January 28, 2004
The Hypnotic Ping-Pong Match and the Strategy of Cognitive Dissonance
BUZZFLASH READER COMMENTARY
Depending on who you ask in the White House -- and on what day -- questions about the motives for invading Iraq are answered by the explanation that the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein. With that comes the insinuation that questioning the rationale for the war somehow makes the questioner a "Saddam-lover."
When the inevitable questions about what are euphemistically called "intelligence failures" appear, there are two competing and contradictory lines of explanation proffered by the White House.
For the viewers at home unfamiliar with the fact that Cheney paid the CIA a series of unprecedented personal visits to the headquarters before March 2003, he would be forgiven for wondering, "How can there be problems with the information Bush used in deciding to go to war when he is so plainly happy with the CIA?" Either the problem encompasses these two clashing, contradictory images, or there is no problem at all. (The only other conceivable explanation for the cognitive dissonance we're seeing from the White House is that it isn't a strategy. It's just chaos. And they're just bumbling fools.)
I can't help believe, however, that for a scandal of these proportions there had to be some discussion of damage-control among the top level officials. I wonder how long the White House calculates, or hopes, it will continue to be effective. For it really does represent the greatest intelligence failure of the Bush Administration: the underestimation of the American people's intelligence.
More than 500 American service personnel have given their lives for a cause the White House is hard-pressed to define. The White House and top Republicans can almost be forgiven for thinking the American people would let such blunders slide. Republicans took the wrong lessons from American voters' indifference to Clinton's impeachment. They mistook it for apathy, when it was a display of American priorities. Clinton's actions did not result in the deaths of Americans, the loss of jobs, or even the squandering of our nation's moral authority. Bush's reckless actions -- I can't call them policies -- do. Americans care. They want answers.
So the same flurry of baffling, contradictory answers emanate from the White House. And the plan is, no doubt, that the American public will get confused, they will get distracted, frustrated by the lack of answers. The press will report each contradictory assertion at face value -- like a ping pong match, as Ken Auletta says -- and the American public will grow bored and want to move on.
What is really happening is that the variety of answers is diminishing. Fewer White House employees say there "could be" problems with our intelligence. Fewer say the war was justified all the same. Cheney says the weapons were there even though weapons inspector David Kay says they never were. The answers coming from the White House are growing monotonous and the number of people offering them is diminishing.
None of this factors-in the story of UK intelligence employee Katharine Gun. Soon some enterprising journalist of the for-profit press will learn there is a niche market for articles about the disparity between the White House's claims and the facts on the ground. They might soon notice that this niche market in fact-based reporting is underserved. And when that happens, the White House won't be able to spin hard and fast enough to pull themselves out of the hole they dug before the American public and before the world.
A BUZZFLASH READER COMMENTARY
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