Accountability Moment


US Deputy Secretary of Defence and leading Neo-con Paul D. Wolfowitz has no need to resign in the face of Abu Ghraib, “the army we have” and so on and on, because as President Bush said, “we had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections”. Nor is he as forthcoming with admitting mistakes as Secretary of State-designate Condi Rice (not that she was overly forthcoming.) Michael Carden drew our attention in comments to a recent PBS interview with Wolfowitz. Reading the transcript, what amazed me was that Wolfowitz insinuated that there might still be WMDs found in Iraq:

I think if I may say so, I think some of the critics now are a bit too definitive about what we’ve learned. They say there are no stockpiles found. Well, at least so far that’s true… Let me finish, okay? So far, that’s true, but does that mean no WMD?

Astonishing. I guess that’s another Straussian noble lie.

ELSEWHERE: The report to the Director of Central Intelligence is available online if any intrepid Troppo readers want to compare the document with Wolfowitz’ remarks.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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47 Responses to Accountability Moment

  1. Peter Kemp says:

    Yeah Wolfie, zero, zip, zilch WMD.

    I think what Wolfie’s on about is informing the red state voters by slow increments. When the US withdraws from Iraq Wolfie’s take will be to say the original goal was to try Saddam for ”War Crimes Iraq” ie the media mistook WMD for WCI, a ”bureaucratic” bungle.

    Why tell a small lie when you can get away with an ironical whopper?

  2. Vee says:

    Watching “Contact” last night I heard a few remarks that could accurately describe the Bush Administration:

    “Self re-inforcing delusion”

  3. Michael Carden says:

    What was even scarier about the interview was that at no time did Wolfowitz entertain the notion of the US pulling its troops out of Iraq. He spoke about iraqification of the war i.e. the Iraqis do most of the killing and dying rather than US troops but it was pretty clear to me that he thought the US troops would be staying there a long time as a back up even if such an Iraqification was successfully achieved.

  4. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Dead right, Michael. Given the sensitivities about basing US troops in Saudi Arabia, there are many reasons why keeping them in Iraq might be desirable for the Bushies aside from “spreading freedom”.

    The analogy with Nixon’s strategy is not lost.

  5. ntp says:

    I was thought it interesting when President Bush remarked that the history of this conflict will be written 50 years from now. Presumably, he means that there are certain facets of the conflict, intelligence certainly, but strategy also, which cannot be revealed for some time. You would expect that to be the case, though obviously some people like yourselves believe they have enough information to form a judgement.

    I credit Wolfowitz with being capable of telling outright lies for political purposes, but I find it equally objectionable that his critics who have absolutely no access to the inside story can assert that he is definitely lying.

    Personally, I doubt very much that the true story will provide a black-and-white answer. Given the preponderance of ‘evidence’ that helped form the intelligence assessments of every intelligence agency with an opinion on the matter, it seems likely that while they may have been substantially wrong in their overall assessment of the scale of WMDs, in some specific instances, they may have been right. A single case of fairly easy to manufacture chemical weapons (from pesticides for example) would prove that point. I think you guys are drawing a long bow to say that definitely didn’t happen.

  6. David Tiley says:

    The original Project for a New American Century was to do exactly that, wasn’t it? Militarise Iraq as a supporter of the US in the centre of the Middle East?

    Bit hard though if bad hombres keep “pink misting” your soldiers every time they go off base.

  7. Mark Bahnisch says:

    ntp, that’s not the point. The ground has shifted from “he definitely has WMDs”. Powell asserted at the UN that he was talking about “facts”, Blair told the House of Commons that Britain was in danger. All the evidence suggests that Hussein dismantled the weapons programme in the 90s. There probably was some effort to keep the potential there, but first, it was clear that Hussein was successfully being contained as a “threat” (and there is no evidence that he was facilitating terrorism by non-state actors), and secondly, it was Hussein’s own vanity that kept him from admitting that there were no WMDs.

