August 14, 2003
U.S. Congressman Jim McDermott on the White House's "Fear Factory"
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Lest BuzzFlash.com readers give up hope, we have interviewed Congressmen and Congresswomen who are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore. Yes, there are many Democrats up on the Hill who are trying to restore democracy and our Constitutional rights to America.
We were glad to recently speak with U.S. Congressman Jim McDermott, from Washington State's 7th District. (http://www.house.gov/mcdermott). Prior to the Iraq war, McDermott traveled on a peace mission to Baghdad, for which he was viciously condemned by the right wing shills.
This is what Congressman McDermott, who opposed the war, had to say once it began:
He sounds like a sensible man to BuzzFlash.
Before reading this interview, you should take a look at Congressman McDermott's commentary, "Fear Factory" [LINK].
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BUZZFLASH: We wanted to ask you about your commentary in "The American Prospect" called "Fear Factory: The Bush Administration's Dangerous Manufacturing of Post-9-11 Dread" [LINK]. What is the fear factory? What happened with the administration? How did they use fear after 9/11?
REP. JIM MCDERMOTT: The American people were stunned and really frightened by 9/11. We hadn’t had this kind of thing for 185 years in this country, since the British invaded the Capitol in 1812. And we had always had this feeling of invulnerability –- that somehow we are floating above it, and nothing can happen to us. And that particular incident was a real shock to everybody in the country to varying degrees.
Now the administration then realized that they had some plans that they wanted to get done, one of which was to take us to war. And the only way you can make people go to war is to make them feel that there’s someone to be afraid of, that we have to go out there and get. And they very skillfully, over the last year –- almost two years now -– have played the themes of fear on almost a continuous basis. And they have raised the level, and then they drop it. And they raise it again, and then they drop it. And you get the experience, whether you’re at the airport, or whether you’re listening to the radio, or the speeches that people make.
So we’ve had everything from going out and getting a smallpox shot to the orange and red and yellow, and all these codes that nobody knows what they mean. You’ve sent people out to buy plastic and duct tape. We have just run the American people. Periodically, when the people sort of get settled down, the administration stirs them up again, always talking about the war on terror, the war on terror, the war on terror. And then they begin to use things to get us -– I mean, they were having difficulty in convincing us we ought to go to war in Iraq, so they had to ratchet it up. And they began to say things that were beyond the truth, or beyond what they really knew, in terms of aluminum tubes and weapons of mass destruction, and buying uranium in Niger.
And all these things were all exaggerations to play on people’s fears, because the worst thing that you can think of –- or well, they thought they could think of -– was to have al-Qaeda terrorists running around with nuclear weapons and dirty bombs, coming into our ports, or being somehow out there where we can’t find them and don’t know where they are. And they just created an atmosphere of continual fear.
BUZZFLASH: Mr. Bush has repeatedly made those sort of macho claims. In the beginning, he said, "I’m gonna get Osama dead or alive." He said, "I’m gonna get you Saddam -– dead or alive. And you can’t run. You can’t hide." He said he was going to get the anthrax terrorist. And he hasn’t done any of that. He said, in Iraq, "Bring ‘em on," to the guerillas there, while our soldiers are being shot and killed. And then we have had, particularly prior to the Iraq war, as you’ve mentioned, all these terror alerts that have kept people on the psychological edge.
What’s going on here? We seem to have phantom enemies -– a man in the White House who is baiting them, and claiming he’s gonna get them and never does. And yet declares victory when the war is not over. I think to the average American, it’s kind of confusing, which we mean as an understatement.
REP. MCDERMOTT: I think there’s no question it’s confusing. It is an experience that makes people wonder what they can believe. And you get into that old Aesop’s Fable -– that children’s story about the little boy that hollered wolf. At some point, if you keep saying "wolf, wolf," people just don’t respond. And I think you’re really into that kind of a situation now. I don’t know what the people would believe. If there were really a threat tomorrow, I don’t know if the people would respond to it.
BUZZFLASH: Well, we saw it. Did something happen? I mean, certainly from my perspective just as a citizen, as soon as the Iraq war started, suddenly there were no more Tom Ridge homeland alerts. They just vanished. They just re-emerged recently when Bush was on the political defensive for lying.
Bush declared the Iraq war over, which it wasn’t, when he flew on that rather controversial visit to U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln with the "mission accomplished" banner. The next day, news of Iraq sort of stopped. Lacey Peterson suddenly dominated the news again in a sensational sort of fashion. And it seemed to us that maybe the terrorist alerts had stopped as a way of reinforcing that Bush had done the right thing to go to Iraq, because we didn’t have quite the drumbeat of terrorist alerts that we had prior to Iraq. Do you think there’s anything to that theory?
