Friday, January 23, 2004
Warmongers of Mass Deception (WMD)
(you can listen to Juan Willams' interview of Cheney here or read more about it here)
What caught my interest in the Cheney interview, though, was the emphasis he put on three claims. Those claims were:
(1) In concluding that Iraq had WMD, the Bush administration was relying on the work of the CIA.
(2) Others who had relied on similar information had reached similar conclusions.
(3) In pursuing 'regime change' the Bush administration was merely continuing a policy begun under the Clinton administration.
These claims aren't made in support of the headline grabbing assertion that the "jury is still out." Instead, they're a hedge against the day that the Bush Administration is forced to admit that there were no banned weapons. What they hope to say is something like, "hey, we were misled by the CIA, but so were lots of folks. We acted on the information we had at the time, and took only those actions our intelligence warranted. If you have any doubts, all you need to know is that the last administration had the same policy as we did."
None of this, of course, is particularly new (except maybe blaming it all on the CIA which, you've got to admit, is a stroke of evil genius). And each of the claims, viewed in a certain light, has a grain of truth in it. It's worth noticing again, though, because of the way Cheney's proposed narrative fits in with one of the narratives Bush offered in the State of the Union address.
The Bush narrative I'm thinking of is the contrast he drew between those who believed that our fight against terrorism was a 'war' and those who thought terrorism was merely a criminal matter. As has been widely noted, the point of stating the issue in this way is so that you'll be able to define everyone who disagrees with you as subscribing to a position you feel comfortable arguing against. You won't fool anybody who's really paying attention, but that's not who you're talking to.
In Cheney's suggested narrative, the point is to blur the difference between a reasonable view -- say, "Saddam Hussein is a bad guy, and dangerous, and we ought to pursue some kind of containment policy" -- and the kind of cowboy craziness exemplified by the Bush administration.
The idea is to pull all nuance out of political discourse, and to do it in a way that makes it seem impossible that anyone could disagree with you. If some pesky Democrat tries to criticize you, then they have the choice of either falling into the category you've carefully prepared for them or sounding as if their criticism isn't motivated by actual disagreement but, instead, by some sick desire for personal power.
Frankly, I don't have the slightest idea what can be done about this. One possibility is to do it better, to define the issues before your opponent, or in a way that swamps you opponent's attempt. I think that the Democrats often try to do this, but meet with limited success for a variety of reasons. But even when the Democrats succeed, I'm not satisfied with the result.
Sometimes, and this may be one of those times, I find myself in the grips of profound skepticism about the possibility of building a functional democracy. Either people want to participate actively in the process of self-government, or they don't. If they did, they'd pay enough attention to keep people like Cheney and Bush from manipulating them. But they don't pay enough attention. So they don't really want democracy.
But this is just the line of thought that leads you to turn into a Dick Cheney or a George Bush.