Sunday, September 10, 2006

Americans falsley believe in in Iraq WMDs (AP)

NEW YORK Do you believe in Iraqi "WMD"? Did Saddam Hussein's government have weapons of mass destruction in 2003?

Half of America apparently still thinks so, a new poll finds, and experts see a raft of reasons why: a drumbeat of voices from talk radio to die-hard bloggers to the Oval Office, a surprise headline here or there, a rallying around a partisan flag, and a growing need for people, in their own minds, to justify the war in Iraq.

People tend to become "independent of reality" in these circumstances, says opinion analyst Steven Kull.

The reality in this case is that after a 16-month, $900-million-plus investigation, the U.S. weapons hunters known as the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991 under U.N. oversight. That finding in 2004 reaffirmed the work of U.N. inspectors who in 2002-03 found no trace of banned arsenals in Iraq.

Despite this, a Harris Poll released July 21 found that a full 50 percent of U.S. respondents — up from 36 percent last year — said they believe Iraq did have the forbidden arms when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, an attack whose stated purpose was elimination of supposed WMD. Other polls also have found an enduring American faith in the WMD story.

"I'm flabbergasted," said Michael Massing, a media critic whose writings dissected the largely unquestioning U.S. news reporting on the Bush administration's shaky WMD claims in 2002-03.

"This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence," Massing said.

Timing may explain some of the poll result. Two weeks before the survey, two Republican lawmakers, Pennsylvania's Sen. Rick Santorum (news, bio, voting record) and Michigan's Rep. Peter Hoekstra (news, bio, voting record), released an intelligence report in Washington saying 500 chemical munitions had been collected in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

"I think the Harris Poll was measuring people's surprise at hearing this after being told for so long there were no WMD in the country," said Hoekstra spokesman Jamal Ware.

But the Pentagon and outside experts stressed that these abandoned shells, many found in ones and twos, were 15 years old or more, their chemical contents were degraded, and they were unusable as artillery ordnance. Since the 1990s, such "orphan" munitions, from among 160,000 made by Iraq and destroyed, have turned up on old battlefields and elsewhere in Iraq, ex-inspectors say. In other words, this was no surprise.

"These are not stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction," said Scott Ritter, the ex-Marine who was a U.N. inspector in the 1990s. "They weren't deliberately withheld from inspectors by the Iraqis."

Conservative commentator Deroy Murdock, who trumpeted Hoekstra's announcement in his syndicated column, complained in an interview that the press "didn't give the story the play it deserved." But in some quarters it was headlined.

"Our top story tonight, the nation abuzz today ..." was how Fox News led its report on the old, stray shells. Talk-radio hosts and their callers seized on it. Feedback to blogs grew intense. "Americans are waking up from a distorted reality," read one posting.

Other claims about supposed WMD had preceded this, especially speculation since 2003 that Iraq had secretly shipped WMD abroad. A former Iraqi general's book — at best uncorroborated hearsay — claimed "56 flights" by jetliners had borne such material to Syria.

But Kull, Massing and others see an influence on opinion that's more sustained than the odd headline.

"I think the Santorum-Hoekstra thing is the latest 'factoid,' but the basic dynamic is the insistent repetition by the Bush administration of the original argument," said John Prados, author of the 2004 book "Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War."

Administration statements still describe Saddam's Iraq as a threat. Despite the official findings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has allowed only that "perhaps" WMD weren't in Iraq. And Bush himself, since 2003, has repeatedly insisted on one plainly false point: that Saddam rebuffed the U.N. inspectors in 2002, that "he wouldn't let them in," as he said in 2003, and "he chose to deny inspectors," as he said this March.

The facts are that Iraq — after a four-year hiatus in cooperating with inspections — acceded to the U.N. Security Council's demand and allowed scores of experts to conduct more than 700 inspections of potential weapons sites from Nov. 27, 2002, to March 16, 2003. The inspectors said they could wrap up their work within months. Instead, the U.S. invasion aborted that work.

As recently as May 27, Bush told West Point graduates, "When the United Nations Security Council gave him one final chance to disclose and disarm, or face serious consequences, he refused to take that final opportunity."

"Which isn't true," observed Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a scholar of presidential rhetoric at the University of Pennsylvania. But "it doesn't surprise me when presidents reconstruct reality to make their policies defensible." This president may even have convinced himself it's true, she said.

Americans have heard it. A poll by Kull's WorldPublicOpinion.org found that seven in 10 Americans perceive the administration as still saying Iraq had a WMD program. Combine that rhetoric with simplistic headlines about WMD "finds," and people "assume the issue is still in play," Kull said.

