W is for Incompetent
Friday, March 17, 2006
Culled from the latest Pew Research polls on George W. Bush's presidency:
- Currently, 48% use a negative word to describe Bush compared with just 28% who use a positive term, and 10% who use neutral language.
The changing impressions of the president can best be viewed by tracking over time how often words come up in these top-of-the-mind associations. Until now, the most frequently offered word to describe the president was "honest," but this comes up far less often today than in the past. Other positive traits such as "integrity" are also cited less, and virtually no respondent used superlatives such as "excellent" or "great" terms that came up fairly often in previous surveys.
The single word most frequently associated with George W. Bush today is "incompetent," and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: "idiot" and "liar." All three are mentioned far more often today than a year ago.
Is it OK if we call him an unpopular president now?
[Note: "Incompetent" is how this blog has described Bush since its first week, and it has remained a consistent descriptor ever since. Most of all, I'm still wondering why Democrats failed to emphasize this in the 2004 campaign, since it was painfully clear even back then.]
The Minutemen's mission
The Minutemen, it seems, are stepping up their activities in Washington state, with plans not just for an April border watch but also for protests at day labor sites:
- The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps plans to begin protesting in front of businesses suspected of employing illegal immigrants throughout Washington state.
The new protest plans would move the organization off the border and into cities and towns for the first time, worrying Hispanic leaders and others about the group's intentions.
The plans, confirmed by Seattle Minuteman organizer Spencer Cohen, would have volunteers suggest job sites across the state believed to employ illegal immigrants. Minuteman volunteers would wave protest signs and potentially take photographs of suspected illegal workers to post on the Internet.
You also have to love the assurances that the leadership gives:
- For now, Cohen continues to collect information on potential protest sites from Minuteman volunteers and has no timetable for holding the demonstrations. He also said he personally would discourage protesters from carrying firearms, even if they had state concealed carry permits.
"Although we are accused of being racist vigilantes, that's just not the case," Cohen said. "We are basically like an inner-city neighborhood watch."
Sharing the blame
Michael Parfit, whose ultimately unsuccessful work in protecting the lost killer whale Luna from harm I described earlier, has penned an eloquent and insightful piece describing the aftermath of the young orca's death:
- We had flowers with us. Slowly we began to throw them into the sea. They floated away behind us on the easterly breeze as we were carried west by the current. I had told a newspaper reporter that we would throw flowers and say goodbye. But we only managed the first part.
And whom shall we blame for this great loss? The heart weeps and the heart seethes, and the heart demands to exact a price from those who have caused it pain, in the vain hope that some kind of relief can be purchased by what the broken heart imagines is the more deserved pain of another.
In the press and on websites we have seen a pouring out of recrimination. We find that both terrible and understandable. We are often overwhelmed by waves of anger and desires to blame. Our pain at this loss is greater than we had ever imagined it would be, and the bursts of anger we feel are more intense than is in any way justified. In fact, I found to my dismay that I threw some of the flowers hard, as if hitting out at the water for withholding our friend.
As part of the grieving process, Parfit also examines his own culpability:
- One thing must be said now. You did not read about everything I did. I could not be altogether honest, because I was afraid that if I was I would be officially forbidden to continue. I will be honest now. I did not make a habit of playing with Luna, but on several occasions I led him away from problem encounters. Most of these were with fish farms. In the last few months he has caused damage and concern at those places, and when I came past and saw Luna engaged in that kind of activity, and then saw Luna come toward my boat, I did not speed away. I let him follow. Usually I then led him across the bay, then motored slowly up Zuciarte Channel toward the open ocean, to see if he would follow.
Usually, when I got into Zuciarte, Luna chose not to go any farther. Once, however, he followed me up Zuciarte to within two miles of open water, which I found hopeful. I had many daydreams about a reunion at the mouth of the Sound if he could just learn to headquarter out there instead of behind stone acoustic barriers in Mooyah. But after that one time he didn’t go that far again.
