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[casi] Will the War Begin With a Big Lie?

March 19, 2003

George W. Bush's March 17 speech has been boiled down to one blunt
statement: "Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours.
Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a
time of our choosing."

Headlines the next morning focused on this message: "President Tells
Hussein to Leave Iraq Within 48 Hours or Face Invasion" (Washington Post);
"Bush Gives Ultimatum to Hussein: Leave in 48 Hours or Face War" (Ft.
Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel); "President Gives the Iraqi Dictator One Last
Deadline" (San Antonio Express-News).

One story, however, at the bottom of an inside page in the New York Times,
had a different message: "Allies Will Move In, Even if Saddam Hussein
Moves Out" was the headline over a page A16 story by Times military
correspondent Michael Gordon.  "Even if Saddam Hussein leaves Iraq within
48 hours, as President Bush demanded, allied forces plan to move north
into Iraqi territory, American officials said today," the article began.

Gordon pointed to a little-noted line in Bush's speech: "It is not too
late for the Iraqi military to act with honor and protect your country by
permitting the peaceful entry of coalition forces to eliminate weapons of
mass destruction."  While in the context of the speech, this seemed to
refer to what Bush hoped Iraqi commanders would do in the event that his
ultimatum was rejected, Gordon reports that this was actually a signal
that regardless of what Hussein chooses, the U.S. would still, in Gordon's
words, "enter Iraq to search for hidden weapons of mass destruction and
help stabilize the nation so that a new and more democratic regime could
take over."

Even if the Iraqi military were to overthrow Hussein, Gordon wrote, "a
military intervention seems very likely."  He quoted Colin Powell's
statement on March 17 to the effect that "the only way for Iraq to avoid
an attack is for Mr. Hussein to leave the country and 'allow this matter
to be resolved through the peaceful entry of force.'"

In other words, there is nothing that Iraq can do to avoid invasion and
occupation; its only choice is whether or not to surrender.  Why dress up
this straightforward policy with a claim that Saddam Hussein's refusal to
step down within a 48-hour deadline "will result in military conflict"?
Presumably because the White House knew that the media would find the
drama of the ultimatum irresistible, and would therefore frame the
upcoming war not as a choice that Washington was making, but as a final
test for Saddam Hussein.

Media have by and large failed to challenge this spin campaign, and
continue to frame the story as a "defiant" Saddam Hussein spurning the
last chance for peace.  "Saddam Sneers Back: Hell No, I Won't Go" was the
New York Daily News' front-page headline on March 19.  The cable news
channel MSNBC actually had a "DEADLINE" clock in the lower-right hand
corner of its screen at all times, ticking away the seconds until the
meaningless deadline passes.

Even the Times itself did not seem to have grasped  its own
correspondent's report: "War Imminent as Hussein Rejects Ultimatum" was
the paper's lead headline (3/19/03), with an accompanying story beginning,
"The White House said today that Saddam Hussein was making his 'final
mistake' by rejecting an ultimatum ordering him to leave Iraq or face

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