A factitious picture of the world built up by the Bush Administration over its five years in power is now going to pieces before our eyes. Great jagged spikes of reality, like the crags of the iceberg that ripped open the staterooms of the Titanic, are tearing into it on all sides. The disrespected world of facts, an exacting master, is putting down this governmental insurrection against its ineluctable laws.
The pivot is of course the war in Iraq, which in its origins and conduct was and remains a colossal, blood-drenched fraud. But now a majority of the public has caught on and wants the United States to withdraw. In addition, a special counsel has reached directly into the White House and, for the first time since 1875, indicted an official who works there: the Vice President’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, who was trying to suppress the truth about the war by punishing a truth-teller, Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
But of course, the Administration’s rebellion against the factual world has gone far beyond the war. The government has been mobilized across the board to erase or deride knowledge of everything from the largest problems now requiring the world’s attention–such as global warming and the spread of weapons of mass destruction and their materials (while the Administration ransacked Iraq in vain for them)–to the comparative minutiae of domestic policy, such as the cost of prescription drugs, the extent of power-plant pollution and malfeasance in the award of Pentagon contracts.
As the fantasy explodes, new aspects of the machinery of falsehood are being brought into view. The willful, concerted, energetic tenacity of the defense of fiction is notable. The twenty-two pages of Libby’s indictment portray the office of Vice President Cheney skillfully and relentlessly deploying all its resources to protect the single false allegation that Iraq was purchasing uranium in Niger before the war. Cheney and his team worked for weeks to marshal the information and misinformation with which to smear Wilson. Meetings were held to discuss just how to spread the dirt to reporters. A misleading identification (“former Hill staffer”) for the designated smearer, Libby, was concocted.
Did the Administration know the truth and lie to others, so that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” as the head of British intelligence put it contemporaneously? Or was it that Bush officials “misled themselves…. And then they misled the world,” as the United Nations inspector at the time, Hans Blix, has recently said–in keeping with the old principle of salesmanship that the most persuasive deceiver is a self-deceiver? Or did the Administration, like an overzealous policeman who believes someone is guilty and plants evidence on him to “prove” it, just believe that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and, combining faith and fraud, fix the facts to fit its belief? Whichever it was, the effort was arduous and protracted. And the same can be said of other assaults on factual truth and its tellers. For hiding the real world, with its powerful capacity to pour forth oceans of new facts every day, is not an inconsiderable task.