Passive And Mute
Published: May 05 2003
|New York-based Russ Baker is an award-winning
journalist who covers politics and
Are you feeling blue these days? Despondent
because "regime change" has come to the Iraqi people through no
fault of your own?
Well, come off it. Obviously, none of us think that anyone
anywhere should be forced to live under a brutal, or, for that
matter, not-so-brutal dictatorship. Notwithstanding the messiness of
the political and security situation in their country these days,
it’s genuinely heartwarming to see the Iraqis out from under Saddam
Hussein’s monstrous yoke. But somehow, anyone who opposed the Bush
administration’s war is left feeling a little guilty. The basis for
such feelings, as we shall see, are complex, but some of the guilt
The issue was never whether Iraqis -- or Cubans, or Sudanese, or
North Koreans, or for that matter Chinese -- deserve freedom and
democracy, any more than it is whether Americans can safeguard such
desirables for themselves in these troubled times. At issue is
whether the reasons given by the Bush administration for a
massive, preemptive military assault were legitimate.
The administration used nonexistent threats to build domestic
support and neutralize foreign opposition, then fell back on "regime
change," a notion for which they’d ridiculed Bill Clinton, as their
reason. But actually it was neither. And they never had to justify
themselves at any point.
Many of us were sure that the official rationalizations, Al Qaeda
ties and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), were bogus. Last week,
after months of administration insistence to the contrary, the truth
began to win out. First, courtesy of the credibility-enhancing
participation of The New York Times’ chem/germ-beat reporter,
Judith Miller, we learned why large stores of WMDs have not yet been
found in the Iraqi outback. Turns out that, like the "active
ingredients" in homeopathic remedies, the stuff is essentially
undetectable until it is actually in use. How Bush, Powell and
Rumsfeld could have been so certain a priori that the Iraqis
possessed WMDs is not explained. Second, unnamed administration
sources admitted to ABC’s John Cochran that the attack on Iraq was
really mostly about showing the world, post-9/11, that the United
States wasn’t washed up as superpower. As for ties to terrorists, no
smoking pen, much less smoking gun, has been discovered in the
smoking ruins of Baghdad’s government buildings.
Yet, despite these transparent shenanigans, the administration
was permitted to use these false markers as goal posts. The fault of
that lies with the media and with the public. The falseness of the
argument had to become the central issue, and the
administration had to be made to deal with that. Usually, something
said without justification is grounds for it to be shouted down. But
we didn’t do that.
After months of administration insistence
to the contrary, the truth began to win out.
Instead, much of the media rather liked the idea of a
jolly good war (they had long since applied for an exciting
embedment). Those reporters and editors with a conscience couldn’t
figure out a way to keep raising doubts. Keep reporting on that in a
mainstream broadcast or publication and you appear an ideologue. The
very nature of the media is that they are better at covering events
and statements than exposing tendentious illogic and systematic
deception by public figures. Gene McCarthy was generally hassled
more than Joe McCarthy.
As a result, the public is still unaware of the fast one
that was pulled on them. Witness the polls showing so many Americans
believe that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks. What sets the Bush
administration apart from its predecessors in Washington (and what
the media never properly spotlighted) is its willingness to say
anything -- no matter how counter-factual or fundamentally
misrepresentative of its true objectives -- to advance its aims.
It’s possible that a savvy campaign of public information
in response to the White House campaign of disinformation
from the White Housemight have slowed or even halted the march
toward war. But neither anti-war activists nor the Democratic
Party’s leadership were clever enough to consistently put forward,
in easily digestible form for both print and broadcast audiences,
the two points that could have swayed public opinion: (1) That the
administration was lying about the reasons for an invasion (2) That
other options existed to free the Iraqi people.
Liberal activists, already traumatized by the obfuscation of the
Clinton years, had better learn a lesson from their failure here.
Honest people can no longer count on an increasingly befuddled,
co-opted and intimidated mass media to stand up to government by
fraud. What’s needed from progressive forces is a commitment to new
policies that take away from our own anti-democratic right wing such
issues as confronting rogue states and freeing oppressed peoples
around the world. This will require the kind of hard-headed
imagination that, conjuring the Berlin airlift and Marshall Plan,
contained and ultimately brought down the Soviet Union without
triggering World War III. Who wants to say that only their parents’
generation can rise to an Occasion?