Monday, May 29, 2017
How George W. Bush Lied America Into A War And Divided A Nation
The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year. - A Radio Address by George W. Bush, September 28, 2002.
Something critical is being lost in the torrent of pixels being spilled by the media as Jeb Bush wriggles haplessly, like some prehistoric insect trapped in amber, struggling to explain away, recast or rationalize his brother's hideous legacy. Many of us with functional memories concluded long ago that Jeb's brother deliberately lied us into a pointless war, one that resulted in pointless maiming and pointless deaths of our own soldiers and perhaps a million Iraqi civilians, and the equally pointless rise of a nihilistic cult of deluded savages we know as ISIS.
And although many Americans, for various reasons, don't want to face up to it, that is the truth.
There may be a "competing narrative," there may be political "spin," but there really can only be one truth, and Jeb Bush and the secretive billionaires who hope to install him as the country's next President know that truth happens to be very, very inconvenient for him when the country has not yet forgotten what happened the last time a Bush occupied that office. When Jeb said he'd rely on his trusted brother for foreign policy advice, that just made things worse.
There is, however, an even more heinous aspect to what Jeb's "trusted brother" did, and it shouldn't be allowed to escape down the memory hole. We've been lied into wars before, with similar disastrous results. But George W. Bush did something far worse than lie us into a war: he did it in a breathtakingly cynical and malevolent way - in effect, by holding a gun to every Americans' head and threatening to pull the trigger. He did it by holding the American people hostage to a twisted ideology that demanded the war, waving the gun at calculated intervals in our face, the way any terrorist would. And he told us flat out, over and over again, that if we didn't do what he said, we'd all be killed.
Paul Waldman, writing for The Week, puts his finger on why what Bush did was much worse than mere lying: What the Bush administration launched in 2002 and 2003 may have been the most comprehensive, sophisticated, and misleading campaign of government propaganda in American history. Spend too much time in the weeds, and you risk missing the hysterical tenor of the whole campaign.
Waldman has little patience for the suggestion that the "intelligence" was "misread" or "misinterpreted." For those who experienced it, the barrage of timed propaganda that supported the "selling" of the Iraq war was no mere lie, no drummed up "incident," but a deliberate, methodical and relentless campaign. In this campaign, intelligence was not used to ascertain facts, but to fashion propaganda to sell the war, the "script" of which, as then-White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan later wrote, "had been finalized with great care" to convince the public that the war was "inevitable and necessary." Waldman recounts the purposeful planning and execution of the deception inflicted on the American public and follows it with an irresistible and damning conclusion:
In 2008, the Center for Public Integrity completed a project in which they went over the public statements by eight top Bush administration officials on the topic of Iraq, and found that no fewer than 935 were false, including 260 statements by President Bush himself. But the theory on which the White House operated was that whether or not you could fool all of the people some of the time, you could certainly scare them out of their wits. That's what was truly diabolical about their campaign.
And in this we can see the base, criminal and yes, diabolical nature of what Bush did. By magnifying the imaginary threat allegedly posed by Saddam Hussein, Bush managed to terrify segments of the American public who he and Cheney knew full well were already traumatized and shell-shocked after the horror of 9/11. By repeatedly raising the specter of "poison gas," the radioactive "mushroom cloud," and the "weapons of mass destruction" he instilled Americans with a virulent fear, fear of the evil unknown. And all the while he knew - they all knew - that it was a bald-faced lie:
Each and every time the message was the same: If we didn't wage war, Iraq was going to attack the United States homeland with its enormous arsenal of ghastly weapons, and who knows how many Americans would perish. When you actually spell it out like that it sounds almost comical, but that was the Bush administration's assertion, repeated hundreds upon hundreds of time to a public still skittish in the wake of the attack on September 11th. (Remember, the campaign for the war began less than a year after the September 11th attacks.)
Sometimes this message was imparted with specific false claims, sometimes with dark insinuation, and sometimes with speculation about the horrors to come (We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud, said Bush and others when asked about the thinness of much of their evidence). Yet the conclusion was always the same: The only alternative to invading Iraq was waiting around to be killed.
By playing incessantly to their fears, Bush also succeeded in turning Americans against each other and-anyone who raised his or her voice to question the threat became part of the threat in the eyes of their fellow Americans. After all, if you're terrified of something, and you know by God the threat is real, someone next to you telling you not to worry, or worse, ignore the danger, becomes as bad as the enemy.
This is what Bush (and Cheney) knowingly did to the American people. He counted on their fear, not just Americans' fear of Hussein, but of each other. Iraq became a "life or death" decision. It didn't matter to him that their fear was generated completely by lies--all he needed was the fear. It was a classic exercise in propaganda and, terror inflicted on a vulnerable and scarred American public, the implicit threat always looming, hammered home day after day to get the war he and his cronies desperately wanted. And all of it deliberate:
This is one of the many sins for which Bush and those who supported him ought to spend a lifetime atoning. He looked out at the American public and decided that the way to get what he wanted was to terrify them. If he could convince them that any day now their children would die a horrible death, that they and everything they knew would be turned to radioactive ash, and that the only chance of averting this fate was to say yes to him, then he could have his war. Lies were of no less value than truth, so long as they both created enough fear.