Why Didn’t the Bush Administration Lie About Finding Weapons of Mass Destruction?

This is, surely, one of the more curious questions of our time. The Administration was prepared to lie in the most remarkable fashion before entering Iraq in 2003, so what strange ethical or moral imperative prevented them from pretending that they’d actually found something when they got there?

Iraq did, of course, at one time have WMD, which they were prepared to use on their own citizens and the soldiers and citizens of neighbouring countries. There is ample (highly disturbing) evidence of this. Asking this question is in no way a defence of the Saddam regime, which clearly demonstrated itself as violent, repressive, dictatorial and even genocidal in its treatment of minorities.

What I’m interested in are the lies the Bush Administration told prior to the invasion and their subsequent and curious outbreak of honesty.

The most egregious example of lying was the address to the United Nations Security Council by US Secretary of State Colin Powell in February 2003. In this speech the case for the existence of WMD was made on the basis of information which had already been conclusively proven to be false, not just within the security community but in articles published throughout the western world.

(There is an aside here which never ceases to amaze: A copy of Picasso’s painting Guernica hangs on the wall The UN Security Council room. This is a painting that depicts the horror not just of war but, in particular, the first use of massive aerial bombing of civilian targets – by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on the town of Guernica, in Spain, in April 1937. This painting was covered over during Mr Powell’s speech. What he was about to propose, the attack by the US on Iraq, could not occur in front of such a painting. I’m not sure what this says about the Bush Administration, the United Nations or, in fact about the power of Art.)

Mr Powell never blinked while outlining his case before the Security Council. It was an extraordinary performance by the man who at that time held one of the most important positions in world politics. (You can read the text of his speech here) It was, as were the statements made by the UK Government, not only based on false or subsequently proved deliberately misinterpreted information, but also unbelievable brazen, a wonderfully Orwellian demonstration of the theory that if you make your lie big enough nobody can argue with it.

So, when they went in to Iraq, and had the whole country under their control, completely locked down (as it was during the first few weeks before their famous bungles and the start of the insurgency) why didn’t they just set up something for the cameras, a bunker somewhere full of anthrax or the makings of a nuclear weapon? Why not go through with the thing and demonstrate themselves to be the heroes they claimed to be?

Was that simply a step too far? Or was it that they were just so arrogant they believed they didn’t need to justify what they’d done? That victory was so assured and wonderful outcomes so inevitable that they didn’t think it necessary?


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