Monday, January 28, 2008

What Impressed Me This Week: 935 Lies

Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. -- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

No WIMTW next week; I'm on the road. But if you happen to be in Quincy, Illinois on Sunday, you can hear me preach at the Unitarian church. The text will show up on my religious blog sometime after I get home.
Let Me Count the Ways
In this quantitative age it seems like nothing is really real until it's been counted. Well, this week the deceptions that led to the invasion of Iraq became a little more real: The Center for Public Integrity released its tabulation of the lies told by top Bush administration officials to promote and justify the invasion of Iraq. They found 935 lies in the two years following 9/11. The lies are broken down by speaker and subject, and there's a precise little bar graph totaling them up month by month. (The graph has two peaks: September, 2002 as Congress was debating the resolution to authorize the war, and February, 2003 as the last feeble attempts at peace-making were being swatted aside.)

Now, the charge that Bush, Cheney & Associates lied us into the Iraq War is not new. There are at least three standard responses to it:
  • Outrage. I've seen Bill O'Reilly do this more than once. Merely saying out loud that Bush lied marks you as such a rabid partisan that you're not worth listening to. Somebody who plays the outrage card right never has to look at the evidence at all.
  • Complete Denial. There's no way to discuss the evidence without admitting that administration officials said a lot of things that turned out not to be true. But the complete deniers say that those were all honest mistakes; the real fault lies with the CIA, which was giving the White House bad intelligence. Complete deniers usually point to similar statements by Clinton officials, or by the Germans or the French. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino (starting at about the 3 minute mark in this video) said this about the "flaws" in the CPI study: "They only looked at members of the administration rather than looking at members of Congress or people around the world. Because as you remember, we were part of a broad coalition of countries that deposed a dictator based on a collective understanding of the intelligence."
  • Partial Denial. Pro-war pundits and bloggers sometimes admit that a certain amount of deception was at work, but say that the cheerleading for the invasion was merely "spin" -- the kind of deception that is routine in Washington, not nearly rising to the level of "lies." And they're this close to being right: Bush frequently implied false statements without actually saying them -- like all the times when he put "Saddam" and "9-11" in the same sentence without directly saying that they were linked. "I was very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America," Bush said on March 20, 2006. When you think about it, that was an unintentional confession. Honest people don't have to be "very careful" not to say something they know is false. But you do have to be "very careful" if you want to put a false idea into someone's head without actually saying it.
Outrage continues to work as well as it ever did, but neither kind of denial stands up when you look at the statements that the CPI is calling lies.

What the intelligence services were saying before the invasion boils down to this: Saddam had poison gas in the early 90s and used it against the Kurds. He claimed to have gotten rid of it, but no one could verify that claim. Iraqi defectors with an ax to grind against Saddam told stories about other weapons programs, but the CIA did not consider them reliable sources. (That didn't stop Colin Powell from quoting them to the UN, saying: "My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.") Saddam supported Palestinian terrorists, but he and Al Qaeda had different objectives and we could find no reliable evidence of a working relationship between them. Stories of attempts to import material for a nuclear program popped up occasionally: Some of them had been shown to be false, like the report of a uranium buy in Niger. Others, like the aluminum tubes, were hotly debated within our intelligence community; some experts (who ultimately proved to be correct) argued that the tubes weren't suitable for a nuclear program and had other uses. There was no evidence whatever that Saddam was planning an attack against the United States.

Having read such reports, Vice President Cheney said this: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." That's not an honest mistake. That's not spin. Simply stated, there is no doubt that Vice President Cheney is a liar.

On June 11, 2002 Donald Rumsfeld said:

I was asked a question about Iraq announcing the day before that they do not have weapons of mass destruction, and they asked me what I thought about that. I said "That's a lie," and I may have said even that "That's a world-class lie."