    A lot of people with a better case for being informed by first hand knowledge than I have destroyed the argument that Hussein had WMDs.

    In addition, Wolfowitz is clearly attempting to create a perception that WMDs may still be found. He must know, if he has any grasp of reality, that this is untrue except in the trite sense that it’s a theoretical possibility. Hence I think he’s lying in a very casuistical fashion, which again is characteristic of Neo-con practice.

  8. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Additionally, ntp, if first hand knowledge was a criterion for entering public debate, we wouldn’t be able to talk about much. Nor can I accept the argument that you can’t make an informed judgement compared to “insiders” who might know something they can’t publicly say. That’s a recipe for blind faith, not democratic accountability. The need to send Powell off to the Security Council demonstrated even the Bushies recognised they couldn’t keep saying “trust us, but we can’t show you the evidence”.

    Wolfowitz himself admits in the interview the intelligence was of doubtful quality in any case.

  9. Peter Kemp says:

    However Mark the ARVN was far more numerous and better equipped than any forces under Allawi’s banner. The result will be the same nevertheless, perhaps more abysmal, as recent history of Iraqi forces melting away when the first shot is fired demonstrates.

    In both cases such troops were doing it for survival ie a job that paid poorly for the risks involved, something US National Guards are finding out. Until and unless a legitimate government is formed Iraqification is a no brainer, but my revised take on this is that so much crap has gone down that full blown civil war is the most likely outcome (similiar to Lebanon for which the US also has no fond memories.)

    Noticeable that Wolfie hasn’t made any return trip to the black hole of Baghdad, the welcome last time being somewhat shattering, a bouquet of red flashes!

  10. TJW says:

    “US Deputy Secretary of Defence and leading Neo-con Paul D. Wolfowitz has no need to resign in the face of Abu Ghraib, “the army we have” and so on and on, because as President Bush said, “we had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections”.”

    The question was: “Why hasn’t anyone been held accountable, either through firings or demotions, for what some people see as mistakes or misjudgments?” (in relation to the presence of WMD and the post-war situation in Iraq). George Bush responded: “we had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 election. And the American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me, for which I’m grateful”.

    I believe he is actually saying that the election was the mechanism by which culpability was determined and that it ‘found’ that none existed. That is quite different to acknowledging that culpability existed, specifically in relation to Paul Wolfowitz, and then claiming that the election absolved him of that acknowledged blame.

    Perhaps I’ve misread your premise. I don’t claim that misconduct did not occur. I also disagree that an election for a President can be regarded as an accountability procedure covering all administration officials (as Mr Bush seems to be suggesting). The impression I got was that you were saying that Mr Bush claimed the election ‘un-did’ a whole series of acknowledged wrongs. I couldn’t see that after reading the quotes.

  11. Homer Paxton says:

    the US electorate that 70% believe Hussein was resonsible for 11/9 could make such a decision is mindblowing

  12. ntp says:

    hmm. Lots of words mark, but explain where he was lying about WMD in this sentence from the transcript:

    “Look, the same report that they say has no stockpiles says that the Iraqi intelligence service was testing biological and chemical agents on live human beings.”

    If you accept this statement to be true (and the authors of this report do indeed have the inside story) then surely it is no great leap to suppose it’s possible that there are other WMD not yet found.

    I don’t see how you or anyone else can say he is definitely lying.

  13. ntp says:

    Why don’t you include that little extra bit of the transcript in an update to the post so that others can decide for themselves whether Wolfie is insinuating something entirely unreasonable?

    Doesn’t fit the narrative you say?

  14. Mark Bahnisch says:

    What sort of biological and chemical agents? Are these the same things as WMDs? Have you read the report, ntp?

    People can, as you have done, read the whole transcript for themselves.

