If WMD is Found, What Does That Change?

Michael T. McPhearson, August 2003

Recently the Bush Administration has found itself under heavy scrutiny as the public has picked up on how much the President and his advisers exaggerated the threat of Iraq to U.S. security. The match that lit this slow burning fire is a discredited statement by Bush in the 2003 State of the Union address claiming that Iraq tried to acquire uranium (yellow cake) from Niger. The controversy is somewhat nuanced and I am not going to go into the specifics here, but it is important to note that the President’s mistake or planned calculated wording to mislead the American public would mean little if not for two other problems the administration faces.

  1. As of July 30, 2003, no one can find any weapons of mass destruction or any hard evidence of an advanced WMD program.
  2. U.S. troops are being killed in Iraq at an alarming rate and it appears the situation will only get worse before it will get better, if we can do the right things to help it get better and that is a big if.

If is a hell of a word and should not be ignored by the Peace Movement. Just as the political winds suddenly changed and are now blowing against George Bush they can easily shift again to blow against us. If the administration had already found WMD and if the situation on the ground were better in Iraq, few people other than his usual critics would be paying attention to the 16 words story because the wisdom of the attack would appear to be proven by the danger of the WMD. Unfortunately for Bush things have not worked out quite like he and his people envisioned them and they are now in damage control mode.

But like I just said, the above ifs could shift the political tide back to Bush’s favor. I believe the Peace Movement should think about those ifs now and reflect that thinking in our current approach to the realities of today. Before the uranium/Niger controversy the focus of the opposition to the Bush Administration’s actions in Iraq seemed to place the whole of their critique on the question, where are the weapons of mass destruction? This argument alone was a terrible strategic political position and overly partisan. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein was once in possession of weaponized chemical agents. The United States helped Saddam acquire them. He used them in the Iran/Iraq War and on Kurds who live Iraq. The destruction of all the agents has not been documented, so the world community through the United Nations had a legitimate question when we asked Saddam where are the weapons of mass destruction? He never came up with them nor documents that provided evidence of the weapons destruction. I for one believe some exist somewhere.

It seems to me that the lynch pin question is not where are the WMD, but where is the immanent threat the administration claimed was the reason we had to take immediate action. They told us we could not wait because time was short. The administration claimed that the regime was a clear and present danger to the United States. This danger was not two years away or a year away. Not around the corner. The threat was now.

Thankfully the lie of the sixteen words has placed a spotlight on that very question. Unfortunately for Progressives the question of immediate threat is being lost in the media and political hype of the 16 words and the fact that we have not found WMD. The lie of the 16 words and the not finding WMD should not be the focus. They should be used to support what the Peace Movement and Progressives had been saying all along. Saddam did not pose an immediate threat.

I first heard William Saffire and then weeks later Patrick Buchanan both say in their distinct ways, that if soldiers keep dying and no WMD is found, the people will begin to ask,” What are we doing in Iraq and why did we go there anyway?  If no WMD is found, Bush has a problem. If WMD is found, the administration maybe able to side step the criticism. Many Americans are scared and want to believe we are doing the right thing, so the pressure could fade away. I believe we need to continue to ask all the same questions we asked before March 23, 2003. We cannot wait to make the full argument. If WMD is found and people feel a sense of relief, it will be too late to shift gears.

The big if WMD are found can one day be a reality. It is critical that we begin to lay the groundwork for that possibility by reminding the public that the Bush administration claimed the U.S. was in immediate danger. To protect us from the ifs, I believe it is important for the opposition to drive home the following points:

1)  The issue on the table is not only whether or not Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, but also if any are found did the weapons constitute an immediate threat.

2)  War may have been unavoidable after 12 years of lies and deceit, but why did we have to go to war at that time and in that way (all but alone).

3)  The lives lost, damage to international relations and the precedent set by our act of pre-emption was not worth the war if we cannot show imminent danger.

