- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

There have been so many half-truths and shadings of the truth as well as disinformation about Iraq, one is tempted to conclude officials who lie to journalists and then believe what they read in the newspapers, or see and hear on TV and radio news, can now cause wars.

Credibility was America’s most precious asset. But that has now been swept aside in a blizzard of palpably fraudulent stories.

Talk, albeit off the record, with any political leader anywhere in the world. And if you can’t reach him or her, talk off the record to their ambassadors in Washington. The nation’s capital has finally made it as a bilingual city — where truth is the second language. Seldom spoken, however.

Intelligence analysts, it now turns out, were fed dynamite corroboration about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction from Iraqi army defectors who, in turn, had been coached to lie about their firsthand knowledge of such weapons. The coaches, in this instance, were London-based Iraqi exile leaders, gnawed by naked ambition to oust Saddam and become Iraq’s new top bananas. All this is bound to come out in the wash — but not until March 2005 — when President Bush’s appointed commissioners tell him what happened on his watch.

The State Department and the CIA developed a healthy skepticism of such exile leaders as Ahmad Chalabi, president and founder of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and now a member of the governing council in Baghdad. But Mr. Chalabi, a convicted bank embezzler in Jordan sentenced in abstentia to 22 years of hard labor April 9, 1992, had powerful friends at the Pentagon and at the American Enterprise Institute, a neoconservative think tank. And his well-rehearsed military defectors were given their “unimpeachable source” seal of approval.

Parallel with this massive disinformation campaign, Mr. Chalabi himself became an unimpeachable source for major media outlets. Last week, a brazen Mr. Chalabi conceded his intelligence was faulty but still achieved its principal objective — toppling the Iraqi dictator.

Before the CIA decided — quite recently — to dismantle the firewalls separating “operations” from “analysis,” what was the intelligence analyst to make of a firsthand, eyewitness, unnamed Iraqi colonel who said he served in an artillery unit that had WMDs in its train? Or of a major who testified the much-touted mobile labs were designed to make deadly stuff on the run? Add to that the incessant beating of the tom-tom drums of war on TV when the battered analyst got home at night. War fever permeated 24/7 television where talking heads dismissed anyone who dissented from the pell-mell rush to invade Iraq as an appeaser of tin-pot dictators.

What was John Doe the analyst to make of Vice President Dick Cheney on Aug. 26, 2002, when he signaled in a major speech the administration’s intention to wage war because “there is no doubt” Saddam “has weapons of mass destruction” and is preparing to use them against the United States? Not only did Saddam have chem-bio WMDs, explained Mr. Cheney to gazillion listeners around the world, but he had “resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.”

Almost alone in the mainstream media, the Knight Ridder chain’s Washington Bureau (31 newspapers in U.S., none in D.C.) blew the whistle: “While President Bush marshals congressional and international support for invading Iraq,” said the first paragraph, “a growing number of military officers, intelligence professionals and diplomats in his own government privately have deep misgivings about the Administration’s double-time march toward war.”

The government’s “hawks,” the article concluded, have “exaggerated” and “distorted” the evidence. And most of the mainstream media went along with the charade.

We all owe an apology to Hans Blix and his merry band of U.N. inspectors. They got it right. Bill O’Reilly of the highest-rated “O’Reilly Factor” on Fox, angered he had been so badly misled, turned against President Bush — on the air, live. While the buck stops on the president’s desk, he is hardly the one to blame. Garbage-in-garbage-out was the problem.

Small wonder the first Arabic-language U.S. satellite television station named Al-Hurra, Arabic for “the free,” did not garner any hurrahs from the intended audience — some 310 million Arabs in 22 Arab countries.

America’s message was blunted from the start by the Bush administration’s benign neglect of the Middle East peace process, pushed aside as it was by the occupation of Iraq, and a much-heralded “road map” for a road that wasn’t on the map. That is now seen as a diversion to allow Ariel Sharon to complete his housekeeping chores in the West Bank and Gaza before drawing a new line in the sand.

Al-Hurra is seen by Arabs as a new vessel for the same merchandise — promotion of U.S. policies and interests as well as those of Israel.

Ever since Prime Minister Sharon convinced Mr. Bush that Israel’s war on Palestinian terrorism was an integral part of America’s war on global terrorism, Mr. Sharon has moved his pieces on the Middle Eastern chessboard to ensure the stillbirth of a Palestinian state. He has forged ahead with a 420-mile, $2 billion wall/fence/ditch that snakes deep into Palestinian territory and expropriates almost 15 percent of the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem).

And if the barrier is extended along the Jordan River with a no-man’s land on either side, as presently envisaged, Israel will have annexed 55 percent of the area designated to become a Palestinian state. Not by the remotest stretch of an Israeli’s imagination — dove or hawk — could this possibly be seen as a future Palestinian state. As a sop to the World Court of Justice taking up Palestinian complaints this week, Sharon agreed to shorten the anti-terrorist barrier by five miles.

Mr. Sharon poses as a conciliator preparing to evacuate Gaza, where 7,000 Jewish settlers cluster in heavily fortified enclaves, guarded by thousands of IDF soldiers, among 1.2 million Palestinians.

Clearly this was untenable in the long run. The settlers will be compensated to resettle — in the West Bank. And Mr. Sharon plans to ask the U.S. to pay for the move. In an election year, Mr. Sharon knows chutzpah takes on a new dimension. No politician can lay a glove on him.

U.S. ambassadors in Europe and the Middle East have been instructed to persuade governments in their regions about the geopolitical merits of the next phase of the Bush Doctrine.

The idea is to breathe new life into NATO by extending the Western alliance’s writ to Iraq and its security umbrella to Arab countries going the route of democratization. The new Iraqi government is yet to be created — or consulted. For the others, the grand design is a no-brainer. It’s dead on arrival.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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