Monday, March 5, 2007

The way we were (in 2002)

In his 2004 book Gag Rule, Lewis Lapham writes about the atmosphere of national unity in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. A national unity that looks awfully similar to national gullibility in retrospect. Patriotic binges often bring bad hangovers. Especially when the patriotic bash is being managed by party animals like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Lapham recalls the sad episode of the October 2002 authorizing resolution which gave Bush the political cover and nominal legislative authority to invade Iraq. Oh, and let's not forget our courageous "press corps" and how carefully they insisted on unpacking phony claims about WMDs. As Lapham describes that pititful part of the story:

In concert with [serious foreign policy expert Michael] Ignatieff's marching song, Newsweek discovered in President Bush the character of "a warrior king ... comfortable in ermine," and the bestselling hagiographies hurried into print by Bob Woodward (Bush at War) and David Frum (The Right Man) poured forth phrases perfumed with myrrh and frankincense — "steely, eye-of-storm serenity," "casting his mission and that of the country in the grand vision of God's master plan," "impervious to doubt." Every newspaper in the country welcomed Secretary Powell's performance at the United Nations with corroborating sighs of helpless infatuation. The secretary held up air force surveillance photographs requiring the same kind of arcane exposition that New York art critics attach to exhibitions of abstract painting, displayed a vial of white powder (meant to be seen as anthrax but closer in its chemistry to granulated sugar), and rolled tape of two satellite telephone intercepts of Iraqi military officers screaming at each other in Arabic. The theatrical effects evaded an answer to the question, Why does America attack Iraq when Iraq hasn't attacked America? In lieu of demonstrable provocations Mr. Powell offered disturbing signs and evil portents, and when the voice of Osama bin Laden turned up a week later on an audiotape broadcast from Qatar, the secretary seized upon the occasion to discover a "partnership" between Al Qaeda and the government of Iraq. No such conclusion could be drawn from even a careless reading of the transcript, but to Mr. Powell the sending of a message (anymessage) proved that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein had somehow morphed into the same enemy. The secretary's power points didn't add to the sum of a convincing argument, but then neither had the advertising copy for the Spanish-American War or the sales promotions for the war in Vietnam, and if the agitprop failed to persuade the French, Russian, or Chinese representatives to the Security Council, it was more than good enough for the emissaries from the major American news media. (my emphasis)
Ah, yes, Dear Leader Bush was our Warrior King, protecting us from the Evil Ones. Those were the days. At least I don't recall anyone mistaking him for a philosopher-king.




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