"For some it almost becomes independent of reality and becomes very partisan." The WMD believers are heavily Republican, polls show.

Beyond partisanship, however, people may also feel a need to believe in WMD, the analysts say.

"As perception grows of worsening conditions in Iraq, it may be that Americans are just hoping for more of a solid basis for being in Iraq to begin with," said the Harris Poll's David Krane.

Charles Duelfer, the lead U.S. inspector who announced the negative WMD findings two years ago, has watched uncertainly as TV sound bites, bloggers and politicians try to chip away at "the best factual account," his group's densely detailed, 1,000-page final report.

"It is easy to see what is accepted as truth rapidly morph from one representation to another," he said in an e-mail. "It would be a shame if one effect of the power of the Internet was to undermine any commonly agreed set of facts."

The creative "morphing" goes on.

As Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas battled in Lebanon on July 21, a Fox News segment suggested, with no evidence, yet another destination for the supposed doomsday arms.

"ARE SADDAM HUSSEIN'S WMDS NOW IN HEZBOLLAH'S HANDS?" asked the headline, lingering for long minutes on TV screens in a million American homes.

14 comments:

Lauren Bingham said...

Does this sound not-so-strangely reminiscent of the propaganda wars of WWI? It's ridiculous. Truth now has absolutely no bearing against emotion and especially fear. Have these God-fearing men forgotten the commandment to not bear false witness against our neighbors? It just makes me crazy that this administration can trumpet out whatever fact-free absurdity they want and the American public eats it up and asks for seconds. And what really sucks is that they're so good at it. Please people, if we remember nothing else about this administration, remember the incessant lies. Great post, Peter.

Cameron said...

Maybe the public thinks Saddam Hussein possessed WMD's because these people said he did:

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members ... It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."
- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002

"The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capabilities. Intelligence reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons..."
- Sen. Robert Byrd (D, WV), Oct. 3, 2002

"We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."
"Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power."
- Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

"He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983."
- Sandy Berger, Clinton National Security Adviser, Feb, 18, 1998

"We must stop Saddam from ever again jeopardizing the stability and security of his neighbors with weapons of mass destruction."
- Madeline Albright, Feb 1, 1998

"Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime ... He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation ... And now he is miscalculating America's response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction ... So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real..."
- Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan. 23. 2003

"If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program."
- President Bill Clinton, Feb. 17, 1998

Cameron said...

But hey, Bush Lied!

Peter Nguyen said...

Cameron,

Your comments are interesting, however, they don't seem germane to the post at hand. While it is disappointing that many of those legislators perpetuated false intelligence, EVERYONE believed in Iraqi WMD's well into the war which began March 20, 2003.

Your point may be, why is Bush called a liar where others are not. First, I don't think I've ever called Bush a liar, however, I do consider it an option. It wouldn't be the first time someone in government has lied to us. As you know, selling the war was a Bush Administration thing, and they accomplished their goal, they sold the war to practically everyone!

The question is whether they manufactured the evidence used to sell the war. But like I said, this is not germane to the post at hand. This post is about why people STILL believe in Iraqi WMD's.

Cameron said...

Perhaps I was responding to,

"It just makes me crazy that this administration can trumpet out whatever fact-free absurdity they want and the American public eats it up and asks for seconds"

more than to the AP story, Peter. The fact is, if President Bush lied, then so did the UN, President Cliton, his entire administration, as well as members of Congress. And they kept the lie going for 12 years. But all that is ever said by people like Lauren is that "Bush Lied!". It's tiresome.

Here's the WMD timeline as I see it. Saddam Hussein's Iraq had WMD's pre-Gulf War, the UN spent over a decade demanding to know what became of them, Saddam refused to tell anyone and actively postured that he did have them. We invaded, but no WMD's were found.

My question is, what became of them? Rather than spewing the "Bush Lied!" rhetoric, we should be asking where the weapons went.

Now, part of the story you posted draws from the Iraq Survey Group. The posted story says that Iraq rid themselves of WMD's in 1991 under UN supervision. I think that is a misrepresentation of the report. If the UN was aware of the WMD destruction, why did they continue to sanction Iraq for 12 years? The tone of the story is very condescending and very agenda driven. That doesn't make it wrong, it just makes it suspect.

I linked to the actual report so that we can all go read it. It is the basis for the story you posted, and therefore is relevant to the discussion at hand.

