Bush's Spin Machine

We've had two nifty opportunities to study the Bush spin machine at work here lately, both offering such a neat schematic of how it's done that one is tempted to applaud. Or something.

The first was the counter-offensive launched by President Bush on Veterans Day against those who have the nerve (!) to notice that the administration manipulated intelligence in order to justify an unnecessary war.

Bush, indignation to the fore, righteously denounced his critics for "baseless attacks," "false charges" and "rewriting history" because they are "fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments."

That may be true, but it's also true that the Senate investigation did not look at whether the administration manipulated information once they got it. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence specifically refrained from looking at whether or not the administration manipulated pre-war intelligence.

Got that? All it has done so far is look at the pre-war intelligence by the agencies. It has yet to do the second part of its job, looking at how that intelligence was used or misused.

The Republicans are trying to prevent the committee from doing just that, and Democratic leader Harry Reid is down to using procedural ploys to get around them.

The same failure is true of the "independent" Robb-Silberman commission, appointed to investigate the matter by Bush himself. Judge Laurence Silberman said, "Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us were agreed that that was not part of our inquiry." In circumspect circles, the word used to describe Bush's argument is "disingenuous."

Among normal people, it is called lying.

Among the things we didn't know before the war:

  • The State Department was convinced the Niger uranium claim was bogus.
  • The source for the claims about biological weapons was a questionable character called "Curveball," who had a drinking problem and was distrusted by German intelligence, which had worked with him.
  • We were told with great alarm that Saddam had drones that could deliver weapons, but the Air Force thought that was a joke.
  • The Department of Energy never believed the famous aluminum tubes had anything to do with a nuclear program.
  • Colin Powell's warnings about mobile weapons labs were not based on solid information.

I always thought the single best reason to doubt Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was that the United Nations inspectors were over there looking and couldn't find any. This was while Donald Rumsfeld was claiming we knew where the WMD were being stored. So why didn't we tell the inspectors so they could go look there? It never made sense.

As author Eric Alterman notes, we've been having a kind of harmonic convergence of b.s. lately. The administration's first response to challenge is to lie, the second is to attack. Dick Cheney, always good in the attack role, called critics of the war "dishonest," "reprehensible" and "opportunist." Again and again, anyone who raises questions about the reasons for or the conduct of this war is promptly accused of "being against the troops," "hurting morale" and "helping the terrorists."

Dissent equals treason. Anyone who criticizes Bush is unpatriotic. According to this pitiful attempt at intimidation, to notice that this war is a disaster is the same as spitting on our soldiers. Stephen Hadley, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney have all played this card in recent days.

It's just plain old intimidation, trying to scare people into shutting up -- it's an old, ugly, mean trick, and it only works against cowards. The treatment of Rep. John Murtha is a classic example. Murtha, stalwart supporter of the military, described Iraq as a "flawed policy wrapped in an illusion" and called for pulling troops out "at the earliest practicable date." White House spokesman Scott McClellan promptly denounced Murtha for "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party.'

And the charming Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio quoted an Ohio colonel: "He asked me to send Congress a message to stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run. Marines never do."

But Murtha -- 37 years in the Marine Corps, decorated war hero in Korea and Vietnam and widely respected for his knowledge of military affairs -- is not easily intimidated. Of the vice president he said, "I like guys who got five deferments and (have) never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

While Washington stands around having a public relations battle over all this, the real war with real people dying goes right on. The main reason we should get out is because we're not doing any good over there. We stayed for years past the point of reason in Vietnam because they said there would be a "bloodbath" if we left. But there's a bloodbath because we're there.

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