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Iraq War’s Ultimate Lie Behind the Lies Fatally Lives On

One of the deepest (and most chilling) tenth anniversary Iraq War analyses is written by Gary Leupp, entitled: The Victory of the Noble Lie: The Neocons Won.

Leupp begins by pointing out that there is a profound difference in perspective among American citizens on the Iraq War. Some believe that honest leaders were led astray by “intelligence flaws.” Others recognize that the leaders themselves were NOT honest and willfully engaged in “mis- and disinformation to frighten people into supporting war.”

Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense under his buddy Rumsfeld along with the “Office of Special Plans” in the Pentagon exploited what Leupp calls a “gullible” press into shaping pro-war public opinion. They provided “talking points” and inflammatory “rhetorical flourishes”. Leupp cites the most famous, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Leupp points out that Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense along with Wolfowitz, prior to the demonization of Iraq, had grossly exaggerated a “Soviet threat”. When the USSR fell in 1991 their profound exaggerations of Russia’s ACTUAL “intentions and capabilities” Leupp describes as “ludicrous in retrospect”. Exaggeration of a chosen targeted enemy for political and military exploitation was a craven neocon modus operandi, unsurprisingly then applied to Iraq. This playbook continues to be used by neocons (joined now by neolibs) to ensure permanent and gratuitous war and a corporate-media-drum-beating specter of specific imminent war(s) for manipulative government/corporate profiteering agendas.

The Pentagon’s “Office of Special Plans”, the major propaganda source for war in 2002-2003, was run by Wolfowitz man, Donald Feith. Leupp reveals that Gen. Tommy Franks once called Feith “the dumbest fucking guy on the planet.”

Wolfowitz’s University of Chicago roommate, Abram Shulsky, was also a member of the “Office of Special Plans” and advocated what philosopher Leo Strauss called “noble lies” to lead the “intrinsically foolish” (Leupp’s words) masses. They did not see the responsibility of a government to be honest with its citizenry. They saw it as having the right to lead the citizens with so-called “noble” lies wherever they chose.

The OSP began relying on “Iraqi exile and bank swindler” Ahmad Chalabi for propaganda talking points. Chalabi had been discounted as a “fraud” by the CIA. This didn’t matter to the NOBLE LIARS. They also relied on Rafid Ahmed Alwan, nicknamed “Curveball” and living in Germany. Both of these men supplied false stories, KNOWN false stories to the brazen, “willing to say anything to promote war” neocons. These included false tales about nonexistent WMDS, aluminum tubes, Niger uranium, chemical weapons plants in northeast Iraq, special camps for American plane hijacking, mobile biological factories, etc. The OSP released these lies to American journalists which were quoted authoritatively as being from “unnamed government sources”. Pro-Iraq-War sensationalism and fear-mongering came to dominate the media.

Leupp reveals that the manipulation of public opinion and the subsequent Iraq bloodbath did not cost these liars, when their lies were eventually exposed, AT ALL in terms of legal liability or career opportunities. With over four thousand American troops dead and more than an estimated 100,000 Iraqis dead, and with support for the war below 50% in 2005, Wolfowitz, unchallenged for the Iraq fiasco he majorly had helped launch, was appointed by President George Bush to be head of the World Bank. Leupp discloses, incidentally, that Bush crony Wolfowitz had NO banking experience. Two years later Wolfowitz left that post since he had violated bank rules by funneling money to his fellow World Bank employee girlfriend. Again no legal accountable repercussions. Today Wolfowitz is a “visiting scholar” at the neocons’ American Enterprise Institute. Probably teaching about the value of the “noble lie” there.

Douglas [not Donald, thanks, Hugh!] Feith also left the Defense Department in 2005 for “personal and family problems” supposedly. Conveniently he left BEFORE the Pentagon inspector general released a report that the OSP under Feith had promoted the false contention that Iraq and al Qaida had a collusive and sinister relationship. This was inconsistent with the rest of the Intelligence community. The Pentagon report labeled this colossal lie “inappropriate” but NOT “illegal.”

