The Bush administration over the weekend dramatically escalated its PR campaign calling for an attack on Iraq. On Friday, President Bush called the leaders of Russia, China and France and tried, unsuccessfully, to gain their support. The Kremlin spokesperson said Putin expressed serious doubts that there are grounds for the use of force, and the foreign minister said an attack on Iraq could undermine efforts to combat international terrorism. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met the next day and said any military action must have the approval of the United Nations. Schroeder went further, rejecting any attack on Iraq, even if the US has UN backing. And a senior member of Schroeder’s governing Social Democrats accused President Bush of behaving like a Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. White House officials said not to take the French and Russian public statements too literally.
On Saturday morning, President Bush met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. They claim there’s ample evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Blair said, quote, “We only need to look at the report from the International Atomic [Energy] Agency this morning, showing what has been going on at [a] former nuclear weapons site.” But, by the evening, the existence of a new report with satellite photos showing Iraqi nuclear construction was being denied by officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the National Security Council and the White House. Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said the agency has been reviewing the commercial satellite photos in question for more than two years and that there’s no new evidence of Iraqi nuclear activity. He said, quote, “[Bush and Blair] are going off of a New York Times article [on Friday] that really didn’t get it right…In fact, we issued a press release last night saying there’s no new information about any Iraqi nuclear activity, and until we get inspectors on the ground we can’t draw any conclusion.”
On Sunday, President Bush deployed five members of his war cabinet to the talk shows, where they adopted nearly identical language. In a new united front, they suggested Bush would accept a last-chance effort by the United Nations to deploy weapons inspectors in Iraq, but that Bush is still committed to a timetable so rapid he may ask Congress to authorize military force within weeks.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting White House officials are following a meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress and the allies of the need to attack Iraq. The officials are claiming the rollout of the strategy this week was not hastily concocted after some prominent Republicans began to raise doubts. The White House Chief of Staff, who’s coordinating the effort, Andrew Card, said, quote, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”
White House officials say a centerpiece of the strategy is to use Bush’s speech on September 11th to bolster support for an attack. Chief White House political adviser Karl Rove said, quote, “Everybody felt that was a moment that Americans want to hear from him, to seize the moment to make clear what lies ahead.” Toward that end, the White House picked Ellis Island in New York Harbor for Bush’s September 11th speech. The television camera angles were most spectacular there, where the Statue of Liberty will be seen glowing behind Bush. His September 11th remarks are to serve as the emotional precursor for a tougher speech at the United Nations General Assembly the following day. The White House has dispatched envoys to Moscow, Beijing and Paris for follow-up discussions to the UN speech.
The Scottish Sunday Herald is reporting the US and Britain sold Saddam Hussein the technology and materials Iraq needed to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. US Senate reports reveal that the US, under Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr., sold materials to Iraq, including anthrax, VX nerve gas, West Nile fever germs, botulism, and other germs until March 1992, after the Gulf War.
And former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter addressed the Iraqi National Assembly in Baghdad on Sunday. He said the US seems to be on the verge of making a historical mistake. He said Iraq is not a sponsor of the kind of terror perpetrated against the United States on September 11th and, in fact, is active in suppressing that sort of fundamental extremism. Ritter also said Iraq has been certified as being 90 to 95 percent disarmed and warned that if the US unilaterally launches any military action against Iraq, it will, quote, “forever change the political dynamic which has governed the world since the end of the Second World War, namely the foundation of international law as set forth in the United Nations Charter, which calls for the peaceful resolution of problems between nations.” Again, those the words of UN chief weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who is in Iraq.
In news from eastern Afghanistan, at least fifteen soldiers and civilians died and more than fifty were wounded in a battle between government forces and supporters of the warlord Pacha Khan Zadran yesterday. The battle started when a local radio station in Khost announced Zadran had been arrested by US forces.
And it’s emerged that an eighteen-year-old market vendor saved Afghan President Hamid Karzai from assassination last week. When a man dressed as an Afghan army guard began shooting at Karzai, Azimullah Muhammad jumped on the guard. US Special Forces then apparently shot them both dead. The governor of Kandahar was injured in the attack. His spokesperson said that if Azimullah Muhammad had not been there, the soldier would have easily assassinated Karzai. It had been widely reported in the Western media that US Special Forces saved the Afghan president.
Newsweek magazine is reporting one of the FBI’s informants actually lived with two of the September 11th hijackers. The connection has just been discovered by congressional investigators and has stunned some top counterterrorism officials and raised new concerns about information sharing among law enforcement and intelligence agencies. FBI Director Robert Mueller initially insisted there was nothing the bureau could have done to penetrate the 9/11 plot.