Once I did lead him to the sea. He was far out of Mooyah, around on the west side of Bligh Island. I had been looking for him for hours and was quite worried. Do you remember the photos of his recent breech? It was that day. I saw a spout and then the breech. What a relief it was! When he came down from the big jump he did stealth whale right over to me and started playing with the boat. I could see the edge of open water in the distance, and decided that I’d just leave the motor turned off. I drifted at about two knots all the way out to Yuquot. I was looking straight up at the lighthouse when he finally left and headed back into the Sound.
This told me that getting him to the sea regularly would not be hard. Unfortunately I felt that I had so pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in leading him out those two times that I did not seriously try it again. Now I wish I had done differently. But there are many wishes.
The point of all this is that I found it extraordinarily easy to get him out of troublesome situations. Although I didn’t do this very often, I knew how straightforward and effective it could be.
... The point of all this is that I know I might have been able to head off the accident that killed him. After all, I was the guy who had taken on keeping him safe. I knew how to do it, and had done it before, and was concerned about the risks. And I had made a commitment to our own hopes for Luna. I had also made at least a moral commitment to all of you who have read our reports and had your own hopes for a long life for this boisterous sweetheart whom Lisa Larsson, in her grief, calls our brave little whale. Though I was constrained by law from doing all that I wanted to do for Luna, I had promised that I would be around to give Luna help when he needed it, and was willing to bend the law when necessary to get that job done. I was the one on watch.
But on the day that mattered, I wasn’t there. I had tied up the boat and had gone down to our home near Victoria for a few days. There were things we had to get done at home and I thought it was going to be more important to be around all the time later in the season. There are few sadder words to me right now than these: I wasn’t there.
Parfit, however, is wise enough to recognize that he couldn't have played God in the end, and that Luna's death was a tragic convergence of many actions and inactions, many presences and many absences:
- I think that in learning to accept whatever blame is legitimately mine, and in shedding the vanity of taking on too much, I find that I cannot escape my pain by laying blame on others. The reality of this tragedy is that it was a specific event, an accident, which had no direct cause in policy or negligence. It could have happened anywhere at any time, even after a reunion. I can absorb some of the blame, because it indeed happened on my watch. Beyond that, blame is just guesswork and slander and unworthy of the character of the loved one we have lost.
We can surely seek lessons, as Fred Felleman has done so calmly in his essay. And we have to accept that we all share responsibility here. We all cared, but we failed to find agreement, and we failed to learn what Luna really needed. We just failed. But we have to accept also that one of the costs of freedom is risk, and Luna was free and took risks. Could we have lessened those risks? Perhaps. But wherever he was we could not have eliminated them, even by taking away his freedom, where a different set of risks would have come into play. You can lock your child in the bedroom away from fast cars, but then he dies of loneliness or the flu you bring him.
Be sure to also read Fred Felleman's essay on the lessons learned, as well as Howard Garrett's and Susan Berta's excellent op-ed from the P-I.
Filling out the constellation
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Urizen at The Intelligent Party chimes in on the conversation regarding pseudo fascism, and while I agree with largely everything he writes, he says something that I should probably clarify:
- His conclusion as I read it is that pseudo-fascism is more appropriately thought of as proto-fascism, and that the sort of pseudo-fascist rhetoric we're seeing so much of these days isn't fundamentally distinct from fascism proper, but is rather an "earlier" form of the same impulse. The distinction to be made, then, is between the fascist mindset and fascism itself, the latter being a product of the fascist mindset + certain circumstances and actions ...
Now, this is all terminology, but I try to reserve the term "proto-fascist" for genuinely fascist entities that put on a mainstream face, e.g., the Patriot movement; the conservative movement, in contrast, simply exhibits and embraces fascist themes but does not really have the violence and totalitarianism that is the real fascist core (and thus is "pseudo fascist"). The problem with this, I argue, is that it creates the conditions -- that is, a populace receptive to these themes -- for the rise, perhaps much further down the road, for a large-scale outbreak of genuine fascism.
I think Robert Paxton's model of five-stage fascism is helpful in this regard, because much of the kind of rhetoric we're talking about is simply first-stage fascism, something we've been dealing with for years. The prospect of it reaching the second stage -- "taking root" -- is not particularly great through traditional means, but could occur if the conservative movement drifts toward proto-fascism, both rhetorically and in terms of their agendas.