Senator Carl Levin, Chair of the Armed Services Committee, demanded the report be made public, revealing that the invasion of Iraq was “manipulated by high-ranking officials in the Department of Defense.” But Levin and other senior lawmakers also used the label “inappropriate” for the calculated and disseminated mendacity from Feith and his fellow neocons. Leupp contends the appropriate label for the mendacity should have been “MURDEROUS” and legal accountability be exacted from these war criminals.

Feith went on to teach at Georgetown University. Then became director of conservative think tank Center for National Strategies and a visiting scholar at “Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.” Another voice spreading the benefits of “noble” lying.

Richard Perle, nicknamed the “Prince of Darkness” when he was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security in the 1980s (also known for “inflating” the Soviet threat) was appointed on Feith’s recommendation in 2001 Chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. He would have to resign in 2003 due to INAPPROPRIATE “conflict of interests” problems, but before then he LIED up a storm for the Iraq War. Leupp writes:

Using the prestige of his title and position (which is not subject to congressional approval), he editorialized in favor of war on Iraq in the British press, even telling European journalists in 2002 that “(9-11 hijacker) Mohammed Atta met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad prior to September 11. We have proof of that, and we are sure he wasn’t just there for a holiday. The meeting is one of the motives of an American attack on Iraq.” Sheer lies!

Perle promoted the false intelligence of his buddy, Ahmad Chalabi. Even though he was privy, Leupp contends, to the fact that the Iraqis were desperate to avert a war and were willing to earnestly cooperate with the United States. The Iraqis wanted to disprove the lie that Saddam Hussein had any link to the attack of September 11 and that he had a stash of weapons of mass destruction. Messages from reliable Iraqi contacts were “killed” by Perle and his cohorts because, simply, they wanted WAR. They wanted to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and the truth they would not let be an obstacle.


The Iraqis, Perle was informed, offered to allow 5000 FBI agents to scour their country, in order to confirm the absence of any WMDs; grant oil and mining concessions to U.S. firms; declare “full support for any U.S. plan” for a Middle East peace process; and hand over al-Qaeda agent Abdul Rahman Yasin (in Iraqi custody since 1994) as a sign of good faith. They even acceded to UN-sponsored elections within two years. But Perle says he was instructed by the Pentagon to tell the Iraqis “it was a no-go” and that “we will see them in Baghdad.”

So what did Perle last month say on NPR about the manufactured motivation to go to war with Iraq?

“I’ve got to say I think that is not a reasonable question. What we did at the time was done in the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation. You can’t, a decade later, go back and say, ‘Well we shouldn’t have done that.’”

Leupp takes issue especially with his reference to the “we” in “we shouldn’t have done that.” He points out that millions continuously marched against the Iraq war. He writes:

One could go down the list of neocons complicit in the planning for the Iraq War, enumerating the lies they’re most associated with. But suffice it to note that they triumphed. They got what they wanted, are generally unapologetic, have never been punished (physically, legally, financially) nor excluded from the public realm; indeed, some are treated as elder statesmen...


Surely most in this category are smugly satisfied at their achievement. They replaced a stable if bleeding Iraq under sanctions and Baathist secular rule—a country where women could go to school without headscarves, where Christians could sell and anyone purchase beer and DVDs, where Sunni-Shiite intermarriage and mixed neighborhoods were common, where Christian churches and the Baghdad synagogue were spared attack and kept in repair by the secularist regime, where doctors and professors felt secure in their professions, where four (out of 30) million people soon to be driven into internal or foreign exile still lived in their homes, where at least 100,000 people now dead went about their daily lives—with today’s Iraq of ongoing, bloody sectarian violence, religious fanaticism, assaults of women’s rights, attacks of gays, dysfunctional politics, plunder of the national heritage, flight of doctors, professors and other professionals, flight of Christians, incipient dictatorship.

“At least it’s not a threat to us anymore!” they might argue, although Iraq never threatened the U.S. in any way. Saddam had in fact been a CIA asset from 1959 into the early sixties at least and was indeed an ally in the 1980s, when Donald Rumsfeld happily met with him in Baghdad (December 1983 and again March 1984) and provided his military with satellite intelligence on Iranian troop movements. Iraq did not threaten the U.S. by invading Kuwait in 1990; Saddam only annexed Kuwait after a border row that Washington deliberately exacerbated, and after receiving what he felt were assurances from the U.S. that it would not intervene if there were war between the two countries. But George H.W. Bush wanted to seize the opportunity to destroy Saddam’s army. This had aided U.S. objectives while deployed against Iran, but with the end of the Iran-Iraq War  in August 1988, the half-million strong, experienced Iraqi army appeared to constitute a threat to close U.S. allies, especially Israel.

