Plan goes awry
Posted on Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Be it recorded that the White House’s latest campaign to redeem its lost honor in Iraq began with a thunderous falsehood. In a made-for-FOX News moment during a recent press conference, President Bush took a question from Hearst columnist Helen Thomas for the first time in years. Like an aging actress taking a curtain call, the 85-year-old doyenne of the White House press corps performed exactly as expected. After playful banter, Thomas asked: “Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis.... Every reason given, publicly, at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war?” Actually, it wasn’t a tough
question at all. Bush quickly denied the premise, as any experienced politician would. Why, no president wants war, he said. He launched into a familiar soliloquy about how 9/11 changed everything, how he’d vowed to protect the American people and how “the Taliban provided safe haven for al-Qa’ida.” “I’m talking about Iraq,” she interjected too sharply for GOP savants, who professed shock at her rudeness.
That’s when Bush got creative.
“I also saw a threat in Iraq,” he said. “I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That’s why I went to the Security Council; that’s why it was important to pass [U. N. Resolution ] 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said disarm, disclose or face serious consequences.... [W ] e worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him.”
Alas, this is false. Regardless of his other sins, Saddam did admit United Nations inspectors. Surely even the most perfervid Bush supporters recall the weeks leading up to the March 2003 invasion when self-styled patriots mocked U. N. weapons experts led by Swedish diplomat Hans Blix and Moroccan nuclear arms expert Mohamed ElBaradei. U. N. teams visited sites all over Iraq, finding no sign of forbidden weapons of mass destruction before Bush began his “shock and awe” bombing campaign.
All these events happened amid a uniquely American version of George Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate,” with restaurant owners pouring French wine into gutters, french fries dubbed “freedom fries” and country singers in cowboy hats denouncing the Dixie Chicks for displaying insufficient reverence for Bush. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten, because you haven’t.
But has Bush himself forgotten? That’s an interesting question. It’s hard to know how deeply the visible world affects the president’s ideological obsessions. The New York Times has quoted British government memos depicting Bush telling Prime Minister Tony Blair in January 2003 that he was determined to invade whether U. N. inspectors found Iraqi WMD or not.
Once again, however, most of the White House press gave Bush a free pass, exactly as they did in July 2003, the first time he made the false claim about Saddam stiffing U. N. inspectors. Reporters appear to fear being shunned like Thomas.
It’s precisely the press’ unwillingness to confront Bush’s peculiar lapses, writes Eric Alterman in American Prospect, that explains “the air of unreality that appears to engulf almost all discussions of Iraq and the horrific situation Bush and company have wrought there.” The Washington Post even editorialized about how “authentic” Bush sounded, as if he were a contestant on “American Idol.”
Even so, the White House used Thomas’ impertinence to initiate a propaganda campaign against negative media coverage in Iraq. If only the TV networks would cover more Iraqi school openings and bake sales, administration spokesmen suggested, Americans would understand the progress toward democracy happening there.
A soldier’s wife at one of Bush’s Republicans-only town hall meetings—duly televised on CNN, of course—drew thunderous applause for suggesting that the biased news media only wanted to show bloodshed.
What planet do these people live on? Have they forgotten how the “embedded” media portrayed the Iraq war’s opening days as an extended Boy Scout Jamboree? The fawning coverage given Bush’s “Top Gun” aircraft carrier stunt in May 2003? Recent Iraqi elections drew highly favorable coverage, although no government’s been formed three months later.
Alas, when 30 beheaded bodies are found on Baghdad streets, that’s news. When police stations are overrun, and bombings and kidnappings prevent reporters from leaving their fortified compounds without military escorts—67 journalists have died in Iraq, and the Christian Science Monitor’s Jill Carroll remains in enemy hands—it’s impossible to pretend
that everything’s going according to plan. Having sold the Iraq war like a cinematic melodrama—a quick, decisive action/adventure revenge tale—the administration finds itself dealing with an American public ill-prepared for the dirty, bloody work of a prolonged occupation. Blaming the messenger’s not going to change that a bit.
•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.
Lily Tomlin said it best. "No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up."