Help PMA grow | Petition forms | Site map | PMA main page
Spinning to War on Iraq
4 March 2002
Spin may be proving an increasing embarrassment for the government at home. But its New Labour practitioners must be hoping they can still turn a trick when it comes to events abroad. And with the prime minister showing every sign of joining in with George Bush's war of revenge against Iraq, the British public is in for a sustained propaganda offensive to soften it up for what threatens to be a bloody and dangerous conflict.
It will take several months before the projected US invasion to bring about "regime change" in Iraq can begin. At every step along the way, ministers will try to make the case that an attack on Saddam Hussein is the only way to spare civilisation untold dangers. The prime minister was at it yesterday, warning that the Iraqi government had weapons that threatened the world.
But can those continually caught fibbing over everything from public spending increases to who is doing what favour for whom be trusted when it comes to war and peace? It would pay to be sceptical. Iraq, in particular, has already been the subject of a prolonged campaign to transform its image from the domestic despotism it is into the worldwide menace that it isn't.
The US has its own agenda for attacking Iraq, mainly because the installation of a pliant government in Baghdad - friendly to Israel and big oil and indifferent to the Palestinians - is a prerequisite for a wider Washington-approved settlement in the Middle East.
Immediately after September 11, former CIA director James Woolsey was dispatched to Europe by Washington hardliners to knit together evidence linking the Iraqi government to the attacks on New York and Washington. Months of digging have left him empty-handed. Last week, Mr Woolsey was reduced in the Wall Street Journal to repeating the mantra that the Baghdad regime was "evil", a category which apparently relieves the prosecutor of any obligation to adduce further proof orarguments.
Another major spin operation last October tried to tie Saddam into the anthrax letters sent to media organisations and public figures in the USA. The allegation made the headlines, while the truth - that the letters were the work of a lone psychopath in New Jersey, probably a one-time US government scientist - was buried in the small print weeks later.
Al-Qaida and anthrax have both now been discarded as too fragile reeds to sustain the projected attack on the evil axis. Instead, we are back to "weapons of mass destruction". This has served as the rationale for the Anglo-American bombing of Iraq, carried on almost continuously now for more than three years. Never mind that years of intensive UN inspections found no evidence of an Iraqi capacity to produce and deliver such weapons, whatever its intentions. Scott Ritter, ex-deputy head of the UN inspectors, has declared Iraq "effectively disarmed".
New Labour already has a dismal record with anti-Iraq spin, even by its own debased standards. Robin Cook, as foreign secretary, made much of the story of an Iraqi teenager supposedly imprisoned since the age of five for throwing stones at a portrait of Saddam, only to be forced to backtrack once it became clear the boy did not exist. There has been a string of such intelligence-inspired whoppers, from tales of babies thrown out of incubators to beheaded prostitutes.
None of this is to deny the brutal nature of the Iraqi regime. However, 10 years of US and British sanctions and bombardment have clearly done nothing whatsoever to shake its foundations. Instead, Anglo-American policy has heaped new miseries on the Iraqi people, including the deaths of upwards of half a million children, according to United Nations estimates.
The attack being prepared for later this year will add mightily to that toll. Tony Blair knows he is virtually alone in the world in supporting Bush's war, now it can no longer be presented as having any connection with September 11. Growing numbers of people in Britain want a halt to this "war on terror". Afghanistan, mourning its own civilian dead, is further away from stability and tranquillity than ever, while the roots of anti-US terrorism have been nourished. Nothing has been achieved beyond a major extension of Washington's strategic power, from Georgia to central Asia to the Philippines.
Those in power want this war, so we should remember that whatever they say about their intended victim over the coming months is, to put it at its most generous, not necessarily going to be true. US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld's disinformation department has been ostensibly shut down, but its spirit surely lives on.