The Definition Of 'Imminent'
Published: Jan 30 2004
|New York-based Russ Baker is an award-winning
journalist who covers politics and
Have you noticed? Team Bush is in training for the
upcoming political Olympics. In recent days, we've seen vigorous
demonstrations of hedging, ducking and furious backpedaling. Plus
that most esoteric of sports: hair splitting.
At issue, of course, is the Bush administration's attempt to
escape responsibility for starting a war over something that did not
exist. Namely, the vast stores of weapons of mass destruction that
the White House claimed Saddam Hussein had and was supposedly in
imminent danger of using.
Instead of admitting that the pretext for war was an overhyped
mass of un-intelligence, White House spokesman Scott McClellan has
been ordered to celebrate minute distinctions, telling journalists
Jan. 27 that it was the media—not the administration—that employed
the word 'imminent.' "We used 'grave and gathering' threat,"
McClellan said, apparently managing not to crack a smile.
A quick search of articles does show that it was the media, not
the administration, which applied "imminent" to the danger allegedly
posed by Saddam's Iraq. But, as Reuters, The New York Times
and a number of other outfits have discovered, while Bush never
literally called Iraq an "imminent" threat, he did label the
situation "urgent." Vice President Dick Cheney defined it as
"mortal" and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld assured us it was
That last remark came during Rumsfeld's testimony before Congress
in September, 2002. Here it is in full context: "No terrorist state
poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our
people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam
Hussein in Iraq."
Bush himself, in an Oct. 7, 2002 televised speech to the nation,
likened the standoff with Iraq to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis—when
nuclear-capable Russian missiles were identified on Soviet ships
bound for Castro's Cuba—and warned that Saddam Hussein "could decide
on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a
terrorist group or individual terrorists" like the Al Qaeda network.
Meanwhile, if the White House didn't itself introduce "imminent"
into the lexicon of war-boosting, it certainly didn't mind hearing
it used. On Jan. 26, 2003, when a CNN reporter asked, "Is he [Saddam
Hussein] an imminent threat to U.S. interests, either in that part
of the world or to Americans right here at home?" White House
Communications Director Dan Bartlett answered: "Well, of course he
Even after the conflict, this imminence continued to be
acceptable. On May 7, 2003, a reporter posed this question: "We went
to war, didn't we, to find these [WMD]—because we said that these
weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States?
Isn't that true?" And White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer
responded: "Absolutely. One of the reasons that we went to war was
because of their possession of weapons of mass destruction. And
nothing has changed on that front at all."
Well of course, nothing has changed. Only the scale of the
deception has grown. Today, the examples of doublespeak and
duplicity are so numerous that the only thing more outrageous than
the administration's campaign to deny reality is the failure of the
American people to be more outraged at being treated like chumps.
In a phenomenon inadequately explored by social investigators but
confirmed by polls, a big chunk of the American public has
apparently concluded that politicians may say absolutely anything,
no matter how unfounded, and still count on their votes.
Whatever happened to Harry Truman's brand of the-buck-stops-here
straight talking? Isn't it time for the media to hold our
quick-on-the-trigger leaders to a higher standard of accountability
than "The CIA got it wrong"? When 9/11 happened on the Bush
administration's watch, the nation rallied round the president's
team, rather than ask the tough questions about who was to blame for
the intelligence debacle.
Now that we know a second catastrophic failure of intelligence
has occurred on their watch, are we really supposed to give Bush and
his advisers another bye? With American soldiers dying in Iraq and
Team Bush doing everything in its power to hinder the Kean
Commission's 9/11 inquiry, surely this is the time for demanding
that the decision makers accept full responsibility for their
bungled decision making—if only to assure us that yet another
disaster is not imminent.