My Hometown Paper
My Hometown Paper
This was no less evident at the Times in its week's end coverage of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's revelations in The Price of Loyalty, a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind. O'Neill claimed that the president in meetings was "like a blind man in a group of deaf people," Reaganesquely without interest in what went on in his own administration.
The Times "covered" this Jan. 10 on page 21, the last page before the editorials, placing a small (or cut-down) AP piece next to its "National Briefing" of news shorts and, as of Sunday, there was no follow-up, even though the most startling revelation (missing from the Saturday report) should have been front-paged. According to CBS News:
"And what happened at President Bush's very first National Security Council meeting is one of O'Neill's most startling revelations. 'From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,' says O'Neill, who adds that going after Saddam was topic 'A' 10 days after the inauguration -- eight months before Sept. 11.
"'From the very first instance, it was about
Mike Allen of the Washington Post at least reported O'Neill's war revelation today ("O'Neill: Plan to Hit Iraq Began Pre-9/11," 1/11/04), though the piece was placed on p. 13; and the Los Angeles Times did similarly (1/11), though the Boston Globe seems to have front-paged it (1/11). Time magazine offered perhaps the most thorough piece on O'Neill's revelations, including the following gem ("Confessions of a White House Insider,"
"'In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction,' he told TIME. 'There were allegations and assertions by people. But I've been around a hell of a long time, and I know the difference between evidence and assertions and illusions or allusions and conclusions that one could draw from a set of assumptionsâ€¦ And I never saw anything in the intelligence that I would characterize as real evidence.'"
And the following:
"A White House that seems to pick an outcome it wants and then marshal the facts to meet it seems very much like one that might decide to remove Saddam Hussein and then tickle the facts to meet its objective. That's the inescapable conclusion one draws from O'Neill's description of how Saddam was viewed from Day Oneâ€¦. 'From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change
But for the New York Times and many other papers, the possibility that planning for war with Iraq had actually begun in the White House by late January 2001 was no news, or next to no news at all.
(And while we're at it, doesn't somebody find it strange that those rumors/reports circulating abroad in perfectly reputable news outlets about the possible Kurdish capture of Saddam Hussein -- which, if true, would make another of our stories a set of lies and propaganda -- isn't being dealt with, as far as I can tell, in the American media at all, not even to be denied, disproved, or dismissed? These reports may not be true, but shouldn't they at least be acknowledged?)
There was, of course, some good writing on the subject of this week's WMD news from people like David Corn of the Nation magazine and Derrick Z. Jackson, columnist for the Boston Globe, both of whom have been highlighting Bush administration lies for months and months. And columnist Bill Berkowitz at the Tom Paine website, having reviewed the case of the missing WMD, comments (Media AWOL): "If there's any scandal brewing at this point, it's that the mainstream media has not held the Bush administration accountable for its misinformation and disinformation campaign about
While day after day the media dissects Howard Dean's last meal, news about the lies that lay at the heart of a war that continues to result in needless American deaths (not to speak of Iraqi ones) gets at best timid and haphazard coverage in our media; sometimes none at all. None of this, of course, stops the Bush people from continuing to talk in the most solemn way about pursuing WMD in
The closest analogy I can come up with is Ronald Reagan's SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) in the 1980s -- initially a wild dream of the President's to put an "invulnerable shield" against nuclear weapons over our heads. When critics called his plan "Star Wars" to ridicule it, he embraced the term. Each time scientific types shot one version or aspect of SDI out of the skies, using evidence and reason, the program simply morphed into another dreamy form and -- like the Blob of 1950s scifi fame -- continued to absorb its surroundings; in this case, R&D funds from the Pentagon. The critics were right again and again, but it didn't matter. SDI and its "high frontier" enthusiasts have never left us and now the Bush administration is about to put the first "fruits" of SDI, an anti-missile system that has absorbed and will continue to absorb multibillions and won't work as advertised, into place. SDI proved impermeable to criticism, to evidence, to reason. The Iraqi WMD question seems to be following a similar path. It has been discredited over and over again, but never in a fashion that trumped the coverage of administration claims, no matter how wild, and who cares?
