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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Anthrax and Iraq

Michael Cohen of Democracy Arsenal argues that the anthrax attacks of fall 2001 were not especially meaningful in the Iraq debate:
They didn't use anthrax to sell the war; they used nukes! It simply belies reality to argue that the anthrax attacks and the White House spin that Iraq was responsible for them played a significant role in making the case for war. The evidence simply does not exist to make such a claim.
Is this correct?

Well, the fall 2001 anthrax attacks only killed a handful of people, but they provoked much wider fear, as that link to an AP poll reveals. A fall 2001 Newsweek poll also found significant concern -- linked directed to 9/11 and bin Laden:
MAJORITIES OF AMERICANS say it is at least somewhat likely that large numbers of people will die in future terrorist attacks, either through the use of conventional explosives (74 percent), anthrax mailings (57 percent), smallpox or some other disease (55 percent), according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll.

A clear majority (63 percent) of the public now attribute anthrax attacks throughout the world at least in part to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.
Moreover, the administration was able to draw upon that fear to accuse Iraq of making and storing literally tons of anthrax -- capable of killing millions, they asserted. Officials didn't have to accuse Iraq of making the 2001 attacks. The prior attacks had what media scholars call a "priming" effect on the story:

Consider this statement from President Bush in Cincinnati, October 2002. The following is his first substantive point in the address about the alleged threat from Iraq:
"Some ask how urgent this danger is to America and the world. The danger is already significant, and it only grows worse with time. If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today -- and we do -- does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?

In 1995, after several years of deceit by the Iraqi regime, the head of Iraq's military industries defected. It was then that the regime was forced to admit that it had produced more than 30,000 liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. The inspectors, however, concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times that amount. This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and capable of killing millions."
Bush also pointed to Iraqi anthrax in the September 12, 2002, UN address and in his 2003 State of the Union address. Those were his three most significant speeches in the buildup to war. By March 19, his last pre-war speech more ambiguously referenced "weapons of mass murder."

Perhaps most importantly, anthrax played a very significant part in Colin Powell's UN Security Council presentation, which was itself critical in garnering editorial (and public) support for the war. Editor & Publisher found support on newspaper op-ed pages literally doubled overnight after Powell's presentation.
Iraq declared 8,500 liters of anthrax, but UNSCOM estimates that Saddam Hussein could have produced 25,000 liters. If concentrated into this dry form, this amount would be enough to fill tens upon tens upon tens of thousands of teaspoons. And Saddam Hussein has not verifiably accounted for even one teaspoon-full of this deadly material....

There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more. And he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death and destruction.
Read back through Powell's remarks and you will quickly be reminded just how certain the threat was said to be -- and how colossally wrong they were.

In any case, I think it is safe to say that anthrax played an important role in the buildup to the Iraq war. These "weapons of mass destruction" were part of the fall 2001 hysteria and states like Iraq with WMD and linked to terrorists had to be stopped (NSS 2002).

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