  15. Mark Bahnisch says:

    ntb, I’ve posted a link to the full report to the DCI on WMDs if any readers want to compare it with Wolfowitz’ statements. I stand by my assertion that the claims made in the leadup to the War by Cheney, Powell, Wolfowitz, Bush in the State of the Union and Blair in the House of Commons have been shown to have been false. In addition to the CIA report, a full archive of this matter would have to take in various other reports – for instance from the US Senate, the House of Commons Committee and Lord Butler.

  16. ntp says:

    Chemical and biological agents are weapons of mass destruction by definition in the Geneva conventions. Fairly standard stuff.

    Your failure to quote the next sentence in the transcript which pretty much makes wolfie’s point, is fairly telling I think.

  17. ntp says:

    The key points from the report which would seem to substantiate Wolfie’s statement:

  18. derrida derider says:

    ntp, you must be joking. Absolutely no-one denies that Saddam had chemical weapons in 1990 – it’s whether he had them in 2003 that is at issue. Surely the money quote from the report you linked to is:
    “ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter”

    As for the “secret laboratories” and “experiments on human subjects”, you need to read the body of the report – amazingly enough, the “evidence” turns out to be tales told by exiles. Given these exiles’ record and the lack of material evidence you have to deeply doubt it – especially as it made no sense for Saddam to keep just enough to provide a pretext for war but not enough to be militarily significant. And anyway even the ISG claims this small amount was “primarily for intelligence purposes” (Assassinations? CBW suit and detector testing? What?), rather than military use.

    You have to be capable of enormous doublethink to still be drinking the Kool-Aid here.

  19. Nic White says:

    Gosh. Thats like saying “I cant find my keys in the draw, but I swear they are there. I’ve riped the draw out, removed everything from it, sorted through the objects multiple times, checked the cracks and even stripped it down to matchsticks incase it somehow teleported into the wood – but Im still sure they are there somewhere.”

    Hi, my name’s Paul and Im obsessive compulsive.

  20. Homer Paxton says:

    Actually DD it is even more than that.

    you can have all the WMDs you want but if you do not possess the missiles nor the firing mechanisms then you possess diddly squat.

    Furthermore let us assume Hussein did have them all and fired them at a neighbour.

    They were all either protected by the US, NATO or possessed by far superior conventional missiles as well as defence forces.

    In other words the ‘attack’ would have led to Iraq being decimated.

    Only an idiot of the highest order could have considered Iraq a threat to any country

  21. ntp says:

    Come on boys. No one is trying to convince you to give up your membership to Young Labor or hand in your Bob Brown pins.

    The point here is that Wolfie had some substance to his explanation for his position which was selectively quoted by Mark.

    As to the doubletalk. Well I wonder who is doing that here. Just about any sane human being who reads that report would have to wonder why we waited so long to do something about it. Mr Hussein’s intentions (circa 1990 or not) were made pretty clear in his little quote which is why I felt compelled to add it.

    And Homer, if he was our immediate neighbour, I wonder whether you would be parroting this tune.

  22. Mark Bahnisch says:

    ntd, I think Derrida and Homer have made the point I was going to make.

    With respect, it’s important to see all this in context. The argument made as justification at the time of the War was that Hussein had WMDs which could potentially pose a threat to America – Blair even said something along the lines of he could hit Britain in 45 minutes. This has been shown to be patently untrue.

    I disagree with you that the next paragraph of Wolfie’s remarks materially alters anything. The failure to declare things to the UN was not the real casus belli. If we’re to go along with that, first, it raises the counterargument that the UN Weapons Inspectors should have been given time to do their job. Secondly, the resolution was withdrawn when it became clear that it would not pass. The Secretary-General subsequently stated that the previous resolution could not have provided a legal basis for the war and thus it was illegal in international law.

    Wolfowitz and Cheney argued against even going to the UN. Powell and Blair argued in favour.

    Wolfowitz is being specious in the extreme by raising this point as he has previously admitted in an interview with Vanity Fair that the “UN reason” was arrived at purely for bureaucratic reasons in order to find an argument that could attract consensus between State and Defence.