Now that's true; it is a lie. They do have weapons of mass destruction. They've used chemical weapons on their people, they have had an aggressive program to develop nuclear weapons, and there is no question that they are developing biological weapons. Now why did I say that? I said that because it is true. The truth has a certain virtue, it seems to me.

A lot gets shoved under the rug when Bush-defenders point to the other people who believed that Saddam had WMDs. Many people believed he still had poison gas left over from the early 90s. But if that was the whole story, then time was on our side -- just keep him contained as his weapons get older and less reliable. (That was my position at the time of the invasion.) The case for an immediate invasion depended on further assertions: Saddam was making new and better WMDs, so we had to attack now before they came on line. (As Paul Wolfowitz said on May 25, 2002: "They [the Iraqis] are working on more [WMDs], and the longer we wait, the longer it takes, the more such weapons they'll have.") Or Saddam was allied with Al Qaeda, so we needed to act before his WMDs made it into their arsenal. Those further assertions were not supported by the intelligence, and most of the experts who believed in Saddam's left-over poison gas either didn't believe them or had serious doubts.

The coolest feature of the CPI's report is the searchable database of administration statements, false or otherwise. I searched the false statements for the phrase "no doubt" and got 17 hits. And that, I think, is the meta-lie of the whole propaganda campaign: that our intelligence about Iraq ever provided the kind of certainty our government should demand before it starts shooting people.

The FISA Debate Gets Confusing
I'm unable to find the exact quote, but I have dim memories of some 19th-century commodities trader comparing the gyrations of the wheat market to watching men wrestle under a blanket: You can tell that something is happening, but you can't tell what. Well, that's how I feel about this week's FISA maneuvering in the Senate.

Here's what I do know: In August Congress passed the Protect America Act (love those names), which amended FISA to increase the President's power to spy. I was at the YearlyKos convention when this happened, and it was widely perceived there as a betrayal by the Democrats in Congress. The Democrats did manage to put a six-month sunset on the bill and promised to undo the worst of it. Instead, six months later, we're looking at a bill that not only makes the August concessions permanent, but also includes amnesty for the telecom companies who helped the administration illegally spy on American citizens without a warrant. (If that characterization is unfair, then there's no need for amnesty.)

Last week, Harry Reid seemed to be doing everything he could to carry water for the administration while appearing not to. He brought the administration's version of bill to the floor rather than an alternative that didn't have the amnesty provision, under rules that made it hard to amend. It looked like another Democratic capitulation was inevitable.

And then on Thursday, the Republicans apparently upped the ante. They did some further maneuvering to impede the passage of the bill, presumably so that President Bush could use Congress' inaction as an issue in the State of the Union address tonight. The Democrats seem to have had a reaction of "How dare you refuse to accept our surrender?" It looks like they got annoyed. There's an important vote later this afternoon about sustaining Senator Dodd's filibuster. If there aren't 60 votes to close off debate, the Senate will be all but forced to pass another temporary extension that doesn't include amnesty.

President Bush has threatened to veto such an extension, but that's a little like the scene in Blazing Saddles where the sheriff faces down a mob by taking himself hostage. Bush has been telling us for months that we're all going to die if his spying powers are allowed to lapse. He'll look ridiculous if he vetoes them.

Anyway, that's as clear as I can make it. Glenn Greenwald has more detail. The best place to keep up with events on this issue is on the FireDogLake blog.

BTW: Glenn points out an important piece of the spin war on this issue: Republicans are trying to push the false idea that FISA itself is expiring on February 1. It isn't. Only the extensions to FISA that got made in August are expiring. So if you're listening to the news and you hear something about FISA expiring, you know that you're listening to a lazy reporter who'd rather push administration spin than look up the facts.

The Horse Race
Interesting times in the Democratic presidential race. Just when it looked like Hillary Clinton was inevitable again, Obama won South Carolina with a margin that is hard to ignore. I've heard a lot of coverage of Bill Clinton's remarks reminding us that "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice." And more than one Clinton supporter has told me that Bill stepped over the line there. The Sunday talk shows were all about the theory that Bill is hurting Hillary's campaign.

