon as it arrived at the UN Secretariat in New York, however, it was seized by US officials, who say they will provide full copies only to the other four permanent member of the Security Council. Other members of the Security Council -- who are supposed to assess it -- will receive only censored versions, ostensibly because it contains sensitive information. This makes it virtually impossible for anyone to challenge the US’s reading of the dossier, and its judgement on whether Iraq has met the UN’s conditions. In theory the US could at any time declare Iraq in breach of the UN’s conditions, on the basis of secret information and its own interpretation of the dossier; in practice its approach is likely to be a little more sophisticated, but the impression is inescapable that the whole exercise is simply a charade.
This is nothing new. George Bush Sr. went to war on Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990, on the basis of a version of events that has since been exposed as a tissue of lies. The creation of false versions of reality to justify policies is an established and recognised Western practice. The misrepresentation of information to create false versions is known as ‘spin’; its experts are known as spin doctors. In Western domestic politics this is seen as a sort of a game, which journalists and politicians both play and comment on. The game has rules; the basic one is not to get caught in an outright lie, in contrast to a subtle tweaking of truth. The parties tend to balance each other, and give observers the opportunity to form a balanced view.
In international affairs there is no such balance. Any strategy is legitimate against an enemy too discredited to respond. This is why the West’s version of the Iraq affair is accepted largely without question. It is true that journalists and analysts suspect that the US is only going through the motions of due process; such distrust of politicians is routine. But the broader basis of the US’s case against Iraq is accepted: that Saddam is an anti-Western dictator; that he has ambitions on other countries; that he tried to take over Saudi Arabia, and would again if US forces were not there to stop him.
This is an image of Saddam that has been created to justify the US’s occupation of the Middle East, but it is based on lies and distortions. He is a brutal dictator, that is true; but so are most of the West’s allies. He is anti-Western, but only because the West turned on him in 1990; before then he had been an ally. There has never been any evidence of his having territorial ambitions against anyone accept Iran and Kuwait. It is established that he had no plans to invade Saudi Arabia, and that the evidence the US presented was fabricated. Washington claimed that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi troops were massing on the Kuwait-Saudi border in preparation for an invasion; Russian satellite pictures published after the war showed that no Iraqi troops approached the border until US troops starting massing there. Yet, more than 10 years after the pictures were published, the West still claims that the US saved the whole of the Middle East, and that Saddam remains a massive threat today.
It is now also known that Saddam offered to withdraw from Kuwait unconditionally long before the US war began. It is known that the US used the UN weapons-inspections as cover for intelligence work; that they manipulated the inspections to justify military actions; that the inspectors were withdrawn in 1998 because an American air assault was planned. Yet the Western media carry on insisting that the Iraqis threw the inspectors out. Around these enormous lies are myriad smaller ones, all contributing to the popular Western impression of Saddam. Now more layers of lies are being added to those laid down already, preparing for the Western occupation of yet another Muslim country.
Despite all this, many in the West are sceptical of Bush’s agenda. But the lies are so well established that few can escape the overall effect, even when they question parts. A decision or opinion, it is often said, is only as good as the information on which it is based. Unfortunately, on Iraq, the information available is so thoroughly buried under lies and misinformation, that there are few solid truths for us to stand on to escape the torrent of lies. What people should remember, even as they are awash in a sea of falsehoods and distortions, is to take nothing at face value.