- What we have to acknowledge, then, is that this pseudo-fascist/fascist mindset is attacking government and society on the most fundamental level, which is, counterintuitively, also the most vulnerable level. Conservative ideology in its most basic form is marked by a certain natural skepticism towards unorthodox ideas, towards anything that deviates in policy or principle from the status quo. The fascist mindset, it seems to me, is a combination of two impulses: an extreme version of this death grip on the status quo, and an irrational and reductive division of the world into "us" and "them." These two impulses justify and enhance each other, to the point of full-fledged eliminationism. This is dangerous not only in that it has the potential to develop into fascism proper (or at least “isolated” incidents of violence and persecution)—it also threatens the responsiveness of democracy and the fundamental respect for freedom, autonomy, and the intrinsic worth of human beings (regardless of political/philosophical/theological belief). Fascist tendencies and eliminationist rhetoric shouldn’t only worry us because they might result in real violence, though the threat of violence is real. We should also be wary of such mindsets because of the damage they do to the foundations of our society, a society that (like it or not) is designed to function according to a rational morality, not irrational and impenetrable orthodoxy.
This is important to emphasize, because this rhetoric and its spread really does affect us in our personal lives, in our relationships, our work networks. It's really a venom that poisons the community well.
This is why thinking of fascism as a political pathology can be helpful, especially since it has a psychological dimension as well. Psychological pathologies are rarely boiled down to a single trait or behavior; rather, they comprise a constellation of these, and only when a particular combination manifests itself can we identify them as a real pathology. The same applies to a political pathology like fascism: some traits can give us an outline of a given syndrome, but only when all the stars align can we confirm the diagnosis.
I think it's fair to say that the stars have been aligning in an ugly and disturbing fashion in recent years.
The foundations of fascism
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Amy at the Biscuit Report had a question for me last month regarding my discussion of the reports of Halliburton concentration camps:
- I know you write that what we are seeing today is different in many respects from the 'original' fascisms. But wouldn't that always be the case, since it's a different time and place? What is the difference, particularly, between 'incipient fascism' and 'laying the groundwork for the eventual outbreak of genuine fascism"?
When you say "pseudo-fascism", it makes it sound like whatever is going on, since not fascism, is not actually that dangerous. Do you do this just to calm the tin-hatters? Because everything else you say makes things sound pretty darn dangerous. It looks like fascism and quacks like fascism. Sure, it's not just like the fascism we all know and love from our history books. But it's not an entirely other species. It's not like the difference between a king snake and a coral snake, the difference between harmless and deadly.
These are not just reasonable but perceptive questions. I understand that it seems like I'm drawing a fine distinction between the discrete conservative movement's pseudo-fascism and the real article. But the distinction between them is both significant and fairly clear, if framed the right way.
If you'll recall, I explained way back when that genuine fascism does exist in America, and has for generations. It continues to exist today in the form of unreconstructed fascists and neo-Nazis, as well as proto-fascists like those found in the Patriot movement.
There has always been, and continues to be, a significant existential difference between these factions and mainstream conservatism, even despite the impetus created by the metastasis of the conservative movement.
We know that the conservative movement is not genuinely fascist because it has not seized power during a crisis of democracy. There are no loyalty oaths, no official suppression of free speech (at least not overtly), no purges, no mass arrests, no street or vigilante violence against political opponents.
Those are the kinds of things we could expect if the neo-Nazis or the Patriots actually ever seized power. Or, more to the point perhaps, if the conservative movement metastasized into a genuinely fascist entity.
When these kinds of things start occurring, then I think we can say we're no longer looking at pseudo-fascism but the real thing. Until then, it's best to recognize that the democratic republic remains more or less (under Bush, decidedly less) intact.
This is consistent with what I observed about Robert O. Paxton's model of the rise of fascism, which holds that fascism usually arises under the auspices of an overtly authoritarian political party that comes to power through a coalition with ruling elites. This would be represented here by the National Socialist Movement becoming a significant third party that gains corporate backing, something that fortunately does not seem even remotely likely at this juncture.
But as I pointed out at the time, there's another possibility: that an existing political party could become increasingly fascistic over time, particularly through its associations with right-wing extremists, and eventually subsumed by them as their worldview came to dominate the party agenda. It is this danger, as the conservative movement metastasizes into a pathological political religion, that we have to confront in the 21st century.