    So, I believe your comments ignore the context of the claims that Hussein’s regime posed a material threat (which would be necessary even under the doctrine of “pre-emption”) and I don’t see that the reference to the UN makes any difference. If anything, it suggests that Wolfie is telling more than one porkie in this interview.

  23. Mark Bahnisch says:

    ntd, your comment is flattering but at 36 I’m a bit old for Young Labor, I’m afraid.

  24. derrida derider says:

    “And Homer, if he was our immediate neighbour, I wonder whether you would be parroting this tune”

    Umm, but ntb, Mr Saddam’s actual neighbours, much as they ALL deeply loathed him, certainly did not consider him or his putative WMDs a threat. Only Kuwait approved of the US attack – from (understandable) motives of revenge, not fear. Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria all hated the idea – if Saddam was a threat to them, or even a serious potential threat, you’d think at least one of these would have joined in.

    But I dunno why I bother – if you still can’t see how the whole adventure has been driven by mendacity in support of stupidity, then I don’t think you’re amenable to facts or experience.

  25. ntp says:

    DD, sorry, your argument is undermined by the simple fact that they did support the conflict. Have a look where all the forces were based.

    As to whether they felt threatened by Saddam. I can testify that they did, since I spent several years training the military forces of one such country. The program regained a kind of urgency post-1990.

  26. Mark Bahnisch says:

    ntp, Turkey basically refused an offer of billions of US dollars to be a staging post for the invasion, the Saudis were most reluctant to continue to have US forces based on their territory.

  27. ntp says:

    And both were bases for air strikes launched on the first night. Both were no friends of Saddam and were happy to see him go. The Saudis were only schizophrenic about this because they couldn’t control the succession. (Remember their last-minute attempt to get him to go into exile?)

  28. ntp says:

    Not forgetting of course that our own special forces were launched from Jordan, perhaps Saddam’s only ally of sorts.

  29. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Yeah, but to pick one example, the Jordanian regime were very keen for people not to know anything about it. As the Turkish experience demonstrates, it was geopolitics vis a vis the US that accounted for these decisions one way or another. What need would Jordan have had to fear Hussein? Jordan came closest to supporting him during the first Gulf War. The Jordanian regime had to juggle an interest in regional stability and the balance of power, US pressure, public opinion (increasingly a force in the Middle East particularly with the rise of Al-Jazeera) and the structural instability inherent in the spillover of the Israel-Palestine conflict to Jordan.

    It’s all a lot more complex than your suggestion that Iraq’s neighbours were frightened of Saddam. In any event, opposition or hatred of Saddam does not imply any belief that he would use WMDs.

  30. ntp says:

    That’s just public diplomacy Mark. You can choose to believe whatever parts of that you like. I’m sure you can find something to fit your narrative.

    BTW, I forgot to mention the Combined Air Operations Center. It was based in Al Kharj until one month after the war, so in fact the opening salvos of the war were directed from Saudi Arabia. Those guys sure didn’t want a war, did they? I guess they must have forgot about the 200 odd aircraft based there as well. But go ahead, I can’t wait to see you spin that one.

  31. Mark Bahnisch says:

    We might have to agree to disagree, ntp, as I don’t think I’m going to persuade you or vice versa. I’m not trying to spin, or to weave everything into a narrative. I am interested in making sense of facts.

    It’s very clear that the Saudis were not keen on the use of their territory to launch attacks – because, as they correctly perceived, the presence of US bases was the major flashpoint for domestic opposition to their regime and for Al-Qaida’s propaganda. Nevertheless, power politics and a desire to see the US set up shop in Iraq instead swayed the decision.

    It’s also clear that the Saudis had no interest in destabilising Iraq because of the potential consequences of a flow on effect to the Shia minorities in the North of Saudi Arabia.

