November 26, 2003


"I know 'spin' when I hear it," writes Richard Woolcott, "and I can recognise government attempts to mislead and manipulate public opinion." As it turns out, Woolcott is no mean spinner himself:

When, after nearly four months of intensive search by a 1200-strong team led by the CIA weapons expert David Kay, no stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons had been found, the spin was that "evidence of programs" and of "intentions" to develop them had been found.

Contrary to the impression Woolcott would give, Kay’s report was interim. It was filed after only about 8% of weapons storage areas had been searched. Spin, Richard, spin! Forwards, not backwards, upwards, not forwards, and always spinning, spinning towards freedom!

Woolcott’s piece also includes the Lileks-mandated “but” coverage (as in "Saddam was a wretched tyrant, and the world is better off without him in power, BUT, Baghdad’s electricity service is now undependable. No, but. Yes, but."):

Saddam's regime has been removed from power and that is welcome. There is some hope that the US might, if it stays the course in an election year, produce a soundly based, decent and quasi-democratic government in Iraq. But ...

Posted by Tim Blair at November 26, 2003 01:13 AM

Here's the perfect Christmas gift for the "but"-head in your circle of family and friends. No more excuses for not cleaning that "but" out (of their vocabulary, that is).

Posted by: Tongue Boy at November 26, 2003 at 04:32 AM

End communication.

Posted by: Greg at November 26, 2003 at 06:40 AM

End communication.

Posted by: Greg at November 26, 2003 at 06:40 AM

But but but.
But, despite all the efforts of the Evil Bush, his Evil Administration, the NeoCrusaders, and all the evil minions, lackeys, and brainwashed right wing extremists comes this cry through the blog world:

"...I can only ask you to spread the word about this"

From Zeyad, an Iraqi blogger at healingiraq

How can this be- after having their duly elected murdering thug and his band of torturers removed from power by crusading hordes who are now busy stealing their oil and trying to impose self-rule comes the cry (for those who scroll to the Saturday, November 22 entry at

...I found out yesterday on local tv (IMN) that the GC working together with Iraqi civil unions, provincial councils, prominent tribal leaders, clerics, and various political parties and organizations across the country are making preparations for large nationwide demonstrations condemning terrorism in Iraq on December 10th. I mentioned something about it before but I wasn't aware of the exact date. I also didn't hear anyone mention this in other media outlets as far as I know. The ministry of interior will provide adequate protection for demonstrators in coordination with coalition forces. I will keep you updated on other details as soon as I get them.

The only thing I can say is it's about damn time. It would be great if someone can organize similar rallies on the same date in the US and Europe to show support and empathy for victims of terrorism in Iraq and the rest of the world. I can only ask you to spread the word about this...
Members of the blogosphere, unite. We must not let the word get out. I suggest an example of what we must, absolutely must not do. Don't even think anything like this. Imagine the horror if one told anyone- or-worse yet- this information got into the hands of those infernal bloggers at spleenville, or those green football lizard-people. With these infernal blogs some pundit might note it, and instantly- all kinds of riffraff would know and maybe even start to clap one hand. Iraqis against terrorism? But, but, but then what will we do!

Well, it is "about damn time" isn't it?

1. Do something- the day is 24 hours long. You could:
a- at least go there and read what an Iraqi has to say and tell someone else
b- tell at least three other people
c- write a letter to a local paper
d- The internet. Think "blogs". Keep thinking.
e- think of something else to do, and do it.

Rev. Churchmouse

Posted by: Rev. Churchmouse at November 26, 2003 at 07:37 AM

best simpsons reference ever?

Posted by: carl at November 26, 2003 at 07:53 AM

It was filed after only about 8% of weapons storage areas had been searched.

Now Tim, thinking about this for a second, do you think that the 8% that were searched were just randomly chosen, or might it be that they went straight to the sites that their intelligence most strongly indicated were WMD sites.

So, their best "intelligence" has already been proven wrong ... what chance do you really think there is that there was a viable WMD program up and running?

Hans Blix was right.

Posted by: Mork at November 26, 2003 at 08:27 AM

When did Hans Blix say there where no WMD programs?

Posted by: Gary at November 26, 2003 at 08:38 AM

Mork and co:

Okay, let's say you're right. There WERE no WMD at the time of the recent Iraq War (May or so of this year).

Do you agree that, as of '90-'91, that Iraq DID have WMD?

If the answer is yes, the question arises: What happened to them?

Posted by: Dean at November 26, 2003 at 08:51 AM

Dean - depends what you're talking about.

It seems pretty clear that what the UN inspection team concluded about the shutting-down of the nuclear weapons program in the mid-1990s was correct, and that the defectors who claimed that it had been restarted were lying.

