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Was Bustani ouster prelude to Iraq war?


By Jim Mullins, Member of AfterDowningStreet.org
Also published by South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The rationales the Bush administration used to promote the Iraq war as necesary to counteract an imminent threat from Iraq have fallen by the wayside.

None of the commissions or congressional investigations have gone beyond the facile conclusions that "mistakes were made" or that the intelligence was "dead wrong." No official who gave the orders or held the responsibility has been named. President Bush took his re-election as a referendum on his previous policies, implying that we should move on.

But unanswered questions hang in the air. Days before Tony Blair's re-election, information surfaced that Britain's attorney general had given legal advice that war without a second Security Council resolution would be illegal aggression, but he reversed his opinion after a meeting with, and pressure from, Bush Counsel Alberto Gonzales.

Soon after, the "Downing Street memo" leak showed that in April 2002 Bush and Blair had agreed to invade Iraq. And in July 2002, U.S. and British intelligence officials stated that "the facts were being fixed around the policy."

John Bolton's nomination as U.N. representative has aroused misgivings. "Deep Throat" has outed himself, reminding us of the Watergate scandal. George McGovern (target of the Watergate burglary that led to President Nixon's resignation, avoiding impeachment) and Daniel Ellsberg of "Pentagon Papers" fame have called for insiders to expose the lies and deception that led to the Iraqi invasion.

John Bolton was the undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs. His actions -- denigrating all international institutions other than those controlled by the U.S., abrogating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, disowning the International Criminal Court Convention signed by Bill Clinton and blocking verification of proposals to be added to the Convention on Biological and Chemical Weapons -- make one wonder if he thought it was his mission to destroy the Arms Control and International Security Agency that his job required him to support.

Correspondent Charles J. Hanley has done a public service in his investigative report for The Associated Press revisiting Bolton's drive to have Jose Bustani fired in 2002 as director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Bustani had an outstanding record leading the U.N. organization dedicated to abolishing chemical weapons. He had overseen the destruction of more than 3 million chemical weapons and had increased the number of signatory countries from 87 to 145. He was re-elected to a five year term in 2000. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had described his record as "very impressive" in a personal letter.

Bustani and Bush should have been on the same page, for Bustani had planned to persuade Iraq to submit to OPCW inspections. The U.N. would have had the moral authority and worldwide support to force compliance. Yet the U.S., led by John Bolton, immediately attempted to have Bustani fired.

When the organization refused to fire Bustani at an executive meeting, the U.S. threatened to withold its dues. Bolton had a special meeting called and raised the ante by brandishing a U.S. pullout unless Bustani was fired. Great Britain piled on and Bustani was voted out.

The U.N. tribunal set up to mediate personnel issues decided the U.S. accusations were vague and the dismissal unlawful; it awarded Bustani back pay and $69,000 in damages.

One could leave it there -- unless you connect the dots. When Bolton began his campaign to oust Bustani, the Bush administration had already decided in secret to attack Iraq; two weeks after Bush and Blair met in April 2002 Bustani had been driven out. Obviously they didn't want the U.N. group mucking around in Iraq looking for the chemical and biological weapons, which they had every reason to believe had been destroyed, and losing the selling point they needed to strike fear in Congress and in the minds of American citizens.

Bush stated in his latest press conference that the United Nations should work to "regain the American people's respect." Judging from Bolton's actions in trashing treaties, impeding peace negotiations with Iran, North Korea and the one success -- Libya -- that he tried to obstruct, it seems that Bolton's nomination to be U.N. representative was the ultimate disrespect of the United Nations and its members.

Jim Mullins is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., and a resident of Delray Beach.

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