Fending off the Threat of Peace

by Norman Solomon

August 10, 2002



To fend off the threat of peace, determination is necessary. Elected officials and high-level appointees must work effectively with reporters and pundits.


This is no time for the U.S. government to risk taking "yes" for an answer from Iraq. Guarding against the danger of peace, the Bush administration has moved the goal posts, quickly pounding them into the ground.


In early August, a State Department undersecretary swung a heavy mallet. "Let there be no mistake," said John Bolton. "While we also insist on the reintroduction of the weapons inspectors, our policy at the same time insists on regime change in Baghdad and that policy will not be altered, whether inspectors go in or not."


A sinister cloud briefly fell over the sunny skies for war. The U.S. Congress got a public invitation. A letter from a top Iraqi official "said congressional visitors and weapons experts of their choice could visit any site in Iraq alleged to be used for development of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons," USA Today reported.


Summing up the diplomatic overture, the front page of the New York Times informed readers that the letter "was apparently trying to pit legislators against the Bush administration" (a pithy phrase helping to quash a dastardly peace initiative). Later on, the article noted that "the letter said members of Congress could bring all the arms experts they wanted and should plan to stay three weeks."


There may have been a moment of panic in Washington. On the face of it, the Aug. 5 invitation was unequivocally stating that members of the Senate and House -- plus some of the best and most experienced weapons inspectors in the world -- could go to Iraq and engage in a thorough inspection process. That's similar to what the White House has been demanding of Iraq for many years.


The news had ominous potential. It could derail the war train gaining so much momentum this summer. But U.S. media coverage matched the bipartisan refusal by leaders in Congress to do anything but scorn the offer.


Even before describing the invitation from Iraq's government, the first words of the USA Today news story on Aug. 6 called it "the latest Iraqi bid to complicate U.S. invasion plans." That's some reporting! When our most powerful politicians are hell-bent on starting a war, complete with human misery and death of unfathomable proportions, then the last thing they want is complications before the bloodshed gets underway.


Why should anyone in Washington try to defuse this crisis when we have such a clear opportunity to light such an enormous fuse in the Middle East?


Oh sure, here at home, there are always some people eager to unleash the dogs of peace. Not content to pray, they actually believe: Blessed be the peacemakers. They don't defer to the machinery of war that grinds human beings as if they were mere sausage. They don't make peace with how determined the Executive Branch must be -- and how sheepish and even cowardly the members of Congress must be -- so that the bombs can fall in all their glory.


One of the people who's trying to impede the war drive is Scott Ritter, a former chief weapons inspector for the U.N. in Iraq. "To date," Ritter says, "the Bush administration has been unable -- or unwilling -- to back up its rhetoric concerning the Iraqi threat with any substantive facts."


In Britain, the press is failing to welcome the next war. On Aug. 4 in the Observer, foreign affairs editor Peter Beaumont wrote: "The question now appears to be not whether there will be a war, but when. The answer is that in war, as other matters, timing is all. For President George W. Bush that timing will be dictated by the demands of a domestic political agenda."


A news story in the July 30 edition of the Financial Times began this way: "Rolf Ekeus, head of United Nations weapons inspections in Iraq from 1991-97, has accused the U.S. and other Security Council members of manipulating the U.N. inspections teams for their own political ends. The revelation by one of the most respected Swedish diplomats is certain to strengthen Iraq's argument against allowing U.N. inspectors back into the country."


Such reporting, if widely pursued on this side of the Atlantic, could seriously undermine the war planners. But don't worry. The threat of peace is up against good ol' professional news judgment here in the USA.



Norman Solomon's latest book is The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media.

His syndicated column focuses on media and politics. Email: mediabeat@igc.org