Weapons of Choice

By Mute Editor, 4 July 2003


It has been impossible, over the last six months, to escape a sense of being enclosed by the official Iraq War narrative. Depending on how far back you want to go (Bush Senior's First Gulf War, the mid 1990s oil sales embargo, September 11th), the short version of this sorry tale could conceivably start with George W. Bush's 'Axis of Evil' State of the Union address, which as early as January 2002 provided an explicit statement of intent regarding the Iraqi regime. Having incorporated it into the arbitrary triumvirate of North Korea, Iran and Iraq, Bush intoned, 'I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons'. Bush praised Congress's support for the attack on Afghanistan ('September 11th brought out the best in America, and the best in this Congress'), and struck preemptively to ensure he received it again in a new theatre. In the context of a rapidly deteriorating domestic scene, where poverty, social insecurity and unemployment were worsening, he presided over the largest increase in defence spending for 20 years.

The official narrative's remainder - from winter's intensifying diplomatic negotiations, to the serial deadlines the US and UK pushed through the UN in the early Spring, and onto the military campaign itself - unfolded predictably, like the chapters in a simple story of disobedience, ultimatums, and punishment.

Bush and Blair's governments systematically ignored the fact, but at each and every turn the logic of their punitive paradigm came under attack from all corners of the political spectrum. Western intelligence personnel contested the casus belli of operable weapons of mass destruction. International relations specialists disputed the Iraqi regime's strategic relationship to Al Qaeda. Economic commentators speculated oil producers' possible switch from petro-dollars to petro-euros was driving events. An army of lawyers disputed the legality of ever more elaborate avoidance of UN protocols. And finally, in a series of mass marches, millions of citizens protested against the hypocrisy, lack of imagination and myopic self-interest of the violence to be meted out in their name.

However airtight Western 'embedded journalism' was thought to render news accounts of the war itself, a surprising thing has started to happen since the Bush-Blair war reached its climax in the 'liberation' of Baghdad. As this issue goes to press, there are signs (official enquiries, a cumulative body of investigative journalism, integrative accounts fusing non-aligned economic, political and cultural analytical matrices) that the official narrative of the last six months is undergoing a processes of atomisation simultaneous to its consolidation. It is tempting to speculate that this is caused by the diverse alternative media platforms now proliferating alongside Fox, CNN, and BBC, but although information plays the pivotal role in this live effort at history-writing, it is doubtful that a measure of instrumentality can be determined by such binary categorisations.

Either way, the sense of democratic disempowerment felt by the millions who expressed dissent and were ignored has energised something altogether more powerful, distributed and inclusive than a single anti-war campaign might have. The 'Iraq War' is turning from an expertly managed propaganda event into a polysemic cipher through which the capitalist underpinning of American and British Christian morality, the contradictions between Western immigration and foreign policy, the ideological constructions of news journalism, and the inequitable basis of the North's 'aid' of the South can be more easily read. This issue's articles are intended to further that project.

Pauline van Mourik Broekman <>