The Obama campaign has done a good job of building momentum since then with high-profile endorsements. As I write this, Ted Kennedy is endorsing Obama and appears willing to campaign extensively for him. In Sunday's New York Times, Caroline Kennedy gave Obama the highest praise she can bestow: A President Like My Father. And an endorsement that is very interesting to political wonks like me is apparently coming from Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius after she's done giving the Democratic response to the State of the Union. Sebelius is a fascinating character. She's made Kansas a two-party state again by taking advantage of the disillusionment of moderate Kansas Republicans. In both of her elections, she ran with a former Republican as her lieutenant governor -- two different ones.

Now, when it comes down to Obama vs. Clinton, I'm rooting for Obama. But we need to remember that all this sturm and drang is an artifact of the campaign. Before you vote, try to put all the who-did-what-to-who out of your mind and think about who you want to be president.

On the Republican side, it looks to me like Romney is going to catch McCain in Florida, and from there who knows? Huckabee had a chance to expand his appeal in a populist direction, but it hasn't worked: He's the evangelical candidate and nothing more. Giuliani has run maybe the worst campaign of modern times, so unless the McCain and Romney campaign planes collide in mid-air, it's over for him.

Studying the exit polls, I've concluded that Romney has re-assembled the voters who elected Bush. If you think Bush basically had the right policies, but you're looking for somebody to execute and communicate them better -- then you're for Romney. Among Republicans, that's probably a majority. But I think it will result in a Democratic landslide in November.

Short Notes
This story is just too good and too symbolic: President Bush has had a painting on his wall since his days as governor of Texas. It shows a rider on horseback galloping up a trail, with a couple other people in the background. Bush believed that this painting, called "A Charge to Keep," was based on a Charles Wesley hymn whose name is similar. He seemed to think the rider was a Methodist missionary in the old West. But in fact it is an illustration for a Saturday Evening Post story from 1916. It shows a horse thief escaping a lynch mob. That's about how I would like to see Bush leave Washington next January. I don't want the mob to catch him, but they should come really, really close.

The Mike Huckabee squirrel-frying story is silly, but for some reason it's irresistible. (Maybe this is how conservatives feel about John Edwards' hair.) In this clip, Slate Video examines whether it really is possible to fry a squirrel in a popcorn popper.

The recount of the New Hampshire primary vote found what most New Hampshirites expected: The count wasn't perfect, but it was so close that the mistakes didn't matter. There was no evidence of an intent to falsify the totals. But I'm glad Dennis Kucinich demanded and paid for the recount. Hand recounts of a few random precincts ought to be standard procedure for any machine-counted ballots.

If you had planned and promoted a disastrous war, and then got booted from your next job for giving lucrative favors to your lover, you might expect to be unemployed for a while. But that's because you're not part of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. After leaving the World Bank in disgrace in May, Paul Wolfowitz landed on his feet, taking a job with the conservative American Enterprise Institute on July 2. But that was just a place to wait for the dust to settle. This week he got a new position at the State Department, as head of the International Security Advisory Board, which reports to Condoleezza Rice. You don't have to be competent, you just have to be loyal. The VRWC will take care of you.

In order to fill the ranks, the Army has to keep lowering its standards for recruits. But counter-insurgency requires a smarter, more insightful soldier than ever before. Over on Slate, Fred Kaplan explains why something has to give.

You know how the public is supposed to be even more disgusted with Congress than with President Bush? It depends on what question you ask. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked: "Who do you want to see take the lead role in setting policy for the country: George W. Bush or the Congress?" Answer: Congress 62%, Bush 21%.


Anonymous efields said...

horse thief story
what a hoot,
thanks for the chuckle

2:10 PM  
Blogger Joie de Vivre said...

Can you please give me an essay on Open Source Journalism?

9:19 AM  

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