March 22, 2004
Catch Us If You Can
by P.M. Carpenter
As the violent anniversary of "Objective: Peace" approached, the Bush administration's smidgeon-of-truth squad fanned out on Sunday morning talk shows in a Goebbelsesque enterprise of on-demand revisionism and shock-and-awe chutzpah. For students of official disinformation and sundry other forms of propagandistic distortion, these interchangeable senior operatives were a marvel to watch.
In my viewing area, pod-squad member Secretary of State Colin Powell kicked things off on Fox News Sunday. Since one year of fruitless searching for Iraq’s offending objects had passed, went the host’s line of questioning, perhaps the secretary might want to admit something of a boo-boo in launching an invasion. Might he?
Rather than speak in the certainty of the present tense, as he always did in prewar dog-and-pony shows, Powell let loose a torrent of the verbial subjunctive: "I believe the possibility of a terrorist nexus between Saddam Hussein and the weapons that he had the capability of producing or might have had and terrorist organizations that might have gotten access to those weapons, that's been broken up."
A fictional possibility, absent capability and imagined access -- all had "been broken up." Powell slithered from the wholly hypothetical to the victoriously concrete without breaking a sweat, or a snicker.
Again, given no threatening WMD, was the war a bad idea? "I don't think this takes away from the merit of the case." That's what he said, with a blustering manhood the size of Saddam’s harmless aluminum tubes.
Then on Meet the Press came National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, whose lengthy interview is best characterized by her stated reaction to finding no weapons: She was "somewhat surprised."
Ms. Rice also offered that "the terrorists are losing" because George W. Bush has vanquished Iraq -- the latter, or at least I think she was referring to the latter, being "more dangerous than North Korea." The president, you see, "fights [terrorists] on the ground for territory where we can take regimes that were once supporters of terrorism, regimes that were once problems with weapons of mass destruction, and make those places that are on the road to democratic development."
Somewhere in all that professorial, garbled syntax, Rice reconstituted a terrorist-supporting, WMD-holding Iraq that Powell happened to be dismissing on another network.
Or had she? In the end, Ms. Rice continued, Iraq is no longer a "weapons-of-mass-destruction concern." Just like that -- just like W’s State of the Union pirouette from hard WMD to "weapons-of-mass-destruction-program-related" stuff -- she mixed the real with the unreal, a dab of truth with a heap of untruth, and prayed no one would notice.
Yet, in sheer effrontery, no one compares to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who brought it all home that day on CNN’s Late Edition. How he managed to sit upright lathered in so much oleomargarine I’ll never know.
When host Wolf Blitzer noted that 564 U.S. soldiers had lost their lives in Iraq, Rumsfeld counter-noted bureaucratically that he was "mixing up those that were killed in action and those that have been killed in accidents and various other things." (The defense secretary loves martial mumbo-jumbo like "fatality metrics" -- which detail combat-death counts versus "various other things" -- but Blitzer had mixed up no such thing, having never specified cause.)
The host, it seemed, hoped to salvage some inkling of sorrow on the interviewee’s part by following up: "But still, 564 American troops have died because of their service." Rumsfeld shot back with the cool, you-can’t-rattle-a-pro-like-me remark, "Oh, more than that if you count Afghanistan."
We’re all quite impressed, I’m sure.
Rumsfeld dismissed a question on bad intelligence, saying the spook profession is, well, "imperfect," since it tries "to know something that others are trying to keep you from knowing." The answer itself may seem a tad imperfect, but actually served to clarify his prior musings, delivered at a February 2002 press briefing: "As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know." Yeah, we know.
Sure, many of Mr. Rumsfeld’s comments came across as hopelessly muddled thinking, but he was thoughtful enough to intersperse these with unshakable hubris as well. He palmed off his own prewar bugaboos about Iraq’s WMD as chiefly "the assessments of the United Nations"; tried to slip by that U.N. inspectors left Iraq for reasons independent of an imminent bombing campaign; insisted WMD have indeed been found ("David Kay’s report indicates that"); and persisted in the fairy tale of a fighting coalition of "34 or 35 countries."
Nothing -- not facts, not reason, not recent history and certainly not conscience -- could budge him from the White House playbook of rationalization, obfuscation and unaccountability.
once laughed at Iraq's rather loopy Information Minister, Mohammed
Saeed al-Sahaf, also known affectionately as Baghdad Bob. He's
gone now, but there's no missing his wacky take on reality, for
we still have D.C. Donald & Associates. They don’t come any
wackier than that.
otherwise noted, all original