Weapons of mass distraction.

Verehrtes Publikum, jetzt kein Verdruß;
Wir wissen wohl, das ist kein rechter Schluß.
Vorschwebte uns: die goldene Legende.
Unter der Hand nahm sie ein bitteres Ende.

Wir stehen selbst enttäuscht und sehn betroffen

Den Vorhang zu und alle Fragen offen.

Thus ends Bertolt Brecht’s “Der gute Mensch von Sezuan” (Engl. “The Good Woman of Setzuan”). It’s always hard to translate poetry, but as I haven’t found any English translation on the web, I’ll have to do it myself. Brecht’s words roughly translate as follows –

Gentle audience, don’t be appalled
We know as well, the end is stalled
Imagine we did the golden legend.
When in truth there was a bitter end.
Ourselves, dismayed we stand, concerned in vain,
the curtain’s drawn, all questions remain.”

I can’t think of a more fitting way to begin an entry about the WMD-related post-Iraq war hangover the US and British governments have to deal with these days.

Yesterday, Thomas Friedman tried to summarize this debate – “the war over the war” – in the NY Times. He explained that there were strategic and other – possibly also humanitarian – reasons to oust Saddam Hussein, but those in charge did not want to make that case in public, because they very likely would have lost it. Just remember Donald Rumsfeld’s performance during Joschka Fischer’s speech at the Munich security conference in February. So they settled for a WMD based strategy of exaggeration (to avoid the nasty L-word for the moment).

But the story doesn’t end here in my opinion. If you think about it, all comes once again down to the question of “inability of willful wreckage” by the current US administration. By now safely assuming that there weren’t too many imminently threatening WMDs in Iraq, one can’t avoid wondering how this argument can have led to a war. I see two fundamental possibilities.

First, intelligence was bad. They really did not know what Iraq had but decided that changing the geo-strategic map of the middle east was worth using this argument to go to war despite the possible embarrassment of not finding WMDs in the aftermath.

Second, intelligence was good enough so they knew Iraq did not have the propagated amount of WMDs but decided that changing the geo-strategic map of the middle east was worth using this argument to go to war despite the embarrassment of not finding WMDs in the aftermath.

The second scenario, of course, begs the question of why the American government and their British allies went through all the diplomatic haggling earlier this year lying straight to the world’s face – knowing they wouldn’t find anything presentable once they chased Saddam out of his palace – why stop lying now? Why not plant some buckets of poison in the desert. Does it take longer? Are they still digging right now? Or would that be too complicated, would too many people find out? I am not a weapons inspector, so I don’t know, but – I have doubts. If some villain dictator from Baghdad is supposed to be able to buy dangerous stuff from rogue laboratories all over the world, one would assume the CIA can do the same. And if exaggerating/lying about the reasons for war was a strategic necessity, why not going “all the way” to placate a world who wants to see the American hand.

The reason for this is also the answer to the first scenario and in my understanding the same that led to the American intervention in first place: The American administration does not care about the world or even Americans demanding to see its hand because it has accomplished its mission and successfully established large-scale American presence in the Middle East. The Weapons of Mass Destruction worked largely the way they were supposed to – as Weapons of Mass Distraction from the real causes for the war (and, no, it’s not just Iraqi oil).

At the moment I can’t see important electoral consequences for the current administration. In fact they’re already planning their second term without even a facade of international cooperation – according to the Washington Post Colin Powell and Richard Armitage are going to leave the State Department.

Of course, the WMD-story is not finished yet, and not unlikely, some heads will roll. But not the important ones – remember when Michael J. Fox’ character in “The American President” says that he would not participate in anything illegal because it’s always the guy in his position who goes to jail for 18 months? I wonder if that is a dialogue people in such positions are remembering these days.

And I wonder if people in Washington believe Tony Blair belongs in that category ;-).