Exaggeration By William Bowles

25 June 2003

Exaggeration: overestimate, overstate, hyperbolize, enlarge on, distort, expand, magnify, misquote and overdraw

The farce of an ‘investigation’ into the ‘rush to war’ continues in the UK as does the media’s complicity in presenting the reasons entirely divorced from the context and history of the trajectory of Western imperialism. The main argument being advanced by ‘critics’ of the war in Parliament, is that the government ‘exaggerated’ the threat in order to convince us of the need to go to war.

Interesting choice of word, exaggerate because it implies, at least in popular parlance that there is an inherent truth, buried somewhere. So for example, maybe it’s not 45 minutes, maybe it’s a couple of hours? In any case, why the need to exaggerate when, ‘Saddam is the nastiest dictator of modern times’? Perhaps it’s because the UK had to dump the entire edifice of international jurisprudence, or am I just exaggerating a little?

My thesaurus gives the following alternate words for exaggerate: overestimate, overstate, hyperbolize, enlarge on, distort, expand, magnify, misquote and overdraw. The one word that’s missing is lie.

Lie: fabrication, prevarication, fib, untruth, falsification, invention, mendacity and canard.

Now either the 45-minute statement is a lie or it’s not. If it’s a lie then it can’t be an exaggeration. Either the Saddam regime could, within 45 minutes (or thereabouts) launch his WMDs or he couldn’t. An interesting sleight of hand is at work here. If it’s not a lie then in some form or another, it’s the truth even if it’s exaggerated slightly. You may think I’m nitpicking here, but let’s look at what Jack Straw, the foreign minister says when questioned over the 45-minute statement:

‘Neither the Prime minister nor I have ever used the word ‘immediate’ or ‘imminent’ in relation to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. What we talked about in the dossier was a ‘current and serious threat’ which is very different. We didn’t use the phrase immediate or imminent because it means…as it were, about to happen today or tomorrow. We didn’t use that because frankly the evidence didn’t justify it.’

Straw’s phrase ‘current and serious threat’ does indeed appear in the document entitled, ‘Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction The Assessment of the British Government’ in the forward written by Tony Blair, in fact in the first paragraph:

‘But in the light of the debate about Iraq and…WMDs, I wanted to share with the British public the reasons why I believe this issue to be a current and serious threat to the UK national interest.’

‘UK national interest’? Interesting phrase. No mention of the interests of the Iraqi people, which forms the basis of the ‘backup’ argument for the invasion should the lies be exposed.

But a little later on in the same forward, Blair states the following:

‘And the document discloses that his [Saddam’s] military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them.’

Straw’s dissembling refers to whether or not the words ‘immediate’ or ‘imminent’ appeared in this context in the document. In fact the word ‘immediate’ in this context appears on page 18 of the ukdossier file:

‘These chemical and biological capabilities represented the most immediate threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.’

But I digress, because Straw wasn’t asked whether the threat was ‘immediate’ or ‘imminent’ but whether or not the government stated that WMD could be ready in 45 minutes or not.

In Straw’s submission to the Common’s Select Committee, he said that:

‘He [Straw] had no doubts about the authenticity of the first document…despite the fact [that]…claims about Saddam acquiring nuclear material from Niger were proved to be forgeries.’ ‘Some of what is in here [the September dossier] has been proved by events, none has been disproved.’

But the document clearly states the following on pages 5 and 6:

‘As a result of the intelligence we judge that Iraq has:

o military plans for the use of chemical biological weapons including against its own Shia population. Some of these weapons are deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them;
o sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear programme that could require it’

Moreover, Straw doesn’t inform us of what has, in his words ‘been proved by events.’ What events? We are not told.

What is most despicable about the select committee is how it refuses to get Straw to answer its questions, effectively allowing him to get away with avoiding the issues or, as I show quite clearly in the above quotes, lying to the committee and being let off the hook for doing so.

The Independent (25/06/03) carries pages of ‘analysis’ on the government’s lies but nowhere does it actually accuse the government of lying. In a piece by Simon Carr on page 2, Carr goes into lengthy literary descriptions of the government’s lies but never actually accuses them of lying. Instead, he uses the word ‘propaganda’ or an even more insidious term, ‘story’ to describe the lies.

Even more incredulous is the Independent’s editorial, entitled ‘Mr Straw, a dodgy defence, and some questions the Government cannot evade’, which waffles on for seven paragraphs but in absolute contradiction to its own headline, asks not a single question that the government is, with the media’s complicity, evading, aside from saying that ‘Straw’s tank engaged reverse’ when tackled about the ‘dodgy dossier.’ Powerful investigative journalism eh.

The editorial ends by saying,

‘Perhaps the Foreign Secretary’s lacklustre [sic] defence can be explained by the simple fact that the dodgy dossier was not his dossier.’

Duh? Whose dossier was it then? Why it was that conniving spin doctor Alistair Campbell who apparently lives in an alternate England, and works for a parallel Labour government on another planet. On and on it goes, with the buck being passed from one government flack to the next and with the total compliance of the corporate press.

If ‘morality’ was on the side of Bush-Blair, surely that would be sufficient grounds to wage war with? So why the lies?

One can only describe the corporate media’s performance as craven (cowardly, fearful, weak and yellow) when it comes to tackling the government over the rationale for the invasion. Can we ever expect a serious analysis from the press? Yes, apparently, when hell freezes over, which at least according to my unnamed and utterly reliable source, will occur within the next 45 minutes.

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