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March 28, 2006

A preponderance of the evidence

Posted by Phil on March 28, 2006 10:10 AM

These Iraqi government documents that just got put online are going to be like a giant ink blot in which everyone will see what they want to see.

Intelligence officials had serious concerns about turning loose an army of amateurs on a warehouse full of raw documents that include hearsay, disinformation, and forgery.

But here they are, released under pressure from Republican congressmen, with intelligence officials conveniently instructed by John Negroponte not to debate or discuss them.

It's mostly the right that's excited. "Finally!" they'll declare as they find bloody shirt after smoking gun. As though an administration that specializes in selective classifying and strategic declassifying would have concealed, in the interests of our nation's or any other's security, anything that proved that Saddam and bin Laden shared long walks, midnight swims, and exciting plans to demonstrate their mutual loathing of the United States with a holy rain of nuclear hellfire delivered in aluminum tubes manufactured specifically for the purpose.

Representative Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and who led the campaign to get the documents released, ...said he wanted to "unleash the power of the Net" to do translation and analysis that might take the government decades.

After all, he's got an election in seven months!

People who want to prove the truth have to tell the truth; if there's no truth to tell, they say nothing, or, "We don't know." People who want to defend a lie have the good fortune of being able to declare that they know--but all they really have to do is spread doubt (and more lies). And these documents are chock full of doubt--in Arabic, even! It's a gold mine of doubt, an impenetrable thicket of confustication. It'll be complicated, there'll be a lot of we-say/they-say. The truth is confusion, uncertainty, a lack of evidence. But plenty of people will eagerly plunge in and emerge with reams of revelation.

It's good, albeit no coincidence, that we receive this treasure trove now that polls place support for Bush and his war down near the bottom third of public opinion. Maybe the coming declarations will fall on ears as deaf as those that received the news this week of the memo confirming that President Bush's inflexible intention was to go to war on Iraq, regardless of circumstance or opposition, and he was willing to lie and fabricate to buffalo his citizens and allies.

At their meeting, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair candidly expressed their doubts that chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons would be found in Iraq in the coming weeks, the memo said. The president spoke as if an invasion was unavoidable. The two leaders discussed a timetable for the war, details of the military campaign and plans for the aftermath of the war.

Without much elaboration, the memo also says the president raised three possible ways of provoking a confrontation.

"The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

It also described the president as saying, "The U.S. might be able to bring out a defector who could give a public presentation about Saddam's W.M.D," referring to weapons of mass destruction.

A brief clause in the memo refers to a third possibility, mentioned by Mr. Bush, a proposal to assassinate Saddam Hussein. The memo does not indicate how Mr. Blair responded to the idea.

Which leaves lots of room for fun speculation, huh?

"I'm sorry, I just threw up a little in my mouth."

"Ha! Brilliant! I'd love to see Chirac's face when he hears about that!"

"Of course you've got a plan for what you'd do next, right?"

See, it wouldn't have mattered what Saddam had or who Saddam knew. Saddam was bad, and God gave George W. Bush that tin star to take him out. Of course Saddam and bin Laden had direct and indirect contact over the years. Like Frank Sinatra said, you hang out in saloons, you meet a certain kind of people. Saddam was a secular dictator who hated religion and religious extremists, and they hated him. He would've wanted to keep tabs on bin Laden and al Qaeda, but he probably wouldn't have wanted to arm them--and even if he did, he didn't have any weapons.

Anyway, all of this is just a massive diversion, a thing we can argue about when the real issue is the lack of the thing. The fact is that we don't know what Bush or his advisors' reason for going to war was. I've got my theory; you've got yours; even in the White House I'll bet you get a different one with each person you talk to. Call it lies, call it obfuscation, call it policy noise; the fact is, there was never an honest public discussion of the decision or its ramifications. There was just this blithe forward momentum that seduced everyone, and now here we are.

The administration is culpable for its part, but the country was only too happy to unthinkingly trust matters to President Bush's questionable vision and competence. That middle third of the public--and the media, and the Congress--that wanted this war and now has lost its nerve must bear its share of the blame. The incompetence, lack of preparation, and sometimes immoral conduct have stunned even those who were skeptical from the beginning, but much of the present reality was predictable, and predicted.

Bush's base out here is looking less like zealous patriots and more like a cult of personality. What are the core philosophies in which their support for Bush is rooted? What are the policy successes with which he has earned their devotion? What conditions--economic, military, environmental--has he produced that they are pleased with? Do they really believe he's "winning the war on terror"? Do they even know what that means anymore?

Or are they just so devoted to winning their rhetorical war on the contemptible left that there isn't a lie their side can tell that they won't defend without a scrap of conscience, even if it's to the detriment of the country?

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