Confronting the Theocracy of Evil
In early November, 2003, I found myself engaged in a series of meetings with members of the British Parliament on the issue of Iraqi WMD.
"I, of course, was against the war," opined Michael Meacher, a Labor MP and former environmental minister who resigned his position in protest of Prime Minister Blair's Iraq policy. "While I view Saddam as a menace, Blair simply had not made a case sufficient to support military action."
Meacher had gained an unlikely ally in fellow Labor MP Andrew Mackinlay, a leading member of the Select Committee of Foreign Affairs who had voted in favor of the war, but had recently come to question that decision. "We need to know the truth about Iraq's WMD," he told me. "We haven't gotten to the bottom of this one yet."
Others were less skeptical. The Chair of the Select Committee on Defense, Bruce George, listened patiently as I took apart Tony Blair's case for Iraq's retention of WMD, piece by piece, in the back of the Member's cafeteria. When I finished, George shrugged his shoulders. "I still believe that this war was justified over the issue of WMD," he said, "if for no other reason than Saddam's ongoing intent to acquire them in the face of UN inspections."
"Intent?" I asked, incredulously. "What intent? No one has made a case that Saddam was attempting to either hold on the hidden WMD, or reacquire new capabilities."
George was taken aback by my words. "Certainly you can't be saying you don't believe Saddam wanted WMD?" he asked.
"What I believe and what I know are two different things," I replied. "Our two nations went to war because our respective leaders said they knew Iraq possessed WMD, that they knew Saddam intended to acquire WMD. It has turned out that there has been no WMD found in Iraq, and no hard evidence to sustain any ongoing acquisition of WMD by Saddam."
"Yes, we know that," George repeated. "But we also know that Saddam intended to get these weapons in defiance of the UN, and for that reason he had to be removed."
"How do you know this?" I asked. "On what basis can you back this up?"
"Because," George said, with a smile, "Saddam is evil."
And with that, the discussion ended.
I had come face to face with a phenomenon I have come to describe as the 'theocracy of evil.' Going beyond mere political ideology, the theocracy of evil encompasses a faith-based value system that embraces a simplistic 'good versus evil' opposition. If Saddam is evil, such thinking holds, then evil must be confronted, and such niceties as fact and fact-based logic no longer apply. As such, WMD became simply an enabling issue – something designed to focus the attention of the public while those in charge pursued the broader agenda of confronting evil.
The 'theocracy of evil' establishes a deeply ingrained mindset that may be the reason why the U.S. intelligence community failed to accurately assess Iraq's WMD capabilities; why Congress failed to adequately debate the issue of Iraq before voting to go to war; and why the American public willingly allowed itself to be drawn into a war without demanding more proof to back up the Bush administration's allegations. If Saddam is evil, such thinking holds, then he surely intends to acquire WMD, and as such every bit of data collected regarding Iraq must be assessed with that assumption foremost in mind.
President George W. Bush repeatedly used the bully pulpit of the presidency to preach the 'theocracy of evil', most notably on Jan. 20, 2003, during his State of the Union address. "Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror," the President said. "States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger."
Congressman Steve Chabot, a Republican representing the First District of Ohio, exemplifies the congressional embrace of the 'theocracy of evil.' He defended the war in Iraq as an operation designed "to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction, root out terrorists, topple Saddam Hussein's evil dictatorship and liberate the oppressed citizens of Iraq." The congressional debate over Iraq in the lead-up to the war focused on WMD and Saddam's purported links with al Qaeda. It resulted in Congress abrogating their constitutional powers by transferring war powers authority to the president before Mr. Bush had formally decided on war with Iraq.
But how does Representative Chabot, who ironically serves as the Chairman of the House Committee on the Constitution, feel today about the decision to go to war, now that no WMD have been found, and no links between Saddam and Al Qaeda have been uncovered. Is toppling Saddam's 'evil regime' and the 'liberation' of Iraq worth the cost in human lives and the damage done to constitutional processes?
Even worse is the passivity of those in Congress responsible for effective oversight of the massive failure of intelligence regarding Iraq, WMD and purported links with al Qaeda. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, a Republican, and Senator John Rockefeller of West Virginia, a Democrat, have been embroiled in partisan politics, which has paralyzed the committee's ongoing investigation into intelligence assessments of Iraqi WMD capabilities. Efforts to get these two senators to talk on the record about the investigation have been futile.
But a senior staff member of the Select Intelligence Committee has says that it is unlikely that the committee will render any definitive judgment until after the Iraqi Survey Group submits its final report.
Given the recent resignation of David Kay from his position on the ISG, and the diversion of many of the ISG's resources away from the search for WMD and into the counterinsurgency effort, such a report is unlikely to be submitted any time soon. Some estimate that such a report, if written at all, won't come out until the fall, after the presidential election. In fear of being seen as "partisan," no one on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee would comment on the record regarding such a turn of events.
The truth about what the U.S. intelligence community knew about Iraq's missing WMD is truly a Pandora's Box, with any disclosure sure to incite repercussions that would be damaging not only to those who promoted the war with Iraq, but those who supported this effort, helped hype the war in the media, or stood passively by while all of this occurred.
The pervasiveness in America today of the 'theocracy of evil' has led to a widespread 'ends justify the means' mentality that may prove fatal to a democratic institution founded on the principle of the rule of law. Andrew Mackinlay has made it clear that as far as he is concerned, democratic principles will trump the 'theocracy of evil' in Great Britain. "Politics be damned," the influential member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs said to me during my stay in London. "If it turns out that the Blair Government lied or misrepresented fact to make its case for war, then the defense of democracy requires nothing less than coming to a full accounting over what transpired, regardless of the consequences. I'm certain my constituents would demand nothing less of me."
Looking at the political landscape in the United States today, I wonder if there are politicians today from either major party who are willing to do the same in defense of American democracy, or constituents with the courage to demand it.
Scott Ritter was the UN Chief Inspector in Iraq from 1991-1998. He is the author of 'Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America" (Context Books, 2003)