REP. MCDERMOTT: Well, clearly they have moved from one thing to another. I mean, as we were getting the drumbeat up to the war, they kept moving from al-Qaeda to weapons of mass destruction, and to Saddam Hussein. It was like they were going to war and were looking for a reason. And they really played that to a great extent. I didn’t believe that they could keep moving around and that anybody would believe them at all. But they kept doing it, and they managed to get the American people ultimately to accept the war.
BUZZFLASH: The way you describe it in the American Prospect commentary is: "Here's how it works: Throw a hundred claims against the wall and poll every night to see what sticks. Leak stories that are later discredited. Get a graduate student's dissertation and plagiarize it. Lift paragraphs from a war-industry magazine. Every so often, raise the danger level to code "yellow" or "orange." Give the people a rest. Then start all over again. Mix it all up and put an official seal on it. Now it seems true, despite the skepticism of intelligence professionals."
And the majority of Americans did believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And the majority of Americans thought that there was a direct connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.
In short, the Bush administration had convinced the American public that Iraq was a direct and immediate threat to the security of the United States. What can we, as citizens, do about that? As Americans, we want to look to the White House for leadership, and if we’re being constantly -- like a monkey in an experiment -- being given a jolt of electricity in the form of fear, what can we do?
REP. MCDERMOTT: Well, it’s the dilemma that we in America face, that we are constantly being given this kind of thing. That’s part of the reason I try to point it out to the American public and say: Hey, do you realize what they’re doing? I want you to understand what they’re doing because when you’re being manipulated psychologically, unless somebody points it out to you, you may have a sort of vague sense that something’s happening here I don’t quite understand. But you can’t put your arms around it. And I really was trying in that article to say to people: Hey, this is what’s going on here. I hope you understand that it really is the fearmongers themselves we have to worry about. It’s not the fear itself, because that’s not going to be the problem. The problem is the people who keep manipulating your fears. And that was really the goal of that.
BUZZFLASH: You are a psychiatrist -– is that right?
REP. MCDERMOTT: Yes.
BUZZFLASH: And you begin the article by talking about your experience in treating our soldiers that were wounded in Vietnam. And they came to Long Beach Naval Station. And you say, "our brave troops who endured lies from our leaders in addition to the usual horrors of war, suffered from fear, anger, sleep disorders and depression, among other things. These symptoms came to be known as post traumatic stress disorder." And of course, again you’re talking about soldiers who were wounded in the Vietnam War.
Are we, as a nation, feeling sort of a post traumatic stress disorder right now?
REP. MCDERMOTT: Well, my feeling was that we were, in the immediate period after 9/11. I could see it in myself and in my colleagues here on the Hill. I mean, you could see that people were really troubled, and they were having trouble sleeping, and they were talking about it.
I mean, people were walking around speaking about it. So you -– at that point, you know that there’s something going on. It’s not that we’re all crazy. None of those kids that I dealt with were crazy. They were just very disturbed by the horrendous experiences they had had. And when you see that, you realize that we’re all subject to that. I mean, there’s nobody who’s immune to those kinds of very upsetting feelings. But the only way you help them get over it, when I was treating those kids, was in helping them see what had happened to them. I mean, they had never sat down and sort of said to themselves: Well, now, what did I really go through here?
You have to have somebody like a psychiatrist come along and say to you: Here’s what you just went through. And so my job as a psychiatrist was to help them see what their experience had been. I actually wrote an article about that after I talked with my caucus about it. And people came up and started telling me stories about their own experience. Because I said, when you go home on the weekends, this is what you’re going to find.
BUZZFLASH: You’re talking about after September 11th?
REP. MCDERMOTT: Yes, I said: when you go home on the weekend, you’re going to find that the people are feeling this kind of stuff. And this is exactly what I saw when I was involved in the Vietnam War. I was not overseas. I was in Long Beach taking care of people coming back. But it was really not much different from what I was seeing in my colleagues on the floor of the House of Representatives.
BUZZFLASH: You talk in your commentary –- there’s not enough room to list them all -- about some of the strategic White House scare stories that came out that were highly suspicious and then proved to be wrong. You mention a story about weapons-grade uranium being smuggled in a taxi from Turkey to Iraq. And a few days later, it turned out to be about three ounces of non-radioactive metal. We recall many like these. There were two that we’ve kind of put in a hall of shame. One is that Saddam Hussein had loaded all his weapons of mass destruction on three cargo boats that were circling the globe. The tell-tale sign that this was a bit of black propaganda was that the spokesperson from the Pentagon -– "the unidentified spokesman" -- who told a wire reporter the story said that the reason they weren’t being stopped is that the U.S. was afraid if they attacked, they would unleash all these weapons of mass destruction into the air.
