When Will Voters Finally Get Wise to the Shell Game?
by Robert Jensen and Rahul Mahajan
September 9, 2003
The Bush administration's contempt for the intelligence of Americans hit a new low Sunday night in the President's speech about Iraq.
People around the country are asking about the failure to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which everyone still remembers were the stated reason for the war. And, as it becomes clear how little time the Bush administration spent planning for the postwar occupation, people are increasingly concerned about the ongoing suffering of the Iraqi people and the risks faced by U.S. military personnel.
People want - and have a right to expect - the President to come clean about the lies and distortions used to lead the country to war, and an explanation for the post-invasion failures. Instead, we got more evasion, invention and obfuscation. Bush refused even to acknowledge people's legitimate questions and papered over the political and military failures with increasingly stale rhetoric and rationalizations that ignored the key question.
Bush mentioned weapons of mass destruction only twice Sunday, both in vague ways that apparently referred to what Iraq possessed before the Gulf War. As the Blair government in Britain faces a crisis of legitimacy over its role in these lies, the Bush administration seems to think it can avoid accountability for manufacturing a pretext for war.
The first move in Bush's shell game to send the weapons issue down the memory hole was the focus on the liberation of Iraq. That seemed like a promising propaganda ploy, and Bush is still trying to sell it; Sunday he used the terms freedom or free 21 times. But four months after the end of major combat operations, it's hard not to notice that many Iraqis - and not just the "Baath party remnants" - apparently are not so happy with U.S. plans for their freedom.
That's why Bush moved the shells again to focus on terrorism, his ace in the hole since 9/11. On Sunday night he used the terms terror, terrorist or terrorism 28 times. Bush administration officials have been smart enough never to directly claim they had proof the Hussein regime was involved in 9/11. But their insinuation and innuendo have worked: According to a recent poll, 69 percent of respondents believe it likely there was some link.
Now, however, Bush has shifted the focus to the current situation on the ground in Iraq - that's where the terrorism threat exists.
No one knows the exact composition of the forces resisting the U.S. occupation. Certainly, it includes former members of the Hussein regime and military, along with Iraqis who were anti-Saddam. It's also plausible that some non-Iraqis, perhaps including al-Qaeda members, are entering the country to fight the U.S. military. Some of the attacks have been on nonmilitary targets.
Bush's emphasis on this threat, however, begs an obvious question: If Iraq is now a magnet for terrorists, how did that come to be? Before the U.S. invasion, there not only was no evidence of a link between Hussein and al-Qaeda, but also no evidence of an al-Qaeda presence in the areas of Iraq that Hussein controlled. The administration claims that organization is in more than 60 countries. Finding perhaps the only Arab country with no demonstrable al-Qaeda presence and making it a hotbed for recruitment is a remarkable achievement.
Bush and his spinmeisters desperately want us not to understand this simple fact: The Iraq war has made U.S. citizens less safe. The invasion increased not only the risks for U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq, but for us all.
Bush got one thing right: Terrorists do thrive on "the resentments of oppressed peoples." He should think about that. The resentment of Iraqis under the occupation adds to the existing unrest in the region: the resentment of Palestinians under the U.S.-supported Israeli occupation; the resentment of Saudis under their U.S.- supported feudal monarchy; the resentment of Egyptians under their U.S.-supported dictatorship; not to mention the resentment of Iranians subjected for 26 years to a brutal police state supported by the United States.
As any street hustler knows, shell games work only as long as people don't understand the con. Apparently, Bush and his campaign advisers think we'll never catch on. The only way to stop the deception is for the public to demand accountability.
Robert Jensen, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of the forthcoming Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rahul Mahajan is the author of Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond (Seven Stories). He can be reached at email@example.com.
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