In order to confront it, we have to confront how it's happening: namely, the way that ordinary conservatives are induced to embrace essentially fascistic ideas and ways of thinking, often not out of any genuine conservatism but out of a reflexive anti-liberalism, something that has traditionally more characterized fascists than conservatives. Traditionally.
Nowadays, we can turn to the Internets and find, routinely, supposedly mainstream conservatives holding forth in a fashion indistinguishable from genuine fascists, as Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns and Money did in digging up this gem:
- The problem with our world today is cultural rot. Cultural rot can be detected by symptoms such as terrorism, oppression, overpopulation, ineffective government, poor economic models, and extremism. Conversely, cultural rot can also be identified by an obsessive media, a naval gazing pop culture movement, isolationists, pervasive liberalism, ignorance of history, and a society becoming disconnected from its past.
Anyone familiar with Umberto Eco's essay on "Ur-Fascism" recognizes this theme:
- Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering's fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play ("When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun") to the frequent use of such expressions as "degenerate intellectuals," "eggheads," "effete snobs," and "universities are nests of reds." The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.
Likewise, Paxton observes as one of the seven "mobilizing passions" of fascism the following:
- -- dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effect of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences.
So it's no great surprise that the blogger's solution to this "rot" is abundantly familiar:
- Cultural rot is encroaching on everything we hold dear, here and abroad. Our dilemma in America is how to marginalize those* who would seek to destroy or change our culture. The only answer to this is a return to the values that made our nation great.
Not only does Eco identify "the cult of tradition" as the first trait and most readily identifiable trait of fascism, but so in a way does Oxford scholar Roger Griffin, who contends that the myth of "palingenesis" -- the Phoenix-like rebirth of the nation, in this case from the destructive fires of liberalism -- is one of the real defining traits of fascism.
The centrality of palingenesis is described in Wikipedia entry on neofascism and religion:
- Scholar Roger Griffin argues that "fascism is best defined as a revolutionary form of nationalism, one that sets out to be a political, social and ethical revolution, welding the 'people' into a dynamic national community under new elites infused with heroic values. The core myth that inspires this project is that only a populist, trans-class movement of purifying, cathartic national rebirth (palingenesis) can stem the tide of decadence" (Griffin, Nature of Fascism, p. xi).
This concept of fascism as palingenesis is complementary with the idea of James Rhodes that fascism is a form of apocalyptic millenarianism; and with the work of Emilio Gentile where fascism is seen as a form of "political religion."
The blogger in question, of course, was genuinely taken aback at having been identified as expressing fascist ideas (and a rather predictable mangling of the meaning of the term followed). After all, wasn't what he was saying simply something that's a common part of our discourse, namely, a defense of traditional values?
Well, yes and no. After all, what are we to logically conclude from his argument? How, exactly, are we to confront this decay and degradation, borne on the wings of "an obsessive media, a naval gazing pop culture movement, isolationists, pervasive liberalism"? How do we "stand up for traditional values"?
The logical answer, though he only nods in its direction: We "marginalize" the opposition. Dispose of them. Eliminate them.
Discussions like this are fairly common, and have been for awhile, but they don't occur merely in a vacuum. So the natural corrolary to them is the rise of eliminationist rhetoric, which has the virtue, for movement conservatives, of serving a useful ideological function as well.
A great deal of the eliminationist talk that's circulating in the body politic is not making its way into print because it tends to be talk on the streets, but any liberal living in a "red state" zone has heard it, often crudely and bluntly expressed. You can find it in cruder corners of the Web, too, including the comments at Little Green Footballs or Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler (where it's also commonly featured among the editors as well). Probably the best iteration of this fairly crude talk was this essay by an obscure right-wing ranter, who nonetheless penned what could well be the eliminationist's credo:
- Instead of sitting around, incessantly sniping at President Bush and the US Military, sipping "liberal coward broth", hating America and Conservatives, the wacko liberal poison Left-Wing Nuts — and the rest of The Enemy Within™ — should be rounded-up and put into "re-education camps" and forced to watch 24 hour, non-stop TV news footage of 9-11, Sodomy Insane's rape/torture/murder rooms and the unearthing of Iraqi mass graves. Those hard-core Lefty wacko filth who can't be converted, should be summarily tried and locked away for life; no chance of parole. They're a waste of oxygen and a "clear and present danger" to America, as is the murderous, degenerate cult of Islam. Free and unfettered speech is guaranteed under the First Amendment, but actively working and trying to destroy this Nation, in a time of war, when our very lives are in peril, is a treasonous and seditious offense, and should be treated as such, and punished by death. The much-maligned Patriot Act provides for that very situation, and should be implemented post haste. All verminous, hate-America, liberal-socialist-commie filth should be contained and selectively eliminated.