Naomi Klein, writing for the Nation, recently came to a similar conclusion on the more general topic of administration fraudulence and untruth (The Year of the Fake):
"When Bush came to office, many believed his ignorance would be his downfall. Eventually Americans would realize that a President who referred to
In some way perhaps, for many Americans, administration lies seem to make more sense -- or at least more comfortable sense -- of events than any set of truths, and that may be enough.
Oh, and while we're on the topic of weapons of mass destruction -- and things you're not likely to see in your hometown paper, here's a missing WMD story, printed up in England.
"Tony Blair's chief scientist has launched a withering attack on President George Bush for failing to tackle climate change, which he says is more serious than terrorism. Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, says in an article today in the journal Science that
"'In my view, climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism,' Sir David saysâ€¦
"'If we could stabilise the atmosphere's carbon dioxide concentration at some realistically achievable and relatively low level, there is still a good chance of mitigating the worst effects of climate change.' But countries such as
But, of course, Sir Davey must have the wrong country in mind.
Let me now return to General Swannack's "corner" because, believe me, for those of us of a certain age, turning that corner brings back memories, none of them good. When not spotting the famed "light at the end of the tunnel," we were always officially "turning corners" in the
I've said many times that Iraq is obviously not Vietnam, but in a world with only one superpower, with an arms race of one and an imperial drive of one, a world that is in many ways unprecedented and deeply unnerving, the urge for explanatory analogies has been powerful. Since September 11th, any number of thoughtful people have groped for analogies that would make some sense of our world. This may be the other side of the willingness of so many to settle for the administration's simple, if bogus, explanations.
"It is true that some critics have warned of a 'new
"If a secure and at least nominally sovereign Iraqi government exists a year from today, alongside American bases in that country, the
However, anything resembling defeat in
In the Washington Post's Sunday Outlook section at year's end, Robert Kaiser, who covered the Vietnam War in 1969-70, wrote a fascinating piece ("Iraq Isn't Vietnam But They Rhyme," 12/28/03) about similarities between Iraq and Vietnam, once the obvious military dissimilarities were removed from the picture. Among those similarities, he included: Official optimism, American isolation on the ground, American isolation in the world, and the primacy of political considerations. About this he says:
"Two beleaguered presidents, each hyping his unpopular war, suggest how these two episodes can turn out to be similar in their effects. The war in
Of course, what analogies you choose are going to depend on where you happen to stand. If you are a former Indian ambassador to Turkey, as is K. Gajendra Singh, then quite different analogies may come to mind ("Occupation case studies: Algeria and Turkey," Asia Times online, 1/7/04):
"In an era of nation states based on patriotism and shared history, people just hate occupying powers. While Vietnam's example and its people's fight for freedom and making it a quagmire for US forces has been talked about, Iraq's comparison with post World War 2 Germany and Japan shows little historic understanding. The ground situation and the evolution of the war for independence in Muslim, Arab, and till now secular
Of all the recent analogy pieces, the most interesting, I believe, is one by former AP reporter Robert Parry, who quite reasonably points out that the operative analogy in the minds of many of the neocons in this administration isn't Vietnam but the "successful" wars they fought by proxy in Central America earlier in their careers in the Reagan years, when a number of insurgencies were suppressed. In "
"The key counterinsurgency lesson from
"[E]ven if the Bush administration can hastily set up an Iraqi security apparatus, it may not be as committed to a joint cause with the Americans as the Central American paramilitary forces were with the Reagan administration. Without a reliable proxy force, the responsibility for conducting a scorched-earth campaign in
"Perhaps one of the lessons of the current dilemma is that George W. Bush may have dug such a deep hole for
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]