Though Iraq did not share a border with Israel and Hussein’s regime had never made war on Israel Perle earnestly highlighted the Iraq threat to Israel in his war-mongering. Says Leupp, the Iraq War brought for Israel a profound “U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf” which, incidentally, brought the hope of an ultimate war with Iran all the closer in the eyes of the Israeli regime. Arms for oil deals with the Iraqi Kurds for the Israelis also factored in nicely. Hussein also had sympathized with the plight of the Palestinians and had given financial support to Hamas at times. To the American neocons, especially prominent government leaders and dual-national ones (as Feith, for example), Israel’s desire and need for the U.S. to remove non-ally Saddam by destroying the country of Iraq was a priority consideration.

Leupp reveals that in the latest Gallup poll 99% of Americans believe “Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to the vital interests of the United States.” Look at how successful the propaganda of this lie has been Leupp declares. Iranians had made diplomatic initiatives to Colin Powell when he was Bush’s Secretary of State, but in January 2002 George W. declared Iran part of the “Axis of Evil” alongside Iraq and North Korea (more of that sensationalizing rhetoric!) The three nations all had unrelated agendas but the implication was Orwellianly opposite, they were colluding against and imminently dangerous to the United States.

When the Shah had led Iran in the 1970s, the U.S. and especially the G.E. corporation were eager to have Iran build nuclear energy capability. Cheney later insisted that with all their oil, nuclear energy building was a cover for nuclear bomb building. Another hard-hit talking point of propaganda!

In 2000 Cheney seeded the cabinet and Defense and State departments with as many neocons as he possibly could. Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton, Hannah, Libby. It was Libby who accompanied Cheney on visits to the CIA, Leupp reveals, to “browbeat” (Leupp’s word) officials there to include “bogus intelligence in official reports.” As you recall, Libby was convicted for obstructing justice and committing perjury in the Valerie Plame affair.

Leupp qualifies Cheney as not having the pro-Israel ardor that “energized” other neocons. He, Rumsfeld, Bush and even Rice (on the board of Chevron) were obsessed with controlling Iraqi oil fields. The other neocons sought that too, but were more obsessed with greater security for Israel. Demonizing Iran was convenient for both agendas.

Leupp also cites the story of how on September 20, 2001, General Wesley Clark had a conversation with a Pentagon general who revealed to him a memo he had received describing how, as he put it, “we are going to take out seven countries in five years. Starting with Iraq, then Syria and Lebanon. Then Libya, Somalia and Sudan. Then finishing off Iran.” Libya, Somalia, Sudan can be crossed of that bloody clipboard. The U.S. is currently “behind the scenes” to topple the tremendously suffering Syria. As for Iran, 99% of Americans think it is a direct threat to them with non-existent nuclear weapons. Surreal but real it all is.

Cheney was infuriated that SIXTEEN U.S. government intelligence agencies “including the CIA, FBI and military intelligence” submitted a National Intelligence Estimate in 2006 “concluding with ‘high confidence’ that Iran did not have an active nuclear weapons program." (The NIE of 2011 repeated this conclusion.) Cheney managed to delay the publication of the 2006 report for a year. At a December 2007 press conference, Bush declared that Iran had a “covert” nuclear weapons program! Later on a trip to Israel, Bush again totally disavowed the findings of his own intelligence agencies (16!) and repeated the lie.

Leupp points out that Brazil and Argentina want to master “the nuclear cycle” with no international objections. Every nation signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (of which Iran is one) has the “inalienable right” to do so. This is international law. But the US and Israel insist it not be extended to Iran. Leupp even mentions that Iran would have been bombed by the U.S. by now had Condoleezza Rice not pushed for it not to happen out of concern for world oil prices skyrocketing.