Hits all the high spots, doesn't it?
The more that formerly mainstream conservatives come to think like this, the closer we get to a genuinely fascist phenomenon. And unfortunately -- under the inducement of a million little Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters and Bill O'Reilly's out there, urging them on -- I do think their numbers are growing.
These transmitters not only form a bridge for extremism and mainstream conservatism, they also create, quite intentionally, an increasingly polarized environment in which extremist ideologies are likely to flourish and find an audience among mainstream conservatives. In some cases, the transmitters are people with extremist backgrounds who largely present themselves clothed in "normal" rhetoric, but who nonetheless increasingly employ the tactics of right-wing extremists in the pursuit of an agenda that is extremist.
Pastor Dan at Street Prophets observed one of these in his Pennsylvania backyard, in the person of Michael Marcavage of Repent America, a religious-right organization that is stirring up trouble in Dover, site of a long-running dispute over "intelligent design" curriculum, to stir up more trouble in the community.
Many had believed the recent school board election, in which all the ID proponents were thrown out emphatically, had settled the issue once and for all. But the Repent America folks are back pounding the pavement, trying to stir up the community's religious faction, mostly by exacerbating the existing animosities.
So Pastor Dan notes:
- But they share some of the same tactics used by white supremacists: come into a divided community from the outside -- particularly after a hard-fought controversy -- and use the opportunity to push a confrontational message. Wherever possible, play the victim to make the authorities out to be repressing the subversive truth you are pushing. I'd try to explain the message here, but it's just not worth it. The tactics are the message. The hope in using such strategies, I suppose, is to attract such followers as you can. But more important, the purpose is to upset and intimidate the community. The charitable view of this kind of activity is that it's simply an aggressive form of advocacy. The less-charitable explanation is that it's plain thuggishness. I don't incline to the charitable view.
I've discussed Marcavage previously, and noted that the beliefs he preaches regarding homosexuality are not particularly distinguishable from that of Christian Identity preacher Pete Peters -- namely, he believes gays should be put to death. Pam Spaulding has been tracking Marcavage for some time now.
And the tactics he's using in Dover, you'll note, are right out of the NSM's playbook in places like Toledo, Olympia, and Orlando: Find a community undergoing upheaval, exploit it for your own purposes, grab some headlines, and boost your recruitment. In the process, the converts almost always began as mainstream conservatives.
This, rather than the specter of concentration camps or any other tweak of our paranoia buttons, is where the danger to the republic actually lies: less with the government than with our neighbors, its willing executioners in waiting. The real danger is the spread of extremist right-wing thinking, especially as it increasingly disguises itself as mainstream.
There are, of course, an abundance of warning signs that authorities in power are becoming increasingly authoritarian. Of recent note, for instance, is the story of a Boise man hassled by Homeland Security agents for the bumper stickers on his truck.
But I'm much more concerned by the rise of movements like the Minutemen, who represent a real embrace of right-wing extremism by the mainstream. Even more disturbing is the realization that their vigilantism is a clear indicator of their potential as a font of right-wing street violence.
Make no mistake, Amy, that what we're talking about is profoundly dangerous and innately harmful. Part of the reason I insist on using the term "fascism" -- flawed as it is, thanks to the degeneration of the term under its constant misuse -- to describe what we're seeing is that it emphasizes the very real threat that it poses.