As for chemical weapons, who knows? They may have been destroyed as the Iraqi regime claimed. They may have been used at a much higher rate than disclosed in the Iran-Iraq war, so there were always much less than it seemed. They may not actually have retained chemical weapons capability after UN inspections started, and either deliberately maintained the fiction as a deterrent, or accidentally maintained the fiction as a result of subordinates lying to Saddam about the extent of the arsenal.

But what's for sure is that they ain't there now, and weren't there when the administration used them as a pretext for war.

Posted by: Mork at November 26, 2003 at 09:01 AM

So, one can reach this conclusion NOW, after we've fought the war and gone in.

But BEFORE the war? As you note for bio and chem weapons, even now, we don't actually KNOW what happened to them, do we? Saddam got rid of them, he used them all up, etc. The key is we don't know.

And this is after we've conquered the country. Remind me again how it is that we would KNOW that he didn't have them beforehand?

Posted by: Dean at November 26, 2003 at 09:31 AM

Dean - I thought they existed too, but then I believed that the administration had the reliable intelligence that it claimed to have. Fool me once ...

I think the answer to your question, though, really comes in two related parts.

Firstly, the U.S. intelligence process was distorted and politicised to the point that the information that the Administration was relying on was simply shoddy. If you're interested in this aspect, I recommend this New Yorker article:

and this TNR article:

It's not that the administration necessarily lied about what they believed was there, but they created a process that was only ever going to give them the answer they were looking for, and shield them from any information that might cast doubt.

Then the question is: why? I think the answer is that the Administration decided to go into Iraq very shortly after September 11 for reasons entirely unrelated to either WMD or any links with Al Qaeda - as you know, many of the most important administration security officials: Wolfowitz, Perle, Cheney, etc. had advocated toppling Saddam well before September 11.

In that sense, WMD was only ever a pretext - the administration cared whether they were there only to the extent that it was politically necessary that there be a threat.

Posted by: Mork at November 26, 2003 at 09:47 AM

So, given the steadfast opposition of the Germans, French, and Russians, why didn't THEY raise the red flag?

I've read the articles you cited, and heard their gist elsewhere.

First, if you think this is new news, you're sadly mistaken. A fundamental reality of intelligence, if only b/c of its murkiness, is that it is distorted, from w/in and w/o the intel community.

And that includes working on the assumption of what the "right" answer is. If Iraq didn't admit it had gotten rid of its WMD, and acted like it had something to hide, it would be quite extraordinary for an intel professional at any level to argue, much less put their career on the line, that, no, they've actually given them up. ESPECIALLY with no evidence to that effect.

Second, more importantly, to assume that it was simply a political pretext misses the point that EVERYONE thought that the Iraqis still had their WMD. It is far more accurate (and honest, frankly) to have argued that one could deter them from using WMD, than to argue that somehow we knew or were supposed to know that they didn't have them.

Posted by: Dean at November 26, 2003 at 09:57 AM

Gosh Mork, why lay all the blame at the administration/coalition. Was there any intelligence agent/UN inspectors saying pre-GW2 that Saddam was free of WMD? Do you think Saddam was was going to play nice if restrictions/no fly zone was lifted?.

Posted by: Gary at November 26, 2003 at 10:05 AM

Dean, everyone thought that Iraq had WMD in large part because they were fed U.S. intelligence, in particular the testimony of the defectors who turned out to be little more than agents provocoteurs.

As for the rest of your post, sure, intelligence is rarely straightforward. But we're not talking about deciding what to write in a report here. We're talking about the basis for an invasion of a country. Don't you think the bar should be set a little higher than you're setting it?

And as for missing the point about WMD being a pretext, no, that is entirely the point: the Administration NEVER seriously believed that there was a direct threat to the U.S. from Iraq. Even if their intelligence had been correct, that was NOT the reason for the invasion.

Posted by: Mork at November 26, 2003 at 10:15 AM

Do you think that your criticism of the "but" argument here is a bit misguided?

The Woolcott paragraph, when read in context, alleges that the benefits of the Iraq invasion have become, post facto, the justification for that invasion, irrespective of the pre-war justification.

It's very different to the "but" argument in your comment that attempts to contrast positives in Iraq with negatives in Iraq.

Posted by: Jethro at November 26, 2003 at 10:18 AM

Gary - the UN inspection team found no evidence of WMD. Of course, at the time the U.S. pulled the plug, it had not conclusively disproved their existence, either, but that is hardly a task that one would have expected to be accomplished in the time frame.

And who was arguing for lifting the sanctions/no fly zone?

Dean - sorry about the excess italians in the first para - only "everyone" was supposed to be italicised.

Posted by: Mork at November 26, 2003 at 10:19 AM

"And who was arguing for lifting the sanctions/no fly zone?"