  32. ntp says:

    Precisely Mark. You’ve got it. The Saudis don’t need to have the Americans around any more because Saddam is gone. I knew you’d get it eventually.

  33. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Whatever, ntp – that’s not what I said. The Saudis have much more to worry about now Saddam’s regime no longer contains Shiite politics and an awful lot to worry about from Al Qaida and others within Saudi Arabia who oppose their alignment with the US.

  34. ntp says:

    Yes, they do have a lot to worry about. They’ve got to have some elections so that the Iraqis do make them look bad, and they can’t oppress their own shia any more. Terrible isn’t it? Those pesky Americans and their plans…

  35. Mark Bahnisch says:

    It’s ironic, ntp, that you suggest that I’m engaging in ‘spin’ whereas you seem to misread everything I say and twist it to fit into your own “narrative”…

  36. Homer Paxton says:

    for WMDs to even halfway threatening you need decent long range missiles. Blix proved Iraq didn’t have any.

    Iraq also needed the best airforce in the area. given the age of its MIgs and the standards of its pilots it would go close to being one of the worst.

    The same goes for the tanks. The Army had never glorified itself.

    Just how was it going to threaten anyone.

    If it was in our neigbourhood then I would say it even louder. given the Anzus alliance if we were attacked then Iraq would have had several mushroom clouds and Hussein never shoed at any time he wanted to die.

  37. Nabakov says:

    I’m just enjoying the speedy footwork of ntp as he/she/it soft-shoe shuffles away from the original point, which was that Wolfie baby had a point.

    But yes, just as Osama demanded, the Yanks pulled out of Saudi – an even bigger retreat than Reagan pulling out of Lebanon after 241 dead marines.

    Say what you like about Ronnie but, unlike certain current Presidents, he really valued American lives and understood realpolitik (OK, at a very macro level).

    Anyway, ntp, I’d love to hear what exactly you think you’re defending and why – in a lift pitch, ie: 50 words in twenty seconds.

  38. ntp says:

    Homer, you’ve tried that one about five times in two different blogs over the last two days. One rebuttal should be enough. I won’t entertain you any further.

    Nads, baby, I just follow where the arguments flow. Kind of reminds me of that scene in caddy shack where the gopher keeps popping his head up in a different hole. I’m quite comfortable that wolfie had a point which he backed up with information from the report. His extra sentence, the one that mark left out, was all that was really needed to make that point. The rest of this thread just deals with with the common leftie meme that somehow Saddam was not a threat. Clearly, his neighbours disagreed.

    As to your undergraduate thoughts on Osama. Yes, he clearly got what he wanted didn’t he? that’s why he doesn’t seem too fussed at all about this democracy thing???

  39. Homer Paxton says:

    NTP you haven’t rebutted! Indeed no-one has probably because they don’t know just like you.

    not my argmuents but a combination of Bush1 advisors and Cato institute advice. That has always been where the main arguments have come from and where bushites have refused to answer.

  40. Fyodor says:

    Interesting joining this thread at the end. Seems like there are still some out there clinging to threads of hope that the casus belli for the Iraqi invasion wasn’t concocted from dodgy intelligence and weak strategy.

    The US has been in the country for more than a year and came up with bupkus, when the administration had perversely high incentives to find WMDs.

    In retrospect we can only conclude that the intelligence that “justified” the war was bogus and/or terminally compromised by a political agenda. You can defend the removal of Saddam all you like, but let’s at least be grownups and accept that the WMD thesis was bullshit.

  41. Geoff Honnor says:

    Fyodor, I tend to reposit faith in the fundamental notion that most fuck-ups occur for other than totally calculated and malevolent reasons. The Iraq WMD thing was widely accepted because:

    – Saddam had used them previously.
    – He continually frustrated UN attempts to determine their [non] existence and consistently failed to comply with Security Council resolutions specifically aimed at establishing the fact.
    – His regional dominance was based entirely upon the implicit threat inherent in his possession of them.