Leupp emphasizes that when Obama moved into the White House Rahm Emmanuel, dual-national with Israel, assured AIPAC Obama, “at variance with the official U.S. position”, supported “Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘eternal undivided capital’.” Obama declared this. Obama has never challenged or discouraged the Iran-nuclear-bomb fear mongering stridency in Washington. To the neocons and Israel, Obama should be more intensively anti-Iran. To some of the rest of us, his not defending truth and reality re Iran is enabling a possible war with it.

Leupp writes:

The reason for that Gallop figure of 99%—those seeing Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to the U.S.—is that the people of this country have been subjected to a massive campaign of disinformation. I don’t suggest a single coordinator or command center. The campaign includes wildly illogical (but to some, convincing) conflation of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “Asis [sic] of Evil” by George W. Bush in January 2002; the false story in 2001 that Rafsanjani threatened Israel with nuclear war (basically by boasting that Iran was much larger than Israel); the false story after Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005 that he had been among the students seizing hostages at the U.S. embassy in 1979; the false story that Ahmadinejad in October 2005 said “Israel must be wiped off the map”; the false news story in 2006 about the Iranian parliament planning to badge Jews; the (successful) 2010 campaign to classify the Revolutionary Guards (a division of the Iranian Army) a “terrorist organization” (something now-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel opposed at the time, noting it was unusual to classify in such fashion a regular military force with 125,000 personnel including ground, air and naval forces). It even includes the 2007 film 300 that vilified Persians (versus Greeks) in western antiquity.

When you read report after mainstream press report that refers matter-of-factly to “Iran’s nuclear weapons program” as though there definitely is one, and find that editors refuse to insist that reports routinely note “the entire U.S. intelligence establishment has repeatedly concluded that Iran has no operative nuclear weapons program,” and then you look at that poll figure, you can tell how the neocons and allies have won. However exposed, time and again, the lies of empire have triumphed, and continue to triumph. More than progressive honest investigative journalism,  which flourishes in the interstices of the media, reaching those paying attention but scarcely impacting (or impacting too late)  minds saturated with corporate media lies, we need a different system entirely.

Recall that MSNBC, now the most “liberal” cable news network happy to run documentaries critical of the Iraq War (now that it’s over), once fired a very popular Phil Donahue in order to silence his outspoken criticism of the war on Iraq. It was not because the show wasn’t making money; indeed, it was the most popular show on MSNB. But MSNBC owner GE was deeply invested in war, and as a leaked internal memo put it, Donahue presented a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.” In other words, he wasn’t doing his proper job of lining up in favor war, the way fellow MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews was doing. So he was discharged one month before the bombing of Iraq began.

Clearly the vast majority of the U.S. citizenry (as high as 99%?) has not faced down collectively the SUSTAINED AND UNFETTERED LYING REALITY -- realpolitik -- behind the lies of the Iraq War. A proclivity and presumption TO LIE COLOSSALLY on the part of our government to us the citizenry through a corporate mainstream media that propagandizes for the interests of the government and corporatist liars, whose interests recklessly, ruthlessly and dangerously drive the U.S. military to more and more war criminality.

[cross-posted on open salon]

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Submitted by Hugh on

Great piece. One minor correction the dumbest fucking guy on the planet is Douglas Feith. Many Democrats from early on, including Hillary Clinton, embraced the Bush/Cheney lies on Iraq. Their main criticism was not about the war but how it was being run. But it was Obama (as he has in so many other areas) who institutionalized those lies or the policies that came out of them. The neocons won because Obama and the Democrats not only didn't oppose them, they joined them.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

Hugh, Thanks you for correction and emphasizing why the neocons have won. The Democratic Party morally, pragmatically destroyed itself to "succeed", well, for the only rich power addicts who count apparently. Hillary seems to be giving herself a break time to get rid of war criminal cooties before 2016. The 99% statistic in regards to Iran really points out how propaganda-saturated this country is. The stunning stone-hearted indifference of so many citizens to the Gitmo scenario, to the mass killings and displacements in Syria, their passivity in terms of $85 billion being handed out as bank bail out money from the Fed EVERY MONTH in contrast to the EVIL cuts by BOTH ROTTEN CORPORATE PARTIES OF OUR GOVERNMENT, is surreal and barely fathomable!

best, libby