The correct analogy regarding pseudo-fascism and real fascism, I think, is not to compare them to a king snake and a cobra, but rather to a cobra in different states: before it strikes, as it still slithers into range and raises its cowl; and after it has bitten. In the former, we can keep it at bay and even corral it. In the latter, we're calling the ambulance.
As long as the gathering fascist trends are blunted and confronted, then the danger of pseudo-fascism blossoming full form into genuine fascism remains controllable. But if we fall down on the job, and the American body politic under the influence of the extremist right gives rise to real fascism, and we do start seeing loyalty oaths and official suppression of free speech, mass arrests and street violence ... well, by then, I'm afraid, it will be too late.
Quote of the day:
- "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You didn't place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."
Jamie Raskin, March 1, 2006, in Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee testimony responding to Republican Sen. Nancy Jacobs' suggestion that discriminating against gays and lesbians regarding marriage is required by "God's Law."
[Via Carolyn Kay at MakeThemAccountable.]
Monday, March 13, 2006
Andrew Sullivan's list of "what I got wrong about the war" is most notable, perhaps, for what he omits.
Evidently, Sullivan still has no regrets about having labeled the left-wing critics who questioned Bush's invasion plans and their rationale -- you know, the people who it turned out were right -- as a treasonous "fifth column".
Even more conspicuous by its omission from Sullivan's list was the reality that he was snookered by Bush's lies. It was so much easier, after all, to impugn the patriotism of people who were not.
Moreover, Bush, you see, didn't lie per se, in Sullivan's little bubble-land. Oh no. He was misled by an incompetent intelligence apparatus:
- The first was to overestimate the competence of government, especially in very tricky areas like WMD intelligence. The shock of 9/11 provoked an overestimation of the risks we faced. And our fear forced errors into a deeply fallible system. When doubts were raised, they were far too swiftly dismissed. The result was the WMD intelligence debacle, something that did far more damage to the war's legitimacy and fate than many have yet absorbed.
This is very similar to something John McCain said this weekend in his defense of President Bush. It kind of stood out for me, just because we've been hearing versions of it from the right ever since it became clear that Bush in fact led America to war under false pretenses:
- Mr. McCain praised the president for his failed effort to rewrite the nation's Social Security system, said he supported the decision to go into Iraq and blistered critics who suggested the White House had fabricated or exaggerated evidence of unconventional weapons in Iraq in order to justify the invasion.
"Anybody who says the president of the United States is lying about weapons of mass destruction is lying," Mr. McCain said.
This is an extension of the rationale we've been hearing from the Bushevistas ever since it became painfully obvious there were no weapons of mass destruction to be found in Iraq: It wasn't a lie if he believed the WMDs were there. It was just a mistake.
Joseph Sobran offered up an early iteration of this back in 2003:
- Well? Does this mean he was lying all along? Not necessarily. In fact, I doubt that he was. And I don't say this out of any fondness for him or trust in his word.
People have subtle ways of misleading without actually lying. One of these is to exaggerate their own certainty. They pretend to be sure of things when they are only guessing.
... This doesn't mean that our rulers were lying to us; they largely believed what they said. It was an enormous and willful failure of judgment, history’s most expensive application of "Better safe than sorry."
So we needn’t accuse Bush of trying to deceive us. He probably deceived himself first. With all his advisors, experts, access to secret information, and intelligence sources, he simply didn't know what he was talking about. But this should teach us not to trust his judgment.
This line of reasoning has been pervasive on the right, and it couldn't be more plainly self-serving: it not only lets Bush off the hook, it also lets off everyone who not only gleefully accepted his blandishments, but even more gleefully assailed the patriotism of anyone who questioned them.
But the reality of Bush's lies never was completely rationalized away this way, and that's been a source of continual anxiety for the right. The Wall Street Jourtnal even offered an op-ed with the subhed, "What if people start believing that 'Bush lied'?"
- Pounding through the media that the prewar intelligence was a conscious lie may incline the American people to believe the whole Iraq enterprise is false, and worse, that the very notion of weapons of mass destruction is also doubtful. The psychology of the big lie can sometimes run out of control.
The problem with all these excuses is that the Bush White House didn't lie about the presence of weapons of mass destruction: they lied about what they knew about them.
