Thursday, August 20, 2009

Conservatism: The 5th Estate Part Three

The late Richard Pryor used to tell a story about him getting caught in bed with another woman by his wife. The punchline was, “Who you gonna believe, baby? Me or your lying eyes?”

Such an infuriatingly self-righteously indignant response would never have been heard outside of a Richard Pryor show until the 2000 election. When John Ellis called the presidential race in favor of George W. Bush, it didn’t seem to bother many of us that Ellis, who was temping for Fox, was Bush’s first cousin. Apparently, that little coincidence also didn’t matter to the news directors and network executives at the three dinosaur networks who’d already called Al Gore the projected winner in Florida, hence of the election.

Horrified at the prospect of being scooped by the upstart scions of Rupert Murdoch, ABC, CBS and NBC, in a reversal that would’ve given psychic whiplash to Winston Smith, similarly fell in line and also declared Bush the winner despite having produced nothing in the way of a well-sourced late development proving so other than John Ellis’s say so. And just like that, in the space of minutes, Al Gore went from being the President-elect to a lame duck Vice President presiding over the autopsy of his own mugging.

This despisement of the facts and of truth and reality was never made more nakedly apparent than during a now-infamous interview between Ron Suskind and a senior Bush official. In his landmark article, “Without a Doubt”, Suskind quoted this official (widely believed to be that master of elision Karl Rove) as saying,

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”

Elsewhere, this senior aide sneered that guys like Suskind are in “the reality-based community”, as if such a place was on a par with a leper colony or prison island.

Politicians and policy makers have a nifty phrase for this: Perception management. We encounter it every day when a celebrity or politician says or does something stupid and their publicist or press secretary has to launch into spin mode. The most common example of nonpolitical perception management is during a criminal trial in which avowed serial killers are just abused, misunderstood social maladroits, according to their attorneys. To hear these people talk, we cannot possibly trust our own perceptions and judgment... ever. And one would be hard-pressed to prove a case that this isn’t going to have a detrimental longterm effect on a nation that’s incurious enough as it is aside from Hollywood gossip and trivia.

Perception management is essentially an illusionist’s trick whereby rabbits materialize in hats, women get sawed in half to no ill effect, Iraqi dictators get turned into BFF’s of Osama bin Laden and Bush-league crooks into brilliant presidents of the United States.

But after the magic show, we go back to our humdrum homes and humdrum lives and may perhaps never realize that our personal reality hasn’t been changed a bit. Reality and the truth of modern physics only appeared to change for those brief moments because the illusionist so skillfully managed our perception of reality.

Essentially, it comes down to Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief.” We saw perhaps the apex of Bushian perception management during then Secretary of State Colin Powell’s snake oil pitch to the UN Security Council in February of 2003.

From trying to pass off raw anthrax as a pure white powder instead of the brown sludge it actually is to an intercepted transmission of Iraqi officers allegedly discussing over an open, unscrambled radio channel the relocation of WMD’s to cartoons of Saddam’s mobile weapons labs, Powell’s entire spiel was a hilarious monologue that needed only a laugh track and the accompaniment of “Yakkity Sax.”

Unfortunately, not enough of us got the jokes and by the following month we were lighting up the skies of Baghdad to the strains of Wagner and Elvis. There are no do-overs in war. You can’t get thrown out of the dodge ball game for breaking the rules especially if you own the ball. Once the school bully gets in the game he stays in until he wins and/or is ready to leave. Except in war, he gets to send in proxies and they get to dodge the balls/bullets/mortars.

This casual admission that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”, as the Downing Street Memo attests, was made several times in the last couple of years of Bush’s reign of error. When asked point blank by Helen Thomas on what role Saddam had on 9/11, George W. Bush curtly said, “Nothing.” Dick Cheney went on record as saying that even had we known in advance that Saddam didn’t have WMD’s, we still would’ve invaded. Once we got those 100,000+ contractors in Iraq and started setting up the Halliburton pipelines, the truth that was once so stridently important suddenly didn’t matter any more.

Yet those of us still exiled on that foul cesspool known as the “reality-based community” recall a different narrative. What we recalled hearing was Saddam’s name being invoked every time 9/11 was mentioned and vice versa.

In what was perhaps the greatest conflation in modern times, no one in the Bush Factory O’ Falsehoods could mention 9/11 or al Qaeda without inserting Saddam’s name into the narrative. In the run up to war Bush, Cheney, Powell and Condi Rice were telling us campfire tales of Saddam and al Qaeda and mushroom clouds in spite of neither Saddam nor al Qaeda ever coming close to being in possession of nuclear weapons.

Only years later did Bush say with breathtaking chutzpah that the administration never quite, officially, exactly, technically tied Saddam to September 11th. A careful and scrupulous parsing of the public record (and the MSM collectively proved to be a remarkably trustworthy and faithful stenographer) proves Bush to be correct. Indeed, at no time did any administration official technically implicate Saddam with 9/11.

The administration did say that Saddam had biological and chemical weapons. In Oct. 2002, Bush claimed, “The Iraqi regime... possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas.” In his State of the Union Address the following January 29th, Bush went into even greater detail, reiterating that
“Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He's not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them, despite Iraq's recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.”

They even sent Joe Wilson to Niger to pursue the claim that Saddam was trying to buy yellowcake uranium for nuclear weapons. For good measure, to prove he had a personal stake in the matter and to give it that John Ford western movie feel, Bush even whined that Saddam “tried to kill my dad.”

The administration also did say that Saddam (with his US-brokered arsenal) was a clear and present danger to us (despite never having threatened us). They did mention him virtually every time the subject of 9/11, al Qaeda or terrorism came up in the most hamfisted yet successful subliminal experiment ever…

…But the record will show that no administration official ever said that Saddam was connected to 9/11 or al Qaeda. And not one journalist who’d ever interviewed Bush on TV not anyone in the White House press pool ever stood up on their hind legs and simply asked Bush, “What did Saddam Hussein have to do with 9/11? Why are we taking our second detour in the War on Terror by invading Iraq?”

Asking such pre-invasion questions, requesting with breathtaking impertinence for some transparency and facts, would’ve no doubt resulted in a huffy, snippy answer from Junior, to be followed up by a quiet revocation of their hard pass and any daily passes and quite possibly a forfeiture of a career. But it may have been worth it when one considers how many American, coalition and Iraqi lives could’ve been saved.

But obviously, our knights of the keyboard thought that personally losing access to a pasture full of bullshit would’ve been more devastating than sending thousands of ill-prepared, ill-trained and ill-equipped troops to their deaths.

And by manufacturing assent and consensus, claiming consent by stretching “perception management” to the snapping point, the Boy Prince got his wars with the illusion of a mandate, the illusion of inviting the consent of the governed. And the neoconservative wing of the Republican/Corporate Party, with the assistance of all four of the known estates, was well on its way to becoming not only a fifth state but a super state, at that.


At August 20, 2009 at 10:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, the uncle milton friedmand and Joseph Goebbels plan is moving along. It Ok, trust us we're from the govt. Please move along.

At August 21, 2009 at 5:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Writing JP. My problem is this: I have not seen any evidence that we have actually exited the bush/cheney era. What "change" has there been?

At August 21, 2009 at 7:22 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Fundamentally speaking, none whatsosever. The continuance of the their policies under Obama is something I'll be going into in subsequent chapters.


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