The report asserts the view that the UN sanctions on Iraq actually did harm Saddam's WMD capability. It would have us believe that Saddam Hussein voluntarily rid himself of his coveted WMD's but refused to tell the UN, despite the fact that all he had to do was disclose the fact that he destroyed his weapons and the sanctions would be lifted. The report also points out that because of a lack of good accounting, no one knows exactly how many WMD's Iraq had, or if Saddam destroyed all, most, or only a part of them.

Those are the facts that the story you posted did not report.

As for why many Americans still think Iraq had WMD's despite none being found in the country, I think it is explained by the combination of a decade of assertions that Iraq did possess WMD's by the UN and many world leaders, including our own, coupled with the fact that Saddam Hussein cannot be trusted and continues to imply that he did have some. No evidence of their destruction exists.

So we are left to wonder, what became of the weapons?

Jessica said...

Looks like Cameron has been to at least two blogs trying to play it two wrongs make a right.

And Peter, not everyone had it wrong on Iraq's wmd's. While the Bush administration would have you believe so, it simply isn't true.

Cameron said...

If you agree that the UN, the Clinton administration, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and all the rest were "wrong" about Iraq, I'll be waiting for the same venom directed at them that is directed at the current administration by those such as yourself and Ms. Bingham.

Jessica said...

Wow Cameron, you sure like to have Republicans avoid accountability for their choices. So if GWB were to get oral sex from an intern in the oval office, it wouldn't be a problem because Clinton did it?

Cameron said...

No, I would expect him to receive the same punishment President Clinton received, just as I asked that 12 years' worth of politicians and UN appointees receive the same punishment from you that President Bush is receiving.

Jensen said...

You got to love the liberal double standard.

Jensen said...

Also, just for the record Bill Clinton was not impeached for having ORAL SEX!!! He was impeached because he lied under oath. There is a big difference between the two!!!

Peter Nguyen said...

Jensen,

"The liberal double standard"? Please. If you're going to post here at least try to be intelligent about it.

Double standards can easily be found on both sides of the aisle and you know it. We can all do better than those kinds of statements. Let's try to stay away from the labels.

Jensen said...

Well, I am sorry if I offended you Peter, but I stick by my statement. Yes, we can find double standards on both sides, but the liberal double standard is much worse then it is on the right. If you are Democrat you can drive your car off of Chappaquiddick, and kill some one and still be able to run for president. If you are a Democrat you can be an ex-member of the KKK, and still be elected to senate. You can also make weird racists comments on the senate floor about “white niggers”, and after you can apologize for it without having any worry about your political career. Also, you can do what Sen. Biden did an insult the Indian American race, and also apologize for it with out any harm. Yet, if you are Republican, and said something racist you would have the media jumping all over you. A good example of this would be Trent Lott. If you are a Democrat you can plagiarize a speech by Neil Kinnock in the 1988 presidential election, and not have to worry about your political career. If plagiarism happens to a Democrat then they just need to drop out of the race, and everything is fine. Just ask Joe. Yet, if you are Republican watch out on how you spell potato, because that could destroy everything.

I could go on and on about this, and I know it is on both sides. Yet, the double standard is more apparent on the left then on the right. You can bring up all these double standards on the right if you want, but still how do you explain something like Chappaquiddick.

The reason I bring all of this up is so you and others understand why I am standing behind my statement. I am sorry if my comments offended you, Peter, but I do stand by them. I am just trying to be intelligent about posting on your site. You’re providing one side of the argument which is fine, and we are providing the other side. The media I feel is being kind towards the left theses days. I am not saying you in particular, but the media as a whole. We all know who is the king maker today. It is the media, and it seems that the media is out to get Bush.

Peter Nguyen said...

Jensen,

First, I wasn't offended. However, leaving comments like the one-liner is certainly not appreciated.

Your response to me was a world of difference from the other because you at least attempted to use reason and logic.

Second, among the many examples of how your reasoning is flawed, one is that your comparisons are not parallel. Besides, your ad hominem statements make me wonder whether your opinion of the news media is slanted because of an apparent conservative bias.

Let me ask you this, can liberals ever be right? And if so, are media allowed to report on that, or is that media bias again? You think the media are bias in favor of Dems, I don't. Why? Because I try not to lump or label.

I don't think the Enquirer is representative of all media. Neither do I believe that Mary Carey represents all Republicans or Michael Moore for liberals.

I think politicians will be politicians just as boys will be boys. I could never vote down party line because since when has a party accurately represented a person or vice versa?

Either way, I love discussion. I love it when there is dialogue. Post whatever you feel is right, but don't leave some inflammatory one-liner without backing it up like you did the second time.

Actually, that goes for everyone who visits this forum. Discussion can be great when there is a safe environment and meaningful thought.