4)  We may have caused a more immediate threat by creating a situation where people, Al-Qaeda, gained access to WMD due to the confusion amid a collapsed regime

Why did the Bush administration feel the need to mislead us with those 16 words? Weapons buried underground are not a threat. A connection between Saddam and bin Laden still has not been proven. Saddam did not pose an immediate threat and the only way they (the administration) could get us to believe them was to tell half-truths.

Problem for the opposition

Although the administration’s logic for invading Iraq is unraveling the Democrats have not been able to take full advantage of the President’s weakened position. Why? I believe there are two basic reasons.

  1. The president has a strong right wing base that voted for him before 911 to further their agendas of social conservatism (anti Choice, anti-GLBT, pro fusion of government and religion). This group is thrilled with the president. Bush can tell almost any lie and exaggerate almost any theme as long as the lies and exaggerations are not about this group’s issues. How powerful is the group? A few days ago after an ABC correspondent talked to a number of 3rd ID soldiers and reported their anger at the conduct of the conflict, the White House leaked information that the reporter is gay and Canadian. To most observers the use of such information to discredit a person is a throw back to another era when it was assumed gay people were untrustworthy and any critical observations of America from a non-American was inherently suspect. But many people at the core of Bush’s constituency are ultra-nationalist homophobes who believe the U.S. is an instrument of God and George Bush is a kind of prophet. The leak of such irrelevant information had a specific audience to whom it played very well.
  1. While it is true that Bush’s core constituencies are his die-hard fans, he also enjoys broad public support. Portions of that support are people who voted for him before 911 for various reasons. Others are people who did not vote for Bush and did not support his presidency before 911, but since that day of horror changed their minds. Many people began to see Bush as the leader with the right stuff to handle the crisis. The Democrats have not articulated a viable alternative to the administration’s current direction. I put this reason second, but other than military and or economic disaster it is the overriding factor that will determine the outcome of the 2004 elections.

To have a positive effect on the 2004 elections and put pressure on Bush to move in a more progressive direction it is essential for the Peace Movement to do two things. First to continue to ask the same questions we asked before the war and while asking these questions emphasis that even if WMD is found unless it is shown that they were an immediate threat to our national security the Bush administration misled us.

Second, the Peace Movement must interject into the national discussion and particularly the powers that be in the Democratic Party, a new direction for U.S. foreign policy. A direction that is visionary, hopeful and pragmatic. This is essential to the continued movement forward of the Peace Movement and for progressive minded Democrats to win the presidency. It must always be remembered that we live in a Post September 11th era. The American people want security. Any criticism that does not have what is perceived by the public as a viable answer to the threat of terrorism will not be heeded for long. It is easy to complain and point out Bush’s glaring lies and deception. It is difficult to develop progressive realistic goals and plans to manage today’s problems. The Bush administration is guilty of trampling our democratic principals to ensure our physical security. We must not find ourselves on the other end of the spectrum. Too preoccupied with our individual freedoms to address our collective security.

The road to peace is long and hard. Structures must be developed and sacrifices made. It will not happen in a day, year, or decade. It will probably not happen in my lifetime. But it will happen if we have the courage to make tough decisions about real life issues. We cannot get bogged down in our own rhetoric and forget the wisdom of the people. They know what they need. We need to listen and figure out how to provide it in a progressive peaceful way.

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About Michael T. McPhearson

Currently Michael is executive director of Veterans For Peace and co-chair of the Don't Shoot Coalition, A Saint Louis based coalition that formed in the aftermath of Michael Brown's police killing death in Ferguson, MO. From August 2010 to September 2013, Michael worked as the National Coordinator with United For Peace and Justice. He is a former board member of Veterans For Peace and as well as Executive Director from 2005 to 2010. He works closely with the Newark based People’s Organization for Progress and the Saint Louis centered Organization for Black Struggle. Michel also publishes the Mcphearsonreport.org expressing his views on war and peace, politics, human rights, race and other things. Michael also launched Reclaimthedream.org website as an effort to change the discourse and ignite a new conversation about Dr. Martin Luther King’s message and what it means to live in just and peaceful communities.