By The Plaid Adder
the leadup to the invasion of Iraq, there was a lot of concern
outside the Bush cabal about the fact that our administration
was putting so much more effort into constructing the perception
of a nuclear threat in Iraq that they were not dealing effectively
- or indeed at all - with an actual nuclear threat
in North Korea. If Bush and his crowd had paid more attention
to North Korea, they might have learned a valuable lesson
from the Dear Leader: control over perception does not translate
into control over reality. Or, to put it another way: if you
control the media, the government, and the surveillance systems,
then it's easy enough to manipulate perception - but reality
is a much harsher mistress. Telling lies, even if you do it
well, will only carry you so far; you can make people believe
them, but you can't actually make them true.
We are learning this now, slowly, as the weapons of mass
destruction that Colin Powell said we knew Iraq had
fail to materialize. The reports have finally started trickling
through into the mainstream media: frustrated weapons inspectors
going home empty-handed, "suspicious chemical" after "suspicious
chemical" turning out to be fertilizer or pesticide or some
other innoccuous thing, and now finally a fight brewing in
the intelligence community about who's responsible for the
enormous gap between what our army was told about the situation
in Iraq and what they actually found when they went over there.
Specifically, according to a recent Reuters article, there
are accusations from intelligence insiders that the Bush administration
deliberately skewed intelligence reports in order to manufacture
support for the war in Iraq.
According to the article, the finger is being pointed at
a group of four people put together by the Pentagon which
apparently went by the name Office of Strategic Planning although
it was "self mockingly-called the Cabal." This group "reviewed
material gathered by other intelligence outfits for any missed
bits that might have tied Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to
banned weapons or terrorist groups" - or, in the words of
an angry Defense Intelligence Agency official, "cherry-picked
the intelligence stream" selecting only those bits of information
that would help them make the case for war. In addition to
reports from the CIA and DIA, the "Cabal" was also working
from intelligence provided by Ahmed Chalabi and his organization,
the Iraqi National Congress.
Chalabi is also, apparently, one of the major sources for
intelligence about WOMD, not just for the army but for the
American media. Because there is another nasty fight brewing
at the New York Times over Judith Miller's heavy reliance
on Chalabi as one of the unnamed sources for the information
she printed about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs.
Let's see. Chalabi has been out of the country for 30 years,
and is widely expected to be the leader of the new Iraq 'democracy.'
Can we say "conflict of interest," boys and girls? Or can
we even say, "Unlikely to have up-to-the-minute and accurate
I have to say that this story has been very interesting
to me in terms of what it says about the intelligence community
in this country. Like most liberals, I deeply distrust the
CIA. For decades it has been a favorite means through which
presidents circumvent Congress and/or international law in
order to accomplish their own nefarious foreign policy agendas.
So it is rather startling to find the American intelligence
community suddenly standing up for the truth. Most of the
whistleblowers - at least those willing to give their names
- are emeriti; ex-heads of counterterrorism or whatever who
are relaying the accusations of people who are still working
at these agencies and have watched the whole debacle.
It is entirely possible to take the cynical view of this
and see it as, basically, a giant case of office politics:
the DIA seizing a chance to make the CIA look bad, and both
organizations fighting for their own power against this new
team of powerful insiders who are threatening to make them
irrelevant. But you can also look at it as an encouraging
indication that even people who believe in invasions, assassinations,
and covert operations do have some kind of allegiance to the
truth. They're OK with lying to the American people - for
their own good - but are distressed to see the government
refusing to take reality into account when planning its foreign
policy. Maybe this isn't a deep-laid conspiracy to cover up
something even more heinous than the fact that Bush's administration
told lies to the American people, to Congress, and to the
United Nations Security Council in order to get us into a
gratuitous war that has cost hundreds of American lives, uncounted
(literally) Iraqi lives and who knows how many billions of
dollars. Maybe this is human beings who, whatever their politics
may be, really believe in the work they are doing expressing
real concern about what is liable to happen under an administration
which is far more interested in realizing its own fantasies
than in understanding reality.
Because when you think about it, the real hallmark of this
administration is not its apparently limitless ability to
manipulate perception but their utter impotence as regards
reality. They can pass as many tax cuts as they want, and
tell us that giving more money to their friends will jump-start
the economy, but the market has so far refused to play along
- and that means that they are going to suffer too, no matter
how much they steal; that's where all their money is. Powell
can get up in the UN and lie about imaginary weapons of mass
destruction till the cows come home; but if they ain't there,
then you can't find 'em, and although Saddam Hussein himself
was never able to "prove he didn't have weapons of mass destruction,"
we have done a pretty good job of proving that ourselves.
The photo-op they organized of Saddam's statue coming down,
and the Bush speech on the aircraft carrier, did wonders for
the average American's perception of the war as a glorious
and righteous victory; but they have not been able to actually
produce such a victory in Iraq, where American soldiers are
still being killed and even a basic level of stability remains
elusive. Now, according to the New York Times, the
Army is extending the tours of the divisions in Iraq and looking
into committing more; the situation in Iraq, like the deteriorating
situation in Afghanistan, is clearly beyond the control of
the troops we sent over there.
This, perhaps, is what those ex-intelligence officials are
trying to say: if you ignore reality, it will bite you in
the ass. You may be able to sell your perception to the people,
especially if you control the media; but outside of that echo
chamber the world does not respond so well to Karl Rove's
magical powers of spin. As Scotty might have said, you canna
break the laws of physics; a lost job is a lost job, a dead
soldier is a dead soldier. If you really want your deception
to be successful, you have to take the truth into account
when you design it.
So what do we learn from all this? Two things. One is that
the anti-war movement that mobilized against the Iraq invasion
was not, as it was usually portrayed, a bunch of starry-eyed
idealists, but rather a bunch of grim realists. We knew that
the weapons program described by Colin Powell in the U.N.
existed only in the Bush administration's fantasy world. We
knew that the real war would have to be uglier, bloodier,
and longer than the fantasy war that eventually played out
on American television. We knew there would be terrible consequences.
That's why we opposed the war. Not because we are a bunch
of pie-in-the-sky dreamers who turn a blind eye to the existence
of evil abroad and believe that the world's problems can be
solved by folk music; but because we know too much about the
brutal realities of war to get caught up in the pleasant fantasies
constructed by the Bush administration and sold to the American
public by the willingly complicit corporate media.
The second thing, really, is more important: As frighteningly
omnipotent as the Bush clique may seem to Americans right
now, in fact, they are not evil geniuses. They are nothing
more or less than a bunch of greedy, cruel political hacks
with a lot of connections and a lot of cunning. This is a
gang of people who have gotten by on their willingness to
lie, cheat, steal and kill without hesitation or remorse.
They're ruthless, and they're dangerous; but apart from a
few narrow areas of expertise, they are really not very good
at what they do. And that means that they can be beaten.
No matter how good they are at managing perception, reality
will always bite back. It is up to us to make sure that it
bites the Bush team harder than it bites us.
The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting
an equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the
same can be found at the Adder's Lair at http://www.plaidder.com.