As the Bush administration continues to become further entangled in its own web of lies that expands like some fractal pattern into some absurd space, it’s instructive to look back at some of the lies of past administrations and politicians, especially when those lies are being restated anew in 2003. Such is the case with the Clinton administration and its Secretary of State—the highest-ranking woman ever in the U.S. government—Madeleine Albright. She just released her memoirs, Madam Secretary, so she’s been making the talk show rounds.
Albright’s most egregious lie revolves around the cruise missile strike on a Sudanese pharmaceutical warehouse in the capital, Khartoum, in August of 1998. The parallels between this event and the current war in Iraq are so obvious as to be ridiculous. In both conflicts, Washington manipulated or simply fabricated information/intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for military action. After the fact, this decisive assertion was proven false while political double-talk was used to obscure and/or justify the situation. And in both cases, it’s more than apparent that both administrations knowingly engaged in such openly deceptive behaviour to achieve their foreign policy objectives.
Recently, on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, host Terry Gross spoke with the former secretary of state. Gross inevitably brought up Monica Lewinsky, her potential influence on foreign policy through the power of distraction, and the “wag the dog situation,” which was the attack on the pharmaceutical plant and a simultaneous attack on alleged al-Qaeda training facilities in extreme eastern Afghanistan during a period of intense domestic pressure resulting from the scandal involving President Clinton.
When summing up these attacks, Albright said that the plant in Khartoum was making VX nerve gas—one of the nastiest nerve agents around. What’s remarkable about this claim is that it wasn’t even made at the time by the Clinton administration or the secretary of state. The original pretext was that the plant was making what was known as “precursors” for chemical weapons such as VX—individual chemicals that were only one of the ingredients needed to make full-fledged “chemical weapons”—and not the final product itself. But since there was no evidence of this, the story kept changing.
Albright went on to make further false assertions by claiming that Osama bin Laden most likely owned the plant directly and orchestrated its clandestine operations. Again, this was a claim never even made at the time of the actual incident. Originally, there was a tenuous, vague bin Laden “link,” which was clearly subordinate to the VX pretext. Later, after the precursor chemicals story was worn through and no longer usable, the bin Laden allegation was strengthened and broadened but never to the level Albright is claiming today: that the factory was “his.”
The owner of the plant turned out to be a Saudi national with extensive ties to the United States and whose law firm was located in Washington D.C. Several respected British national engineers also were involved with the plant and some had actually overseen its construction and had full access to the plant in the months before the cruise missile strike. It was also revealed that the plant was involved in the oil-for-food program with Iraq, sending the country much needed medicines that had become depleted there because of the U.S. imposed sanctions regime—a regime Secretary Albright was instrumental in maintaining and apologising for. The plant’s owner—with his law firm conveniently located in Washington—threatened the Clinton administration with a lawsuit if they didn’t drop their slanderous charges of chemical weapon’s precursors and Osama bin Laden links. The day the lawsuit was to be brought, the administration recanted on its bogus claims.
Albright’s recent claims are instructive as they show the tendency of the ruling elite to use their post-spotlight celebrity to engage in a kind of historical revisionism geared towards remoulding their and their administration’s image as courageous and righteous politicians who never did wrong and only wanted what was best for the American people and their way of life.
This can be seen quite glaringly on the right as, in recent years, book after book has been published attempting to canonize Ronald Reagan by painting him as not only a great American president but as possibly the greatest president of all time and a moral and philosophical visionary on par with Gandhi or Jesus Christ.
There’s no doubt that at some point in the future many of the ex-Bush administration officials—just like Albright is now—will be on the radio and TV talk show circuits continuing to advance the same disingenuous claims they are advancing today in a continuous effort by the powerful to rewrite history in the way that best justifies their actions and supports their elitist ideologies.
Matthew Riemer is Director of Operations at Yellow Times.