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Reality Bites
June 4, 2003
By The Plaid Adder

During 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 information?"

Apparently not.

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.

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