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BTL: Congress Gives Green Light for War with Iraq

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines


Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Oct. 21, 2002


Congress Gives Green Light for War with Iraq as Media Narrows National Debate

* Interview with Norman Solomon, author and syndicated columnist by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

After several days of debate which included impassioned pleas by Sen. Robert Byrd to resist the march to war, Congress voted by a sizeable majority to give President Bush unrestricted authority to launch an attack against Iraq and overthrow the government of Saddam Hussein. Just before the House and Senate debate got underway, CIA Director George Tenet issued a letter which undermined many of the White House claims that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the U.S. The letter addressed to Congress stated that Iraq was not likely to mount terrorist attacks with weapons of mass destruction, unless faced with a U.S-led attack.

While the Bush administration focused its attention on gaining support for a war against Baghdad, terrorist attacks attributed to the al Qaeda network were reported across the globe.

The killing of a U.S. Marine in Kuwait, an attack on a French tanker off the coast of Yemen and the deadly bombing of a night club in Bali, Indonesia resulting in more than 180 fatalities, all seemed to point to a pattern of renewed activity by the group dispersed from its sanctuary in Afghanistan one year ago.

Before the congressional vote, the Institute for Public Accuracy, a group which works to gain access for dissenting points of view in corporate media, organized a fact-finding delegation to Iraq in mid-September. The delegation included U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, Democrat of West Virginia, former South Dakota Sen. James Abourezk, Dr. James Jennings of Conscience International and syndicated columnist Norman Solomon who serves as the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Norman Solomon, who assesses the congressional green light for war with Iraq and describes what he saw and heard during his recent trip to Baghdad.

Norman Solomon: I think with all the historic differences, there still is a lot of similarity to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution back in August of 1964, and really a kind of a "blank check atmosphere." It's become a bit of a cliché, but it's very true. This is a blank check that I think will be redeemed -- so to speak -- with a lot of blood, and it's something that got significant opposition from more than 100 members of Congress, 130 or so in the House, not so many in the Senate, about a quarter of the Senate voting "no." But this is, I think, a very sinister development by any measure.

Between The Lines: What are your biggest fears about what might happen in the coming months given the congressional green light for a war with Iraq, with or without United Nations authority?

Norman Solomon: One of my biggest fears is that the United Nations' authority is going to be manipulated and kind of hijacked . We have the precedent of the Gulf War back in early 1991. There are a lot of carrots and sticks that can be brandished and used by the U.S. government and certainly this Bush administration is very intent on doing so.

I think that people who are concerned about this war in the summer and early fall of this year really set some traps for themselves or bought into them. If you go back and look at just the nonsense that was said about Dick Armey and Colin Powell and Chuck Hagel…well, they all support this war, and the media frame was set up to try to scam people into believing that these supposed opponents of going to war somehow represented the outward pole of opposition. The opposition was tactical: "We have to get our ducks lined up," "We don't know if we'll have the allies," "Don't go without the United Nations." Even in the Nation magazine, people saying, "We can't have a go-it-alone" policy. The point is, whether you have allies or not, if the war is wrong, then you have to oppose the war and we're in a situation now where the U.S. government has shown that it can strong-arm out of the executive branch, the Congress into giving a green light. They're in the process as we speak of stron! g-arming the U.N. Security Council into giving a green light. And so, sooner or later, and I think it has to be sooner, people need to stand their ground and say, "Look, this war is wrong as a scenario as a plan, whether it has allies and Security Council and congressional approval or not."

Between The Lines: Could you talk about the most important things that you saw and heard while you were in Baghdad on your trip there?

Norman Solomon: To me, it really was personally stunning to look out over the city of Baghdad, which has five or six million people living in it and to see it as a normal, large metropolis and I felt like I was at the scene of a crime before the crime had been committed. And that would be a crime against humanity, which would be to launch missiles into this densely populated urban area.

It was also really clear to me, from being at meetings with Tariq Aziz and Congressman Rahall, former Sen. James Abourezk and also Jim Jennings, president of Conscience International, a humanitarian aid group, that there is value in dialogue with Iraqi government officials, that we learn things in that process. It's possible to begin to problem solve and find some potential alternatives to massive killing, bloodshed and long-term massacres of people not only through warfare but through its inevitable aftermath. And quite often we're encouraged to believe that there is simply no point in talking to Iraqi officials. I think the truth is very different.

Meanwhile, it's clearly a police state. Iraq is a very repressive government. At the same time, the U.S. has relations with many regimes around the world and engages in dialogue. It's quite ironic that here in October of 2002, the U.S. is in talks with North Korea, which is supposedly part of this axis of evil, and yet the U.S. is planning to bomb another part of that axis with the argument that there is no point in engaging in any kind of diplomacy with them.

Between The Lines: Norman can you give us some of your observations about what the media role has been in this lead-up to a possible future war with Iraq?

Norman Soloman: I think largely the news media have framed the debate as being whatever debate is most prominent in elite circles. That is to say, whatever Sens. Joseph Biden, Joseph Lieberman and President Bush have to say, that's kind of the range of debate. I think that's ridiculous.

There are some anti-war congressional voices that have gotten some air-time, some Republican dissent earlier in the summer got a lot of prominence, but that's been largely I think the media framework. At the same time there is some acknowledgment of a growing anti-war movement. But none of the coverage of an anti-war movement, such as it is right now, can really balance out just the overwhelming media reliance on official sources and the willingness to allow and enable those in powerful positions to really largely set the parameters of debate.

You know, I think what it all boils down to whatever stage we're in people at the grassroots, whether through independent media outlets, organizing, protest, research, sharing information and community activism -- this all needs to happen, to utilize whatever space exists and we're going to have to go with the flow and keep pushing at every stage.

Read Norman Solomon's column, Media Beat at


Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending Oct. 25, 2002

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