Starting from 98: France,Russia and a lot of the organizations that ran the 'peace demonstration's.

What time frame would soot you 12/20 years?

Posted by: Gary at November 26, 2003 at 10:30 AM

Tim, only the SMH takes Woolcott seriously. He's just another ex-diplomat, bitter and twisted because under the Howard Government, he can't get his snout in the public trough.

Like Ian Haig, these former ambassadors have an inflated sense of their own importance, and expect governments to hang on their every word, consult them regularly and appoint them to some well-rewarded public positions.

Dick Woolcott was responsible for carrying out the Labor Party's policy of cosy relations with Suharto, ignoring all the corruption and Suharto's treatment of the East Timorese, the Achenese and the West Papuans. He has no credibility at all.

Posted by: Freddyboy at November 26, 2003 at 11:37 AM

No WMDs => not much.

However, given that the WMDs WAS the pretext for going to war, their absence would require some scrutiny of the whole exercise. For example, how reliable were the intelligence reports that there were WMDs? Is there any evidence that they have been moved elsewhere? And so on.

Posted by: Joe at November 26, 2003 at 12:20 PM

Dick Woolcott was also ambassador to Indonesia when the Indons invaded East Timor . . . which means, he'd be the guy who told Soeharto that the Australian government wouldn't raise too much of a stink, so go right on ahead and "stabilise" East Timor.

That prick has blood on his hands.

Posted by: steve at November 26, 2003 at 01:19 PM


Are you seriously suggesting that France, Russia, Germany, and China, states with large, well-known intelligence organizations, were utterly reliant on the United States for intel???

Please, that is insulting to the intelligence of anyone who is at all familiar w/ the world of intel, including yourself.

Are you seriously suggesting that there was no separate defections, EVERY ONE came to the US? That there was NOT ONE IOTA of contrary evidence raised by the Deuxieme Bureau, or the FIS as to these defectors? Their very word was considered gospel?

As for setting the bar higher, as I've said elsewhere (and probably here), there's a Type I versus Type II error at stake. Arguably, 9-11 was a Type I error---you had info, but you didn't act. Ditto for Bali, and the recent Turkish bombings. Type II is Iraq---you had info, but you DID act.

Intelligence is essentially a choice between Type I and Type II errors. Both are lethal. Pick yer pizen.

Posted by: Dean at November 26, 2003 at 03:13 PM

Dean - I'm not sure I disagree with anything you say there, except that I do think that other intelligence services probably did rely to a large extent on the same group of defectors.

I think where I part company with you is that you apparently still believe that the principal motivation for the administration's decision to invade Iraq was because they thought that Iraq threatened the United States.

I now believe that that perception, while not necessarily dishonest, was the result of wishful thinking - wishful because they really wanted to do it for reasons that they could not enunciate to the American public (can you imagine if the administration had tried to sell the war in the first place using the justification it uses today: hey America, we're going to spend 200 billion dollars of your money and cost us a thousand American lives just because Saddam is a tyrant and we don't like tyrants - are you with us?)

Were these folks not desperate for a pretext, there is no way that any one of them would have come to believe or state publicly that Iraq was a threat justifying invasion in March.

Posted by: Mork at November 26, 2003 at 10:23 PM

Saddam Hussein was so greedy that he started two wars with other couontries to steal their oil wealth. The sanctions cost him well over $100 billion over the 12 years from 1991 to 2003. To get them lifted and have that money rolling in he needed only to demonstrate he had destroyed his stocks of Chemical and Bio weapons, stopped his development programs in these and in nuclear weapons, and show that he had done that. Instead he gave up that enormoous amount of money and risked the US overthrowing him by failing to demonstrate those programs were destroyed, as required.

It defies belief that Saddam did not have such programs (and stockpiles) but intentionally gave the impression he did, at such great cost to himself. We are being asked to believe that Saddam destroyed the weapons and programs but never bothered to reap the rewards of doing so, in the form of lifting the sanctions and increasing the oil money flowing to him. Sorry, that is not plausible, not with a greedy pig like Saddam.

The WMD issue was only one of the many reasons for taking Saddam down. But if you are still fixated on that one consider this. We have prevented Saddam from becoming a Middle Eastern Kim Jong Il with oil money behind him.

Time to realize there is strategy behind the Iraq Campaign, and that it is a step in the War on the Islamofascist Terrorists. Reform of Iraq begins the task of draining the swamp of tyranny that is the "root cause" of the terrorism that attacked us. The dysfunctional political culture of the Arab world gives rise to the desperate attampt to reverse long-term failure by violence of the most squalid and vicious sort.

Posted by: Michael Lonie at November 27, 2003 at 12:41 PM