Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Those aluminium tubes
After struggling in last Thursday's debate, the Bush administration was on the back foot again after reports pronouncing the only solid evidence used by the administration to 'prove' Saddam was developing WMD's, as incorrect.

In the lead up to the Iraq war, Bush's attack dogs, Condolleeza Rice and Dick Cheney, were doing the talk show rounds confirming that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons on the basis of the discovery of a sale of high-strength aluminium tubes to Iraq. Rice stated that the tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," and that "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." Vice President Cheney went even further, saying "he knew 'for sure' and 'in fact' and 'with absolute certainty'" that Hussein was buying the equipment to build a weapon. Cheney claimed: "He [Saddam] has reconstituted his nuclear program". Rice also claimed in July 2003 that "the consensus view" in the intelligence community was that the tubes "were suitable for use in centrifuges to spin material for nuclear weapons."

This assertion has been steadily eroded by the reports from the Senate Intelligence Committee, UN experts and the 9/11 commission, and in a lengthy story in Sunday's NY Times. The NY Times reports that:

"Even though Iraq had a history of using the same tubes to make small rockets, the president and his closest advisers told the American people that the overwhelming consensus of government experts was that these new tubes were to be used to make nuclear bomb fuel.

The tubes-for-bombs theory was the creation of a low-level C.I.A. analyst who got his facts, even the size of the tubes, wrong. It was refuted within 24 hours by the Energy Department, which issued three papers debunking the idea over a four-month period in 2001, and by the International Atomic Energy Agency. A week before Mr. Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, in which he warned of an Iraqi nuclear menace, international experts in Vienna had dismissed the C.I.A.'s theory about the tubes. The day before, the International Atomic Energy Agency said there was no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program and rejected the tubes' tale entirely."

It also stated that the tubes were the wrong size, "too narrow, too heavy, too long" for a centrifuge. They had a special coating to protect them from the weather, which was "not consistent" with use in a centrifuge, as it could cause bad reactions with uranium. They were ill-suited for bomb making.

The story got a lot of publicity, and to exacerbate matters even further, Donald Rumsfeld was quoted yesterday, after being asked about the links between Hussein and Bin Laden, which was again a construct of support for the war, as saying that "To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two".

In response to the latest reporting on the aluminium tubes, Rice hit the talk shows on Sunday evening. Appearing on ABC News This Week, she turned on her previously rock-solid assertions admitted she in fact knew at the time that intelligence analysts were locked in intense debate over the issue. "I knew that there was a dispute. I actually didn't really know the nature of the dispute."

Bush also came out firing yesterday, denouncing Kerry's policies as "dangerous for world peace". Once again, this illustrates the Bush team's skills in controlling the news cycle, as most papers carried this sensationalist claim by Bush as their leader story, with secondary reporting on the tubes thus limiting the damage done through publicity. As I've discussed before, the Bush team is incredibly adept at forcing the Kerry campaign to respond to his press claims, thus forcing his choice of campaign issues to the fore. It is a communication strategy that has proved to be highly successful in the run-up to the elections.

The tubes were one of the final vestiges of support that the Bush administration has been clinging to in its stubborn justification for its war on Iraq, and there can be very few sane minds that refute that it was a hawkish action of political, rather than global security, significance. Saddam Hussein was a repressive, brutal tyrant, and the world is a better place for having him gone, but the political timing of this unilateral war, as well as the acute impact that the war has had on international relations, and particularly on Muslim extremism, was not worth the cost.

This is just one of a myriad of sub-themes that is at play in this election, and I have no doubt that the Republican army will be able to drown it out under a plethora of attacks on Kerry. The Democrats have been consistently exposed as being weak in taking advantage of these news cycles, and I suggest that this case will be no different. If you polled US voters this week regarding their thoughts on the justification of the Iraq war and compared it to polls conducted last week, I would venture to say they would remain largely unchanged...