Only dopes get duped

Those who claim that they were duped over Gulf War II are only fooling themselves.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics World

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‘Are we feeling duped yet?’ asked an American website on 26 June, in an article about the failure to find the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that Bush and Blair told us posed a ‘mortal threat’ to the free world (1). The answer seems to be a resounding ‘yes’.

On both sides of the Atlantic, opposition politicians, commentators, anti-war activists and even military men claim to have been conned, misled or downright duped by Bush and Blair’s pre-war claims.

There is something distinctly disingenuous in all this dupe-talk. Weapons and intelligence experts were picking holes in Britain and America’s evidence long before the war kicked off. In the USA, there were newspaper headlines like ‘Evidence on Iraq challenged’ and ‘Doubts over administration’s case’ as far back as September 2002 (2). Britain’s main dossier of evidence was ridiculed six weeks before the war started, for having been plagiarised from a student’s 12-year-old PhD thesis (3). Who could possibly be duped by such dopey claims?

The current evidence spat exposes the moral cowardice on both sides of the war non-debate. Behind the squabble over who said what, when and why – and whether we were told half-truths or full-on untruths, knowingly or unknowingly – both the pro- and anti-war lobbies are abdicating responsibility for what happened in Iraq. Today’s all-out focus on the evidence is less a political debate about the Iraqi war, than a seriously shameless exercise in blame-shifting.

Take Jane Harman, a Democrat Congresswomen from Los Angeles who sits on the USA’s House Intelligence Committee. Harman has kicked up a stink in the USA by alleging that the Bush administration’s claims about Iraq’s WMD were ‘based on circumstantial evidence rather than hard facts’, and that she and other right-thinking Democrats might have acted differently over Iraq if they had known the whole truth (4).

What a crock. This is a woman who over the past year has sat on the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security and now the House Intelligence Committee on Iraq. She had access to the bulk of the evidence on Iraq, in all its questionable glory. And she, like many of her fellow Democrats, voted for Bush’s war resolution in October 2002. If Harman was duped, it can only be because she wanted to be.

Or consider Clare Short. Blair’s former secretary of state for international development says she and the rest of Britain were ‘duped all along’ by Britain’s dodgy evidence. Yet Short voted against an anti-war amendment (in other words, for war) in the Iraq debate in parliament on 26 February 2003 – two weeks after the press had labelled Britain’s evidence as the ‘dodgy dossier’, and three weeks after the BBC reported that it had received an intelligence file marked ‘Top Secret’, which rubbished some of the Blair government’s claims about Iraq (5).

Opposition politicians’ retrospective focus on the evidence – apparently so powerful that it duped them into ditching their principles and supporting the war – is a cover for their own cowardice over Iraq. As postwar Iraq spins further out of control, many of the coalition’s anti-war critics are attempting to wash their hands of responsibility for failing effectively to challenge the war, by pinning the blame on evidence that has long been laughable.

In truth, if opposition politicians were so easily duped, it is because they always took a tactical approach to the question of invading Iraq, rather than a principled one. The coalition’s critics are in no way opposed to the West’s right to sit in judgement on Iraq and to decide what should happen there – they would simply have preferred that Iraq had been invaded with the blessing of the United Nations and by a truly international force, rather than by Bush and his British sidekicks. It was the anti-war politicians’ own absence of principle that allowed them to be swayed by such unconvincing evidence.

Maybe Harman, Short and the rest should bear in mind one of the meanings of the word ‘dupe’: ‘a person who functions as the tool of another person or power.’ Or perhaps they should consider American historian Carl Becker’s wise words: ‘One of the first duties of man is not to be duped, to be aware of his world….’ (6)

It isn’t only the critics who are hiding behind the evidence. Some now suggest that maybe even Bush and Blair might have been led astray by dodgy intelligence. ‘The big question now’, says one recent report, ‘is was Bush duped himself, or did he dupe the people into believing war was necessary?’ (7) During the war, three senior Bush administration officials told the press that ‘President Bush’s aides did not forcefully present him with dissenting views from CIA and State and Defense Department officials’ over the truth of the situation in Iraq (8). So maybe Bush himself was hoodwinked into a misguided war.

In the UK, the Independent says that one of the ‘most important questions’ in the Alastair Campbell scandal – where Blair’s chief spindoctor has been accused by the BBC of ‘sexing up’ the dodgy dossier – is whether Blair knew or not. ‘Did Blair knowingly or unknowingly mislead parliament?’, ask the newspapers (9). How long before someone claims that Bush and Blair were as much the victims of the Big Bad Evidence as their anti-war critics (and the poor people of Iraq) were?

Did British and American leaders tell out-and-out lies over Iraq, as some of their critics claim, or were they also dupes? Probably neither. For Bush and Blair, the ancient Greek orator Demosthenes’ description of a dupe is probably most fitting: ‘A man is his own easiest dupe – for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true.’ Rather than setting out to lie, concoct and cynically lead us all astray, Bush, Blair and their war organisers most likely saw what they wanted to see in the intelligence over Iraq, as a justification for intervening.

This is a shameful spectacle. The ‘debate’ over Iraq has been reduced to an evidence-based affair, where the only question is over which facts are true, which aren’t, and who made up what. This is politics with the politics taken out – where principle and judgement have been replaced by technical squabbles, and where no one is prepared to take responsibility for what is going on in Iraq.

Only dopes get duped. And only cowards blame others for making them make bad political judgements.

Read on:

(1) Are we feeling duped yet?, Sheldon Richman, The Future of Freedom Foundation, 27 June 2003

(2) See Blair’s dodgy dossier, by Brendan O’Neill

(3) British minister defends assessment of risks from Hussein, Warren Hoge, New York Times, 27 June 2003

(4) See Hiding behind the weapons, by Brendan O’Neill

(5) Leaked report rejects Iraqi al-Qaeda link, BBC News, 5 February 2003

(6) See Memory and nostalgia, American Studies Department, University of Virginia

(7) Why America is waking up to the truth about WMD, Marion McKeone, Sunday Herald, 8 June 2003

(8) Bush reportedly shielded from dire forecast, Warren P Strobel, Charlotte Observer, 29 March 2003

(9) See Dodgy dispute, by Brendan O’Neill

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Topics World


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