    I don’t think that there is any question that the intelligence was dodgy. But I don’t accept that strategic wisdom in hindsight equates to a case vindication.

    As far as I recall, those who argued against invasion were doing so on the basis that invasion was wrong regardless – lust for oil got a guernsey from memory as well – but I recall few people standing up and saying, unequivocally, “Saddam has no WMD”. It was much more a case of saying continue the UN pressure on the guy versus let’s invade now.

  42. James Dudek says:

    It was up to Saddam to prove that he complied with the UN Resolutions, not for the US (or anyone else) to prove that he had WMD. The point was that we didn’t know (which has now been proved) and Saddam hoped to play cat and mouse until the inspection regime once again would move out of the spotlight.

    Saddam didn’t comply with any of the resolutions and he deservedly got his ass handed to him.

  43. Homer Paxton says:

    We are talking about threatening countries.

    Artillery laced shells , which by the way didn’t help win the battle, and cannisters shot out of helicopters hardly qualify as threatening countries.

    We have also forgotten that the Big W was one the the intellectuals behinf putting in Chalabi who in his first or second action would be to recognise Israel!!
    That takes real genius.

  44. Geoff Honnor says:

    “Geoff, We are talking about threatening countries.”

    I was talking about retrospectives on the WMD/Iraq invasion scenario, Homer. What you’re talking about is not entirely clear – but, as always, entertaining.

  45. Fyodor says:


    I agree that to us laymen looking at his track record there was a reasonable case to be made that Saddam: a) might have WMDs; and b) was prepared to use them.

    However, the US employs a vast army of “intelligence” experts to KNOW what is going on in hotspots like Iraq. For those same experts to be unable to produce any convincing evidence after the fact is simply bizarre, and it throws into question the entire case made anti-bellum. I don’t subscribe to the view that this was an ordinary fuckup. I believe political malevolence interfered with normal intelligence processes to “sex up” a weak case.

    That said, as James Dudek noted Saddam had ignored successive UN resolutions on the subject and the onus was on him to prove the case wrong.

  46. Homer Paxton says:

    Geoff, that putdown was sheer class.

    If other bloggers were as creative it would be a better place.

    Having said that I thought my point was pretty clear. did Hussein have WMDS that could threaten other countries security? NO evidence was ever given that they had.

  47. harry says:

    You have to ackowledge another reason why Saddam would not come clean on WMD.
    It is the reason why Israel officially neither confirms nor denies it has nukes. This is despite “everyone” knowing that they damn well do.

    How about Saddam wanted IRAN to think he still had WMD? In early 2001 Colin Powell told the world that Iraq was militarily ineffective. So, who is most likely to militarily liberate a big bunch of Shia? Iran.
    So, why would Jordan, Syria, Turkey etc not be keen on taking out Saddam? Because their anti-Iranian buffer would change to an unknown, or (as we shall surely see) into a big lump of empowered Shia.
    So, even if you don’t like him he can still serve a purpose. ntp – you seem to have forgotten this.

    The United States keeps stockpiles of Chemical and Biological weapons. You really have to ask yourself why they would bother when they have thousands of nukes. The only answer I can come up with is that destroying them costs much more than storing them. So, is possession of such weapons inherently bad?

    As Iran and North Korea have amply demonstrated: having a few WMD is a great deterent. Saddam thought no differently.

    Just look at China. How many nuclear missiles do you reckon they have? Anyone? They have about 20. And twenty is plenty.

    If Saddam admitted that he really was 100% WMD free then how emboldening would that be for a bunch of Hawks who, as early as 2001, were pushing an invasion of Iraq as the number 1 Thing To Do?

    The main problem with the WMD line as THE reason to go into Iraq is that even if he did have weapons you have to prove he was a threat before moving against him.

    And anyone who thinks a murdering, oppressive, paranoid leader who sleeps in a different place each night is going to hand WMD to a bunch of terrorists is a complete moron.

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