Nearly every day brings fresh evidence that the Bush Administration deliberately undermined the security of this nation by misleading us into a costly and potentially ruinous war in Iraq. If Republicans were not in control of Congress, these would be impeachable offenses–far worse than anything Bill Clinton or even Richard Nixon ever did. And yet, by muddying the waters through clever manipulation of the known facts (free of vigorous challenge from the media), the Administration stands a strong chance of getting away with it. With the help of Republican stooge Ralph Nader and his misguided supporters, they may just win their first election.
Take, for example, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s recent CIA report. Congress, the White House and most of the mainstream media offer a picture in which US foreign policy was led astray by the feverish fantasies of CIA analysts, every one of whom had been hypnotized into unlearning the difference between “we know,” “we suspect” and “this drunk somewhere in Germany told someone…” Conveniently, George Tenet, the only high-level Clinton-era holdover, was selected to take the fall.
Both Jay Rockefeller and Pat Roberts, the committee’s ranking Democrat and Republican, have admitted that if Congress had known then what it knows now, it would not have authorized the Administration to go to war. As Rockefeller observed upon the report’s release, as a result of having been led to war under false pretenses, “Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower. We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow.”
It is thanks in part to the Democrats’ weakness in Congress that the Bush Administration has been able to convey the impression of having been (along with Congress and the rest of us) the innocent victim of a CIA misinformation campaign–much easier since the committee postponed its examination of the Administration’s prewar hype until after the election. But this misimpression is also a product of the selective amnesia of much of the media that covered the release of the report. In fact, almost everything we have learned about the shoddiness of the case for war was known at the time we were being stampeded into it. As the tireless Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay reported for the Knight Ridder chain back in October 2002, “Intelligence professionals and diplomats…privately have deep misgivings about the administration’s double-time march toward war. These officials charge that administration hawks have exaggerated evidence of the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses [and]…charge that the administration squelches dissenting views and that intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to produce reports supporting the White House’s argument that Hussein poses such an immediate threat to the United States that pre-emptive military action is necessary.” The reporters quoted one anonymous official who noted, “Analysts at the working level in the intelligence community are feeling very strong pressure from the Pentagon to cook the intelligence books.”
Throughout the bureaucracy, evidence abounded for anyone who cared to look. For instance, a secret September 2002 report of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency informed Secretary Rumsfeld, “There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or whether Iraq has–or will–establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities,” according to a report obtained by U.S. News & World Report. When Bruce Hardcastle, a defense intelligence officer for the Middle East, South Asia and Counterterrorism, explained to the Bush officials that they were misreading the evidence, according to Patrick Lang, former head of Human Intelligence at the CIA, the Bush Administration not only removed Hardcastle from his post, “they did away with his job. They wanted just liaison officers who were junior. They didn’t want a senior intelligence person who argued with them. Hardcastle said, ‘I couldn’t deal with these people.’ They are such ideologues that they knew what the outcome should be and they thought when they didn’t get it from intelligence people they thought they were stupid. They start with an almost pseudo-religious faith. They wanted the intelligence agencies to produce material to show a threat, particularly an imminent threat. Then they worked back to prove their case. It was the opposite of what the process should have been like.”
Meanwhile, we also have compelling evidence that at least some in the Administration knew quite well the true state of Saddam’s arsenal. In a February 2001 meeting with Egypt’s foreign minister in Cairo, Secretary of State Powell said of the UN sanctions then in force against Saddam’s Iraq, “Frankly, they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.”
Apparently accustomed to getting away with ignoring reality in almost all its forms, both Bush and Cheney remained adamantly oblivious in their responses to the report’s release. The President robotically repeated, “We were right to go into Iraq. America is safer today because we did. We removed a declared enemy of America, who had the capability of producing weapons of mass destruction and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them.” A spokesman for Cheney, as if speaking from an alternative universe, told a reporter that the committee findings were consistent with Administration claims.
How long will the mainstream media lie prostrate for this kind of insulting and deeply contemptuous nonsense, which weakens our nation and leaves us more vulnerable to attack than we were before? Personally, I think it’s long past time to tell Mr. Cheney and his sorry sidekick to go fuck themselves.
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I have decided to rename this column “The Liberal Media,” in part to coincide with two books I’ve agreed to write on the history of postwar American liberalism and in part because, well, that’s what I am. But I’ll continue to cover the So-Called Liberal Media.