It wasn't simply on a couple of occasions that they did so. Rather, it was systematic and pervasive throughout their ceaseless beating of the war drums:
- Dick Cheney, August 26, 2002: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
Ari Fleischer, Jan. 9, 2003: "We know for a fact that there are weapons there."
George W. Bush, March 17, 2003: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
Donald Rumsfeld, May 30, 2003: "If you think -- let me take that, both pieces -- the area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."
This is not, as lame apologists like FactCheck.org try to argue, a question of "whether or not he knew at the time that the weapons weren't there." It's a matter of claiming to possess real knowledge and hard factual evidence that the White House in fact did not have.
For politicians and rhetoricians, this might be forgivable. But it is a uniquely egregious kind of lie when it comes from the White House, particularly on a matter of national security.
That's because citizens somewhat naturally understand that the president has access to special knowledge that is not available to the rest of us, especially on matters of security; and indeed, this fact was often cited by Bush's defenders during the runup to the invasion. The nation depends upon the executive branch to be making its decisions based on a hard-nosed and accurate assessment of that intelligence, particularly when the lives of American soldiers are on the line.
As John Dean explained some time back, the prospect that Bush, rather than relying on factual analysis, instead skewed the data for the sake of selling a preordained war to the public was cause enough for impeachment, not least because it undermined public confidence in the integrity of the intelligence process:
- In the three decades since Watergate, this is the first potential scandal I have seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison. If the Bush administration intentionally manipulated or misrepresented intelligence to get Congress to authorize, and the public to support, military action to take control of Iraq, then that would be a monstrous misdeed.
This administration may be due for a scandal. While Bush narrowly escaped being dragged into Enron, it was not, in any event, his doing. But the war in Iraq is all Bush's doing, and it is appropriate that he be held accountable.
To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be "a high crime" under the Constitution's impeachment clause. It would also be a violation of federal criminal law, including the broad federal anti-conspiracy statute, which renders it a felony "to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose."
It's important to recall that when Richard Nixon resigned, he was about to be impeached by the House of Representatives for misusing the CIA and FBI. After Watergate, all presidents are on notice that manipulating or misusing any agency of the executive branch improperly is a serious abuse of presidential power.
Nixon claimed that his misuses of the federal agencies for his political purposes were in the interest of national security. The same kind of thinking might lead a president to manipulate and misuse national security agencies or their intelligence to create a phony reason to lead the nation into a politically desirable war. Let us hope that is not the case.
The intervening months have only strengthened the case that the White House manipulated the data -- and that, while the intelligence was flawed, that wasn't why we went to war:
- Paul R. Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, acknowledges the U.S. intelligence agencies' mistakes in concluding that Hussein's government possessed weapons of mass destruction. But he said those misjudgments did not drive the administration's decision to invade.
"Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war," Pillar wrote in the upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs. Instead, he asserted, the administration "went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq."
"It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between [Bush] policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized," Pillar wrote.
Nonetheless, a partisan Congress and a mendacious White House -- which set up a Whitewash Commission whose explicit purpose was to avoid the question -- made damned sure that the question of intelligence manipulation was never answered.
But the issue of the nature of Bush's lies not only has lingered, it remains very much in full force in the debate over Bush's use of the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on American citizens. That's because Bush's cover -- that this is all super-secret information that must be kept under wraps in order to confound our enemies -- has not changed since the WMD debacle.
Just as subsequent evidence has made abundantly clear that Bush and his cronies lied about what they knew about WMDs, so is there sufficient reason to believe, as Glenn Greenwald points out, that they are almost certainly lying and have indeed rather nakedly broken the law in the process. And once again, in order to escape any consequences for their lies, they are depending on citizens' beliefs that they possess extra special, super duper triple-dog secret intelligence justifying those moves -- which means, as the execrable Joe Klein put it, that "a strong majority would favor the NSA program ... if its details were declassified and made known."
And of course, anyone seeking to bring the White House to ground over the NSA issue is labeled untrustworthy because they're anti-American Bush-haters.
Oddly enough, Andrew Sullivan has decided to pull off his blinkers regarding the NSA matter and has joined Bush's critics. Funny that he still hasn't figured out that he was wearing the same set of blinkers when it came time to invade Iraq.