The WMD Question
AUSTIN, Texas -- I rarely find fault with Washington journalist Josh Marshall and his thoughtful Blog "Talking Points Memo," but I beg to differ on this occasion.
"My God," writes Marshall, "when they say down the memory hole, they ain't kiddin'! There now seems to be a secret competition -- perhaps it was announced and I just didn't hear it -- for the Iraq-hawk who can come up with the most ingenious, Orwellian, up-is-down rewriting of the history of the year-long lead-up to the Iraq war."
Marshall goes on to discuss a few entrants in the secret contest but then votes, prematurely I believe, to award the palm to Bill Safire of The New York Times. Safire's recent column about "hyping the 'hoax' charge" is the most elegant of its kind: Suddenly those who ask, "So where are these weapons of mass destruction we went to war to over?" are the problem.
In Safire's parallel universe, the problem is not that we're not finding weapons of mass destruction -- which means either we were lied to by the Bush administration or there was a massive intelligence failure. No, that's not the problem at all. The problem is rather the people asking the question are "the crowd that bitterly resent America's mission to root out the sources of terror" and are "whipping up its intelligence hoax hype."
Got that? If you ask, "Where are the weapons of mass destruction?" -- a fairly obvious question at this point -- you are the problem.
That's good, but not as good as my old favorites at the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Their June 1 editorial "Weapons of Mass Distortion" is a masterpiece. In this version, those who ask the WMD question are attempting "to damage the credibility of Mr. Blair, President Bush and other war supporters."
"But who's trying to deceive whom here?" thunders the Journal. "That Saddam had biological or chemical weapons was a probability that everyone assumed to be true, even those who were against the war." So there! And why did everyone assume it? Either because we were lied to or because there was a massive intelligence failure. To get off Orwell and back to the facts here, we were told we were going to war because Iraq had 5,000 gallons of anthrax, several tons of VX nerve gas, between 100 tons and 500 tons of other toxins, including botulinin, mustard gas, ricin and Sarin, 15 to 20 Scud missiles, drones fitted with poison sprays and mobile chemical laboratories.
The ex post facto development of tender concern on the part of hawks for human rights is delightful to see. To repeat, there was always a good case to be made for taking out Saddam Hussein on humanitarian grounds alone -- those us who work in the human rights movement were making that case back when the Reagan administration was arming Saddam Hussein. It was not, however, the case made by the Bush administration, in part because we are still supplying weapons to other monsters (Algeria, anyone?).
Also contending for the Orwell award is White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. In response to questions about that rather expensive photo-op aboard the USS Lincoln (between $800,000 and $1 million just for delaying the aircraft carrier a day), Fleischer said, "It does a disservice to the men and women in our military" to suggest that the president "or the manner in which the president visited the military would be anything other than the exact appropriate thing to do." Everything the president does is the exactly appropriate thing to do, and anyone who says otherwise is doing a disservice to the troops. Amazing.
There's an old newspaper saw, "Error runs around the world before the truth can get its boots on." The sad case of the distortions of the Jessica Lynch story (she did not receive multiple gunshot wounds; she was not stabbed; she was not fighting to the death; she was apparently injured in a car accident; the famous rescue at the hospital did not involve any firefights; in fact, there were no Iraqi troops in the area, and there was no one there but the Iraqi doctors, who had been taking very good care of Lynch) amount to what the BBC -- not normally noted for overstatement -- called, "One of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived."
OK, so truth is always the first casualty of war, but tax cuts aren't war. President Bush said, "My jobs and growth plan would reduce tax rates for everyone who pays income tax." Except, of course, for the 8.1 million low- and middle-income taxpayers who pay billions a year in income taxes.
After the new tax cut bill was signed, Fleischer said, "And, of course, for people in the 10 percent bracket, they benefit the most from it, and that's the lowest income workers in America. This certainly does deliver tax relief to people who pay income taxes." Guess that makes 8.1 million of us chopped liver.