The US press may finally be realising it was hoodwinked over the war … but the coverage of Madrid proves it hasn’t learned. By Ian Bell
Who was it who alerted British tabloids to the “fact” that our troops on Cyprus were under imminent threat of attack from Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction? Who was it who supplied the New York Times, in September of 2002, with the “intelligence” that allowed the paper to state that Iraq had attempted to procure thousands of aluminium tubes in order to enrich uranium and produce a nuclear bomb?
These, of course, were only two of many fantasies whose roots will never properly be known. You could add the tale of yellowcake, the fairy story of mobile chemical weapons laboratories, the oft-repeated fiction that United Nations resolution 1441 made war inevitable. A year on, with carnage in Madrid marking the anniversary of the invasion, the pieces of the mosaic no longer matter much. The pattern is what counts.
Part of the pattern, a large part, can be discerned in the American press. After the election of the Spanish socialist party and the decision by its leader, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, to remove Spain’s troops from Iraq, newspapers in the United States were almost of one voice last week. This was, they told their readers, “appeasement” of al-Qaeda.
They may have mentioned, but certainly did not stress, that 91% of the Spanish people had opposed the war to begin with and that, unarguably, Zapatero was obeying the democratic will. Nor did American papers waste much time explaining the fury of voters in Spain towards the outgoing prime minister, José María Aznar, who had attempted to spin the tragedy for electoral gain by claiming certain knowledge that the massacre had been carried out by ETA, the Basque separatist group. It was one lie too many.