And as it turned out, three days later, as you point out -– the pattern here is three days later -- the story is sort of recanted through another source, meaning that the company that was responsible for those ships said, well, that’s not true. They’re carrying like rugs to China or something like that. And then there was another one. There was another one "leaked" by the administration that people need to be aware of beggars because they had received a report that al-Qaeda was going to disguise terrorists as beggars.
REP. MCDERMOTT: I haven’t seen all this stuff, but none of it surprises me, because it was so obvious what they were doing. And yet people, you know –- people want to believe their government. One of the things that they played on, which I thought was really awful, was the whole question of playing on people’s belief in government. And yet they were manipulating people right, left and center.
BUZZFLASH: Now let me ask you –- and I know we don’t have that much time -– but there’s an article in Working for Change by Norman Solomon, July 21st, entitled, "Media's War Booster Is Unlikely to Voice Regret." And the subtitle is: "Will George Will admit that Representative McDermott was right about Bush’s Deceit?" Are you familiar with the article?
REP. MCDERMOTT: Yes.
BUZZFLASH: Now he quotes you as saying on a trip to Baghdad for which your hide was severely beaten by the Republicans, and you were there with former Representative David Bonier. You said at that time: I think the President would mislead the American people. And he notes that George Will, among others, focused special venom on you, saying, "McDermott’s accusation that the President, presumably with Cheney and Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice and others as accomplices, would use deceit to satisfy his craving to send young Americans into an unnecessary war, is a slander." Do you feel vindicated at this point?
REP. MCDERMOTT: If I’d taken George Will seriously in the first place, I’d really feel vindicated, but to me, he was such a shill for the administration that it was really hard to take him seriously about anything. So I would say, yes, it’s nice to have people say things like that. But I’ve always considered the source. And George Will was not a very reliable source, in my view, of anybody’s opinion that I value.
BUZZFLASH: But I also noticed that even people like Mara Liasson on NPR called you and Bonier a disgrace for criticizing Bush while you were overseas.
REP. MCDERMOTT: I was a little surprised by that. But, you know, America was a very, very upset country there for a few weeks, until we sort of began to feel our legs under us again, and not feel so threatened all the time that you were vulnerable to attack. I think that people went a little bit overboard. But, you shouldn’t play this game if you can’t stand a little of that kind of stuff.
BUZZFLASH: Now Mr. Bush declared the war over, and mission accomplished. And it seems that one thing this administration does –- and we’ve read it in a very good book on Karl Rove called Bush’s Brain by Jim Moore and Wayne Slater, is focus on an individual. Rove built the war in Iraq around focusing on Saddam as an individual. This is part of Rove’s strategy -– you don’t focus on a nation, you focus on an individual.
And even now, we’re seeing today that because Saddam’s sons were killed, the President has said that the family mafia is out of business and so forth. But three more of our soldiers were shot today. Those of us at BuzzFlash and Americans in general don’t want to see any more of our soldiers shot. And it seems that the Bush administration continues to personify their opponents, rather than deal with whatever the systemic reasons are for opposition to the United States. I mean, how do we get out of this at this point, and make our country safe and ensure we’re not attacked by terrorists, but at the same time not simplify this to a game of "if we get the two or three bad guy leaders, it’s all solved"?
REP. MCDERMOTT: Well, you’re raising a real troublesome issue here, and that whole issue of demonizing people is a very dangerous thing to do. I don’t think that gets you anywhere in the long run. I think you’ll ultimately create more problems for yourself. And I think that we make a mistake when we let the President demonize Arabs or Muslims or any other group. I think we are really opening ourselves up to serious problems.
And then the President’s baiting of the Iraqis -– this man doesn’t understand pride in the Iraqis. It’s like the President’s saying, "They couldn’t have the guts to stand up to me." Oh, yeah? Well, I would be real careful about making that claim, because the Iraqis have already shown that they can go after us, and our kids are getting killed. If I were a mother of a soldier, I’d be madder than heck at hearing the President make all these kind of bold statements like 'Come-on.'
BUZZFLASH: Bring it on.
REP. MCDERMOTT: Yes, bring it on. Yes, thank you very much, sir. Where were you when there was a war? I think that it’s legitimate to ask him that. And I think that there ought to be more questions raised about a President who talks like that who’s never been in combat. I mean, one of the most interesting things for me was this guy came off that carrier wearing a uniform. Franklin D. Roosevelt or Dwight David Eisenhower never wore his uniform again after he turned it in. George Washington turned in his commission. He never wore a uniform again. I mean, there are a lot of great heroes we’ve had who never, ever played this military macho stuff. And I really think that it is very disrespectful to the people over there for him to sit back behind the lines and say, "Come on; get us" when he’s sitting home safe in the White House, and these kids are sitting out there getting shot at. To me, that’s awful. That makes me angry to think that my President would be so irresponsible as to do that.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
otherwise noted, all original